Screwing-up God’s Plan For Your Life

This morning I met with a younger guy for coffee.  He’s about 27, is working in a retail job he hates, and is at a fork in the road regarding his career.  He wanted to ask me questions about construction, non-profit work, and generally making wise decisions according to God’s Will in a world full of options.  We had a great conversation, and it was a pleasure for me to share some of the pearls I’ve picked-up along the winding path of my own life.  I remembered feeling the same way many years ago.  One specific thing I remember from those days is the feeling of absolute DREAD that, if I made a wrong decision, I would totally screw-up God’s master plan for my life…and spend the rest of my life hurting because of it.  There is this belief, which is held onto by many but which I consider to be unbiblical/false teaching, that God has pre-written a very detailed script for each of our lives…all our decisions, relationships, circumstances, etc….and that our job is to figure it out so that we can be “in His will.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  Scripture is very clear, often, that God has plans for our lives….and even uses the word “predestination” in some places.  But if we read carefully, we find that God is much more concerned about our characters than our circumstances….in fact, some of God’s greatest work in Biblical people and modern people alike is born out of failures, unwise decisions, and outright sin.  God does not condone or promote our frail tendencies toward sin, but we should all be eternally grateful that His Will in our lives is not limited by it!  God’s will is about who we are and how we honor Him with our lives…how that plays-out is, I believe, is up to us.  Romans 8:28 is a key in unlocking this.

Here’s a closing email I just sent to my friend,

     “Sometimes, when faced with making important decisions in a way that’s consistent with God’s will, we can put undo pressure on ourselves and the Lord by believing that God has pre-ordained a script of all the specific things we’re supposed to choose, decisions we’re supposed to make….and that if we somehow fail to figure each one out just right, then we will screw up God’s plan and be “out of His will.”  In my experience and ministry with many others, I have found this misunderstanding to underlie a lot of anxiety that God never intended.  God’s will is for us to love Him with all we are, love others as we love ourselves, and be about His mission, as we go about our lives.  The details of circumstances will be filled with wise & unwise decisions, but we aren’t going to mess up His will for us….He uses everything toward transforming us into the image of Jesus over time.  So, as you look into different potential paths to follow, it’s good to be wise & patient, etc., but try not to put too much pressure on yourself…God will be with you no matter what, carrying you and leading you and using you no matter which direction you choose.”


Indulgence is a trap

Some days it seems that from the moment we wake up until our heads hit the pillow, we are bombarded with lies.  Our media/advertisement addicted society constantly entices us with empty promises….and we often believe them:
   “If only I looked like….
   “If only I had….
   “If only I could eat & drink….
   “If only I could wear….
   “If only I could have sex with….
   “If only I could experience….
   “If only I had more money….

I wonder…if an alien from outer space came to America today and formed an opinion about our values by watching TV & movies, reading the news, watching us live…if it might come to the conclusion that we were all addicted to indulging ourselves with things that don’t satisfy us.

Ultimately, true fulfillment cannot come from circumstances, things, places, pleasures, experiences, even relationships.  We chase these things because we were made to pursue fulfillment, and we’re suckers for counterfeits!  We were created to find fulfillment in active partnership with God. Jesus and His early followers had much to say about this:

“The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…”  (Paul, in Titus 2:11-13)

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:6-10)

“So I tell you, don’t worry about the food or drink you need to live, or about the clothes you need for your body. Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothes. Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds. You cannot add any time to your life by worrying about it. And why do you worry about clothes? Look at how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t work or make clothes for themselves. But I tell you that even Solomon with his riches was not dressed as beautifully as one of these flowers. God clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today but tomorrow is thrown into the fire. So you can be even more sure that God will clothe you. Don’t have so little faith! Don’t worry and say, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ The people who don’t know God keep trying to get these things, and your Father in heaven knows you need them. The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants. Then all these other things you need will be given to you. So don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will have its own worries. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Jesus, in Matthew 6:25-34)

“Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jesus, in John 4:14)


Primacy of LOVE

I was in a church service yesterday morning with my wife at Westside-A Jesus Church.  At one point, a guy named Greg was sharing about the great love that Jesus displayed as he hung on the cross, and the example He was setting for those of us who would follow in His steps.  I really appreciated what he said…my favorite was,
      “Let’s not save-up love like we’re going to retire on it, but give love away like we’re made of it.”

I loved that!  So often, I think we forget the primacy of love!  It reminded me of several scriptures that challenge and enlighten me today to keep the MAIN THING the main thing:

“If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.” (1 Co 13:1)

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:16-19)

“There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)


Morning food for body & soul

‘Nuf said…


Christians Don’t vs. Christians Do

I used to believe that being a Christian was all about what I didn’t do.  Maybe that’s because I was such a screwup in my early years, and needed to lay hold of the discipline of Jesus in order to excise self-destructive thought & behavior patterns from my character.  I worked hard to lean into the Spirit, who “teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12).  As I have now been walking with the Lord for 31 years, I’m reaching the stage where I’m understanding that God’s power to repress my carnal passions is only the side-effect of something much larger…much more important and vital…for me, those I love, and the watching world around me.

Indeed, Jesus had much to say against sin, from within and without our own souls.  However, He did & said a lot more about what we should be DOING and BEING in order to OVERCOME AND DESTROY the effect of evil in ourselves and in the world.

So many of the world’s people look at followers of Christ with disdain because we are often withdrawn and self-righteous…just like the Pharisees were during Jesus’ days in the body.  Of course, they’ll talk negatively and riducule anyway, but I’d rather it be because of selfless acts of sacrifice, love for my neighbor, and supernatural stuff they can’t explain but desperately need!  That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave.

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (John 14:12-13)


Why Following Jesus Won’t Make You Happy

There are good & bad reasons to follow Jesus…just like there are good & bad reasons to get married.  Marriage is, in fact, a very good analogy for what walking with God is supposed to be about…that’s why it’s used throughout the Bible to describe our relationship with Him.  Strong marriages are marked by the mutual respect of two people who are absolutely committed to sacrificing themselves on behalf of the other.  The more we give to our spouses, and benefit from their service to us in return, the more happy & fulfilled & secure we are in the marriage.  But when we seek happiness & fulfillment & security as ends-unto-themselves….as the goals…then we inexorably start stepping over the sacrifice that’s required to get it, and we start using our spouse for our own benefit.  And it doesn’t work.  This is why over 50% of marriages fail in America today…because people’s focus is on themselves, and they are asking the wrong question.  
Our relationship with Jesus is like this too.  It was never supposed to make us happy.  The invitation of Jesus is to “marry” yourself to Him…to give up everything about the solo-you in order to be completely devoted to Him….but through this self-sacrifice, this death-to-self, you will find LIFE that overcomes the temporary circumstance-based happiness that lures your soul in this life.  In this way of living in Him and for Him, much happiness is found….but only as a by-product.  I’m meditating on these scriptures this morning:
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.” (Philippians 1:21-22)

“Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”  (Colossians 1:24)

“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  (Luke 14:27)

Antidote to Overwhelmtion

Yes, I realize it’s not a word…but you get it, right?

Feelings of being overwhelmed, for me, are usually associated with either trying to go too fast for too long (aka-sprinting on a long run) or simply trying to do too many things at once (aka-spinning too many plates).  If you know me well, then you know that being overwhelmed is part of a cycle I go through fairly regularly.  It is in these times that my faith in Christ is exercised to the point of exhaustion…then growth.  Just how muscles regenerate themselves to be stronger than they were to begin with, following rigorous strain to the point of failure… long as it is followed by rest and nourishment!

I’m in one of those seasons right now.  Today is Day #6 of Catalyst’s Howard volunteer project.  And yes, once again, I am feeling overwhelmed as we’re reaching the final stretch.  These words from today’s “Jesus Calling” devotional were perfect:

“When things seem to be going all wrong, stop and affirm your trust in Me.  Calmly bring these matters to Me, and leave them in My capable hands.  Then, simply do the next thing.  Stay in touch with Me through thankful, trusting prayers, resting in My sovereign control.  Rejoice in Me-exult in the God of your salvation!  As you trust in Me, I make your feet like the feet of a deer.  I enable you to walk and make progress upon your high places of trouble, suffering, or responsibility.” (Job 13:15…Psalm 18:33…Habakkuk 3:17-19).

This is how I keep going…


God’s Love is Meant to be Seen Before it’s Heard

You see these folks surrounding the older couple in the middle?  They’re heroes.  They patched-up a leaky roof for this elderly couple, volunteering their time on a Friday and Saturday…and their church (Tigard Christian) covered the cost of materials.  Their cause is not to push a political agenda or force a religious view down anyone’s throat.  Their role is to serve, care for, and create common ground; making space for God to work in the hearts of the people they come into contact with…as well as their own.  Allowing people the freedom to come to their own conclusions.  They know the important truth that, as followers of Jesus, it is not our responsibility to convert people, but to love people…and leave the results to God.

Linda is a friend of mine, she’s in the picture with her arms around the other lady.  She was the advocate on this job, and did a fantastic job.  After it was all completed, she said this:

“I was able to visit with the Lowries during rest breaks and discovered that they are a nice couple.  They expressed their gratitude to Catalyst many times, and told me all of the workers were in their prayers.  The next door neighbor was also grateful as he was usually the one called to go up on the roof when yet another place leaked!  I was also able to meet another neighbor out walking her dogs.  She stated that i didn’t live there, and asked what i was doing and why was I doing it.  I explained about how God was using me as His hands to prune the roses to show the Lowries how much He loves them.  She brightened up and asked a bunch more questions.”

1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”