If Only

13 years. That’s a long time to walk in the wrong direction. Ask Abraham.

Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.”

These two verses from Genesis are only separated by chapter delineation (16:16-17:1). It appears for thirteen years, at least, Abram did not hear from God directly like he had previously. This time period followed he and his wife’s decision to do things their way, a way not given to them by God. This decision was a deliberate choice that could be concluded with two words: “if only.”

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!”

He said this in 17:18 (Read the rest of the conversation between verses 1-18 to see why his name changed, among other things). Abraham said this in response to just being told, in so many words, quite graciously, “My plan hasn’t changed. Even though you tried your way, I’m still offering you a better way.” Thankfully, we all can say Abraham followed the plan.

This scene offers us hope when we’ve followed Abram’s and Sarai’s path. At some point we all seem to face the choice to wait, or to devise our own way, or to heed questionable counsel. It’s almost as if a salesperson shows us a pair of blinders, and we knowingly reply, “Yes. I’ll have a pair.” For whatever reason, we complete the transaction, say thank you, put them on, and walk out the door…until God shows up, however long that takes.

Fortunately for us, God is gracious. And if we receive that grace and give him our blinders, we reap the benefits of faith. As he was told, Abraham received tremendous blessings that have been passed on to many generations for placing his faith in God’s way despite “if only.”

Do you have an unresolved “if only”? Are you wearing blinders? How long before you follow Abraham’s lead?

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Live How You Want to Die

Since Saturday I’ve had quite a few interactions with people giving me reason to ponder this question: How is it some people die happy and others don’t?

I say since Saturday because that’s the day some of our church family gathered to remember the life of Buna Brannon. She lived a full life. And I’m not just referring to her age of 84. Buna lived a full life because she chose to live it to its fullest.

By the time I met Mrs. Buna, she was already retired, 76 years of age. Nothing kept her down. Not illness. Not emotions. Not people. She made a choice to live life how she wanted, not how others wanted. And the foundation of that choice was her faith, how she understood God wanted her to live. And because of that faith, she lived happily, joyfully, actively, and extremely generously. And that’s also how she died. Until days before her living was done, she gave to others and thought of others which brought her joy, peace, and purpose. She had lived life in such a way that she was more than ready to leave it as she lived it.

However you live is probably how you’re going to die. It’s sad to watch people live unlike how they probably want to die. Angry. Depressed. Judging. Discontent. Proud. Buna made the choice to live with joy, with hard work, with purpose, and with love. And that’s what everyone will remember about her. She died how she lived.

If you want to die happily, live happily.

If you want to die sacrificially, live sacrificially.

If you want to die peacefully, live peacefully.

If you want to die regretless, live regretless.

The choice is clearly all yours.

Perhaps 

“Now you, son of man, get your bags ready for exile and go into exile in their sight during the day. You will go into exile from your place to another place while they watch; perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:3

Perhaps is a descriptive word. It usually paints a negative picture, like there isn’t much of a chance. So when Ezekiel is given this task with this clarification, he has an interesting choice ahead of him. The choice is, what is his mindset going to be as he follows through.

From my experience, I’m not sure most, if not all, of God’s directives involving ministering to others shouldn’t be entered into with this mentality. Why? There are no guarantees. Just because you come in the name of the Lord doesn’t guarantee you or your message will be received at all, let alone as a message from the Lord. And how they respond, if your message is delivered as directed, has nothing to do with you.

Perhaps will keep you.

Perhaps will protect you.

Perhaps will direct you.

Perhaps will humble you.

Perhaps will focus you.

Perhaps leaves it all up to your director.

Whether You Want That Hat or Not

Hats. We all have them. Some of them we like and chose, and some we wish we didn’t have and didn’t choose. Of the latter, we may even go so far as to try to not let anyone know we have them or try to walk away from them.

To be clear, I’m not talking about hats you wear; I’m talking about skills and abilities you were born with or have learned; you could also look at the various positions you have in life (parent, child, worker, volunteer) in this light.

Whatever these skills or positions are, there is one truth that should keep us on the right path of what to do with them: these were directly given or allowed by God. 

  • That talent with numbers. Given by God.
  • That choice to marry. Allowed by God.
  • That ability to teach. Given by God.
  • That choice to join the military. Allowed by God.

Sometimes we get off the right path with these skills and positions. We may get off the right path because we don’t know what to do with them, decide to run from them, or choose to ignore or hide them. We may get to the place where we just wish we didn’t have them.

The reality is we should stand in them whether we want them or not. We should find God’s purpose in them, whether we want that hat or not. Over the last few decades, there’s one thing I’ve learned about hats: the best thing to do with a hat you don’t want is to share it. Let God show you the purpose of that hat. You might be surprised, maybe even decide you want it after all.

Faithful Love

This week my Bible reading plan took me through Hosea. This read is always a good one.

One could label the message of Hosea to be “beware of spiritual adultery-drifting little by little into disaster.” 

I highlighted verse 6 from chapter 6, and when I highlighted verse 12 from chapter 10 I noticed they share a term, faithful love. Read these two verses here:

For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings…Sow righteousness for yourselves and reap faithful love; break up your unplowed ground. It is time to seek the Lord until he comes and sends righteousness on you like the rain. (‭Hosea‬ 6:6; ‭10‬:‭12‬ CSB)

  • Drifting from love belittles faithfulness; adultery betrays love’s commitment.

The beauty of faithful love in our relationship with God is shown by the agricultural images in chapter 10. Yes, we reap what we sow. If we choose to sow unrighteousness, that is what we will reap. But that’s not an everlasting sentence. What we reap can be changed. God’s faithful and loyal love for those who choose rather to sow righteousness never ends; it is everlasting. He longs to pour this love on us so abundantly that it would be like rain.

How’s your love? Is it drifting? How can you correct your sowing choices, keep faithful love, in order to allow God to bring you rain?

31 Proverbs Highlights: #10-Family Conflicts

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭10‬:‭12‬ CSB)

Our natural response to an offense is defense. And how we choose to respond shows whether we have chosen love or hate.

This probably shows up most often in family relationships. You’ve witnessed it, maybe even been caught up in it. The families who get offenses right, and we all go through them, practice love. 

To check how your family is doing in the “love covering offenses” category, give 1 Corinthians 13 a read. Then choose love.

31 Proverbs Highlights: #8-Wisdom

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

Doesn’t wisdom call out? Doesn’t understanding make her voice heard?…”For the one who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, but the one who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death.” (‭Proverbs‬ ‭8‬:‭1, 35-36 CSB)

5 Truths from these verses:

  1. The search for wisdom should never end.
  2. Our ear should be bent to her call, much like the sheep attentive to their shepherd.
  3. Life is found in making wise choices.
  4. Choosing to listen to wisdom rather than refusing is choosing to live rather than dying.
  5. To reject wisdom is to reject yourself.

31 Proverbs Highlights: #4-Growth

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday.” ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭4:18‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

The imagery of the path’s light getting brighter and brighter as the morning progresses seems to go along with the truth that spiritual growth is a process.

The more you walk in righteousness the clearer choices/decisions seem to be.

The more you seek God the closer he seems to be.

At salvation, you come out of the darkness. Sure, it can seem quite bright at first. But walking the path of sanctification only brings more brilliance.

Walk On to the Midday!

Fruity Fridays: Kindness Results

(A series on the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

I was driving down 26th St. W. in morning traffic. A car pulled out into traffic. A garbage bag fell off the top of the car and rested in the opposite lane of oncoming traffic. What to do? Was it garbage or might it have something valuable in it? The driver didn’t seem to notice they lost the bag. What to do?

I could have said, “Not my problem. Besides, there are plenty of other drivers who could deal with this. I have an appointment.”

I decided to ask God what to do. More specifically, I asked him to have the driver give me some kind of indication that I could tell them and still get to my appointment on time. Within two blocks of my turning off 26th, the driver turned on their blinker to turn into a business. I said, “Thanks for the sign,” and followed.

Before the driver opened the car door, I was at the window. She rolled down the window, and I said, “I was behind you when you pulled into traffic, and it looked like a garbage bag fell off the top of your car. I wanted to let you know in case it had something valuable in it.”

She was embarrassed. “I didn’t even notice. It was my garbage. I forgot to put it in the dumpster. Thank you so much.”

I got back in my car and headed to my appointment. I don’t know if she did anything about her garbage. I do know that I resisted the flesh and followed the Spirit to show kindness to a stranger. I don’t always choose kindness, but when I do it results in…

  • …thinking less of myself and more about others
  • …resisting the initial thought that is all about me
  • …listening to that small voice that gives me a kind idea
  • …choosing that temporary inconvenience
  • …showing someone their blindspot
  • …helping someone with their garbage

Wilderness Principles

“Remember that the Lord your God led you on the entire journey these 40 years in the wilderness, so that He might humble you and test you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭8:2‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

  • God is there.
  • God has a purpose.
  • The journeyers will face significant choices.
  • Loyalty to God’s word is the goal.
  • What’s in the journeyers’ heart will be revealed.
  • Humbling is a good thing.
  • At the end of the journey, look back through the lens of what God did.