So, What Are You Afraid Of?

When my friend Jacob recently entered the world of online dating, he found it to be a terrifying experience.

“Jim,” he confided, “you wouldn’t believe how different the dating scene is than when I was in my twenties.”

Jacob’s marriage of 30+ years had ended several months before, and now he was embarking on a mission he never expected: the search for a new wife.

Sensing his discomfort with the whole situation, I asked, “What are you so afraid of? Why don’t you just relax and enjoy the ride?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” he replied. “You just don’t understand…”

“OK, explain it to me then. What exactly is so terrifying about meeting new people and going on dates?”

Lots of things are terrifying!” Jacob said, clearly irritated that he had to spell things out for me. “Some days I’m afraid I’ll never find the woman of my dreams. Other days I’m afraid I will find the woman of my dreams, but I’ll mess things up and she won’t love me in return.”

“Sounds like a real dilemma,” I acknowledged.

As our conversation continued, it became clear that my friend was still hurting from his unhappy marriage and the rejection he felt when his wife left him. But I encouraged him that God had a plan and he shouldn’t give up.

“You’re still dealing with the grieving process, Jacob. That’s normal after what you’ve gone through, but as you trust the Lord in this, I know He will keep working to heal your heart.”

Just a few weeks later, Jacob called to say that my prayers for him must be working.

“Jim, I’m so excited. I found this amazing woman on Match.com, and she has agreed to meet me for coffee tonight.”

I told Jacob I was happy for him and asked him to let me know how things went on his big date.

Sure enough, my friend called on the way home from meeting this beautiful and successful woman he had found online.

“We talked for nearly two hours,” Jacob gushed. “It was going really well until we got to the part where we asked each other what we’re looking for in a partner.”

“That sounds like a fair question. So what did you tell her?”

Apparently Jacob gave this lovely woman a lengthy description of how he wanted someone faithful and kind…affectionate…loving unconditionally…never holding a grudge…grateful for the little things in life…and always glad to see him.

To his horror, she replied somewhat indignantly to his wish list, “It sounds like what you really need is a DOG!”

After I got done laughing at my friend’s plight, we ended up discussing the many benefits of having a dog while going through life’s transitions.

“You’ve got to admit, Jacob, dogs can be pretty cool. They’re low maintenance, easy to please, and they lick your face for no reason at all…”

Well, I probably shouldn’t have laughed at my friend’s anguish. But Jacob’s online dating experiences have given us some good opportunities to discuss two universal forces in life: FEAR and FAITH.

On the one hand, the Bible assures us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). However, that certainly doesn’t mean He won’t place us in scary situations from time to time.

Remember the shepherds in the Christmas story? (Luke 2:8-20) They were just minding their business one dark night when “an angel of the Lord” woke them up with a terrifying divine encounter.

The shepherds’ experience follows a pattern found throughout the Bible: First, God puts us in circumstances that cause our fears to rise, and then He comforts those fears by telling us, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10).

Isn’t that pretty funny?

Jacob and I have concluded that fearful circumstances are simply part of God’s healing process to REVEAL and then HEAL us of our fears. It’s all part of His love for us and His determination to uproot anything that’s keeping us from His BEST for our lives.

So the next time you sense fear rising in your heart, don’t shy away from it. Face it head on and recognize it for what it is: God’s plan to set you free from fear so you can enter into His highest purposes for your life.

Remember how the Israelites cowered in fear on the brink of their Promised Land (Numbers 13)? They didn’t realize it at the time, but their FEARS were actually pointing the way toward their FUTURE. Unnecessarily, they spent 40 years in the wilderness before they were willing to confront the fear and unbelief lurking in their hearts.

So, what are YOU afraid of today? It’s probably a clue to an important breakthrough God wants to give you in some area of your life.

Yes, you may want to get a dog too. But that’s only a temporary solution.

 

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The Funny Thing About Your Fears

Fear and faith. Two primal forces that significantly shape our actions, attitudes, emotions, and relationships.

Like oil and water, the two don’t mix.

Throughout the Bible, God tells people, “Fear not, for I am with you!” (Isaiah 41:10, etc.)

But here’s the funny thing about it:

I’m convinced God intentionally puts us into situations that expose the fears we’ve harbored in our heart. And once we’re in one of those terrifying situations, He then tells us, “Fear not!”

When you see this pattern, you might be tempted to think God is sadistic and cruel. Why else would He be so intent on revealing our deepest fears—just so He can comfort us and tell us not to fear?

The answer is that the Lord does this as part of our healing process. Unless our fears come to the surface, we’ll never confront them and allow Him to heal us.

The Biblical examples of this strange process are too numerous to list, but here are a few of my favorites:

  • At a time when Jacob was terrified of his future and on the run from his brother Esau, God took him to a dark desert where he had a stunning revelation of a ladder between heaven and earth. His fears melted away as he recognized the Lord’s awesome presence with him.
  • When Moses was 40, the Israelites rejected his effort to help them during their captivity in Egypt.As a result, he had to escape to the wilderness, where he took care of sheep for 40 years. Eventually the Lord spoke to Moses from a burning bush and sent him right back to Egypt, the scene of his previous trauma and rejection.
  • The most traumatic experience of Joshua’s life occurred when more than a million Israelites rejected his counsel and chose not to enter the Promised Land. When Moses died 40 years later, what did God do? He brought Joshua full circle to the very scene of his deepest fears—and commissioned Joshua to courageously lead the Israelites on the same mission that had miserably failed 40 years earlier.
  • Peter denied Jesus three times around a fire in the courtyard of the high priest. After the resurrection, God arranged the circumstances for Peter to again be around a fire—where Jesus told him three times, “Feed my sheep.” Three failures were erased by three statements of affirmation from Jesus.

So what are YOU afraid of? Years ago, I might have answered, “Nothing! I’m fearless and full of faith!”

Yet God has found ways to expose fears I didn’t even know I had. Fears of intimacy…failure…abandonment…loss…loneliness…financial lack…and countless other things.

As I look back on the difficult experiences I’ve faced along the way, I’ve come to realize an amazing thing about this process: I’m not nearly as afraid of those things anymore! Hey, the devil took his best shot, and I’m still standing!

If you are in a situation today that is revealing some kind of fear in the depths of your heart, I have good news: Faith can overcome your fears. And the healing balm of the Holy Spirit can cleanse every wound and calm every anxious thought.

So fear not, my friend. He is with you. And if you let Him, He’s going to work everything for your good (Romans 8:28).

But getting set free from your fears is a funny process, isn’t it?

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What Is That in Your Hand?

Jim preaching JPG

If you had just 20 minutes to prepare a sermon, what would your topic be? That was my uncomfortable predicament while visiting friends in Auckland, New Zealand recently.

My friend Rob was scheduled to preach at a Filipino church that Sunday, and I was expecting just to sit in the front row and cheer him on. I knew he was dealing with some health issues, but I always thought he would rally in time to preach.

But in the 20 minutes it took for his wife to drive us to the church, it became clear that I better get serious about giving the message. Up until that time, nothing was on my heart, but I suddenly got inspired by God’s incredible question to Moses in Exodus 4:2:

“What is that in your hand?”

When the Lord asked this question, the only thing in Moses’ hand was a crude shepherd’s rod. It wasn’t much. Just a piece of wood. An inanimate object. A tool of Moses’ trade.

God was commissioning him for the daunting task of delivering over a million Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And all Moses had in his hand was the wooden staff he had used for 40 years to tend his flocks of sheep.

Do you see how powerful this message is for you and me? Like Moses, we’re being called to do great things…supernatural things…things much bigger than we could ever accomplish without divine assistance.

Too often we think our problem is that we lack some important ingredient or resource for success. But notice that God wasn’t asking Moses to give Him something he didn’t already have. Instead, He asked Moses, as He is asking us today…

 “What is that in your hand?”

Moses had been carrying around that ordinary piece of wood for many years, and nothing dramatic had happened as a result. But after Moses surrendered the wooden rod to the Lord, it became “the rod of God” instead of merely the rod of Moses (Exodus 4:20). No longer a mere piece of wood, this rod enabled Moses to part the Red Sea, bring water out of a rock, and defeat enemy armies.

What is in YOUR hand, my friend? Money. Time. Possessions. Influence. Some kind of special God-given aptitude.

If you’re honest, the thing in your hand probably seems totally inadequate to meet the needs around you. However, you’ll be amazed by what can happen when you surrender it to the Lord.

Remember…

  • Samson slayed hundreds of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
  • David defeated Goliath with a slingshot and five smooth stones.
  • Jesus’ used a young boy’s lunch—five loaves and two fish—to feed thousands of hungry people.

So go ahead and give God what you’ve been holding on to. It’s not doing you much good in its present condition anyway, is it?

Don’t delay. Anytime you transfer what’s in YOUR hands into HIS hands, miracles happen. He will give you back the rod you’ve surrendered, but this time it will be infused with supernatural power to change the world.

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When You DOUBT What You KNOW

Not long ago, one of my good friends rebuked me. Severely rebuked me. We were having a discussion about some issues in my life, and he asked me if I was trusting God.

Being the honest guy that I am, I didn’t want to automatically give him the nice Christian answer. I wanted to give him the honest answer.

After taking a moment to ponder whether I truly was trusting the Lord in this specific area of my life, I admitted to my friend that I didn’t really know.

“But Jim,” he said, “you know the Bible as well as anyone. You know the Bible says God is faithful and trustworthy. I’m really concerned about you.”

Our discussion went downhill from there. Although I acknowledged that the Bible says God is worthy of our trust, I admitted that I was I was struggling to do so.

“After walking with Christ all these years, how could you feel that way?” my friend persisted.

In the weeks since our discussion, I’ve had time to process this question a little more. How is it that we sometimes DOUBT the things we KNOW?

That seems strange, doesn’t it? Sort of an oxymoron. If we really know something, how could we also doubt it at times?

Yet the Bible is filled with examples of people who doubted things they clearly knew or should have known. Sometimes the result of their unbelief was catastrophic, but at other times God seemed to answer their prayers and bless them despite their doubt:

  • Adam and Eve KNEW God’s goodness firsthand, but they allowed the serpent to sow doubts about God’s love and veracity (Genesis 3).
  • Abraham KNEW God had promised to give him a son by Sarah, and he famously BELIEVED that promise (Genesis 15:6). Yet he fell prey to Sarah’s foolhardy idea to have a child by their servant Hagar instead. The Bible still commends him for his faith, but his decision to opt for “Plan B” has had horrific consequences on the Middle East ever since.
  • John the Baptist KNEW Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and he boldly testified to that fact (John 1:29). But when he was thrown into prison by Herod, he began to have doubts. He had two of his disciples ask the Lord, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) How could a man who was such a bulwark of faith ask such a doubt-filled question?
  • The church in Jerusalem KNEW prayer was a powerful force, and that’s why they fervently prayed for Peter’ release from prison (Acts 12). But when their prayers were miraculously answered, it became obvious that there was lots of doubt mixed in with their intercession. They couldn’t believe it when Peter came knocking on the door—yet God had answered their prayers.

All of these are interesting accounts, and several of them are a counterbalance to the statement in James 1:6-8 that a double-minded person is “unstable in all his ways” and “won’t receive anything from the Lord.”

My favorite story about “doubting what you know” is found in Mark 9:14-29. A father had brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples, asking them to help the boy. However, they weren’t able to cast out the demon, so the father went to Jesus.

The Lord told this desperate man, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (v. 23). That’s one of the greatest memory verses in the Bible, isn’t it? Notice that Jesus didn’t just say SOME things are possible, but He said ALL things are possible if we simply believe.

How would we have responded if we were the father in this story? Some of us are so religious that we would have automatically given Jesus the correct theological answer. We would have assured Him of our great faith and told Him just to get on with the exorcism.

But this man was more honest than that:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24)

This worried father was certain that he believed. Yet he also knew that unbelief lurked within his heart, mingled with his faith. Isn’t this also true of us most the time?

Fortunately, Jesus answered his prayer and did help him with his unbelief. That’s certainly good news for us as well. Amazingly, when we come to God with an honest heart, presenting to Him both our faith and our doubts, He often will still work miracles.

So, what about YOU? Are you trusting God today? Do you need Him to help you with your unbelief?

You can be comforted in this: Whatever you may be going through, all it really takes is a mustard seed of faith to get the breakthrough you need.

 

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The Parable of the Too-Short Bed

I once inherited a bed that was too short. Ordinarily, it’s not a big problem if you have a short bed, because you can always dangle your feet over the edge. But this bed came with a troublesome railing that prevented me from exceeding its length.

So every night I huddled in an uncomfortable, contorted position, unable to fully stretch out or extend myself. This wasn’t quite a fetal position, but it had pretty much the same effect.

I wonder if I might be a few inches taller today if it hadn’t been for my years spent on that too-short bed.

But it turns out I’m not the only one who has faced such an experience. The prophet Isaiah describes exactly this condition: “You will be like the person in the proverb, who tries to sleep in a bed too short to stretch out on, with a blanket too narrow to wrap himself in” (28:20 GNT).

If you’ve been feeling restless lately, this may be the reason. Perhaps you’re trying to fit into a place you’ve inherited from someone else—a “bed” that is too small for you. Or maybe you’ve been like the frustrated baby who simply has outgrown his once-perfect crib. Or perhaps the doctrinal “blanket” that once kept you so cozy is now too narrow to cover your expanding insights.

You are not alone in your restlessness. But you can’t stay in that kind of bed…or try to cover yourself with that kind of blanket.

One day a group of men from Elisha’s prophetic team came and complained to him: The place where we live is too small! Give us permission to go to the Jordan and cut down some trees, so that we can build a place to live (2 Kings 6:1-2 GNT).

“One day” these men finally realized something that must have been simmering inside them for a long time. Their growth and fruitfulness were being confined by the place they had inherited. It once had been a wonderful and comfortable place for them. But now they had outgrown it, and they realized it was time to branch out and build a place of their own.

It’s interesting that these spiritual men felt they had to ask PERMISSION from Elisha before setting out on their new endeavor. Do you feel you need to get someone else’s permission before you can fulfill your calling in the Lord? If so, don’t delay!

As this story progresses, we see that these men had the wisdom to take Elisha with them on their journey to expand their territory, as Jabez likewise had done (1 Chronicles 4:9-10). Instead of rejecting their original place of covering, they were honoring it.

What is your story today? Have you outgrown a situation where you once thrived?

Take time to assess the bed you’ve been sleeping on…the blanket you’ve been wrapping yourself in…and the place where you’ve been dwelling. If you’ve been tossing and turning, cramped in a near-fetal position, it may be time for a change.

 

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If the World Didn’t Give It to You…

Several months ago, my friend Ron was ecstatic when he met the woman of his dreams at a Christian leadership event. “Jim,” he told me at lunch one day, “meeting Jill was magical…like a Disney movie or something.”

Ron went on to describe all the circumstantial evidence that God had brought this woman into his life. “I’m SO thankful to the Lord!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t have to go out looking for the perfect match. Nor did I have to spend hours on a bunch of dating websites or go on countless dates to find the right person. She was a gift sent from God, right when I least expected it!”

Since it’s hard to talk any sense into a person who’s so in love, I mostly just listened to Ron’s story. But he clearly was convinced this new relationship was heaven-sent, and his heart was definitely all in.

However, when I met with Ron a few weeks later, he was beginning to have some doubts. Although he was still crazy about the woman he had met, he was wondering whether she would love him back after she became aware of his many flaws.

“Jim, I need to lose some weight,” he said with a scowl. “Jill deserves someone who’s in better shape.”

As the conversation continued, Ron went on and on about all the other reasons Jill might reject him in the end. He questioned the size of his house, the make of his car, his wardrobe, and his income, among other things. He was beginning to conclude that someone of Jill’s caliber couldn’t possibly settle for a person with so little to offer.

Again I listened. The more Ron talked, the more I could see he was correct about his limitations.

But then an old Gospel song came to mind: “The world didn’t give it to me, and the world can’t take it away.”

Recalling Ron’s description of how GOD had brought Jill into his life, I said with a grin, “I think I see what is going on here. Although you were totally convinced that the Lord supernaturally brought Jill into your life, now you’re coming up with all sorts of ways YOU must work to hang on to her.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he conceded. “So what should I do?”

“Well, look Ron, if you weren’t responsible for bringing Jill into your life, then perhaps you need to quit acting as if you’ll only keep her in your life by your own efforts and worthiness.”

Ron looked down for a moment to gather his thoughts. “Jim, I see what you’re saying, but let’s be honest: There’s a real chance she will be disillusioned once she gets to know me better.”

“Very true!” I acknowledged. “But you have to go back to the question of whether God was truly the one who brought you together in the first place. If so, you can relax and be yourself. You’ve got nothing to worry about!”

Still rather exasperated, he replied, “Okay, man, I see what you mean. But what if we discover that God really DIDN’T bring us together?”

“That would be great too, Ron,” I assured him. “Then you can walk away knowing you didn’t initiate the relationship, nor were your flaws the reason it ended.”

At that point, Ron breathed a huge sigh of relief, as if an enormous weight had been removed from his shoulders. He said with a smile, “Wow. That’s awesome. I can just be myself and trust God with the rest. If He truly has brought Jill into my life, there’s no need for me to worry about losing her. And if it turns out He really hasn’t brought her into my life, I don’t have to worry about losing her in that case either!”

So why did I share Ron’s story with you? Because it’s a parable about several different aspects of our relationship with the Lord.

Were we saved by our own efforts? No! Our relationship with God began through His grace alone, on the basis of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). And just as we were initially saved by God’s unmerited favor, we can trust Him to keep on loving us all along the way. Thankfully, we don’t have to fear His rejection when He finds out more about us—because He already knows EVERYTHING about us. (Go ahead and breathe a sigh of relief!)

Ron’s story also reminds us that we can rely on God to keep things safe when we’ve entrusted them to Him. The apostle Paul said it this way, I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day”  (2 Timothy 1:12). Instead of feeling fearful and insecure, treating his relationship with Jill as if it were something quite fragile, my friend should have simply entrusted it back into God’s care.

Finally, what are we to make of Ron’s claim that Jill was a gift from the Lord? Well, the Bible clearly says, EVERY good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Isn’t that good news? Our Heavenly Father doesn’t vacillate. He’s not like a shifting shadow, bouncing here and there. Since He is the SOURCE of every good thing, we can also trust Him to be the SUSTAINER of every good thing. Wow. What an incredible relief.

So take a moment to ask yourself: Is there something you’ve been struggling to entrust to the Lord?  If so, remember: The safest place you can put things is in the loving hands of God.

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Gambling on God

Why Are So Few People ‘All In’?

I love the old maxim about risk-taking, “Behold the turtle. He only makes progress when he sticks his neck out.” Yet, when I look around, I’m concerned that fear is holding many people back from the necessary steps to make progress or have a significant impact.

My fellow baby boomers seem especially prone to this common trap. We took risks in our younger days, some of which paid off, while others were brought devastating losses. But now we find it all too easy to play it safe and hedge our bets.

If you’ve talked with any financial planners recently, they’ve probably advised you to limit your risks as you get older. Be safe. Be conservative. Hang on to what you have. Don’t be too adventurous in your investments.

But those same advisors will admit that you’re unlikely to receive a substantial return on those “safe” investments. Small risk, small rewards. No risk, no rewards.

The same is true about our spiritual lives. Remember Jesus’ story about the guy who decided to bury his assets instead of risk losing them? Sadly for him, he ended up losing them in the end anyway (Matthew 25:14-28).

No decision could be riskier or more shortsighted than to opt for a risk-free life. First of all, such a life is impossible to find, since there will always be risks along the way. And even if you somehow succeeded in eliminating all risks, your life would be incredibly boring and unproductive.

Several decades ago, God gave me a vivid mental picture while I was praying. I saw myself playing poker, and I had amassed a very large stack of chips. Suddenly, however, I pushed the entire stack to the middle of the table and shouted, “ALL IN!”

Hmmm… I can’t help wondering if I would still be willing to take such a risk today. Although I claim to be entrusting my entire life to the Lord, lately I’ve only been giving Him the chips I’m willing to lose. And while I’ve succeeded in minimizing my risks, my rewards clearly have diminished as well.

As a student of the Bible, I’ve concluded that we need to grasp a couple of important lessons about risk-taking:

  • If God truly has told us to do something, obeying Him doesn’t constitute a “risk.” Before walking on the water, Peter wisely sought and received a green light from Jesus. Things were going fantastic at first, as they always do when we trust and obey. Peter only ran into trouble when he took his eyes off the Lord (Matthew 14:25-32).
  • Often we must take a step of faith, even when we have no direct guidance from God or assurances about the outcome. I love the story of Jonathan’s plan to defeat the Philistines, despite his lack of resources and manpower. His message to his armor bearer shows a commitment to do “the right thing,” even though God hadn’t told him what to do nor promised him victory: “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6). What a challenging statement for those of us who want ironclad assurance from God before we embark on any endeavor. He doesn’t always work that way! Sometimes we need to “take a chance” on a noble venture, hoping God will come through for us.

After they each took a bold step of faith, Peter and Jonathan both received supernatural assistance. Peter had gotten direct encouragement from the Lord in his quest to walk on water. Jonathan, in contrast, trusted God and hoped for victory solely by virtue of his worthwhile mission.

When was the last time YOU took a significant risk, relying on God’s help? Like Peter, has Jesus been beckoning you to take a seemingly risky step, leaving the safety of your “boat”? Or do you find yourself in a situation more like Jonathan, where your heart says to take action, despite an uncertain future?

One thing for sure: You don’t want to be like the turtle who allowed fear to keep him hiding in his shell. If you’re trusting God with your life, you’ll need to stick your neck out from time to time. Your life will surely be more exciting and fulfilling that way.

The Bible is pretty clear that God prefers risk-takers to those who insist on playing it safe. Yes, when you take risks there will be some losses as well as gains. But if you ever start to sink among the roaring waves, He will lift you up again—and I bet He will even applaud your effort.

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Getting Beyond a Daisy-Petal Faith

In college I had a friend named Keith who came from a very legalistic church background. He believed you could become so “sanctified” that you’d never sin again—but if you did  sin, God would revoke your salvation in a mere moment.

I’ll never forget the letters Keith would write to me during our summer break. “Dear brother Jim,” he would begin each letter, “I’m happy to report that I am still saved.”

Wow. Although I’m not exactly sure what I wrote back to Keith, I probably wanted to say, “I’m still saved too…but I never doubted that I would be!”

Even though I’ve never met anyone whose views were as extreme as Keith’s, lately I’ve realized that many of us have a similar defect in our theology. We’re probably not worried about entirely losing our salvation, but we’ve adopted the subtle misconception that our Heavenly Father’s love and favor are as fleeting as a butterfly and as fragile as fine China.

Sorry for all the mixed metaphors, but perhaps the best word picture is the way insecure lovers sometimes peel off the petals of a daisy to ascertain where they stand in their relationship:

“He loves me…he loves me not…he loves me…he loves me not…”

Do you see how dismal this approach is in your relationship with the Lord? Yet that’s exactly what happens when you base your confidence in God’s love on the current circumstances in your life:

You got a raise at work? He loves me!

Your car broke down? He loves me not!

You received an unexpected financial windfall? He loves me!

You received bad news from your doctors? He loves me not!

Fortunately, you can stop this daisy-petal spirituality once and for all. Instead of continually wondering if God loves you or loves you not, you can simply believe what He tells you in His Word: God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

There are two primary reasons why this is fantastic news: First, God has already demonstrated His love for you through a past event—the death of His Son. This means there’s no longer any need to focus on your circumstances or peel off daisy petals to determine whether He truly cares about you.

Second, it’s important to notice that God didn’t decide to love you AFTER you cleaned up your act and got perfectly sanctified. Instead, He showed His love when you were still His enemy, living a life of sin and rebellion. Paul concludes, If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

This shows that God’s love for you isn’t based on your worthiness but on the incredible worth of what Jesus did for you on the cross. Quite a difference!

Does God love you? YES! Does He want to show you His favor and bless you? YES! Is His love dependent on some kind of perfection on your part? THANKFULLY NOT!

When you get rid of your daisy-petal view of God, you can finally REST in His love and mercy. Why? Because your relationship with Him is based on His grace “from start to finish” :

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! (Ephesians 2:7-10 MSG)

So are you ready to be showered with God’s grace and kindness? Then it’s time to throw away your daisy and believe His love letter to you in the Scriptures.

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The Excruciating Wait

As almost everyone knows, faith is an indispensable key to getting your prayers answered (Matthew 9:29). But when you look at the stories of men and women of faith throughout the Bible, you nearly always see another vital ingredient at work: PATIENCE.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’re clearly told it’s through “faith AND patience” that we’ll be able to activate God’s promises (Hebrews 6:12).

Yet waiting is hard. It was difficult for people in Bible days, and perhaps it’s harder than ever in today’s instant-gratification, microwave, fast-food and fast-everything culture. If we have to wait more than five minutes for our food at McDonald’s, we’re ready to call for a Congressional investigation.

But the waiting process is even harder when it seems to go on forever, with absolutely no signs of a breakthrough. And when the thing we’re waiting for is very important to us, the wait can be EXCRUCIATING.

No wonder Solomon wrote, Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Perhaps you’ve experienced that kind of painful delay at times. I certainly have.

However, we’re in very good company if we’re struggling to wait for God to fulfill His promises. Here’s just a partial list of Bible heroes who had to endure an excruciating wait time:

  • Abraham and Sarah had to wait decades for God to give them a son.
  • Jacob had to wait and work for seven years to win Rachel’s hand in marriage—but then ended up with Leah instead. Seven additional years of work were required by Laban so he could have Rachel too.
  • Joseph as a teen was given some vivid prophetic dreams about his destiny, but he had to endure excruciating years of adversity before his dreams were fulfilled.
  • David was anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel’s next king, but he wasn’t able to actually take the throne until many years later.
  • Martha and Mary asked Jesus to come and heal their brother Lazarus—but He seemed to arrive too late! Fortunately, Jesus not only was able to heal, He also could raise their brother from the dead.

Are you agonizing today about some prayer request that hasn’t been answered yet? Is there some longtime dream you’re waiting for God to fulfill? If so, don’t give up! Be patient, and avoid the temptation to take matters into your own hands, as Abraham and Sarah did in having a child by Hagar. Good things are birthed in God’s “waiting room.”

Earlier in this blog post, I shared Solomon’s observation that “hope deferred” can lead to a sick heart. Thankfully, the verse doesn’t end there. Solomon adds this great promise: “When the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”  Other versions say “a dream fulfilled” or “a longing fulfilled.”

This is fantastic news for all of us. Yes, our hopes and dreams may be deferred or detoured at times. But the excruciating wait will make the fulfillment all the more meaningful and wondrous.

Our patience will be rewarded. I’m counting on it.

 

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Ready for Your Second Wind?

“Second wind is a phenomenon in distance running, such as marathons or road running, whereby an athlete who is too out of breath and tired to continue suddenly finds the strength to press on at top performance with less exertion.” – Wikipedia

I meet lots of people who are weary today. Many of them are fellow baby boomers, who get tired more easily than in their younger days.

But weariness is an epidemic affecting people of all ages, and often it has little to do with physical stamina. The weariness is typically more emotional, spiritual, and relational than physical.

I’m referring to a weariness that goes beyond anything Starbucks or Red Bull can cure. Can you relate?

When that kind of weariness hits, it makes us want to quit…give up…throw in the towel…or simply curl up in the fetal position. As General George Patton once observed, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Marathon runners experience this. Usually around mile 20 they “hit the wall,” feeling like their energy has vanished and they can’t possibly run another step. There seems no hope of making it to the finish line at mile 26.2.

Yet long-distance runners often testify that something magical happens if they press on a little farther. Just when it seems the race has been lost, they suddenly get their “second wind.”

I need a second wind today, don’t you?

Some days I just want to quit. Other days I think I have just enough energy to sprint a little further until I keel over. But what I need is simply a second wind—energy enough to complete the race, all the way to the finish line.

Fortunately, Jesus understands that life is a marathon, and He offers a second wind to those who’ve hit the wall:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

Whenever I read this beautiful promise, I’m struck by Jesus’ offer to provide “rest for your souls.”  When my body is tired, I can simply take a nap or a vacation. Although those solutions may be helpful, they fall far short of what I truly need: rest and refreshing that penetrates all the way to my soul.

Another stunning thing about Jesus’ offer is that it’s not a 3-point or 5-point self-help plan, so common today in our sermons, articles, and books. Instead, it just has ONE central point, on which everything else depends: “Come to me…”

This promise of Jesus was foreshadowed by another great Bible passage about what we can do when we hit the wall and are weary of life:

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary…
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint
(Isaiah 40:28-31).

Notice that “even youths”—not just the elderly or baby boomers—“will become weak and tired” and “fall in exhaustion.” But the good news is that God offers us a second wind, “new strength,” when we cast our burdens on Him and spend time in His presence.

Too many Christians are relying upon the “wind” they received at their conversion, often several decades ago. No wonder we run out of steam when we do that.

What we need, instead, is a fresh infilling with the wind of the Holy Spirit. That kind of “second wind” will change everything.

———————————

I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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