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Welcome back to The Digital Disciple Blog

hs-1-250pxSeptember 8, 2016

Welcome to the relaunched Digital Disciple blog.  The blog is still about life’s journey and the lessons learned along the way.

I have begun by re-posting some pieces that I wrote from the Cleveland Clinic in 2014.  You will find them if you scroll to the bottom or select The Cleveland Clinic in the categories to the right.  I have also added a Site  Map (see the list of pages in the right column) that gives a short introduction to some of the content and makes things easier to find.

If you would like to receive e-mail notices of new posts, please fill out the subscription form on the top right side of the page.  All of the old subscriptions have been deleted.

 

Give Thanks

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Let’s get back to our discussion of God’s will.  A few weeks ago, I talked about a period where I viewed God’s will as an enchanted path that, if we could find it, led us through a perfect life.  Instead, though, there is much more in the Bible telling us that God is more concerned with who we are than what we do.  Our verse this week is a good example of that principle.

This verse is from the closing of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians.  I suspect that the Thessalonians knew this was not simply a platitude from Paul, he had lived it.  They had probably heard the story of Paul and Silas in Philippi.  They got into trouble with the local authorities because Paul cast a demon out of a servant girl.  The girl’s owners were upset because they could no longer make money from her predicting the future.  So, they brought charges against Paul and Silas.  The two were arrested and beaten without a trial.  Then they were thrown into prison for the night.  About midnight, they were praying and singing hymns.  There was such a violent earthquake that their chains fell off and the prison doors were opened.  In the end, Paul and Silas shared the gospel with the jailer and he and his family became believers.  You can read about it in Acts 16:16-40.

We have talked a little about Paul’s admonition to pray continually in Pray Now and A Simple Plan for Daily Prayer.  Today, we’ll talk about rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances.  I heard someone speak on this over 20 years ago.  I don’t know if I had ever thought about it before then.  His challenge was simple, do what the Bible says, give thanks in all circumstances.  As I thought about his challenge, I realized that I usually gave thanks in the good circumstances and asked for help and deliverance in the hard circumstances.  His point wasn’t that asking for help in times of trouble is bad, it’s just incomplete.  If we believe that God is directing our life, can we put that belief into practice by thanking God, even in the hard times, and asking Him to use the hard times for our spiritual growth and for his glory?

I began applying the principle of thanking God in all circumstances.  I will admit that I often don’t remember to lead with rejoicing and thankfulness when there is trouble, “thank you God, the car won’t start” or “thank you God, I am off to the hospital, again.”  But, I have done it and I have seen God respond.  I don’t have stories of earthquakes in the middle of the night.  But, I have seen God work in situations that I thought were hopeless.

How does this connect to the topic of God’s will?  Paul tells the Thessalonians (and us) that it is God’s will for us to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances.  Not only is this good to do, it is what God wants us to do.  There was a period in my life I spent so much time trying to find the enchanted path that I thought was God’s will that I spent little time doing what the Bible clearly says is God’s will.  I eventually learned that fulfillment is not found along some mystical enchanted path, but in doing the things that God clearly says: rejoice, be thankful, pray, serve.

The application is simple to explain but may be hard to do.  As you go through your week, thank God in all circumstances.  To remind yourself, you may need to write it on Post-It notes and stick them around the house and in the car.  Test God in this one area this week and see what happens.

Press On!

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions This Year

 

I am reprinting a few posts that I wrote four years ago during an extended stay at the Cleveland Clinic.  The trip involved a helicopter ride, a heart attack, a week in a coma and 6 weeks learning to walk.  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.   Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience and this time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  I am sharing a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

As the title implies, this post was written in January 2015.

For several days as I was coming out of the coma, I couldn’t move more than my arms and hands.  There is no TV in ICU and, while Mary Ann was with me most of the time, she needed to sleep and do other stuff (mainly stuff for me).  As a result, I had plenty of time to think.  And one of the things I thought about is why this would happen to me.  At that point, I had nearly died twice, first because I couldn’t breathe and then because I had a heart attack that required about 30 minutes of CPR to get my heart started again.  (There would be a third time in about two weeks when I went into septic shock.)

I found myself asking, “Why me?”  Not the whiny kind of why did this bad stuff happen to me?  But, why did God spare my life, not once, but twice?  As I said in an earlier post, two Relapsing Polychondritis patients died from respiratory failure while I was in the hospital and people die from heart attacks every day.  It is rare for someone to spend thirty minutes in CPR and live to talk about it.  So, the big question on my mind was, “Why did God save my life?”  I suppose that a psychologist would say that I was suffering from survivor’s guilt.  Which, is an OK explanation for someone who doesn’t believe that God works all things for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I knew that God had saved my life and I wondered why.

This time of reflection led to time in prayer. I thanked God for the opportunity he had given me. Like Isaac, when he got off the altar after nearly being sacrificed by his father Abraham, I knew that my life no longer belonged to me. From June 13th (2014) on, I have been living on time that has been added after my clock ran out. The experience makes a nice illustration of what it means to be a “living sacrifice” (see Romans 12:1 and 2). But, my goal was to find some answers and not to have a good sermon illustration someday.

Over the next few days, I began to get some answers. I sensed that there were changes that would strengthen each of the major areas of my life: my relationship with God, my marriage, my family and my ministry. In some of the areas, I set specific goals. In others, I am still working on the goals. None of the revelations were earth shattering. But, all of them were important and helped answer the question of why I had a second chance.

This leads to the title of this post. I am a regular listener to a podcast by Michael Hyatt called “This is Your Life.” Michael is the former CEO of big Christian publishing company and is now a speaker and internet entrepreneur. In one of his recent podcasts, he talked about New Year’s resolutions and cited a study that found that most people abandon their resolutions after about 6 days. If you are reading this post when it goes up, and you made New Year’s resolutions this year, you have about 2 days left with them. So, that means if you hold off for just a little while longer you can forget your resolution about losing weight and go back to eating chocolate cake for breakfast. Or, you can take a different approach.

You see, it isn’t necessary to nearly die before making decisions about how you will live. The fact that my life isn’t really mine was driven home to me in a dramatic way. Maybe because that was the only way I would get the message, maybe because that is the only way that I could be moved to share the message with you, and maybe because it would take that kind of dramatic story for you to care what I have to say about life and death. Actually, there is a fourth answer, which is “all of the above.”

While God showed me these things in a way that was hard to miss, the fact is that we all wake up and do whatever we do every day because God has granted us another day to live. The real question, then, isn’t, “What resolutions will I make this year and keep for an average of 6 days?” But, “How will I live my life for God and not for me?” That’s a harder question because we’re not talking about private promises you make to yourself, but decisions and commitments that you make with God.

My goal is not to make you (or me) feel guilty, which leads to paralyzed inaction, but to stir convictions that will lead to personal and spiritual growth. Are you ready to live your life today as if you died yesterday? If you are a Christian, will you put into practice Paul’s attitude that his life was not his own, but he was revived from spiritual death to spiritual life by God’s grace. (Read Ephesians 2:1-10) This is the same grace that has changed us and now sustains us.

If you want to get beyond New Year’s resolutions, try living like a dead person. What would you do differently if you really believed that each day is a new gift from God that you have the opportunity to use? Don’t just recycle your annual resolutions but spend time in prayer and reflection about how you might live your life differently and the impact that could have on yourself and others. Then, as God shows you the new directions, write them down and refer to them often. I pray that this is the year that I will move past resolutions and make lasting commitments that will alter the rest of my life and the lives of those I care about most. I also pray for you; that you will make the same decision

Press On!

David

A Simple Plan for Daily Bible Reading

I am reprinting a few posts that I wrote four years ago during an extended stay at the Cleveland Clinic.  The trip involved a helicopter ride, a heart attack, a week in a coma and 6 weeks learning to walk.  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.   Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience and this time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  I am sharing a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

So far, I have talked about the importance or praying before the trouble starts and about developing a simple plan for daily prayer.  Today, a simple plan for daily Bible reading.

You may have tried reading the Bible from front to back.  Genesis and Exodus are exciting, but you fell asleep in Leviticus and gave up in Numbers.  You’re not alone and not without hope.

I recommend that folks try a daily reading plan where they read the Bible in a year.  That way, you are getting regular input from the Bible and you get to see God’s big picture.  You also aren’t just picking and choosing the good parts and avoiding the parts that make you uncomfortable.   I have done it for over 15 years now and it stays fresh.  I am always seeing something new.

Start by finding a Bible that is designed for annual reading, like the One Year Bible or find a reading plan that breaks it down for you.  I use the Olive Tree Bible app on my iPad and they have a host of reading plans you can select.  My preference is a plan where I am reading through the Bible chronologically with readings from the Old and New Testament each day.  There are many choices available to you.

Begin your Bible reading time with prayer, either as part of your devotional time or just ask God to open His word to you as you read it and make you sensitive to what He wants you to learn.  You will begin to see that God uses the regular input that you are receiving to shape your life and attitude for the better.  Paul calls it a “transforming” of the mind as we see life from God’s perspective and not our own.

The purpose for this time is to get regular Bible input that gives God the raw material to build positive change in your life.  As you read, you will have questions or ideas that you want to look into.  Keep a Bible reading journal (it could be part of your prayer journal if you have one) where you write down topics, questions, and ideas that you would like to investigate more deeply.

For the purposes of your daily reading, focus on what the Bible passage is saying and ask how it applies to you.  What truths can you apply to your life?  Does the passage identify sin that you need to confess?  Maybe it will give you direction in a problem that you are trying to solve.  Nothing jumps out at you today?  No problem, just stick with it.  The more you read the more it will begin to apply.  My physical therapist told me that the work I did one week would begin to show next week.  Bible reading is a similar cumulative process.  Give it time to build up.

It seems like Bible reading should be more complicated, but it isn’t.  It is a matter of discipline to read the Bible daily.  If you will do it, you will see the result in your life.  You can’t read the Bible daily and not be changed by it.

Now you have the two basic tools for spiritual growth and preparedness: prayer and Bible reading.  There’s more and I will talk about it in future posts.  If you are doing these two things, leave a comment with your approach and suggestions.  If you’re not, why not start today?

 

Press On!

David

 

A Simple Plan for Daily Prayer

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

I am reprinting a few posts that I wrote four years ago during an extended stay at the Cleveland Clinic.  The trip involved a helicopter ride, a heart attack, a week in a coma and 6 weeks learning to walk.  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.   Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience and this time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  I am sharing a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

If you missed last week, I talked about the importance or praying before the trouble starts.  This week, is about developing a simple plan for daily prayer.

There are all sorts of complicated plans that I could have developed for my personal Bible reading and prayer, but I figured that the harder I make it, the less likely I would be to do it.  So, I kept it simple. Simple is good for me.  For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call this “devotional time.”  It is time spent with God talking to Him and reading His word.  I will talk in other posts about the kind of Bible study where you dig into specific topics or questions.

Start by picking a consistent time.  Many people like their devotional time in the mornings before they start the day.  My time is in the evening as I close my day.  The reason was more by default than by plan and you can read about it here.  [Editor’s note – since writing this, I have changed to a morning devotional time.] If you can take time in the morning, I think that is a good choice.  Whatever time you pick, be consistent.  You want this to become a habit and that takes a period of consistent repetition.

Open your time with prayer.  Putting aside all the theological stuff, prayer is talking to God.  Does God already know you and what you need, sure, but He likes to hear from you.  Haven’t prayed in a while.  No problem, a simple model to get you started is the acronym ACTS.

“A” stands for acknowledgement or adoration.  Begin by acknowledging that you are talking to the God of the universe.  It doesn’t need to be overly formal.  As you read Jesus prayers or the Psalms, you will get an idea of how to start.  You may just start with, “Dear God, thank you that you want to spend time with me and that you care for me.  Please guide me as I pray because I am new at this.”  The more comfortable you become the easier it will be to get started.

“C” is for confession.  We all fall down.  Even the best people fail and normal people mess up all the time.  God’s standard is perfection.  He is perfect and he wants us to be perfect.  Of course, we can’t be perfect on our own and I’ll write more on that later.  I like to think of confession as “clearing the air” with God.  He knows where I have failed, I know where I have failed, let’s get it out there and admit.  The great thing about confession is that I can ask for forgiveness, cleansing and healing.  Tell God where you have failed and where you need Him.  Can’t think of anything to confess?  Ask God to show you.  If you keep in mind the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself, you will probably think of some things to get started.

“T” is for thanksgiving.  What are you thankful for?  How has God blessed you?  Let Him know that you noticed and you are thankful for it.  The Bible teaches that we should be thankful in all circumstances and not just for the good things.  You may not be there yet, but there are things in your life to be thankful for.  As you grow in this area, you will be able to thank God for the struggles and trials because He will use them to make you look like Jesus.  As hard as it may be to believe, that is His goal, that we become more like Jesus every day.

“S” is for supplication, a fancy word for “asking for stuff.” It rounds out the acronym and makes is easy to remember.  You may have thought of prayer as only asking for stuff, I hope this helps you see that there is more to it than that.  At the same time, you might believe that asking for stuff is selfish or wrong.  It’s OK to take your cares and concerns to God and ask Him to get involved.  You can pray for yourself and for other people.  God wants you to bring your cares and concerns to Him and He will respond.  Keep a prayer journal.  Write down the things you are praying about and asking God to get involved in and then write down how He responds.  It is a great faith-building experience.

I always close my prayer with “In Jesus name, amen.”  The “amen” is just how Christians traditionally say “OK, I’m finished praying now.”  The “in Jesus name” is important because Jesus tells us to pray in his name.  So, I’m not going to change that.  Again, there is a lot of theology that supports it.  But, basically, it is through Jesus that we have the right to pray and ask God for anything.   That’s enough reason for me to close with ‘In Jesus name, amen.”

There you have it.  As you grow comfortable with prayer, you won’t need this model.  Just like building a relationship with anyone else, as you build your relationship with God, you will find that you have a lot to talk about and that you and God are talking all the time.  Pick a time and place and get started.  Commit to it now.   Next week I will talk about a simple Bible reading plan that I have used for years to get daily input from the Bible.

If you want to receive notices of new posts in this series, please subscribe to the blog by entering your e-mail in the subscription form in the right column.  Or, make sure that you bookmark the main page: thedigitaldisciple.net  and check back for updates.

 

Press On!

David

Pray Now

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

On Father’s Day four years ago, I was in the Cleveland Clinic, in a coma, with no promise that I would eventually “wake up.”  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.  I did wake up a week later and began a long rehab process full of victories and setbacks.  Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience.  This time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to share a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

One of the things I have noticed as we are going through this process is that I don’t worry about the outcome.  At this point, it appears that God will heal me completely and that I will walk again. There have been enough worrisome things happen to us that I might fret a little about what is next or what we will do.  But, instead I find a peace that passes understanding and the assurance that comes from knowing that God holds the future.  He has already determined what will happen and my responsibility is to follow His leading and cooperate.

This conclusion is not based on some blinding revelation from God but, rather, on the years I have spent building a foundation of prayer, Bible study, and learning God’s character.  I believe in an unchanging God who loves me unconditionally and who will work all things together for my good because I am called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).  All the truth that I have stored up is now ready to use and God has the raw material to build this situation into the outcome that He desires.  I could not imagine coming into this situation unprepared.  I would be overwhelmed with questions about why bad things happen to good people, why it feels like God is punishing me, and what would have happened if I died.  I will talk about all those topics over the next days and weeks.

When you go on a vacation, you probably plan for it months in advance.  A journey like I am on starts in a heartbeat.  You must always be ready.  I chose the scripture for the opening because it highlights an important point. Please take a minute and read the entire passage from Mark 9:14-29.  Mark writes that Jesus told the disciples they could not cast out the unclean spirit because this kind only comes out with prayer.  But, when you read the passage, you see that Jesus did not pray, he simply commanded it to leave.  The disciples couldn’t command the spirit to leave and apparently did not think to pray.

Was this a situation where Jesus was telling his disciples to do something while he modeled a different approach?  That’s not likely.  As you read the gospels, you see that Jesus was a man of prayer.  This event was the day after the transfiguration.  Jesus was undoubtedly up early and in prayer about his day.  He was ready when he encountered the boy with the unclean spirit.  The spirit came out with prayer because Jesus had gone into the situation with prayer.

My goal is to live in a state of readiness.  I don’t know what I will encounter, but I know that there will be trials and temptations along the way.  And, sometimes, there are experiences like I have had that are completely unforeseeable.  On June 12, I never would have expected to be where I am today.  Without the years I spent in prayer, Bible study, and learning about God, I never would have been ready.  This has been the greatest physical challenge I have ever faced.   The spiritual battle has been ferocious, there is an adversary, and for some reason he does not want me well.  But, I am trusting the grace and mercy of my unchanging God to lead me through this process and bring me out stronger and better because of it.

What should you be doing?  I will talk in my next post about my approach to daily prayer.  Think of it as preparing your “life’s journey emergency suitcase.”  You want it filled with prayer, Bible and a firm knowledge of who God is.  Sometimes you will pull things out of your spiritual suitcase as you need them and sometimes you may be called to live out of it for a while.  Either way, you want it to be ready.

Press On!

David

Living in Babylon – Updated

I am repeating a blog post written during my hospital stay at the Cleveland Clinic six months ago.  This was one of my spiritual insights from the time.  I thought the six-month anniversary of the beginning of that stay would be a good time to repeat the post and add an update at the end.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-9 NIV)

I had gotten to the book of Jeremiah in my Bible-in-a-year reading plan when this hospital journey began.  By this time of the year, I should be in the book of Revelation.  Those of you familiar with the Bible know that I have missed a few days reading this year.

Jeremiah was a prophet during Jerusalem’s fall to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.  It was a terrible time for the people of Judah.  The Kings of Judah and most of the people hated Jeremiah.  They wanted good news from God.  They wanted to hear that Nebuchadnezzar would fail and the city would not be captured.  But, Jeremiah continued to speak the words God gave him, condemning Judah for their idolatry and predicting the city’s defeat.  In the end, he was proven true.

There were several run-ins with Nebuchadnezzar that resulted in groups of exiles being taken from Jerusalem to Babylon.  Today’s verse is a letter Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the first wave of exiles taken to Babylon.

Over the last two weeks, I have come to see that this letter was also written to me.  And, as I explain myself, you may find that it has been written to you too.

The people in Babylon were completely displaced. They longed for their homes in Jerusalem, for the Temple, the bazaars, the places they knew well, the way of life that had become comfortable for them. They hoped God would rescue them.  Somehow, they would be released from Babylon, return home and get back to the old life.  They would attend their daughter’s wedding, in Jerusalem.  They would buy that vineyard and make wine, in Jerusalem. They would be a stone mason, in Jerusalem. They would celebrate the feasts, in Jerusalem.

But, we know today that the people reading Jeremiah’s letter would never return to Jerusalem.  They would continue to live, and die, in Babylon.  What’s more, it was God’s plan for them to be there.  God told them:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

God is saying, “You are right where I want you.  If you will be the people I have called you to be, I will work through you to bless this place and these people who would otherwise never know me.  This isn’t a mistake, it’s the plan.”

Seven years ago, my health was taken to Babylon.  I developed a rare auto-immune disease that has altered my life dramatically.  Earlier this year, God took my career into Babylon.  The company I worked for closed.  These two things together have set me on a new path to develop a career that can be practiced from a hospital tray table if necessary.  And, here’s the big thing I have learned over the last couple weeks, that’s OK.  I agree, that’s a pretty simple lesson from nearly three weeks in the hospital.  But, the simplicity doesn’t reduce the importance.  Had I learned this lesson earlier, I may have avoided this experience.  And, I hope by sharing this, I may help you avoid a similar experience in your life.

I have realized that, though my health and career have been taken to Babylon, I was trying to get back to Jerusalem.  I wanted my old life style without breathing issues and hospital stays.  I tried to live my old life and do the old things.  For me, success was staying out of the hospital because, in my old life in Jerusalem, I never went to the hospital.  My life in Babylon will probably include more hospital stays.

It’s the same on the job front.  In Jerusalem, I had a regular job.  I knew going in what I would make each week, about how many hours I would work and what I would be doing from day to day.  In Babylon, I have my own business.  I can do what I love to do from my office, a coffee shop, and a hospital tray table.  It’s been a long time since I have enjoyed what I do as much as I enjoy it now.

My new circumstances have allowed me to meet people I would otherwise never have met.  I learn from them, encourage them, and pray for their success and prosperity. Because, I know if they prosper, I prosper.  I have always considered myself a man of faith, but I had built a life in Jerusalem where faith in everyday things wasn’t necessary.  I had my health, no reason to rely on God for health.  I had a job, no worries about daily bread.  Faith could be less practical and more intellectual. There was no adventure, just following the plan.

I don’t know what other decisions I will need to make in the weeks ahead.  But, the big decision has been made; I am going to live in Babylon.  God will use me to build the prosperity of the new community where I live.  This life will be as good as my life in Jerusalem, and in many ways, better.

UPDATE:  I was released from the Cleveland Clinic on January 5th.  God has blessed my law practice with continued growth.  April was my best month ever and May was well ahead of last year.  This summer, I am looking forward to meeting new clients and building my base.  I addition to the business growth, I have had the opportunity to coach and mentor several men in their faith and career.  I love working from home.  My health has been generally good.  April was a hard month fighting Cincinnati allergies and a light flare-up.

How can you pray for me?  Thank God for sending me on this journey and how He is using me along the way.  Pray for connections for me to share my vision for integrating law and faith with people who would like to work with a Christian attorney.  Pray for our family that this summer will be a time of rest and renewal.

I still miss Jerusalem sometimes.  But, the feelings come less often as I grow to love life in Babylon.

 

Press On!

David

God’s will: The enchanted path

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11 (NIV)

 

Now, that’s what I am talking about.  For all the time we spend searching and struggling to understand what God wants us to do, wouldn’t it be nice if He just stood by our side and told us?

In this case, God’s short statement to Paul came after he had traveled to Jerusalem following his third trip around the Mediterranean preaching and starting churches.  Upon reaching the city, he was accused of teaching things that were offensive to the Jews and a riot started.  He was “rescued” by a Roman Centurion and held in the Roman barracks.  The situation was looking bleak for Paul and then, this word from God.  The destination of Paul’s next missionary journey was to be Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire.

We talked last week about my journey in understanding the idea that God has a “will” or purpose for our life.  I have learned over time that God’s perfect will for me, and everyone, is for us to be transformed, changed from the inside by the renewing of our mind.  Still, at times, I believe God will call us to do something specific.  He may call us to take a job, marry someone, talk to someone, go someplace, or any number of other things.  The call or leading may be a sense that it is the right thing to do or, as in Paul’s case, it may be more direct.

As I grew in my understanding of God’s will, I went through a period that may be familiar to you.  It was the idea that God’s will is an enchanted path.  If I could know God’s will for my life, the career I would choose for example, I should expect my life to be free of trouble in that area.  More than that, I should expect to be blessed in everything I do in that area.  I would make the right decisions, earn more money than I knew how to spend and progress up the ladder of success.  We see a version of this thinking in what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.”  The people who preach the Prosperity Gospel claim that if you have enough faith and you are following God’s will, you can expect to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  The backside is that, if you are not healthy, wealth, and wise, you must not have enough faith or be following God’s will for your life.

Here I was struggling with a career decision and life’s other daily problems and dilemmas and it seemed I had missed God’s will for me.  I prayed and sought and nothing; no angels, no word from God.  A friend had asked me to teach his small group.  The topic?  You guessed, “God’s will.”  I was coming up with nothing and in reading through the Book of Acts, I came to this part of the Paul’s story.  Paul got the kind of message I was looking for.  There was a problem though.  I knew the rest of the story.

If we applied the Prosperity Gospel or the enchanted path view of God’s will, we would expect Paul to be immediately lifted from the Roman Barracks to a luxury hotel.  He would get a hot bath, gourmet meal, and a trip to Rome aboard the first century equivalent of a private jet.  After all, Paul was certainly a man of faith and he knew God’s will for is life.  This should have been simple.

In the remaining five chapters of the Book of Acts, Paul does travel to Rome to testify about God.  Here are some of the highlights of the trip.  The day after Paul’s vision, a group of about 40 men take a vow not to eat until they kill Paul.  The centurion learns of the plot and takes Paul, escorted by over 200 Roman troops to Caesarea.  (Wait, I thought Paul was going to Rome.  Keep reading.)  Paul spends over two years in prison in Caesarea because the current regional governor didn’t know what to do with him.  Obviously, God had not given the governor the same message he gave Paul.  The next governor decided that Paul should be sent to Rome, as a prisoner, to explain his situation to the Emperor.  He made the decision after considering sending Paul back to Jerusalem for trial and certain death.

Paul’s trip to Rome was full of “adventure.”  The captain’s attempt to save time led him to travel after the safe season for sailing on the Mediterranean.  As a result, the ship was caught in a storm that blew them off course for two weeks.  Just when they thought they would die at sea, they approached the island of Malta, where they ran aground, and the ship was destroyed.  The other Roman soldiers wanted to kill Paul and the other prisoners, so they wouldn’t escape, but the Centurion stopped them.  Then, when Paul made it to Malta, he was bitten by a snake and the people there expected him to die.  After spending the winter on Malta, Paul finally arrived in Rome as a prisoner.  The book ends with Paul preaching the gospel in Rome, under guard, from a Roman prison.

There was no enchanted path for Paul.  I don’t know what the adherents of the Prosperity Gospel would have said, except that Paul clearly had too little faith and he had missed God’s will for his life.  Yet, there was no question that God told Paul he would testify about Him in Rome, and, after three years and constant trouble, Paul was finally there.

The lesson for me and the lesson I shared with my friend’s small group?  God does call or lead us in specific ways.  It is fair and right to identify those leadings and callings as God’s will for our life.  But, we need to always remember that God’s perfect will for our life is to be transformed into His likeness.  Changed from the inside out to be completely different people.  To accomplish that kind of change, God uses a “vigorous” training program that includes hardships, pain and suffering.  People who have discovered this have expressed it in many ways.  Some have said, “Who God will use mightily, He first crushes.”  C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain . . .”  I put aside my notion of the enchanted path.

Are you experiencing trouble in your life that is causing you to wonder if you have missed God’s will for you?  Remember that God’s perfect will is your transformation and you can pursue transformation regardless of your circumstances.  Also, remember that God uses the difficult times like a refiner’s fire to purify you and drive off the stuff that gets in the way of your transformation.  Continue to seek God and trust that He will be true to lead you to that for which He chose you in the beginning.

 

Press On!

David

 

What is God’s will for my life?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV)

I don’t remember when I first discovered this promise in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I do remember, as a new believer, thinking it was a remarkable discovery.  I had encountered this idea that God had a will for my life.  But, I didn’t have a clue how to know what it was and  I couldn’t figure out why God would hide it from me.  Then I found this verse.

As I thought about this verse, I envisioned the process of finding God’s will like a video game.  I would set out on a spiritual quest to conquer each level of the transformation process until I had finally won all the levels and, at the end, I would earn a key that would open the treasure chest where God’s will would be revealed to me.

So, I set out.  The levels weren’t as clearly marked as I had thought and I think I repeated some levels.  OK, I’m sure I repeated a lot of levels.  It felt like I was changing, being transformed.  But, it didn’t have any clearer picture about what God wanted me to do with my life.  The promise seemed clear; if I am transformed then I will be able to test and approve God’s will for me.  Was there really no golden key at the top level?  I was getting discouraged and afraid I was running out of time.  I needed to hurry up and find God’s will so I could do it and not waste my time doing something that might not be his will.

As I went through this process, I also began learning the truth I shared a few weeks ago that God cares more about who I am than what I do.  That realization caused a big disconnect for me.  My psychology professor would have called it a cognitive dissonance.  My idea of God’s will, the thing I was looking for, was based doing.  In my head, God’s perfect will for me meant doing what God wanted me to do.

I was reading about the anointing of Saul as the first king of Israel in the Old Testament when the clouds began to clear:

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance? 2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?”’ “Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine.  They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.  “After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.  The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.  Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 1 Samuel 10:1-7 (NIV)

The last two verses, which I have underlined, caused me to stop.  Samuel told Saul that he would experience a series of events at the end of which he would be a changed into a different person.  That sounded to me like he would be what Paul calls “transformed” in Romans 12:1.  Samuel then said, once these things had happened, in other words, once Saul had been transformed, he could do whatever his “hand finds to do” because God was with him.  If Saul would start with being the doing would take care of itself.  I thought to myself, what if I had misread the directions?  Could it be that God’s will was not about doing but about being?

If that were true, Romans 12:2 wasn’t talking about “God’s will” in the sense of something to do.  Paul is saying that God’s perfect will is for us to focus on who we are by being transformed.  If we are transformed, we will be doing God’s perfect will for us and that gives us the opportunity to see how good it is.

But, like I said last time, there is still a sense of God’s will that involves doing.  Because that is true, I wanted some level of confidence that what I was doing, or going to go, was God’s will for me.  Again, the insight came from the Old Testament, this time Psalm 37:4:

Take delight in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4 (NIV)

 

I had always read this verse as a promise about stuff.  If I delighted in God, he would give me the stuff I wanted.  But, what if I turned it just a little and looked at it from the perspective of being.  If I take delight in the Lord (am transformed), He will lead me to desire the things He wants for me.  It’s not about me getting the stuff I want, but about me wanting the stuff that God has for me.

 

I had found the key to knowing God’s will.  It wasn’t where I expected it to be and it didn’t look the way I expected it to look.  Funny how that happens.

 

Now, I believe that there are situations where God has a specific will for us.  He may call us to a career, a marriage, a ministry or something else.  That leading or calling to do is part of the concept of God’s will.  But, as we will see next week, the “doing” part of God’s will may sometimes come with complications.

 

Are you seeking God’s will for your life?  Instead of asking what God wants you to do in some specific situation, ask if you are being who God wants you to be right now.  If you are being transformed into the person God has called you to be, trust that He will lead you to do the things He wants you to do.

 

Press On!

David

Do

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Now, wait a minute.  The Last time, you said, “God cares more about who I am than what I do.”  “This verse if from Jesus’ parable of separating the sheep from the goats, and it sounds like God is deciding who gets into heaven based on what they did.”  You’re right, this verse is from Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats.  Let’s talk about the king’s decision.

Here is the parable:

Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

In the parable, Jesus is talking about the time when he will decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.  The parable seems to say that he will make his decision based on what a person has done, or their “works” and not based on who they are, like we talked about last week.  There is another interpretation that I think fits the parable and is consistent with the pursuit of transformation over conformation.

Let’s start by looking at the group who Jesus says the righteous helped and the condemned ignored.  They are the poor and marginalized.  Jesus calls them “the least.”  You know who they are, you see them outside your normal circle.  We feel uncomfortable when we are around these folks.  Nonetheless, Jesus implies that it is important for us to feed them, invite them in, clothe them, care for their physical needs, and visit them in jail.  The righteous did these things and the condemned didn’t.  The big question is, why?  Why did the righteous help and the condemned not?

The answer to this question lies in rephrasing the question they asked in response to the King’s extravagant grace or extreme punishment.  Both groups seem to respond to Jesus in the same way by asking “when” they got it right or when they got it wrong.  I think if we expand their question a little, we find the key to unlocking this parable.  The righteous are saying to Jesus, “We helped a lot of people and we don’t remember all their names and faces.  But, you would have stood out to us.  How did we miss you?”  The condemned are saying, “We didn’t help that group of people, because, frankly, they aren’t very important, and they make us uncomfortable.  But you are important, and we like you.  If we would have seen you in the crowd we would have helped you.  How did we miss you?”

The filter for sorting the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the condemned is the motive and not the actions, or like we talked last time, being conformed or transformed.  The righteous are those people who are being transformed by God into new people.  They are being changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit and that transformation results in action.  I am sincere in saying that God cares more about who you are than about what you do.  That doesn’t mean you will stop doing.  You will do things for a different reason.  Not to impress God or others, but because you can’t help yourself.  The more you are transformed, the more you will find yourself drawn to the marginalized, the weak, the poor, those who can’t pay you back.  What’s even better, you will enjoy it.  You will find joy in helping, serving, caring, and giving.  What’s even better, you will find Jesus in the group.  When you least expect it, he will be there saying “thank you.”  He will smile at you through a child’s face, hug you through a homeless person, shake your hand from a hospital bed or prison cell.

The sheep “did” because they were compelled from the inside.  Jesus didn’t reward their doing. He reminded them that what they did is evidence of their righteous and He rewarded their righteousness.  Likewise, the condemned were not punished for failing to do.  Jesus reminded them that their failure to act is evidence of a deeper issue, they are not transformed and that too is reflected in their actions.  The key to the parable is that we can recognize the transformed by what they do and the transformed get into heaven.

Want to know more about this process of transformation?  Start with this post.

Press On!

David

Be

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

The longer I am a believer, the more I find how simple and difficult this walk of faith is.  This verse from the prophet Micah is a great example.

God is calling his people Israel to account for their actions. He tells them all he has done for them and yet they have not followed him. The people respond by asking God if a list of outwardly impressive actions would be enough to show their sincerity. Their suggestions get progressively more extravagant, beginning with the sacrifices God has given them in the law, to a great magnitude of the sacrifices,to an extreme that God has never required:

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Micah 6:6-7 (NIV)

Micah’s response to their question cuts through the noise and exaggeration. To paraphrase, he says, “You are making this too hard. God isn’t calling you to do stuff that will impress him.  Just do what God has already told you to do: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.”

I understand what the people were saying. Somewhere along the way, I also developed the idea that the best way to show God I love Him and want to follow Him is by doing stuff for Him. As a modern believer, my list is different from the list of responses the people offered. I don’t sacrifice animals or make other offerings like that as part of my worship.  I do other things: I go to church, I serve, I give, I lead, I follow . . .  You get the point and you probably have a similar list.

The things on my list are good things, but I began to see they said nothing about who I am.  I could go to church, serve, give, lead, follow and much more all from an impure heart and bad motives, trying to impress God or others.  And, I found that if I was good at it, I could appear to others to be someone I was not.  This is when God began to show me one of the simple yet difficult truths I refer to in the opening sentence, God cares more about who I am than about what I do.

Why is this so hard?  Because, it is much easier to “do” than to “be.” Back to today’s verse. God is not asking me to impress Him with what I do. Instead, he wants me to be just, to be merciful and to be humble. I can’t be those things on my own.  It is contrary to my human nature and contrary to what our culture expects and rewards.  To be just and merciful and humble, I must begin by allowing God to change who I am.

Paul talks about this process of transformation in Romans 12:1-2. He says there are two options, we can be conformed to the world or we can be transformed by God. Conforming is what happens when we press up against something for a long time.  You have seen it when you lean against a surface with a pattern on it.  After a while, you take on that pattern. The same thing happens when we lean against the cultural patterns around us.  After a while, we begin to look like our culture.  Now, if our culture is good, the patterns will be good. But, if our culture is bad, the patterns will be bad.  The problem is that patterns imposed from the outside are only skin deep and don’t have any effect on what is inside us. The other option is transformation. When we are transformed, we are changed from the inside out.  Our hearts are made new and the newness spreads to the surface. We begin to look and act differently.  Unlike conformation, transformation lasts.  We no longer change when we lean against the culture.  Instead, we change the culture.

Conformation is doing things intended to impress God and the people around us.  Transformation is being who God wants us to be and allowing Him to change us, so we can change our world.  To be transformed, pursue the inner disciplines that bring you closer in your relationship to God.  Pray daily. Read the Bible to get to know God better and to understand His will and purpose for us. Ask God to change you on the inside so that you will have a greater impact on the outside.  You will see and feel the transformation. You will begin to do things, but from a different motive and the things you do will have a different result. You will experience the power of being the person God has made you to be.

 

Press On!

David