The Above-and-Beyond God

One of the reasons it is so important to read the Bible regularly is because it helps you to understand who God is. To learn about his character and how he moves in the lives of his people and the rest of the world. And when you have the proper understanding of who the God of the Bible is, you will be far better equipped to stand up to the lies all around you that are attempting to create a god to fit the current cultural narrative.

Even as I read in the Old Testament book of Numbers today I found a precious reminder of God’s character tucked away in a story about Moses and the Israelites. The leaders of the tribes were grumbling to Moses and Aaron, claiming that they had just as much of a right to enter the Tent and meet with God as the Levites did. They seemed to have forgotten that it was not Moses and Aaron that determined the Levites place as Priests. It was God who did that. So to solve the argument once and for all, God told Moses to have each of the leaders of the tribes of Israel place their staff in the Tent of Meeting in front of the testimony where God meets with Moses. God told Moses, “The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites.” (Numbers 17:5)

What happened next is one of those reminders of the character of our awesome God. The next morning when Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony, he “saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.” (Numbers 17:8) Clearly this settled the matter of who God had chosen to be the priests, but thousands of years later it also jumped off the pages of the Bible to remind me that my God is an above-and-beyond God!

God didn’t just do what Moses was expecting and cause the staff to sprout, but he did much, much more! The staff sprouted. And it budded. And it blossomed. And it produced almonds.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:20 & 21

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What to do when you feel out of control

The world is going crazy! Watching the news or scrolling through the latest social media feed confirms that. But none of this surprises God. In fact, Jesus himself warned his disciples that the world would become increasingly more evil before he returns. (Matthew 24)

Wars and rumors of wars. Nation rising against nation. 

His followers would be hated by all because of his name. 

Many will turn away from the faith and betray and hate each other. 

The increase of wickedness would cause the love of many to grow cold. 

The fact that Jesus predicted these very things is a good reminder to us that God is still in control. When we’re wondering where this is all going to end up we need not look any further than the Word of God. Jesus promised that he is going to prepare a place for us and that one day he would come back to bring us there. In a day when hope is hard to find, I am so grateful for the hope I have in Jesus!

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – ‭‭John‬ ‭14:1-3‬ ‭

Think about when you were learning to drive. You were probably taught what to do when you lose control of your vehicle. There are some important steps to keep in mind that I thought made for a good analogy.

First you are told to remain calm no matter what. Panicking won’t help. God is in control. Nothing that happens catches him by surprise. We just need to relax and let God be God. (Psalm 46:10

Once you’ve calmed down, you are instructed to look in the direction of where you want to go, not where you are going! If you’ve lost control of your vehicle and are headed for a tree, don’t look at the tree! Look the road you want to be on. In the same way, during uncertain and scary times when we feel like everything is spinning out of control, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus! (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Next you are told to point the wheels toward the direction you want to go in and not to slam on the brakes. God has a plan and he’s left us with instructions. It is our job to keep the wheel pointed in the right direction and to keep moving forward in his will even when it feels like the world is trying to pull us off the road. God is working in us to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)

And finally, to avoid skids, brake before a curve, not during it. When you see trouble coming, stop before you get any further. Don’t wait until you’re already in the curve to slam on the brakes. If you’ve accepted Jesus as your Savior, then you’ve been given the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you and to keep you on the straight path. So live by the Spirit and don’t gratify the desires of your sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16)

As we watch the world around us fall deeper and deeper into evil and hate, we must remember that God is in control. He has always known these things would happen and he has always had a plan that remains unchanged. We must continue to look up and not around because we have a Savior that has promised to return. And I’m not sure if you’ve read all the way to the end of the book, but spoiler alert – we win!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews‬ ‭12:1-2‬

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. – Philippians‬ ‭2:12-13

Haggai. Relevant today?

I began my quiet time with the Lord this morning praying for the Church in America. The Body of Christ. That we would get back on God’s program to spread the gospel and help the helpless. That we would quit all of the fighting. That we would humble ourselves and seek the Lord’s face and turn from our wicked ways. (2 Chronicles 7:14) As I finished praying and was ready to move on to reading my Bible, I felt lead to read the book of Haggai. So that is where I turned. 

It is true that the prophets of the Old Testament came to the Israelites with specific messages for specific times and that these messages are not always 100% transferable to us today. But we are clearly told in the New Testament that the things that happened back then happened as an example to us. (1 Corinthians 10) And the parallels I so often see to life today when I read the Old Testament are too close to ignore. So after praying for the Church and opening the book of Haggai the similarities between God’s people then and God’s people now were noticeably clear. The Israelites had allowed the temple of God to remain a ruin while they went about the business of taking care of their own homes. 

“Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” – Haggai‬ ‭1:3-6‬ ‭‬‬

“You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house.” – Haggai‬ ‭1:9‬ ‭

God wanted them to turn their focus back to his house. He wanted them to rebuild a temple that he could “take pleasure in and be honored.” (Haggai 1:8) And what did the Israelites do when they heard this message from the Lord? “…the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God.” (Haggai 1:12)

I don’t doubt for a moment that God does not want the same thing today. For his people, the followers of Christ that make up the Church, to get with the program. His program. To turn our focus back to being the Church that Christ intended when he left us here. Spreading the gospel of salvation through Christ alone. Making disciples. Caring for the hurting and the helpless. Being the salt and the light in a lost world. 

The secret to contentment

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:13

If you’re a Christian, you’ve likely heard this verse and probably even have it memorized. Chances are pretty good that even if you’re not a Christian you’ve heard this verse somewhere. People quote it often in a variety of contexts. Admittedly, I do the same thing.  It is usually used as a motivational phrase to encourage someone in their quest to reach a goal. And even though it is a good reminder that we’re not on our own once we’ve chosen to follow Christ, Paul wasn’t thinking about a reaching a personal goal when he penned these words to the church at Philippi. The two verses right before show us what Paul was thinking about when he reflected on where his strength comes from. 

…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. – Philippians 4:11&12

Paul had learned “the secret” for being able to persevere no matter what the current circumstances of his life were. He knew that it was Jesus that gave him the strength he needed at all times. When he was living in plenty and feeling like he just wanted to sit back and enjoy the blessings in his life, it was Jesus who gave him the strength to journey out of his comfort zone to fulfill the purpose God had for him. When he was tired and hungry, not sure where he would lay his head or even where his next meal would come from, it was Jesus who gave him the strength to keep going, trusting in God to provide for his needs.

Philippians 4:13 is as much about faith as it is about perseverance. It would serve us well to lean on this truth as far more than a motivational phrase that provides a little encouragement.  No matter what our current situation may be, we can trust God to give us strength.  He will give us strength to persevere in our struggles and he will make us strong enough to venture out when things are just fine where we are. And when we are able to depend on the strength of Christ which is far greater than any strength we may muster on our own, then we will be content!

God’s Top Priority

I recently heard it said that God will make us his top priority if we make him ours. At first it seemed a presumptuous thing to assume. Why would the Creator of the Universe put me on the top of his list? I mean, he has a pretty long list of things to take care of. How would I end up at the top? But then it hit me… God is God! His list isn’t going to look like mine would with some attempt at properly prioritizing things. He is the Alpha and Omega. He knows the end from the beginning. He can have more that one thing at the top of his list! He created each of us to be in a relationship with him and he has promised to be the protector and provider of all of his children. It is his top priority to care for us! But first we must allow him to be our Savior and surrender our whole life into his loving hands. 

As I was reading Psalm 37 this morning, I noticed that it could be broken down into two lists. One of them is a list of promises from God and the other is a list of things for me to do in order to see God’s promises coming true in my life. The instructions for me are not so much a list of rules of behavior, but more of a reminder of how to let go and let God. 

Not – “if you do this then God will do that“. But – “God is doing that and you just need to do this.

What will God do?

  • Provide safe pasture
  • Give me the desires of my heart
  • Make my righteousness shine
  • Provide peace
  • Break the power of the wicked
  • Uphold me with his hand
  • Protect and provide – forever
  • Make my steps firm 
  • Never forsake me
  • Give me a future
  • Be my stronghold 
  • Help me and deliver me
  • Save me!

What must I do?

  • Not fret
  • Trust in The Lord
  • Do good
  • Delight myself in God
  • Commit my way to The Lord
  • Be still, wait patiently
  • Refrain from anger
  • Hope in The Lord
  • Turn from evil
  • Keep The Lord’s way
  • Be blameless and upright 
  • Take refuge in The Lord 

It looks like I’m the one getting all of the blessing in the relationship … so God definitely deserves all the glory. 

Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;

for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. 

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. 

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. 

A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. 

But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. 

The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.

The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.

But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. 

The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever. 

In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. 

But the wicked will perish: The Lord’s enemies will be like the beauty’s of the fields, they will vanish – vanish like smoke.

The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off.

If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.

They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.

Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.

For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off; the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.

The mouths of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speak what is just. 

The law of God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.

The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. 

Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for a man of peace.

But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

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Victory

Sometimes I feel like I’m walking through my days as though I am defeated. As though I’ve lost the race but I still need to get to the finish line so I drag myself along, tired and without much joy or motivation. Repeating to myself my sad little mantra; “That’s just the way it is.” As if somehow the acceptance of defeat makes it better. This morning it dawned on me how silly that really is. It occurred to me that the set-backs in my life that are being used as weapons against me by the enemy of my soul should instead be directing my attention to the Savior of my soul. Why have I surrendered anything in my life to Satan as his plunder? Immediately the verse that came to mind was 1 John 4:4. — You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one that is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 

We are victorious! Christ’s blood on the cross made that an irrevocable truth. (1 Corinthians 15:57). So why don’t I live that way? As I looked to the Word of God, I came across a passage of Scripture that I thought explained our assurance of victory well. 

“Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” – Deuteronomy 20:3-4

This passage of Scripture showed me a few things. First of all, it reminded me of the inevitability of the battles. “Today you are going into battle…” It doesn’t say today you might go into battle. Sometimes life in a fallen world is going to be hard.  

What follows is the instruction of how not to feel when you head into the battle. “Do not be fainthearted…afraid…terrified…give way to panic.” I’m pretty sure these are exactly the emotions that overcome me when I recognize that I’m in a situation that I cannot control. In a battle that I can’t seem to win. So if these are the responses I should not have, what should I be replacing them with. A thesaurus seemed a good place to look and here are some of the antonyms I found: brave, bold, confident, undaunted, composed, calm, content, encouraged, assured. Of course there’s many more, but I’ll focus on these for a while.  

Next is the very important reminder of who exactly it is we have with us in our battles — the Lord our God! This is the same God that created the universe with his Word. This is the the same God that rescued the Israelites from Egypt, David from Goliath, Daniel from the lion’s den, and the list goes on. This is the same God that sent his Son to die to rescue us from hell and raised him from the dead to defeat death. That is who we have in the battle with us. That means that we are without a doubt winning. Even the devil knows that! He just tries to keep us from believing it. 

This passage of Scripture ends with the awesome reminder that it is God himself that is dong the fighting for us! He’s not just following along carrying our armor and cheering for us. Whether we can see it or not, he is busy fighting! And the reason he is fighting? To give us victory!

But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! – 1 Corinthians 15:57

…for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭5:4-5‬ ‭

Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act!

Tomorrow, the first Thursday of May, is the National Day of Prayer. Christians will be gathering all around the country in order to lift our nation up in prayer. If you can, I encourage you to find an event in your area and join your brothers and sisters in Christ in public prayer. If you are not able to do that, then please make a commitment to pray throughout the day for our country. Set an alarm on your phone to remind you. Be a part of the collective prayer, because God hears the prayers of his people. And if there is any hope for America, it is in God alone.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 1 Chronicles 7:14

When the Israelites were in exile, Daniel prayed a prayer that seems to convey so much of what our current situation is. I know that this was a prayer specifically for the Israelites and that it was during a specific time in their history, but I believe that we can use it as a model of prayer for our own nation at the current time. The following is the prayer that Daniel prayed. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m adding some of my own commentary as I read it and see the incredible parallels in so much of it.

Daniel 9:4-19
I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed: “Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land. (v. 4-6)

We still pray to the same great and awesome God who keeps his covenants. And as a nation we, too, have sinned and done wrong. Over the last couple of generations we have become more and more intolerant of God and his Word. We don’t dare proclaim or display the Word of God publicly despite all of the other filth that we regularly flaunt and applaud. We have determined that God’s commands are no longer relevant and all that matters is what “feels right”.

Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you. The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; we have not obeyed the Lord our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you. (v. 7-11)

If we really look at what this nation has become, we should be covered with shame. Good is called evil and evil is called good. (Isaiah 5:20) The killing of babies is fiercely protected. Marriage (God’s idea, by the way) has been redefined. The truth of Salvation in Christ alone is deemed offensive. We deny our Creator. The list goes on and on. Our nation is in a full out rebellion against God and the truth of his Word. Refusing to obey him. And yet, God remains merciful and forgiving. A truth ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ’s atoning death on the cross.

Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. The Lord did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the Lord our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him. (v. 11-14)

What stands out to me here is the part that says – “all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth.” We can clearly see the disaster befalling our nation. People hating one another. Violent attacks against innocent people. The increasingly large divide between “us” and “them”. To say nothing about the natural disasters that impact so many people on a seemingly increasing scale. If we want to see change, it has to start with us, God’s people. We have to turn from our sins and give attention to the truth of God. Give attention to it! Read it! Live it! Proclaim it!

Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us. (v. 15-16)

Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name. (v. 17-19)

God still has a mighty hand. His name still endures and will for all of eternity. Long after America has seen its final days. And just like the prophet Daniel cried out to God for deliverance from his righteous anger and wrath, we must do the same. There is only one God. There is only one Savior. And if he does not intervene for America, then we will continue in the same destructive direction we are on until we are no more. We do not come to God in prayer because we believe that as a nation we deserve his intervention. We come to God in prayer because we know he is merciful! And as Christians, we bear his name!

Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord hear and act!