Trouble Travels

Here’s a true story. A retired couple found themselves greatly worried by the threat of nuclear war. So, they decided that their best course of action was to settle down in the place that was the least likely in all the world to be affected by war.

To determine where that place was, they undertook a serious study of the issue. They studied and traveled, studied and traveled, and then studied and traveled some more. Finally the couple came to the conclusion that the remote Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic ocean, with their beautiful cliff-lined coasts and picturesque sheep farms, provided the answer. The couple then bought a home on one of the islands and moved there. This was in the early 1980s.

What the couple didn’t know was that a simmering, long-standing dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina over who should have sovereign control of the Islands was about to come to a head. In April 2, 1982, Argentinian soldiers invaded the Islands, as well as other British territories in the South Atlantic, and took control of them as an occupying force. This act of aggression was followed a few weeks later by the United Kingdom sending soldiers to retake the Islands. The conflict soon became known as The Falkland Islands war.

The war lasted for 74 days and ended with Argentina surrendering and returning control of the Islands to the United Kingdom. The death toll was 649 Argentinian soldiers, 255 British soldiers, and 3 Falkland Island residents. No, the couple who had moved to the Islands weren’t among the deceased, but the Islands continued to be plagued for decades by the threat of over 100 landmines left over from the war. Paradise had clearly been lost.

The couple’s story can be offered as evidence that searching for a location of perfect peace in this world can be a very futile endeavor. That’s why we must learn to find inner peace wherever we are. And what is the best way to find inner peace? It is to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself said to His followers:

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27, N.K.J.V.)

Concerning this peace that Jesus gives, Philippians 4:7 says that it passes all understanding and guards the Christian’s heart and mind. I have to say that I like the sounds of that. A peace that can’t be fully understood on a human level? A peace that guards my heart? A peace that guards my mind? Yeah, put me down for all that. I’ll take the complete package.

Where are you living right now? Where are you working? Where are you going to school? Is it a safe zone that is free from all conflict and strife? If you are like most of us, it probably isn’t. Everything isn’t perfect. Certain people are driving you nuts. Perhaps you are looking over the hill at grass that seems greener and more peaceful.

Well, just be warned that trouble travels. It can even find the Falkland Islands. Therefore, the only real solution is to allow Jesus to give you peace in the midst of trouble. Anything less than that and you’ll be moving around all the time trying to find your perfect place. Unfortunately, such a place doesn’t really exist anywhere. Instead, what you’ll find is one that merely offers a different brand of trouble.

Posted in Adversity, Change, Choices, Complaining, Contentment, Desires, Fear, God's Will, Human Life, Inner Peace, Peace, Problems, Temptation, Trials, Worry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jonah Path

Here’s some Bible trivia for you. Question: What is the Bible’s only book that ends with a question? Answer: Jonah. Jonah 4:11 closes the book with God asking the prophet Jonah:

“And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left — and much livestock?” (N.K.J.V.)

Whatever answer Jonah gave to that question — if he gave one at all — has been lost to history. There is a strong possibility, though, that Jonah’s answer wasn’t something merciful and compassionate along the lines of, “Yes, Lord, you should pity Nineveh, especially its livestock and infants who aren’t old enough yet to know their right hand from their left.” I say this because the plain truth is that Jonah absolutely despised the Ninevites.

If you know the story, you know that Jonah hadn’t even wanted to make the ministry trip there in the first place. He was living in Israel, minding his own business, fulfilling his role as a prophet. Despite the fact that he was from Gath Hephet (2 Kings 14:25), which was located in Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah, he served as a prophet to the northern kingdom during the long reign of the wicked King Jeroboam II. He was even a popular prophet for having given a prophecy, one that had come to pass, that Jeroboam II would successfully expand the territory of the northern kingdom (2 Kings 14:25). But then one day God have Jonah a new assignment: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me” (Jonah 1:1, N.K.J.V.).

Nineveh was the capital city of the notorious Assyrian empire. At its height, the city was the largest in the world. Its roots could be traced all the way back to Nimrod, a great-grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:8-11). That’s the same Nimrod who led in the building of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 10:10; 11:1-9). From such a wicked start, Nineveh couldn’t help but eventually become a hated enemy of God’s chosen nation of Israel. They were infamous for being absolutely ruthless in warfare, and if you know your Old Testament history, you know that it was them who would ultimately destroy Israel’s entire northern kingdom.

Even God didn’t pull any punches about who the Ninevites were. He didn’t say of them, “Their goodness has come up before Me.” No, He said, “Their wickedness has come up before Me.” But, hey, all He told Jonah to do was go to Nineveh and “cry out against it.” That doesn’t sound like too unpleasant a task, does it? So why did Jonah balk at it and head off hundreds of miles in the opposite direction toward Tarshish? (Jonah 1:3)

He did it because he suspected even from the jump that God was going to show mercy to the Ninevites rather than destroy them. He even told God so (Jonah 4:2). And sure enough, once God finally did get Jonah to the city (after a crash course in whale seminary), and Jonah finally did prophesy God’s message of doom upon the city (Jonah 3:3-4), the city’s citizens repented and God spared them (Jonah 3:5-10).

That’s when Jonah got hopping mad at God and asked Him to kill him because he would rather not live if he had to serve a God who would show mercy to such a wicked race of people (Jonah 4:1-3). There was probably also an embarrassment factor in play as well because Jonah had prophesied that something was going to happen and it didn’t. Nobody likes to end up looking like a fool.

Jonah was so mad that he could no longer abide in the city. Even when God tried to get him to talk out his anger by asking him, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah offered no response (Jonah 4:4). I honestly believe that Jonah was too furious with God to even talk to Him. So, Jonah left Nineveh and found himself a spot just outside the city (Jonah 4:5). His plan was to stay there awhile and see what would become of the Ninevites. Would their repentance last? Would God’s mercy hold?

Jonah built himself a crude little shelter and sat down under it to beat the heat. God did him one better, though, by having a plant shoot up miraculously overnight to become large enough and high enough to provide him with some major shelter (Jonah 4:6). Jonah was very grateful for that plant. This point of gratitude is one of the few mood-breakers in the entire book.

Alas, though, Jonah’s happiness had a short life cycle. The next morning God sent a worm to damage the plant and cause it to wither as fast as it had sprung up to a gigantic size (Jonah 4:7). Then the sun arose fully and God sent a strong east wind to blow the heat upon Jonah (Jonah 4:8). It was at this point that Jonah again wished to die by saying, “It is better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:8).

This time God responded by asking him, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” But Jonah, having now lost all concern for spirituality or reverence, shot back, “(Yes), it is right for me to be angry, even to death!” (Jonah 4:9). When I read that response I am struck by its raw honesty and intensity. We just don’t find passages in the Bible where people, especially saved believers, bark at God like that and tell Him what they really think.

It is this brief conversation that sets the stage for the aforementioned ending of the book. After pointing out that Jonah had pity for the odd plant that rose up in a night and died the next morning, God asks him, “If you had pity for that plant, shouldn’t I have pity for the city of Nineveh, especially for its undiscerning infants and livestock?” To that, Jonah provides no response, at least not one the book records. As I said earlier, considering the state of mind he was in at the time, my guess is that he didn’t particularly care about Nineveh’s children and livestock at that moment.

And so, when all the dust settles, what lessons can the close of the book of Jonah teach us? I’ll offer two, neither one of which has anything to do with a whale. See what you think of them.

Lesson #1: God shows mercy to people we don’t think deserve it. Jesus had this lesson in mind when He said that God makes the sun rise on the evil as well as the good, and sends rain on not only the just but also the unjust (Matthew 5:45). This is God’s way of living out His own commandment about loving one’s enemies (Matthew 5:44). He doesn’t expect us to do what He Himself isn’t willing to do.

However, we shouldn’t take the fact that God shows mercy to evil, unjust people to mean that He gives them a permanent free pass. What Jonah didn’t understand was that God wasn’t finished with the Ninevites. God threatened, the Ninevites repented, and God relented of the threat. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Approximately 150 years after the events of the book of Jonah, God destroyed Nineveh by way of an alliance between the Babylonians and the Medes. This fulfilled the prophecies against Nineveh that were prophesied by another of God’s prophets, Nahum.

Lesson #2: Sometimes God does something or allows something that really ticks us off, and there’s no use faking that we’re fine with it. I genuinely feel for people who are inwardly mad at God but are too afraid or ashamed to outwardly show it. Imagine one wide-eyed person saying, “Isn’t God great?” only to have another person respond, “I don’t think He’s so great, not after what happened to me.” How fast do you think that first person would get away from that second one?

This is the world we have constructed in Christian circles. If you say anything that even remotely hints that you are angry with God, people look at you like you are on the precipice of dropping straight into hell. I think about how the Nineveh version of Jonah, a preacher no less, would fit into such circles. He’d no doubt be a ministry dropout who no longer attends church and blasts any fellow Christian who tries to use the old expression “God is good, all the time” on him.

I don’t write this to give the impression that being angry with God is a fine place to be. I write it merely to let anyone out there know that it’s a perfectly legitimate path to walk for a period of time. Let’s call it “the Jonah path.” It’s not a path you should walk for the rest of your life, but God isn’t going to strike you with a lightning bolt just because your heart isn’t in singing “How Great Thou Art” or “How Great Is Our God” while you are walking it.

If you can think of God as your counselor, the last thing He wants you to do is lie to Him about your true feelings. You’ll never experience any genuine healing like that. You have to start with honesty, even if it’s honestly that makes other people uncomfortable. Don’t worry, God can handle it. I mean, it’s not like He doesn’t already know what’s churning inside you.

I suspect that if our Christian testimonies were more real, our version of Christianity would be more appealing to the Jonahs of the world. Such people are out there, whether they ever reveal their secret identities or not. They feel let down by God. They don’t agree with the way He is running the universe. They are angry about certain events that He has either caused or allowed to transpire. All they need is a safe, non-judgmental environment in which to vent. Sadly, such environments are exceedingly scarce.

I don’t mind admitting that I myself have quite a bit of Jonah about me. I guess that’s why I’m qualified to write this post. Frankly, God has led me into some situations that, if a story was being written about them today, would end in a question mark because God and I are still sorting out the messy fallout. I’ll admit that I’m not fully recovered yet and don’t know when I will be.

What I do know is that the book of Jonah is every bit as God inspired as all the Bible’s uplifting passages and that encourages me. It assures me that I’m not the only person (even the only saved believer) who has ever walked this darker path with God. Again, it’s not a path that anyone with any sense wants to keep walking. You should stay on it, though, until you reach the end of it. To abandon “the Jonah path” prematurely by faking how you really feel is to abort the healing process the path provides. That’s why I have to keep walking the path an undetermined amount of time longer. I’m just trusting that it will one day end in an answer rather than a question.

Posted in Adversity, Anger, Backsliding, Church, Church Attendance, Depression, Disappointment, Doubt, Encouragement, Honesty, Personal, Prayer, Problems, Suffering, Trials, Truth | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Your Druthers

Mark Twain featured the characters of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer in multiple books. One of them is Tom Sawyer, Detective. As part of that book’s conversations between Huck and Tom, Huck says, “Any way you druther have it, that is the way I druther have it.” To that, Tom replies, “There ain’t any druthers about it, Huck Finn; nobody said anything about druthers.”

Tom Sawyer, Detective was written in 1896, and so we know the word “druthers” goes back at least that far. Obviously, though, Twain wouldn’t have incorporated it into Tom and Huck’s dialogue if the word wasn’t in use long before that. By the way, in case you aren’t familiar with the term, it means “those things you would rather do” and was probably devised as a contraction of “would rather.”

Truth be told, we all have druthers. We have things we would rather do. I’d druther watch a baseball game than a soccer match. I’d druther drink Pepsi than coffee. I’d druther wear jeans, a golf shirt, and tennis shoes than a suit, a tie, and dress shoes.

Still, every Sunday morning I’m up there behind the pulpit wearing a suit, a tie, and dress shoes instead of jeans, a golf shirt, and tennis shoes. Why? It’s because we don’t always get to do our druthers, do we? Welcome to life.

For the Christian, a serious problem arises anytime his or her druthers doesn’t match up with God’s will. It’s at this intersection that a death must occur. Either the Christian’s druthers or God’s will won’t make it out of that intersection alive. Something has to give.

Jesus understood this particular type of death perfectly. That’s why He said in Luke 9:23, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny (emphasis mine) himself, and take up his cross (emphasis mine) daily, and follow Me.” In the Roman world, a cross was not a necklace or a symbol on a church. It was a means of execution. To correctly bring the imagery into our day and age, we would say, “…let him deny himself, and take the lethal injection” or “…sit down in the electric chair” or “…enter the gas chamber.”

If you find such language upsetting, that’s the point. Jesus was purposely trying to be starkly graphic. He wanted His disciples to understand that following Him on a daily basis isn’t easy. It costs you something. It costs you your druthers.

Thankfully, our druthers and God’s will don’t always conflict. Since God knows us better than we know ourselves, He knows how to custom tailor a life of service for us that incorporates many of our druthers into it. He is, after all, the one who wired us and gifted us with talents and spiritual gifts. So why would He not make logical, commonsensical, appropriate use of all that?

With this understood, however, there will always be those times when God will test our obedience by asking us to do things that cut directly against our druthers. Even Jesus, who was God the Son in human flesh, had such a moment when He prayed three times concerning His impending death, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:36-46, N.K.J.V.).

The key word in those three prayers is easy to spot. It’s that word nevertheless. That word serves as the point of death — the cross — in the prayers. Jesus’ druthers come before it, and God’s will comes after it.

Right now it could be that God’s will is calling for you to do something that runs opposite of your druthers. What this means is that something is about to die in your life. The vultures might as well be circling over your head. But what will die? Will it be your druthers or God’s will? I trust that you understand that it’s in your best interests that your druthers die. Such a death, however, will require a nevertheless moment from you as you take the lethal injection, sit down in the electric chair, or enter the gas chamber. That, you see, is the only way that you can follow where Jesus is leading you, and it’s the only way that you can claim the title “disciple” in this particular decision.

Posted in Choices, Christ's Death, Commitment, Crucifixion, Decisions, Desires, Discipleship, Dying To Self, God's Omniscience, God's Will, Individuality, Obedience, Prayer, Sacrifice, Service, Spiritual Gifts, Submission, Talents, Temptation, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Has God Told You Something Lately?

In my previous post, I mentioned that Jesus remained completely silent when He stood before Herod Antipas for questioning (Luke 23:6-12). Nothing Herod said or asked could get a response. What made Christ’s behavior so strange was the fact that He didn’t give this same silent treatment to either Annas (the former high priest and father-in-law of the high priest at the time), Caiphas (the high priest at the time), or Pontius Pilate (the Roman ruler over Judea).

The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jesus turned stone-cold silent toward Herod. It seems highly likely, though, that it had everything to do with how Herod had treated John the Baptist. John had preached God’s message to Herod about the sin Herod had committed in taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Phillip, to be his own wife (Matthew 14:1-4; Mark 6:14-18). Herod had heard that message and responded badly to it by first having John arrested and imprisoned and then later having him executed (Matthew 14:5-12; Mark 6:18-29).

It is always a serious thing when God gets a message delivered to you personally. That message might come by way of you reading a passage in the Bible. It might come by way of you hearing a sermon. It might come by way of you reading a blog post. The fact is that God has any number of ways of getting His message to you. But however and through whomever God’s message gets delivered, the important thing is your response to it.

If you respond correctly by heeding the message and making any required changes in your life, that sets you on a good path. Conversely, if you respond incorrectly by failing to heed the message and refusing to make the necessary changes, that sets you on a bad path. Think of it this way: God’s message to you will always bring you to a life-altering intersection. Whether that altering is to your benefit or detriment depends upon what you do with the message.

The Bible’s most extreme example of this spiritual truth involves all the people who hear the gospel before the Rapture occurs but do not act upon the message by believing in Jesus as Savior. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 refers to the coming Antichrist as “the lawless one” and says of the damage he will do in the seven-year tribulation that follows the Rapture:

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (N.K.J.V.)

Don’t just blow past that last part. It says that God Himself will send these people strong delusion to ensure that they will believe the lie that is the Antichrist. It’s as if God will say, “Okay, since that’s the path you’ve chosen, I’ll make sure you don’t get a chance to change paths. If you want the Antichrist instead of Jesus Christ, you’ll get him. I’ll see to that.”

Similar language is found in Romans 1:18-32. That passage describes people who rejected the truth about God and instead embraced idolatry. As verse 25 puts it, these people “exchanged the truth of God for the lie” (N.K.J.V.). There’s that thought again. The passage also makes a point of saying in three separate instances that God gave these people up (over) to their sins (verses 24, 26, and 28). In giving them up (over) to their sins, God basically said, “If that’s the path you want, have at it. It’s all yours.”

Admittedly, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 and Romans 1:18-32 refer to lost people rather than Christians. This shouldn’t be taken to mean, however, that the Christian can reject God’s personal message to him or her and get off scot-free. And so I’ll ask you, the reader, right now, “Has God told you something lately?” Well, if He has, how did you respond to the message? Did you heed it and make the necessary changes? Or did you reject it and stay your course? If the latter describes you, then consider this post as God’s way of warning you yet again to heed His message. And consider yourself downright fortunate that He’s not already sealed you in your chosen path.

Posted in Belief, Choices, Commitment, Conviction, Decisions, Disobedience, God's Wrath, God's Will, Idolatry, Obedience, Rebellion, Repentance, Salvation, Sin, The Gospel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What Would Jesus Do?

“What Would Jesus Do?” has become a popular catchphrase in Christian circles. The acronym WWJD can be found on bracelets, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. in Christian bookstores everywhere. Few Christians today, however, know the origin of WWJD.

Rev. Charles Sheldon was a Congregationalist minister in Topeka, Kansas in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was also a leader in what was known as the Social Gospel movement. This movement attempted to apply Christian ethics to social problems such as poverty, economic inequality, crime, racism, child labor, poor schools, and the threat of global war.

In 1886, Sheldon preached a series of Sunday-night sermons in which the sermons were centered around fictional characters who experienced various moral dilemmas. One week Sheldon would introduce a character, describe the moral dilemma the character faced, and close the sermon by asking, “What would Jesus do?” The following week he would provide what he believed to be the scriptural answer to the question.

These sermons were very well attended and received, and Sheldon later used the material as the basis for a serial in the Chicago Advance, a weekly religious paper. This led to him compiling the material into a book: In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? The Chicago Advance printed the book in a ten-cent paperback edition that sold 100,000 copies in just a few weeks.

Unfortunately for Sheldon’s bank account, the folks at the Chicago Advance bungled the job of copywriting the material. That mistake caused the material to become labeled as “public domain.” This labeling meant that no one had legal rights to the material, a classification that allowed publishers around the world to print and sell the book without paying royalty fees to Sheldon.

In an odd twist, though, the Advance’s mistake caused Sheldon’s book to be published by more publishers than usual and sold at a cheaper price than usual. This produced immensely larger sales for the book. As of today, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold approximately 50 million copies worldwide. What Sheldon lost in royalties he certainly made up for in readership and influence.

But now let’s get to the purpose for this post. Is asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” a good way for Christians to address the multitude of problems, choices, and moral dilemmas that life throws at us? My answer is that, generally speaking, it is. This answer, however, comes with a couple of very important codicils.

Codicil #1: Jesus sometimes did things that we just can’t do. When Jesus was confronted with Lazarus’ death and the intense mourning the sisters Mary and Martha were experiencing, He raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). That’s not something that I can do. Therefore, I must come up with another approach for funerals and times of mourning.

When Jesus was criticized for not paying the tax that went to support the Jewish temple, he instructed Peter to go fishing and catch a fish that would have a coin in its mouth (Matthew 17:24-27). I wouldn’t advise you to try that the next time you have a financial need. I’ve caught quite a few fish in my life, but none of them came with any money.

When Jesus was confronted by a wild man who had a large group of demons living inside him, He cast out those demons and in so doing restored the man’s quality of life (Mark 5:1-20). Here again, that course of action is above my pay grade. If I ever meet a deranged, demon-possessed person, my best move might not be to attempt to perform an exorcism.

When Jesus was faced on two separate occasions with needing to feed massive crowds — 5,000 men (Mark 6:30-44) and 4,000 men (Mark 8:1-9) respectively — He accomplished each task by miraculously multiplying small amounts of food. In the end, there were even plenty of leftovers. Needless to say, this move isn’t part of my repertoire.

Codicil #2: Jesus wasn’t always consistent in how He handled situations. There were times when Jesus’ actions showed illogical love, mercy, and compassion. Examples would be when He refused to condemn the woman who had been caught committing adultery (John 8:1-11), when He purposely touched a leper (Matthew 8:1-4), and when He invited Himself for a stay at the home of Zacchaeus, the notorious chief tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). These stories, as well as others like them, give us the non-judgmental, tolerant Jesus the world praises.

In the other camp, however, are the times when Jesus flashed righteous indignation and spoke coldly. Examples would be when He looked at the Pharisees with anger because they cared more about their Sabbath rules than about a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), when He twice overturned the tables in the Temple and ran the money changers out of there (John 2:13-22; Matthew 21:12-13), and when He said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:21-23). I assure you that the characters on the wrong side of these stories didn’t feel much love, mercy, and compassion coming from Jesus at those particular moments.

Similarly, Jesus said that we should love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Okay, got that. But how much love can be heard when He calls Herod Antipas a “fox” (Luke 13:32) and when He call the scribes and Pharisees: “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13-30), “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16), “serpents” (Matthew 23:33), and a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 23:33)?

Let’s keep going. When Jesus stood before the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate, He engaged in a conversation with Pilate (John 18:28-38). Contrast this with Jesus standing before the Roman ruler Herod Antipas. Despite the fact that Herod had wanted to meet Jesus for a long time and asked Him many questions, Jesus wouldn’t say one word to him (Luke 23:6-12).

When Jesus first sent the chosen 12 out to preach the gospel, He told them to only preach to Jewish people (Matthew 10:5-6). Later on, of course, He instructed His followers to go preach to the whole world (Matthew 28:16-20). Obviously He had His reasons for giving both sets of instructions. I’m simply pointing out that Jesus gave different instructions for different times.

And here’s one last example. For that first ministry trip, Jesus told the chosen 12 that if a house or a city wouldn’t receive them, they should shake the dust off their feet and move on down the road (Matthew 10:14-15). In other words, each house and city got one shot to receive the message. In regards to His hometown of Nazareth, however, Jesus gave that city a second chance (Mark 6:1-6) to embrace Him as Messiah after they had rejected Him the first time by trying to kill Him (Luke 4:16-30). Go figure.

Summing everything up, I would say that asking the question, “What would Jesus do?” works great to get the discernment process started. After all, Jesus really should be our role model, and the more our lives look like His, the better off we will be. As I’ve pointed out, though, the question will always be somewhat limited in that Jesus sometimes did things that we just can’t do, and even He Himself wasn’t always consistent in how He handled situations.

The fact is that Jesus is a complex Savior, and if you look hard enough in the gospels you can find Him doing just about anything that suits what you want to do. Surely, then, the better question to ask is not, “What would Jesus do?” but, “What does Jesus want me to do in this specific situation?” You see, once you start asking that question in full sincerity, with no slanted bias toward any particular answer, Jesus can provide you with the answer that best suits your situation. Of course, what you do with that answer will always be up to you.

Posted in Choices, Christ's Miracles, Decisions, Discernment, Discipleship, God's Will, Scripture, The Bible | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons Learned From Wee Bobby

Many years ago, in a small village church in southern Scotland, the church leaders were questioning the elderly pastor as to why the church wasn’t growing. To those leaders, a dismissal seemed in order. They said to the pastor, “No one has come to Christ through your ministry in the past year.” The pastor, trying to keep his position, said, “Yea, it has been a lean year, but what about wee Bobby?”

The “wee Bobby” of which the pastor spoke was a small boy, around four years old, who had knelt in the church altar and committed himself to Jesus. But the church leaders had been unimpressed by the child’s supposed decision. They believed that a child that young couldn’t possibly understand enough about salvation to legitimately become a Christian.

What they missed was the fact that even though the boy was from a poor family, it was a family of devout Christians. The mother, for example, often read the stories of famous missionaries to the children. Those stories had stirred little Bobby’s soul for Jesus.

Sometime not too long after Bobby’s conversion, his village church conducted a missions meeting. As part of the service, a missions offering was collected. When one of the ushers passed by young Bobby, the boy touched the man on the sleeve and whispered, “Please put the offering basket down on the floor.” The usher was shocked by the request, but he obliged the child if for no other reason than to see what the boy had in mind. You can imagine the man’s surprise when Bobby — in bare feet no less — stepped himself into the plate. When the usher asked why the child had done this, the boy replied, “I have no money to give to God, but I give Him myself.”

Okay, so whatever became of wee Bobby? Did he ever amount to anything for Jesus? You bet. He grew up to be Robert Moffat, the great missionary who spent more than 50 years ministering in South Africa, becoming nothing less than a missionary legend in the process. Moffat’s life and ministry bear ample evidence of the fact that he meant business when he knelt in that altar as a child and later stepped into that offering basket.

I find at least three teaching points in the story of Robert Moffat, and I offer them as the close to this short post. Consider each one carefully and ask yourself, “How does God want me to apply this to my life?” They are as follows:

  1. We should never seek to dissuade a small child from pursuing spiritual matters. The whole idea of, “Wait until you are older” is a lie from the devil. If God the Holy Spirit is working on a child, who are we to throw water onto that spark?
  2. God isn’t limited by the size of a congregation when He wants to do something special. It’s not that He’s against crowds, but He doesn’t require them. Even in crowds, salvation experiences must always come down to individual decisions.
  3. What Jesus really wants is ALL of you. Figuratively speaking, He wants you to step into that offering basket. Why? It’s because He knows that if you ever make the decision to give Him ALL of you like that, that one decision will take care of a lifetime’s worth of “little” decisions that He wants you to make concerning Him.
Posted in Children, Church, Commitment, Decisions, Discipleship, Giving, God's Work, Individuality, Ministry, Missions, Sacrifice, Salvation, Service, Submission, The Holy Spirit, Youth | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Desires of Your Heart

Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4, N.K.J.V.)

One popular interpretation of this verse contends that we shouldn’t take David’s words so simply and so literally. According to this interpretation, David didn’t mean to convey the idea that God rewards His choice servants by granting them what they ask for in prayer. Instead, he meant that God implants within — gives — His choice servants inner desires to do the things He wants them to do. Think of it as God hardwiring dedicated believers to want the things He Himself wants for them.

Those who hold to this interpretation cite Philippians 2:13, a New Testament passage, as evidence. That verse says:

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (N.K.J.V.)

While I won’t dispute that God working in individuals to will His good pleasure does mean that He implants desires within them to do those things He already wants them to do, this really doesn’t seem to be what David had in mind for Psalm 37:4. I say that because this verse isn’t the only place in the Psalms where he mentions the idea. Here are two other places (both from the N.K.J.V.):

  •  Psalm 21:2: You have given him his heart’s desire, And have not withheld the request of his lips.
  • Psalm 145:19: He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.

These two references make it clear that David believed that when a believer delights himself in the ways of the Lord, God sees to it that the believer’s requests get answered, “Yes.” These are the “desires of the heart” to which David referred. Therefore, while I understand the other interpretation and even agree with its premise in light of Philippians 2:13, I have to admit that the best commentary on any passage written by David is another passage written by David.

Furthermore, as far as a New Testament verse to back up this interpretation, Matthew 6:33 fits the bill pretty well. There Jesus says:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (N.K.J.V.)

You see, seeking first the kingdom of God amounts to the same thing as delighting yourself in the ways of the Lord. Likewise, God adding all these things to you amounts to the same thing as Him giving you the desires of your heart. In both passages, the “things” (“desires of your heart”) get granted as the result of the walk with the Lord. I understand that some of our more no-nonsense Christians get a little uncomfortable saying that God rewards by way of earthly blessings, but that’s exactly what these passages teach.

Another passage that plugs in nicely here is John 15:7, where Jesus says:

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (N.K.J.V.)

Here again we see the cause-and-effect relationship. If the individual abides in Christ, and if Christ’s words abide in the individual, the rewards for that dedication come by way of granted desires (requests). Let’s not twist Christ’s words to make them mean something different than they mean.

Of course, it should be noted that any individual who truly delights himself in the Lord will not actually want anything that isn’t God’s will for his life. Even if the person requests such a thing by mistake or ignorance, any and all requests carry underneath them the requester’s permission for God to say, “No, that’s not My will for you.” With this understood, however, if you are delighting yourself in the Lord, seeking first His kingdom, abiding in Christ, and allowing Christ’s words to abide in you, you have every right to expect God to grant you the desires of your heart, add all types of “things” to you, and grant your requests. That’s why, if you are properly qualified, you’re crazy not to ask!

Posted in Desires, God's Love, God's Provision, God's Will, Grace, Needs, Obedience, Prayer Requests, Reward, Trusting In God | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment