Detours

“The mind of a man plans his way. But the LORD directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9)

A detour is a longer, less direct way to get where we’re going. Sometimes the detour is intentional, perhaps to visit something or someone. At other times, they’re unintentional, taken to help us avoid a problem and get us back on track as soon as possible. This is the sort of detour that frustrates us. It’s the kind that gets in the way of our plans and the course we’ve set for ourselves, the one where we lose control over things. And for many of us, that’s a problem.

I think most of us probably like to be in control. We make our plans fully intending they be carried out just as we devised them. But that doesn’t always happen. Providence is defined as God’s ongoing relationship whereby He is actively involved in His creation, though distinct from it. Providence denies things happen by chance but are instead divinely planned. Though a weighty and somewhat controversial doctrine, God’s providence is clearly affirmed in Scripture. One such passage is Proverbs 16:9, which simply teaches that all our actions are under God’s providential care.

Sometimes, God allows detours in our lives, some alternative route we never saw coming. The detour may be for no apparent reason at all, or it may be because we’ve strayed off course. Whatever the reason, they can be painful. I read a great quote that says, “God has His own way of getting His own way”. It’s true. Overlaying every choice we make is God’s hand. His providence often encroaches into our lives for reasons that He alone knows. John MacArthur says that as Christians, “rather than being content in the success of our plans, we need to find contentment in God’s sovereign, providential control. We need to remember that even when things don’t go our way, God is still on His throne, orchestrating events for His glory and our good”.

God has a plan for each of us. It might not be the plan we would have set for ourselves, but we can rest assured it’s a perfect plan. God knows what’s best and He often uses these detours as a way of rerouting us back into His will. The writer of Hebrews tells us these “detours”, these times of training serve an important purpose and are meant for our good (Hebrews 12:11). The choice we must make is whether or not we will be trained by them. Will we become better, or will we become bitter? God allows these challenging moments in our lives to teach us that we really don’t have control of things. He uses them to teach us that ultimately, all we have is Jesus. And the truth is, He really is all we need.

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Old to New

“…seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Paul’s letters always contained both theological and practical components to them. After correcting their misplaced theology about Christ, Paul dealt in a very practical manner with those in the church at Colossae. For some, the practices of their lives before they were saved were still present. Paul challenged them to bring these practices in line with their new identity in Christ.

As we prepare for the New Year and look forward to what lies ahead, I guess it’s only natural to think back on the one that’s ending. Doing so may bring joy, perhaps sadness, or maybe a little bit of both. I imagine it also comes with a certain amount of regret. There are always things we wish we had done and said that we didn’t, and things we did and said that we wish we hadn’t. The truth is, we are all sinners and from year to year, sin will be a constant companion. But in His grace and mercy, through Jesus, God has dealt with our sin.

The Christian life is a process, not a process in the sense that we are progressively being saved over time. We are saved the moment we place our faith in Jesus Christ. The Christian life is a process in the sense that over time, we become more and more like Christ. This is known as progressive sanctification.

In this life we will always be less than perfect, but we have a Savior who is perfect. And although our conformity to the image of Christ will not end until we go to be with the Lord, our guilt does. This doesn’t mean we are to make light of sin. Paul didn’t in writing to the Colossians or anyone else. All sin matters to God. He is a holy God and He calls us to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:15). But often is the case that instead of letting our failures of the past instruct us moving forward, we end up consumed with guilt. This is not God’s intention as it denies the perfect sacrifice of Christ on our behalf. Though we live the consequences of our sin, its penalty was paid in full at the cross.

So, when you look to this upcoming year, look to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Thank Him for His forgiveness. Thank Him for His faithfulness. Thank Him for His grace. Thank Him for His mercy. Embrace everything He has for your life. Know that He is more interested in your present and future than He is your past. But most of all, remember, there is no one who loves you like He loves you.

When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

Relevant All the Way Through

“For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head” (Obadiah 15) 

One of the things I love about a study bible is that it helps me understand the context of the book I’m reading. I really needed it this morning as my daily reading took me to Obadiah. Let’s face it, some books of the Bible are easier to understand than others, and quite frankly, easier to find. Obadiah is only twenty-one verses long and if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you might pass right by it. However, whether it’s a long book or a short book, often read and studied or not, Old Testament or New, all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore profitable to us. And as I studied Obadiah this morning, I realized how relevant a message it has for Christians today.

The primary themes of Obadiah are God’s just judgment against His enemies and His faithfulness and mercy towards His people. The exact date of Obadiah’s prophesy is difficult to determine, but it concerns imminent judgment on Edom, Israel’s longtime enemy, for their part in a military assault on Jerusalem. Obadiah’s reference to “the day of the LORD” is of the day when God will bring judgment to His enemies and blessing and salvation to His people.

Sometimes we shy away from certain parts of Scripture because of a lack of familiarity or a perception that they’re not relevant for today. This is where a study bible can be useful in helping our understanding. Through Obadiah, God pronounced judgment on Edom for the evil they perpetrated against Israel, but at the same time reassured Israel of His faithfulness in spite of their circumstances. God is always faithful to His people. In times when it may appear that evil has an upper hand and living out our faith in Christ is difficult, we must remember, God is sovereign and His justice will reign. My study bible expresses it this way, “It is the righteous purpose of God, not the evil of men that determines history”. Though our faith may sometimes be weak, our God is not. He is always at work for us and we can trust Him in all things and under all circumstances.

Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

One Row Down and To My Right

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3) 

One of the blessings of being in choir is the opportunity to watch from the choir loft as people worship the Lord through song. Music has a special way of stirring hearts and engaging emotions. This is especially the case when the lyrics espouse the great truths of God’s Word. I’ve heard it said that sometimes worship is like a dance, but at other times it’s more like a fight. I suppose the point is that when things are going well, it’s easy to praise the Lord. However, in difficult and uncertain times, giving God praise may not be so easy. I think that’s true.

A few weeks ago, our choir anthem was a song entitled, I Am Not Alone. It is a beautiful song. Some of its lyrics are borrowed from Exodus 14:14, Psalm 23 and Isaiah 43 and emphasize God’s presence with His people in times of trouble. As we sang, I looked out and saw people begin to stand and raise their hands as they praised the Lord. This doesn’t happen all the time, nor does giving praise to the Lord require standing or hand raising. But when it does happen, it’s moving. Sometimes it makes me wonder what that person may be going through in that particular moment. In most cases, I have no idea. This day, however, was different. I saw several people in the congregation standing whose stories I did know. Then I noticed that one row down and to my right stood Mike Bratton. Mike was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago. He has already undergone two rounds of treatment for two cancer diagnoses and has just been diagnosed for a third time. He is again undergoing more treatment. During this song, I couldn’t help but glance over at him a couple of times, wondering what he might be thinking as he sang the words of this song. I also wondered if I could sing the truth of these words if I were in the same situation. I would hope that I could.

Recently, Mike shared his perspective on his battle with cancer by writing the following, “While doctors and clinicians have been killing cancer cells, God has been slowly growing my faith. I cannot do a quarter of what I could two years ago, but God is doing more in my life, and for that, I am unutterably grateful.” He then asked for prayer, prayer for himself and for his family, but also that we would pray for God to do more in our own lives, and that we would follow Christ more nearly. I don’t know Mike Bratton very well. Outside of choir, I can’t really say that I know him at all. But I know this, for me, he has been a wonderful testimony of God’s presence and unfailing grace and faithfulness in the midst of trials. Not for the cancer, but for that, I’m grateful. God’s grace is always sufficient. He promised to never leave us nor forsake us and He never will. He is always at work, even in the midst of great struggles, drawing us to a greater reliance on Him. I believe Mike Bratton trusts in that truth. And along the way, the Lord is using him to teach me that no matter what, I can trust it too.

Battle Ready

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13)

In the last chapter of Ephesians, Paul writes “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). He uses the image of a fully armed Roman soldier to paint the picture of what it takes to fight against the devils tactics. Paul was under no illusion as to the significance of spiritual warfare. Our battle, he said, is not against flesh and blood, but against the cosmic powers over the present darkness and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). In spite of all that, Paul knew these forces were no match for the living God, but he also knew there were many who were ill-prepared for the battle and left vulnerable to evil influences.

Paul’s description of the Roman soldier’s armor consists mainly of defensive weapons to fend off attacks. The one offensive weapon for the battle was the sword of the Spirit−the word of God. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, he cited Scripture to withstand that temptation. If it proved useful for Him to withstand temptation, why would we think it wouldn’t be for us? It’s through the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit prepares us for the fight.

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. She was sharing with me her vision for a ministry to help every day Christians live out their walk with Christ in order to stand against those things that would hinder their ability to glorify God and live out the salvation God intends for His children. Our greatest source to know what these things are is God’s Word. It’s through the disciplines of encountering God in His Word and through prayer that we put on the armor of God. It’s how the Holy Spirit prepares us for the fight. There’s no doubt the battle Satan wages in this life is a serious one that we must be prepared for. So, are you prepared? Is your armor on? Are you battle ready?