Archive for the ‘Priorities’ Category

The world noted the passing of Stephen Hawking yesterday.  Hawking was a renowned physicist.  He was also a very outspoken atheist whose godless beliefs were routinely touted as the height of intellectual honesty concerning origins of the universe and the fairy tales some people believe.  I did not personally know the man.  And I do not know if there is anything that I could have done to help him.  But I do feel a degree of sadness at his passing.  You see as intelligent as he was and despite all his accolades, he was dead wrong about the most important things concerning life and death.  Even more sad is the fact that his position upon the pedestal of worldly acclaim meant that his theories about God, or the non-existence of God, were viewed by many with the weight of truth.  But they were dead wrong.

Like Mr. Hawking, my belief system is the result of my life experiences, the things I’ve read, my observations of life and assumptions I have made related to those things.  A huge factor in our belief system is our frame of reference or the paradigm we establish.  Our paradigm influences how we receive and process all the information that comes our way.  The scientific mind seeks to have a truly open mind, to be impartial in observation and interpretation of the results.  Unfortunately it’s not possible to completely divorce ourselves from our paradigms.  Our paradigms therefore create in us blind-spots where we cannot see correctly.  We all have blind-spots.  The solution to blind-spots is to be aware we have them and then constantly strive to see things from multiple perspectives.

For a reminder, everyone has a worldview.  It is simply the combination of thoughts and beliefs that make up how we understand and view the world.  This in turn sets up our paradigm about how we interpret everything.  I recognize this to be true in me and therefore I have chosen to compartmentalize the information that makes up my worldview into three buckets.

The largest bucket is my “Things I Think” bucket which contains a lot of things I am reasonably sure are true and accurate.  This is also the information that, while I am fairly confident is true, I give my confidence about a 75%.  These are things I might joke about and debate on, but I won’t argue over.

The second bucket is my “Things I Believe” bucket.  This is a good bit more serious because I live my life in accordance to my understanding of the Things I Believe and the third bucket.  I would be hard-pressed to give up these beliefs, however, I do not hold these so rigid that I would fight for them.  I would argue my point and not concede without strong evidence contrary to my belief.  I do leave a little wiggle room for new information to adjust my belief though.  The opening is narrow and the bar for new information to become a paradigm-changing truth is pretty high, but I know my beliefs are not complete.  God has routinely revealed subtle errors in me, or more accurately, fuller understanding of things to me, that cause me to realize there is so much more I don’t know than I do.

Then there is the third and smallest bucket which is the “Things I Know” bucket.  While this bucket is not large, it contains the things that define the core of who I am.  If the things I believe are the lens I view everything in the world, then the things I know are the indestructible frame that holds it all together.  These are the things which I will die believing, the things I will die for.  These are absolute truths and they are not open to correction because they are the established as true on multiple levels and been verified as absolute.  One of them is that there is a God Whom we will all stand before in judgement.  Mr. Hawking knows that now.  No matter how firmly he believed there was no God while he walked this earth, he has learned he was wrong.

Here are the three primary reasons I know Mr. Hawking was wrong.  The first is the evidence of intelligent design in the universe.  It surprises me greatly that anyone who closely studies the universe in all it’s complexity AND order doesn’t see the absolutely essential need for a intelligent designer behind the design.  The odds of the things that have had to occur in the creation of all that is happening by random chance are truly insurmountable.  They are literally impossible.  And yet from a paradigm that says there cannot be a God, an otherwise intelligent human being, argues for something that is mathematically impossible.

Second is a two-fold answer – the deep and historically accurate information from the bible and the person of Jesus.  We have a book compiled over the course of some 2000 years by over 3 dozen different authors that uniformly holds together as a testament to a God that is real, active, and seeking to be known by humankind.  There are many things identified in this book as future-looking prophecies that have been fulfilled that the uniqueness and veracity of the book are beyond reproach.  The prophecies about God’s messiah such as the virgin birth, the birth in Bethlehem, Herod’s murder of the innocent children around Bethlehem, Jesus crucifixion… the list goes on with dozens of old testament prophecies that were exactly fulfilled by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that are, again, mathematically impossible to have happened by chance.  Yet there is an absolutely clear historical record that shows that these impossibilities occurred.

There is so much to say about Jesus, but for the sake of hopefully debunking the late Mr. Hawking’s biggest error, I would point to the resurrection as the hinge point.  For persons who hold an atheistic, agnostic, or even a religious world view other than Christianity, there is one event that Christianity either rises or falls on and that is the resurrection.  If it didn’t happen then we are fools, our religion is a lie, and our hope is in vain.  It truly is that simple.

However, if the resurrection is a true historical event, then God is validated as the God revealed in the bible and the Christian faith is upheld as true.  Furthermore atheists, agnostics, and any religion that does not have Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world are wrong.  History, even recent history, is full of persons who have set out as committed atheists to disprove the resurrection and, after careful research, found the claims of Christianity and the veracity of the resurrection to be paradigm-shifting and life changing.  Two very good authors to research on this are Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

There is one, more personal reason I know Mr. Hawking is wrong.  It is because he denies the existence of a person he has never personally met.  He argues that a place doesn’t exist that he has never been (until now) nor ever researched.  The funny thing, he has to argue against people who have met God and people who have thoroughly researched (and a few who have been to and returned from) heaven.  I am one who has met God.  I have personally experienced a number of miracles in my life and the lives of people I know well.  Miracles that have no other explanation… a dream that sent me to the doctor to find and repair three blockages in my heart, nudges to pray for people out of the blue that turned out to be at exactly when an urgent need arose, healings of illnesses including cancer, divine peace in times of great difficulty.  I have literally a dozen or more verifiable instances of miracles that God brought about because His people prayed.  That is simply counting the ones I have been directly involved in.  Multiplying that by the millions of believers around the world who have stories of God’s direct intervention, and the body of evidence is overwhelming.

Yes, I am sad as I consider Mr. Hawking’s passing.  But it is not so much for him.  He had a lifetime to seek God, but he chose not to.  And God allowed him to chose an eternity of separation from all that is good.  God, Who is love, grants us the right to choose.  So my sadness is not really for Mr. Hawking, but for all the persons Mr. Hawking represents.  People who refuse to consider, “Is God real?”  People who fail to seek Him.  People who are gullible enough to be duped by the many half-truths, lies, and falsehoods that distract and lead away from knowledge of the One True God.

If you don’t know God, I suggest a couple simple steps.  Right where you are say this simple prayer.  “God, I don’t know if you are real or not.  But if you are, please reveal yourself to me.  Please show me who you are and what I am to do to get to know you.”  Pretty simple, right?  And thinking logically, there is nothing at risk if you do this and I am wrong and everything to gain if I am right.

That is the first thing.  The second thing is to get a bible, preferably a more recent translation like a New International Version or the New Living Translation and start reading in the gospels.  Actually you can get the free bible app, YouVersion, and read multiple translations.   I suggest beginning with John.  These are simple steps that, if God isn’t real you won’t be losing anything.  But if He is real (and I can assure you that He is, but you must realize that for yourself) He will open your mind to truth and lead you to people that will help you to know Him.

There are many things in life that being wrong about doesn’t really matter much.  This is not one of those things.  Not believing in God, not recognizing Jesus for Who the bible shows us He is, is not something you want to be wrong on.  It is appointed unto mankind to live one life and then die.  And after that to face judgement.  For those who have accepted Jesus sacrificial death on their behalf and submitted to His leadership, death is no longer the end, but rather the beginning of a larger life spent in the presence of God.

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After hitting the huge pothole the car drove terribly.  The steering wheel vibrated in my hands and the entire car had a constant shake.  Driving to the repair shop I was ready for the bad news.  The tires and car were fine.  The pothole had simply knocked my tires out of alignment.  Once they were aligned the vehicle ran as smooth as ever.

The project was a mess, behind schedule and over-budget.  The project manager called the entire team together.  Grievances were aired, apologies given and received, and goals were re-established.  Everyone exited the meeting with a clear sense of direction and purpose.  The project team was aligned and the project proceeded on time and on budget.

The plant was experiencing another motor failure.  But this time the maintenance team took a deeper look to determine the problem.  In the end root causes were addressed and the pump and motor were carefully aligned which resulted in the motor to running smoother and longer than ever before.

The young man in the prison cell was truly repentant of the things he had done.  He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone, but in the end his family and the person he had taken from had all suffered.  As he sat there he considered all he had lost, not the least of which was his freedom.  He had even said a prayer earlier in his life and said he wanted to be a Christian.  But his life was not reflective of the Christian life and he knew it.  He got down on his knees and prayed for forgiveness and asked God to help him live the life he wanted him to.  He began reading the Bible.  He began living the life described there.  When he was pressured, the tendency to return to old patterns of thought and action rose up.  But a whispered prayer, “Help me Jesus” and then thoughts of how would Jesus want him to respond came to mind.  The transformation took time.  But the more he aligned his life with what he read in the Bible, the more peace he felt and the easier it was to do the right thing.

In every case the improvement occurred when alignment was achieved.  One definition of alignment is for different parts to be in the correct relative position, i.e. the four tires of your car, the pump and motor in a coupled machine.  A second definition is the organization of systems or activities so that they match or fit well together.  The project team in the example above is a good example of this.  In the last example of the repentant man, both of these definitions are applicable.

Before we dive into what it means to be aligned with God and His plan for our life we need a little context.  There are essentially three phases in life and they are sequential.  They are the transgression phase, the transaction phase, and the transformation phase.  Sadly, some persons never leave the first one.  A significant number experience the first two phases, but either fail to realize the tremendous benefits of the third phase or they stall in the pursuit of it.  Blessed are the persons who experience all three, especially the ones who experience the first two early and live long in phase three.

The first phase is simply our life before recognizing our deep need of God’s grace.  Paul explains this succinctly in the book of Romans summing it up in Romans 3:22, ‘for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’  The second phase is the glorious doorway into a restored relationship with God by accepting Jesus’ sacrificial death on our behalf.  This is the primary theme of the New Testament.  In one of the very last of Jesus’ exhortations captured in the bible we read these words, ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’  Revelation 3:20.  Salvation through repentance of sin and accepting of Jesus as Lord and Savior is God’s desire for all people.

But this is where the fun begins.  God has a life full of joy, peace, exhilaration, adventure, literally fulfillment in the richest possible way, in mind for those who seek Him.  When we choose to follow Jesus and allow His Holy Spirit to guide us we are walking in that third phase – the transformation phase.

Lest I unintentionally mislead, the transformation phase is not all pleasure.  Old habits and thought patterns die hard.  Ways of living that are contrary to the life God has called His children to are culturally engrained into us.  We will find that transformation in us means we will swim against the current at times.  It means we will have to deny our natural inclination to satisfy our own desires before others.  And because we live in a broken world we will suffer simply because of that brokenness.

The key in the transformation phase is becoming aligned with God in His work.  I see three arenas where God is at work and we are to join Him.  He is doing a work in us.  He is doing a work in the lives of those directly touched by our life.  He is at work in the World.  Alignment with God in this work is a critical success factor in the results as well as the pace.

There are three primary ways we need to align with God in this transformation.  The first is to read the Word of God and allow God to use it to transform our thought patterns.  ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’  Romans 12:1-2.  These two verses must be read together.  The transforming of our mind is not simply a mental exercise.  We are to act upon this new way of thinking.  We are to cease conforming to the old way of thinking and the ways and patterns of the world.  The bible is the Word of God.  It is the stable place we can always turn to for the clear picture of God and His desire for His children.

The second alignment is with the Holy Spirit.  At the transaction, we not only had our sins forgiven, we were given a very great help to live the life of faith.  God placed His Holy Spirit in us to be our guide and counselor.  Jesus talked about this in his final meeting with the disciples before His crucifixion.  ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’  John 14:16-17,26.

The Holy Spirit is God living in the believer.  Yet He does not overwhelm us.  He is gentle and seeks to lead us into truth and into obedience to the Father.  As we align ourselves with the Holy Spirit’s leading, we will learn to discern His voice.  Obedience brings greater clarity the next time the Holy Spirit speaks.  Learning to tune our hearts to the Holy Spirit also means the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil are muted.  They don’t necessarily go completely away, but the more we lean in and listen to the Holy Spirit, the less frequent and less vocal these temptations are.  The converse is also true.  The less we listen and follow the Holy Spirit, the louder and more frequent the voices of the world, the flesh, and the devil become.

The final alignment with God’s transformation is submission to Godly leadership.  The Church is a big deal to God.  It is so important that it is referred to as the bride of Christ.  Through the Church, God’s transformation of the world is taking place.  The Lord has raised up leaders who have specific responsibilities to fulfill.  As I ponder this, it occurs to me that everyone has a leadership role in God’s economy.  The difference may be in scale, but not necessarily in importance.  The mother of a young child is leading that child and that is vitally important.  As is the pastor of a mega church.  Yet every leader is also a follower of someone else.  Asking the Lord to guide you to a bible-believing church and then aligning with the leaders has placed there is a vital step.

These three alignments work together to create a firm foundation for transformation in me, in the persons around me, and in the world.  Not unlike a stool with three legs, these support us whether we are sitting at rest or standing to reach higher than we can normally reach.  Take away any one of the three and the stool no longer works.

We are created to live in intimacy with God, the lover of our souls.  This life carries with it great blessings, not the least of which is the process of being changed into the whole, beautiful person God had in mind when He created us.  While this process continues our entire life, we facilitate this transformation by aligning ourselves with the Word of God, His Holy Spirit, and Godly leaders.

Feel free to join me in this prayer.

Lord Jesus, we want to live the transformed life you created us for.  We say yes to the work you are doing in us… in our family and friends… and in the world around us.  I offer myself to you anew today.  Take the broken pieces of my life and put them together in the way you know they need to go.  Take the supple pieces of my life and shape them to the form you have in mind.  Reveal the pieces of my life that need to go and then help me to leave them for good.  And whatever is good in me please use for your glory, the world’s good, and my joy.  In Jesus name.

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Rather than taking a long time to get to the point let me state it up front.  Trusting God is not a good Plan B because if Trusting God is in position B then something else must be your Plan A.  There is nothing that rightfully supplants putting your hope first in God and His provision.  Now there are numerous situations where the Lord will work through others to accomplish His will in our life, but allowing God to be our source and then trusting Him to chose whatever means He determines to meet our need is always the right response.

God is fully equipped to be our confidant, our counselor, our healer, our deliverer, and our comforter.  In fact those are all specifically spelled out as roles God will fulfill in the believer’s life.  We also are given insight into what qualifies Him to fill those roles.  He is omniscient.  He is sovereign.  He is omnipresent.  He is all together good.  He is love.

So what does Trusting God as Plan A mean?  While I understand that many of you know God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I am prompted to cover the basics before we touch on deeper elements of Trusting God.

God is the Creator and Father of mankind.  Intimate fellowship with God was broken in the Garden when sin entered the world.  There is a price to be paid for sin.  God’s answer for sin which broke our intimacy with Him was to send His Son, Jesus into the world.  Jesus paid the debt for our sin so we could be reconciled to God.  So Trusting God begins with trusting Jesus as your Savior and Lord.  This is the way God has established for mankind to be put in right relationship with Him.  But making this decision is only the beginning of what it means to Trust God.

God has spent over a millennia creating a love story between mankind and himself.  This love story is captured in the bible or Word of God.  In this inspired book, God provides everything necessary for life.  Wisdom, guidance, encouragement, inspiration, comfort, challenge – all the essentials for living life in intimacy with God is in this book.  The bible makes the claim, backed up by the testimony of millions of us, that the truth contained in the bible is God-breathed and life changing.

Then there is the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gives to His followers.  Every born again believer is sealed with the Holy Spirit who indwells us.  Jesus talked about the Holy Spirit being our comforter and counselor in His final extended discourse with the disciples.  (See John 14 and 15)  The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity.  He knows the plans of God and the heart of Jesus.  He will lead us in the right path, always, every time, without fail.  Our role is to train our hearts to listen, understand, and follow His leading.

I am pretty confident I know why we sometimes make Trusting God Plan B.  It gets back to the point of a few days ago.  We would rather be doing something than doing nothing.  And we often make the mistake of thinking that waiting upon the Lord is the same as doing nothing.  In the most minor of ways it may appear as if we are not actively doing, but to lay our cares upon the Lord and leave them there takes an exercise of faith that is one of the most important and challenging of spiritual exercises.  And like any exercise it takes practice over time to become proficient.

Let me wrap up for tonight.  Trusting in God as Plan A is altogether good.  Plan A is not sticking our head in the sand or ignoring the sound counsel of others, but it is trusting God to lead us in our decision-making.  In many cases we will use the natural gifts and talents of others around us.  When I broke my shoulder last year I was in a foreign country.  I had a few options.  But rather than simply lean on my own wisdom, I consulted others and I prayed.  God led me to fly back to the US to have the surgery to set my shoulder.  But within my Plan A was the possibility God could have said to have the procedure done there or something else.  I was totally seeking His guidance.  Flying home seemed like the right thing to do.  When I didn’t feel any check about it after praying, we flew home.  The miraculously minimal amount of pain I suffered over the  day of transatlantic travel and then waiting 5 days for my surgery was confirmation I was Trusting Him correctly.

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.‘ Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV

Make knowing and growing in intimacy with God your priority.  Make Trusting the Lord your Plan A.  Allow the fruit of the Holy Spirit to bloom and grow in your life.  Seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit to operate in your life.  And God’s peace will overflow in a life well-lived and the richest of praise.

Be blessed my friend and be a blessing!

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The most difficult care conversations are those where people have lost hope.  Hope is an anchor.  Hope keeps us from being lost when the storms of life break over us and threaten to destroy us.  Persons who lose hope are vulnerable to multiple temptations that will only make bad situations worse.  The downward spiral that is hopelessness is difficult to break once the path is set.  This is when the life-giving words of Jesus are so important to hold on to.  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26 NIV.

Yesterday we prayed with a man whose family has experienced two suicides within the course of a month.  This is the ultimate losing hope.  Two of my friends then shared nuggets of gold which I want to share with you today.  First Doug, a teacher for many years, mentioned an experiment that he has read about.  Laboratory mice were subjected to a stress test that measured the impact of hope.  The mice were placed in a tank filled with enough water that the mice were forced to swim.  For one group of mice the tank was then covered with a box that completely sealed off the light.  The average lifespan of the mice in the dark box was 3 minutes before they drowned.  The second group of mice were treated the same except for a small hole in the box which allowed a small amount of light to enter the box.  The average lifespan of these mice was 36 hours.  Such is the power of hope.

As Doug finished, Greg asked if we had a good definition of hope.  I think I said it was a belief that things would be better in the future.  Greg said hope is H.O.P.E – Holding On to Promises Eternal.  My definition could be true, but it could just as easily be the definition for wishful thinking.  In reality, that’s what a lot of people accept as hope.  But Greg’s definition is tied to something solid… something that has stood the test of time and proven true.

So, I want to share with you some of the Promises Eternal that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be true.

“I will never leave you or forsake you.”  God speaks this to several people in the bible.  He spoke it to me in Sept of 1983 in a small chapel at Camp Hartner in the piney woods of central Louisiana.  This is the first and foundational promise of my faith journey.  I pitched my anchor trusting it would hold fast in this promise.  It has for over 34 years.  I am certain it will hold into eternity.

“I know the plans I have for you.  Plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans to give you a hope and future.”  Jeremiah 29:11.  The Lord kept this verse in my thoughts the entire week when I was told my job was eliminated in 2007.

‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. ‘  Isaiah 41:10.  The Lord clearly gave me this verse as I was about to go to work one morning fully expecting to hear that my team was being downsized.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. ‘  Matthew 6:33.  In this simple admonition, Jesus gave the recipe for prioritizing life which ensures my needs are met.  While there have been a few times that my wants went unsatisfied, I’ve never missed anything of significant value.  One of the things I’ve learned about “wants” is they usually have a great big “I” in the middle of them and they don’t advance God’s purposes in my life or the life of those around me.  Yet with a few unfulfilled wants, there have been numerous times when God’s blessings have absolutely overflowed into my life and the lives of those I know and love.

‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”‘  Matthew 11:28-30.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve “limped home” to hear the Father whisper the words “Rest in Me.”  He has always carried the bulk of the load.  At times I’ve attempted to shoulder more than I was supposed to and forge on in my strength.  Yet in His gracious mercy, He has always been right there to step in as soon as I realize my error and lean into Him.

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.’  Proverbs 3:5-6.  Again there have been times when I’ve gotten focused upon my plan, my work, my way that I’ve lost track of God’s call and purpose.  But He is faithful to His promise here and when I turn to Him fully committing my heart and ways to Him, He has always, ALWAYS been there to guide and direct me.

‘Delight yourself also in the Lord , And He shall give you the desires of your heart.’ Psalms 37:4.  I’ve learned that deepening my relationship with the Lord – delighting in Him, has been the greatest blessing of life.  At times I can clearly see how martyrs and the persecuted saints through the ages have been able to worship God even in the face of intense personal pain and suffering.  He gives eyes to see things unseen.  He causes our hearts to know of things eternal.  He changes our heart so that His desires become our desires.  He accomplishes those things that will bring about His glory and our joy.

I meant to keep this to a short post, but I have failed again.  Please forgive me.  While I am just getting warmed up, I know it is time to sign off for today.  Before I do, I would be remiss not to emphasize, these are your promises too.  God loves with an overwhelming love.  He has written His love story for you as well as for me.  Every promise of God is true and you can rely on them.  Wherever you are in life, you can pitch your anchor into God’s Promises Eternal and that anchor will hold.  Jesus gave His life for you and He gives His promises to you.  That my friend is HOPE.  That my friend is for you.

Blessings to you today.

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