Are the bad guys winning?

13 “You have said harsh things against me,” says the LORD. “Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty?
15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly the evildoers prosper, and even those who challenge God escape.’”
16 Then those who feared the LORD talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his name.
17 “They will be mine, ” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him.  

18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not. (Malachi 3:13-18 NIV84)

Do you ever feel like the bad guys are winning?  That you try to do what God says to do and things only get harder while the people that curse God seem to have all the money, all the luck, all the fun?  Take heart!  The story of history has not yet been completed.

God says that “you will again see the distinction… between those who serve God and those who do not.”  God says in this passage that the righteous will be spared and will be his treasured possession.

Elsewhere in the Bible God says that you will not envy the wicked when you consider their end.  They will be cast away from God’s presence forever, while those that love and serve God will enjoy His love forever.

So why does God allow the wicked to seemingly thrive?  God loves sinners.  Which is good news because I and you and everyone has sinned.  He wants everyone to repent and turn to His love.  And it is His kindness that leads us to repentance.  That’s why He is kind to the ungodly.  But He will not wait forever.  He said, Today is the day of salvation. Today, if you hear His voice do not harden your heart.  Now is the accepted time.  So if you don’t yet know Jesus, He is calling you right now.  Repent and invite Him into your heart today.  Tomorrow is uncertain, you really only have right now to decide, so choose the One who loves you and forgives you when you turn away from sin.

And if you love and follow Jesus do not be discouraged by the trials you have.  Jesus is changing us into His likeness.  God is treating us like sons and daughters when He disciplines us in love even though at the time it is painful.  If we persevere God will bless us with a heart that loves like Jesus loves.  And we will be loved by Him and love Him and love others and be loved by them… forever.

What’s your goal?

In managing ourselves traditional goal setting and accountability goes something like what follows:
  • If you want to be more effective take some time and think of what you want.  
  • If you want to be even more effective make sure what you want is SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound). 
  • If you want to be still more effective write down your SMART goal. 
  • If you want the greatest chance of success, give a copy of your SMART goal to a trusted friend and give them permission to hold you accountable for doing what you said you want to do. Give them permission to ask you the tough questions necessary to get at the real reason for your success or failure at working toward your goal.

This is a great plan but how could it be better?  Steven Covey asks in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: What if the ladder you are climbing is against the wrong wall?  Applied to this essay: Why wouldn’t I want what I want?

If we lead ourselves, we are limited by our own finite intelligence, knowledge, wisdom,experiences and resources.  We can learn from others, and that would multiply what we have available to work with, but in the end even the largest group of people is finite.  What we need is someone to lead us who knows the way.  Someone who has experienced all the joys and all the trouble that we have and yet in all ways has been successful.  We need someone who knows the end from the beginning, who knows the grand scheme of history and the future and knows our personal, meaningful purpose in it.

That someone, I suggest, is Jesus.  He knows your pain.  He has in all ways been tempted as we are but is without sin.  He knows everything.  He is the Author of history; past present and future.   And He designed you and your meaningful, personal role to play in His story.  And He loves you enough to have died to purchase forgiveness for your sins.  He will tell you the best “wall” to lean against and the best “ladder” to climb.  So ask Him.  He said, you will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.  So seek Him today, He is waiting for you.

Shouldn’t there be more to this Christian life? Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m God’s child!

 The Bible says we are saved by faith and faith alone.  But, it has been said, it is a faith that does not come alone.  Faith is trust.  If someone tells me to do something, and I trust them, I do it.  If I don’t do it, then why didn’t I do it?  I suggest it is because I didn’t trust them.  If I don’t trust them I don’t have faith in them.  So faith or trust implies obedience and obedience implies faith or trust.  If I have one I have the other.  If I don’t have one I don’t have the other.  If I say I have faith (which can’t be seen), and I don’t have obedience (which can be seen), I am deceived.  Can I show you my faith by my refusal to obey Jesus? Or, can I show you my faith by my obedience to Jesus?

What does this mean practically?  Simply that if I believe I am going to heaven to be with Jesus because I made a decision to follow Him, or prayed a prayer that I believe in Him, or had an emotional experience AND at the same time my life is not gradually (or rapidly) radically changing from doing what I selfishly want to do, to doing what Jesus wants me to do, I need to do a reality check.  

Jesus said that reality is, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow Me.”  Now, I fail every day to perfectly follow Jesus.  But, I do sense an increasing dependence on, allegiance to, and obedience to, the One who gave up His life to give me mine.  Not that I can directly do this on my own.  My obedience grows with the help of, and amid an intimate love relationship with, God the Father and His Son Jesus through God the Holy Spirit. 

How do I develop an intimate love relationship with God?  Again, Jesus showed the way when He said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow Me.”  To hear His voice I first need to learn to recognize His voice.  I do that by getting alone with Him and reading the Bible and obeying what I read.  If I obey what I read God will entrust me with more of His truth.  If I just read and don’t obey I deceive myself into thinking I am a follower of Jesus when I am not.  I also need to talk to Him and listen to Him through prayer.  What I “hear” God saying will never contradict the Bible.  If it does, even in the smallest way, it is not God speaking.

Then as I talk, listen, read, and obey I develop an intimate love relationship with the One who loved me first and loves me most.  And as I sense His love, my love for Him grows and my obedience to Him grows.  And I gain great assurance that I am God’s child, that He is my Father and that we are one in purpose. 

There is an old hymn that says it all, “Trust and obey, because there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.”

Forgiving can be Tough

I can have a hard time forgiving some people.  I think they don’t deserve it.  And I want justice done.  I want them to feel the pain they have caused me.  And I think I’m right.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean everything is okay.  It doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for the offending person.  They are still responsible for what they have done; they still may need to apologize to you, pay restitution or even go to jail.

But, when I forgive I give up the right of revenge.  I choose not to retaliate.  I don’t “get even.”   “Vengeance is Mine” God said, “I will avenge, I will repay.”  When God does the vengeance it is with a spirit of helping; helping you, the situation and even the person in the wrong.  When I seek vengeance it is with a spirit to hurt; to hurt the one who wronged me.  And I end up making things worse, especially for me.

I don’t realize it at the time, but when I hold on to a hurt, I am a slave to that hurt.  I constantly relive the pain of the offense.  I plot my revenge even if I would never act on it.  I am consumed and controlled by the offender and my desire for their pain.  But, if I release the right of revenge, God also releases me from revenge’s control.  Jesus said, if you do not forgive other men’s sins against you, God will not forgive your sins.  But, if you forgive others, He will forgive you.

When I release the right of revenge I am free, free to receive God’s love and give it back to Him and others.

I wish I could say that just knowing this has eliminated unforgiveness in my life… it hasn’t.  And obviously that is not God’s fault… it’s mine.  Some of my unforgiveness is just a habit.  It’s become a root of bitterness that I am now asking God in prayer to help me root out.  I am now also asking Him to help me to have a desire to be free more than to have a desire to avenge.

I hope to update you later on my progress.  I ask you keep me accountable because it is a whole lot easier to write about following Jesus than it is to actually follow Him.  My biggest enemy I have learned is myself.  It’s not so much that I need to know what to do; it’s that I need to do what I know. 

Thank you for reading.  If you have struggles and/or successes or anything on your mind you would like to share or anything you want to pray about please feel free to comment.

How does God Turn Pain into Joy?

Pain, hurt, abandonment, betrayal.  Have you been there?  Our God, Jesus, has been there too.  He is familiar with all the suffering that we experience because He became a man and experienced it personally.

But more than to empathize he came to bring mercy, justice, forgiveness, and peace.  Mercy because He saw we could not save ourselves from our sin and chose to save us Himself.  Justice because He suffered in our place to pay what we owed God for our evil attitudes and actions.  Forgiveness because with His own blood He entered Heaven and purchased our forgiveness.  Peace because the war is over, God has reconciled Man to Himself, which was God’s planned design before the foundation of the world.

Jesus knows your pain perfectly.  He’s experienced it.  But He has also overcome it.  When we put our trust in Him to forgive our wrong attitudes and actions He gives us His Spirit and enables us to forgive others and ourselves.  Healing may come slowly.  And the affects of sin may last longer than we want them to last.

But Jesus’ Spirit lives within us, comforting us and telling us the truth about Him and ourselves and others.  The truth about Him is that God loves us unconditionally and always wants the best for us regardless of what it costs Him.  The truth about ourselves is that we are now new creations in Jesus, fully holy and righteous.  And the truth about others is that they are either already brothers and sisters in Christ or we have the privilege of leading them to the One who gave His life for them and us.

Jesus does not let my pain go to waste.  He has used it to help others in pain.  And by helping others through their pain I have found His joy and it has made the past pain worth it!

Freedom to Choose

Someone I know and love told me that she was taught that God knows which people will be saved and which ones will be sent to hell.  So she professes that if she is to be saved she will be saved, if she is not to be saved she won’t be saved, and there’s nothing she can do about it.  She claims to have no personal responsibility for deciding whether to follow Jesus or not.

She had an Afghan dog that could jump very high.  So high in fact that she had to put a leash on him because he could jump over the high fence in her back yard.  He would then be gone for days and in danger of getting hit by cars.  I said to her, “You know that if you put him outside without a leash he will jump the fence right?”  She said “yes.”  “Because you know what he will do, does that mean you want him to jump the fence and get hurt?  Or, that you are forcing him to jump the fence?”  She said “no.”  “If you know what your dog will do if given a free choice, how much more does an infinitely wise, all-knowing God know what we as people, His creation, will do given a free choice?  But that does not mean He has decided what we will do or forces us to do it,” I concluded.

God said that he wants no one to perish but all to turn away from sin; He wants each one of us to turn to the love and life and meaning found only in Jesus.  But, Jesus also said that no one seeks Him on their own initiative.  So, God gives us circumstances and relationships to try to influence our decision; to help us to learn that sin harms and His love benefits; and to come to seek Him and to trust His character.  God loves us first and he desires our love in return.  He enables us to choose Him if we want to choose Him.  But he leaves the decision up to us.  Love cannot be forced.  Love is always the choice of a free will.

You may be reading this wondering if God loves you, if God wants you in heaven with Him.  Jesus willingly took the punishment for your sins and mine so that we could spend forever with Him in heaven and with all who love Him.  Freely choose Him today.  Accept His death as full payment to God for your sins.  Let Him lead you today.  He will fill your life with other people who love Him and love you and take you on an adventure you cannot imagine.

Does God speak?… to me?… to you?

When I first “got saved” (surrendered to Jesus) I was rude and wanted my own way (not much of a surrender at first was it?).  I told Him that I wanted Him to speak to me and that I wanted to hear an audible voice.  None of this whisper in my spirit stuff, I wanted to literally hear His voice.  I remember having the thought: Wouldn’t it be better to give you my thoughts?  I thought this wasn’t dramatic enough, I wanted the “miraculous”.  Well, God didn’t give me an audible voice, but I “heard” a strong voice in my mind and I decided that would have to do.  God’s voice told me what he wanted me to do and I obeyed Him.  But His voice got more and more demanding and confusing.  Then after a couple days of listening to Him, He told me that His voice was to be obeyed above the Bible.  I quickly thought about what was happening and I then knew it was satan that was behind “God’s voice”.  Even though I was a brand-new Christian I knew that the Holy Spirit would never contradict the Bible.

I was angry at being deceived.  But I learned.  If I don’t accept what God says there is someone who will gladly tell me what I want to hear (satan).  I was grateful for God giving me that lesson.  My first lesson was 10 years before when God gave me an extra 5 years of mental illness.  He did that because I was disrespectful to Him about Him giving me the original 5 years of mental illness (to humble me).  This was the beginning of me piecing together over time that my greatest enemy was myself and doing what I wanted to do.  And my best friend was the Father, who often wanted me to do what I didn’t want to do (but in His infinite wisdom knew was what I really needed to do).

God has graciously spoken to me since that day.  Not audibly, but in thoughts that I knew were too good to come from me.  He has also spoken to me through reading the Bible, from circumstances, listening to trusted friends and even at times through those who were against me.

  God is continuously speaking to us.  The question is: Will I make time for Him?  After all He is the King of the Universe, my Creator, the One who gave His life for me, the One who holds my future in His hands, the One who loves me the most.

And amazingly He desperately wants a two-way conversation with me… and you, through prayer and listening to God.

If you want to read a great book to learn how to listen to God I would suggest reading “How to Listen to God”, by Dr. Charles F. Stanley