FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Time to Fret…NOT!

According to the National Cancer Institute, “in 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 595,690 people will die from the disease. The number of new cancer cases will rise to 22 million within the next two decades.” Cancer is no respecter of persons.  “In 2014, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,960 died of the disease.”

The New York Times reports that “for three quarters in a row, the growth rate of the economy has hovered around a mere 1 percent. In the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016, the economy expanded at feeble annual rates of 0.9 percent and 0.8 percent, respectively. The initial reading for the second quarter of this year, released on Friday, was a disappointing 1.2 percent.”  Profit Confidential writes that there are “more than enough indicators to suggest the US economy will come under serious pressure in 2016.” Wages are falling, US companies increasingly rely on foreign sales, the global economy is anemic and roughly one third of American adults have no emergency savings; about half of Americans could only cover their living expenses for about 90 days which means that if they are not already at their breaking point, they’re only about three months away.

Headlines tell us that the distance “overseas” is not as far as it used to be.  Our eyes are on Russia, China and North Korea.  You cannot flip one page of the papers without noticing alarming terrorist activity in Iraq and Syria and signs of expansion that indicate that terrorism may present on US soil in ways beyond even the horrors that we have already experienced.

Economy in Crisis reminds us that we “import tons of food from third world countries that have much lower standards than we do when it comes to food safety.”  According to their reports, we get seafood from polluted Vietnamese waters and unsafe meats from China.  Add to that the currently unknown (or at least unshared) risks of genetically modified foods and the underfunded, overworked FDA that has resources to inspect only 1-2 percent of food imports.  We cannot be sure of what we are eating much less of the safety of what we are eating.

And then, there is the recent US presidential election.  I am actually less concerned about the final outcome and more worried about what the process from campaign to election says about our country – the polarization, the changing values, the mudslinging, the morality (or lack of) of our leaders and would-be leaders, the violence, the fact that “we” have not overcome but rather are just as divided across race and ethnicity lines as ever.

Time to fret.

Not!

We are commanded in Psalm 37 to fret not.  Specifically, we are told not to fret the evildoers (verse 1) and not to fret the wicked who prosper (verse 7). If we boil it down to the core truth, those are the two things that cause us to fret the most – the evildoers and the appearance that the evildoers are growing, prospering, winning.

Look to 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV) and be reminded, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Fret? No. Believe? Yes!

Appearances can be deceiving and, if our eyes are upon the world rather than upon the Creator of this world, we will fret. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV); “his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps” (Job 34:21), and our eyes are to be on Him. Hebrews 12:2a instructs us to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Fret? No!

Believe? Yes!

Trust? Yes!

Rest? Yes!

 

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Testing, Testing

It’s a balmy 68 degrees outside!  What a wonderful mid-February surprise and treat.  The forecast for the end of the week announces more February-like temperatures like a Thursday high of 36 degrees.  But right now at 4:30 in the afternoon, it’s 68 glorious degrees.

And I am in the house!  Stuck creating a test that my students have to take Tuesday.  I need to get it posted on Blackboard, so today is the day to create that test.

With it being 68 degrees outside and the sun shining through the window and me on my laptop with notes spread around me as I create a test, you can best believe my mind has REALLY been tossing about the question of why test?  Not just my students and not other school students, but us.  Why does God test our faith?

God tested the faith of the ancient Israelites by allowing them to experience hard times in the wilderness, “in order to know what was in your heart” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  And He likewise tests us.

We think we know what is in our heart.  We think we know how strong we are.  We think we have a steadfast, immovable, abounding faith.  But it is only in times of testing that we move beyond just thinking and come to KNOW.  God does not test us because HE doesn’t know; He tests us because we don’t know.

David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23)

Now, my students surely did not ask for Tuesday’s test.  As a matter of fact, they have an option to complete another assignment and NOT take the test.  A few have informed me that they are choosing this option.  Like them, we would sometimes like to opt out of the test, to have a choice to maybe complete another assignment.  But like the Psalmist, we should cry out to God asking Him to test us and to show us now – in the good times, in the calm times, in the easy times what is in our hearts – our places of weakness.

When I score my students’ tests, I spend even more time writing feedback so that they know and understand exactly why they received the grade they did.  I want them to understand any shortcomings in their responses.  THAT is how they learn and how they grow, especially on the interim assessments because THE test is coming – the Final Exam.

We have a Final Exam coming too!  My students can look at the Course Syllabus and see the exact date and time of their exam, but we do not know when the end will come.  My students have a window of time in which to study and prepare.  They may not study every day, but they understand the finite calendar before them.

We do not know how long we have to prepare, so TODAY is the best time for us to prepare.  TODAY is the day for us to seek God and to petition His testing so that we will know, understand and grow.

THIS WEEK cry out to God.

(1)  Ask Him to search you, to know your heart, to test you and to show you your weaknesses.  Be open to and welcome the knowledge of any shortcomings He shows you. (James 1:2, 4).  Then ask Him to help you grow in your trust and faith in Him.

(2)  If you are in the midst of testing – whether it is from God or testing that He has permitted, do not seek another assignment, but ask Him for what is needed for you to go through.  Do not spend time asking Him “why” but rather ask “what.”  What would He have you to know and learn from this testing?  Identify and recruit prayer partners who will commit to praying with and for you during this season.


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Big Hairy Audacious Prayers

Exodus 14:21-22 (NKJV)

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”

Joshua 10:12-14 (ESV)

“At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,  “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.”

2 Kings 6:1-7

“The disciples of the prophets said to Elisha, “The place where we’re staying is too small for us. Let’s go to the Jordan River. Each of us can get some logs and make a place for us to live there.”

Elisha said, “Go ahead.”

Then one of the disciples asked, “Won’t you please come with us?”

Elisha answered, “I’ll go.”

So he went with them. They came to the Jordan River and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the ax head fell into the water. He cried out, “Oh no, master! It was borrowed!”

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed Elisha the place, Elisha cut off a piece of wood. He threw it into the water at that place and made the ax head float. Elisha said, “Pick it up.” The disciple reached for it and picked it up.”

Parting seas, suns that stand still, ax heads that float? Yes…because they dared ask; they dared believe.

Mark Batterson says, “If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God. Why? Because they don’t require divine intervention.”

Business leaders, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, said successful organizations set Big Hairy Audacious Goals. They called them BHAGs. They were designed to focus an organization on a single goal – one which outsiders would think impossible but would stir within those in the organization belief and momentum

Our God is the God of big, hairy, audacious prayers – BHAPs. Jeremiah 33:3 (ESV) tells us to call to Him, and He will answer. Pastor Ray Stedman says, God is “absolutely available, absolutely approachable, gracious, merciful, compassionate, kind, and you can go into His presence boldly and ask for whatever you want.  You can go into His presence any time and not interrupt Him.”  Genie in a bottle?  No, but a compassionate Father who loves His children, a powerful King who is merciful and gracious  and a faithful God who answers prayers.

What is your Big Hairy Audacious Prayer?

THIS WEEK:  Search the Scriptures for other examples of bold prayers and God’s response to them. Some examples might include the prayers of Hannah, Jehoshaphat and Daniel. Pray to know God’s will and that His will is your sanctified wish, then pray your biggest, hairiest, most audacious prayer!


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Rushing for Lazarus

Have you ever been disappointed?

“Are you kidding” you’re thinking, “Who hasn’t?!”

We’ve all had the experience of thinking that we had found that special one of our dreams to later realize that (s)he was actually the one of our nightmares.  We’ve also experienced our children saying and doing the unthinkable and being nothing like what we thought we had “raised” them to be.  And we have been excited to begin a job and then dread going to the very place that used to bring us such joy.  And, let’s be honest, we have had times that we couldn’t place the blame anywhere else other than at our own feet, and we have been disappointed in ourselves – can’t believe we said that, thought that, acted like that.

Now, let’s be real honest – especially since you have only to tell yourself the truth.  Have you ever been disappointed in God?

Yikes!  Surely that must be blasphemous!

Sheila Walsh says, “God is big enough, and His love is fierce enough to deal with anything we feel or must face.”  In other words, He can take it.  In better words, He can help you through it.

Look at John 11:1-3 (ESV).

“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.  So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.'”

Hmm. Mary had anointed the Lord and wiped His feet with her hair. It was her brother that was ill. Surely Jesus is going to drop everything and make a beeline to their home. And if that wasn’t enough, verse 3 emphasizes that Jesus loved Lazarus, too. That’s like the cherry on top; He is coming now for certain. If we look ahead, even verse 5 of this text says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

Can’t you picture Mary and Martha – and even Lazarus? They’re not sad. They’re not worried. “Jesus loves us, and He is coming!” I picture them sitting around reminiscing about the miracles they’d seen Jesus perform. THIS will be NOTHING for Him.

But He didn’t come.  At least not right away.  And Lazarus died.  Then Jesus came.

Let’s skip way ahead in this text to verse 20. “So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.”   This being a Christian blog, let’s just suffice it to say Mary was probably a bit disappointed. Her hopes and expectations were dashed on several rocks – first Jesus not coming when they had sent for Him even AFTER she had wiped His feet with her hair AND Lazarus has now died!!!!! Then Jesus just strolls in rather nonchalantly. Are you serious?

Yes.

Jesus had intentionally delayed. Look back at verse 6 which reads, “So, when He heard that Lazarus was ill, He stayed two days longer in the place where He was.”

Jesus was not running late. He wasn’t caught up or caught off guard. He hadn’t bitten off more than He could chew. He heard about Lazarus, and He intentionally stayed two days longer in the place where He was.

And Mary was disappointed. In verse 32b she says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

You know how women say one thing and mean something else? (I can write that since I am a woman.) I read that Mary said, “If you’d been here, Lazarus would still be alive.” I imagine that Mary meant, “Where were you? Why didn’t you come? Don’t you care? Didn’t you know? How could you not have come? I thought you loved us! Is this how you show love?”

It didn’t help either that there were a bunch of naysayers hanging around in verse 37 – “But some of them said, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

There are SO many lessons in this text.

But let’s go back to Mary’s disappointment. Did you notice that it didn’t faze the Lord? He heard her – her spoken words and the words of her heart. He loved her no less. He let her pour out her heart, and then He did what He came to do. In verse 40 He reminded them, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” And the glory of God is what He showed them as He called Lazarus from the grave. Wow! Healing the sick is one thing. Raising the dead, that’s another!

God loved Mary. He loved Martha. He loved Lazarus. But He didn’t rush to their aid.

He loves you. He may not rush to your aid.

He will, as the old Negro spiritual says, “come right on time.”

You may be disappointed, and you can tell Him, but never doubt Him. Keep believing, and He will show you the glory of God!

Read Romans 5:3-5 (NLT) each day this week then reflect on the given questions.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us — they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”

Monday Questions for Reflection: What are the disappointments of your life? List them (preferably in a journal). At the top and bottom of the page write, “Hope does not disappoint.” Revisit your journal periodically and the list of disappointments. Make note of how God reveals Himself and His glory in relation to each one.

Tuesday Questions for Reflection: Could it be that God delays to build endurance in us? How do you think Mary, Martha and even Lazarus changed after Lazarus was raised from the dead? When was a time that God’s delay brought you a greater blessing?

Wednesday Questions for Reflection: Identify a current disappointment in God. Can you choose to worship Him through it? How does that make you feel?

Thursday Questions for Reflection: Look at those who have surrounded you. Are they feeding and encouraging your disappointment (like the Jews who asked “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”) or are they encouraging your hope in the Lord? Might you need to separate yourself from someone – at least for a season?

Friday Questions for Reflection: Examine your own actions. Are you feeding someone else’s disappointment or are you encouraging their hope in the Lord? What do you need to start doing, stop doing or do more of?