Hurricanes, floods, and Joel Osteen

Where is God in all this?

Is God punishing us?

It’s only natural that our thoughts would eventually go there.  Even as I write, Hurricane Irma (now a Category 4) is poised to make landfall in Florida in less than two days.  And after all the destruction in Houston just a couple weeks ago… it feels like something has gone terribly wrong.

Well, is it God?

It’s certainly possible, but let’s take this one step at a time.

 

#1 We know we live in a sin-broken world.

When sin entered the world through human free will, it caused a crack in the foundation of creation itself.  Like a pitcher of water, if you put just one drop of ink into it, it will ruin the whole thing.  It can’t be made clean again.  It needs new water.  As a result…

It’s decaying:  “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).

It’s volatile: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8).

God doesn’t need to be the cause of hurricanes.  Low-pressure systems and warm ocean waters cause hurricanes.  And, they are getting more frequent and more intense because of the earth’s continued decay.

But God let’s it happen. Yes, that’s true.  But God also promises that He is actively working toward it’s redemption and restoration.  “For God so loved the world, he gave is only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Doesn’t God punish sin?  Of course.  Otherwise He wouldn’t be a just God.  And if He weren’t a just God, we couldn’t say God is good.  But we have been rescued from this punishment.  Jesus took our punishment for sin… it’s paid in full.

 

#2 God’s M.O. is to rescue.

I know, I know.  There’s the Flood.  There’s the Plagues.  There are droughts… famines… all natural disasters directly caused by God in order to punish wickedness. What do we do with that?

Well, for one thing, that was all before Jesus.  

The Old Testament covenant between human beings and God was fatally flawed… it depended upon human faithfulness. But, the new covenant is based on Jesus’ faithfulness. In Hebrews 8:9, 12, God says, “[When] they did not remain faithful to my covenant, I turned away from them… [But now] I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

God is the God of rescue.  If you read the Bible cover-to-cover, the single most distinguishing feature of God is that He rescues human beings.

Here is just a quick rundown:

  • God creates paradise… we sin and turn from God: paradise lost.
  • Humanity becomes so wicked, God floods the earth… God rescues part of it, then promises He won’t flood the earth again.
  • The Hebrews are in slavery in Egypt… God rescues them and makes a covenant that now that they are free, He will continue to be their God if they can live life God’s way.
  • They can’t… so God spends the rest of the Old Testament using judges, prophets, kings, even foreigners, to continually rescue His covenant people.
  • Then, God starts promising a better way… Salvation through a Savior.  God sends His only Son to die in place of all human beings.  His only request: we must believe that He did it.
  • This frees humanity to follow Jesus, and share their experience of rescue to everyone in the world.

#3 How should we respond?

I didn’t think I would ever say this, but: poor Joel Osteen.  He was beat up for not opening Lakewood Church for flood victims.  Listen, I don’t endorse everything the guy says or does, but he was definitely unfairly targeted.  I do think, however, that the underlying reason he was targeted is actually (potentially) a good one.

People instinctively know to look to God’s people for rescue.  

I didn’t hear any stories about atheists not doing more to help.  I didn’t hear any stories about mosques or temples or kingdom halls that didn’t open to shelter people.  I know, Lakewood is a giant structure, but I think it’s more than that.  When the going gets tough, people look to Jesus-followers for help.

The rescued must become the rescuers.

We should pray, we should prepare, and we should rescue.  The world is waiting and watching and hoping for our help. But not just for hurricanes.

The truth is, everybody has a flood.  Whether it’s spiritual, physical, or both, our job is to help with the rescue efforts.  We must do everything we can to bring everyone to safety.

Where is God in all this?  God is working through us. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

No, I don’t believe God is punishing us through hurricanes.  But God lets them happen.  Even though I don’t know why, I know that my job as a follower of Jesus is very, very clear.

What about you?

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Your Calendar Is Ruining Your Life

3 ways to avoid being a victim of your busy schedule

It happens every September.

As I’m casually strolling toward the end of August, fresh off family vacation, summer camp, baseball and lemonade, there is a monster lurking in the shadows ready to pounce.  The thing is, this monster is there every single year, but I never remember until it’s too late.

So, like some kind of nature video of predator and prey, I step into September and am immediately overwhelmed by the monster… my calendar.

Work appointments, weekend commitments, volunteer commitments, and three kids worth of school, dance, soccer, flag football, and karate and my calendar is ridiculously full.  And it seems to happen all at once.  By the time I realize I’m drowning, all I can do is go into survival mode.

But when I’m in the middle of it an even more discouraging thought enters my mind: Am I missing what God wants for me in this season of my life because I’ve scheduled Him out?

Jethro’s Guide To Successful Calendaring

Moses struggled with this early on in his ministry.  He was the default leader of the Israelites.  He had successfully escaped Egypt (in slightly dramatic fashion) and now had thousands of people looking to him for answers on everything.

“Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening” (Exodus 18:13).

Yep, morning till evening.  Why would he do such a thing?  Well, Moses says it’s “because the people come to me to seek God’s will” (v. 15).  Moses’ schedule was completely full, and it was filled with good, important work.  And it was running and ruining his life.

His father-in-law, Jethro saw what he was doing and told him flat out, “What you are doing is not good” (v. 17).  He went on to tell Moses that he needed to take some of these things off his plate in order to create margin in his life.

Good advice, Jethro.  You should write a blog.

Life Transformation Happens in The Margins

Mt. Sinai

Moses heeded Jethro’s advice.  You know what happened next?  He went to Mt. Sinai and received the 10 Commandments.  In fact, the time Moses spend on Mt. Sinai with God were arguably the most intense of his life.

Scripture tells us that when Moses would come down the mountain his face would be shining–like a glow-in-the-dark object that has been sitting directly under a light bulb for days.

But what would have happened had he continued to act as judge over the people day and night?  He wouldn’t have had time to spend with God.  He may never have made it to Mt. Sinai.

The margins are where God captures our heart and transforms our lives.  The margins are where we start to shine.  The margins are where important things are sacrificed for what matters most.

The Margins are Set Before You Fill the Paper

It’s really hard to have margin when you’re just reacting to your calendar.  That’s because everything is urgent and immediate.  There must be a better way!

If we are going to grow in our relationship with God, hear his voice in our lives, and move in the direction of our created purpose, we need room to do it.  I know, I know, you’re busy.  But ask yourself this: Are you busier than Jesus was during his 3-year ministry? Is your life filled with more important things than his?

Why do I ask?  Because Jesus regularly left his important schedule in order to spend time alone with his Heavenly Father – time on what matters most.

3 Ways to Tame the Monster and Create Margin for God

#1 Start with God to make sure you end with God

We don’t typically grow closer to God, or more on task with our calling and purpose by accident (this is true of anything worth pursuing).  We have to be intentional.  As you look toward this fall (Sept. – Nov.), instead of starting with everyone’s schedule, grab a cup of coffee and a notebook and answer these questions first:

A. What will help you / your family grow closer to God in this season?

B. What will you need to start or stop doing in order to create (and protect) the margins?

#2 Schedule God in the Margins

I believe there is a Mt. Sinai where God wants to meet with you.  It’s a place where God wants to strengthen, transform, and renew you. A place where God wants to bless you.  But if you’re too busy from morning till evening, even with important things, you may miss it.

Take out your calendar and find one 10-minute window per day and schedule God time.  Then, use the YouVersion Bible App (or a daily devotional) and say a quick prayer for God to guide you.  You will be amazed at how different your life will be even in the midst of your crazy schedule.

#3 Learn to Say No Even to Important Things

As your schedule frees up a little, you will be tempted to fill it right back up with commitments.  Don’t fall for it!  Listen, everything on the calendar is important.  That’s why we say yes to them.  But you’re going to have to filter them out.  Ask yourself: Is this commitment moving me toward God’s goals for me / my family this fall?

Let’s stop reacting to our lives and start living them.  Tame the monster and let your schedule work for you – to help you spend time on what matters most.

Want to hear more?  Listen to my recent sermon series called “Game Ready”

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Can God Really Use Me?

How to stop your past from derailing your future

(Okay, sing with me) Glory days… oh they pass you by, glory days…

Tightly cuffed jeans… hairspray… Members-Only jackets… Converse All-Stars… What memories flood your mind when you think of high school?  Maybe an awkward high school yearbook photo that may, or may not, show off your meticulously groomed mullet? (Clears throat).

Maybe you grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and rocked a beehive (how glorious) or a ducktail you combed with 10W-40…

What about your family? Maybe images of trips in a station wagon to the Grand Canyon… or that Thanksgiving where grandpa nearly burned the house down while deep-frying a turkey…

These are the pictures that fill your photo albums.  These are the images on display when your friends come to visit. They are always good for a laugh.  These are the fun and nostalgic pictures that leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

But there are other pictures, too.

These are the pictures you don’t share.  Pictures of hurt and shame.  Pictures of the mistakes and regrets you still carry years later.  When you talk about your past, the pictures you share are carefully curated.  You may even hide those hurtful pictures from yourself because they are too hard to look at.

Or maybe you think these mistakes are so awful that God has already disqualified you to lead, serve, or make a difference.  Or maybe you think other people will disqualify you if they find out about those pictures.

If you have ever felt this way (or are feeling it now) ask yourself this: Do you think this is what God wants for you? Do you think God wants you to be a slave of your past so it continually prevents you from moving forward?

Let’s take a look at one of the clearest examples from the Bible that demonstrates how God deals with our past: The story of Paul (the man formerly known as Saul).

Saul the Pharisee

We are first introduced to Saul in Acts 7:58, when Stephen (an apostle) is dragged out of the city of Jerusalem to be stoned to death for declaring that Jesus is God.  The crowd “laid there coats at the feet” of Saul – indicating he was a man of importance.  Then when Stephen is killed, Acts 8:1 simply says, “And Saul approved of their killing him.”

Saul was a rising star as a persecutor of Jesus-followers.  He was an expert in the Law.  Think of him as a hot-shot lawyer who believed all these Jesus-followers were distorting God’s commands.  He was ruthless, smart, and persistent.

Paul, reflecting on his past in Galatians 1:13-14 puts it this way: “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”

Saul meets Jesus

Saul, on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus, is literally knocked off his horse and blinded by light.  He then hears Jesus say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”  (You can read the whole story in Acts 9).

Saul has a change of heart (and name).

At some point Saul starts going by Paul, probably (at least in part) to disassociate himself from his former identity.  He also starts using his super-lawyer skills for Jesus.  “Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.  At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God… {he} grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 9:19ff)

Paul is confronted with his bad pictures

“When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was really a disciple” (Acts 9:26).  Yes, just when Paul is starting to lead this new life (and experience great ministry success) he is confronted with the mistakes and regrets of his past.

What if Paul let his past stop him from moving forward?  Well, we wouldn’t have two-thirds of the New Testament, for starters.  He was the instrument God used to bring the Gospel to the non-Jewish world, so there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be talking about this right now.

Can God use even me?

Listen, no offense, but I don’t think your mistakes are worse than Paul’s.  He persecuted and killed followers of Jesus.  Can God use you?  Absolutely.  In fact, it’s often the bad pictures God wants to use in order to help and encourage others.

When you’re tempted to shrink back because of your past, just remember:

#1 Your past has shaped you, but it doesn’t have to define you.

#2 God wants to use who you are – just the version of you that is for Him.

 #3 Like Paul, God wants to get a new picture in your head.

Yes, you have a past.  And so does everyone else.  But God wants you to see what He sees.  Redeemed, glorious, gifted – you.  This is the picture that he wants in your photo album.  This is the image on display for the world to see.  This is the image that will leave you shaking your head at how different life used to be.

Want to hear more?  Check out my sermon on this topic here.

 

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