Hope at a Dead End

Standard

 

Gentle Reader, please share this with a friend that this could speak to. This is for the brother or sister whose gotten bad news about their career, health, or a family matter.

You feel stuck at a dead end, watching dreams crumble in the midst of the daily grind. Maybe pain and fear binds you, keeps you stuck in less than all you could be. Maybe you’ve pushed ahead in your goals as far as physical limits will allow. Maybe it’s not simply the voice of our own emotions screaming “you’ll never win.” Maybe a human authority is telling you that the odds are against you and they’re not ever getting any better.

There are no guarantees in this life. God doesn’t owe us anything, least of all miracles. “God works all things for our good.” But not all things in life are good. “God is for us, so who can be against us?” Yet we won’t win every battle. At some point, God is going to let us lose a battle with death itself. If we remain in the faith, God does turn even the ultimate loss of death into our ultimate victory, eternal life with Christ. Remembering that can help us face the prospect of painful losses with hope and fight on.

The nature of faith is uncertainty. God is faithful to God’s word. If the Bible says God promised to do it, God will do it. Yet many promises are conditional on us acting by faith. And applying the Bible’s promises to specific situations isn’t always easy. And it can be even more challenging to hear the voice of the Lord clearly. We need a humble awareness our heart’s strong desires can cause us to misunderstand. I pray God changes our hearts from desiring what isn’t God’s will to desiring what is God’s will.

But at your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.

[tweetthis]At your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.[/tweetthis]

Picture it. The Red Sea before the Children of Israel, and the armies of Egypt behind them. Trapped. Impossible to go forward into freedom. Impossible to escape the master bent on dragging them back into slavery. Yet God commanded Moses: “Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:15b-16)

By faith, Moses obeyed the Lord, and the sea parted. By faith, the children of Israel went forward.

God overcame Israel’s dead end.

I can’t guarantee the desire of your heart is in line with God’s. I can’t guarantee your goals and plans are indeed the Lord’s plans. Still, when you come to closed doors that are unlikely to open, knock. Pray. Let God lead you to the best of your knowledge and discernment. And knock on the closed doors you encounter.

God can move mountains. God can give you favor and blessing beyond measure. If it is God’s will, knock, and the door will be opened. If it doesn’t open, it only means that specific door wasn’t right at that specific time. Keep trying other doors until God changes your heart or shows you another path. Or takes you home forever.

Don’t assume an open door is God’s will, either. Not everyone who opens a door when you knock is acting in accord with God’s will.

So let’s act by faith, aware of our natural limits, and aware of what God can do if God pleases to do it. Let’s weep and cry aloud as needed. Let’s praise and lift our hands in worship and sincere thanksgiving as the Spirit moves in us. Let’s pray carefully about the opportunities that do come to make sure they are God’s will.

But I believe the “dead end” in your life isn’t the end. One way or another, in this life or the next, God has so much more for you.

[tweetthis]Hope at a Dead End #overcome “If God is for us, who can be against us?”[/tweetthis]

Peace & Planning God’s Way

Standard

photo credit: robdonnelly Evening at Milarrochy bay via photopin (license)

Planning gets a bad wrap in some corners of Christendom, with some inferring it’s ungodly and antithetical to having the peace of God and following the Way.

This can be true, if our plans are fleshy, rigid rules. Our plans do need to be of God, faith-filled, spirit-filled, prayed-over, etc. But God is not a God of chaos but a God of order. The Bible contains many plans and scheduled events, such as the Jewish feast days that are optional for us to keep. Now, God may lead us down roads that don’t make logical sense from our vantage point, and I have NEVER known the Lord to lay out the entire plan all at once, but he totally will give us nice, orderly, planned-by-him steps to take if we commit our planning to him.

That said, plans are best made to be revised and adjusted as needed. However, Christians in my experience, are too passive, too sleepy, just sitting around waiting for God to instantly hand us what he’s promised–and I was the most guilty of all on that. God’s teaching me that we are to stand up by faith and move out by faith to claim what God has promised us by faith and with a prayed-over, spirit-led plan of action of how to carry out what God has called us to.

It’s when we make plans apart from God, in the flesh, and act in the flesh–rather than by faith, and in spirit and in truth–and when we put *fleshy* plans before God that there’s often trouble. That, plus, the fact of life is, plans change, sometimes suddenly. Learning to accept that everything is tentative with “Lord willing” attached and roll with it is as important to having peace as having a vision for moving forward through life’s storms toward obtaining what God has for us.

photo credit: God’s Motivations v17 via photopin (license)

[tweetthis]Peace & Planning God’s Way: “God is not a God of Chaos but a God of Order.”[/tweetthis]

One Inconvenient Pregnancy Saved Us All

Standard

photo credit: Riccardo Palazzani – Italy Presepe 2013 via photopin (license)

A popular meme at Christmas states “One Unplanned Pregnancy Saved us All.” The intended point is true enough, however let’s make that lovely point in a theologically accurate way. To start with, due to what people usually mean by “unplanned pregnancy,” calling Christ the product of one implies Mary had either been raped or had slept with Joseph, accidentally got pregnant, and lied about Christ being God’s child and herself being still a virgin.

To fix the issue, I propose a slight rephrasing, the title of this post, “One Inconvenient Pregnancy Saved us All.” This also expands the point, and I hope my rephrasing to inconvenient will be carefully considered by anyone pregnant in circumstances that make pregnancy most inconvenient, even if the pregnancy had in fact been desired before the bad circumstances arose.

However, while the timing of Mary’s pregnancy was far from convenient in her culture, it wasn’t unplanned. God had been planning it for an eternity. Thanks to the prophets, God’s people had been expecting the Messiah’s birth for a long time, too. So God and God’s bride, Israel, had both been planning to have this child. All that was hidden from Israel was exactly when* and which literal woman would carry their child and raise their child. Israel also glossed over a few Biblical prophecies about the Messiah while Israel excitedly planned out exactly what Messiah would be.

*The book of Daniel did prophesy accurately how many years it’d be until Messiah’s birth, but it doesn’t specify the exact day and hour.

Granted, Mary did begin planning for herself to be the Messiah’s mother on rather short notice. And Joseph wasn’t planning for his bride to have a child with the Holy Ghost beforehand at all, but he was not the pregnant one or the child’s biological father. Besides, the greater lesson, to all of us, is Mary’s total faithfulness to God, her willingness to radically change her plans at God’s request via Gabriel on such short notice.

And, when God sent Gabriel to Joseph, Joseph likewise accepted the challenge to change his plans.

Betrothed couples like Mary and Joseph were not engaged in the modern sense; they were already legally married. In their culture, you signed the marriage license first, then came a waiting period where the bride remained in her father’s house while her bridegroom prepared for her. After this, he came for his bride, and they had the wedding and the wedding night.

I respect it is not planned to some people’s thinking for Joseph and Mary, on such short notice from God, to change their plans during that waiting period, to him coming for his bride sooner than he’d planned previously, but it wasn’t an unplanned pregnancy, and they were married. The waiting period was not a culturally convenient time for her to get pregnant, but it was the best time for God’s purposes, as it was the only time then that God’s son could be both born from a virgin and be born legitimately within wedlock.

That’s said, let’s do make a great side point to the Christmas story and encourage moms to carry inconvenient pregnancies to term. Let’s do admire how they did the right thing despite the likely nasty accusations, when both truly had done no wrong. Let’s also remember this Christmas, at its core, their story is a story of faith. Their example to us all is one of being willing, in any situation, to change our plans if God asks us to, even it’s on short notice and inconveniences us.

[bctt tweet=”One Inconvenient Pregnancy Saved Us All #MerryChristmas #ByFaith” username=””]

Three Lessons from Esther.

Standard

condesign / Pixabay

If you’re looking for Esther and having a hard time of finding it, don’t feel so bad. It’s all of 4 chapters. Find Psalms and go left two books. The book of Esther is read in Jewish homes at Purim, which celebrates the survival of the events in Esther. Now, to do this properly, you need to remember that you should hiss whenever the name of the bad guy comes up (Haman. Hissss)1. Okay. Now that you’re prepared, let’s dive in.

There was much argument about whether the book of Esther should be included in the canon. There’s no mention of God anywhere in the book … at least not in the open. The name “Esther” means “Something Hidden.” The name YHWH is actually encrypted behind the text. If you take an equidistant letter sequence starting from a couple places, you get the name YHWH more often than is statistically expected. So, God is in the book. Per her instructions, Esther, the queen and the book, hid her heritage2. For your very great amusement, there’s another hidden bit of text in there, too. “Haman and Satan stink” is concealed in the text using an equidistant letter sequence3.

Anyway, back to the point. The king of Persia at the time was very volatile. In Chapter 1 of Esther, we find that he put away his wife, Vashti, because she wouldn’t appear before a group of guys who’d been drinking for seven days. Some commentators suggest that this wasn’t just a matter of her wandering in to join the party but rather that she would perform, dance, or otherwise become the entertainment4. When she declined, Ahasuerus kicked her out.

So, that gets us to Esther, who was the ward of Mordecai, a descendant of Shimei. Does that name sound familiar? If you’re familiar with David’s adventures, it might. Shimei was a kinsman of Saul. This relative of the former king cursed David as David fled his son’s rebellion, and the king’s soldiers wanted to explain very clearly to this rabble rouser that cursing the king was not healthy. David wouldn’t allow his people to kill Shimei5. Now, I’m not suggesting that David might have known the significance of Shimei’s descendant, but if Shimei had been killed, there wouldn’t have been a Mordecai.

Esther ended up in the king’s harem, then so impressed the king that she became queen. Meanwhile, Uncle Mordecai made one of the king’s advisers, Haman (Don’t forget to “Hissss” when his name comes up) mad by refusing to pay homage when he passed. Haman decided to concoct a plan to make this annoying Jew pay.

Now, when you read Esther 3:1, you find that Haman was an Agagite. That’s also significant. Saul had been instructed to wipe out Agag and his people but chose to spare at least Agag and possibly a few others, unless there were some escapees6. If Saul had followed God’s directions and destroyed everyone and everything, there wouldn’t have been a Haman.

To cut to the chase, Haman hatched a plan to kill the Jews. Mordecai got wind of it and warned Esther. Esther thwarted the plan, and Haman died. For the details, read Esther. It’s short and very engaging.

So, if all Scripture is there for our instruction7, what are we supposed to do with this?

There are actually three good lessons for us to find here. First, Esther had been placed in a position to do something on behalf of God’s chosen, and she took a great deal of personal risk to do it. Not only did she walk uninvited into the throne room, which bore the death penalty unless the king extended his scepter; but she also revealed her identity as one of the condemned Jews, confronted Haman, then worked with her uncle to find a way to give her people a chance in the impending slaughter. Do you take any risks for God’s kingdom? Do you ever step out of your comfort zone to do something boldly for Christ? You may not have to face a volatile king and his wily adviser, but you might have to risk upsetting someone or facing the unknown. God won’t let you do this alone, but the initiative to do it is yours. He won’t force your hand.

Secondly, consider David’s response to Shimei. If the soldiers had gotten their wish, Shimei would’ve died that day, and there would’ve been no Mordecai to raise Esther or get word to her of the impending death sentence. David showed mercy, which is “not giving people what they deserve.” God shows us mercy, too. Are you merciful toward others, or do your thoughts go to making sure a well-deserving adversary gets his comeuppance? Instead, we should be kind to our enemies, and thereby dump burning coals on their heads8.

Finally, Saul’s error could have been very costly. Haman was an Agagite, and Saul had been told to wipe out every single one of them some generations before. He chose not to, Haman’s ancestors survived, and Haman had an opportunity to wipe out God’s chosen. He didn’t succeed, obviously, but as a result of Saul’s disobedience, things were much more difficult for Esther and Mordecai, among others.

Likewise, if we choose not to do God’s will for us, the work still gets done, but there may be hardships and extra burdens for others down the road. James says that God will give you wisdom if you ask for it9. So ask, find out what God wants you to do, and get it done.

Connect to Cindy on:
FB:
http://facebook.com/KoeppC
Website:
http://ckoepp.com
Blogs:
http://cindykoepp.wordpress.com
http://cckoepp.wordpress.com
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Cindy-Koepp/e/B008QXR2QI

Cindy Koepp is originally from Michigan. She moved to Texas as a child and later received a degree in Wildlife Sciences and teaching certification in Elementary Education from rival universities. Her recently concluded adventures in education involved pursuing a master’s degree in Adult Learning with a specialization in Training and Performance Improvement. Cindy has four published science fiction and fantasy novels, a serial published online, short stories in five anthologies, and a few self-published teacher resource books. When she isn’t reading or writing, Cindy spends time whistling with a crazy African Grey. Cindy is currently an editor with PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain Press as well as an optician at monster-sized retail store.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Three Lessons from Esther by Cindy Koepp #bible #devotional #commentary #faith #mercy #obedience[/tweetthis]

Endnotes:

1 Missler, Chuck. Verse by Verse Commentary on Esther. Koinonia House

2 Esther 2:10; Ibid.

3 Missler, Chuck. Verse by Verse Commentary on Esther. Koinonia House

4 Ibid.

5 2 Samuel 16:5-13

6 1 Samuel 15

7 Romans 15:4

8 Proverbs 25:21-22

9 James 1:5

Impoverished Gospel, Part One

Standard

By Adam Graham

Note from Andrea: This article begins a two-part series on prayer by a special guest blogger, my sweet, thoughtful husband. The second part will post next Thursday.

war roomThe Kendrick Brothers’ latest film, War Room, finished second at last weekend’s box office. The film focuses on the power of prayer. For many, that’s a problem. Some have accused the film of preaching a prosperity gospel that says all you have to do is pray in faith and your family’s problems will all go away.

I see the film as a mostly positive illustration of the power of prayer, but I also see how it could play into the hands of the false prosperity teachers. However, prosperity teachers aren’t the only sources of a warped view of prayer. This is important. Of all the areas where I’ve received poor teaching, none has done more harm than the variety of awful teaching I’ve received on prayer.

Growing up, the big thing was health. A popular sermon was, “Is it God’s Will to Heal Everybody?” The answer given was yes. The problem? As a child, I was often sick with bronchial infections. It recurred several times a year and hung on, time and time again, for weeks on. I begged God for relief and it never seemed to come.

When I was little, based on such teaching, I declared over my bronchial infections, “I am healed, and I was healed.” It was a nice, positive confession, but the illness continued to return to torture me round after round. As I grew older, I lost confidence that I would ever get better. Indeed, to this day, I have a bout once or twice a year with the same affliction that’s stalked me since my early days. I wasn’t alone in getting disillusioned from a lack of healing. I remember talking to a dear, sweet brother with chronic pain. He left a fellowship because he couldn’t live up to that standard of God healing him.

Thankfully, my never receiving a miraculous healing didn’t lead me to abandon God. I knew people who were healed, genuinely, absolutely, clearly miraculously healed, and only God could have done it. My conclusion was something was wrong with my faith and I couldn’t fix it. In the back of my mind was the idea maybe God didn’t love me as much as he loved others whose prayers seemed to be readily answered.

My confusion was infused with cynicism as I realized for some people, “I’ll pray about it,” meant, “I’m going to use prayer as an excuse to do nothing.”

At the first church I attended in Boise, I then heard a very clear message: God doesn’t want to hear about all your little selfish needs. “He doesn’t want to hear your selfish lists of requests.” This abusive church commanded us to only pray for others, and that’s what I did. Whole years passed where I would hardly mention my own needs to God.

It had been drilled into me that prayer was important and not doing it was bad for you. Prayer became the spiritual equivalent of an unpleasant medical exam: not fun but it’s got to be done.

I loved praying in groups because I did believe God would care about that prayer. Things that were prayed by groups had gotten God’s attention. He’d promised to move if two or three agreed. But me? Would my prayers ever change anything? Certainly not.

I did things for God and tried my best. Yet a lot of my effort was wasted. It’d be a mess or just unfruitful as I did my best to tilt at windmills and found the windmills winning.

Of course, I’d never publicly affirm that to be the case. I hardly admitted it to myself because it was too shameful to admit. But it’s had an effect on my life nonetheless. I worry too much and get way too stressed. I don’t have the peace I should have.
prayingman
I read scripture verses that I desperately wished would define my life but didn’t. They’d almost make me cry with longing for them to be true. Cast your cares upon him for he careth for you. (1 Peter 5:7) In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:6) That’d be nice, and I wanted it to be true, and to reign in my life, but it didn’t.

Instead, I carried far too much on myself. In the process of rejecting the tacky idea of the abundant life with perfect health now and everyone having a Cadillac and a boat, I’ve also missed out on experiencing what Christ meant by that phrase in the book of John.

However, God is working on me and one thing that ministered to me over the last couple of years is Diane Moody’s book Confessions of a Prayer Slacker (Second Edition). I got it free on Kindle, and it was the best free book I’ve ever gotten. It’s an honest book about how this author built her prayer life. She was honest about her struggles and the challenges she faced in doing it and it pushed me to making my prayer life a priority. And my Donna Fletcher Crow book Seasons of Prayer
has added some helpful organization.

Slowly but surely, I’ve drawn closer to God through prayer and the vast majority of days I’m remembering. I’m not where I should be, but I’m not where I was either. I sin a little less, fear a little less, and am moving closer to Him.

People who target a false doctrine often forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. For every churchgoer who thinks God owes them a BMW if they ask for it by faith in the name of Jesus, probably two or three wonder if there’s any point to praying at all. It’s this second group that War Room is meant to speak to.


Adam Graham is a follower of Christ and a contributor at PJ Media and Caffeinated Thoughts. He is the author of the novel, Tales of the Dim Knight (with his wife, Andrea) He has been an adult Sunday School teacher. He is also a former President of his local American Christian Fiction Writers Chapter. You can follow him on Twitter @idahoguy

[tweetthis]NEW! Two-part series on #prayer by special guest Adam Graham @idahoguy. #WarRoom[/tweetthis][tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true” remove_hidden_hashtags=”true” remove_hidden_urls=”true”]In targeting #falsedoctrine we forget there’s more than one way to be wrong. #prayer Impoverished Gospel[/tweetthis]