Sheep grazing in the distance along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Jump at God’s opportunities

Have you ever noticed that sometimes opportunities crop up in our lives out of the blue? You aren’t expecting them. They sort of just land in your lap. They show up in the form of people, in promotions, in your job itself.

Sometimes opportunities can be difficult to identify. For me, most of the time, opportunity appears as one more responsibility. And it’s true you have to be wise about which opportunities you choose to pursue, but there are instances in life when God opens a door in front of you, and it is obviously from Him. It’s those moments you need to be prepared for.

Sheep grazing in the distance along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Sheep grazing in the distance along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Genesis 12:1-4.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.

Have you ever walked away from an open door? I have. Lots of times. God has dropped opportunities in my lap, and I’ve passed them by for one reason or another. Fear or anxiety. Uncertainty or insecurity. Laziness is one too. Sometimes it’s because I wasn’t paying close enough attention to recognize it in the first place.

Put yourself in Abram’s shoes. In case you didn’t know, Abram and Abraham are the same person. Later in Abram’s life, God would change his name. This passage is from where he first appears in Scripture.

A lot of time I think we forget that people in the Bible didn’t have the Bible to read. So when God appeared to Abram or spoke to him or however He chose to communicate, Abram couldn’t go reference it in Scripture. It hadn’t been written yet.

But whatever God did or said, Abram made the choice to believe Him. And not only did Abram believe, he acted.

I want to be more like that. When God gives me an opportunity, I don’t want to question it. I want to jump on it.  Because God isn’t going to give us an open door for no reason. No, it might not lead the way we want it to. No, it might not take us the direction we expected. It’ll take a lot of courage. It’ll take a lot of faith. It probably won’t be easy because you’ll have to do something you’ve never done before. But if it’s a path God has opened for us, it’s worth traveling.

Are your eyes open? Are you paying attention to what God is doing in your life? Don’t miss the opportunities He gives you. And don’t ignore them because you’re afraid of them or because you aren’t sure you’re talented enough (that’s what God is for). Just do it. Just go. Let God work out the details. He’ll do a better job of it than you will anyway.

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

What is faith and how do we find it?

I’ve grown up hearing stories of heroes from the Bible and from everyday life who accomplished great things because they trusted God to do something miraculous. From Abraham to John Bunyan, from Joseph to Jim Elliot, from Ruth to Amy Carmichael … so many heroes, and the one thing they all had in common is faith. But faith is such an innocuous term anymore. If you even look it up in the dictionary, the first definition is practically generic. Faith means, “belief in someone’s abilities.”

So what is faith? And why does it matter so much? And why are there so many connotations?

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

The grounds at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

In this verse, along with about 240 others in the New Testament, the word faith (πιστις) refers to being persuaded. This is the actual definition of the word out of Stong’s Greek Lexicon: “persuasion, i.e. credence; moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), especially reliance upon Christ for salvation.” So when the Bible talks about faith, at least when it uses this word, it’s talking about being persuaded that Jesus is who He said He was.

But this isn’t just a random Bible verse pulled out of Scripture. This passage is talking about the gifts the God gives us, the results of the Holy Spirit in our lives. So not only is faith being persuaded, it’s also a gift from God. But faith goes beyond the fuzzy, ethereal, feel-good pep talks some Christians use when they feel like waxing eloquent about something. Faith is a choice, and if you are a follower of Christ, faith is something God has already given you.

We have to make the choice to take God at His Word, yes. But once we do that, you’ll find it’s not so difficult to believe that God is there. The Bible won’t seem so far out anymore. And life doesn’t seem accidental like it used to. You stop looking at coincidences and start seeing purpose and plan. And the more you get to know Jesus, the easier it is to let Him take over your life.

So what is faith? Faith is choosing to believe what God says instead of what anyone else says. Faith is listening to what the world uses as evidence and choosing to believe what the Bible says about it, even if it’s contradictory or controversial. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that faith is blind, though. It’s not. God isn’t asking for a leap of faith from us, at least not when it comes to trusting Him initially. He’s already provided all the proof we need of who He is. The difficulty is choosing to listen to your peers versus choosing to listen to Him.

Faith is consulting the Bible before you check with your favorite talk show host. Faith is talking to God about a situation before you call a Christian radio station. Faith is letting go of what you know you don’t need to hold onto, even though your peers look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Faith is knowing who God is and walking side-by-side with Him every day. Faith is seeing Him in the small things. Faith is seeing Him in the big things. Faith is seeing Him in everything.

And the Holy Spirit is that still, small voice at the back of your mind that whispers not to worry. He’s the one who reminds us that God has a purpose and plan for our lives, and all we have to do is trust Him.

The same God who walked with Abraham, Joseph, and Ruth is the same God who gave vision to John Bunyan in prison, who gave courage to Jim Elliot in his last moments, who inspired Amy Carmichael to do the unthinkable, and He’s the same God who I talked to this morning and asked to help me write this devotional in a way that makes sense to somebody. I know that. I know it’s true because the Bible says it is, and I know the Bible is true because I know where it came from. I know God is God because He says He is. Creation proves that He is. His work in my life proves that He is.

Anyone who says different doesn’t lack faith. They just have their eyes closed.

So do you want faith? Guess what, Christian? You already have it. It’s that still, small voice at the bottom of your heart that urges you to take a chance on God. You probably know the one I’m talking about. It’s the one you shove to the back of your mind. I do it all the time. But what happens if you listen? Do you think there was anything special about Abraham, Joseph or Ruth or any of the other heroes out of the Bible? Do you think there was anything special about John Bunyan, Jim Elliot, or Amy Carmichael or any of the other heroes of faith from history?

No. The only difference is that they made a choice to listen and obey when God spoke.

What is God telling you to do today? Do it. Trust Him. And if you don’t feel like you can, ask Him to help you have faith. You have the faith already, but ask Him to show it to you. He will.

Big horn sheep grazing at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Status quo

This is the time of year when everyone starts thinking about change. We think about changing our weight. We think about changing our style. We think about changing our habits and the types of people we hang out with and the things we do.

Everyone changes things up in January, and I think it’s ironic because deep down inside, I don’t think anyone really likes change. People are creatures of habit. Even the change we initiate is uncomfortable, and most people I know change things up because they don’t want to get stuck in a rut. They do it as a preventative measure; not because they yearn for change. Maybe I’m wrong and there are people out there who thrive on change, but I haven’t met one before.

But change is essential. Without change, we don’t grow. Without change, we plateau. Without change, we get comfortable, not only with ourselves but with God. And that’s a place I never want to be. I never want to be comfortable with God, where I feel perfectly capable of doing everything myself and never having to ask Him for help.

Big horn sheep grazing at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Big horn sheep grazing at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Genesis 12:1-3.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”

God has a history of helping ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and the story of Abraham and Sarah (at this time, Abram and Sarai) is just one example. There was nothing special about Abraham. He was just a guy who made a choice–to follow God instead of rejecting Him. But that one choice changed everything.

God told him to leave. Leave his home. Leave his family. Leave the life he’d built in the country he’d always known. And just go. God didn’t say where. He didn’t tell Him where he’d be living or how he was going to get there or when (or if) he’d ever come back.  Just go.

And Abraham did.

The trouble with me is that I hate change. I despise it. I can deal with it. I don’t mind coping with change, but it’s my least favorite thing in the world. I understand why it’s necessary, but I don’t like it.

I have the same internet provider I’ve had for years. I have the same cellular phone provider I did when I was a child. I use the same brand of shampoo and conditioner on my hair. I hate change. But change is good.

Now, does that mean the status quo is bad? Well, not necessarily. Change is good, but many people are in a position where they have to keep to the status quo right now. Changing right now would have a negative impact on their lives or on their families. But if God has told you to change, you need to do it.

The thing about Abraham is that God had huge plans for him. Like this verse lays out, Abraham had a great future in store for him. I mean, imagine what would have happened if Abraham hadn’t done it. He would never have left. He would never have become the father of Israel. Everything hinged on Abraham doing what God called him to do. Granted, God would have worked out His master plan some other way, but think about what Abraham would have missed out on.

The long and the short of it is that God couldn’t have used Abraham where he was. He had to move. He had to change.

I have a lot of things changing in my life this year. Some changes I’ve chosen. Most of them I haven’t. They range from my personal life to my professional life, from my own life to the lives of the people I love. And the one uniting factor is that I have absolutely zero control over any of it. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I’m a control freak, and not having control over anything shakes my world.

None of the change is bad, necessarily. On the contrary, most of it is super exciting and shows just how much God is working not only in my life but in the lives of others. But in all these situations, the only thing I can do is hold on to what I know is true and keep moving forward.

Change is unsettling and uncomfortable and unpleasant. And it helps me remember that I’m not in control and that I need help daily. Change helps us grow because we don’t know what’s coming next and we have to rely on God for every step, because when we change everything up we don’t know what the next step is going to bring.

But if God has called you to change something in your life, don’t be afraid of it. If He’s called you to change, do it. The story of Abraham tells us that God’s already worked out the details; he just needs us to say yes and take that first step, even if we can’t see where we’re going.

Apricot buds in spring - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Psalm 105

God keeps His promises. He made promises to people in the Old Testament, and though many of them died before they saw the realization of the larger promises, God never failed them in any way. And now, in heaven with Him, they can understand that better than they ever could down here.

I needed this today, a reminder that God keeps His promises. I know that He does, but it’s easy to forget when it feels like nothing is going right. But even when things go wrong, God is still working out His plan for all of us.

Apricot buds in spring - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Apricot buds in spring – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Psalm 105

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
    Let the whole world know what he has done.
Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
    Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
Exult in his holy name;
    rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.
Remember the wonders he has performed,
    his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
you children of his servant Abraham,
    you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

He is the Lord our God.
    His justice is seen throughout the land.
He always stands by his covenant—
    the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
This is the covenant he made with Abraham
    and the oath he swore to Isaac.
He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
    and to the people of Israel as a never-ending covenant:
“I will give you the land of Canaan
    as your special possession.”

He said this when they were few in number,
    a tiny group of strangers in Canaan.
They wandered from nation to nation,
    from one kingdom to another.
Yet he did not let anyone oppress them.
    He warned kings on their behalf:
“Do not touch my chosen people,
    and do not hurt my prophets.”

He called for a famine on the land of Canaan,
    cutting off its food supply.
Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them—
    Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
They bruised his feet with fetters
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.
Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
    the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
    the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
    he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
    and teach the king’s advisers.

Then Israel arrived in Egypt;
    Jacob lived as a foreigner in the land of Ham.
And the Lord multiplied the people of Israel
    until they became too mighty for their enemies.
Then he turned the Egyptians against the Israelites,
    and they plotted against the Lord’s servants.

But the Lord sent his servant Moses,
    along with Aaron, whom he had chosen.
They performed miraculous signs among the Egyptians,
    and wonders in the land of Ham.
The Lord blanketed Egypt in darkness,
    for they had defied his commands to let his people go.
He turned their water into blood,
    poisoning all the fish.
Then frogs overran the land
    and even invaded the king’s bedrooms.
When the Lord spoke, flies descended on the Egyptians,
    and gnats swarmed across Egypt.
He sent them hail instead of rain,
    and lightning flashed over the land.
He ruined their grapevines and fig trees
    and shattered all the trees.
He spoke, and hordes of locusts came—
    young locusts beyond number.
They ate up everything green in the land,
    destroying all the crops in their fields.
Then he killed the oldest son in each Egyptian home,
    the pride and joy of each family.

The Lord brought his people out of Egypt, loaded with silver and gold;
    and not one among the tribes of Israel even stumbled.
Egypt was glad when they were gone,
    for they feared them greatly.
The Lord spread a cloud above them as a covering
    and gave them a great fire to light the darkness.
They asked for meat, and he sent them quail;
    he satisfied their hunger with manna—bread from heaven.
He split open a rock, and water gushed out
    to form a river through the dry wasteland.
For he remembered his sacred promise
    to his servant Abraham.
So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy,
    his chosen ones with rejoicing.
He gave his people the lands of pagan nations,
    and they harvested crops that others had planted.
All this happened so they would follow his decrees
    and obey his instructions.

Praise the Lord!

God always keeps His promises

Today’s verse is Romans 11:33.

33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

I wonder how many times verses like this are in the Bible. So many verses tell us it’s impossible for us to understand God, but we try anyway. And half the time we think we succeed.

Since this is such a common theme throughout Scripture, I thought I’d expand a little bit and see specifically what Paul was talking about in this particular verse. And it sort of surprised me. Not that I’m saying I know so much about Scripture, but I don’t remember reading this bit in Romans 11 before. I reviewed it in the King James Version, and then I remembered reading it but it really never made a whole lot of sense to me. I mean — it did. But it didn’t strike me as totally awesome until I read it this morning in actual modern English.

Romans 11:28-32

28 Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 29 For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. 30 Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. 31 Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will share[k] in God’s mercy. 32For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

These verses just before the verse of the day go into a little bit of background behind the Church Age. God chose the Jews, the people of Israel, to be His people, but they turned away from Him enough that He finally left them to their own devices. He did this so that He could allow His Word to come to the rest of the world. The Gentiles. Everyone who isn’t Jewish. That means me and just about everyone I know.

The Old Testament was all about the nation of Israel. The New Testament, after Christ’s death, burial, resurrection and ascension, is about Gentiles. The Church Age. And we’ll be in the Church Age until Christ comes back for us.

It’s complicated. It’s like the plot of a good novel, plenty of twists and turns that don’t make sense until you read the whole story. Because I’m sure if you had talked to many of the people alive during this time, none of it would have made sense to them. I mean, now, we can look back and understand that God shifted His focus away from the people of Israel to pursue those of us who weren’t Jewish. If He hadn’t done that, the U.S. wouldn’t exist. (I know a lot of people don’t believe the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, and I’m not going to get into that debate now. But even you who don’t believe we were founded as a Christian nation can’t argue that Christians didn’t participate in the foundation of this country, that people didn’t come here for freedom to practice true Christianity.) In any case, if God hadn’t shifted His attention to allow Gentiles to come to Christ, I wouldn’t be here. And that’s a fact.

Of course, part of the covenant God made with Abraham was that the whole world would be blessed through him. So God turning His focus to Gentiles was partly to fulfill that promise. But think about the Jews at that time. Not all of them had turned away from God. Not all of them had wanted Christ crucified. Not all of them had been rebellious. But their whole nation was punished. Their whole nation was enslaved and broken apart.

I’m sure at the time it must have felt like the world was falling apart. But God had a plan. It was all part of the story He was creating. The people of Israel needed to be left on their own to realize what God had done for them. The Gentiles needed to be told about God period; they’d never heard about Him before. And when the Church Age is over, God will shift His focus again to the nation of Israel and bring them back to Him as He always has because no matter how much they screw up, they are still His chosen people. And God made a promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and God always keeps His promises.

Isn’t that incredible? Thousands and thousands of years after God made a promise to one man, He will keep His promise to rescue that man’s millions of descendants. How awesome is that?

I can’t really understand how God’s mind works. He knows all the knowledge in the universe. Shoot, He created all knowledge in the universe. But He isn’t just knowledgeable; He’s wise. And there really is a difference. And God is on a level that nobody can comprehend. He can see the whole picture. He can undertand every in and out of every situation. He can see every reprecussion, every consequence, every action, every choice we have ever and will ever make. So there’s no way I can understand why He does the things He does.

But what I can understand is what really matters. God keeps His promises.

It doesn’t matter that Abraham screwed up time after time. It doesn’t matter that his kids were screwed up. It doesn’t matter that his family became a nation of people who were disobediant and rebellious. It doesn’t matter that they all turned away from God more times than anyone can keep track of. God made a promise to Abraham, and God is going to keep that promise. (Note: Please don’t think I’m hounding on the Jews. I’m just trying to make a point. If we’re having a contest between the U.S. and Israel about which one has flipped God off more, I actually think the U.S. is in the lead . . . )

So when God makes a promise to me, I know I can trust Him. And that’s really all we need to know. Anything else would be too much for us. Anything more would terrify us.

God never makes mistakes. And He always keeps His promises, no matter what.

That’s good enough for me.