Monday, November 27, 2017

Choices, Choices, Choices!

So, in my family we’re thinking about potential college choices. Our oldest son is a high school senior and just about ready to go out and conquer the world. Aren’t they all? How does a 17-year-old kid make a decision about where he wants to go to college and what he wants to do for the rest of his life? 

Did you know there are about a zillion colleges in the United States, and that we’ve received enough promotional mailings to start our own landfill? From near-weekly Washington University (St. Louis) postcards to Olivet Nazarene’s oversized full-color magazine to Baylor University’s virtual reality viewer, and tons of brochures in between, I see why the cost of college is astronomical based on printing and postage alone. 

Tyler had suggested covering his bedroom walls with all of the flyers and letters, then throwing a dart blindfolded and whichever school it hit, that would be the one to attend. In which case he’d likely end up at either Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland or California University of Pennsylvania, both of whom have probably spent the equivalent of a small nation’s GNP on promotional literature mailed to our home. And no, California University of Pennsylvania is not a misprint. 

So how do we go about making such life-changing decisions: Should I get married? To whom? And when? What career path should I pursue? Should I take this job offer? Where should I live? Should I rent or buy a home? When should I think about retiring? What should I be doing in my retirement? What’s the right decision to make about health care for my ailing parent? How should I divide out my estate? 

I’ll start with this premise: God knows the way we should go, and He goes with us every step of the way. For Christ-followers, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit guides us all along life’s journey. Not every fork in the road comes with a neon sign pointing out the path to choose, but the Spirit never leaves us without help. Here are five ways the Holy Spirit guides: 

1. He opens up the Word of God. The Bible provides illumination for every step we take and every decision we make. As God speaks through His Word, we find direction for our lives. We discover our mission as Christians, and through His instruction we chart our course according to His will. 

2. He uses godly people to speak counsel into our lives. I am deeply indebted to those whom the Spirit has prompted to ask the right questions, offer insights and wisdom, lovingly correct me when necessary, and provide help in making tough decisions. 

3. He changes our hearts to conform to His heart. His transforming work in us often creates awareness of pathways, opportunities, and answers to decisions we would have never known before. As we increasingly seek to honor the Lord in every aspect of our lives, rather than seek our selfish ambitions, the next right step often appears clearly. 

4. He closes doors and opens doors. The Lord sovereignly and supernaturally orchestrates circumstances and situations and conditions and events and times and issues and people in our lives to open up or close off options in the decisions we must make. 

5. He gives us peace about the situation. There is something divinely and satisfyingly unexplainable about the peace God gives us when we make the choice He intends for us. And a lack of peace often accompanies a decision we should not make. 

Friend, let me encourage you to seek the Lord in prayer for every decision you face. Listen for His voice, watch for the ways He’s working, and be ready to follow Him in faith as He guides you along the way. It beats throwing darts at the wall every time!


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Thanksgiving Challenge

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night…” (Psalm 92:1-2). 

Would you be willing to try an experiment with me? Here’s the challenge: Every morning and every night for the next seven days, I want you to write down at least one reason you have to give thanks to the Lord. 

Start with just one week. Keep a journal or notebook handy. When you wake up in the morning, whether before your feet hit the floor or perhaps after your first cup of coffee, write down at least one way God has shown you His steadfast love. And in the evening as you unwind think of at least one way that God has shown you His faithfulness, and write it down. 

Need help getting started? Sometimes our minds get foggy and our lives so busy that we hardly even give thought to the myriad ways God works in us and around us all the time. Our awareness of His presence is often sorely and sadly absent, to our own discredit and dismay. 

The Bible says it is good to give thanks to the Lord. No doubt it is! A life lived with thanksgiving to God is a life filled with the nearness of God, the help of God, and the glory of God. And truly there’s no better way to live. 

So here are a few questions to stir your heart and mind to giving thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love in the morning and His faithfulness at night. 

Has the Lord given you wisdom in making a difficult decision today? Has He reminded you that He will never leave you nor forsake you? Has He revealed His compassion through the kindness of a friend, or a stranger? Thank Him for it! 

Has He surprised you with a new joy after a night of sorrow? Has He given you comfort in a trying time? Has He filled your heart and mind with a peace that passes understanding? Has He answered a prayer? Has He protected you from harm? Thank Him for it! 

Has He surrounded you with friends and family who love and encourage you? Has He revealed His glory afresh to you in the handiwork of His creation – a beautiful sunset, a star-lit night, a rippling brook, or a gentle snow? Thank Him for it! 

Has He given you courage to face a new challenge? Has He given you insight and understanding into a situation? Has He been a refuge in the storm? Has He provided for you this day your daily bread? Has He supplied your needs in abundance? Thank Him for it! 

Has He assured you of His forgiveness and cleansing from your sin through the blood of Jesus? Has He freed you from the chains of addiction? Has He given you new life through faith in Jesus, His Son? Has He promised you eternal life and encouraged your spirit in this hope? Thank Him for it! 

Has He poured out His Holy Spirit upon you to guide you, counsel you, teach you, and help you? Has He led you to a church family where you are welcomed and loved, nourished and strengthened in the faith, and given opportunities to serve using the gifts and abilities God has given you? Has He excited your heart with purpose and passion in your work, in your ministry, in your mission? Thank Him for it! 

Friend, it is good to give thanks to the Lord! Take this challenge for a week – then keep it up if you find it helpful. And just see whether or not you agree that giving thanks to the Lord is good for your soul. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Prayers for Sutherland Springs and our nation

I am heartbroken to learn of the tragic shooting at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church this past Sunday, where 26 people have been killed and at least 20 others injured. This is a horrific act of evil inflicted upon unsuspecting Christians who had gathered together to worship the Lord God. 

Let’s pray for this precious church family and the entire community as they deal with this unimaginable situation. May the God of all comfort and peace show His extraordinary loving-kindness in wave after wave of mercy and healing power. May His amazing grace be sufficient for help in every need and in every moment. And may the Sovereign Lord bring good out of all that Satan has intended for evil. 

Now would also be a good time (once again) for us to pray for our nation. We need a great spiritual awakening. We need to repent of our sins and we need to turn to Jesus, the only One who can save us from this divisive, chaotic, violent, ungodly mess we’ve made. And – praise the Lord – He eagerly waits to be gracious and exalts Himself to show mercy. 

You’ve probably heard of the prophet Jonah. God called him to go to Nineveh, and he flat-out refused to go. Instead he boarded a ship going the other way, found himself in the midst of a raging storm, got thrown overboard, and was swallowed up by a huge fish. He was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights before God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. 

But I want to ask you this question: Do you know why God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh in the first place? Do you know what kind of a city Nineveh was? 

Well, let’s just say that Nineveh would never have made the list for “Best Places to Live” in Time Magazine. They were an evil and violent people. The culture was awash in immorality, greed, and cruelty. They did not fear the Sovereign God of heaven nor desire to conform to His truth. Does that sound like any place you know today? 

And the reason God sent Jonah was because their wickedness had reached the point of God’s justice, and He was ready to destroy the city. So the Lord called Jonah to preach a message of impending doom upon the city, and this was their opportunity to repent so that God’s judgment might be averted from them and His mercy on full display. 

Do you know what happened, after Jonah finally agreed to obey the Lord and go to Nineveh, that is? Amazingly enough, this ungodly people believed the word and they repented of their sins! The king of Nineveh even called for a city-wide three-day fast for both man and beast so that the people would cry out to God for mercy. He urged the people to turn from their evil way and from their violence, reasoning that perhaps “God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:9). 

And God’s response? “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10). 

Friend, I believe that our nation is racing toward the point of God’s justice against us, and if we don’t heed the message to repent and turn to the Lord now, we may not get another forty days. Let us cry out to God for mercy. Let us, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will surely pardon” (Isaiah 5:6-7).