Archive for the “Serving God” Category

From Discouragement to Disappointment - Enlist a FriendFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

Faith, at its core, is confidence in God and what He has promised. My experience is that sometimes when we’ve been slammed by life that faith waivers. This series has been about specific actions we can take to strengthen or rebuild a waivering faith. We’ve looked at four specific actions so far:

There is a final action that will help you with these first four steps.

Faith Building Action 5 – Enlist the Help of a Friend
Don’t go it alone. Especially when you’re feeling your faith begin to slip. Find a friend and share your struggles with him or her. Then ask for help in three specific ways:

  • Ask them for encouragement. Ask them to remind you when you can’t remember about the goodness of God and about your own worth and value. Choose to believe them when they remind you how important you are to God. Choose to believe them when they remind you that God has gifted you uniquely and specifically for the things He’s called you to. Choose to accept their love when they offer a hug or an arm around your shoulder.
  • Ask them for prayer. Ask them to commit to pray for you throughout the coming month. Share specific situations in which the enemy is most likely to bring discouragement. Share weaknesses and sins that need to be exposed so that the enemy’s power is diminished or cut off. (Note that weaknesses are not necessarily sins – don’t beat yourself up because you can’t do things God didn’t create you to do, but be aware that certain situations may highlight those weaknesses and cause you to respond in sin or disbelief.)
  • Ask them for loving accountability.We all need someone who will lovingly tell us when we’re not making good choices – choices that build our faith. Give your trusted friend permission to do so and heed their words.
    • Perhaps we’re not remembering to praise (or have slidden further down the slope into complaining). A trusted friend can often spot our slipping behavior before we do and remind us gently to return to praise.
    • Perhaps we’re not embracing our identity in Christ. Your trusted friend can be a tremendous encouragement to you reminding you that you are a forgiven, redeemed, child of the Most High God and bride of Christ.
    • Perhaps we’re still working in our own strength or to please others. Allow your trusted friend to challenge you without taking offense.
    • Perhaps God has given us His strategy but we’re backing away from it. Our retreat may be from fear or simply poor priorities. A trusted friend can help us see what’s happening and encourage us to begin walking in the right direction.

Scripture says this about the value of a trusted friend:

9Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. 10If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. 11Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? 12A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)

Enlist a trusted friend to help you strengthen your faith, and be intentional about making it a triple-braided cord – that is, one that includes God. When you enlist your trusted friend, be sure that you both agree that your goal is to grow in faith and pursuit of God. Develop your relationship to be one in which you spur one another on to the good works God created you to do (Ephesians 2:10).

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Ask God for His Strategy - Then Implement ItFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

This series is about moving from discouragement to faith. We’ve discussed three faith building actions that each of us can take to move our journey forward:

Let’s move on to the exciting, two-part fourth action.

Faith Building Action 4 – Ask God for His Strategy – Then Implement It!
Discouragement can come from many sources. Logically, then, Rebuilding our faith might take the shape of any of a number of different strategies. Here are some examples:

Rest – If your discouragement came from overdoing, you need rest. If you’re a fan of the Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum you’ll recognize the quote “Rest is a weapon.” It is a true statement.

Becoming overtired or overworked, opens a door that the enemy loves to run through. Often, havoc comes into our life and in our condition of being overtired, we can’t stand against it and we become discouraged. So if you’ve just finished a season of extraordinary effort for the Kingdom (whether from obeying God or simply taken more than He required upon yourself), a period of rest may be the best strategy to return to full faith strength.

Change – Sometimes discouragement comes simply because we’ve become bored with our routine. God can use such a time to nudge us into starting something new. Faith, by definition, means moving before we see God’s whole plan laid out before us. God’s strategy to rebuild your strength may be to point you in a new direction, giving you opportunities to trust Him. Experiencing the result of that trust builds your faith to trust Him more.

Persevere – There are faith lessons to be learned when we are required to simply persevere – which basically means to gut it out! Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines persevere as “to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.” Perseverance is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Despite failures, opposition and difficulties, sometimes we’re called simply to persevere.

Paul speaks of persevering in many different ways, but most notably as finishing well.

6As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.
2 Timothy 4:6-8a (NLT)

Persevere, friends – a crown of righteousness awaits you!

Seek healing in some other way – God’s plan for healing often takes us on a path to deal with past hurts and woundedness and He often uses others to help in our healing. His strategy for you might be to see a Christian counselor or sit under the teaching of a specific minister for a period of time or attend a specific conference. He might have you get involved in a small group outside your church. Or he may take you on a more personal journey to wholeness by having you write a book, create an art series or pursue one or more spiritual discipline more intentionally.

Our God is a creative God and He knows you better than you know yourself. Seek God for His strategy during this time. Once you have a hint at the first step in His strategy, implement it! Don’t wait around until you have the whole plan. Many, many people get stuck in this stage of their healing. All that accomplishes is the prolonging of their discouragement. You won’t fully see God move in your life until you begin to move as He directs.

Let me add that if you have fallen from discouragement into depression, you may not hear God speak. Your emotions are so overshadowing your ability to hear God that you may need to rely on someone else to hear God for you! I am not saying that God is not able to speak to you. I am saying that no matter how loudly God speaks you may not hear Him. If you stubbornly wait until you hear Him, you may hinder your own healing. So when a trusted advisor or friend suggests something that makes no sense to you but is witnessed to by another trusted advisor or friend – do it! (By the way, stubbornly waiting until you hear God is the equivalent of requiring that God speak to you in the way you want Him to. That’s called placing your own wisdom/desires above God’s. That’s called pride. That’s called sin and it’s putting yourself in opposition to God. Don’t go there!)

To stagnate in the place of discouragement as you wait to hear new things from God puts you perilously close to becoming lukewarm. God is not pleased with those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). So don’t get stuck – step out in faith!

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Check Your Motives and Actions

1Faith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

When we face discouragement, one of the areas in which we’re hit is our faith. If our faith was strong, we would have confidence that God’s promises are “yes and amen!” (2 Corinthians 1:20). When our faith sags, we struggle to see our hope and future in Christ. In this series we’re looking at how to build our faith so we can naturally move further and further away from discouragement.

Faith Building Action 3 – Check Your Motives & Actions
After starting to build your strong foundation of faith with praise (Faith Building Action #1) and building your courage by remembering who you are in Christ (Faith Building Action #2), you’re ready for a bit of self-reflection. In this step we’re going to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our own attitudes and motivations to us. Begin your time with the Lord with praise and build your confidence in Him by reminding yourself who you are in Christ, then begin the exercise of looking at the things you do for the Lord.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer these two questions:

  • What’ your motivation – are you acting out of duty or love? Of course you love the Lord, but sometimes we take on things that He doesn’t really want us to do and they become drudgery. That drudgery becomes duty and we are no longer serving out of love. Or perhaps we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do but our own heart has grown cold and service has become duty instead of passion and love.
  • Are your actions done in your own strength or God’s?Working in our own strength instead of God’s can be the result of many different circumstances, but here are three common examples:
    • Sometimes we’re faced with serving in a way we’ve served many times before. When that’s the case, it’s easy to rely on our own abilities, personality or strategies – after all, they’ve worked so well in the past. Before we know it, we’ve moved ahead without asking God what His plans and strategies are.
    • We might be faced with a new opportunity that we’re so excited about – perhaps it’s an opportunity we’ve prayed for. We’re full of ideas, energy and enthusiasm. In those times it’s easy to jump right in making plans and motivating others to help us…again moving ahead without asking God what His plans and strategies are.
    • Still other times we find ourselves creating our own opportunities – pushing ahead of God’s timing to accomplish what we believe He’s told us to do. And perhaps He has told us but we are either out of sync with His timing or his approach. When we’re pushing to bring about God’s plans (or our plans for God) we find our selves moving ahead without asking God what His plans and strategies are…or perhaps we’ve asked but haven’t waited long enough to hear His answer.

Be honest with yourself and God as you reflect on these two questions. Don’t be afraid of it. Remember, there is no condemnation in Christ. There is conviction when we’ve sinned – and both of these actions can be sin. But the purpose of conviction is to give us the opportunity to change – to repent – and return wholeheartedly to the Lord. Ask forgiveness if you’ve begun to serve out of duty instead of love and ask God to restore your love for Him. (It’s a prayer He loves to answer.) Ask forgiveness if you’ve served in your own strength instead of God’s and ask Him what your next action should be.

After asking the Holy Spirit to help you check your actions and motivations, encourage yourself by reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. You’re doing it because you love Him – because He has done so much for you. King David put it this way:

1I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. 2He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 3He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD.

4Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. 5O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.
Psalm 40:1-5 (NLT)

Whitney Houston put it like this in the movie The Preacher’s Wife (and let it be your first taste of Christmas):

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Lukewarm Water Thermometer

This challenging blog got my attention. “The faithful life only appears radical because we exist in a fallen world” the author writes. This fallen world woos us to conform to a faith that lacks action – one that Jesus described as lukewarm. One that prompts the author to ask “Are we being radical or are we in retirement?

The author’s seven questions will help you answer that question objectively…because without an objective aid, we’re too prone to claim that we are radical for the Lord we love. I don’t doubt that we love the Lord. But I know I am susceptible to the wooing of the world.

Lord, draw me closer to You.

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Therefore I [Paul], a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.
Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

God is worthy. He called us. Paul begs us to lead a life worthy of that calling. Yesterday’s blog dissected this verse in greater detail. If you don’t have it strongly in your mind and spirit that you are of great value to God, re-read yesterday’s post.

Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians by explaining what that worthy lifestyle looks like:

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)

There’s an interesting phrase in that verse – “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever noticed that your children or your spouse or your best friend can “get away with” things that might cause you offense when done by others? That’s called idiosyncratic credit. Your children or spouse or best friend have built up credit with you so their offenses don’t offend. You forgive immediately and easily. When someone else does the same thing, you get annoyed. Maybe it’s not an issue of offense, maybe it’s just a frustration.

Here’s a pet peeve of mine – people who open a can of pop but drink only a little of it. Yes, I know that’s a stupid little thing to have as a pet peeve. But it makes for a good illustration. If Phil opens a can of pop and then doesn’t finish it, I might feel a small irritation, but very quickly my mind and emotions “cover” the offense – “poor Phil, he set his can down and forgot about it – I wonder what’s on his mind today.” Or “that’s my sweetheart, always setting things down and forgetting them – I love him so much!” Or even “what’s with this half empty can of pop? Oh well, I guess he needed a little taste of something but then couldn’t finish it.”

Now if I have a gathering of people at my house and during cleaning up afterwards there are four half empty cans of pop it will annoy me. I have to work at extending grace to the four people who didn’t drink the whole can. I don’t have to work at extending grace to Phil, but others…well, it’s just not as automatic.

So don’t get hung up on my pet peeve (I’m getting over it), but take my point – I’m sure you can identify that you more easily extend grace and forgiveness to loved ones than others. Paul is telling us to treat others as we treat our loved ones. “Make allowance for their faults because of your love.” That’s extravagant love. That’s Christ-like love. It doesn’t come naturally. It takes effort – a lot of effort sometimes. Paul urges us to do just that:

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)

Make every effort Paul says. Don’t make a half-hearted effort toward unity, but make every effort. That means making the first move…even if it wasn’t your fault. Because God who is most worthy has considered you – and whoever you might need to make an effort with – worthy.

What follows a few verses later is Paul’s discussion of gifts that God has given to the body – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Interestingly enough, often it can be the gifts God has put in others that frustrates us – because each gift brings some inherent characteristics along with it that are sometimes at odds with the characteristics of other gifts. An evangelist, for example, wants to see the bulk of your church’s effort go toward evangelism. The teacher, on the other hand, wants to see the bulk of your church’s effort go toward building up the body. Without making every effort, differences like that can become issues that keep us from living in unity. And without unity we cannot fulfill God’s greatest commandment:

29Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. 30And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
Mark 12:29-31 (NLT)

And lacking in that commandment, we will not fulfill the great commission God has given us:

18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

Make every effort to live worthy of God’s calling. Live on purpose and with purpose.

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Therefore I [Paul], a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.
Ephesians 4:1 (NLT)

I like the word “worthy.” The word evokes in me a strange combination of awe and respect and allegiance. God is worthy – He is worthy of my praise, my respect and my allegiance. I love to worship Him by singing/chanting the word “worthy.” He is worthy. He is worthy. Not vain repetition, but heartfelt and sincere adoration. Sometimes I engage my mind more by emphasizing each word and meditating on them individually.

He is worthy. (He is God. God is worthy. Only God is worthy. He is worthy.)

He is worthy. (The one who is and was and is to come – the everlasting God, the God who is ever-present – He is worthy. He is alive and active in my life. He is now worthy and always will be. He is worthy.)

He is worthy. (He has value. He is honorable. He is righteous. He is good. He loves me. He took the punishment for my sin. He paid the price I owed so that we could spend eternity together. He created the heavens and the earth. He knows my heart and still loves me. He is worthy.)

That’s my take, my strongest association with the word “worthy.” So when Paul “begs” me to live a life worthy of my calling I take a step back. Let’s take the end of the sentence first – “for you have been called by God.” That’s the answer to the question “why should I?” I have been called by God. You have been called by God. Invited. Beckoned. Bid. Urged. By God. Who is worthy.

Imagine that you received a personal phone call from ________________. Fill in the blank with the person that you would be the most impressed to receive a call from – the President of the United States, a Hollywood celebrity, a sports icon, the president of the company you work for. How would that make you feel? That such a person found you worthy enough to call. Wow!

Well, friend, the God who created the universe has found you worthy enough to invite to spend eternity with Him. The One I call worthy has called me! I am blown away by that. God’s very act of calling me makes me worthy to be called. The One who is most worthy finds me worthy. Can you imagine that? It’s true. No matter what your experience with me is, no matter what my life experiences have been – the One who is most worthy finds me worthy. By definition, then, I am worthy. Period. I am worthy.

That makes me want to respond positively to the Apostle Paul’s urgings – to live a life worthy of that calling. Let’s not squander the value God has placed on us. Let’s respond by stepping up to that calling. By purposefully stepping away from our own failings and sinful desires and living as He calls us to live.

Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians by explaining what that worthy lifestyle looks like, but I think it best for today to meditate on our value to God. Make that your task throughout the day tomorrow – meditate on God’s worthiness and the fact that you are of great worth to God. What a blessing that is!

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Tuesday’s blog was all about God’s desire to transform our minds – to rearrange the way we think so that the way we live is ultimately rearranged.

 “Faith is not idleness, it’s an action word,” my pastor said recently. He went on to say “God wants to entrust this world to us.”

Isn’t that exciting? It is for me:

  • First, I’m excited that faith isn’t just sitting piously in my prayer room. (I’m not dissing praying! Prayer can be pretty exciting, too…Hmmm…I should blog about that soon!) Faith is an action word! Read the New Testament and you won’t find much idleness.
  • Second, I’m excited that God wants to entrust this world to us! It is our responsibility to bring His Kingdom to earth. We learn about that Kingdom through His Word and our obedience. As we obey – that is, as we take actions to do what His Word teaches, not simply give mental assent to it, He responds by giving us the keys to the Kingdom, by entrusting this world to us.

There’s a degree to which, we have to mature into that trust. You don’t give the keys to your best car to your teenager the moment he or she turns 16. No, you watch to see that they have developed the maturity required to handle the car you give him the keys to. Likewise, God is going to give us keys to the Kingdom, but He’s going to do it progressively as we mature. That means not only rearranging our thoughts, but also rearranging our actions. Because God doesn’t only want us to think differently, He also wants us to act differently.

Faith is an action word! It is a way of living.

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.
1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)

The Kingdom of God is not in the rearrangement of words, either on paper or in our minds – it is living by God’s power. God first rearranges our thoughts – causing us to think differently, but in the process we are transformed…so that we act differently and can transform our world. We are renewed so that we can live by God’s power.

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.
1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)

When God highlighted that verse to me this week, the thought that immediately followed it was “we settle for too little…” and “we expect too little from God!”

Scripture uses strong language –

  • Be transformed, renewed (Romans 12:2a)
  • By Scripture that is alive and powerfulRemember, the word that was translated as “power” is the word “energace” from which we get energy – active power, effective power (Hebrews 4:12)
  • By that is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • So that you are living by God’s power (1 Corinthians 4:20)– the word translated “power” here is “dunamis,” from which we get dynamite  – miraculous power, explosive power!

We settle for too little. The Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk – it is living by God’s power. That’s not the power to get through the day. That’s not the power to overcome the things of everyday life that those who don’t know Christ overcome by simply getting on with life. It’s power to live differently – power to change – transform the world. It’s the power to think differently. I said in our small group last week that I’m tired of negativity in my life – tired of expecting bad things to result. When I face challenges, I want to anticipate God’s energace and dunamis power – His effective, active, explosive power.

I have a magnet on my task board at work that says “Only those who attempt the ridiculous can expect the miraculous.” I’m not suggesting that we all go out and attempt ridiculous things. There’s a difference between presuming upon God – that is, simply stepping out into whatever we want to do and expecting Him to “rescue” us. There’s a difference between that and stepping out in faith into what God has called us. Yet often, God calls each one of us – not just the “professional” Christians, not just missionaries, not just extraordinarily gifted people – each one of us, to things that are bigger than we are. And it’s not until we attempt those “ridiculous” things that we’ll see God’s energace, dunamis power.

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power.
1 Corinthians 4:20 (NLT)

Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10 (KJV)

energace…dunamis

I expect too little from God. And I don’t believe it honors Him. I look at what I have to do and I can’t get it done and I hope He’ll help me meet my deadlines. He will and He has, but He has bigger things He wants me to do. I want to pray for and believe for those bigger things and live my life accordingly.

I have a two-fold assignment for you this week. (Yes, I’m giving you an assignment.)

  • First, read Scripture every day! Challenge yourself to pray, ask God to open your spirit, then read. God’s transforming power comes first and foremost through His Word. Read Scripture every day with the attitude “Lord, teach me from your Word.”
  • Second, trust God for one thing that is bigger than you’ve ever trusted Him for before. If you know what that thing is, if something has already come to mind, write it down and carry it with you. If you don’t know, maybe your one thing needs to be asking Him to show you a bigger thing to trust Him for.

A few weeks ago I wrote a series titled “Living…Like Someone Left the Gate Open.” My key passage for the series was 2 Corinthians 3:12 and 17. Let’s expand that passage by one verse:

12Therefore, since we have such a hope [that is, the hope of our glorious salvation], we are very bold….17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
2 Cor 3:12, 17-18 (NIV)

 

God’s power – energace and dunamis power – at work in and through us transforms us so that when we boldly live like someone left the gate open, we reflect the Lord’s glory to the world. Hallelujah! Look in the mirror – are you beginning to see a new you that is reflecting the glory of the Lord? It’s often difficult to see it in ourselves, but if you are pursuing God diligently, if you are asking Him to transform you and reading His Word regularly, He will do it. And the world will see Christ in you – you will reflect His glory! I’ll take that. I’m willing to sacrifice for that. How about you? Let’s pursue transformation together. Let’s rearrange our lives around Christ and His purposes.

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12Therefore, since we have such a hope [that is, the hope of our glorious salvation], we are very bold….17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Cor 3:12, 17 (NIV)

Dog Running Through Field with AbandonIn my previous blog, we looked at Numbers chapters 13 and 14 – the story of the Israelites seeing the giants in the Promised Land instead of God’s Promise – that He had already given the land to them and that their enemies were already “helpless prey.” Oh Lord, help us to see Your promises in our lives and not the giants that might temporarily be inhabiting our land.

Let’s read the end of the story. When we last left the Israelites, Joshua and Caleb were begging the Israelites to take God at His Word and enter the Promised Land. The Israelites would have none of it. Here’s just a sample of their whining:

“Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
Numbers 14:3-4 (NLT)

A few verses later we read God’s perspective on the situation:

11 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them?
Numbers 14:11 (NLT)

We use softer words than God does. We might say that the people didn’t believe God or didn’t trust Him. God said “How long will these people treat me with contempt?” Other translations say “How long will the people despise me?” or “How long will the people reject me.” Those are serious charges. It gives us a greater understanding of how our lack of faith impacts God. God says “I’ve done all these things for you and you take my gifts, spit on them and then turn your back on me.”

I’m guessing that most of us have had experiences like that. There are people that we’ve poured our lives into and then at some point those people reject us. It is incredibly hurtful. It can be devastating! That’s how God “feels” when we don’t trust Him. At least that’s how He describes it!

Lord, forgive me! Lord, forgive me.

Moses took up the case of the Israelites and pled with God to spare them. God relented, bringing us to one of the saddest passages in the Bible:

20Then the LORD said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. 
(Numbers 14:20)

The Lord forgives! Hallelujah! I’m so thankful that He is a forgiving God. But sin has consequences. Continuing with verse 21…

21But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the LORD’S glory, 22not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they tested me by refusing to listen. 23They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will enter it. 24But my servant Caleb is different from the others. He has remained loyal to me, and I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will receive their full share of that land. 25Now turn around and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”
Numbers 14:21-25

Sin has consequences. We would all agree with that. Yet we don’t like to think of our sin as having consequences…especially the consequence of losing the opportunity to receive all the promises God has given us. I see that clearly here. The promises God has given us are obtained through faith. When we choose to walk outside of faith, we are walking in unbelief and we disqualify ourselves from receiving those promises. Now God is gracious and He will still give us eternal life…He’ll even bless us in this life…but if we continually respond to God’s open gate by backing away from it, we risk receiving discipline instead of promises.

“Now turn around and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.”
Numbers 14:25 (NLT)

I find this to be two of the saddest sentences in the Bible. The Israelites have just been told that their dreams of entering the Promised Land will never be realized. Those sentences break thousands of dreams and bring thousands of heartaches. What caused the death of that dream? Their own fear – their own lack of faith.

Lord, keep me from myself! Help me keep my eyes on You and Your great love and power – because I don’t want to have the experience of the Israelites. I want to live out the purposes God has for my life. I don’t want to hear Him say “OK. Turn around…head into the wilderness…”

There are lots of consequences to living in the wilderness. There are also blessings – their clothes and shoes didn’t wear out for 40 years, they had food they needed…but they missed out on living in the land flowing with milk and honey. They missed out on the grape clusters that were so large they required two men to carry them. They missed out on accomplishing the eternal purposes God prepared in advance for them to do.

I’ve said it over and over again – I want to live like God has left the gate open. I want to embrace the challenges looking at God’s outcome not the obstacles in the way. The obstacles are there just waiting to be conquered! I’m guessing that you do too. Maybe that dream has been buried for awhile, but I trust it’s still there.

Don’t take my message the wrong way. Being in the wilderness isn’t always a result of sin. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to fast and be tempted by satan. I am not saying that if you’re in wilderness it’s because you’ve sinned. I am saying that it could be because you stepped back from something God asked you to do.

Messed Up Hair and AllSo let’s examine ourselves. Is there something that has come to your mind as you’ve read the blogs in this series? Is there some area of ministry, some area of stepping out in faith, that you’ve been struggling to say “Yes” to God in? Don’t risk hearing God say “OK, turn around.” Boldly step through that gate. Run through it! Trust God to meet you, to have gone before you, to have already marked the giants as helpless prey. Take the first step and let Him show you that He’s laid out the plan and set things in motion.

The blogs in this series have come out of a sermon series I preached at my home church. Out of that sermon series we’ve started a new small group. It’s a group in which we share our God dreams and encourage one another to step into them. More than anything, I want to help you walk into the dreams God has placed in your heart…not get you excited about the possibility of walking into them and then having that passion die a slow death. If you’d like to be a part of a virtual group email me – Sandy@ApprehendingGrace.com. We’ll get one going. Because living like God has left the gate open is worth it!

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12Therefore, since we have such a hope [that is, the hope of our glorious salvation], we are very bold….17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Cor 3:12, 17 (NIV)

Dog Running Through Field with AbandonWhy aren’t we living life like Someone (God) has left the gate open? The reason at the top of my list remains the same – fear. My two previous blogs on the topic were about how the fear of condemnation keeps us from the freedom God has for us. The antidote to that fear is applying faith to the full gospel message – that not only are we given eternal life, but we are free from condemnation. It’s all right there in John 3:16, 3:17 and 3:18. Don’t stop reading at the end of 3:16. Eternal life is found in 3:16. Freedom from condemnation comes in the verses that follow. You can read the first blog in the series here, and the second here.

Today, I want to look at how fear keeps us from living boldly in the plan God has for our life. We’ll find that the antidote to that fear is the same faith we applied to God’s Word for our salvation. In this case, however, we’ll apply that faith to God’s ability to keep His other promises.

Turn with me to Numbers 13. Let me set the stage. The Israelites were about ready to go into the Promised Land – a land that God has promised them is flowing with milk and honey. A land that would be their own. One in which they would no longer be slaves. They had been slaves for 400 years in Egypt. Then God miraculously delivered them and He provided for them again and again as they made their way to this point of their journey. In preparation for the next phase of their journey, God said this to Moses:

“Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites. Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.”
Numbers 13:2 (NLT)

Notice that the Lord described the land as “The land I am giving to the Israelites.” It was already a settled matter. God was going to give them the land. Send some men out to explore it! So Moses’ proceeded to do just that. He gave the scouting party instructions to check out the land and the people, and to try to bring back some samples of the crops.

The spies went out and indeed found the land as God had described it – a fertile where a single cluster of grapes was so large that it took two men to carry it back to the Israelites. They also gathered samples of the pomegranates and figs. Let’s pick up the story as the men return with their bounty and report their findings:

25 After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26 to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces.”

28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”

30 But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”

31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33 We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!”
Numbers 13:25-33 (NLT)

That last phrase caught my attention – “And that’s what they thought, too?” That’s the only verse we have that gives us any indication that the spies actually interacted with the residents of the land. Apparently these giants didn’t seem to have a problem with the twelve men stealing their grapes and pomegranates. There’s no indication that they paid for them. I’m thinking it would only have taken two of the giants to conquer the twelve spies, what with two of them loaded down with grapes and a couple of others carrying pomegranates and figs.

Do these men not realize that they just walked through the enemy’s camp unharmed? Apparently not.

Let’s just set that aside for now because there’s a more significant question:

What’s wrong with this whole discussion? What was the focus of it? Their whole focus is on what they thought they could do. They’ve looked at the circumstances and they’re no longer asking “What did God say?” or “What does God want us to do?”

How did the story start? The Lord said “send men out to explore the land I am giving them.”

We’re back to our issue of faith. The Israelites didn’t run into the land that God had opened the gate for them to enter because they were looking at the obstacles instead of at their miracle working, lavishly providing God.

Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Caleb begged the people to trust God. Read Joshua and Caleb’s plea recorded in Numbers 14, starting in verse 7:

7They [Joshua and Caleb] said to the community of Israel, “The land we explored is a wonderful land! 8And if the LORD is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and he will give it to us! 9Do not rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the LORD is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”
Numbers 14:7-9

“They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”

I can’t get past that statement – “they are only helpless prey!” Other translations say “Their protection is gone.”

Yes, they have fortified cities…yes, they are big and strong…but they are still helpless prey. They have already lost their protection. They are ready to be conquered. God has opened the gate, let’s run through it!

Do you believe that God will provide all that you need when you run through gates He has opened?

Today’s application of faith is to believe in God’s ability to do what He’s promised – to believe in His power. The Israelites failed in that faith and because of that the failed to enter the Promised Land. Instead of trusting God’s promise, they looked at the circumstances, and chose not to believe that their enemies were already helpless prey, that they had already lost their protection. If they had believed God, that faith would have brought boldness into our lives. Do you hear the boldness in Joshua and Caleb’s words?

Keeping our eyes on the Lord and trusting in His promises brings boldness into our lives that gives us the freedom to live like someone left the gate open. It’s what Joshua and Caleb were urging the Israelites to do – “let’s go get ’em” was their message.

What gate has God opened for you? If you believe that God loves you unconditionally, have you run through the open gate? If not, is it because you’re looking at what’s on the other side with natural eyes instead of supernatural eyes. What is on the other side of that gate? The fulfillment of God’s eternal purposes in your life…and the impact God wants to have through you on the lives of others. Is that what you’re seeing? Or are you seeing the giants between you and that fulfillment? Don’t look at the giants, look at the promises of God. Those giants are inhabiting the land that God has already given to you. They are helpless prey – if you boldly trust God. If you boldly go into the land He will deliver them into your hands.

What kind of giants are they in your land?

  • Is it the giant of not having enough time?
  • Is it the giant of not having enough money?
  • Is it the giant of not having enough energy?
  • Is it the giant of not having the wisdom or knowledge?
  • Are they giants of long-established patterns that are hard to break?
  • Is it the giant of complacency – being quite comfortable where you are, thank you very much?
  • What have I missed? Whatever your giants are…

Messed Up Hair and All“They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”

Let’s engage our faith – to take the promised land! That’s a big goal – a God-sized goal. Let’s engage our faith to pursue God goals that are bigger than we are. Let’s engage our faith to live like God has left the gate open for us!

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12Therefore, since we have such a hope [that is, the hope of our glorious salvation], we are very bold….17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Cor 3:12, 17 (NIV)

Dog Running Through Field with AbandonAre you bold? Do you live in freedom?
God asked me that question recently. My answer was “[gulp]…sometimes?” and God used that as a conversation starter.

“Where the Spirit for the Lord is, there is freedom.” Do you live in freedom? What does freedom look like? To me it looks a lot like the image at the right. Living in freedom looks a lot like “living like someone left the gate open.” It’s living without chains and fences and gates. It’s walking through open doors…no, it’s running with confidence through open doors.

I have some exciting news for you today. God has set an open door before you! He’s opened the gates! I am not being prophetic in any way. I’m simply being biblical. Scripture is so clear that God has prepared works for each of us. Ephesians 2:10 says:

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)

God has called us, prepared us and prepared work for us. That means there are open doors. They may not be the doors we expect. They may not even be the doors we want. But they are open doors.

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to squander the opportunity to accomplish God’s purposes. I don’t want to live my life on the sidelines, especially when it comes to fulfilling God’s purposes. I want to live my life knowing that God has left the gate open and any door He’s opened I want to run through because what’s on the other side is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in my life.

Let me repeat that. What’s on the other side of doors that God opens is the fulfillment of God’s purposes in my life. And I can’t think of anything greater. I truly can’t. I can’t think of anything greater than accomplishing God’s purposes.

Yet I don’t always live like that. Why? When my heart’s desire is to run hard after the purposes God has for me and to love Him with abandon, why don’t I? I’m sure there are many reasons, but the one at the top of my hitlist is fear. I hate to admit that. I prefer to believe I fully trust God. But I know that sometimes fear still holds me back. It can take many different shapes, but all of them have the same root – lack of faith.

Fear is trusting that God can’t or won’t come through for you. It’s not trusting that God loves you so much that He will deliver you from whatever the enemy throws your way. It’s wondering if He will deliver you. It’s wondering if you’re worthy enough, important enough to Him or good enough for Him to lead you safely to the other side.

Today’s blog is going to begin to look at the lack of faith that comes from not fully understanding and embracing God’s love.

I see a relationship between three things: Faith, Freedom and Action (living like someone left the gate open). If I were to create a formula from the relationship, it would be expressed like this. Translate the symbol => as “leads to.”

Faith => Freedom [Faith leads to Freedom]

Faith + Freedom => Action [Faith plus Freedom leads to Action]

If we are not living like God left the gate open, it is in large measure because of a faith issue. And for most of us, I don’t think it’s an issue of believing that Christ died for our sins. I believe it’s an issue of understanding how that act flowed out of a heart that loves us more radically than we can imagine.

Because when we know how much we’re loved by God, freedom comes into our life. We are transformed from the Much Afraid people we are in the natural to men and women who step out in boldness.

There was a long period of time in my life when I was extremely buttoned up — uptight, fearful of what others thought, never doing anything to draw attention myself. There are two things that I attribute the changed me to. One is the unconditional love of my husband. I know that he is so much in love with me that I can fail a thousand times and he’ll still love me. And I fully understand that God has given me Phil to illustrate God’s unconditional love is for me. When I began to understand that God is not the Authoritarian in the sky waiting and watching for me to make a mistake, but always cheering me on, always enabling me to do better, always loving even when I fail…when I began to grasp that, an amazing freedom came into my life.

Let’s start at a very fundamental verse.

16“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned…
John 3:16-18a (NIV)

The fact that God would love us enough to send His son Jesus, the fact that Jesus would willingly leave all the glories of the Godhead and heaven and come to earth to live within the limitations of a human body and then die a horrible death – these things demonstrate – prove God’s love. God didn’t just say “I love you,” He proved it. His deeds prove His Word.

And yet, we believe verse 16 but somehow verse 18 doesn’t become part of our faith. Whoever believes in Him is NOT CONDEMNED.

Say it out loud “I am NOT CONDEMNED.” Go ahead – say it! I’ll wait!

Do you believe it? Has it gotten into your spirit to such a degree that you live life like God left the gate open? Are you ready to run through His open gates?

Well, if you’re like me, you’re not all the way there yet – at least not all the time. If you’re like me, there are still voices in my head that are condemning and negative. “I’m never going to be able to …” “I can’t possibly…” “If I were good I’d…” “I just can’t…”

I’ve come to understand that if I truly believed that I am not condemned, the voice in my head wouldn’t say many of the things it says. Because the things that the voice in my head says are inconsistent with God’s Word. God’s Word says that if we believe in Jesus we are NOT CONDEMNED.

God’s Word says it, but we don’t believe it because we still sin. Sin is bad. God loves us, so He convicts us of that sin. We feel it in our hearts and our spirit. And that conviction leads us to repent, to ask forgiveness. And (hallelujah!) we’re forgiven. But the enemy steps in and takes conviction and twists it into condemnation. He hammers us with it over and over again. He distorts God’s truth, which is what he’s good at, and we become willing accomplices when we embrace his condemnation and repeat it over and over to ourselves.

The Apostle Paul understood the relationships between sin and forgiveness and condemnation. In Romans 7 he said this:

15I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. 16I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good…

21It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22I love God’s law with all my heart. 23But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.

24Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? 25Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 7:15-25 (NLT)

Does a slave have freedom? No. A slave does what his or her master requires. And in this case, the master is sin. So what is it that Jesus does – he frees us from the slavery to sin – but there’s so much more – He doesn’t just free us from the slavery to sin, He frees us from the condemnation – the charge of guilty – of sin. Let’s pick it up in Chapter 8 verse 1:

1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death….

15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ,…
Romans 8:1-17a (NIV):

There’s that word again – “condemnation” – and Romans 8:1 says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Say it out loud again – “no condemnation.” The word literally means “no judgment against” – There is no judgment against us! Tell your heart, “heart – there is no judgment against you!”

Why is there no condemnation? Paul explained why – because the Spirit of Life has set us free – delivered us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

God loves us so much that He has made us equal with His Son. I’m not saying that we’re God or we become God. But I am saying that God says we are co-heirs of all that is His. Co-heirs with Christ. God didn’t do this out of obligation. He did this because His heart is to bless His children. His heart is to give all that is His to His sons and daughters.
Messed Up Hair and All

Good parents don’t condemn their children, they love them unconditionally. They may discipline them to teach behaviors and principles that will lead to a good life, but they don’t condemn them. God is the perfect parent. He loves you. He even really likes you! You are the apple of His eye (Deuteronomy 32:10).

We’ll continue on this theme, but for today let’s pause – again and again through the next few days – to remind ourselves that we are NOT CONDEMNED by the Creator of the Universe, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let that be the starting place, or perhaps the next step, in your journey to freedom…your next step to living like God has left the gate open…even if it messes up your hair!

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