Friday, September 19, 2014

Bridging the Gap

Those of you who have followed this blog for any length of time know that I rarely comment on world events or political matters.  To be honest, some of these events disturb me to the point where I don't want to discuss them.  However, there are situations taking place right now that cannot be ignored, specifically the persecution of Christians around the world.  Reading the newspaper has become like reading Foxe's Book of Martyrs.  It's frightening.  It's sickening.  And it's sobering.  We are living in the end times--there is no doubt about it.

I fear, however, that we are not doing all we can to intercede on behalf of the thousands who are suffering for their faith.  We know the Bible says that in the end times, perilous times will come, so as far as we're concerned, things are simply working out the way God said they would.  Well, yes, but does that mean we are to idly stand by as our brothers and sisters in Christ are being slaughtered?  Absolutely not!

I know many have made a point to pray daily for these persecuted souls, for our nations and government and the world as a whole.  But I wonder how many of you, like me, have merely been praying for grace and/or deliverance instead of praying a prayer of repentance for our nations/governments as the Bible teaches.  To be honest, it never crossed my mind until the Lord started dealing with me about it.

"You need to pray for forgiveness for your nation.  You need to repent from your wicked ways," He whispered.

"But it's not me, Lord," I complained.  "I'm doing my best to serve you.  I don't agree with what my nation is doing.  I am against abortion, gay marriage and throwing you out of our schools, courthouses and other places of business.  It's not my fault.  Why I should repent?  Why should I ask forgiveness?  What good will that do when the nation, as a whole, isn't sorry for their sins?"

The Lord answered by opening my eyes to the many examples in the Bible where one man stood in the gap between God and his nation.  Daniel did in Daniel 9.  Ezra did in Ezra 9.  Job did in the first chapter of the book of Job.  Moses did in Exodus 32 and several other passages.  Nehemiah repented for the nation in the first chapter of Nehemiah.  And the list goes on.  These men were not guilty of the crimes for which they were repenting, but they pleaded for forgiveness on behalf of their nation.  They put aside all pride and selfishness and bowed their faces before God, begging Him to spare their nation and to forgive them of their many sins.  After all, God had made a promise:

At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. - Jeremiah 18:7-10

We may not be able to change things in Washington (or your capital city, for those of you who live outside America).  We have no control over the minds, thoughts and deeds of those in power.  However, we have direct access to the One who does.  Instead of focusing on what we can't do, how about we focus our efforts on what we can?  We can intercede for our nation.  We can pray that prayer of repentance, just like these faithful men in the Bible.  And if enough of us pray and repent, perhaps God will spare our lands.

And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none. - Ezekiel 22:30

Oh, may that not be the case in this day and hour!  May God find us faithful and willing to set aside our pride and own selfish desires to stand in the gap for our country, government and world system.  Yes, we need deliverance, but I fear repentance must come first.  Perhaps it's the single most important ingredient we've been missing.  Forgiveness comes before healing.  Will you help me pray for both?

 Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way: Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. - I Samuel 12:23-24

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Leaning, Leaning

Do you ever have trouble keeping some of God's commands?  "Do not kill" is not a problem for me (unless you count insects).  "Do not steal"?  I feel that I have a pretty good grip on that one.  "Do not covet," well, now things are getting a little tricky.  And what about "fret not thyself"?  Ouch, that's a tough one.  Or, how about this one:  "lean not on thine own understanding"?  Who would have ever thought that would be such a difficult thing to do?  But, let me tell you, it is.  I'll give you a couple of examples--one from the Bible and one from a personal experience.

Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink. . .And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. - Numbers 20:8,11

Poor Moses!  I would not have wanted his job, to lead that bunch of whiny people through the wilderness.  No thank you!  I imagine there were many times that Moses wished he was shepherding sheep again rather than the children of Israel.  But, he was doing his job, and when the people complained of being thirsty, he felt he knew what to do.  They had done this before.  The last time the people were thirsty, God had told Moses to strike a rock with his staff.  He did, and the water gushed out.

Unfortunately, this second time, either Moses wasn't listening when God gave the orders or he thought to himself, "Well, God said to speak to the rock, but I know it works just to bang on it with my staff.  I've seen it work, so I'll just do that again."  Either way, Moses leaned on his own understanding and cost himself entrance into the Promised Land.  Can you imagine traveling for forty years and never being allowed to enter your destination?  What a bummer!

A similar thing happened to Jason several years ago.  As the sound engineer for our church, he was given the task of playing the CD soundtracks for a guest singer that was scheduled to be in our morning service.  We arrived early that morning so that Jason and the singer could get together and make all the necessary arrangements.  During the sound check, I went up into the sound room to see how things were going.  At that time, Jason showed me the list he had been given--the list that told Jason which tracks to play and in which order.

"But the song he's singing now is track 16, but he has it listed here as track 15," Jason said. "I wonder if he made a mistake."

I shrugged my shoulders, and unfortunately, because of timing and other issues, Jason wasn't able to check with the singer before the service.  So when the time came to play that particular song, Jason had to make a choice.  Play the number on the list or the next track, which he was certain was the correct one.  He chose the latter, and the music began in the middle of the song.  The singer had to stop and ask Jason to back up a track.  Evidently, it was one of those songs that stretches between two tracks.  When Jason looked, it was on track 16, but the song actually began on track 15, just as the singer had written down.

Jason was embarrassed.  The singer was embarrassed.  And I was embarrassed for both of them.  It was a simple mistake that could have happened to anyone, but it proves my point very well.  It's hard not to lean on our own understanding. We know how things work.  We see how the puzzle pieces should fit together.  We think we have it all figured out.  It makes sense. It seems logical.  So, why shouldn't we trust in that?

Honestly, because sometimes we're wrong!  And how can we possibly know if this time is one of those times we're wrong?  We can't.  That's why God doesn't want us leaning on our own understanding.  That's why He doesn't want us to try to figure things out for ourselves.  That's why He frowns upon our plotting and scheming to make things work.  He doesn't want our guesswork.  He wants our trust.  He wants us to acknowledge Him and to allow Him to direct us.

The old hymn writer said it best, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey."

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. - Proverbs 3:5-6

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Prospering in a Predicament

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither. And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand. And Joseph found grace in his sight, and he served him: and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand. - Genesis 39:1-4

And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper. - Genesis 39:20-23

I believe we are all familiar with the story of Joseph, from the time his brothers sold him into slavery to the time he became ruler, second only to Pharaoh, in all of Egypt. It wasn't until recently, however, that I discovered a little golden nugget hidden within this familiar story. If you notice, both within Potiphar's house and also while imprisoned, Joseph prospered in all that he did.

As I thought about this truth, I came up with the phrase, "Prospering in a Predicament." You see, yes, Joseph was prospering; however, he still found himself in one predicament after another. We often have it in our minds that prospering means a lack of trouble or an ease of life, but according to the Scriptures, that is not the case. For example, if Joseph had had a choice, I'm sure he would have chosen an existence outside of slavery or imprisonment. But we know, from the outcome of his story, that such an existence would have been outside of God's will for his life.

Let's face it, sometimes it seems as if life hands us a basket full of lemons. It's as if no matter how hard we try to do God's will, we can't seem to prosper in anything. But the truth is, if we really are living out God's plan for our lives, He will see that we prosper, even in the midst of our predicaments. We must simply understand that we may not prosper in the way we expect. Chances are, in fact, that if we will allow God to have his perfect will in our lives, our prosperity will be above and beyond anything we could possibly comprehend.

Are you struggling today? Do you find yourself a slave to time or imprisoned by financial bonds? Are you overwhelmed by the tasks before you and feeling ready to give in? If so, take comfort in this lesson from Joseph. Do your part by following the Lord's will, and leave the results up to Him. He knows where you are, and He knows what you need. Trust Him to bring about your prosperity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Missing Out on Miracles

Have you ever noticed the many similarities between the Bible characters, Joseph and Daniel?  Both were men of integrity and perseverance.  Both were tried for their faith.  Both became slaves.  Both men found themselves in a pit and then a palace.  And both had the gift of interpreting dreams.  I never really noticed how much these men had in common until recently when I was studying about Joseph for my Sunday School class and reading in Daniel for my daily devotions.

Interestingly enough, I found another similarity that is easy to overlook yet holds such a powerful lesson for us.  Check out these verses below:

 And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. And he asked Pharaoh's officers that were with him in the ward of his lord's house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day? And they said unto him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it. And Joseph said unto them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you. - Genesis 40:6-8

The king answered and said to the Chaldeans, The thing is gone from me: if ye will not make known unto me the dream, with the interpretation thereof, ye shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made a dunghill. . .
The Chaldeans answered before the king, and said, There is not a man upon the earth that can shew the king's matter: therefore there is no king, lord, nor ruler, that asked such things at any magician, or astrologer, or Chaldean. - Daniel 2:5-10

On both accounts, there was a dream and a desire for an interpretation of that dream.  And at the same time, we see a common viewpoint from some of the key characters--"It's impossible.  Nobody can do that!"  The butler, the baker and the Chaldeans all agreed that the task before them was an impossible one.  But if we continue reading each passage, we'll see that that's certainly not the case.  God allowed both Joseph and Daniel to interpret dreams on more than one occasion.

So, what's the lesson for us?  Simply this.  Just because we can't see how something will work doesn't mean that it won't.  Because something seems impossible doesn't mean it is.  Simply because it appears that there's no hope doesn't mean that there isn't.  And just because we don't know the answer doesn't mean that there isn't one.

Too many times in life we're like the butler and baker, sitting in our self-made prisons and complaining about the things that didn't work out the way they should have.  We're sad, discouraged and frustrated.  Like the Chaldeans, we're ready to throw up our hands and cry, "Nope, it's too hard.  That's just too much to ask.  It's impossible!"  And we quit.  We quit on God.  We quit on life.  We quit on our families.  We quit church.  We give in, give up and give out.  And all the while, we leave our miracles on the shelf.  God would have worked through us.  God would have made the way.  He's promised us that time and time again.  But we give up before He has the chance to perform His plan.  How many blessings have we missed out on because we didn't think it was possible?

You may be facing a situation today that looks impossible.  You may not see a way out.  The solutions may be far beyond what you can see.  As far as you're concerned, there is no hope.  But, my friend, don't let Satan deceive you.  As long as Jesus lives, there is always hope.  He is the Way.  And God specializes in the impossible.  You may not see it.  You may not understand it.  But you don't have to.  Just believe, and hang in there.  Don't give up.  After all, you don't want to miss out on another miracle!

And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. - Luke 18:27