God, Why?

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Have you ever asked, “Why?” I often wonder why God does some of the things He does. Some people mistakenly think that God is the source of natural disasters and every type of human tragedy. News flash: God doesn’t have a cruel streak!

At the same time, however, our Heavenly Father does have this tendency to lead His children into difficult places. Consider the Israelites’ entrapment by the Red Sea. And then their journey into the desert without food or water. God initiated all of that!

And why did Jesus tell us to pray to the Father, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (ESV)? Surely there is a reason for this particular aspect of a prayer that so many lift before God week in and week out.

Make no mistake—our loving Father is trying to prove and establish us as a people of integrity—that is wholeness. Matthew 6:13 might make more sense put this way: “And please don’t lead us into difficult trials where our faith and devotion will be sorely tested and proven, but do deliver us from our own evil tendencies toward self-sufficiency.”

The last thing that God wants is for us to fall prey to sin. But the one thing He always seeks to accomplish is the firm establishment of our faith. Trust cannot exist without faith. And relational intimacy never happens apart from trust. And wholeness, most certainly, is impossible apart from relational intimacy with our loving Creator.

Have you ever thought that perhaps God leads us into desolate, impossible circumstances in order to teach us to look to Him? Resting the weight of our confidence on others apart from God is idolatry–simply put. Trusting in ourselves is nothing more than a return to the original sin (the desire to be like God apart from God). Both idolatry and self-sufficiency corrupt our lives with bitter, poisonous roots.

Stepping out in ministry I have been living by faith for 12+ years—especially the past 4 with the launch of Search for Me Ministries, Inc. I can’t count how many times I’ve said in a tight spot, “God, if you make me independently wealthy, I would do this for free and fund it all myself.” Ah! That’s exactly the problem! I would do it all myself—in my own strength and with my own ability—if I could.

The only thing that compels me to avoid self-trust is to find myself in situations and circumstances that are beyond my human ability (and therefore considered impossible). Herein lies the wisdom (and beauty) of the wilderness experience. Through the Lord’s Prayer Jesus is sending us a message: “Put no trust in yourselves and your ability to handle difficult circumstances. Turn from self-sufficiency and put the full weight of your trust in your heavenly Father and His covenant love.”

God’s promise is that He will never fail or forsake us. The desolate and impossible terrain of the wilderness sends the opposite message. Depending upon our response, the final products are fear, anxiety, hardness and bitterness, or a deep-rooted transformation into a Holy Spirit-watered life. The potential outcome almost makes me want to say, “Bring on the wilderness!” Having been around the block a few times, however, I’ll wisely stick with, “And lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”

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It’s Carny Season

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Summer is almost upon us and the time is here for the amusement parks to open and the carnivals to begin popping up in the north. Walking through the midway at a county fair or local carnival is a totally unique experience. Oh the smell of greasy hot sausage simmering on a dirty, fly infested grill! The sweet, lingering odor of cotton candy wafting through the breeze! Neon lights flashing all around!

And to complete the experience are the continuous calls of the carny workers. “Step right up! Get your tickets to see the three-headed lady! There’s no one else like her.” “Hey buddy, why don’t you prove your manhood and win a stuffed animal for your babe?”

From a spiritual perspective, carnival season never ends here in the U.S.A. The carny voices constantly clamor for our attention—promising joy and happiness, but rarely, if ever, delivering.

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How many voices constantly call our names? Some of us have our families and all of the attention that they require (and deserve). Some have our jobs that sometimes demand long hours. Others have school work with the never-ending chant from the text books. “Study! Study! Study!”  There are homes and all of their maintenance—not to mention our cars. And these are just the necessities of life.

There are our hobbies and the need for diversion from the daily grind. Our investments. Our social networking. Our pets. Our TV shows. And of course, the carnivals and amusement parks.

And while the vast majority of these things are in no way bad within themselves, the cumulative effect spells DISTRACTION. Before we know it, all of the money in our time-banks has been spent. Even without intention, it’s so easy for God to begin to take second place (or even lower) place in our lives.
                     
The result is that we slowly dry up spiritually and a low-grade guilt begins to cloud our minds. We know things aren’t right and that our personal needs aren’t really being met, but we feel overwhelmed by our wants and by the complexities of life.
                                

A simple truth can really help us to navigate these treacherous waters. Distractions are natural and come without effort. Focus must be intentional. In other words, I can expect that there to be a zillion things shouting for my attention on an almost daily basis, but walking with God will not happen unless I make a deliberate choice to pursue Him.

Jesus put it this way, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 (NASB)

The process may indeed have its challenging aspects, but the secret is to build our lives around Christ and His purposes. The value really is far greater than even an opportunity to see the three-headed woman!

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Failing to Discern Discernment

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I didn’t know! Discernment is a word commonly used in Christian circles, but recently I was surprised learn that I had improperly discerned the Biblical meaning of discernment. Sometimes mentalities are so common that we rarely think to question them.

Discernment in the New Testament refers primarily to perception or insight. It also involves the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

The problem for many Christians is that our emphasis seems to almost always be on discerning wrong from right. We have a real tendency to spend a great deal of time and energy identifying what’s wrong in this world. In fact, many who consider themselves to be spiritually astute have become masters at identifying what’s wrong with a TV show or movie, what’s wrong with a public personality, what’s wrong with a particular ministry or teaching series.

I must say that I think I’ve been as good of a wrong-discerner as anybody. In fact, I’ve made it a point to learn to read between the lines when others appear to be oblivious to the sinister efforts behind certain media themes.

This is why a passage from Philippians recently struck me so strongly:

“And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight [discernment] so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11 (NET)

Do you see Paul’s emphasis? He’s praying for his readers to have discernment so that they can decide for and approve what is best! It’s not so much about disproving the things that are wrong as much as identifying and focusing on that which is good.

While I don’t want to over-react to the point of becoming oblivious to the deep wrongs in our world, I might rightly say that it’s wrong to have such a wrong-focused understanding of discernment. (Chew on that one for a while! )

There is so much good in this world that is either not readily visible or easily over-looked. God is doing an awesome work in our day—if only we will be deliberate to see through the eye of faith.

If we focus on all that is wrong in our world, we will quickly become hardened and weighted down with discouragement. Truly Biblical discernment views life through a faith-colored lens. It peers through the haze of wrongdoing and negativity to highlight the good ways in which God is at work in and through His people. Let’s make it a point to look for the loving hand of God at work around us. He’s doing more than we often realize!

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Stuck in a Rut!

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It’s been a long, long winter here in the northeast USA. February was the snowiest month on record for many cities. Tons of snow, very minimal sunshine—if ever there was a time for the winter doldrums to set in, this was it.

In contrast to the massive piles of snow are the deep ruts common to country lanes and sometimes even city streets. Similar to the Oregon Trail, these paths have been used so often that they appear to have a sense of permanency.

And so it is with our thought lives. Our media-saturated culture continually inundates us with negative news and discouraging thoughts—and in this case, it’s a year round deluge. Over the course of time such negative thought patterns become deep ruts that corral and direct our lives.

Consider a person’s daily routine in our nation:

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Wake up. Stop by the bathroom and greet the day with an unfortunate look at your unkempt, aging self in the mirror. Pick up the newspaper, flip on the TV, or start the computer to grab the morning headlines.

Commute to work, listening to more news on the car radio. Spend time on and off throughout your day talking with coworkers about your frustrations with your favorite sports teams, government policies, the ballooning national debt, a volatile stock market and the most recent natural disaster. Terrorist attacks have become so common in our world that few even make for topics of discussion.

Stop by the grocery store on the way home—and of course, check out the tabloids while waiting in line: “Martian Baby Born to Hollywood Actress”; “Famous Athlete Cheats on His Wife—Again” Arrive home and flip on the TV to catch the evening news.

The vast majority of professing Christians in our country feeds on a diet that is high in saturated negativity. At what point do we focus on the truth of God’s word? In no way am I suggesting that we bury our heads in the sand, but the kingdom of God operates by faith and very little of what our secular media provides will bolster a person’s ability to trust God.

We know in principle that life offers more, but ruts are easy. We eat the same foods, practice the same habits, and watch the same TV screens, holding out hope that a new movie or come from behind victory will provide the life and vitality we lack. For the most part our efforts to break free prove futile as we find ourselves sliding back into those all familiar habits and mindsets. And so the ruts deepen.

Even taking the time to consider the issue of negativity can carry a weight of discouragement. But real change is possible if we are deliberate to develop a change of focus. Now that the snow is melting, this is a great time to start!

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“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9 (HCSB)