Navigating Life’s Dead Ends

dead-end

I love the GPS on my phone. How did we ever get anywhere without electronic navigation to point the way for us?

However, my GPS has sometimes led me astray. More than once, I’ve found myself at a dead end, even after carefully following the GPS instructions.

Life is like that. Sometimes the journey goes smoothly, but at other times we find ourselves at a dead end we never envisioned.

There are various kinds of dead ends in life. Relationships or jobs may end. Dreams and ambitions may die. And old seasons of life must end before new ones fully begin.

Lately I’ve been thinking about some of the “dead end” stories in the Bible. They not only provide interesting lessons on how to navigate such situations, but they also illustrate that an apparent dead end may not be the “end” of the story at all.

ABRAHAM and SARAH

For decades, these servants of God had held on to His promise to give them a son. But as Abraham approached 100 and Sarah 90, they finally came to a dead end. Time had run out, for Sarah had been barren many years, and Abraham’s body was “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19, Hebrews 11:11-12).

What happens to your  faith when God has given you promises, still unfulfilled, but you’ve run out of gas on a dead-end road? If you’re like me, it takes a while before you quit relying on your own strength and admit that your own efforts are “as good as dead.”  Sometimes you just plain need a miracle, and that’s exactly what God did for Abraham and Sarah.

THE ISRAELITES

On several occasions, God’s people seemed to reach a dead end in their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. The first dead end occurred at the Red Sea, with the Egyptian army bearing down on them from behind (Exodus 14). Forty years later, they came to another impasse, when the Jordan River was at flood stage, seemingly impossible to cross (Joshua 3).

In both cases, God made a way where there seemed to be no way. But in each instance, a step of faith was required: Moses stretching out his rod over the Red Sea and the priests stepping into the flooded Jordan River.

These episodes are a great reminder that when we come to a dead end, the Lord will give us instructions for what to do. Instead of moaning and groaning about our circumstances, dead ends present us with an opportunity to listen for God’s plan in moving forward.

PAUL

Sometimes our dead end will seem likely to take the form of an actual physical death. Those who survive cancer or some other life-threatening condition often describe experiencing a new lease on life.

For example, the apostle Paul was so badly injured in Acts 14:19-20 that people thought he was dead and dragged him out of the city. But through this and other experiences, Paul discovered more of God’s amazing resurrection power, able to transform even the bleakest of circumstances:

It was so bad we didn’t think we were going to make it. We felt like we’d been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he’s the God who raises the dead!  (2 Corinthians 1:8-9 MSG).

Can you relate to Paul’s description here? He felt like he’d been given a death sentence, but instead it was a resurrection sentence! It turned out to be incredibly beneficial, forcing Paul to “trust God totally”  instead of his “own strength or wits.”

A Promise to You from God

If you find yourself at some kind of dead end today, these stories should provide great hope. Based on these Biblical accounts, reaching a dead end may signal that something WONDERFUL is about to happen! Why? Because when we come to the end of ourselves, we’re just at the beginning of supernatural enablement from God.

The Lord never promised us that life would always be easy. But He DID promise to be with us through it all:

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.
    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place,
    it won’t be a dead end—
Because I am God, your personal God,
    The Holy of Israel, your Savior  (Isaiah 43:2-3 MSG).

What great news! Even when it looks like “you’re between a rock and a hard place,”  it will no longer be a dead end when the Lord comes to act on your behalf.

Take time to ask Him for His instructions today. Then get ready to watch Him turn your dead end into a new beginning!

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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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The Cure for Bone-Deep Pain

bone-deep-pain

I once met a man who had become addicted to prescription painkillers.

“That must be terrible,” I empathized. “Where is your pain located?”

I expected the man to tell me about migraine headaches, pain in his back, or some other kind of physical agony. But, to my surprise, he took the conversation in an entirely different direction.

“Well, my wife left me a few years ago, and I’ve been really lonely. I’m also having conflict with my kids, and I don’t like my job. I basically hate my life and feel like a total failure.”

I wasn’t prepared for his explanation. What did any of those circumstances have to do with getting hooked on prescription pain medicine?

However, as our conversation continued, I began to see the connection. While some people become dependent on pills to alleviate their physical  discomfort, this man was desperately trying to numb his emotional  pain.

Perhaps you can’t relate to this. I hope  you can’t relate!

Yet here’s the sad reality for many people: There’s a kind of pain that goes far deeper than pain in our physical body. It goes to the very soul—to the core of our being.

I call this “bone-deep” pain, but it’s actually much deeper even than that.

King David seems to have been quite familiar with bone-deep emotional pain. While some of his psalms are exuberant and celebratory, many describe his deep internal agony, all the way down to his bones:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled…
(Psalm 6:3).

My life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away
(Psalm 31:10).

When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long
(Psalm 32:3).

Some of David’s psalms attribute his bone-deep pain to things like grief, betrayal, and the torment he frequently received from his enemies. But other passages, such as Psalm 39, acknowledge that some of his emotional pain was the direct result of his own sinful, foolish choices:

O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
For Your arrows pierce me deeply,
And Your hand presses me down.

There is no soundness in my flesh
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin
.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds are foul and festering
Because of my foolishness…

I am feeble and severely broken;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart 
(Psalm 39:1-8).

Fortunately, there’s hope for those who are suffering bone-deep pain. David goes on to conclude that God is with him and well aware of his turmoil (v. 9). Even though there is no lasting relief for such pain through prescription painkillers, alcohol, or illegal drugs, David has found the only source of true hope: “In You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God”  (v. 15).

David had experienced the incredible pain of internal torment, but that gave him authority to speak with great eloquence about the Shepherd who offers to lead us to a place of peace, safety, and renewed joy: “He restores my soul”  (Psalm 23:3).

Let those four beautiful words sink into the core of your being today: “He restores my soul.”  The Lord understands the severity of your pain, and He offers to penetrate—bone deep and beyond—to restore your soul.

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A Vision That Will Change Everything

sunlight

Have you ever had a time when you realized your perspective was totally misguided? Perhaps you saw a relationship incorrectly, or you misjudged the leadership of your church. Or maybe you sunk into despair as you read news headlines about your nation or the world.

I recently was challenged when I read the life-changing vision Isaiah had after King Uzziah died:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
  (Isaiah 6:1-3).

Uzziah had been a good king, but he had a rather bad ending (2 Chronicles 26). And just as today, the political changes in ancient times often made people apprehensive.

But Isaiah saw beyond the troubling headlines of his day to a much more important reality: The Lord  was sitting on the throne of heaven. He was high and lifted up, with a vantage point much better than ours.

Nothing on earth was going to change the majestic scene in heaven.

Lately I’ve been stunned by the angelic song: “The whole earth is full of His glory!”  I’ve read this over and over, even checking it out in various translations.

How could the seraphim declare that the whole world was ALREADY full of God’s glory?

If we could get a glimpse into heaven today, I’m sure we would hear this same song being sung. In the earthly realm, we see Democrats and Republicans waging war. Terrorists seem to be multiplying. The economy goes up and down. Racial tensions won’t seem to go away.

As an optimist, I’ve often cited Bible verses promising that God’s glory would one day fill the earth (Habakkuk 2:14, Numbers 14:21). But while my perspective has generally been limited to “the sweet by and by,” the heavenly creatures saw God’s pervasive glory as a present-tense reality.

Pause and consider how your life would change if you regularly sang the seraphim’s song. Wouldn’t there be a profound transformation if you realized that the glory of the Lord was filling your home, your office, your church, your community, and your nation?

And think about the new level of peace and hopefulness you’d experience if you believed—really  believed—that God was ultimately in control of the universe. No election can alter that fact. So let’s all take a deep breath and determine that we will entrust ourselves to Him, no matter what’s going on around us.

When Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne and recognized that His glory was already filling the earth, the political and economic news of his day suddenly faded in importance. And rather than setting himself up as a judge over the leadership changes around him, the prophet found himself repenting of his sins, humbling himself, and listening for a new mandate from God’s throne room.

“My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,”  Isaiah said (v. 5). A vision like that will change everything, no matter what is happening in the world around us.

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Daniel, the Blind Men, and the Election

blind-men-elephant

“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both,

before we commit ourselves to either.” – Aesop

I recently studied the life of the Old Testament prophet Daniel and discovered that he had lived under the reign of 10 different kings. That got me thinking about my own life…

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m so old that I was born during the final years of Harry Truman’s administration! Wow. That seems like ancient history.

Donald Trump will be the thirteenth American president in my lifetime. Some of our presidents have been good, some have been bad, but none have been perfect.

Somehow America has survived our very flawed leaders, and Daniel’s story has helped give me perspective and hope for our future.

The people of Daniel’s generation had no opportunity to vote on their leaders. Instead of being able to change the course of history through political campaigns, he had to trust that “[God] removes kings and raises up kings”—even rulers like Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Cyrus, and Darius (Daniel 2:21).

Rather than put his hope in any of these human leaders, Daniel took comfort in an entirely different kingdom. Even though he was greatly alarmed by events on earth at times, he came to see that “the Ancient of Days” would ultimately sit on the throne of heaven, ruling over an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:9-27).

Seeing the Big Picture

Our perspective on America’s recent election could profit from lessons in this famous poem by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887):

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

It’s no wonder this story has spread across the world in various versions. People find it fascinating that each of these men could be both right and wrong at the same time. They were correct about what they perceived, yet each of them had perceptions that were incomplete.

We see this principle at work all the time, both in politics and in the church. People tend to feel very certain about what they have experienced, and rightfully so. Those from minority groups are more likely to have experienced racial prejudice, and that is very real to them. Meanwhile, those in the white majority often have a hard time believing that racial discrimination is still much of a problem a full century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation.

We all have a limited view of the “elephants” in the room, don’t we? Smug about what we think we “know,” we don’t recognize that we can be right and wrong at the same time. As a result, we tend to adopt half truths, not realizing that the other half may be in error.

Unless we keep this principle in mind, we’ll be much too prone to attribute nearly messianic qualities to our preferred political leaders, willfully blind to their flaws. If you’re an American, I hope you voted in the recent election. But I also hope you did so prayerfully and with your eyes wide open.

God is the only One who sees the whole picture. Yes, we can experience more and more of the Lord as we read His Word and draw near to Him in prayer. But nevertheless, the Bible says, “we know in part and we prophecy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). In eternity, we will have a much fuller view of the elephant, but “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Although the fog of human events may often obscure this fact, someone is still seated on heaven’s throne (Revelation 4:1-2). We’ll find great solace when we accept His invitation to “come up here” and take a look.

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New Births & New Beginnings

skipping

On January 25, 1969, I experienced the miracle of the new birth when I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life.

If you’ve never been born again, the experience Jesus described to the religious leader Nicodemus in John 3:1-8, you’re really missing out—not just in this life, but in eternity as well. There’s no other way to become a “new creation,” where “old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

However, lately I’ve been meeting lots of people who’ve already experienced the new birth, yet now they need something else: a new beginning.

You’ve probably met these folks too. They tell you something like, “I got saved back in 1995, and everything changed.” However, the more you get to know these well-meaning believers, the more apparent it becomes that something’s drastically missing. Maybe Jesus forgave their sins and stamped their ticket to heaven many years ago, but now they seem stuck in a dreary, unappealing religiosity.

Other religious folks eagerly tell you about the day they got “filled with the Holy Ghost.” But although that may have been a glorious day, now you can’t help but wonder if their filling with the Holy Ghost somehow leaked over the years. The love, joy, peace, and other fruit that’s evidence of being filled with the Spirit is nowhere to be found in their life anymore (see Galatians 5:22-23). Perhaps it’s time for a Holy Spirit “refill.”

I’m not trying to be mean. But these observations are unmistakable and troubling.

The reality is that we all need new beginnings at various points in our lives. The Bible is filled with stories of mighty heroes of the faith who needed a fresh start at one point or another:

  • Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 when everything changed for them at the birth of their child Isaac (Genesis 21:5, 17:17).
  • Jacob experienced a new beginning when he saw a ladder reaching to an open heaven (Genesis 28:10-22), and then his life was transformed even more when he wrestled all night with God (Genesis 32:24-32).
  • Joseph suddenly went from the prison to the palace and became the Prime Minister over all of Egypt (Genesis 41:14).
  • Moses’ life was radically changed at age 80 when God spoke to him from the burning bush in the backside of the desert (Exodus 3:1-22).
  • Gideon was living in fear and self-preservation right before the Angel of the Lord appeared and commissioned him as a “mighty man of valor” to defeat the Midianites (Judges 6:11:24).
  • David desperately needed a new beginning after his adultery and murder were exposed (2 Samuel 12, Psalm 51).
  • Elijah was weary, depressed, and practically suicidal before God gave him a new purpose in life: mentoring the next generation (1 Kings 19:1-21).
  • Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road would surely be considered a new birth. But he later experienced several new beginnings too: when Barnabas got him involved in the church at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26) and when the Holy Spirit commissioned him and Barnabas to plant churches across the Roman Empire (Acts 13:1-4).

This is just a small sampling of the Bible’s stories about people who experienced a new beginning. If the Lord was willing to give these people a fresh start, don’t you think He’s able to give YOU one as well?

In the Gospels, Jesus triggered new beginnings everywhere He went. The list includes the woman at the well (John 4:1-30), the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11), Lazarus raised from the dead (John 11:1-44), Jesus’ discouraged disciples receiving new hope after cowering behind locked doors in the wake of His cross (John 20:19-23)—and many more.

Do you see the message here? Even though I’m thrilled if you’ve experienced the new birth, it may be time for a new beginning as well. The good news is that God gladly offers to provide one when we ask Him (Isaiah 42:9, 43:19).

That means you don’t need to live a purposeless life or remain stuck in quicksand. Nor do you have to flounder in a sea of frustration and hopelessness.

But let me be clear: New beginnings aren’t always easy and pain-free. You could be required to make a geographical relocation and leave friends and loved ones behind (Genesis 12:1-4). You may need to wrestle with God until your hip is out of joint, or He could totally reroute your life by speaking to you from a burning bush.

You shouldn’t t be surprised if you have to strip off some graveclothes, as happened with Lazarus (John 11:44). And don’t forget about Elijah if your new beginning starts in a cloud of depression while you’re having a “personal retreat” in a dark, damp cave.

Finally, let me ask: Has God already given you some instructions for launching your new beginning? If so, this is no time to procrastinate or be bound by fear.

You see… the best way to get a fresh start is to get started!  Even if you don’t know where the path will lead, today you could take a step of faith that dramatically impacts your future.

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When Your Life Grows Stale

potato-chips

I wasn’t prepared for what God spoke to me as I prayed with a friend recently. It was just a single word, with no explanation given or needed.

“STALE.”

I wish I could tell you that this word from God was meant for my friend. But I knew it was an arrow pointed directly at me.

Everyone knows what staleness is like. The cracker or potato chip that once was crisp and tasty is now bland and tasteless, somewhat like eating cardboard.

Ordinarily people simply throw things away that have become stale. “This product is past the expiration date,” they say, “so I’m just going to toss it.”

Dictionaries give lots of interesting descriptions of staleness: dry, hardened, flat, musty, stagnant, boring, tedious, or having lost novelty, interest, or freshness.

Have you ever become stale in some area of your life? Perhaps stale in your relationship with the Lord, your marriage, your career, or your ministry?

Unless the proper precautions are taken, things that once were tasty and appealing can become unpalatable and disgusting as time goes by.

Surely I’m not the only one this has ever happened to.

Thanks to The Message paraphrase, I have a Biblical reference on the subject of staleness. Jesus told the Christians in Laodicea:

“I know you inside and out…You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant (Revelation 3:15-16).

What a sad condition these believers found themselves in. Jesus said they were lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. They were existing at room temperature—pretty much like a corpse!

And when we become lukewarm, we inevitably end up stale and stagnant as well. Life loses its zest, and everything begins to taste like a stale potato chip.

Sometimes stale potato chips, crackers, or nuts can regain freshness when you put them in the oven for a while. In the same way, God has ways to make stale things fresh again. He can bring revival to your spiritual life and new vitality to your marriage, your job, or your dreams.

One day every bit of our staleness will be remedied by the one who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). But the good news is that we don’t need to wait until Jesus returns to experience “newness of life” (Romans 6:4, 7:6).

Don’t give up. You haven’t reached your expiration date yet. Today can be the day when your life starts becoming crisp and tasty once again.

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Are You Worshiping the Present-Tense God?

burning-bush1

I’m convinced that very few people know the present-tense God. Instead, we worship the God of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Azusa Street, or some other movement. Or perhaps we worship the God of Moses or the God of Peter and the original apostles.

It’s not all bad to worship these versions of God, because He wants us to appreciate our spiritual heritage and the amazing work He has done in people’s lives throughout the centuries.

For example, when God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He first introduced Himself as “the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”  (Exodus 3:6). It must have been comforting for Moses to know that this was the same God as his spiritual forefathers had served.

But worshiping a historical God will only take you so far. It’s like visiting the neighborhood a Person lives in, without actually meeting the Person. At best, it’s a secondhand faith, based on hearsay rather than personal experience.

When Moses pressed further to ask God’s name, the Lord replied, “I AM WHO I AM”  (v. 14). This is a powerful addition to the revelation Moses received about the God of history, worshiped by his forefathers in the faith. This was Jehovah / Yahweh, the God who comes in the present-tense.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly uses this same “I AM” nickname to describe His divine attributes. He declares “I AM” the living water…the bread of life…the light of the world…the door…the good shepherd…the resurrection and the life…the way, the truth, and the life…and the true vine.

And if you encounter the true and living God today, He will reveal Himself as the One “who IS and who WAS and who IS TO COME, the Almighty”  (Revelation 1:8).

Do you see how exciting this is? He says He’s the One who resides in the PRESENT, PAST, and the FUTURE—all at the same time. He’s the present-tense God, Immanuel, who is always with you (Matthew 1:23). But He’s also the God who can deal with the issues of your past and your hopes for the future.

These insights have profound implications for the nature of the church. Some denominations are almost completely locked in their past-tense heritage, with very little experience of the present-tense God. Other groups are so obsessed by end-times predictions about the future that they fail to grasp the powerful work the Lord wants to do in His people TODAY.

Today’s most exciting churches are basking in the joy of their relationship with the present-tense  God. Yet even here there’s a potential danger. The Lord wants us not only to know Him as the “I AM,”  but also as the God of our spiritual forerunners and the One who is preparing a triumphant future kingdom.

I pray you aren’t just living on memories of what God has done in the past, nor on hopes of what He has planned for you “in the sweet by and by.” He may not provide a burning bush to get your attention, but He wants you to know Him intimately and personally as the present-tense God.

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A Reboot at Age 80

Best is yet

Not long ago, my computer froze up. As I always do in such cases, I called the IT Department in desperation.

“Have you tried rebooting?” they immediately asked.

Doesn’t it seem like that’s always the first solution when your computer—or your life—gets stuck? You have to reboot in order to function properly again.

That got me thinking about my life these days. While many things are going great, in other ways I’m sure I could use a reboot.

But I couldn’t help wondering: Is a reboot even possible at my advanced age?

Fortunately, the Bible answers that question. Some of its great heroes were even older than me when God rebooted their life and gave them greater fulfillment and impact than ever before.

One of these leaders was Moses. He spent the first 40 years of his life growing up in the lap of luxury in Pharaoh’s palace. But after killing an Egyptian one day, he ended up fleeing to the backside of the desert, where he spent the next 40 years herding sheep.

By the time he reached 80, Moses had an uneventful, unexciting life. He was stuck in the wilderness, both literally and metaphorically.

Little did he know that everything was about to change…

In Exodus 3 the Lord suddenly appeared in the midst of a burning bush. This started out as a mere novelty but turned out to be an encounter that would transform Moses’ life forever. His mundane, ordinary existence was rebooted into something extraordinary and world-changing.

Although I’m not 80 yet, I can see it from here. I think I might be ready for my burning bush, and perhaps you are as well.

I encourage you to read Exodus 3 for yourself, but here are a few observations that might spark your own burning-bush experience:

  1. We all need fresh fire from time to time. Moses’ experience ignited new passion and vision in his life. But notice that this reboot was based on a supernatural experience, not just something Moses gained from reading a self-help book.
  2. God wants us to be on-fire for Him, yet without burning up. Moses was startled that the bush seemed to have an inexhaustible energy source (vs. 2-3). We live in the most burnt-out generation in history, desperately needing the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to fill our lives with new energy as we learn to abide in Christ (John 15:1-5).
  3. God knows our name and where to find us. After 40 years, it’s likely that most of Moses’ friends and family back in Egypt had lost track of him. But the Lord knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. In fact, his 40 years of taking care of sheep was Moses’ God-ordained training ground to prepare him for a much bigger task ahead.
  4. When God calls, we must make ourselves available. After hearing the Lord call out from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!,” the immediate reply was, “Here I am” (v. 4). We’re never going to experience much of a reboot unless we’re ready to listen to God’s call and be available for the new mission He has for us.
  5. If our new assignment is truly from God, it will almost surely be overwhelming.  The Lord told Moses he was being sent to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, where they had been in slavery for more than 400 years. What a daunting, seemingly impossible, task! Moses asked, just as we surely would, “Who am I…?” (v. 11). It took some convincing, but eventually Moses recognized that God was capable of giving him success in this incredible new venture.
  6. No reboot is complete without a new revelation of the nature of God.  We will never complete our mission unless we’ve had a genuine encounter with the living God. The Lord told Moses He was “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (v. 6). But that fact wasn’t good enough for Moses, nor will it be for us. Why? Because a reboot can’t be based on secondhand faith or a spiritual legacy from our ancestors. Instead, the Lord revealed Himself as the present-tense God, with a most unusual name: “I AM WHO I AM” (v. 14).

If you find yourself in need of a reboot today, it must start with a vital question: Do you have a present-tense relationship with God, or just memories of past experiences?  If you’re going to BE who He has called you to be, you must know He’s with you now as your great “I AM.”

Even if find yourself stuck today, hanging out in the wilderness for months or years, God is the one who can give you…

  • Fresh fire—supernatural enablement that will keep you from burning out.
  • A new and exciting mission—but one you can only accomplish with His help.

Someday you’ll look back, as Moses eventually could do, and you’ll realize that God had a sovereign purpose in every experience He’s brought you through. Every step of the way, He was preparing and equipping you for such a time as this.

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The Joy of Disillusionment

Disillusionment

If you’re feeling disillusioned today, you should be thankful. Why? Because disillusionment is an essential part of coming to terms with reality, which is the only way your life can be transformed.

We all need to be dis-illusioned from time to time—because that means being freed from our illusions. Dictionaries define an “illusion” as “a false mental image produced by misinterpretation of things that actually exist.” Until disillusionment has occurred in our lives, we’re walking in unreality, unable to experience authentic vision.

If you’re honest, you’ll admit that you’ve faced various kinds of disillusionment at one time or another in your life. Perhaps you’ve found yourself disillusioned about the goodness of humanity…the “happily ever after” of your marriage vows…your success as a parent…or God’s desire and ability to work out all things for your good. Or maybe you’ve been disillusioned about the Lord’s promises to heal you sicknesses or provide for your financial needs.

Jesus’ death on the cross was the most disillusioning event in history. His closest followers were devastated. After having high expectations during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (John 12:12-19), a week later they were hiding out in a locked room for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Peter and some of the other disciples even sought comfort in turning back to their old occupation of fishing (John 21).

The pain of disillusionment can also be felt in the words of the two disciples walking to Emmaus: “We were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Perhaps there was something that you too “were hoping” that failed to come to pass in the way you expected. Your “hoped deferred” has made you heartsick (Proverbs 13:12). But if so, be on the alert—Jesus may be right there walking with you at the very moment you’re complaining that He’s abandoned you.

God, in His painful mercy, will often strip us of false expectations. The disillusioned disciples couldn’t point to any promise Jesus failed to keep. Instead, their disappointment was rooted in their false belief that He would overthrow the Romans and set up an earthly kingdom. Until we are stripped of our own dreams, God can’t give us His dreams—which are far better!

God shakes our false hopes so He can give us a hope that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:26), hope that serves as an “anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Not only do the times of testing reveal our faulty belief systems, they also prove the faithfulness of the “heavenly vision” we have been truly given by God (Acts 26:19).

Disillusioned Dreamers

The pages of Scripture are filled with examples of men and women of God who had great vision, yet faced times of severe disillusionment. Moses, David, and Elijah were among those who evidenced great depression and discouragement.

Jeremiah once accused God of being unreliable and of deceiving him (Jeremiah 15:18). At another point he was so tired of persecution that he declared he would no longer speak the word of the Lord (Jeremiah 20:7-9).

John the Baptist had boldly declaring that Jesus was the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world (John 1:29). But he became so discouraged in his prison cell that he questioned whether Jesus was truly the Messiah or not: “Are you really the one we are waiting for, or shall we keep on looking?” (Matthew 11:3 TLB)

These examples illustrate an important lesson: If you’ve been disillusioned, you’re in good company! Disillusionment was experienced by David, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus’ disciples—and probably every Christian who has ever lived.

Recovering from Disillusionment

Although the Lord can dramatically appear and erase our discouragement in a moment, He often chooses to use a process. If you are currently facing the dark night of disillusionment, here are some important lessons that can speed your recovery:

Recognize disillusionment’s inevitability. You might as well not take your situation personally, for this is a condition that everyone will face.

Recognize disillusionment’s benefits. Since disillusionment is actually just the process of being delivered from our illusions, you might as well start thanking God instead of being mad at Him. Be glad that you’re being stripped of your illusions, because the truth will set you free (John 8:32).

Repent of the false beliefs (illusions) that have caused your disillusionment. The entire book of Job deals with the painful process by which Job was set free from false beliefs. Often our illusions affect a few key areas of our life:

  • Illusions regarding God. These illusions tend to be one of two faulty extremes: seeing God as our Heavenly Butler instead of our Heavenly Father; or seeing Him as a cruel taskmaster who is never satisfied with us or others.
  • Illusions regarding the Christian life or the church. Many people still cling to the clearly erroneous view that if we really exercise faith in God, we can cruise through life with no problems. And much of the disillusionment among Christians stems from misguided illusions they once had about how loving, sincere, and holy other believers would be.
  • Illusions regarding ourselves. If we don’t recognize the depravity of our hearts apart from God’s grace (Jeremiah 17:9), it will be a rude awakening when we finally face the truth of our fallen condition.

Even though God wants to deliver us from our illusions, He certainly does not want us to stop dreaming big dreams of faith. While illusions are false beliefs—idols of our own making—dreams of faith are God-inspired vision. Such dreams are an indispensable trait of any successful endeavor.

When are you too old to dream such dreams? Never! God promises, “In the last days…your young men shall see visions. Your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). This should be an incredible encouragement to us to never quit dreaming, for even old people are supposed to have dreams. Rather than becoming cynical as we age, God wants us to gain ever-increasing faith and vision.

Yes, our aspirations and hopes may be stripped for a time. We may well face the “death of a vision” we felt was from the Lord. Yet God is a God of resurrection. Even as He allows us to pass through the Valley of Disillusionment, it’s all part of His process to raise up an army of dreamers, not afraid to dream dreams and take bold steps of faith to extend His kingdom.

The pain of disillusionment can be replaced with a tidal wave of joy. How do I know? Because “weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5). If you’re currently experiencing a dark night of disillusionment, it doesn’t have to last forever. Joy is on the way!

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