The Promises of God We Don’t Want

We love to claim God’s promises in scripture — at least some of them. Some we prefer not to think about.

Some promises — we might call them “consequences” — are promises that come as the result of our bad choices.

This topic comes to mind because of Friday’s Executive Order by the President stopping the refugee program for 120 days and severely crippling it thereafter.

Never mind that America is built on immigration; or that most economists say immigration is good for our economy; or that refugees have hadfence-978138_1280 little to do with domestic terrorism. It’s true that three Americans have been killed by refugee terrorists — they were from Cuba back in the 1970s, before the Refugee Act of 1980 created systematic entry procedures. Targeting refugees, which the State Department already describes as the “most highly scrutinized” and “most vigorously vetted” path to entering the US, is like fixing a dripping faucet while a broken pipe pours gallons of water into your kitchen.

But let’s assume everything in that last paragraph is wrong. If Christians are going to claim the Bible as the ultimate authority on how we are to live our lives, none of that is as important as the teachings of scripture.

What does the Bible teach about immigration and refugees in particular? A 2015 Lifeway Research survey determined that only 12% of Evangelical Christians consider scripture to be the primary influence on their view of immigration.

I can make a Biblical case for protecting our country and our families. But that isn’t a strong theme in scripture. It’s a stronger theme that God will defend those who are committed to His purposes. One of the strongest of those purposes is care for the most vulnerable (widows, orphans, homeless, and foreigners) and especially those who are victims of injustice — e.g. refugees.

In case this isn’t clear, refugees are those who have left their home country because of “a credible fear of persecution based on race, religion, political opinion, national origin, or social group.” You’re not a refugee because you want to find a better place to make a living, or because there was an earthquake in your home country. You are a refugee because of a credible fear of injustice.

Here are just a few of the hundreds of verses that apply to refugees:

Deut 10:19 Love them
Deut 14:28-29 Use tithes to bless them
Deut 31:11-12 Assemble with them to listen to God’s Word
Deut 16:11 Celebrate God’s blessings with them
Deut 24:19-20 Take care of their physical needs
Deut 27:19 Cursed is he who distorts the justice due them
Eze 22:29-31 God’s wrath on those who wrong them
Zech 7:10-13 God won’t listen to those who oppress them
Mal 3:5 God’s swift judgment against those who turn them aside
Isa 58 promises God’s blessing when we stop seeking our own pleasure to bring them into our own homes and care for them.

So we get to choose — individually and as a nation — which promises of God we want to experience.

God is faithful to deliver on His promises.  Like it or not.

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Maximum Productivity

Genuine productivity is not about getting as much done for God as we can manage. It is doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day.

Alan Fadling, An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest (pg 54)

One great equalizer is the 24 hours we each get each day. Nobody gets more, nobody less. God’s not in the habit of rewarding the more productive among us with an extra hour or two.

God knows we all need time for a range of activities like social interactions, intellectual stimulation, exercise, rest, spiritual disciplines (e.g. prayer, scripture meditation & study, silence & solitude), serving others, supporting our families, and whatever else He calls us to.

So answer this: Does God ever expect anything of us that He doesn’t give us the resources to accomplish?

If you agree with me that the answer is “no”, why is time management the number one question people ask me for help with? Nearly everyone I know behaves as if God has given us more to do than He has given us time for.

I believe the solution for “not enough hours in a day” is to spend more of those hours in highly productive stillness. If we spend more time like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10:38-42) instead of being busy like Martha, we will know how God wants us to spend our busy hours instead of doing what we (and others) think is important. Then when it’s time to work, we can do it with gusto, knowing we’re doing the right stuff.

Be still and know that I am God. (Ps 46:10)

It’s not just slowing down to hear what God wants us to do. It’s slowing down so God can reveal to us Who He Is. We should work hard first at seeking God…even if that hard work takes the discipline of “doing” less.

God doesn’t award us extra hours, but He does multiply or minimize the outcome of our effort. Consider what God says to the disobedient Israelites in Haggai 1:

You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes…You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away.

Compare that to the promise of Malachi 3:

…put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts.

You choose: Haggai or Malachi?

Seek God with your best hours, and let Him multiply the fruit of the rest.

What Are You Wired For?

God has gifted every one of us with certain traits, talents, and desires. We have a responsibility to use that wiring for God’s pleasure.

But I’ve come to realize that one reason God may have wired me certain ways is to give me the opportunity to worship Him by doing the hard things that go against my natural wiring.

Here’s an example: I’m an introvert. I’m energized by solitude. God made me that way and I don’t expect or desire for that to change (despite living in a culture that tends to place higher value on extrovert characteristics). But rather than using that wiring as an excuse for not doing things I don’t want to do, I’m learning to do God-honoring things that aren’t natural for me because I believe God is pleased with my hard work for His glory. Introverts aren’t exempt from the many scriptures that tell us how to interact with one another, to proclaim the wonders of God’s work in our lives, or to share our faith with others. It may be harder work for us, but our disciplined obedience glorifies God more than the same acts would if we could do them effortlessly. The same rule applies to extroverts who may need disciplined obedience to learn to value waiting in solitude and silence as scripture teaches.

I always thought it would be a great blessing if I were to sit down at a piano and have God miraculously give me the ability to worship Him without me spending years practicing and developing the skills. But I realize that would be an example of God blessing me — the long hours of disciplined hard work I would have to spend to develop those skills to worship Him would be my blessing to God, i.e, an act of worship.

So by all means, we should use the way God has wired us to glorify Him. But our specific wiring isn’t an excuse to not do what doesn’t come easily. It provides an even greater opportunity to glorify Him as we do the hard stuff.

Persecution vs. Discipline

Until a week ago, I would have described what ISIS is doing to Christians in Iraq as persecution of the church. The pastor of a church in the Kurdistan region of Iraq convinced me otherwise. Certainly ISIS is doing plenty of evil, but as their actions pertain to the church, consider this perspective:

Persecution is what happens when Christians are on mission and accomplishing God’s purposes on earth. Discipline is what God does to those He loves enough to correct their behavior when necessary.

According to this Iraqi pastor, the church in Iraq was not on mission, but apathetic toward God’s call to reach the Iraqi people with the Gospel. As often happened in the Old Testament, God is using those intent on evil to awaken His people and cause them to realign themselves with His priorities. The hardships they are enduring is strengthening the church and equipping them for a great movement of the Gospel deep in the heart of Islam.

The typical story we heard over and over from those who have been displaced is that ISIS gave them thirty minutes to get out of town, join ISIS, or be killed. Why give them thirty minutes to flee? That doesn’t sound like the tactic of Islamic extremists unless they are constrained by the hand of God. Nearly two million people have been given a second chance.

2015-01-26 18.47.20
Home group meeting by the light of a single bulb powered with electricity provided by a Muslim neighbor

Over a million Christians have left Iraq. Our pastor friend equates these to Jonah fleeing from delivering the message God gave him for the people of Ninevah. Many of those who have relocated within Iraq are renewing their commitment with a vision for returning to Mosul and other towns and villages once ISIS is pushed back. They are gaining the skills and strength now to launch a church planting movement throughout Iraq. Mosul, by the way, is the geographic location of Ninevah in Jonah’s day.

Will this move of God succeed? Because God has given us stewardship over this planet and chooses to work through us, it may depend on whether the church in America and around the world stands with our Iraqi brothers and sisters to strengthen, equip, encourage, and most of all pray for them.

While in Iraq, we met with the Kurdistan Director of Religious Affairs. He indicated that even if they successfully push back ISIS in Iraq, they expect to see another million refugees come their way, many from Syria. Their struggle with trying to help these refugees is exacerbated by the fact that Baghdad has no budget to help and Kurdistan’s economy is being severely hurt by the drop in oil prices. Remember that the next time you fill up your gas tank. Perhaps the blessing God is giving you with lower gas prices is one He would have you pass on to meet basic life needs of our Iraqi brothers and sisters.

If you want to participate financially, you can give through http://www.grace4iraq.com.

God’s Supply Chain Problem

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?

1 John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We can read verses like that, or we can choose to live verses like that. And so it is that I’m writing this from an airport in the Middle East, awaiting the last leg of my flight to Iraq in a few hours. We have brothers & sisters in Iraq who have been forced from their homes, often with nothing but the shirts on their back because of their faith. Many have been slaughtered for refusing to denounce Jesus.

iraqmap_300Meanwhile, God has blessed American Christians with a wealth of resources. We mistakenly think God has blessed us so that we can live out our lives in safety and comfort (that’s how we like to define the “peace” God promises us). But even as God blessed Abraham and his offspring to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen 28:14), God gives us our blessings so that we can pass them on to others. However, it seems God has a supply chain problem:  He manufactures the blessings and gives them to us to distribute, but we consume them for ourselves instead of passing them on.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go to Iraq (or other places where people are in need). Not everyone has financial resources to give. But everyone can pray, everyone can care, everyone can look for opportunities to meet needs in Jesus’ Name. As you intentionally seek to be used by God to meet needs, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities.

Take inventory of the blessings you’ve received and consider whether you’re part of God’s supply chain problem or are using those blessings for God’s glory by passing them on to others.

 

Old Lessons, New Applications

One of the biggest advantages of this blog is that I can go back and revisit lessons I’ve theoretically learned and remind myself to apply them to what I’m experiencing today. One of the biggest disadvantages of this blog is that I can go back and revisit lessons I’ve theoretically learned and get depressed over what a slow learner I am!

Being in the very early stages of launching a new business as an independent consultant is creating a whole new set of life circumstances to test my core values against. They’re holding up quite well, I’m pleased to say, but new circumstances do create new challenges.

I’m not a particularly entrepreneurial person, nor am I an extrovert who is energized by proactively networking with other people. Those two traits would be big advantages in my current endeavors.

While I’m excited about actually providing the services I’m offering, I’m also having to do a number of things that I’m not particularly good at and don’t enjoy doing. Chief amongst these is marketing and selling myself to potential clients. I’ve dealt with too many people selling their services over the years who come across as arrogant and self-centered, and I don’t want to be like that. I also don’t want to be the person others avoid because they know I’m going to corner them about hiring me or that I can’t talk about anything but my work. Yet I don’t want to miss opportunities to use the giftedness God has provided for His glory and to change lives. How does one develop humility and portray self-confidence simultaneously?

I’ve been told repeatedly by several people I respect that I need to be more bold about promoting the talents God has given me. I think there’s wisdom in that. But I also believe scripture teaches humility as a foundational virtue that is at the core of our ability to relate properly with God. And because of that, Satan and our world’s value systems fight to keep us from developing true humility. If self-promotion is necessary for success and I can’t learn to do it while growing in humility before God, I pray that I choose to let the business fail.

But I also know that God is stretching me to grow in healthy ways, including helping me become more relationally bold. So I can’t just pretend to be a martyr to stay within my comfort zone.

I’ll undoubtedly continue to wrestle with this, but in the meantime, I’m standing on two principles that I’ve referred to in previous posts:

1) I’m confident that I’m being obedient to what God has called me to do at this point. That doesn’t mean He’s promised success, only that this is the path He’s called me to walk (How Do You Measure Success, March 12, 2014)

2) I will strive to do my best, not because that’s what success requires, but as acts of worship to the God who deserves my best (For God Alone, Nov 20, 2013)

Prayers and comments on this topic are welcome!

Why God Wants Obedience

Why does God care about obedience? That may seem like an odd question, but I think it’s really important, especially since many people would get it wrong.

Our view of God’s motivation matters because it shapes who we think God is and what He cares about.

For example, Islam teaches obedience to Allah as the only way to survive his judgment. You earn credits to get into heaven by obedience to the Quran, the Hadiths, and other teachings of the Prophet Mohammed as interpreted by local leaders. (Note that there are about as many variations of Islam as there are Christianity.) Allah is a harsh taskmaster who must be appeased. This is a very different view of God than the God of scripture whom I seek to obey.

Obedience is our response to God’s love, not what we do to earn His love. Out of love for Him we desire to do what pleases Him for His pleasure, not so that we avoid punishment.

But it’s not quite as simple as just God loves us, so we obey Him. We are fallen creatures engaged in a spiritual battle that distorts our view of reality. We don’t always recognize what’s good for ourselves and what pleases God. God knows what is best for us and helps us by telling us what we should do to experience His best.  Sometimes our obedience flows from a heart of gratitude, and sometimes it’s an act of self-discipline that demonstrate our commitment to God.

So God didn’t maliciously say, “Here’s a tough command — let’s see who’s good enough to pass this test!” Out of love for us and His absolute knowledge of how we were designed to work, He commands us do the things that lead us to understand and know Him, and to find fulfillment in living our lives as He intended.

Some of those commands are unintuitive. We only recognize the truth in them after we follow them in obedience. And even our obedience is only made possible when we recognize we are not capable of obedience on our own. We’re dependent on God to enable us.

God knows that a life lived in obedience to His teaching is the most fulfilling life we can imagine. Sometimes we’re just too stubborn to recognize it.