Friday, March 24, 2017

The Cost of Your Excuses

Excuses. We all make them. We use them to justify things like why we can't lose weight, can't get out of debt, can't get that job we've always wanted and more. Robin Sharma said "excuses are just the lies your fears have sold you." Have you ever stopped to consider the reasons behind your excuses and what your life would look like if you stopped making them?

I want to share a parable with you that I hope will challenge the way you think about excuses.

What has God prepared for you that your excuses are getting in the way of?

A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, "Come, the banquet is ready." But they all began making excuses. One said, "I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me." Another said, "I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me." Another said, "I just got married, so I can’t come." The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, "Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame." After the servant had done this, he reported, "There is still room for more." So his master said, "Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet."
Luke 14:15-24
 I hope the last line of that parable shakes you up a little bit like it does me: "None of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet" Like the man who prepared the banquet, God has made incredible plans for each of us, but just like the banquet guests we tend to make excuse after excuse in our spiritual lives. We make excuses out of fear, laziness, lack of time, lack of resources, lack of confidence. The list goes on. But as we continue to make excuses, we continue to miss out on what God has for us.

For a long time I felt God calling me to be on my church's prayer team. I longed to stand at the altar and lift up people who were hurting and rejoice with those who were rejoicing, but I had more than a handful of excuses why I couldn't. Most of my excuses came from a place of fear. I argued that I wasn't qualified, I wouldn't know what to say, I was too young, no one would want to pray with me anyway. I justified my disobedience by believing that "someday" I would be spiritually mature enough. 

Despite my resistance, God continued to nudge me, despite his nudging I continued to make excuses, for over a year. Eventually I decided I would no longer ignore God's voice and I finally joined the prayer team. Throughout the first service my heart pounded, I couldn't relax, couldn't focus on the sermon. Even my sister who was sitting next to me commented on my nervousness. When it came time for the invitation, I stepped out of my seat and hesitantly headed to the altar and took my place next to people I considered much more qualified than myself. Immediately my fear was gone and I knew I was right where I was supposed to be. 

That's the thing about saying "yes" to God's plans for our lives, when we do, all of our excuses are made void. If it's time you don't think you have, He'll make it. If it's confidence you're lacking, He'll provide it. When you believe you're unqualified, He qualifies you. What I've found is that the things I excuse myself from are typically the things that God wants to use to stretch me, to develop me into the person He created me to be.

My questions for you today is what has God prepared for you that your excuses are getting in the way of?  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reflections on "The Shack"

God's Character

If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, "The Shack" is a story of a man named Mack whose daughter is kidnapped and murdered in a shack in the woods. After the tragedy, Mack struggles to overcome his feelings of unforgiveness, guilt and resentment towards God. In the midst of "the great sadness," he is mysteriously invited by God himself to come to the shack and it is there that Mack finally receives the healing he desperately needs.

This story can teach us so much about God's character and His relationship with us. Here are the things that God reminded my heart.

God Desires to be in Close Community with Us

When Mack arrives at the shack, he meets God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus. Together, the four of them spend the weekend like friends, sharing meals and good conversation. As I was watching the movie I was thinking to myself how amazing it would be to have a similar experience, to spend a weekend with God, face-to-face. I can see us sitting on the porch sipping coffee, taking long walks, just resting, Him patiently answering my million questions as I attempt to soak up all His wisdom. Just as quickly as the thought came, the Holy Spirit countered it by reminding me that we have access to that closeness with God every minute of every day. 

The nearness of God, it's the encouraging text from a friend who doesn't even know your situation. It's the racing of your heart as He nudges you out of your comfort zone into His will. It's the scripture that you "accidentally" stumble upon when you need it most. It's a gorgeous sunset at the end of a bad day. 

The thing is, God won't send us a hand written invitation in our mailbox, but He tells us "Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends" -Revelation 3:20. There is nothing God desires more than intimacy with His children. All we have to do is open the door. "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" -James 4:8.

God Knows Us

In the beginning of the movie, Mack explains to some new friends that "Papa" is his wife's name for God, but it's a little too intimate for him. Because of some pain from my past, I can so relate. The thought of God as a parent has always made me a little uncomfortable. Instead, I like to think of Him as a close friend. 

Understanding that Mack may feel the same in the midst of his self proclaimed failure as a father, "Papa" chooses to reveal Himself to Mack in the form of a woman. I love that! What a beautiful example of God's intimate knowledge of us. He created us therefore He knows us. 

"O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!"
Psalm 139:1-6

Life is Much Easier when We Accept God's Help

Just like Jesus tested Peter's faith by asking him to step out of the boat and walk on the water with Him, Jesus does the same with Mack. Later in the movie, Mack attempts to walk on the water by himself, but finds he can't. How often do we try to go at life on our own only to find ourselves sinking? 

From my experience, when I try to handle situations on my own, I find that my situations handle me. I get stressed out, easily offended, I lose my patience and I lose sight of the good around me. Mark 10:27 says "With man this is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God." It's the days that I allow Jesus to take my hand and walk with me that I find strength when I thought I had none left, patience even when I'm spread thin and joy in the struggle. 

"Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us" -Romans 8:37. Jesus takes Mack's hand, reminds him that things are much easier when they do them together and they take off on the water with ease. 

God Doesn't Highlight the Evil

If you're like me, as Mack headed out to the shack, you were assuming he was going to find out the details of Missy's death, maybe even meet her killer face to face. You were thinking, what will God say to Mack about the murder of his own father? But, as I think back on the movie, I realize that highlighting the evil in Mack's life was never Papa's intention. He tells Mack "when all you see is your pain, you lose sight of me." When we dwell on our past, our failures, our disappointments and our mistakes, we rob ourselves of the blessings that our pain can produce. 

2 Corinthians 4:8-10 says "We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies."

When we experience suffering in the this life, we can rejoice because we know that through our suffering God draws us closer, redeems us and makes us more like Him. God didn't invite Mack to the shack so he could relive the pain and suffering of losing his daughter. He brought him to the shack so He could reveal His glory through the suffering. 

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this movie, but if you haven't seen it I highly recommend it. It may be just what you've been needing to set your relationship with God on fire again.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Exposing the Lies of Satan with God's Word

God's Voice or the Devil's Lies

"Just do it, God will forgive you," you're smart, you don't need anyone's help," "fighting this battle all alone will prove how strong you are," "drink one more, eat one more piece, you will feel so much better." 

These statements and others like them have two things in common: they sound good, encouraging even, but they are lies. You've probably heard some statements like these echoing in your mind at some point and wondered whose voice you were hearing. Is it God encouraging you or the devil deceiving you? Satan will often whisper things in your ear that sound so close to God's word that you can't distinguish who is speaking. 

In 2 Kings 18, we find Judah on the brink of an attack by Assyria. Urging them to surrender, the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, sends a message to Judah, he says:

"Make your peace with me and come out to me. Then each one of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree, and each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern, until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die.” (2 Kings 18:31-32)

What caught my attention about this passage was that the promises King Sennacherib makes to the people of Judah sound oddly similar to some of the promises of God. Here we see Judah's enemy tempting them with lies that are masked with the word of God. So if King Sennacherib was clever enough to use this tactic surely Satan, who the Bible calls the "deceiver of the world," knows this trick as well. 

So what do we do? How can we distinguish the lies of the enemy from the promises of God when they sometimes sound so similar? When Judah's king, Hezekiah, received the message the Bible says, he went into to the house of the Lord and spread the message before Him. I believe that to distinguish God's voice from the lies, we must do the same. We must collect all the messages our hearts are receiving and take them to God in prayer and measure them up against His word.

Let’s practice doing that and break down King Sennacherib’s message to uncover some common lies of our enemy and see what Jesus has to say about them.

Our Strength is Enough

“Each of you will eat of his own vine, and each one of his own fig tree.”

Satan tries to convince us that we are able to sustain ourselves in attempt to separate us from God. He'll distract you from praying and reading the Word, deeming it unnecessary. He will fill you with pride to prevent you from asking for help. 

But, Jesus tells us:
"Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:4-5)

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” We weren’t created to go through this life alone, figuring things out for ourselves and relying on our own strength to get us through. We were created for constant connection to the vine, Jesus, whose strength is made perfect in our weakness.

We Can Satisfy Our Souls

“Each one of you will drink the water of his own cistern.”

The enemy will make us believe that the things of this world (alcohol, drugs, TV, social media, money, material possessions etc.) will fill the void in our lives. For a while, these things may help, but the problem with “drinking from our own cistern” is that eventually our cisterns will run dry and the things that once made us feel better will leave us feeling more empty than before.

But, there is hope, Jesus tells us:
“Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

I believe that we are all created with a God-shaped void in our souls so it's only when we turn to Him to satisfy our deepest desires that we experience true and complete fulfillment. 

It’s okay to stay the way we are

King Sennacherib promises that he will take Judah away to a land that is “like their own land.” 

Similarly, Satan tricks us into thinking that it’s okay to stay the way we’ve always been. We say things like “I was born this way,” or “this is how I’ve always done it” and we accept that because we’ve bought into the lie that how we are is how we will always be.

Jesus tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

When we become followers of Jesus we become brand new. Through Him our thoughts, words, habits, desires, our actions and reactions all change to glorify God. God wants to do something new in you; don't settle for staying the same.

Submission to the enemy gives us life

“Make your peace with me....that you may live and not die.”

Sennacherib promises to spare the lives of the people of Judah in exchange for their surrender. In the same way, the devil tricks us into believing that submission to him leads to freedom while submission to God leads to bondage. He'll make us believe that if we give our lives to God, God will take away everything we love: our non-Christian friends, our hobbies, our money etc.

The Bible reminds us, 
"This is eternal life- that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3)

Close connection with God will never leave us feeling deprived, left out or lonely. He is our comforter, our joy, our peace and the giver of true everlasting life.

Satan lures us in with God's words because even he knows the power they hold. Do you know that power? Commit yourself to becoming so familiar with the promises of God that you cannot be deceived.