Archive for the “Success” Category

Reading 1 Peter 1 yesterday was such a joy! While I would like to include the whole chapter here, that seems a bit crazy – after all, you can just go to your Bible and read it. So let me concentrate on the first two verses and then throw in one of the last ones in the chapter.

To God’s elect, strangers in the world…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
1 Peter 1:1-2a

There is so much meat in those verses! Peter makes it clear that he is writing to “God’s elect” – in other words, believers. He goes on to describe them in ways that apply not only to those first century Christians, but to us today. We are:

  • “Strangers in the world” – The word translated “strangers” means “alien resident” or “pilgrim.” The moment we accept Christ, we are no longer citizens of the world in which we live physically, but we become “alien residents” in that world and citizens of God’s Kingdom. As such, we have a higher authority than our earthly government and a higher purpose than what we see with our eyes. Additionally, as we are conformed more and more into the image of Christ, this world will feel more and more alien to us. We will feel like strangers in a foreign land.
  • “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” – As strangers it’s easy to feel separated and alone. It’s at those times that I love to remember that I have been chosen. My choosing wasn’t an accident, it was according to God’s tremendous and glorious plan for my life. I may feel alone here, but God is always with me. Further, Scripture says he places the lonely in families. He does that by planting us in churches where we can develop relationships that help us know our value to God, grow in godliness, find His purpose for our lives and live out that purpose.
  • “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit” – Lest we begin to believe that it is our own doing that brought us to Christ, Peter reminds us that it was through the sanctifying – cleansing, purifying – work of the Holy Spirit that we came to know Christ. It is through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit that we are conformed to His image. When we are struggling with a sin our prayers are often too focused on the Lord helping our efforts to resist sin. Perhaps a better approach is asking the Holy Spirit to do His cleansing work in our hearts. This prayer is an act of submitting our will to God’s will. Knowing that it is the Holy Spirit who enables and that we are relying on Him brings a humility to our prayers and our attitudes. It honors God and brings grace into our lives.
  • “who have been chosen…for obedience to Jesus Christ” – We have been chosen for a purpose! Now I like to think that means God has a plan for me and my life has purpose – some great purpose even. It does mean that, but the purpose is quite different from what I imagine. I have been chosen for the single purpose of being obedient to Christ. This is both humbling and freeing. God has called me. He has called each of you. He has called you to be obedient to His Word – that is living according to God’s sovereign commands in Scripture. He has also called you to specific tasks that are unique to you. The wonderful thing is that He has called you to be obedient in doing those tasks. The results are up to Him. Success in God’s Kingdom is not defined by the outcome of our efforts, it is defined by our degree of obedience. What freedom that brings! It doesn’t give me freedom to work halfheartedly not caring about the results. No, it brings the freedom to follow God full-heartedly regardless of the results. The results may be thousands of souls won into the Kingdom (think the Apostle Peter) or the result may be years of seemingly futile prophecying and imprisonment (think the prophet Jeremiah).
  • “sprinkling by the blood” – We have also been chosen for salvation – that is, having the blood of Christ sprinkled on our hearts (Hebrews 9) so that our sins are forgiven. Scripture is clear – without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. Christ’s blood was shed for my sin and your sin so that we might live for eternity with Him. Hallelujah! The Jewish Christians who had practiced the sacrificing of lambs and other animals to temporarily cleanse themselves from sin clearly understood from this phrase that Christ’s blood would cleanse them from all sin permanently. The implications are enormous but I today I just want to remind each of us that this means you are forgiven. Don’t hold on to past sins or false guilt for those sins. If you have confessed the sin to God and asked His forgiveness, that false guilt is condemnation from the devil. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1)

Whew! What a treasure the first two verses of 1 Peter are! If you’ve read the rest of the chapter, you’ve found that it just keeps getting better. Let me bring us to a verse near the end of the chapter:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:13

Because of all this, “prepare your minds for action!” God doesn’t want us to just sit back and enjoy the tremendous benefits of knowing Him. He wants us to prepare our minds for action! He wants us to get in the game! He has called us for obedience to Christ, so set your mind to it and get moving! “Be self-controlled,” and when you need a little more motivation (and don’t we all need it all the time) “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

We have been called to a glorious hope – it’s described in the verses between 2 and 13 of this chapter (and many other places in Scripture, of course). It uses phrases like “inexpressible and glorious joy” and “living hope” and “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” But I’ll leave it to you to read more.

In the meantime, friends, know that you are chosen by God Himself for obedience to Christ. Wow!

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1Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

2But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.

Your Bible probably says “A Psalm of Asaph” at the beginning of Psalm 73. My Bible has the words “Sandy’s Psalm” written next to it. I remember the first time I read Psalm 73. I had been a Christian for quite some time, so surely I had read it before; but that day I read my story in the Psalm. A few months later, I realized that I was worshipping to a song based on the Psalm and it came alive in an even great way. Let me share a little of the narrative with you.

1Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

2But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.

It makes so much sense that God is good to Israel, but me? I came so close to missing Him. Because you see…

3For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.

5They are free from the burdens common to man;
they are not plagued by human ills.

12This is what the wicked are like—
always carefree, they increase in wealth.

I wanted to be one of those people – rich, carefree, not burdened by religion (which is really nonsense, anyway, right?) I had a life planned that was centered around what I wanted out of it. I had “success” in my future. In college I bought china and crystal because that’s how I saw myself in the future.

Then I fell in love – first with a wonderful man who loved the Lord, and then with the Lord. My definition of “success” has drastically changed, but it was a process. My mind tried to process the differences between my old definition of success, the “carefree” lifestyle of those who seemed successful, and the lifestyle that God wants from me. I love how the Psalmist describes his change of perspective:

13Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.

16When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me

17till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny.

The Psalmist actually regrets that he has led a pure life. He felt oppressed when he tried to make sense of living a pure life for God when those who ignore Him have success and seem so carefree. So he did the absolute right thing – he took his confusion to God. He writes that he felt oppressed until he went to God with his confusion. Then God revealed Truth to him.

There’s a lesson in this. How often do we continue in our confusion, trying our hardest to figure “life” out without taking our confusion to God? Let’s take our confusion to the One who knows all things and the One who has all wisdom and knowledge.

The Psalmist shares with us what God revealed to him:

18Surely you place them on slippery ground;
you cast them down to ruin.

19How suddenly are they destroyed,
completely swept away by terrors!

God is so gracious. He reveals to the Psalmist how shaky their foundation really is. The things the “successful” people have built their life upon, the things they place value on, are things that could vanish in an instant.

Understanding God’s perspective often brings us to our knees in repentance and worship. Such is the case with the Psalmist:

21When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,

22I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

23Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

24You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

25Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.

27Those who are far from you will perish;
you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

28But as for me, it is good to be near God.
I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

Praise God! This is Sandy’s Psalm, written thousands of years before Sandy was thought of by humans, but was being formed in God’s plan. What struck me as I was worshipping to a song based on the Psalm was that the Psalmist ends as a worshipper – “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire beside you. As for me, it is good to be near God.” When all is said and done, God has made me first and foremost a worshipper. Being near Him…it is good!

Thank You, Lord, for having Asaph write a Psalm for me.

Are there any Psalms that have been written for you? Share with me (here or on Facebook) which Psalms describe your life.

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I was leaving for a meeting this morning – a meeting whose outcome was anything but certain.

We had done a really good job on many projects for a client, but for reasons apart from our performance my client’s boss’s boss was considering giving future projects to another vendor. This client represents a significant portion of our business, so to lose future effort would not be a good thing for our company. So for the last few days I’ve been pulling together information, preparing charts and printing e-mails that documented how much the client liked working with us and what a great job we’ve been doing for them. The effort was encouraging. As I prepared to leave for the meeting, I knew our company had served the client well, but I was insecure about the outcome. I so wanted to go into the meeting positively, but sometimes it was a bit difficult not to be defensive.

So as I walked out the door, Phil knew I needed to re-focus. He stopped me and reminded me that my confidence wasn’t in the information and charts and testimonials I had in my briefcase. My response was to immediately quote one of my favorite verses:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

Psalm 20:7

He looked at me again – “Sandy, those charts are your chariots, and those testimonials are your horses.” Hearing him interpret the verse so bluntly made it more real. The charts I had prepared were just charts. They might impress or they might frustrate or hold a totally different message for my client’s boss’s boss. The testimonials were what my clients think of my work, but what do I know about what their bosses think of their opinions? Every level of management has a different responsibility, different goals and therefore, a different perspective. The same information can be viewed as good by one level of management and not-so-good by the next.

With that uncertainty, I’m glad that I can trust God – because there is certainty with Him. Not certainty that I’ll get the future effort with this client, but certainty that God will provide and that He uses all situations to grow me into the person He wants me to be.

Where is your trust today? My challenge today was business related. Perhaps yours relates to your health or the safety (or salvation) of your children or parents. Perhaps it is something I can’t even imagine. The specifics aren’t what’s important – what’s important is where you place your confidence. Our circumstances can cause us to scramble a bit to convince others (and ourselves) that we’re up to the challenges they present. Preparing well is important, and the preparation for my meeting helped it to go more-or-less smoothly. But God is the One who gives us favor with others, brings healing, protects, saves and holds all things in His hands – He is the One (and only One) in whom our confidence is secure.

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9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:9-11

I love Paul’s prayers, and this is one of my favorites. As I read it this morning, what struck me was that we would be able to discern “what is best” – not just what is good or what is better, but what is best. I love it that God has what is best for me held in reserve just waiting for me to discern and choose it.

I have never wanted to live a mediocre life, and I bet you haven’t either. This Scripture points to an extraordinary life – one that choose the best. A mediocre life makes choices that are OK, but not excellent.

I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians, and they flow so well with his words to the Philippians:

12bAnd now I will show you the most excellent way.

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:8, 13:13

The most excellent way is love. It’s what Paul prayed for the Philippians. Go back to our first passage:

9And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best
Philippians 1:9-10a (emphasis mine)

How is it that they (and we) would be able to discern what is best? It is through love that grows deeper in knowledge and depth of insight! Love is the most excellent way because it never fails. It is never stilled and it never passes away.

To my detriment, when I think about making excellent decisions, I don’t typically ask “which choice represents perfect love?” If I want to lead an extraordinary life, if I want to make the best (most excellent) choices, that life and those choices must be rooted and grounded in an abundance of love.

I think I’ve got some work to do! Father, help me!

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Note: you can purchase each of the books discussed in this blog simply by clicking on the name of the book.

Having graduated with my masters a few weeks ago, I have been thinking a lot about “what’s next?” I want to pursue more speaking and writing, but I don’t think that’s the whole picture and I don’t have many answers to that question. I am, comfortable resting in God as He unfolds things before me, yet “what’s next?” keeps reverberating in my mind. It’s created in me a more watchful state about opportunities that might appear on the horizon (at right in front of my nose).

It’s also had me thinking very specifically about what I’d like my life to be. I am regularly and eagerly praying “Lord, Your will, not mine – where can You best use me in Your kingdom,” but I am also thinking through what I would like to do in this next phase of my life and asking God to fulfill those dreams.

With that as a backdrop and having been released from “required reading,” I’ve read three fiction books in the past month (!). Interestingly, each has lent its perspective to the process and has made a strong impression on me. Curiously, I didn’t choose any of these books:

  • My husband, Phil, picked the first book – one that had been sitting in our library for quite some time and neither of us had read yet. It didn’t appeal to me at first, so I laid beside my bed and it stayed there several days – until I was leaving for an appointment and wanted to something to read should I have to wait. I quickly grabbed the book and was out the door.
  • A few days after finishing that book, I picked up another book at the retreat house I stayed at for a couple of nights. Having read Scripture and a devotional book, meditated, prayed and worshipped, I felt ready for something lighter and found a basket of books. I picked up the one by an author I had read a book by almost thirty years ago.
  • Finally, two weeks ago, Phil stopped at a discount store and for only $1.99 they had a copy of the first book in a six-book series by my favorite fiction authors. Who could resist such a bargain! Being side-lined a bit after my knee surgery, I’ve had plenty of time to read it.

I’ve provided this detail because it’s so interesting to me that I truly had little to do with choosing the books I read, and each has challenged me in the same way, while weaving stories across three continents and sixty years.

Can you say “God speaks?” One of the way God speaks to us is by the repetition of a theme – it comes up in a conversation with a friend, then we read an article that touches on the same topic, then our Scripture reading that day reinforces the message…or perhaps we just read three books in a row with the same message. Clearly, God is speaking.

Each of these books has made me very aware of the blessed life I lead and even more aware of how warped my definitions of a “blessed life” and “success” are. But I’ll get to that. First, a little about the books I’ve read:

Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn, was the first book I read. It is a story about a Chinese man, educated in the United States and on the fast track to becoming a professor and famous thinker of his time. He is also a Christian and upon returning home, he finds all opportunities closed to him…except that of a lock maker. He becomes the best lock maker, living a life that challenges the reader to make sense of the world in which we live and the purposes of God in one man’s life. “Is this the day I die?” the lead character asks every day as he lives for eternity instead of for himself.

Secret Believers: What Happens when Muslims Believe in Christ, by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen, is the fictionalized account of real people who live in Muslim countries and come to faith in Christ. How are the people in the story to fulfill their calling to strengthen the Church when it is illegal for the Church to exist? It is a story about how believers live, struggle, and glorify God when the place to which they are called is hostile toward them and their faith.

Jerusalem Vigil, by Bodie & Brock Thoene. The Thoenes are masterful authors of historical Christian fiction. Jerusalem Vigil is the first book in the Zion Legacy series and begins with the creation of Israel is a nation. Jews and Christians attempt to make their home in the war-torn city of Jerusalem as neighbors on all side seek to destroy the nation before it has a chance to live. It is a gripping novel about the lives of those transplanted from safety to a place requiring all they have to give and more – all the compassion, all the strength, all the love, and most importantly all the faith.

In all cases, the main characters lived with great fear and sadness. In all cases, the main characters redefined for me the phrase “blessed life” and the concept of “success.” Both have little to do with circumstances and everything to do with perspective. I am blessed to serve God in my circumstances. Success is a life lived for God with integrity and purpose…regardless of whether that life is lived out in a place my “dreams” would never take me, or exactly in the place my dreams would take me.

I’m reminded of what Paul said:

20For I live in eager expectation and hope that I will never do anything that causes me shame, but that I will always be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past, and that my life will always honor Christ, whether I live or I die. 21For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better.
Philippians 1:20-21 (NLT)

20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:20-21 (NIV)

As I recall, there is also that phrase in the Bible about sharing in Christ’s sufferings:

17Now if we are children, then we are heirsheirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:17 (NIV)

Wow…we are His children IF we share in His sufferings. And sharing in those sufferings is living for Christ, seeing Him exalted in our bodies. Somehow I think that message gets lost in American Christianity. Lord, forgive us.

Can you pray this simple prayer with me?

Lord, continue to shape and mold my understanding of success and blessing. I submit to Your will for my life…where ever it leads.

On Monday, a blog about destiny…..hmmm, I see a theme here!

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My Baccalaureate service was last night and I am taking my theme from the message that was preached by the Rev. Dr. Ronald J. Fowler. Some of these points came directly from Rev. Fowler’s message, but others are my own. In truth, it’s difficult for me to separate them because his theme has gotten into my spirit and become a part of me. So, thank you Rev. Fowler.

My prayer as you read this blog is that its theme will also get into your spirit and bring an enthusiasm, a rejoicing, and a commitment that perhaps has begun to wane in recent months.

Sanctify Yourselves

Then Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”           Joshua 3:5, New Revised Standard Version

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”          Joshua 3:5, New International Version

The Israelites were about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. They were about to enter the land that God had promised them hundreds of years before. Talk about a long-awaited dream! It was the dream that their parents and their parents’ parents dreamed. It had been passed from generation to generation through hardship after hardship. Now the time has come for the dream to become a reality.

Yet, like the fulfillment of many dreams, the reality of life pushes in with its share of heartache and trepidation. Nothing this side of heaven is perfect. Moses, who had led the Israelites through their greatest victories, who had spoken to God face to face and relayed God’s messages to the people, who had prayed for and protected the Israelites since their release from Egypt – Moses had recently died. Just before dying, he installed Joshua as the next leader. I imagine that the people were still grieving and that they were unsure of Joshua’s ability to lead them. They were also nervous about what tomorrow would bring. The long-awaited tomorrow now loomed in front of them bigger than life itself.

And what advice did this new leader Joshua give to the people? “Sanctify yourselves.” He doesn’t say “get a good night’s sleep” or “pack your clothes” or “be sure your weapons are ready for battle.” He says “sanctify yourselves” – “set yourselves apart.”

Hmmmm…Several things about that passage interest me.

The first thing that catches my interest is the kind of advice Joshua gives. He didn’t give advice that we might consider practical or even useful. I think that I’d want some practical advice at this point. I went to my Commencement rehearsal two nights ago because I wanted to know how to get ready for the event. What do I do? When do I do it? How do I do it? When it came to the battle they were facing, my guess is that Joshua himself didn’t know the specific answers to those questions yet. Joshua had a promise from God that tomorrow would be the day they would begin to move into the Promised Land. Beyond that, he had a confidence that God would keep His promise. And that’s all. He didn’t know much about the “how.”

It’s important to take a short step backwards here, because Joshua had given some practical advice:

When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.          Joshua 3:3b-4a, New International version

While that sounds like it is only practical advice, it is really much more than that. To the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God. It is the place where the spirit of God dwelt. Joshua was saying, “Follow the Ark of the Covenant closely. Turn where it turns, stop when it stops. Stay close to the Lord.” The Israelites were to keep their eyes on the Lord and to follow His every lead.

Still, where’s the battle plan? I’d want to know. “OK, Lord, I’ll follow you, but can you just tell me what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it? Please?” But that’s not the instructions Joshua had, so it’s not the instructions he gave. Instead, Joshua said, “Sanctify yourselves.” “Set yourselves apart as holy.”

The second thing that amazes me about this passage is the advice itself: “Set yourselves apart as holy.” Sanctification strikes me as something that God does in me, not something that I do myself. Yet Joshua’s instruction to the people is to set themselves apart as holy. He doesn’t say “prepare yourselves to be made holy by God.” Instead, he says, “Set yourselves apart as holy.” “Sanctify yourselves.”  He says, “You do it!” He is imploring the people – no, as their leader he is commanding the people, to develop a mindset, a positioning of the mind, which recognizes that they have been established for holy purposes. I am not denying that there is a physical aspect to this command, that is, to put away those sinful things and habits that might be a part of their lives, but beyond that, I believe there is a frame of mind that says, “I am God’s, set apart for His purposes, His holy purposes.”

While the actions of purifying ourselves may come before the mindset, it is the mindset that gets us through. It is the mindset that establishes our identity, and I think Joshua is referring to the development of that mindset as much as he is referring to physical and spiritual cleansing in preparation for moving into the things God has. You see, God had already sanctified the Israelites – He had already set them apart for His purposes. But it was necessary that they recognized that they were set apart for His purposes.

God wouldn’t reveal the “what” and the “how” until the Israelites obeyed His command to sanctify themselves and thus be prepared to receive His next instruction. They would never be ready for the “what” and the “how” until they were sanctified for God’s purposes. The natural man is consumed with the “whats” and the “hows” of life, but those things are low on God’s priority list. God has an infinite number of “whats” and “hows,” but they are insignificant compared to the preliminary step of sanctification. Once we have entered into that dynamic partnership of allowing Him to sanctify us and then sanctifying ourselves for His purposes, we are prepared for whatever God has for us.

The same is true for us, friends. God has sanctified each of us – He has set each of us apart for His purposes; but until we establish that in our minds and develop a mindset that says, “I am set apart for His purposes” we have not sanctified ourselves and prepared ourselves to move into what God has called us to. This message has grown in my spirit overnight and I am beginning to become quite excited about it. I have been set apart by God to establish His purposes on this earth. That’s a pretty amazing statement. He has already sanctified me. I am now in the process of sanctifying myself, internalizing and identifying with the work that God has already done in me.

And that’s a good thing, because tomorrow…tomorrow…tomorrow…

Again, put yourself back in the Israelite camp. Joshua has told you to consecrate yourself because tomorrow God will do wondrous things. We’ll get to the wondrous things in a minute, but first let’s look at the word “tomorrow.” “Tomorrow.” The very word holds such promise. The Israelites have been wondering the desert for forty years, but tomorrow…Wow! Friends, the same is true in our lives. No matter what the past ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, or even seventy or eighty or ninety years have been, tomorrow God can do a new thing. Sanctify yourself because tomorrow holds a new adventure with Him. It might be a continuation of the same adventure, but it is “with God” if you have sanctified yourself! Yes, I’m a bit off message here, but I am so excited about it. Tomorrow God has new mercy, new strength, new blessing, new courage, new power, new love to pour into your life. Tomorrow…

“Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Tomorrow, the Lord will do wonders among you.

Amazing things.

Wonderful things.

Adventurous things.

Friends, may I encourage you to get as excited about this promise as I have? No, you may not be an Israelite who has wandered through the desert for the past forty years (in fact, I’d bet money on it!), but my guess is that you have been doing some wandering of your own. My guess is that you have dreams that have not yet been fulfilled. Maybe they are dreams that were passed on to you by your parents. Maybe they are dreams God has put in your heart. Dreams are given to us to help us recognize the “more” that God has for us, but if left unfulfilled, it’s easy for those dreams to become the source of your defeat. Instead, God says, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Set yourself apart for God, follow the Ark (which represents the presence of God) and tomorrow He will do amazing things to bring about the fulfillment of those dreams. You set yourself apart, you follow the Ark. He will do the amazing things. Praise God!

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20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
          Romans 9:20-21

3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
          Romans 12:3-8

Are you happy with the way God made you? Or do you long for a better singing voice, or greater organizational skills. Do you wish you had curly hair or straight hair or more hair? In my family, my siblings always thought I had all the brains and I always thought they had all the common sense. None of us were happy with the way God had created us. (Now just for the record, I didn’t get all the brains and they didn’t get all the common sense. I’ve come to understand that as an adult, but childhood images of one’s self can be hard to shed.)

God has created each of us uniquely to fulfill the destiny He has laid out for us. He has custom-made us to fill the hole in the universe that He created for us to fill. If we don’t fill it, it will just be a void – a place in time and space that is empty, waiting for the perfect fit to come and fill it.

We have such a tendency to be dissatisfied with ourselves, when what we ought to do is celebrate that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God for His purposes (Psalm 139:14, Genesis 1:27, Ephesians 2:10).

I cannot fulfill God’s purposes for me when I am wishing I were or trying to be someone else. That either makes it really crowded in the space that God’s created for them or makes my space seem ill-fitting. But when I celebrate and grow in the person God has made me to be, my space begins to feel just right for me. In fact, my space probably expands a bit because I fill it so well.

How insidious is this desire to be other than we are! While writing this blog I began to look up a Scripture. It was the Ephesians passage I referenced above. But I didn’t know it was in Ephesians. So I started using the search feature in my Bible software. In the meantime, I asked my husband for help. He immediately gave me the reference I was looking for. The words that came out of my mouth next are the exact opposite of what this blog is about! Aargh! I immediately said, “I wish I could do that.” Well, yes, it would be nice to have the recall of Scripture that my husband has. But God hasn’t wired me that way. I have read and studied Scripture as much as he has. I have applied myself to memorizing it as he has. But unless I continually review those memorized passages they are easily lost from the front of my mind. He, on the other hand, has probably not reviewed Ephesians 2:10 lately. He just learned it once and now he knows it. He just knows where to find whatever it is he is looking for. And the truth is I’m jealous of him because I have to research to find those passages that I already know or once knew. I need to keep a good concordance or search feature nearby. Does that make him smarter than me? No, it just means he was created differently and for different purposes. And instead of wishing I were like him, I want to pursue the place God has uniquely created me for.

There is a flip side to all of this. Just as we ought to celebrate and grow into the person God created us to be, we ought to be very careful to not try to fit anyone else into a slot that God has not created for them. Phil and I served as co-pastors for a short time. We work very well together. Where one of us is strong, the other is weak and vice versa. We submit to one another according to our areas of strengths and God’s leading. During the time that we were pastors, our supervisors tried to force each of us into roles for which we were not created – roles in each of our areas of weakness. It made for an exceedingly difficult experience for all of us. In fact, the affect it had on Phil and I was that it made us feel like failures and doubt the abilities God has given us. We were not, in fact, failures. We were just the proverbial square pegs being required to fill the round holes. Had we been given the freedom to let Phil fill the holes that he was created to fill and me fill the holes that I was created to fill, the needs of the church would have been met as God intended them to be.

When we force someone into a role that God has not designed them to fill, we not only are working against the plan of God for that person’s life, but we are assisting in making them ineffective for the Kingdom of God. As a coach, we ought to look for the best in each person, celebrate it, water it and nurture it.

So this week, my goal is to do just that – in myself and in others. Lord, let me celebrate the woman you have made me to be, trusting that you have created a perfect hole for me to fill. Let me also see others as You see them, celebrate who they are, and encourage them to grow into the person you’ve designed them to be.

I invite you to join me in celebrating God’s creation – you, me and those around us – uniquely created to fulfill God’s purposes.

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Our Pastor said something that has stuck in my brain this week. He was describing the frustrating Sunday morning he had had – nothing big, just lots of little things that were starting to annoy him. Pretty soon those little things add up and the annoyance grows and if you’re not careful all that UN-Christ-likeness inside of you spills out on everyone around you. (Well, maybe not you…but that’s how it happens to me.)

In his frustration, he muttered the question “what’s going on here?”

And the very act of asking the question brought enlightenment. It gave him enough of a pause from the earthly frustrations to let His spirit kick in and remind him that what was going on was the enemy trying to arrest his attitude and mood. He saw the day for what it was – a day to worship the Lord (like every day is, of course), a day for allowing God to enable him to rise above the frustrations, a day to serve others as the hands and mouth of the Lord. If he had not asked the question, he would have continued to get ready for church, but his frustrations would have continued, and perhaps even increased. Eventually, they would have “spilled over” onto:

  • Spilled over onto the worship team
  • Leaked on all those who help prepare for the Sunday morning service
  • Creeped into his tone of voice or expression as he delivered the message and prayed.

Eventually, everyone attending that morning service would have been affected by his frustrations. Wow! The enemy sure can get a lot of traction out of a few frustrating annoyances.

You may not be preparing to lead a Sunday morning worship service, but your life is not so very different. When I allow the frustrations or fears of the day to impact me, those frustrations and fears leak out onto my husband, everyone in my office, and everyone I meet during the day. We’ve all experienced it –been waited on by the person who is annoyed about the previous customer in line. Or we’ve waited on someone and their attitude has spilled over onto you. It doesn’t matter which side of any transaction you’re on – if you have allowed the frustrations of the day to seep into your soul, it’s going to spill out on those around you.

I don’t want that to be my legacy. The easiest way to stop the whole process is to ask the question early. “What’s going on here?”

I’m not trying to write an easy-fix-it blog or a pie-in-the sky remedy for difficult circumstances. I’m not even saying that adjusting your attitude is easy after asking and getting the answer to your question. I am saying, however, that if you don’t ask the question, you continue down the negative path and the farther you walk down that path, the farther you have to walk back before you can go down the right path again!

God has been speaking to me a lot about perspective lately – how important it is to look at things from God’s perspective, not mine. That’s another blog for another time…but I know that one of the first steps in keeping the proper perspective is to quickly recognize when I’m drifting. It’s at those times that it is most important to just ask the question!

Because today is a day to worship the Lord, a day for allowing God to enable you to rise above the frustrations, and a day to serve others as the hands and mouth of the Lord.

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He does not need to transplant us into a different field, but right where we are, with just the circumstances that surround us, He makes His sun to shine and His dew to fall upon us, and transforms the very things that were before our greatest hindrances into the chiefest and most blessed means of our growth. No difficulties in our case can baffle him. No dwarfing of your growth in years that are past, no apparent dryness of your inward springs of life, no crookedness or deformity in any of your past development, can in the least mar the perfect work that He will accomplish, if you will only put yourselves absolutely into His hands and let Him have His own way with you.
                                         Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911)

Quoted from page 45 of The NIV Worship Study Bible; published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; copyright 2000 by The Corinthian Group, Inc., Dana Point, CA.

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Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachel, had a life defined by many things, but as I read through Genesis 37-40 this week, what struck me was the frequency and depth of betrayal that he experienced. Before his death, Joseph became an incredibly blessed man – he experienced reconciliation with his family, extreme professional success, and had great riches. But before any of those things occurred, he endured betrayal after betrayal after betrayal.

As I pondered this a bit, I was reminded that betrayal was a significant factor in Jesus’ life. It was as a result of betrayal that Jesus was arrested, accused and then sentenced to the cross. But it wasn’t just the betrayals of Judas, those at Jesus’ trial, and Pilate that sent Jesus to the cross. It goes way beyond that. The cross was only necessary because we had sinned and needed someone to save us from our sin. We had betrayed the Lord, and our betrayal sentenced Jesus to the cross. I had betrayed the Lord, and my betrayal sentenced Jesus to the cross.

Joseph is Betrayed…Again and Again
But I started out talking about Joseph’s experience with betrayal. Let’s return there. Joseph was betrayed by his brothers. OK, while what they did wasn’t right at all, maybe you can understand it. After all, Joseph was the bratty little brother who tattled on them (Genesis 37:2), was spoiled by his father (37:3), and thought he was better than his brothers (37:5-11). So they sold him into slavery.

But Joseph’s other betrayals were fully unprovoked.

  • Potiphar’s wife accused him of raping her. He had not.
  • Potiphar sent him to prison without giving him a chance to speak the truth.
  • The Pharaoh’s cupbearer immediately forgot about Joseph once he was restored to his position of cupbearer.

And yet in each setback, God blessed Joseph. And, in fact, each betrayal led Joseph one step closer to the purpose God had for Joseph’s life. If his brothers had not betrayed him, Joseph would not have been in a position to be accused by Potiphar’s wife. If he had not been accused by Potiphar’s wife, Potiphar would hot have had the opportunity to have him thrown into prison. If Potiphar had not betrayed Joseph, the Cupbearer would not have had the opportunity to forget him until Pharaoh had his dream.

Betrayal – A Part of Life on This Earth
It seems to me that Joseph’s life is not too different from yours and mine. Betrayal is part of the package. It’s part of the package because we live in a sinful world and because we are sinners. All of us. Your best friend is a sinner. Your spouse is a sinner. Your children are sinners. The person you esteem most is a sinner. You are a sinner. I am a sinner. And sin is a betrayal. And if betrayal is in our very nature, we should not be surprised when we are betrayed. It’s part of the package.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting you develop or nurse a pessimistic attitude. “No good deed goes unpunished” is a common sentiment, and one that I hate. I cringe every time I hear it because it reveals a root of pessimism that I believe does not honor God. Because truth, God’s Word, says that good deeds will be rewarded. Yes, we might experience betrayal in this life and our good deed might yield negative consequences for a short time, but our focus isn’t on this world. In the world we ought to be living for (i.e., the Kingdom of heaven), good deeds are blessed.

So Let’s Live for the Kingdom of God
What I am suggesting is that we focus on truth instead of lies. And since betrayal is not truth, since it is perpetrated by the father of lies, perhaps it ought not be our focus. I know that’s not an easy thing to do when you’ve been betrayed. I’ve been betrayed. Badly. It sent me into a tailspin. I understand the emotional damage that betrayal can cause. I admire Joseph for his apparent ability to shake it off quickly and continue to be faithful to do his best in each place he was put. I can’t help but wonder if his earlier dreams of what God had for him sustained him as he was continually pushed down. Scripture doesn’t say that, so we don’t know.

One instruction that Scripture does give us is to think about those things that are true and noble and right, those things that are pure and lovely and admirable, those things that are excellent and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Let’s recognize betrayal for what it is – at the very root of our nature and from the hand of the Enemy. Then let’s turn our focus away from it and toward the One who faced our betrayal by stretching out His arms in love.

A Step Further
In each situation, Joseph continued to be faithful to God. Dr. Shane Johnson’s definition of success is this: “Doing the right thing over an extended period of time.” Notice that the definition doesn’t include anything about income or fame. He leaves the issues of income and fame to God and instead teaches that success is an issue of character. Success for Joseph wasn’t becoming governor of Egypt. His success was in not letting each betrayal keep him from being faithful in whatever position God placed him.

Betrayal is most devastating when it is a violation of trust from the hand of someone whom you have allowed to become close to you. The betrayal from a stranger affects your circumstances but doesn’t pierce your heart. The betrayal of a friend, a family member, or an authority figure has the power to debilitate you unlike that of other betrayals. These betrayals will come into your life, though. Remember, we are all sinful; betrayal is part of our sinful nature. We all have the capability to betray one another. The Enemy wants to use these inevitable betrayals to cause you to build a wall around yourself so that you let no one, not even God Himself, get close enough to hurt you like that again. But Joseph didn’t let the repeated betrayals of these significant people in his life shake his trust in God. He continued to do the right thing over an extended period of time, and that was the secret of his success. 

Think Kingdom living and keep at it. That’s what we are called to.

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