His Story or Yours?

What is your view of history? Do you see it as a chain of random events brought about by the desires of men or do you see the hand of God guiding and orchestrating?

In Acts chapter 13 Paul preaches a stirring message to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch. In his sermon, Paul reminds these Jewish worshipers of their history placing God at the center of everything. God, not man, is the major player in history.

According to Paul, God chose the Jews, exalted them in the land of Egypt, brought them out of Egypt, destroyed seven nations in Canaan, distributed Canaan to the children of Israel, gave them judges, gave them Saul and David as kings and raised up a Savior for Israel.

Far too often when I look at history I see the works of men and miss the hand of God. God is not distant. He is involved in history. Throughout all of history to this very day and hour, God is working.

As Benjamin Franklin said at the Constitutional Convention on July 28, 1787, “God governs in the affairs of men.”

If asked, most Christians would certainly agree but how often do we actually think this way? When we look at the history of the world, do we see the hand of God? What about when we look at the history of our own lives? Do we see God at work throughout our lives or do we give coincidence credit for much of what happens to us?

Throughout his epistles, Paul constantly exhorts believers to give thanks. According to Paul, we ought to be giving thanks always, in everything and for everything. Paul’s prayers throughout scripture overflow with thanksgiving to God. Could it be that Paul was so quick to thank God because he had learned to see God’s hand in history?

When we see our lives as the accumulation of random coincidences, we have little for which to thank God. When instead we recognize the hand of God guiding and providing for us throughout our lives, our hearts will overflow with thanksgiving.

When we view history as a chain of random events brought about by human beings, we have little for which to thank God. When, however, we recognize the hand of God throughout history, we can praise Him for all that He has done in the past.

When we fail to see God’s hand at work in the past we will most likely struggle to trust Him with the future. If God has not been involved in history up until now, why would He suddenly get involved in our lives? If God’s hand is absent from the past we have little hope for the future.

If, however, God has been at work throughout all of human history, we can trust Him with today and tomorrow. We can rest upon the fact that the God who has walked with his people all throughout history and to the present hour will continue to do so in the future.

What about you? Do you see the hand of God working throughout history and your own life? Consider how the Lord had been faithful to you over the years and rest upon the fact that the same God who guided and directed your past holds your future.

Trial Before Deliverance

sea-beach-footprint-steps

There were mountains on either side, the Red Sea in Front and the Egyptian army behind.

Can you imagine the terror of that moment, the fear that must have gripped every Israelite heart? Wouldn’t it be exciting to have been there when God came to Israel’s aid by parting the Red Sea before them?

Imagine watching God work like that in your own life. Wouldn’t you love to have your own “parting of the Red sea” story to tell?

In our desire to see God move mightily in our lives, we often forget that trial comes before deliverance. If the Israelites had not been trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red sea God would not have needed to part the waters in front of them.

Think of all of the great stories of Scripture. If the children of Israel had never run out of food, God would not have provided Manna for them. If they had never run out of water, He would not have brought water out of a rock.

Over the course of his lifetime, George Muller opened multiple orphanages that collectively cared for over 10,000 orphans. His orphanages were run on faith and prayer alone. He never asked anyone for money even when his ministry was in the most desperate need.

One morning the housekeeper of one of the orphan houses came to George Muller and informed him that there was no more food in the house nor was there money to buy any. When the orphans assembled for breakfast, George Muller bowed his head and prayed, thanking God for the food that He would provide. As He finished, a nock was heard on the door. A milk cart had just broken down outside the orphanage. Since the milk was liable to spoil before it could be delivered the driver wondered if the orphanage could use it. George Muller joyfully dispatched several of the older boys to carry in the milk. A moment later a second nock was heard. This time a baker stood outside. He explained that he had been unable to sleep the night before because the Lord had impressed the orphans upon his mind. He had spent all that night baking bread for the orphanage.

I don’t know about you but I want that. I long to see prayers answered and impossible situations turned on their heads. But in order for God to deliver us so miraculously, we first need to be trapped in an impossible situation.

Far too often when things go badly I become fearful or frustrated. I forget that these are the very moments when we get to see God work.

Psalm 46:1-2 says, “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;”

The psalmist declares that he will not fear even in the midst of the most extreme circumstances. Why? God is our refuge and strength. He is our help in trouble.

As believers, we never need to fear because our God is a very present help in trouble. We can rejoice in trials because our God is working in and through them to bring glory to His name.

Tested by Fire

pexels-photo-260314

Do you trust God?

When the sun is shining, the birds are chirping and the sky is clear it is easy to say that we trust God. When we have everything that we need and want and all of our dreams and desires are fulfilled it is easy to say that we trust God. When the road ahead is clear and smooth it is easy to say that we trust God.

But what about when things are not easy, when all of our dreams go up in flames, when life becomes painful and confusing?

In the good times, it is easy to say that we trust God but it is in the hard times that our trust is tested and proven. If we can only trust God when life is easy, we do not truly trust Him at all.

1 Peter 1:6-9 says, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

In this passage, Peter tells us that we are grieved by various trials so that our faith may be proven genuine. According to this passage then, if our faith fails us at the time of trial it is not genuine.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Faith is something that is seen in response to something that is not seen. We cannot see God but we can see a believer’s calm assurance in the midst of pain, peace in the midst of chaotic circumstances and trust in the midst of heartbreak.

Just as a candle’s light seems brighter the darker its surroundings, so a believer’s trust in the unseen God shines brighter the darker their circumstance. Candlelight in the middle of the day is barely noticeable. In the same way, a believer’s confidence in God when all is going well is hardly striking. True faith is not snuffed out by trials instead it shines brightly in the midst of them.

Our faith is proven genuine and displayed for all to see when it is tested by trials and difficulty. The underground church in China has a saying, “real gold fears no fire.” Real gold is not destroyed by fire. It is purified by fire. In the same way, true faith is never destroyed by trials. It is only strengthened and purified by them.

What about you? Is your faith genuine? Is it built upon the unchanging character of your God or upon the changing circumstances of your life?

Embrace Foolishness

pexels-photo-267709

Become a fool.

This command found in 1 Corinthians 3:18 seems absolutely ludicrous. Most of us spend our entire lives seeking to grow in wisdom but here in 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us to become fools.

If you study wisdom throughout Scripture you will discover that there are two types of wisdom. There is the wisdom of this world and there is the wisdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that we must become fools in the eyes of the world that we might become wise in the eyes of God.

1 Corinthians 3:18-20 says, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their own craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

The wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.  Likewise, the wisdom of God is foolishness to this world. As hard as we may try we will never be seen as wise by both our God and this world. We must choose between the two.

What is the wisdom of God?

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul contrasts the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God. He begins by telling us about ministry that will last for eternity and ministry that will fade away.

1 Corinthians 3:10-13 says, “ According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

Paul then goes on to tell us that we are temples of God and that if anyone defiles the temple of God God will destroy him because the temple of God is holy. The idea behind the word defile seems to be to distract or draw away from devotion to Jesus. If anyone distracts or draws another believer away from devotion to Christ he has defiled the temple of God.

Paul seems to be saying that if your ministry points others to Jesus and causes them to focus on Him you are building with gold, silver and precious stones whereas if your ministry distracts them from Jesus you are building with wood hay and straw.

Finally, we come to our passage on wisdom. Paul tells us that if anyone seems to be wise in this age he should become a fool so that he can gain true wisdom. What is this true wisdom? It is Jesus.

Paul tells us that our lives and ministries ought to point others to Jesus. If we think that we have anything else to offer we are foolish. If we are trying to give people Jesus and something else we are foolish.

Jesus is the solution to human hurt. He is the answer to the brokenness and the pain in our world. A ministry that will truly make an eternal impact is a ministry that points people to Jesus.

The wisdom of God is Jesus. Anything that goes beyond Him or away from Him or distracts from Him is foolish in the eyes of God. Jesus—this is the wisdom of God. May we never get past Him. May our lives and ministries be focused on Him and consumed with Him.

 

Weak Things

pexels-photo-634548

For 40 days Goliath had boasted. For 40 days Israel had trembled. For 40 days the name of the Lord had been blasphemed. Finally, on the 41st day, God raised up His chosen vessel to defeat Goliath—David, a little shepherd boy.

David was not the warrior that you would have expected. He was a youth, not a soldier. Yet he had tremendous faith in the power of his God. His brothers, King Saul and Goliath all doubted his ability to fight but through it, all his faith did not waver.

For Seven years Israel had been oppressed by Midian. They lost their crops to their enemies and suffered famine. They hid in dens and caves and strongholds. Finally, God raised up an army to fight for Israel and drive their enemies away—Gideon and a mere three hundred men.

This tiny army is not what you would have chosen to go against the Midianites and Amalekites. They were too few. They were too weak. But they trusted in the mighty God they served.

Our God uses weak things and foolish things. He uses little shepherd boys to take down giants and tiny armies to defeat mighty nations. When little David triumphed over Goliath and when Gideon and his 300 routed the Midianites and the Amalekites all of the glory had to go to God. It is clear that it was not Gideon and his men and David and his stone but rather their God who won their battles.

All throughout Scripture God used unlikely people—David, Gideon, Mary, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew, Rahab, Ruth. He used fishermen, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and shepherds. He uses unlikely people because He receives glory. He chooses the foolish things and the weak things to accomplish His impossible plans.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 says, “ For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

Often we are terrified to do anything that is bigger than us but we must remember that what is impossible for us is possible for God. He wants to call us beyond our own ability. He uses weak things and foolish things because He gets the glory. He calls us to do the impossible because He longs for us to depend fully on Him.

What is the impossible call of God on your life? Are you willing like David to step up and fight when everyone thinks that you are crazy? Are you willing like Gideon to send your troops home, purposefully putting yourself in a vulnerable position because God asks you to?

A Deceitful Guide

hearts-background-red-pink-190933

Follow your heart. Do what feels right. Listen to your emotions.

This is our culture’s message. It is everywhere, in movies and songs, even on candy wrappers. It sounds good and feels right but is it? What does Scripture teach?

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

Our culture tells us to listen to our hearts and trust our emotions but Scripture teaches us that there is nothing good within us. We are born in sin. Our hearts are warped and evil.

Apart from the grace of God, we are lost in darkness, hopeless to find light.

It is dangerous to listen to our hearts and trust our emotions. We must choose instead to listen to our God and His Word. Our hearts are deceitful but God’s Word is truth.

Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But whoever walks wisely will be delivered.”

Culture tells us that our hearts are good and that they will never lead us astray whereas Scripture teaches us that our hearts are evil and will, if followed, lead us to destruction.

As believers, we must choose to listen to and believe the Word of God. Our hearts and emotions will lead us astray but the Word of God never will.

When we make a choice of the will to listen to and follow the Word of God our hearts and emotions will come into alignment with truth.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.”

When we delight ourselves in the Lord and choose to follow His Word our hearts and emotions come into alignment with truth. It is dangerous to follow our hearts but when we walk in truth our feelings begin to agree with truth.

As Christians, we never follow our hearts. Instead, we follow the truth of God’s Word. We lead our hearts. By the grace of God, as we listen to, believe, and walk in truth our hearts and feelings begin to agree with truth.

Do not listen to your heart; it will lead only to death. Listen to God’s Word which leads to life. Give your emotions to God. Do not follow them. Follow Him and trust Him with them.

Give Thanks for Everything

pexels-photo-619421

When we hear the word thanksgiving, many of us tend to think of a holiday rather than of an activity that we should be continually doing. Throughout Scripture, we are repeatedly commanded to give thanks.

Ephesians 5:18-21 says, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God.”

In this passage, we are told not to be drunk with wine but instead to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The passage then goes on to describe what being filled with the Holy Spirit will look like in the life of a believer. Giving thanks for everything is on that list.

If we are truly living a Spirit-filled life we will give thanks for everything.

This is hard to comprehend and even harder to live out. There are so many circumstances in daily life that are difficult to thank God for. Thanking God in every circumstance seems plausible but are we really to thank God for every circumstance?

Corrie Ten Boom lived in Holland during world war two. She and her sister Betsie were arrested and put into a concentration camp because they had hidden Jews in their home and aided them in fleeing the Nazis.

Concentration Camps were horrific places. It is hard to imagine thanking God for anything to do with them.

However, Corrie and Betsy Ten Boom were surrendered to their precious Lord Jesus. Therefore when they arrived at the concentration camp the first thing they did was to begin thanking God.

They thanked God that they had been put in prison together. They thanked God for the cramped conditions because they would be able to share the gospel with more people. Then Betsie began to thank God for the fleas. Corrie was incredulous.

“Why on earth would you thank God for fleas?” She asked Betsy.

“Because” Betsie replied “the bible says to thank God in all circumstances, not just pleasant circumstances.”

Corry was troubled. As hard as she tried she could not bring herself to thank God for something as disgusting as fleas.

As the weeks went by the sisters were surprised by the lack of supervision. The guards never came into the barracks, which allowed them to hold Bible studies and talk openly about Christ. One day they mentioned their surprise to a fellow prisoner.

Chuckling she said, “it’s because of the fleas. The guards won’t come into the barracks because they don’t want to be covered in fleas.”

Romans 8:28, a passage with which many of us are very familiar says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

This is why we as Christians can thank God for every circumstance.

God is so big, so mighty, so powerful that no matter how horrible any given circumstance is He can turn it for the good of His church.

We can thank God for every circumstance, because we can trust Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In All Things Give Thanks

pexels-photo-265315

With Thanksgiving rapidly approaching the question on everyone’s lips is; What are you thankful for? This is a good question. We ought to be giving thanks, all of the time. But what about those who really have little or nothing to be thankful for? What about those who are sick? What about those who have lost loved ones? What about those with financial problems?

1 Peter 1:3-6 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,”

Throughout Scripture, we are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances. This used to be really hard for me to grasp. There are some circumstances that are so painful that it seems that it would be impossible to give thanks in the midst of them. How then can we be thankful in all circumstances?

This passage in 1st Peter brings a lot of clarity to this issue. It says that we rejoice in all that Jesus has done for us and in the salvation that He has purchased for us though we are grieved by various trials.

Peter says that what God has done for us is so incredible that no matter what happens we have reason to rejoice. All of the wealth that we have in Christ should be so large in our eyes that all of the trials of this world are very small.

Throughout Scripture, we see examples of people who lived this way. In Acts chapter 5 Peter and the other apostles are arrested and thrown into prison and beaten because they were preaching about Jesus. Verse 41 says, ”So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

Jesus was so precious to them that even prison and beatings could not stop them from praising God.

Acts 16 recounts a similar story. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison for casting a demon out of a slave girl. Instead of being upset or dejected in prison as many of us would have been we are told that they prayed and sang hymns to God.

What they had in Christ was so good that no earthly circumstance could take away their joy.

If our thankfulness is dependent upon our circumstances, we will only be thankful occasionally. Life is hard. Circumstances change constantly.

If we are going to obey the command to be thankful always, found in Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18, our thankfulness must be based upon something that never changes. As Christians, we have one constant—Christ.

No matter what trial we are facing we can always be thankful for Him and for the salvation that He has purchased for us.

Be thankful always. This is a command. We can only obey it if Jesus becomes so big in our eyes that every circumstance, trial, and difficulty we face is very, very small in comparison.

 

Contented In Jesus

pexels-photo-266061

Beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, starved. These are only a few of the many difficulties that the apostle Paul faced and yet this is the same man who wrote in Philippians that he had learned to be content everywhere and in all things.

Although Paul lived an extremely difficult life, he stated that he was content repeatedly throughout Philippians. Most of us are not content. We live in comparative ease. We have houses, cars, food, clothing, and freedom and yet we are discontented. Why? How is it that the apostle Paul who lived a life of pain and difficulty could be content and we who live lives of ease and comfort are not?

Conventional wisdom would say that contentment comes through having everything that you want but as we look at the life of Paul it becomes clear that that is not the case. How then, do we become content?

I would argue that contentment, at least the kind of contentment that Paul had, contentment that is absolutely independent of circumstances, actually begins with discontentment but it must be the right form of discontentment.

Most of us look to the world and everything in it as our source of contentment. We look to material things for peace, fulfillment, and happiness.

In order for contentment to be constant and unchanging, however, it must be based upon something that is constant and unchanging. The only thing that is constant and unchanging and always will be so, is Christ.

This is why I said that true contentment begins with discontentment. In order to gain the source of true contentment—Jesus, a person must first become discontent with the world and all that it has to offer.

It is only when a person becomes discontent with the world that they will look to Christ.

In order to become truly content a person must be wholly wrapped up in and satisfied with Christ.

Paul was content in every circumstance he faced because his contentment was not based upon circumstances. Paul suffered through extremely difficult circumstances. While writing the book of Philippians, where he speaks of his contentment, he was actually in prison.

No. Paul did not base his contentment upon his circumstances. Paul’s contentment was based upon Christ. While circumstances may change, Jesus does not. Although everything else may be stripped from you no one can separate you from Jesus. Thus because Paul was content in Christ no matter what happened to him he was able to remain content.

So back to the question that I asked at the beginning of this article. How is it that the apostle Paul who lived a life of pain and difficulty could be content and we who live lives of ease and comfort are not?

Paul’s contentment was based upon Christ whereas our contentment or lack thereof is based upon our circumstances. This is why Paul, who lived a far more difficult life than most of us, could be content while we are not.

How can we become content?

We must become discontent with the world counting it all loss and recognizing that it is all truly worthless in light of eternity. Casting all the pursuits of the world aside, we must instead embrace Christ as our all in all.

If Christ is truly everything to you and you are completely and totally satisfied in Him it will not matter what difficulties trial or blessings come your way. If everything you have is stripped away you will have joy, peace, and contentment because you will still have Jesus.

Romans 8:35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Too many of us call ourselves Christians and yet are not content in Christ. If you are a Christian, Christ should be everything to you. You should be totally wrapped up and content in Him. Paul was. Are you?

 

Facts or Feelings?

pexels-photo-272337

Widespread oppression, unimaginable suffering, innumerable deaths. This is often what we think of when we think of Nazism. Reading about the horrors that occurred at the hands of the Nazis, many of us are heartbroken or even angry. How could something so evil be allowed to happen we wonder.

The Germans were a broken people. The First World War devastated their country. No longer was there pride in being German.

When Adolf Hitler rose to power and began rebuilding Germany he restored dignity to the German people. Rebuilding their roads and their economy, he became a hero in the eyes of German people everywhere. They wanted to believe whatever he said because he was accomplishing so much good on their behalf.

Wisely, Hitler did not begin his conquest of the world with armies or weapons but rather with endless propaganda backed up by his rebuilding of a war-torn Germany.

Adolf Hitler himself said, “if you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Hitler proclaimed his lies long and loud and many people believed him. What he was saying sounded good. It felt right.

Had they compared it to Scripture they would have seen that it did not measure up but far too few people did that. It was a deadly mistake. How many millions of lives lost? How many millions of families torn apart? How many millions of people deeply scarred?

It is terrifying to realize that so many people were so easily taken in by lies. It is even more frightening to realize that many of them were Christians.

If it happened once it could happen again.

How can we prevent it?

Lies always sound like the truth or else no one would believe them. They always feel good or else no one would accept them.

We cannot assume that we will recognize a lie. It is dangerous to believe that a lie will feel wrong.

The only way we can know that something is true is by comparing it to the standard of truth—the word of God. This is what far too many German people failed to do. What Hitler proclaimed sounded good so they chose to believe it.

Many of the people in Germany at that time were Christians. But they were Christians who just once chose to believe something because it felt good rather than because the Word of God taught it.

What about you? What is your source of truth?

Many people look to their heart or to their feelings to determine truth but Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

We cannot look to our hearts or to our feelings for truth. We must look to the Word of God. We must bring every new idea back to Scripture and test it against the source of truth.

Believing a lie is dangerous. It is costly. As Christians, we have the source of truth. It may be uncomfortable and at times painful to test our ideas against Scripture but it is our greatest safeguard.

In Germany at that time, there was a small remnant of people who did not fall for the lies. There were many who believed and fought for truth although it was incredibly costly. They did not follow their feelings. They followed the word of God and we now consider them heroes for it.

What about you? In a culture where it is normal to make decisions based upon feelings and emotions are you going to choose truth? Do you follow your feelings or do you follow the Word of God?