The Mystery of God’s Will

God’s will is such a mystery. Who can ever fully understand it? Who can truly wrap their arms (or minds) around the greatness of His will or see completely everything that is contained within His heart? In our humanness, we certainly can not. God is sovereign and we are not. God is all-knowing and we are not. God has perspective that is limitless whereas we have boundaries and limited scope.

Ephesians 1:10 in the Bible confirms this: “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under Christ.”

Wait a moment…this passage seems to indicate that even though God’s will is a mystery it is something we can know. God’s will is defined by His character and nothing that happens will erode the character of God nor contradict His heart. God’s will is directly attached to his heart and His heart is most clearly seen in His Son Jesus. 

If you are trying to discover the will of God for your life, business, marriage or relationships then seek Jesus. Ask Him. Talk to Jesus today. He wants to reveal the heart and will of His Father to those He loves – and that is YOU.

Some Assembly Required

huffy-52-polycarb-portable-basketball-hoop-with-helix-liftA couple days ago I did something that I “swore” I would never do again.

My son Isaac turned 7 years old this week so Denise and I got him a portable basketball hoop as a gift. We got it on sale at Fred Meyer and then I put it in the back of my truck and we drove home. About a mile or two from the store it hit me. I yelled out loud: “What have I done? I just bought another basketball hoop and I’m now remembering what a cursed time I had putting the last one together!”

Denise and I laughed a bunch, but down deep there was nothing funny about the situation. I would soon be called upon to assemble the hoop and that was not a happy proposition. You see, we used to have a portable b-ball hoop up in Stanwood. When we moved we decided to not bring it with us – it had too much pain and suffering associated it with. You see, when I put that one together years ago (for another one of our children’s b-days) I all but lost my sanity. What started out as a nice “bonding moment” with my kids turned into a sweaty session of extended rage. The directions seemed to be printed in some indigenous African dialect and the drawings were hieroglyphical in nature. I couldn’t seem to control my rapidly dissipating patience and it was coming out on my family.

Suffice it to say, “The sun did not go down on my anger,” but it get pretty close to dusk when I completed the project. Sadly, it was too dark for the kids to even play with it that night!

So, now I had another assembly project awaiting and the memories of days gone by were haunting me. With resolve and a hopeful demeanor I began the process (and even invited my boys to join me). I’d like to happily report that two hours later the hoop was assembled. My limbs were still attached. My family still loves me. And I am still SAVED.

I wrote this on my Facebook status: “Just put a basketball hoop together for Isaac’s birthday and I am still saved.” I got a number of great responses on my Facebook page but the one that has had me thinking all week comes from one of my Bible College professors, Ron Williams. Ron has been a missionary, a pastor, a professor, a leader of our Foursquare movement, and a writer of biblical commentaries. Basically, an all-around brilliant man of God. He wrote in response: “Just like the hoop…never-ending eternal security.”

Now, I’m not wanting to debate the theological merits of “once saved – always saved” (eternal security) but I do have some observations that I think apply to us all today.

Difficult times seem to have an acute way of keeping us closer to the Lord.

God will often use trying situations to both reveal the character of our hearts and remind us of our intense need for a Savior.

Just like the hoop, we have a never-ending need for God’s salvation. He is available to us in our most difficult times. Look to him for assistance. Call on his name for help.

You see, tough times will come and go (never-ending hoop) but our God is so powerful. He is mighty to save.

I’d like to say that I will never assemble a basketball hoop again (or any other Some Assembly Required item). But I know better. God knows better.

Jesus & Liquid Love

Today I’m spending some time with my devotions (Bible, journal & reading plan) in a packed out FourBucks…um…I mean Starbucks. Many have come out from the drippy wet weather to warm themselves by the fires of a French Press and to drown themselves in Liquid Love. As I’ve been sitting here reading my Bible I’ve noticed many others around me doing the same. A gentleman in the corner just stuck headphones on his ears and has opened the Word. A group of gals next to me are talking about Scripture, praying for one another and sharing life together. This is reflective of only one coffee shop/gathering point amongst many in our community (we are in the Pacific Northwest right?). Imagine us turning homes, workplaces, cafeterias, classrooms, etc into sanctuaries all throughout our community at various times throughout the days of the week. Imagine hundreds of us linking our hearts and minds around passages of Scripture while asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word of God to us individually and collectively.

All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

As we read God’s words, we begin to see how God responds to things. Doing daily devotions re-patterns the way we think and transforms the spirit of the mind. Then when we face similar situations as Jesus did, we begin to respond in the same way. We begin to understand that His words always build, strengthen, affirm, and give life.

Journaling is an excellent way to both record and process what God has spoken to us. It’s also a useful tool to use at a later time, to reflect on and review some of the ‘gems’ that you have received. Without writing them down, you may forget those blessings and some very important lessons! And while journaling is a very personal time with the Lord, you may want to share some of your daily journaling with your small group or mentors. Through discussion, you may be able to look deeper into what God is speaking to you, gain new insight and even encourage others.

You’ll need three items: a Bible, a pen/pencil and a journal. There are many journals you can purchase at a bookstore or a plain notebook will do. The West Salem Foursquare Life Journal is handy because it offers “how to journal” instructions to help you get the most out of your daily readings and devotions. There’s a section for special prayer requests where you can record the day you began praying and the day God answered your prayer. It also has a Through-the-Bible Reading Plan, using daily scripture readings from the old and new testaments to guide you through the entire Bible in just one year. Life Journals may be purchased at West Salem Foursquare. You can also use our online daily devotional at www.wsfc.org .

Next, set aside a certain time in your schedule each day and find a quite place where you’re not likely to be distracted. Many find peaceful meditation sites in nature, by the beach, in the back yard, or in a favorite lawn chair. It’s not important when you do your devotions, but that you make it a very important part of your day. Give God the best part of our day, whatever time that is. For morning people, it’s a great way to start your day. For others, it’s 20-minute lunchtime appointments with Jesus. For the night owls, it’s the final act of the day, the time to quiet their hearts and hear God’s voice.

Now what? Who talks first, God or me? One way to do your devotions is to follow the simple acronym, S.O.A.P., which stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer.

S for Scripture
Open your Bible to the reading found under today’s date of your Bible bookmark. Take time reading and allow God to speak to you. Highlight, underline or place a mark in the margin of your Bible, next to the scriptures that stand out. When you are done, reread the Passage you marked, look for one that particularly spoke to you that day, and write it in your journal.

O for Observation
What do you think God is saying to you in this scripture? Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal Jesus to you. Paraphrase and write this scripture down in your own words, in your journal.

A for Application
Personalize what you have read, by asking yourself how it applies to your life right now. Perhaps it is instruction, encouragement, revelation of a new promise, or corrections for a particular area of your life. Write how this scripture can apply to you today.

P for Prayer
This can be as simple as asking God to help you use this scripture, or it may be a greater insight on what He may be revealing to you. Remember, Prayer is a two-way conversation, so be sure to listen to what God has to say! Now, write it out.

If this seems a little overwhelming, take it slow and keep it simple. No matter how you decide to do your devotions, the important thing is to show up for your daily appointment, because God is always waiting for you!

Curiously Strong

altoidsI’m kind of a Altoids freak. You know: The Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Mints.

Since 1780 these little white explosions of freshness have been doing a good work on behalf of all humanity. Perhaps they have saved marriages from pesky morning breath. Undoubtedly conversations have been redeemed from chronic oral malodor. Certainly many a social train-wreck has been averted just with the proper application of these tiny “habitual halitosis helpers”.

My appreciation for Altoids (frankly, all manner of breath mints) began while pastoring my first youth group in California. Each week one of my youth leaders would come up to me after I preached an impassioned message and she would hand me a couple mints or a stick of gum. At first I didn’t think much of it. I would say, “Thanks,” then pop it in my mouth and go about with my interactions with young people. Then a started to pick up a pattern. It was happening every week. Finally I asked the question: “Hey, do I really need this?” Her response was clear and concise: “Yes, John…you do.” It wasn’t so much the wording but rather the corresponding look in her eyes that alerted me to the gravity of the situation.

I was 20 years old and I quickly became very, very active in this silent war. Sadly, I wish I would have enlisted for battle years earlier: in my early teen years. Without question, it would have greatly improved my dating potential!! Now I know why I pretty much leaned against the wall during my entire Homecoming Dance!

Over the years I’ve found that my relationship with Jesus can sometimes get stale and a bit lifeless. It looses some of its minty freshness, per se. Now, first off let me say: this is normal. Every Christian goes through highs and lows. Like in marriage, our relationship with Jesus will sometimes experience morning breath. This is part of growing closer to the Lord. If we think that Christianity is all “a bed of roses” and that we’ll never have problems or struggles then our biblical understanding is incomplete.

But when our relationship with Jesus becomes less than fresh are there some things we can do? Yes, there are. I’ve discovered a few principles that have helped “freshen up” my Christian life. These ideas are small but curiously strong.

Look for the Evidence of God…
Take a quick look around you. God is at work everywhere. Romans 1:20 tells us that, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen.” Don’t miss the evidence of God. He is not dead. He is alive and well and doing amazing things all over the world (and in your neighborhood!). If you’re finding yourself becoming less than fresh in your Christianity, then commit yourself for the next 10 days to actively look for the handiwork of God. It’ll be like a Binaca Blast to your soul.

Pray in the Fullness of the Spirit…
Years ago I asked a mentor and friend to tell me what he does to keep his relationship with Jesus vibrant. He didn’t hesitate: “I pray in the Spirit for an hour a day.” Wow. Now, don’t get tripped up on the whole “hour thing,” but rather be captured by the potential of the kind of freshness you can experience as you suppress the flesh and feed the spirit. One of the great resources available as a byproduct of the Spirit-filled life is spiritual language (tongues). I am grateful for this gift. When I’m feeling stale in my relationship with Jesus I have the Spirit-infused blessing of praying in my spiritual language. I encourage you to seek the giver of the Spirit (Jesus) and for the next 10 days to spend a few moments praying in the fullness of the Spirit.

Observe the Uniqueness of People…
Something that really charges me up is to simply sit and watch people. Watch how they interact. See how they respond to situations. Make notes about their mannerisms and demeanors. When I spend a few moments each day just observing people it does something refreshing to my relationship with Jesus. I think this is why we are to be in community and why we are not to forsake the gathering of the church. God knows that we need one another and he knows the ill effect it has on our spiritual growth when we separate ourselves from people. So for the next 10 days make a conscience effort to lift your gaze and see the uniqueness of those around you.

These are just three of many potential ways to freshen up your spiritual life. Are there other ways that you’ve discovered?

Spirit Formation

I wish I could show each of you the journals, napkins, and scraps of paper. Everything was memorialized in Mead notebooks and gathered in Peechee folders (you’d have to be born before 1985 to know what those are!). What was captured in print became a testimony to the grace of God and the power of the Spirit in my young life.

What I’m referring to are a pile of songs and poems written down during my teenage years in Wisconsin. Dozens and dozens of lyrics, rhymes and scripture to song – many of which will never see the light of day but sure were key to my spiritual formation.

I wasn’t trying to be the next Poe, Thoreau or even Bono. I was just responding to what was wildly stirring in my heart shortly after
having an amazing encounter with the Holy Spirit at summer camp.

And oddly, I didn’t connect the two experiences together until years later when I compared the date of when I was baptized with the Holy
Spirit to the date of the first song I wrote. They were in the same month and year. Something unlocked in me in the summer of 1983. Something radically shifted. Something supernatural unfolded and it affected everything! Not only did I begin to write songs and poetry but I was worshiping more passionately (less embarrassed), sinning
less (just a tad!), loving my parents and brother better (you can ask them), serving more aggressively and telling others about Jesus with
more intention.

Now let’s be clear: I was a Christian. Loving God and growing. Going to heaven without a question. But…what happened on that August evening was a distinct moment subsequent to salvation. I was baptized with the Holy Spirit according to promise of Jesus as described in the pages of the Bible. I couldn’t explain it fully but I knew I was different: empowered and passionate.

The dusty, wide-rule notebooks don’t lie. They may be stained with ink, sweat and…time, but they are still breathing with life and vitality, joy and love, questions and answers. The Spirit breathed into those pages and He continues to breathe into us today. Let’s open our hearts together (like blank journal pages) and see what the Spirit freshly imprints upon us. I believe it will mark us…form us…change us…forever.

Evidence of the Kingdom

Today’s Scripture: Luke 17:20,21“The Kingdom of God doesn’t come with your careful observation or will people say, ‘Here it is’, or ‘There it is’, because the Kingdom of God is within you.”

So often we try to get to the exact location of a particular event or experience. People make trips to Graceland to get immersed in all-things Elvis (even though he’s currently a waiter at Denny’s outside Rockford, Illinois – I saw him there!). Others want to get back to the home they grew up in. Still others travel around the world to visit holy sites such as Israel, Mecca or Lambeau Field (Green Bay Packers, of course). In all these place, and so many others, there is a sense of the significant, an awareness of awe-ness. We like to be in places such as these – we like to be where something great has happened or, better yet, where something great IS happening. Especially when this involves GOD.

Hey look: “God is really moving HERE!” Check it out: “God is doing something THERE!” We are people that like to pinpoint the activity of God. But Jesus says that the Kingdom of God cannot be isolated or pigeon-holed. He says it is within us (or more accurately translated among us. It permeates. It encompasses.

Don’t look so much for the epicenter of the Kingdom of God. Look for the evidence.

God in a Nutshell

SCRIPTURE:
“The god who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples built by hands…” Acts. 17:24
OBSERVATION
Paul walked into a unique situation in Athens. Everything was foreign both to him, as well as to the people of that region. To them Paul’s teachings were new (17:19) and strange (17:20). Paul was brought before different groups and had to endeavor to impress them with wise words and lofty concepts – basically fodder for their debates.
The Athenians liked to get all their ducks in a row. That is the way ‘religion’ works – make sure every base is covered and every altar inscribed (17:23). Total Religion.
Paul identified this right away. Therefor his words to them are non-stereotypical, about life and movement and a God that cannot be contained.
APPLICATION
The risk for me in this next season is to try to put a label on everything – to categorize each and every thing, ministry and event.
In a nutshell…to get God and his work…well…into a nutshell! But he does not contain himself in temples. He has determined where we, his people, should live (17:26) but refuses to be confined himself – that would be religion.
With God, we can know where we are but in that place be so free to ‘live, move and have our being (17:28).
PRAYER
My heart and prayer is that i would let you God be God. My human hands cannot really help you – you are fully capable on your own. So, in my efforts to wrap my self around new leadership challenges I must so completely rely upon you oh God – I am your offspring (17:28). You animate my life, giving it movement and purpose. Thank you Father.

Careful Investigation

“Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning…so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:3

Luke took from reports and eyewitness accounts in order to assemble his orderly document regarding the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It’s just like a doctor to document the entire history – birth, early days, and maturation in order to establish a background for this miracle-working Messiah. We are grateful for Luke’s diligent approach to scripture – he provided for us a systematic, clear account of Jesus’ ministry.

We are called to be “Luke” today – to carefully investigate and orderly communicate so that others can be certain of what they are being taught. The Apostle Paul challenges Timothy to be diligent in these matters: to watch life and doctrine closely – to persevere so that both self and the hearers will be saved. He goes on to exhort Timothy to ‘correctly handle the word of truth’ Our high call is to preach the word…but that preaching must be carefully investigated and diligently communicated.