Unfinished

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” – Mark 6:31b

Have you set goals for 2018? Many of us have. We want to set our sights on what we can accomplish before another new year dawns. All the self-help books tell us to set goals that will challenge us – “dream big”, they say.  I think it’s good to keep reaching, to want to achieve, but most of us will get to the end of 2018 with some goals that are unfinished, unreached. What do we do with that?

Maybe we need a little balance: Striving and achieving, yes. But, maybe more importantly, being and becoming. Here’s why: Some year, we’ll set our goals for the last time and we don’t know when that will be. So wisdom tells me that part of our planning this year should include becoming. Becoming more peaceful and less anxious, more loving and more generous, quieter and wiser, becoming more like Jesus. There will always be goals and plans that are unfinished! If we wait to get them all done before we focus on our personal and spiritual growth, we will never give ourselves permission or opportunity to become.

Let’s  go for it with goals for 2018. We can work hard, achieve, and glorify God in the process. But, at some time each day and for longer times on non-work days, let’s stop doing to spend time with God: talking to him, walking with him, reading his book, singing him songs, listening for his voice. These will open the door to becoming who God created us to be. Then we’ll know that it may be OK if lesser goals remain unfinished.

“To fail to see the value of simply being with God and ‘doing nothing’ is to miss the heart of Christianity.” – Peter Scazzero

 

Do you really know why Jesus came?

“. . . to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” – John 1:12

If I had lived when Jesus was here and if I knew he was God, I think I would have been afraid. If God is holy and all-knowing, he must surely be angry at humans. But no! The good news is he came to do away with sin, not us! His disciple John explains it this way: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8b).

John also tells us Jesus came, not to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).  He knew the world was a mess and we humans are a mess, but he put the blame exactly where it belongs: on Satan! He came to free his children from Satan’s grasp, to invite us into relationship with himself, and to make us better people. He came to reveal the irrational love of the Father for all his children trapped in a world of evil. He came to love us, not to hurt us.

Every human since has had to decide how to respond.  At some point, we’ll be accountable for the choice we made: Did we choose to allow him to free us from sin’s stranglehold, or did we choose to continue on a hopeless path without him? We’re not responsible to untangle ourselves from all the trouble sin brings, but we are responsible for the choice we make about Jesus and his invitation to be his.

I hope you choose Jesus this Christmas. And if you already know him, choose to know him better!

“The loving mission of our Lord Jesus Christ was not to condemn but to forgive and reclaim.”A. W. Tozer

 

#Jesus

#Christmas

Numbers

 

“He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” – Job 5:9

Sometimes we’re too much about numbers: Age, the bathroom scale, Facebook likes, bank balances. Maybe we should think about God’s perspective for a moment:

  • He’s not too concerned with how many “likes” your post got, but He may have used it to stimulate one person to think more seriously about your message.
  • He’s not looking at how many people attend your church, but is very concerned that those who are there are committed to following Him.
  • He’s not worried about the amount of money you have in your savings account, but is really focused on how you’re using what He has given you.
  • He loves you and uses you whether you are 8 or 80.
  • He’s not even breaking out in a sweat over your cholesterol or blood pressure, but He does want your heart to be His alone.

Late in his life King David was feeling pretty secure because of the size of his army. In fact, he took a census so he would know exactly how many soldiers he had available should he go to war. God wasn’t pleased, and Israel suffered consequences for David’s self-important actions. It wasn’t about the numbers early on when David had only only 600 soldiers and trusted God to fight his battles. Nor was it about the numbers when he had more than a million soldiers to fight for him.

When it comes to spirituality or success in God’s eyes, it’s rarely about the numbers. It’s always about Him – His love for us and His power use our efforts and to act on our behalf. Let’s make it more about God and let Him do the math! He is the only one who can decide what counts!

“We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God.” – Dallas Willard

 

 

Can you believe? Just a little bit?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

I have a friend who was skeptical about the Bible. He’d read it, then question it. He tried to explain away miracles and dismissed any possibility of Jesus’ divinity. He looked at commands as cultural suggestions, to be revised at will.

But some of his rationalizations didn’t make sense – even to him. Eventually, he came to an intellectual impasse. One day he simply said to himself that, if the Bible were true, he’d be willing to believe. The next day, as he read the Bible, everything seemed to fall into place. His willingness to believe resulted in actual belief.

Sometimes we just don’t want to believe. We are not open to having our minds changed. If you are in that place, I would encourage you to take a step, just a small step toward the possibility of belief.

God is not like us. He thinks differently. He communicates differently. He has capacities and powers we cannot begin to understand. But He loves humans. He sent Jesus to reveal Himself to us. One of my favorite Jesus stories is when a father came asking for his son’s release from demonic powers. Jesus responded “Anything is possible for the one who believes”. The father, in complete honesty, answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

I have prayed that prayer many times. “I believe, Lord, but just a little. Help my little bit of belief to grow so I can know You as you truly are and trust You with my life.” Are you ready to pray that prayer, too?

“The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.” – Francis of Assisi

 

Note: In my discussions with this person and many others, I’ve had a chance to hear and explore the questions skeptics often ask. If you want to know more, you may be helped by my recent book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.   https://beverlyvankampen.com/resources/
#bible
#god

Is my way the right way?

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall remain stable and fixed under the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

Sometimes when I pray, I know how I want God to answer. So I’m specific and, honestly, any answer other than the one I’m praying for will not be acceptable to me. Do you ever do that? We sometimes forget that God’s perspective is better than ours! He knows things we cannot possibly know.

Centuries ago, people asked Jeremiah to pray for God’s direction about their going to Egypt. Jeremiah gave them God’s answer: They should stay in Israel where He would keep them safe. Their response? They call Jeremiah a liar! The problem was they were already packed to go before they asked Jeremiah to find out what God wanted. There was only one answer acceptable to them and they weren’t hearing it from Jeremiah, so they were angry. What they didn’t know was Babylon was on the move and soon would war with Egypt and the refugee Israelis would get caught in the crossfire. They could not see at all what God could see clearly.

Sometimes we struggle with giving control to God, trusting His direction. When we pray about a problem and we know what we want the answer to be, we would be wise to tell God that, though we desire to have our prayer answered our way, we are willing to accept His answer, whatever it is. That’s a safe prayer because

  • He sees what we cannot see,
  • His answers are always for our best good, and
  • He walks beside us when we’re willing to go His way.

“What I think and feel as I pray, rather than the words I speak, may be the real prayer, for God ‘hears’ that too.” – Philip Yancey

Greater Prayers

“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” – Romans 8:26b

How do we know what to pray for? So many times we face situations for ourselves or others that don’t have identifiable solutions. At other times, we may be praying for a band-aid when God wants us to have surgery. Or praying for candy when He wants us to have steak.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have God’s perspective applied to our situations so He can respond today in ways that prepare us for what’s next? We know God’s thoughts are way beyond ours – more creative, more all-encompassing, more eternal. We cannot think as He does, so how can we know we’re praying for the right things? How can we pray prayers we don’t even know how to pray?

I’ve learned that it sometimes means praying without words, silently allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us. We can practice this wordless prayer something like this: Sit in His presence. Tell Him we yield to His will, whatever it may be. Then, trusting His character, know what He wants is better than anything we could ask for ourselves or for someone else. Quiet yielding comes from the heart, relies on God’s wisdom and love, and prays beyond words.

I believe it’s God’s way of letting us pray prayers bigger than ourselves. Amazing, really.

“Lord Jesus,
take my mind and think through me,
take my hands and bless through me,
take my mouth and speak through me.

Above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me.”

(from a prayer found in a 16th century Book of Hours)

 

Because you asked . . .

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” – Psalm 112:4

Sometimes we labor in prayer, pleading with God for answers to pressing issues, waiting anxiously to see what He will do.

At other times, we simply mention something to Him, and He seems to respond – maybe just because we brought it up. For unexplainable reasons, God has chosen to use our prayers to change things in our world. And on some amazing occasions, He uses our prayers to bring blessings to others.

When God told Abraham he and Sarah would have a son, Abraham laughed because he was 99 years old and Sarah was 90! Not seeing how God could pull this one off, Abraham suggested his son Ishmael be the chosen one instead. But God made it clear that the new baby would be born and this son would be the one to carry on the covenant between God and Abraham.

God doesn’t stop there. He says, “. . . as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him. . .” (Genesis 17:20a). We know God had a plan for Ishmael, too, but I love that He seemed to respond specifically to Abraham’s concern. It’s almost as if God said, “I will bless him because you asked.”

Doesn’t that motivate you to ask? It does me. If we’re concerned about some person or situation, God wants to hear about it. Sometimes He gives us peace while we wait and sometimes He intervenes just because we thought it was important enough to talk to Him about. He allows us and our prayers to be the conduit of His blessing to others. What a privilege. What a responsibility! Let’s pray more.

“When we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side.” – Lewis Smedes