Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Surprised by God, Part Four


This article continues the series entitled Surprised by God, Part One, Surprised by God, Part Two, and Surprised by God, Part Three.

Paul and his companions experienced their share of setbacks and surprises.

L. B. Cowman, in her classic devotional Streams in the Desert, wrote, 

Whenever you are in doubt as to which way to turn, submit your judgement absolutely to the Spirit of God, asking Him to shut every door but the right one. Say to Him, "Blessed Spirit, I give to You the entire responsibility of closing every road and stopping every step that is not of God. Let me hear Your voice behind me whenever I ‘turn aside to the right or the left’ (Deut 5:32)
 
In the meantime, continue along the path you have already been traveling. Persist in your calling until you are clearly told to do something else. O traveler, the Spirit of Jesus is waiting to be to you what He was to Paul. Just be careful to obey even His smallest nudging or warning. Then after you have prayed the prayer of faith and there are no apparent hindrances, go forward with a confident heart. Do not be surprised if your answer comes in doors closing before you….”
 
Those setbacks and surprises of the Lord come in numerous forms:

* Sudden reversals in resources or health

A lack of hoped-for opportunities

* The death of a family member, friend, or colleague

* The withdrawal or closing of a previous open friendship

* Resistance from people and organizations

* Or, unexpected blessings that provide opportunities that previously appeared closed

Whatever the form they take, sudden closed doors or new open ones leave us scratching our heads.  We think, "This is not what we expected." 

Wayne Stiles shares his perspective on closed doors in his book Waiting on God: What to do when God does nothing:

Sometimes the dreams and goals you have for life are good goals, even godly goals - but just not God's goals.  Your expectations of life are just that - yours.  God has his own set of plans, and he reveals them one step at a time.

God may lead you in one direction simply to take you in another.  He may give you a vision . . . only so that he can sanctify you by his grace in experiencing a slammed door.  Slammed doors do more than bend your nose; they keep your heart pliable, sensitive, and available to God's leading.  Not only does he keep secret the difficult valleys you'll experience (and many of the mountaintops) but also the tremendous lessons you'll glean no other way.  Lessons you didn't know you needed to learn.  Lessons you'll thank him for one day.

You may fail to recognize God using you significantly because you define God "using you" in terms of what you consider significant: results.  But God often defines results in terms of character.    


 Lessons learned from two godly examples

The examples of Joseph and Paul show us several truths about following the Lord.


1.  Following the Lord includes thinking, planning, and stepping out.  Pray for wisdom, use your brain, and exercise creativity.   You will grow along the way as you do.


2.  Sometimes God allows us to exhaust our options before giving His direction.  Joseph’s direction came after he had considered these things.


3.  Many times the Lord has purposes of which we are not immediately aware.  He may have another route you and I have not yet considered.


4.   God’s plans require that we relinquish ours.  Patterson told the Board, “Throw away your list.”  Trust God.  His ways are higher and always better (Isaiah 55:8-9).


5.  God’s guidance will accompany an atmosphere of prayer, a life soaked in the Word of God, and a sensitivity to the quickening of the Spirit of God.  It is always easier to guide a moving object than a stationary one.  As you keep your life steeped in the things of God, guidance comes.


Jerry Bridges shares in his devotional 31 DaysToward Trusting God that much of Christian thought the past several decades has emphasized our discovering the will of God.  That spotlight tends to focus on the individual doing the right things in order to get divine revelation.

Instead, Bridges says, the Bible emphasizes that God guides His people.  The focus is on the Shepherd.  He knows His sheep by name.  And He will guide them as they look to Him.


The Lord promises us in John 10:27, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."

Let us keep our eyes on Him, trusting the Shepherd to be our guide amidst all of the challenges, turns, and surprises in life.

 Guide us, O Thou great Jehovah.

  
 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Day with the Wilsons



“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family
 all wrapped up in each other.” ~ Burton Hillis

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas from the Wilsons!!!



Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; 
he is the Messiah, the Lord.
Luke 2:11

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Grace Abounds


This Christmas Eve my devotion "Grace Abounds" appears in the Upper Room daily devotional.

Read the meditation by clicking here.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Make Me a Child Again


I'm alone this Christmas Eve beside the tree,
Yet a presence I can feel
Calls for me to honestly and humbly come,
And in His presence kneel;
To forsake the human pride that so controls me;
To come out from where I hide behind my fears;
To lay down the sophistry that prevents simplicity;
And with openhearted, childlike faith,
Draw near . . . perhaps with tears.

 

Make me a child again, a child again;
Heart his Christmas prayer, dear God:
Give me a tender heart, a childlike trust;
Let my spirit be reborn.
I want a faith that knows your Father-heart,
To believe Your words to me.
I want to understand, to take your hand,
To have children's eyes to see.

 

To be a child again, to touch a friend
With the love that You have shown.
To lay aside my fears, forget the years
I have tried life on my own.
I ask, O God above, just now remove
All my hardness, my masks, and sin;
And at this Christmastime, make me a child again.
And at this Christmastime, make me a child again.


- Jack Hayford

Monday, December 21, 2015

Though Dead, they Speak


"The man whose doctrine is shaky will be shaky in his whole life. One almost invariably finds that if a man is wrong on the great central truths of the faith, he is wrong at every other point."
 -- Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. 

One of the greatest preachers of the modern age. He would have been 116 years old yesterday.

Surprised by God, Part Three


This article continues the Surprised by God series.  Read article one here and article two here.

During my college years, I dated a young lady off and on for about three years.  As often happens with dating couples their senior year of college, the question loomed large, "Are we going to get married, or are we just enjoying each other's company as college students?"

We began seriously talking and praying about whether or not God wanted us to spend our lives together.  She was a serious Christian, an exciting person, and I thought she would make a good wife and mother.  We had similar goals in life.  From the world's perspective, and even from the vantage point of many believers, we probably could have experienced a better-than average marriage.

But going into the last semester of my senior year, a growing and nagging lack of peace accompanied my thoughts of her.  This finally culminated in February of that year, when I told her that I was sure that God was not leading us to be married.  It was a somewhat sudden change and surprise to us both, but I believed God had answered our prayers for direction.  After college we parted ways and both pursued careers in Christian ministry.

Don Wilton says that when counseling pre-married couples, he does not just ask them, Do you know that it is God's will for you to marry each other?  That question can be manipulated because of strong emotional attachment.  He asks, instead, Do you know that if you did not marry this person, you would be out of God's will?  That is a much stronger one.

More than a year after college graduation, I still had no future marriage prospects.  Several of my friends were already married or engaged, and it felt like the clock was ticking.  My mother suggested that I reconsider my college girlfriend, but I knew the Lord had closed that door.  Over several months, however, I did begin to consider another woman.  Without question, I knew I wanted a wife who was a serious follower of Christ.  The woman I considered certainly was.  In fact, I could not think of any woman I knew who was any more serious in her relationship with God than her.

I finally bit the bullet and wrote her a lengthy letter.  Thankfully, email was just getting started and we still resorted to snail-mail (which is today a great idea for weighty matters).  I laid it out to her, told her that she was the kind of woman I hoped to marry, and asked her to pray as to whether or not there could be a future between the two of us.  I sent her the letter in the fall of the year and waited.

Weeks and months rolled along, and before long it was January of 1997.  After taking a semester off from school, I moved back to Louisville, Kentucky, to re-enroll in seminary.  The first day in my dorm room, I asked the Lord to give me a word from the Scriptures to cling to in the coming weeks, one that would be a milepost for that new season of life.  On January 4, I wrote down Isaiah 42:16 in my journal,
 

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do;I will not forsake them.


For three weeks I memorized and meditated on that promise, trusting God to do those things for me.  The weekend of January 26, I visited my uncle and his family in Cincinnati, Ohio.  On Sunday morning, when I walked into the Sunday School room at their church, I immediately noticed a bright orange banner along the wall with Isaiah 50:7 painted across:


Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

 

The Lord put a check in my spirit at that moment.  A check is when the Holy Spirit alerts you on the inside as if to say, "Listen up.  I am speaking.  I have something for you here."  I made a mental note of the Bible verse and wrote it down.

 

That night I drove back to Louisville, pondering those two verses as I drove.  Isaiah 42:16 was a promise of divine guidance.  In other words, "I can trust my steps to Him."  The other verse in Isaiah, however, was a promise of not being put to shame.  I internalized that as, "God will not shame me.  I don't have to be afraid.  He has my best interests at heart."

Arriving on campus, I checked my campus mailbox.  Inside was a note from the girl I had written in the fall.  As I walked across the chilly campus to Whitsitt Hall, I prayed, Lord, whatever this holds, I commit the outcome to you.  Sitting down on my blue love seat in the small dorm room, I read the letter.  She kindly and respectfully turned me down and told me that she did not think we had a future together.  She also told me, "Since I received your letter in the fall, I have been praying two Bible verses for you: Isaiah 42:16 and Isaiah 50:7."

 

I was stunned.  The refusal from the young lady really did not phase me.  It was one of those moments when you feel, "Well, this is not what is best for me, so thank God."  The reality, however, of how the Lord spoke to me through those specific verses overwhelmed me.  I later learned that such an experience is what Robert Clinton calls a "double word confirmation" in his book The Making of a Leader

 

Taking my Bible, I walked across campus to a grassy hill that looks out at the library.  Time seemed to stand still as I sensed I was in God's presence.  Submitting my life to Him afresh, I asked Him to have His way with me in the coming days.

  
That was Sunday night.  

It was one of the defining moments in my life.
On Friday night, I met the woman of my dreams - the one I would marry.

Tracey Funderburk moved to the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that very week.  Not knowing why she needed to enroll at the school but sensing the Lord's direction to move to SBTS, she moved 500 miles from Lancaster, South Carolina.  We met that Friday night at a music school party.

Immediately prior to leaving my dorm room for the party, I stretched out on the floor with my Bible and journal, asking the Lord to direct my steps.  I wrote, 

Whatever is in the future, in the days ahead, Lord I trust you.  I want to abide in you and let you do through me whatever you want.  To lead along new paths.  Guide in ways I have not known.  But you know it thoroughly, Father.  So I am yours.  I give myself to your love.  "I walk into the unknown trusting as a child."

Two hours later, I returned to my small dormitory and penned, I met a girl tonight - a new student.  She went to North Greenville University and worked at Crossway Book Store.  Tracey Funderburk.  Wow.  Psalm 37:4

Twelve months later I asked her to marry me in the steeple of Alumni Chapel on that campus one cold winter night.  Six months later we were married one hot July afternoon.  

And seventeen years and three children later, the rest is history.
 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?


Albert Mohler aptly addresses one of the pressing theological questions of our day.  

"A statement made by a professor at a leading evangelical college has become a flashpoint in a controversy that really matters. In explaining why she intended to wear a traditional Muslim hijab over the holiday season in order to symbolize solidarity with her Muslim neighbors, the professor asserted that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. 

Is this true?

The answer to that question depends upon a distinctly Christian and clearly biblical answer to yet another question: Can anyone truly worship the Father while rejecting the Son?"

Read the entire article here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Surprised by God, Part Two


This article continues the one entitled Surprised by God, Part One. 

When Paige Patterson resigned as the President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he addressed the Board of Trustees.  The Board would nominate the next President of the seminary.  Patterson challenged them, First, you need to make your list of the qualities you want in your next President.  For that, you need to think, discuss, and plan.  Get your list together and make it air-tight.  Then, when the list is complete, do the following.  Tear up your list.  After that, get on your faces together and begin crying out to God for Him to direct you to the man He wants to be the next President of this seminary.  


Cry out for His man – even if that man is different than what they would first choose.  The prophet Samuel faced a similar experience at Jesse’s house in search of the next king.  The Lord said, Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).

The apostle Paul experienced similar redirection and surprise.  Knowing the Lord called him to preach the gospel, he and his team set out from Antioch determined to share the Word throughout Asia.  For days, weeks, and most likely for months they journeyed through the continent.  

 Luke records they traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them.  So they passed by Mysia and went on to Troas (Acts 16:6-7).  

Talk about frustrating.  Get out a map of New Testament Bible times and check out the progression of locations.  In today's terms, it is a bit like starting in the United States at Charleston, South Carolina, and slowly traveling through the country, heading westward.  Winding up through Tennessee and Missouri, you plan on having evangelistic campaigns.  Surprisingly and unexpectedly, the Holy Spirit will not allow the plans to materialize.  So, you move ahead, thinking, “Maybe the Lord wants us farther north.  You trudge along for many days and weeks.  Arriving in Nebraska, you make plans for some street preaching and home Bible studies.  But suddenly, the Spirit of the Lord says, No, not here.  Another closed door.

We don’t know how the Spirit communicated.  Perhaps they experienced opposition from people.  Doors slammed in their face.  Or perhaps as they got to a place and prayed privately or together, they had a sudden absence of peace or a quickening of the Spirit inside saying, No, don’t do this.  Keep moving.

Finally, through the last leg of the monotonous journey, they make it through Utah, Nevada, and end up in California.  Not the trip they expected.  They check into a motel in San Francisco, and with their backs to the bay, they have nowhere else to go. 
Imagine their frustration.  And remember, there was no Amtrack, interstates, or airplanes.  They journeyed on foot and on animals.  This treck probably took months. 
  
As Paul stews in the San Francisco Holiday Inn, he wonders, “What is going on, Lord?  Have we made a mistake?  Did we miss you?  We set out months ago with such high hopes of making disciples through Asia.  And here we are stuck with an ocean at our backs.  I must be nuts.”

And one night everything changes.  We don’t know how long they stayed in Troas.  Maybe it was one day, many days, or weeks.  But since God works the night-shift, in the middle of Paul’s sleep one night, the Lord sends his servant a vision.  We call it The Macedonian Vision.  The man pleads, Come over to Macedonia and help us (Acts 16:9).  

Macedonia is in Greece on the mainland.  Greece is in Europe.  Paul and his companions have been traveling through Asia.  While Paul and company had the continent of Asia on their mind, God had other plans.  He had Europe on his  mind.  He wanted to get this missionary group to another continent.  And the only way to do it was to guide them through the Asian continent, experiencing closed door after closed door, until finally they had their back to the ocean and the European continent.

Paul and his buddies become the first carriers of the gospel of Christ to Europe.  I sure am glad they experienced all those frustrating closed doors, because the gospel came to the United States of America because it first went to Europe.

The cynical part of me thinks, “Why did the Lord do it this way?”  

If it were me, I would have made it simple.  Before Paul embarked on this long, arduous journey, I would have met him in his quiet time one morning and said, Paul, forget about Asia.  That is not my plan.  I want you and your friends to high tail it fast to Troas.  When you get there, I am going to take you to Europe.

But that is not how God often works.  Yes, there are times when He will speak directly to us about a situation or point in a specific direction.  But most times he allows us and I believe even wants us to do our part.  He wants us to pray, to think, to plan, to try, to step out, and yes, sometimes to experience closed doors along the way.  It forces us to grow, to develop, to stretch, and to trust.  And it teaches us to not take ourselves too seriously.

An engineer friend of mine and father of three in his early-thirties sensed God redirecting him into a different career path.  The change required him to resign his job and go to medical school for a couple of years.  Talk about a big change.  Early in the process he told me, “Rhett, I just want to make sure that God is in this before I step out and make a mistake.”

I remember pointing him to Acts 16 and saying something like, “The direction may not come until you first step out and start trying.  Sometimes God waits until we move forward and make plans, all the while knowing that He is God and can change our plans at any time.”

This will be continued in the article Surprised by God, Part Three.