When Your GPS Signal Returns

Magi 2

Recently I was praying with a friend who was struggling to find God’s direction for his life. As we prayed, I vividly remembered the Bible’s account of how the magi temporarily lost sight of the star that had started them on their journey:

Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! (Matthew 2:9-10 MSG).

What an intriguing story. The magi had been so moved by their initial sighting of this star that they left everything and set off on a journey of hundreds of miles just to glimpse and worship the newborn King. But at first the star only guided them as far as Jerusalem, where the religious leaders and King Herod pointed them to Bethlehem as the likely place of the Messiah’s birth.

As these men set off for Bethlehem, something very exciting happened: “Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies.”

As this passage came to mind, I immediately recognized how it applied to my friend’s situation. Several years before, he had sensed clear direction from the Lord to proceed in a certain direction. Yet the cares and circumstances of life had hindered him—and now his original vision seemed like a dim memory.

Sensing the Holy Spirit speaking into his situation, I told my friend with great confidence, “The star of guidance is going to appear for you again!”

I also pointed out that, as with the magi, it would likely be the “same star” as he had seen before. To use a modern parallel, it’s as if his GPS had quit working for a time, but now it was about to resume charting the original direction.

Perhaps this is a word of encouragement for you as well. Is your spiritual GPS still functioning? As God did in the case of the magi, sometimes He sovereignly removes our external guidance for a time, causing us to seek Him once again. However, notice that the magi experienced great joy  when they saw the star again—and so it will be with us.

As the magi discovered, incredible joy rises in our hearts when we realize we’re in “the right place” at “the right time.” And it’s important to see that the star didn’t just lead them in some random direction: “It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.” That’s the ultimate purpose of all divine guidance, isn’t it? God wants to lead us closer to Jesus.

A personal note…

The same night as I prayed with my friend, my sleep was restless. Finally, at about 3:30 a.m., I gave up sleeping and started pondering how the story of the magi’s renewed guidance applied to my own life.

Like my friend, I’ve been sensing that the Lord wants to give me fresh vision and guidance. I’ve even been planning a sabbatical when I can get some needed rest and a new perspective.

But there at 3:30, tossing and turning on my bed, some things became very clear to me. Like the magi, I had sought direction from friends and “religious leaders,” when what I really needed was to see the star again.

In mere moments, I began to receive some of the “fresh vision” I craved—and it turned out to be a return of some “old vision” I’d lost sight of and neglected.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. It turned out that I already had  vision. As with the magi, when the “star” of guidance appeared to me in the middle of that restless night, it was the same star that had set me on my journey several years before.

I know I still have a long way to go. But I’m headed toward “Bethlehem” to see the King, and I’m pretty excited about it.

I pray you’ll take time to look again for the star that got you started. Although the night around you may be dark, that’s when stars shine the brightest.

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Rediscovering My ‘True North’

Compass 3

When I was a kid, we didn’t have all the cool video games and technology of today. Some of my most memorable toys were marbles, magnifying glasses, and gyroscopes.

Recently when I was praying, God spoke a powerful message to me through two of my other childhood toys: a compass and a magnet.

First, I recalled the amazing attributes of a compass. When set on a level surface, the needle rather mysteriously points to “true north.” Somehow the compass detects and automatically points toward the invisible magnet field emitted by the North Pole.

But as I pondered this wondrous ability, the picture changed. I saw a compass surrounded by various magnets. The needle was spinning, no longer able to discern the correct direction of true north.

Like this compass, I realized I was in danger of losing my sense of true north. When I gave my life to Jesus and His Spirit came into my heart, I was given an internal guidance system much like a compass. And whenever I look time to quiet my heart and rid myself of external distractions, my spirit automatically pointed toward the Lord and my true north calling.

However, life is full of external magnet fields. While the compass needle initially points northward, it can be swayed by relationships, addictions, materialism, stress, and busyness. Many of us end up trying to please people rather than God. Or our lives become consumed with the quest for a paycheck so we can pay our bills. Even the good  things in our lives can emit magnetic fields that divert us from God’s highest will.

Let’s be honest: the North Pole is a lot farther away than the external magnets around us. Yes, the Lord is very near to us (and even in us), but the attraction from what we see, feel, touch, and taste can appear much stronger at times. And the voices of people often drown out the voice of the Lord.

So how can you regain your sense of true north if your compass needle is spinning out of control? What can you do when you detect confusion in your heart about God’s plan and purpose?

Periodically, you must leave behind all the external distractions and take a personal retreat. You need to make sure your internal compass needle isn’t being influenced by anything other than the Spirit of God.

When can you take time to do that?

I know, it’s difficult to find time to rediscover your true north. But what’s the alternative? Do you want to continue living a life that lacks direction, impact, and satisfaction?

One of the great benefits of finding true north is that the other directions become clear as well. Once you know which way is north, it’s easy to find east, south, and west. Your relationships and priorities are much easier to sort out once you’ve established which way you’re headed.

When you rediscover your true north, you’ll no longer drift through life like a sleepwalker. No longer confused or purposeless, you’ll gain new appreciation for Solomon’s advice about finding divine direction:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB).

Straight paths are only possible if you’re clear about where you’re going. And your internal GPS will only function properly if you’ve first established which way north is.

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Debunking 8 Myths About the Christian Life

While studying the origins of the Church at Philippi, I was startled to discover how the story contradicts many of our common misconceptions about the nature of the Christian life. The narrative in Acts 16 debunks at least 8 myths—and I bet you’ve believed some of these misconceptions yourself.

Myth #1: As long as you’re well-intentioned in pursuing spiritual activities, any direction is okay.

The apostle Paul never intended to plant a church in Philippi. In fact, he had other plans. Plan A was to minister in Asia, but he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). Plan B was to preach in Bithynia, but God closed that door too. Finally, the Lord spoke to Paul through a dream that he should go to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.

This story shows that God has a specific plan for our lives, even when it comes to “good” activities like evangelizing and planting churches. Yet it’s bewildering in Acts 16 to see God actually forbidding Paul to preach the gospel if that means going in the wrong direction. While the Great Commission tells us to go into “ALL the world” and “to the ends of the earth” (Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8), God wants to direct us on how to proceed.

Myth #2: If you’re a very spiritual person, you’ll always get it right the first time.   

It would be hard to be any more spiritual than Paul, yet it wasn’t until the third try that he found God’s optimal direction for his life (vs. 6-8). That’s such good news for you and me. We shouldn’t despair if we don’t hit the bulls-eye at our first attempt to find the Lord’s perfect will.

Myth #3: The most important ingredient in church planting is good preaching.

Hey, I’m a preacher, and I certainly put a high value on good preaching. But if you read Acts 16, you’ll see that the secret to Paul’s success clearly was PRAYER, not preaching. He met Lydia (his first convert) at a place of prayer (vs. 13-15), and he was on his way to pray when he cast a demon out of the fortune-telling slave girl (his second convert, vs. 16-18). And the Philippian jailer (his third convert) was saved after Paul and Silas caused an earthquake through their prayers and worship (vs. 25-34).

I surely hope your church or evangelistic ministry has great preaching, but these illustrations demonstrate that prayer must be the foundation of everything else we do in God’s kingdom. Without that, our impact on people will be superficial at best.

Myth #4: If people are saying the right things, that automatically means they have the right spirit.

Oh, how I wish I would have understood this misconception earlier in my ministry! Many preachers, politicians, or church members say all the right things, but they are being motivated by something other than the Holy Spirit.

Look at what this demon-possessed girl was saying while following Paul and Silas day after day: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (v. 17). What’s wrong with that? Most pastors would have put her on the front row so everyone could hear her words of affirmation! But Paul discerned that her right-sounding message had originated with the devil rather than the Holy Spirit. Can you tell the difference?

Myth #5: If you’re in God’s perfect will, everything will always go great for you.

Believing this myth will bring tragic consequences, because it means you’ll also believe the corollary: If things AREN’T going very well for you, you must not be in God’s will. What a horrible, yet incredibly common, misconception. Even though Paul and Silas were following the direct leading of the Holy Spirit to minister in Philippi, the result was catastrophic. Their clothes were torn off, they were brutally beaten with rods, and they were thrown into prison, with their feet in shackles (vs. 22-24). All this happened because they were following God’s will!

Myth #6: Nothing good ever happens after dark.

Verse 25 says Paul and Silas received their breakthrough “at midnight.” I love that. Some of God’s greatest miracles seem to happen at our midnight hour—when things look the bleakest and all hope is gone. We may not be shackled in a jail cell, but perhaps we’re imprisoned to an addiction, a health problem, a mound of debt, or a toxic relationship. No matter what the situation may be, the Lord can break off our chains “suddenly” (v. 26).

Myth #7: God’s salvation is a fragile thing, easily lost.   

Paul later described his complete confidence that the One who had BEGUN a good work in the Philippians would also COMPLETE it (Philippians 1:6). Exactly how confident was Paul in God’s ability to care for these new converts in Philippi? In one of the most stunning plot twists in all of Scripture, verse 40 says that after meeting with “the brethren” gathered in Lydia’s house, Paul “encouraged them and departed.”

The “brethren” numbered just a handful of folks at this point, all of them new believers. But instead of staying to care for these converts, Paul and Silas left town! He entrusted them to their Heavenly Father’s care, believing that nothing would be able to separated them from His love (Romans 8:31-39).

Myth #8: Everything in God’s kingdom rises and falls on leadership.

I’ll admit, there’s a lot of truth contained in this statement, and I’m sure I’ve quoted it myself at times. However, there’s also a misconception here, because we’re often wrong about who is supposed to provide that leadership.

For example…

  • The Israelites could have panicked after Moses died and his unproven understudy Joshua was suddenly in charge (Joshua 1).
  • David’s family never considered him a worthy candidate to be the next king (1 Samuel 16).
  • All of Jesus’ disciples except John denied and deserted Him, and they certainly seemed to be a bad bet to lead the church and reach the world.

But the Church in Philippi is one of the most remarkable examples of God raising up unlikely leaders. In Paul’s opening greeting to the Philippians (1:1), he refers to the “overseers and deacons.” Isn’t that unbelievable? When Paul left Philippi, the church consisted of Lydia’s household, the slave girl, and the jailer’s family.

So where did the overseers and deacons come from? Did they get imported from some Bible college or seminary? Were they transplanted from the church in Jerusalem or Antioch? Certainly not. These were homegrown leaders.

My friend, what are you trusting in for the success of the church? Are you relying on the grace and power of God, or in the charisma and qualifications of the human leaders? Thankfully, Jesus is both the Author and the Finisher, so we would do well to fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:2).

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When Your First Options Hit a Dead End

Few things are as frustrating as hitting a dead end on some endeavor. This is especially true when you are well-intentioned and desirous of God’s will.

Yet this happens all the time. I don’t want to break your idealistic Christian bubble, but dead ends are sometimes part of God’s plan. Among other benefits, they teach us a lot about our character, as we either keep trusting the Lord or try to take matters into our own hands.

Abraham and Sarah hit a dead end in having a baby, and they ended up devising an ill-fated plan of their own (Genesis 16).

Samuel hit a dead end when trying to figure out which of Jesse’s sons should be the next king, but fortunately he waited long enough to discover David, the youngest of the sons (1 Samuel 16).

But I’m particularly struck by what happened when the apostle Paul hit a dead end during his quest to take the gospel to unreached areas.

When they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:6-10).

I don’t want you to miss how wild this brief story is. First of all, notice that the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach the gospel in Asia! The same Holy Spirit who energizes us to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) sometimes blocks our pathway in doing so. Why? Surely the people in Asia needed to hear about Jesus.

But sometimes God brings a dead end to our plans because there’s a better option.

Paul and his team proceeded to Plan B: preaching in Bithynia. However, the Spirit did not permit that well-meaning venture either.

“What’s going on here?!” Paul must have wondered. “I’m just trying to be faithful in fulfilling the Great Commission, but God keeps blocking my path.”

Exasperated, Paul didn’t seem to immediately have any Plan C in mind. So he went to sleep—a picture of entering into God’s rest. (Side note: When the Lord wants to do something really GREAT in our lives, He sometimes puts us to sleep so we won’t get in the way. See Genesis 2:18-23, Genesis 15:12-21.)

Plan C thankfully came to Paul from that place of rest and trust. He saw a vision of a man in Macedonia, pleading for him to come and share the gospel. Instead of just coming up with his own plans, this time Paul concluded that “the Lord had called us.”

You see, Plan A and Plan B could have been considered GOOD things, but Plan C was a GOD thing. There’s quite a difference!

Acts 16 goes on to describe how a powerful church was planted in Philippi when Paul followed God’s leading to enter Macedonia. I’m sure his initial frustration in hitting dead ends was replaced by great thankfulness when He saw the Lord’s amazing purposes unfold.

God’s plans are good plans, my friend. But sometimes you have to wait for Plan C.

Be patient. Keep praying. Keep listening. And you may also want to take a good nap.

 

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