God’s Plan

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April 18

Thursday, April 18th, 2024

Popular today among many is what I will call (and possibly other have already done so) the “positive thought/confession” movement. Long story that strain of thought says “whatever you think or feel, whatever your heart says to do, speak it out loud and then go, follow your heart.

I know people who believed this so much that they stopped taking their meds because they “thought themselves” healthy. I’m not saying we are not sometimes over-medicated. Not at all. But there are some meds you just can’t quit cold turkey.

I’ve known people who refused medical treatment because some huckster or some “speak positive thoughts” guru told them to speak themselves well and to not act accordingly was a “an act of unbelief.”

Granted, these are some extreme examples. There are those who need to stop feeding negative images into their brain after they look into the mirror. The “I’m ugly” or “I’m fat” or “I’m worthless” comments need to go.  But frankly, there is a lot more money made in cosmetology and plastic surgery for unnecessary procedures than there should be.

What does all this have to do with being a Christ-follower? Many try to apply self-help gobbledygook to lifelong and lasting change. Victory over an addiction or a traumatic event in the past (or the present) will not be overcome by “I think I can, I think I can.” That only works with trains trying to climb mountains. The real transforming approach is this: “You were dead because of  your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross.”  (Col. 2:13-15 NLT)

Real change, real transformation, does not come from thinking positive. Real change comes from allowing God’s Spirit to do His work in you. He makes permanent change. He disarms the enemy.

And I’m positive He will win the battle.

April 15

Monday, April 15th, 2024

Does the way things happen ever make sense?

That has been the question running through my mind the past week and on into the weekend.   Please give me a chance to tell you why I ask that.

My best male friend has been told he has 18-24 months to live. One of my other male friends was given 3-6 months to live and it has been close to two. Unless God intervenes time is running out. Then this past week one of our boys in the church (age 6.5 he has informed me) has been sick off and on since January/February. He goes from kinetic energy to crash is 5 seconds. Some things have been ruled out but what has not has been leukemia and lymphoma. He goes the 25th to Riley Hospital for a full work up. The family is still waiting to hear the prognosis.

As I shared with the church yesterday, I believe God has 3 answers to our prayers:

“Yes.” We like this one for obvious reasons. We like that we are in agreement with God…or is that He is in agreement with us? In either case, a good answer.  🙂

“No.” This is an answer but not quite the one we wanted. This simply means that God and I are not on the same page. Shocker! But at least its an answer!

“Wait awhile.” This is the toughest I believe. No one like to wait. From grocery store lines to prayer, waiting is not a strong suit. It’s like God is saying, “Hang on. I’m not going to answer right away.” The answer will come-perhaps a yes, perhaps a no-but just not yet. And it’s not because God is being mean or vengeful. Maybe there is a lesson I need to learn. Maybe there is a timing issue. In any case, I have to realize that what seemed like a bad idea actually worked out for my best.

Until God’s timing comes to fruition, I’ll live life to the fullest and realize God is good…no matter what. For reference take a moment to read Psalm 116:5-19.

April 11

Thursday, April 11th, 2024

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Flat out: I firmly believe that. What was ironic-my daughter pointed out-is that I preached on the Creator God and His monstrously creative genius the day before the total Eclipse. Straight up: I did not plan it that way. When I began planning my sermons, the eclipse was the farthest thing from my mind.

But I don’t want to write about the eclipse. Enough has been said already. It was spectacular. I did not watch it…I rode my bike inside. But I had my blinds open and it was creepy to look outside and see it pitch black at 3:00 in the afternoon. {Note: it gives credibility to the 12-3 scenario when Jesus was on the cross and it was dark}. What I want to write about this morning are the hucksters, the doomsayers, the conspiracy theorists, and the like who came out of the woodwork to use this for personal and professional gain. I am particularly piqued at the “religious” hucksters who crawled out of their hole in the wall to promote a false-read that very false- narrative that the eclipse was going to be the end of the world; God’s judgment on America; blah blah blah, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There were the so-called prophets predicting all kinds of garbage that was going to happen…AND DIDN’T! Label them: F.A.L.S.E. P.R.O.P.H.E.T.S. There are those who predicted it would usher in the Rapture (if you believe in that). It didn’t (either that or I was left behind and if I believed that it would be a real bummer). There were those who predicted the doom of America. It didn’t. (if American is doomed its because of the truth of Proverbs 28:2: When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability”.

All that to say: whenever someone “prophesies” anything, run as far away from that person or organization as possible. The NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) with people like Bill Johnson and Bethel, Benny Hinn, Hillsong, Kenneth Copeland, and other yahoos, are nothing more than false teachers. R-U-N  A-W-A-Y!! as fast and as far as you can.

I’ll stand with Jesus who said not even He knew when He would return, only His Father. That’s solid ground to stand on.

April 10

Wednesday, April 10th, 2024

Have you ever had a sense of satisfaction when watching a movie or reading a book and the antagonist “gets what is coming to them”? That’s all well and good in a movie or a book; not so in real life. IMHO whenever we have a sense of satisfaction or that feeling of “Good. They got what they deserved” a small part of what little good is in us dies.

But there are times, even in the Bible, where we see this scenario played out. But as we will soon see it wasn’t by man’s doing, but God’s. Remember this principle as you consider the following story: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord.”

In the Old Testament book of Esther a character named Haman hates Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down and worship the ground Haman walked on. Literally. Haman eventually saw his chance to “get” Mordecai by getting the king (Xerxes) to put into law the extinction of the Jews on such-and-such a day. Haman even went so far as to erect gallows strictly made for Mordecai’s demise and display. Through a series of events -which actually go back to when Mordecai saved the king’s life by reporting a conspiracy but which had never been revealed or rewarded-Haman’s plot was exposed. Ultimately, Haman and his family were hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai’s demise.

We would say, “Turn about is fair play” or “He got what was coming to him.” But notice: Mordecai didn’t seek it. Mordecai didn’t go after Haman. No. He did his thing; God did His. (Please read the book of Esther for the complete story).

God is the creator and sustainer of all things and is in absolute complete control. Haman’s wickedness would not and did not escape God’s purview. God’s timing was and still is perfect. We would do well to leave all things in His hands and His control. Even, and especially, the “getting even” part.

April 2

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2024

Someone has famously said, “The seven last words of the church are ‘We’ve never done it that way before.'” That, of course, was not a compliment. It was, in fact, another way of saying that a church will die or have zero influence if it does what it has always done; is what it has always been; and sticks to what once was.

Sadly, it is true. Many churches (and organizations) are tied to to their past. Their glory days are long gone but “Doggone it, we’ve always done it this way and we will continue doing it this way.” Let’s start playing TAPS or maybe, just maybe, it started long time ago?

When I first started in ministry it was at the end of my sophomore year in college. I preached on Sundays at a little country church in a little town in KY (No need to mention where). I honestly don’t know if that little church is still in existence. But they used to have 2 week revivals. 2 weeks! In June! Every night! Now, I’m not sure if they still do that…I would hope not. I confess I had no clue what a revival was all about or even what it was, let alone pastor a church that had one 2 weeks long.  I see it now as a meeting for the already saved to get together, listen to a sermon they have heard multiple times before, and walk away feeling good they were there. Yeah…that’s cynical. I’m sorry I’m a tad bit jaded.

There is a church in the town where I pastor that has a “Gospel Meeting” i.e. their brand name for “Revival.” For a whole week (I think twice a year), they have meetings each night. I don’t see too many cars in the parking lot. If I did, I wonder how many are unsaved folks? Could it be the time is past?

Whether a church, a company, a local business, or even a local service organization, death comes knocking if there is a failure to change. I’m not talking about the mission or core values. We have enough of that nonsense already. No…I’m talking about the approach.  It’s time we stop living in the past or try to relive our glory days by “doing what we have always done” and start making the necessary changes to influence the culture. If not, the culture will influence us. 

I heard it put this way one time: Methods change; the message doesn’t. That’s it in a nutshell.

March 28

Thursday, March 28th, 2024

“What in the world is Maundy Thursday?” That was my incredulous question to someone when he mentioned Maundy Thursday.

Backstory: I grew up and subsequently preached in a church tradition that was not a denomination (least they said they weren’t). We didn’t and still don’t celebrate special days (except Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other holidays) or saints or creeds. All I knew growing up was my Catholic friends ate fish, not meat, on Friday, but I had no clue why. I never knew about Lent, saints, creeds, and certainly not Maundy Thursday.

Until a few years ago. I was looking into the history of Lent and church practices when I heard about this thing called Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum or “command.” The command being commemorated was the one Jesus gave His followers the night before He died: “Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (Jn.13:34 NLT)

I have also learned that the royal family began giving gifts to people in need as far back as the 13th century on Maundy Thursday. Do they still carry on that tradition? I don’t know. (Maybe you do?)

Maundy Thursday is today in the Christian world. The day before Good Friday. Think about this for a moment. Jesus gave the command to His followers to love as He loved.  A day later in an act of pure love and selflessness, He showed His love by dying on a cross for sins He never committed. “There is no great love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn. 15:13 NLT). So He spoke; so He lived loved. 

I’m still not too sure about this thing called Maundy Thursday. I’m still not convinced about the need to make a special day of it. But it does beg the question: How are you going to show love this Easter season? One went to a cross. We are not/may not be asked to go to that extreme, but are you willing to give yourself away in service to another?

March 26

Tuesday, March 26th, 2024

I had someone say to me the other day, “Getting old s**ks.” (I can’t stand that word hence the astericks.  However, it is a quote so…). While I hate the way he said it, I can’t totally disagree.

At age 71 I’m getting older. Well, so are you, but let’s think about this for a moment. As we age, lines develop on our face. We call them crow’s feet. Some develop “wisdom wrinkles” which become more prominent as one ages. Depending on your body fat, skin will hang and wiggle. Skin will get crepe-y. Bruises (blood) will show up in the arms and forearms or skin nicks will show up when you can’t even remember bumping or scraping them. Your stamina is not what it once was. For example, I used to ride 20-30 miles a day. If I do that today, I need a day or two between rides to recover. I might do 20 miles for 2-3 days in a row, but then I have to give myself a day or two off the bike.

Getting old is an adjustment, that’s for sure. That’s why I have issues with the “preacher” i.e. self-help guru who tries to tell me my best life is now. No, Joel, no it is not.

My best life is yet to come. I recently held the funeral service of a man whose last 2-3 years were spent fighting the effects of diabetes, a nasty bed sore caused by neglect of a rehab facility, the amputation of a leg at the knee, and a couple of strokes which affected his right hand strength and his communication (he could communicate but was slow in responding and putting sentences together). His best life was not now, laying in a bed. Not here. He is enjoying his best life NOW, living in the presence of the Savior he loved so much.

Do not look at your present or even your past life, as the pinnacle..as your best life. It’s not. For the follower of Jesus, the best is yet to come! That, by the way, is what the story of “Easter” is all about.

March 20

Wednesday, March 20th, 2024

Have you ever played the “what if?” game? You know how it works. You might make a statement and say, “What if I hadn’t…?” Or you might look back on something you have done, slapped your forehead and said, “I could have had a V-8.” Just kidding. 🙂 You might, however, say, “What if I had or had not done…?”

As an athlete (in my younger, former days) there have been times I was tempted to quit, to give up. to say the pain to continue was too great. I now look back and see that extra practice effort; that extra game effort; that push to get that rebound was worth it. I would have missed out on the prize-whatever it was. What if I had quit a tad bit earlier?

There’s an interesting story in the OT which has always captured my fancy. You can find it in 2 Kings 5. It’s the story of Naaman, the leprous, Gentile, military leader. He had a little Jewish girl as a servant who recommended he go see the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy. Long story short: Naaman gets a letter from his king requesting safe passage for Naaman and an audience with Elisha. Elisha sends his servant to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the Jordan River. He protests because the Jordan is muddy and, he thinks, inferior to the rivers in his home land. His soldiers basically tell him, “What could it hurt to do what the prophet says?” So he does. Seven times and he comes up clean! No more leprosy!!

Here is your list of “what ifs?”

  • What if he had refused to dip in the Jordan?
  • What if he had stopped at #6 out of frustration or disbelief?
  • What if he had thought this was effort in futility?
  • What if he had blown off the servant girl’s suggestion? You know…kids don’t know squat.

We are often hamstrung by the “what ifs” in our life, missing out on blessings God wants to give us by being paralyzed by the “what ifs.” So we short-change ourselves.

Take it from Naaman. The what ifs can be crippling. Break through them and see what God has on the other side.

February 29

Thursday, February 29th, 2024

LEAP YEAR!

The ways of God never cease to amaze me. Who would have known-other than Him-that one of the more horrific times in my life would lead to a friendship that is like “brothers from another mother.”

In November of 2016 I was hit by a hit-n-run driver while riding my bike. It was in the afternoon; I was wearing bright clothing; and I was hit by an SUV’s rearview mirror on my left hip. While I laid in the middle of the highway, I watched as the driver took off, never once putting on a brake or to see if I was okay. (Yeah, I believe it was intentional. There are some idiots on the road. Ask the guy who got so close to me I felt his breeze on my leg then gave me the finger). Anyway…

I had had a little interest in an organization called 3 Feet Please but after this incident my interest ramped up. Its goal is to advocate for 3 feet of distance between car and rider and make it a law. Little did I know the leadership of 3FP had changed from a man in Florida to a man in Arizona. Dave and I struck up an email conversation which graduated to more regular contact. Then one weekend he came to visit. He spent 2 winters in Maine to get out of the heat in AZ (yeah he needs his head examined 🙂 ) and stopped to visit on his way through. There have been multiple other visits, emails, texts, and phone calls until our trip to AZ last week was the icing on the cake.

Both our wives agree we are too much alike in many respects. While I am an extreme extrovert and he’s an introvert whose brain never stops, he knows so much more about certain areas of “life” than me. Our wives would say we are “brothers from another mother.”

As we visited I had decided on the flight there to take an aggressive approach to reading Proverbs. Normally, I take one chapter a day every other month. This time I decided to read the whole book while on vacation, which meant 4 chapters a day. As a result, I read two Scriptures that particularly meant more to me. “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” (Pr. 18:24). The other says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Pr. 27:17).

True friendship is hard to find, let alone experience, especially for men. At 71 I can look back and see men I’ve been friends with. That tends to be characteristic of my personality. Except for one, they have all come and gone…more like acquaintances. This friendship with Dave is special. Sort of like David and Jonathan’s. We are good for each other.  Our wives agree-even though we can be a bit wacky and off the wall.

I thank God for a much-needed and much-appreciated friendship. Do you have one you can lean on?

February 6

Tuesday, February 6th, 2024

Have you ever heard of Judson Van Deventer? Neither had I. Or so I thought. It was not until I read -as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story”-that I knew more about him than I thought.

Born on a farm, JVD learned to paint, studied art, and became an art teacher. God, however, had different plans for him. Encouraged by his friends, Judson also felt called to evangelism. But it was hard for him to give up teaching art. He finally made his decision.

Following God is not always (like hardly ever) easy. Sometimes we are challenged to make tough choices. Our comfortable, sedentary life is uprooted. Even though we make the choice to follow Jesus and His call, there may still be moments of doubt and even anxiety.

Judson heeded God’s call. Later he went back to teaching. His decision to surrender even led to a song you may heard or sung: “All to Jesus I surrender/All to Him I freely give/I will ever love and trust Him/In His presence daily live/I surrender all, I surrender all/All to Thee my blessed Savior/I surrender all.”

Oh…and one more thing: remember when I said that Judson eventually went back into teaching? One of his students was a young man who name was…wait for it…Billy Graham.

I was speaking with someone yesterday about God’s plan for our life. About how His surprises are endless. And how His timing is impeccable. We never know…only He does.

{My thanks to Our Daily Bread for the story of JVD. The filler is mine}