WHEN LIFE SEEMS COUNTER TO GOD’S WILL

WHEN LIFE SEEMS COUNTER TO GOD’S WILL

I recently finished writing a Bible study on the life of Joseph. His story is captivating for countless reasons—we all “get” Joseph on some level. We can relate to him. We may never have had a multicolored robe that nearly cost us our lives hanging next to our sundresses or ties, and we probably haven’t traveled by camel to a foreign land as a slave. But we patently understand difficult family relationships. We’ve experienced betrayal. Broken dreams have nearly sunk us. We know unfair. And almost every one of us has wondered at some point in our lives, Where is God? If none of those have a familiar ring, surely we can all relate to struggling to forgive someone when forgiveness felt perfectly impossible.

But another part of Joseph’s story stood out to me that is harder to define. Something I’d never seen before. When Joseph was sold as a slave into the foreign and pagan land of Egypt (Gen 37:28) this experience was not only devastating, it also appears to be in the wrong direction. If we go back to God’s covenant with Abraham (Abram) in Genesis 12:1-5, part of God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was the gift of land, specifically the land of Canaan. What Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel and Leah (and their children, including Joseph) all got to experience at different times in their lives was life in this land of promise. Canaan was the promised land, not Egypt.

THE GOD OF PROMISE IS BETTER THAN THE LAND OF PROMISE

If Joseph was aware of God’s covenant with Abraham—and I have to believe he was—what must it have felt like for him to be traveling away from Canaan? It’s one thing to suffer in the direction of God’s will; it’s another to suffer when you think you’re heading against it. But what we find explicitly in Genesis 39:1-5, 21-23 is that the Lord was withJoseph in Egypt. We discover that the God of promise is able to dwell outside the land of promise. And that He’s even better than His promises. This, of course, isn’t to suggest that God doesn’t keep His promises or that He runs counter to them. It simply shows us that His presence is better than anything we can imagine, including His gifts.

WHAT SEEMS COUNTER TO GOD’S WILL MAY ACTUALLY BE PART OF IT

If we go back to Genesis 17:13 we see that God told Abraham about a time when his descendants would live as foreigners for four hundred years in a land that wasn’t their own. Again, it’s hard to know how much Joseph knew about these conversations God had with Abraham, but even if Joseph was aware of this information Egypt wasn’t specified. Plus, it would have been really hard for Joseph to put together that he was the one who’d be kicking off this four hundred year stint in a foreign land. On top of the unspeakable pain of being sold as a slave into Egypt, being taken away from Canaan had to be terribly confusing for him on a spiritual level.

Joseph’s story reminds me that when it seems like some part of our life is running counter to God’s will, it’s possible we feel this way because we don’t know the whole story. We don’t have the big picture. Though the first several years of Joseph’s life in Egypt must have felt way outside of God’s plan, Joseph’s detour to Egypt was no detour at all. God would use Egypt as the place where Abraham’s descendants would proliferate into the nation of Israel. Joseph was right where God wanted him.

If our heart is in the right place before God, we can trust that our path will be too.Click To Tweet

IF OUR HEART IS RIGHT BEFORE GOD SO WILL OUR PATH BE

Of course, there are times when we feel like our life is running counter to God’s will because it is. We’re choosing the pleasures of sin over obedience, we’re harboring unforgiveness, we’re going for the money instead of the ministry, or whatever the case may be. But if our heart is in the right place before God, we can trust that our path will be too. And even more so, we can trust that God’s presence will accompany us. And the God of Promise is even better than the land of Promise.

Would you like an excerpt of Kelly’s Finding God Faithful Bible Study?

Click HERE to sign up and it will be delivered straight to your inbox.

 

 

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com

HONEYVINE MILKWEED AND THE SNEAKINESS OF SIN

HONEYVINE MILKWEED AND THE SNEAKINESS OF SIN

I’m battling an invasive weed cropping up in my vegetable garden beds. It surreptitiously twists itself around my tomato vines while somehow looking like part of the team. It’s quick to grow and hard to root out. Its most troubling quality is its ability to blend in while being stared at. After some formal and extensive Google research, I’ve determined this garden destroyer to be the honeyvine milkweed. I found its name to be most problematic—why ever would we assign the good words honey and milk to a most vicious weed? We gardeners should stand up to such misrepresentation.

WEEDS AND OUR SIN

As gardening observations so often go with me, I found an interesting parallel in my daily Scripture reading. Did you know the honeyvine milkweed is found in 2 Samuel 11? Well, not by that name of course. It’s called something else. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

In this chapter, David comes across a beautiful woman bathing beneath his rooftop view. He should be at war, but he’s not. He sent someone else to do that job. After inquiring about Bathsheba—who is the wife of one of David’s chief warriors—he sends for her, sleeps with her, and she becomes pregnant. Eventually, David has Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed on the frontlines of battle (v. 17). (I had never noticed that additional men also die in the fallout of David’s sin to cover up his sin). David and Bathsheba’s firstborn son would also die shortly after birth. The sword would never leave David’s house.

At this point, I must mention that I’m not sure who exactly blog posts like this are for. Those who are actively in sin are rarely interested in reading about its characteristics or consequences. And the people who just love a post about sin and all its sneakiness, and can’t wait to share it with their wayward nephew, are often not aware of their own sin of pride or self-righteousness. So maybe this is just for everyone who, like myself, could use a really stark reminder about how—if we’re not watchful—the honeyvine milkweed, otherwise known as lust, lying, selfishness, adultery, possessiveness, murder, or denial can spring up in the middle of good fruit and wrap its tendrils around us until we can hardly tell our own skin from sin’s tendrils. Until someone like a Nathan has to come along and say, you are the man (or woman) who has done this evil.

What struck me about David’s story is that prior to 2 Samuel 11 he’d had a long and mostly faithful history with God. They’d covered a lot of ground together. David had made humble decisions and courageous moves, he’d valiantly battled and enthusiastically worshipped. And then suddenly a poor decision to stay in Jerusalem, an abdication of leadership, a glance at Bathsheba, an inquiry, a summons, a bedroom.

Honey? Milk? Or a fast growing, ensnaring vine whose consequences would never leave his house?

CONFESS AND STOP THE BLEEDING

I kept thinking, Lord, how did David get here? How do any of us get here? For one thing, we must keep about the business God has called us to. For David, it appears he should have been with his men fighting instead of in Jerusalem wandering his rooftop. When we’re busy cultivating the work God has given us to do, there is less room for unwanted growth of wayward ambitions. And when we do grant soil to sinful ambition, we must deal with our sin swiftly at its root.

“No matter the extent of the devastation, it’s less than what it will be if we wait to confess tomorrow.”Click To Tweet

David had moments to back out, confess, or at the very least stop the bleeding. He didn’t have to keep piling bad choices upon bad choices, although when we’re in sin we tend to convince ourselves this is our only option. We wrongly believe there’s no turning back, that repentance would be too costly, that God’s forgiveness only extends as far as the mile marker we cruised past a long time ago. But this just isn’t true. We can always cooperate with God in dealing with our sin. No matter the extent of the devastation, it’s less than what it will be if we wait to confess tomorrow. David himself showed us we’re never past repentance: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not conceal my iniquity. I said ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5, also Psalm 51.)

After Nathan called David out for his relationship with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, David confessed, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (v. 13.) This is important. David didn’t call sin by another name like milk or honey or my truth. As soon as we redefine our sin—whatever sin it may be—we stop eradicating it and begin cultivating it.

What I most hope to remember is that, no matter how entangling sin’s hold, there’s always opportunity to repent.Click To Tweet

So back to my garden for a moment. While I would like to petition we change the name of the honeyvine milkweed to something more appropriately representative, perhaps the next time I spot this imposter in my garden I will remember that names are not always accurate definitions of who or what they’re attached to. I will remember that sin grows fast as a weed, not as an eggplant—there’s a reason for the expression. I will think of sin’s obscurity and how it can grow up even in the lives of God’s anointed. And what I most hope to remember is that, no matter how entangling sin’s hold, there’s always opportunity to repent.

And the next time I’m in my garden I will think to look for a lighter subject, say, the cucumber.

 

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

STUDY THE BIBLE FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS

I grew up in a church environment where a “Plan of Salvation” was regularly presented. If you prayed the sinner’s prayer, it was generally understood that no matter what happened from there on out, you were saved and good to go.

Bibles were sometimes passed out with little instruction, as though the new believer could automatically make sense of this strange new world of Jewish and Christian history. In the best of environments, my teachers and church leaders cared deeply about and fostered a person’s subsequent growth as a follower of Jesus. But often the emphasis was on conversion instead of the conversations that led to being a life-long disciple of Christ.

This short post, however, is not about salvation per se as much as it’s about a lesson the apostle Philip taught me in Acts 8. A lesson about the richness of the gospel and the relational ways we can share it. And yes, this text includes salvation, but in broader terms then we typically think of.

PHILIP AND THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH

When Philip came upon an Ethiopian high official (Ethiopian eunuch), the Holy Spirit told Philip to go and join this man’s chariot. (The word join here means glue together, cling to, attach oneself.) In other words, it would simply not due for Philip to walk up to this stranger, present a set statement about Jesus, then drop a copy of the Scriptures off, all the while feeling good about having done his duty. (Interestingly enough, this man already had the Scriptures and was reading them!) Philip was to go connect with him and get inside his chariot. This instruction alone is a real paradigm shift when so often we expect the chariots to come to us.

When Philip overheard this high official reading the words of the prophet Isaiah, he asked a most engaging question: “Do you understand what you’re reading?” See, it wasn’t enough that the official was reading the Bible, it mattered that he understood it, and we’ll see in a moment why this is so important. The Ethiopian eunuch’s response was as straightforward as it was humble: “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone guides me?’” We can miss the point of this question if we’re not careful: we need teachers to help us understand the Bible!

I stopped to think about all the awkward times I’ve tried to condense the good news about Jesus into a step-by-step presentation when the person I was speaking to had no context for what I was talking about.

Or the times I’ve handed someone a New Testament, hoping they would somehow “get it” on their own. While this most certainly happens, when we don’t take the time to teach the Bible to others we dilute the complexity, historicity, and beauty of its story, and our listeners miss significant facets of the good news about Jesus. The Ethiopian official needed a teacher, as do we. He needed someone to explain to him what Isaiah 53:7-8 meant. To relationally unfold it for him in a way that made sense.

We must be willing to step into some chariots and sit alongside people who can’t make sense of life, much less the Bible.Click To Tweet

One of the most moving parts of the scene is when this high official invited Philip to “come up” and “sit with him”. In this side-by-side setting, the Ethiopian eunuch was comfortable asking questions of Philip, and Philip was excited to respond. There was dialogue. Perhaps most significantly, Philip sat in the Ethiopian’s chariot, not the other way around.

Now here’s the part that I hope will shape my teaching for the rest of my life (and my learning from other teachers). “Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning with that Scripture.” (Acts 8:35, emphasis mine.) Can you imagine beginning in Isaiah to explain the good news about Jesus to someone? How about beginning in Genesis, 2 Samuel, or Jonah? The point here, of course, is not that we have to begin in a particular book, but that all of the Bible is important to the story of Jesus.

SHARING THE BIBLE WITH OTHERS

I want to be someone who is so fully acquainted with the Bible that I could start with any Scripture and teach someone all the way to Jesus. (I’m not that well acquainted yet, but my hope is to be more like Philip.)

So here are the two challenges this passage confronts us with: First, we must be willing to step into some chariots and sit alongside people who can’t make sense of life, much less the Bible (assuming we’ve been invited in). Second, we must be studying God’s Word diligently, learning from good teachers about His whole counsel, so that when we do have opportunities with those seeking to understand, we can engage them with the whole story instead of leaving them with a presentation.

It was essential that Philip understood Isaiah because it foretold good news about Jesus. Since we can only teach others what we’ve learned ourselves, consider studying a book of the Bible this summer. Yes, for your own sake, but also for the sake of someone who might just be looking for the good news.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com.

Categories

WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION

WHY WE NEED A RESURRECTION

Easter has come and gone. The hams, chocolate bunnies, and deviled eggs have been consumed and enjoyed, and the colorful Easter dresses and plaid bow ties have been hung on the hangers and tucked in drawers.

But the resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, be shelved until next Easter. We will need our resurrected Savior every day until then and beyond.Click To Tweet

REFLECTIONS FROM MOLDOVA

A few days ago I returned from the country of Moldova with Justice & Mercy International. Europe’s poorest country, and a small one at that, with an orphan population the size of a continent. I wrapped my arms around orphan girls whose journey, I beg the Lord, will not be one of being sex trafficked. I met a young teenager whose eye had been punched out by a drunken stepdad. I laid my trembling hand on a 3-year-old baby girl with hydrocephalus who is living in a two-bedroom hut with her single mom and 5 siblings. I heard stories of corruption and abuse. I visited a special needs shelter and consciously wondered over and over again whether I had one single meaningful scrap to offer anyone. Hang in there with me, I’m getting to the Easter reflections part.

One might think that returning home from a trip like this would bring fulfilling thoughts of having helped the “less fortunate”. That I’d really played my part in giving back and visiting the poor and orphaned. But as I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, my flight home was filled with thoughts of inadequacy, overwhelmed-ness, and strikingly above all, thoughts of my sinfulness. I was oddly aware not just of my sins, but my actual sin nature. Strange, it seemed to me. All while doing “good”.

Yet perhaps this is exactly one of the reasons that God—from Old Testament to New—has told us to take care of the poor.

Not only to bring help and hope to each image-bearer, but also as a reminder of our own total powerlessness before Christ. Being with the poor and powerless reveals to me that we all lay bare before Him, on equal footing, every one of us in need of resurrection.

I will never get over the reason God gave Israel for why they should take care of the foreigner, fatherless, and widow. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Therefore I am commanding you to do this.” (Deut 23:22) Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Sounds familiar to us who, before Christ, were held fast to our own selfish desires, addictions, and destructive behaviors? Who, even when we were doing the right things, couldn’t shake our inherent guilt?

Every time an Israelite left sheaves on the ground, olives on the branches, grapes on the vine for someone who needed it, they were reminded of their own pasts as slaves. Click To Tweet

THE KIND OF SAVIOR WE NEED

While in Moldova I was poignantly reminded that I don’t need a savior in the sole form of a moral teacher. I don’t need a great role model, spiritual guru, sage, or genie in a bottle. And—heaven help me—if all I need is to look deeper into myself, find my truth, trust my heart to lead me, or be more vulnerable so everyone can know that not being okay is okay, I’m in profound trouble. What I need, what we all desperately need, is a Savior, perfectly holy and righteous, who conquered death through His own death and resurrection, so that we can be made new. Not improved with mere better behavior. Rather a new heart and new life. “[God] made [Jesus] who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

One of the interesting facts about Moldova is despite its poverty its soil is some of the richest and most arable in the world. The lilies and tulips, sunflower and lavender fields, cherry and apple orchards, raspberry brambles and tomato vines are just about to start their show. New life is springing forth after a cold, hard winter. As I consider those sprawling fields, I’m reminded that in the bleakness of Israel’s winter God said through the prophet Ezekiel that a day was coming when, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

Jesus’s death and resurrection is the fulfillment of this prophecy, what has made it possible for my heart of stone to become a heart of flesh, for His Spirit to live within me. It’s the message of Easter we’ll need all year long. Until next year when the azaleas explode with blooms and remind us that we don’t need mere polishing, improvement or a new Easter dress, but a new heart. And we’ll celebrate all over again, that this newness is exactly what Jesus’s resurrection accomplished for us.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvoices.com

Categories

MOSES AND THE MUTUAL BENEFIT OF DELEGATING RESPONSIBILITY

MOSES AND THE MUTUAL BENEFIT OF DELEGATING RESPONSIBILITY

The concept of delegating isn’t a new one.

Anyone who’s been a leader in any capacity knows that at some point you have to let go of certain pieces of your work.

You realize that you can’t get to everything and you’re not good at everything. You see the idea of raising up new leaders and delegating to others as a strategy that will drastically help you. You realize that letting go and trusting others will relieve stress, keep you focused on all the things you’re especially good at, and more effectively grow whatever it is that you’re trying to grow. And all of this is true. It really will help you.

But it wasn’t until recently that I was reminded that delegating our work to others and raising up new leaders isn’t just about how it can help us. Sharing the workload and getting help isn’t merely about what it can do for you or me. It’s also about what it can do for others! I might have expected to read about the mutual benefits of delegating in a leadership or business book. Why was I not expecting to come across such a concept in the book of Exodus?

HOW MOSES DELEGATED

Moses was under a crippling weight when leading the Israelites out of Egypt and through the desert. He was the sole judge of all their problems and disputes. When Moses’ father-in-law Jethro witnessed Moses handling the Israelites’ compounding issues from morning until evening he told him, “What you’re doing is not good. You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone.” (Exodus 18:17-19, emphasis added).

I always knew this scenario wasn’t good for Moses, but it never occurred to me how detrimental it was for the people he was leading. When we take on too much and try to control all the pieces, we not only wear ourselves out but also the people around us.

When we take on too much and try to control all the pieces, we not only wear ourselves out but also the people around us.Click To Tweet

I remember a few years ago sitting down with my pastor and asking for some advice. I was tired and stressed and had taken my work as far as I could go. He encouraged me to let go of certain areas of my ministry and trust others to carry those pieces out. I was desperate to do this because, frankly, I was concerned about how my lack of knowing how to delegate was affecting me. It hadn’t even occurred to me to think about the way it was affecting the people around me—those who worked for me, my closest friendships, my family relationships. (Why am I consistently late to the it’s-not-all-about-me party?)

DELEGATING ISN’T SELFISH

As I continued reading Exodus 18, I found Jethro’s offering of wisdom to Moses profound and enlightening. “If you do this, and God so directs you, you will be able to endure, and also all these people will be able to go home satisfied.” (Exodus 18:23) We see here that Moses delegating to others wasn’t just about Moses’ relief. The word satisfied that describes the people who were depending on him can also mean “go to their place in peace”. The more help Moses received, the more peaceful were the people he was leading.

As we think about loosening our grip on some of our work, sharing the load with others, and trusting people to handle the things we hold dear, it’s not just about the relief it will bring us. It’s about the peace it will bring the people we’re serving and the people we’re working with.

What an encouraging notion to think that when we delegate our work, our load will be lighter and the people we’re serving will be adequately taken care of, at peace, and satisfied. This is what I call a leadership win-win from the book of Exodus.

This post originally appeared on lifewayvioces.com


Categories

X