Choices

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September 27

Tuesday, September 27th, 2022

One of the hardest things as a pastor is to be honest with oneself. I have a specific honesty in mind as I write that. The honesty I’m thinking of is spurred on by the Scripture from I John 4: 1-3:

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now it is already in the world.”  (NASB2020)

That phrase “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” stands out to me. That phrase must stop at my front door, THEN it goes to other doors. It is common for pastors, etc to point fingers at another teacher, call them “False”, and never once look at their own heart or teaching.

As I discern myself, and as I check out (test) others, what criteria do I use to “test the spirits?” I think there are two qualities/characteristics I can look for:

  1. A teacher’s character. Character can’t be tested by measuring eloquence or giftedness. There are those who are talented speakers but have a questionable character. There are also those who have a stellar character but are not very good speakers. It is better to choose the latter and hope he gets better at speaking, than the former. {A great example of that is Billy Graham and Charles Templeton. Google it and check it out}.
  2. Content of the teacher’s instruction. This is where real discernment is needed. Is he teaching truth? Not man’s truth but God’s truth. Not everyone who names the name of Christ is a true teacher of God.

There has always been false teachers. They seem to proliferate these days, I think, in large part thanks to media. But because they are “successful;” marry a rock musician; have a private jet or two; have crusades all over the world; claim healing; and live in mansions, does not make them true teachers of God’s truth.

Be discerning. Be alert. Be wise. Don’t be afraid to follow the clear teachings of the Scripture and stand against falsehood.

September 22

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

This will be the last post based on The Trail by Ed Underwood. I’d suggest if you want to pursue this look at how to know and follow God’s will that you buy the book. It’s old enough now that you can find it for $5 or less. It obviously take a more in-depth look at God’s will and discerning it.

For this last entry, I’d like to “borrow” from the book the great recap that the author uses one of his characters to make. BTW this is written as a story of a couple who goes backpacking with a crusty, old firefighter turned pastor named Sam. Sam gives these lessons to them along the way. Anyway, here is the recap from pages 177-178.

#1- TRUST. God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.  Pr. 3:5-6

#2-RELATIONSHIP.  Make sure you’re all in for Jesus. Ps. 25:14

#3- INTIMACY. Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you’re on the dot of His good and perfect will.  Ps. 139: 23-24

#4- TIMING. Live expectantly; God’s signature on events is timing. Eccl. 3:1

#5- PROTECTION. God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.  Ps. 119:105

#6- ENCOURAGEMENT. When you wonder if you’re on the right path, ask God for a sign of encouragement.           Ps. 86:17

#7- COMMUNITY. Loners lose their way; trust the guidance of those who love you enough to tell you the truth. Pr.12: 15

#8- GRACE. All is grace; put one foot in front of the other. Pr.16: 9

My take? All is grace. If I follow Jesus with a heart that seeks Him, no matter what I do, He is there. I may bob and weave. I may totter. I may stumble as I follow. I may lose sight of the path. But He will be there for me and with me. He will protect me. He will encourage me when I need it. I need to surround myself with a community, a group/person I can count on to tell me the truth. And then trust that all is grace.

So ends the series of posts on The Trail. I pray it has helped you to clarify some things. I also pray it has challenged you to seek God’s desire (will) for you. I don’t need to say each of us are different, so one size doesn’t fit all. Carve out your own path in following Him.  And remember: All is grace.

The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God's Will

September 19

Monday, September 19th, 2022

I think if we are honest, when we say to someone, “Tell me the truth about me” there are times we aren’t really sure we want to hear the truth. We know all the sayings about a real friend who will tell it to us like it is and will be honest with us, but Man! it hurts no matter who says it.

Our reaction to truth will determine whether that person will ever speak truth to us again. But before you or I get upset when someone tells us the truth about ourselves, consider this verse: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a person who listens to advice is wise.” (Pr. 12:15 NASB2020)

Fool = right in his own eyes

Wise= listens to advice from another

Hmmm. Where does that put me? This opens up several thoughts:

  1. What does that say about me hiding truth from others about me? By others I’m referring to those close to me whom I have permission to speak truth to me.
  2. Have I cut myself off from others by attitude or actions? Have I given the cold shoulder to others or have I hid my real person?

People can’t be honest with me if I hide. If I withdraw. If I cover-up/mask who I am or how I feel.

This actually leads to Principle #7 which I will share tomorrow.

September 15

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

After a day when we contemplated an issue that tested our willingness to trust and surrender (Thanks Ryan S.), let’s move on…to more of the same. 🙂

I think one of the hardest times for many of us is because we may not, or don’t, see the clear path, we have trouble moving forward. Sometimes we act paralyzed. Sometimes we simply hesitate following.

Let me revert to an illustration from the book. Many firefighters survive because they know a key truth: a meadow, brush, or even trees, can only burn one time. Many of them will run to the burn. It seems weird, but it is true. Many firefighters have been saved because they ran to the burn.

That brings up an important point. There is a positive side to adversity. Let’s be honest: most of us would like to avoid adversity. Avoid it like a plague would not be too far off. We see adversity as incongruous to a loving God and that said loving God would place adversity in front of us, let alone have us go through it. We do all we can to avoid it! We are far more interested in what will make us happy; God is far more interested in what will make us holy.

Instead of our natural aversion to pain and adversity, maybe we ought to embrace it. Instead of looking for a way around it, let’s stop trying to avoid it. Suffering can actually give us a greater platform for sharing the truth of God’s love.  Instead of running away, maybe God is saying, “Follow Me into the burn. You may not understand. In fact, you probably won’t. But follow Me anyway and I will lead you to safety. You will get to see what I can do.”

Truth: He does not want us to run ahead of Him; He wants us to follow Him. Even if that following has us meeting adversity.

And for your encouragement this morning, stop and read Psalm 86: 11-13. You’ll be glad you did.

September 14

Wednesday, September 14th, 2022

{Spoiler alert: longer post than normal}

After my September 12 post, Ryan S. responded with the following words:

“I can’t deny that I tried a number of methods to seek God’s will. Though, I have never tried the obvious “fleece method”, I suspect my results would have been similar. Whatever happens, I would find a way to justify my desire. I think if I am honest with myself, I know what I “should” do before even asking most of the time.

The Bible has pretty clear instruction regarding relationships, finances, and our actions. I think if I look close enough, I can find what I am looking for there.
The question really then becomes… Do I like the answer?

When thinking about trying to discern God’s Will, I often come back to the parable of the talents. Seems like a strange connection, but let me see what others think.
God has provided His endless wisdom throughout the Bible. If I choose to live my life according to the His written word in all areas, then perhaps, God would provide me more insight into His unwritten will. I believe He does this through the Holy Spirit living inside us. I think this understanding and knowledge may be shared based on how we handle the direction He has already shared….”

I’d like to give my response by reinforcing what he said. We, as Christ-followers, often underestimate the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit. We freak because of obvious abuses associated with Him. I was in that camp at one time. I was so ignorant of the Spirit and admittedly somewhat naive, that the first time I was in a public worship and someone raised their hands, I broke out in a cold sweat. I was sure some wild stuff was about to happen. It didn’t. In time, I came to study the ministry of the Holy Spirit and was no longer afraid. Eventually, I learned the joy, praise and freedom of raising my hands in worship.

The Holy Spirit is not some mystical force.  He is not some impersonal being. In John 14> 16-18 Jesus gives some important insights into the Holy Spirit:

  • Verse 16– He is our Helper.
  • Verse 17– He is the Spirit of Truth. He is given “human” characteristics. He cannot be seen or touched but He is real.
  • Verse 18– He is Jesus’ representative. Paul calls Him “Christ in You.”
  • Verse 26– Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit will teach you all things.” One young man, who eventually left the church with his family for various reasons, always referred to Him as “of Holy Spirit.” Impersonal.  I never had a chance to ask him why he left out the “the” when referring to the Holy Spirit. Jesus does. Anyway…

The Spirit is Jesus in us. He’s our Helper. He is our Guide. As such, He is given a place in our hearts. I/you invite Him to make Himself at home. (In ancient times, the word for “ghost”-the old King James word- meant “invited guest”). I tell Him to make Himself at home in my heart. He leads. He guides. He protects. As I submit my heart and life to Him-hopefully (and ideally) more completely each day-He is able to reveal more of Himself and more of God’s will for my life.

The big question that arises time after time is this: Am I willing to submit to His influence over my life? Am I willing to go where He wants me to go and do what He wants me to do? If so, I do believe (as Ryan says) that God’s will is made clearer, even that which has been hidden. Even then, it may be unveiled a little at a time.

Here’s the kicker though: Even if God does not reveal His will so I can see clearly the path ahead, I must be willing to follow Him regardless. That is the real influence of the Spirit within me. He is within me to give me the strength to do whatever it is God wants me to do.

Your thoughts?

September 13

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022

A recap of the first 5 Principles:

#1- God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.

#2- Make sure you are all in for Jesus.

#3- Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you are on the dot of His good and perfect will.

#4- God’s signature on events is timing.

#5- God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

Now for Principle #6: Ask for a sign of encouragement.

We all need encouragement from time to time. We all need to be assured we are on the right path. A sign of encouragement is not a fleece.  It is a reassurance, not a bargaining chip.

Stop for a moment and read Psalm 86 (I will come back to it).

There are times we just need to know we are on the right path. Life is full of disappointments and heartaches and when they rear their ugly head, it is good to know God has got our back.  I don’t know about you, but those roadblocks can become stumbling blocks if I allow them to. They can cause me to hesitate, even doubt, I am on God’s path.  This, I believe, is a ploy of the enemy.

What better way to stop forward movement than to put an obstacle in the path of a vehicle? What better way to stop a follower of Jesus from moving forward than to take away his/her assurance that one is following God’s path, to cause hesitation and doubt to arise.

Psalm 86 has some powerful thoughts. Here are a few:

  • Verses 8-10. There is no one like God. He stands alone.
  • Verses 11-13. God will teach us His way. I believe He wants us to focus on His  glory and grace, not on “Am I on the right path or not?”
  • Verses 15-16a. Right or wrong path (maybe less desirable is a better word), God is compassionate and gracious. He doesn’t get angry with us because we chose what turns out to be the wrong path to follow Him. (Not talking about sin here).

There have been times I chose a path (made a decision) I truly believed was the way He wanted me to go. Sometimes I got it right; sometimes I didn’t. But He didn’t turn His back on me either.

To wrap up today’s thoughts, please read verse 17 and take special note of that very first phrase: “Show me a sign of good.” Show me a sign of encouragement is another way to say that.

Note: In yesterday’s responses, Ryan S. asked for feedback on something he said. I encourage you to read what he said then possibly have some thoughts. I plan to give some of my thoughts in tomorrow’s devotion.

September 8

Thursday, September 8th, 2022

In yesterday’s devotion I wrote about Principle #5:

God’s will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

That got me thinking how some approach God’s Word (GW) with what I called the “crystal ball” or “floodlight” approach. Before I go any further though, I need to say one or two very important thoughts:

  1. I firmly believe GW is inspired by God and is totally inerrant (without error). I base that on 2 Tim. 3: 14-17, especially verse 16.
  2. I also firmly believe it is God’s primary way of speaking to His people. All things, all claims of people saying, “God told me this or that” must have their foundation in GW. For someone to say, for example, “I killed those people because God told me to” is hogwash and the person is either psychologically delusional or fishing for a reason to justify sin. God will NEVER violate His Word.

With those thoughts in mind, there are those who treat GW like a crystal ball or expect a floodlight to shine down on them with a neon sign and say, “Do this!” Some even expect a floodlight to highlight a verse. You have probably heard the story of the man who used this approach by opening his Bible and pointing to a verse. It said, “Judas went out and hung himself.”  He hurriedly closed his Bible and opened it again and pointed to another verse. It said, “What your hand finds to do do it with all your might.” That wasn’t what he wanted to hear either so he closed his Bible, opened it and pointed and the verse said, “What your hand finds to do, do quickly.”  That is the shotgun approach many take to finding guidance in GW. It is like they are expecting the Bible to be a crystal ball, rub it and all truth will come out. It is like they expect that approach to give them all the insight they need to make a right decision and to know God’s will.

Nope. While I believe GW is living and active, I don’t believe it is a crystal ball telling us what to do and when to do it. God has given each of His children the Holy Spirit and that Spirit leads and guides us. But he will never lead us to act contrary to the Word. God guides us by His Word and shows me the path I am to walk, but there is no neon sigh that lights up, either in GW or in life, which says, “Choose me!”  I go back to my friend’s statement (see August 17 post) where he said, “Bill, choose the one. In any case, even if it is the wrong one, God will not abandon you.”  He was right.

God will never lead us astray. The Holy Spirit will never say, “Go your own way.” Pray. Seek His will. Read His Word for wisdom and guidance and strength to follow. Walk with Him to the edge and wait. To borrow a few lines from The Trail:

If God loves me, then He protects me. He guides me by His Word and shows me the path to walk. A safe path, because He knows where the danger lies. So I walk to the edge of the darkness and wait. (p.110)

God’s Word is a lamp not a crystal ball to rubbed, nor is it a floodlight that will shine down to highlight an action to take. We are given His Spirit and a mind to make decisions that will always be in line with GW.

September 7

Wednesday, September 7th, 2022

Let’s recap Principles 1-4:

#1- God doesn’t need your strength to guide you, but you do need His strength to recognize His guidance.

#2- Make sure you are all in for Jesus.

#3- Stay within the circle of intimacy with God, and trust Him that you are on the dot of His good and perfect will.

#4- God’s signature on events is timing.

That’s the short version. The long version(s) can be found in past blogs beginning with August 15.

One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 119.  It’s the long one. Some of my deeply memorized verses from my childhood and on are from that chapter. Here are a few:

  • Psalm 119:9
  • Psalm 119: 11
  • Psalm 119: 37
  • Psalm 119: 105

The interesting thing about Psalm 119 is its mention of God’s Word.  Of the 176 verses, probably less than ten have no mention of God’s Word. It uses different words-laws, statutes, commandments, word, instructions, and others-but they all refer to one grand subject: God’s Word.

Stop for a moment and read verses 105-112. Notice the beginning and ending verses: “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” “I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, even to the end.” The psalmist says God’s Word is a guiding light, but it’s a lamp or a torch NOT a floodlight or a crystal ball.

I have more to say on what I will the “crystal ball” or “floodlight” approach tomorrow. Until then Principle #5:

God’s Will is a flashlight, not a crystal ball; walk to the edge of the darkness and wait.

 

September 1

Thursday, September 1st, 2022

First, an aside. Can you believe it is already September 1?

Let’s continue with our discussion of Principle #4: God’s signature on events is timing.

In Eccl. 3:1a Solomon uses two Hebrew words that have a deeper meaning than our English words convey.  The words used for “season” means “an appointed time or hour.” They are used a lot in Hebrew wisdom lit to represent God’s appointed times in His plans or intentions.

Another word is the one used for “activity” or events in 1b. Strangely, this word conveys the idea of delight. There is a delight or a blessing in discerning the timing of God.

Would you agree with me that the statement/questions I asked at the beginning of yesterday’s devotion might be true? “I think the #1 answer would have to do with timing. Why wait? Why so long? Why didn’t God answer sooner?” We find ourselves fighting God, questioning His wisdom AND MOST DEFINITELY questioning His timing rather than submitting our hearts and minds to the quietness and peace of surrender.

I like the quote Gail used in her response to yesterday’s devotion: “Time doesn’t heal; God heals, in time.”

To end the devotion today and to conclude Principle #4, there are four words which show up big in our discussion: trust, relationship, intimacy, and timing.

There is a section from the book that plays into this ending: “You asked for guidance and God led you to a wilderness. You anticipated insight in your life, and God gave you the truth about your life. The timing of it surprises you, but God’s never surprised by timing. It’s His signature on events.” (p.84)

“Father, all four of those words are important in my need desire to find Your will.”

August 31

Wednesday, August 31st, 2022

If I were to conduct a man-on-the-street interview with Christ-followers, I’d ask this question: “When it comes to God answering your prayers, what is one of the hardest and most frustrating things for you to accept and understand?” IMHO I think one of the #1 answers would have to do with timing. Why did He wait so long? Why didn’t God answer sooner? If God knew what I needed, why did He wait to give it to me? Why not spare me the heartache that came with waiting?

Timing. Makes a vehicle run right. Makes a meal come together at just the right time, a la Beat Bobby Flay. 🙂  Timing really is everything. I’m certainly no gourmet cook (I can burn water) but I do know it is good to have things come together at the right time.

In fact, stop for a moment and read a passage of Scripture dedicated to timing: Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8. But don’t stop there! Keep reading because one of the most powerful and beautiful verses comes in verse 11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  (ESV) There was an old praise and worship song in the early ’80s by the Maranatha Singers called In His Time. (Click on the song title for a video link of the song). It was straight out of this verse. I remember singing it at night when I laid in bed struggling about my future. Sometimes that was all I had to hang onto (or so I thought). 

I know God has a plan for my life, for yours. Psalm 37:23 says, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” (You can read verses 24-26 on our own. They are powerful).

All of this to relate Principle #4 to you:

God’s signature on events is timing.

I’ll try to flesh that out more tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can add #4 to the list of three I gave in yesterday’s devotion.