“Surprise, Surprise, Surprise”

I can’t help but think that as Christians, our Americanized mindset often hinders us in our walk with God. It’s drilled into us, “Work, work, work!” We have to have a “five year plan.” We feel guilty if we’re not on the move towards a well thought out destination with clearly defined goals. We have to do our research, get all the facts, and only then are we to make our move. When it comes to life, we definitely don’t like surprises. Everything has to be well planned. The trouble is that God doesn’t always work within our accepted parameters. Sometimes, he lovingly says, “Surprise, surprise, surprise!”

What father is there that doesn’t enjoying surprising his kids with gifts he knows will make them happy? The thrill, the joy, is watching the reaction of the one receiving the surprise. They never saw it coming, never knew that it had been planned all along, and never suspected the loving intentions of their dad. Why do we have a hard time believing that our DADDY would do such things in our lives? Why must we make him into a stern, hateful God who demands constant work and striving? I think it has everything to do with that Americanized mindset I mentioned earlier. Oh, I don’t think we have Him figured out nearly as much as we would like to believe. And I believe we miss so many of his surprises because we don’t know how to simply be a child and let Him love us. Not convinced?gomer

Think about it, the whole Bible is filled with stories of how God surprised people. In fact, Jesus himself came as a complete surprise to many who assumed they had it all figured out. The Apostle Paul even says that God’s whole plan concerning Jesus, his work for, in and through us was a surprise (a mystery) that God had held back from all of eternity to be revealed at just the right time. And we are further assured that, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him…” He shows us these things by his Spirit, but surely we can’t think we know it all right now, at this moment. No, he reveals and unfolds life to us as we walk with him, as we give up control and rest in him.

I know it’s hard (at least it is for me), but don’t buy into the lie that you have to have it all figured out. It’s okay if you don’t understand it all, if you don’t exactly know where you’re headed. There is One who does, and he wants to share himself with you. Life is indeed a journey, and the wonderful thing is that in Jesus, this journey is filled with awesome surprises from the God who invites us to call him DADDY.

 

 

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Control

(WARNING: The following contains a graphic account of  the Holy Spirit speaking to one of his people. If you do not believe that Jesus communicates directly to his disciples today, you may find the following post offensive, and form the opinion that I am completely off my rocker!)

Living in America, we all know that you’re supposed to go to college, get a lucrative career and then provide stability and security for yourself and your family. We are to control our own destiny. Right? Well, I truly believe that we are entering a time when we American Christians will have to learn a new way to live. It should have always been this way for us, it’s nothing new, but it will be new for us in that we have been so fortunate, so used to being in control. I’m talking about truly living by faith, trusting God for the essentials of life, the things we all take for granted, the things we control. Perhaps an example from my own experience will best serve to illustrate what I mean.

Several years ago I moved into a house out in the country, in Mooresville, NC. Ministry was kickin’, work was going great, and I foresaw no problems with my move. But I hadn’t even moved in good before the storm hit. Work just dried up for me. Colleagues of mine were doing just fine, but what I had done for the past 25 years to get jobs for myself was producing no results whatsoever. I tried to be strong, say and pray all the right things and put on a confident air in front of folks. But I eventually found myself sitting at the kitchen table, deeply troubled, and on the verge of tears.

Me: “God, you know I have bills. How am I going to survive?”

Spirit (very tender and loving): “Tell me, what do you need that you don’t have?”

I seriously thought about that for a minute, and then responded.

Me: “Well, honestly, I have a lot of  things I don’t really need. I mean, I don’t need cable TV. I don’t need WI-Fi, etc… I’d have to say I have everything I need and then some.”

Spirit: (still very tender and loving) “Well then, what has you so upset?”

Honestly I didn’t know what to say. I just sat there in silence.

Spirit (so gentle, encouraging): ” I’ll tell you what’s bothering you. I have taken away your control. It’s easy to say you trust me when you know money is coming in at the end of every week, when the fridge is full, when you can see how your needs are going to be met. I’m teaching you how to truly trust me, to let me be in control.”

These lessons have continued to this day, and he has ALWAYS been faithful-even when I wasn’t.

We know so many things in our heads: “Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, the Father provides for all their needs, and you’re so much more valuable than they are.” But frankly, most of us have never been forced to actually live it out. I think the time is coming, when we will have to trust God for real. God’s means of provision often look very different from what we are used to, how we’ve been told it’s supposed to be. And we need to begin to allow God to teach us his ways, to find our security and stability in him, apart from the American Dream and the world’s system. The problem is, and it’s hard for us to admit, we American Christians are so bound to the American way of living that we resist the Spirit’s efforts to set us free. We love our “stuff,” and our fear of suffering outweighs the faith we say we have in God.

If you find yourself in “uncharted waters,” where you don’t know how things are going to work out, or even if they will- REJOICE! The Lord trains those he loves, and desires to deliver you from a false sense of freedom and show you the true liberty of life in and by his Spirit.

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

 

 

Confident Uncertainty

“…the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

There used to be a popular poster back “in the day” on which there was this picture of a cat hanging from a rope by one of his front paws, and the caption read, “ Hang in there baby!” The New Testament talks a lot about perseverance, endurance, and patience, but if you’ll study those words; you’ll find that they are not implying that we simply just “hang in there.” No, as followers of Jesus, we can endure the trials that come our way with an attitude of what I call Confident Uncertainty.

Sometimes we go through periods in our lives when we find ourselves faced with situations in which we just simply don’t know where to go, what to do, or how things will turn out. We encounter times of spiritual dryness, of trial, of sickness, or even life and death situations. During these times, all of our “Where do you see yourself in five years?” planning is completely blown out of the water. In extreme times of trial and adversity, you may not even see how you’ll make it five more years; much less tell someone where you think you’ll be! However, it is in such times of uncertainty that we can be confident because we trust in the Lord.

As we walk with God, as we get to know him, the intimacy we share with him produces trust. We began to learn that he is truly faithful. We begin to understand that his promise to never leave us or forsake us is true, even when we feel all alone in an ocean of uncertainty. We learn that he is the potter and that we are the clay, and that we can trust the potter’s hands. It is intimacy with Jesus which produces the trust that allows us to be confident in uncertain times. Our confidence is not in ourselves, our spirituality, or our ability to “shift the atmosphere,” rather, we are confident in our Lord because we know that in all things he is working for his glory and our ultimate good. When uncertainty threatens, when doubts and fear attack, we run to Jesus. As we sit at his feet, consumed by the beauty of his holiness, our strength is renewed, and we find stability in the fact that no matter what; we belong to him.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced an extreme trial, and the outcome was uncertain. There they stood, right at the edge of the fiery furnace. I’m sure they could feel the heat. They didn’t know how the situation was going to turn out. Yet, they were able to face their circumstances with confident uncertainty because they trusted in the Lord. What a joy it will be to get to the place in life where we can say along with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, “I’m not real sure how all of this is going to turn out, but no matter what the outcome; I belong to the Lord.”