Why do we struggle with certain kinds of change?

Some changes we welcome. The change from the old worn out car to the new one. Now that is a change most of us delight in. AC is back…the old car had lost it. Navigation, blue tooth capability is now on board…man what luxury. The old car did not even have a USB socket, let alone the other accessories.
How about the new house with the furnace that does not need constant fixing, and plumbing that actually works all the time. Oh, yes very welcome.
And then there is the long search for a good paying job and you find it. It means a change in work environment, location, etc, but how welcome is that?
Yet when it comes to the changes the spirit of God is orchestrating in our lives, how we find ourselves balking and resisting and dragging our feet! Why is that? Well, after thinking about this in my own life, I think I have identified a couple of reasons, that my “change-meter” malfunctions.

I struggle with change because it takes me into new territory. It appears that is what happened to Peter when Jesus wanted to change his thinking about the Gentiles & the Gospel. Remember the big sheet with all those food sources that the Lord dropped down in front of Peter in his vision of Acts 10? God said, Peter, rise and eat! Wow! This was not just a diet change, but a whole different way of viewing Gentiles and Jews when it came to the Gospel. Peter’s change meter pegged. He was being moved into new territory. Notice what he said: “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean”(v. 14). I have never gone there, and don’t really want to go there! Three times the Lord brought Peter to the brink of change (v. 16). Of course when Peter submitted to the change (and it was a process you will recall with the men coming, the house of Cornelius listening to the message, the coming of the Spirit, then Peter in chap. 11 eating with that Gentile family), what great blessing resulted. Change accepted…and today we Gentiles are “in” because of one man accepting the change brought by God’s spirit. The changes God brings to us always seem to have bigger gains than the losses we experience by the change. I must keep that in mind.  I like something C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Here is one other thought on this change thing. I struggle with change because I allow my present state to trump the priority of Christ in my life. I cannot help but recall Paul’s moment of change on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Here is a guy who was comfortable in his Pharisee life. He was serving God (he thought sincerely) and had the powers that be behind him in his ministry venture of taking Christians into custody. Life change and ministry change hit him between the eyes on that day when the light shone down from heaven and Jesus confronted him with those haunting words “why are you kicking against the ox-goads?” Paul was brought to the brink of life change and ministry change when he accepted the fact that Christ holds the priority in life. Three days blind, months and even years of re-direction spelled out just how extensive the change was for Paul. Everything Paul valued and had committed to up to that point changed. What was the results of the change? Well, for starters, most of the New Testament flowed out of his Spirit-empowered pen!

So….Change is always good when God brings it and I accept it. I want to view the changes God allows and brings as really good redirections in my life. Leonard Ravenhill once wrote these insightful words: “THE QUESTION ISN’T WERE YOU CHALLENGED. THE QUESTION IS WERE YOU CHANGED?” Think it thru.

 

 

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WHAT’S WITH THE RED LIGHTS?

Sometimes red lights annoy me because their timing is not conducive to my busy schedule. The idea of sitting and waiting is not appealing to me…so sometimes I accelerate and run a yellow light so I don’t have to wait at the red light. You know bad things can happen at red lights too. Someone could rear-end you while you are sitting there waiting on the green light and your turn to go. I had that happen last year. Ever had your car stall and the light turns green and you cannot go? If only you did not catch that red light, then your car would have kept running and you would not have to deal with the embarrassment and frustration of holding up traffic, right? Now having vented my frustration and annoyance with red lights, and before you condemn me as a dangerous lunatic of a guy behind the wheel, let me tell you I understand their necessity. They are there for our protection. They are there to prevent chaos on the road and an orderly arrangement of traffic.
But there is another kind of “red light” that becomes annoying for us too. That concerns the red lights God puts into our path as believers.
I always think of Jonah when I think of the red lights God raises up in front of us.
There was the red light of the storm in Jonah chapter one. God sent the storm. It was God saying to Jonah, you need to stop now because you are on a path I have not chosen for you. And it is not a good path. This kind of red light is really God’s way of showing kindness to Jonah. If Jonah would have repented and made an about face, everyone on the ship would not have had to suffer because of his refusal to obey,including Jonah himself. Running a red light could bring danger to your passengers as well as to you. And that is what happened here. Jonah just ran that red light, went to sleep in the hold, and put all his fellow passengers at risk. When awakened he refused to change his heart and the problem intensified.
Then there was the red light of the fish in Jonah chapter two. I can only imagine his thoughts when he found himself still alive and in a fish’s stomach. Somebody put the brakes on and it was not Jonah! Here was a red light he could not run or avoid. Red lights from God need to be occasions for prayer. When God halts our journey it should be a call to prayer as it was for Jonah. Reading Jonah’s prayer made me realize that Jonah had not had any recent conversations with God about his life direction. This was a distressing time, a lonely time, and a fainting time in his life. Yet, God heard, answered, spared his life, and returned him to the path he had abandoned. Those blessed red lights!
There is one more red light. The red light of the worm. In chapter four Jonah sits down in the sun to see what would happen to Nineveh. He is hot, tired, and a tad bent out of shape. God causes a shade plant to grow up and give him some relief. Then God erects another red light. The plant gets destroyed by a pesky worm. This red light was given to Jonah so he would rethink what is most important in life -plants or people. He was so upset over the dead plant and that blasted worm that he failed to see the people who had never dying souls.  God intends among other things that red lights lead us to adjust our  “to do” lists, our passions, our value assessments, and even our stewardship habits. It is too easy to let slip the most important priorities of our lives for plants and worm frustrations.  Can you welcome the red lights? They are God sent! Think it thru

WHAT KIND OF GOD CAME UP WITH CHRISTMAS?

god-at-christmas Can’t you imagine Charlie Brown saying to Linus…Ever notice how the Christmas season seems to be a repeat of last year?  There are the Christmas cards to send, the parties to attend, the shopping to do, the meals to prepare and the travel  plans to  visit relatives or the work of hosting family members.  In the words of one writer  “Christmas time is rather predictable.” Could you take last year’s calendar entries and just lay this year’s plans  over that and come up with about the same thing?  Does this sound pessimistic? Cynical? A kill-joy attitude? I don’t want it to sound like that.

But here is the thing. When Christ came here and was born as a baby, it was a total shocker! There was nothing the same about it compared to all the other births through all the other years.  God just knocked our socks off with how the whole birth thing of Jesus played out.  He was virgin born as the King/Messiah with no royal surroundings or heavy weights politically to accompany the event. God never consulted us and did not allow us to weigh in with our opinions on how it should be done. He told us in the Old Testament what He was going to do, and then He just did it!  Jesus showed up as a baby. Our future hopes totally rested on what appeared to be shaky birth circumstances.  How will this thing ever fly with so little of what we have come to believe are necessary components for success?  No financial backing, no public solicitation for support, no powerful dignitaries to speak up for the babe [except the chief honcho who wanted to kill him when the news leaked out]. Yeh, pretty shocking how God does things.

Sometimes God does that with our lives too. It is coming up on Christmas and suddenly you lose your job and face financial set-backs. Shocked, right? Or you approach the Christmas season with a bit of dread and discouragement because God allowed some sorrow or difficulty to come your way since last Christmas. Never thought you would face that, right? Or your carefully laid plans are messed up by some unexpected turn of events or some “clod” decision made by some relative or boss.  Surprised and frustrated, right? Well, your life might be “right on schedule,” for God is doing things His way! The kind of God who came up with Christmas is the God who does things His way! Remember what God said in Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The virgin birth of Christ in this world was God doing things His way.  It was proof positive that we need Him if we are ever going to survive this life and the eternity to come.  Salvation comes through God’s work and plan not through my efforts and plans [Titus 3:5]. Joseph and Mary could not produce their own savior even if they wanted to.  And life unfolds in that same way.  In most of life’s circumstances we find ourselves pretty  helpless. The Old Testament Joseph in Genesis told his brothers that all the bad stuff they did which God allowed in his life was meant for good [Gen. 50:20]. The events of his life  made no sense to Joseph  until years later.  His own puzzlement, helplessness, and frustrations over what was happening in his life revealed the surprising work of God for his good down the road  [and for the good of others too] . The God that came up with the shocking surprises of the birth of Jesus in this world is the very same God that is doing things His way in my life and yours.  Randy Alcorn in his book “If God is Good” put it this way: “If God does something in your life, would you change it? If you’d change it, you’d make it worse. It wouldn’t be as good.” The kind of God who came up with Christmas is the God who is in charge and the God who is good! That makes a difference!  Think it thru

 

Do our best opportunities come as surprises?

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It was Doug Munton in his little book IMMERSED that talked about what he calls “midnight opportunities” that got me to thinking about those times of witness that pop up most unexpectedly.  He spoke of Paul & Silas, wrongly imprisoned…having a bad day…yet at the end of the day you find them worshiping God in singing and the text says that the prisoners were listening to them. Talk about a surprising opportunity.  Can you image the evangelistic planning meeting Paul’s team had before this? Do you think it went something like this?  Well, guys  when we go to Philippi, lets do something really radical,like healing a demon-possessed girl, ruin some wicked businessmen’s livelihood and then  get ourselves beaten up and thrown in jail. Then about midnight when we get our breath back, let’s have an evangelistic service and sing some special music to draw in the crowd of prisoners and then we will have a preaching service and share the Gospel.  Ludicrous thinking! We know that is not what happened.
But it was at midnight in jail after a rough day’s ministry they decided to talk to God in prayer and break out in spontaneous praise to God when the surprising opportunity happened.  There was an earthquake, the jailer became unglued and was about to commit suicide when Paul stopped him, and shared the good news about Christ and led he and his family to the Lord. I don’t want to minimize the difficulties these guys faced nor overlook the pain and frustration they no doubt felt. But they got their eyes open to where God had put them and what God decided to do right there in that tough, unfair circumstance.

Sometimes my “eyes” don’t see those surprising opportunities because I am too focused on the “jail” or the “mean people” who took advantage of me. Did you ever pray, Lord give me this so I can be a better witness? Then the surprising thing takes place: God takes something away so I can be an even better witness! So back to our question: Do the best opportunities come as surprises? Maybe so! Join me in asking God to keep our eyes open to those unexpected even surprising moments. Think it thru…

“WHAT DO YOU DO WITH REAL BURDENS?”

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Remember the old song “Take your Burdens to the Lord and Leave Them There?”  I often wondered what that song really meant in life.  I know those great verses too: “Cast your burden on the Lord and He will sustain you. He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” {Ps. 55:22}  And then there is Gal. 6:2 which says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And who can forget that great verse in I Peter 5:7 “Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 

Let’s face it. Burdens are part of the “earthly life” package. You cannot escape them.  Something Chris Tiegreen said in his little book “Unburdened” got me to thnking about the whole burden issue: “The unburdened life is less about getting rid of our baggage than about carrying our loads with ease.”  Was it not Paul himself that taught us from his own experience that burdens aren’t always taken way? Sometimes burdens are allowed to stay so that God’s grace can be more greatly experienced in the life of the one who is carrying the burden.  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” {II Corinthians 12:9}  So, what do we do with real burdens that plague and trouble us?  Some people carry the burden of a wayward child while others are staggered by the load of poor health or economic hardship. Some are overwhelmed by guilt for past sins, while others struggle under the pressing weight of  failure. Those verses that tell us to Cast our burdens on the Lord is where we get relief.  The verb in this passage means literally “to throw onto Yahweh.” The whole verse then  reads very simply: “Throw onto Yahweh what is given you, and he–he will sustain you. He will never allow the faithful person to fall down.”   By virtue of the fact that God allows these burdens, ie, He gives them to us, then we are invited to give them back, “…indeed to throw them back, like a hot potato we do not wish to catch [Goldingay, Psalms vol. 2]. When you read this whole Psalm you discover that is what the Psalmist is doing as one long exercise.  I throw my tough experiences back on God with the trust that He will nourish me  [sustain me].  He may or may not remove the burden but I will survive the experience.  The bottom line is “trust.”  I trust him when I throw it back on him.  Tiegreen in his little book on burdens also observed that “We have to learn how to trust God to use crises as catalytic events in our lives.” God has specifically designed then certain burdens for us so that we can learn to trust him as we walk through those difficult experiences.  But…our relief comes when we throw them back on the one who gave them to us in the first place.  THINK IT THRU