God’s Direction – 1st Place!

Most of us desire to know God’s direction for our lives.  We want to know, what, how and where to do the will of God.  In our prayers, we ask God to open the doors of opportunity and close the doors He does not desire for us.  When we read Scripture, we long to hear from God to determine the exact direction He desires for us.  However, when we do not hear or see the direction we think God has for us, how do we react?  Do we get frustrated and stop praying?  Do we get angry at God and “take some time off” from our relationship with Him?  Or do we stop and ask ourselves, why is it that God isn’t speaking?  Is there something in our lives that He wants us to focus on before giving us the direction we long for?

Thousands of years ago, Israel had been taken captive by Babylon.  God had ordained this as Israel was living in sin.  After some time, Persia then overtook Babylon and took the Israelites captive.  During that time, Nehemiah (the Israelite cup bearer to the king – and prophet) saw Jerusalem in shambles.  He prays to God about this and God moves the heart of the king so that Nehemiah can go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

During the process of rebuilding, there were many who opposed the Israelites from rebuilding the walls.  God continued to move the heart of the king and under Nehemiah’s direction, the walls were built and completed.  Then more opposition came.  And this is where Haggai, the prophet, comes in.

Haggai was given the task, by God, to motivate the Israelites into working on the temple.  The Israelites were scared at first and then became comfortable with their surroundings.  Over time, they saw some success and began building and taking care of their homes.  Yet, even as they worked on their own homes, the temple was still in shambles.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’  Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” – Haggai 1:2-4

Many times, as new believers, we are excited to be in this new relationship with our Creator.  We confess our sins, read the Scripture – looking for His direction and we spend time in prayer (even if we don’t understand how to pray, we still spend the time trying).  As time goes on, we see the successes of focusing our attention on our relationship with our Creator.  Maybe, you received an unexpected raise or a new job (that you were praying for) came your way.  You begin to see how God operates and the rewards you get for being obedient to Him.  But then…. you get comfortable.  Without realizing it, your prayer life begins to wane.  Reading Scripture becomes more of a chore than of a pleasure and you become very comfortable right where you are.  This is where the problem begins.

You notice that life isn’t all that exciting anymore.  Yeah you’re a Christian, but so what.  You go to church once a week and pick up your Bible on occasion.  You pray at meals or when you have a problem, but other than that, your prayer life is eh.  Suddenly, one day, you begin to notice that the job God had provided to you no longer seems to be that exciting anymore.  It’s okay, becomes the thought process for everyday living.  So what happened?  Why has life become so boring, so mundane?  Simply put, it is because we forgot about our relationship with God.

The Israelites were getting comfortable.  But they also wondered why things weren’t going the way they thought it would or should.  Have you ever worked so hard, yet you feel like the results are just mediocre?  You work and work and work, and in some cases in ministry, only to never be satisfied or see the fruit of your labor?  You read and pray for months only to never be satisfied with what you are reading or hearing?  This is what the Israelites were doing.

Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways.  You have planted much, but harvested little.  You eat, but never have enough.  You drink, but never have your fill.  You put on clothes, but are not warm.  You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” – Haggai 1:5-6

Because Israel had not put God first, God allowed them to never be fully satisfied.  Have you ever felt, you are never satisfied?  I know I have.  And as a child of God, us never being satisfied should be warning sign to us.  Not being satisfied means we have placed God second and other things first.  We have allowed the cares of this world to supersede that which God commanded… “I am the Lord your God.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  In essence, we place an idol where God should be.

When we place God second, it is not to say we don’t believe in Him, but we say through our actions, we can do better.  We tell the Creator of everything that we know more and can handle whatever it is we are going through.  Let me encourage you today by saying, none of us have a handle on our lives.  None of us really understand what we go through and why we go through it.  Our minds are great at lying to us, convincing us that we do not need anyone.  When we place God second, we shouldn’t wonder why life isn’t going well.

Placing God first in everything isn’t easy.  We have a tendency to work very hard for little reward.  But when we place God first, we still work hard but God gives the increase.  We plant the seed of His Salvation into the lives of others by loving them and telling them about Jesus Christ.  We water the seed of His Salvation when we go through the hardships with others, praying for them when they cannot.  But we cannot harvest what is not there.  Only God gives the increase.  Only God makes His Seed into a living plant.  Only God can grow the fruit.  We benefit from the harvest, but God does most of the work.

Unfortunately, we have a desire to try and force the fruit to grow.  We water more.  We add fertilizer over and over again.  We place lamps around the plant on the cloudy days.  We work and work and work, only to find ourselves exhausted and dissatisfied.  We then blame God, others and even ourselves when things don’t go the way we desire.

So how do we get out from underneath this pitfall?  How do we place God first?

Well that’s for next time.  Until then, God bless and encourage someone today.

A Bad Attitude, Bigots and Terrorists

Have you ever thought what kind of people God uses?  In today’s society, we see multi-millionaire preachers, clean cut, good looking people saying, “Follow Jesus today”.  Under the same breath, we see those same people being exposed for sexual immorality, embezzlement and false preaching.  The thousand dollar suited, well groomed, private jet preacher asking for your money rarely ever looks like the people Jesus used while here on earth.

Just to give you an idea, here is a list of some people God used prior to Jesus’ life:

  • Abraham – a doubting, liar who slept with another woman
  • Moses – an angry, impatient murderer who had a stammering speech problem
  • David – A man who started off good, but had an affair with another man’s wife then had the man killed.
  • Jonah – A racist
  • Rahab – A prostitute (who happens to be in the genealogy of Christ)
  • Jacob – A conniving, deceptive angry man

So now let’s take a look at what we know about the disciples of Jesus Christ:

  • Matthew – A tax collector (the scum of his day) who robbed from his own people
  • Peter – A short tempered, impulsive fisherman
  • John and James – Argumentative, angry and highly tempered problem children whose mother asked Jesus for a favor that made them look better than others.
  • Thomas – “I only believe what I can see” individual
  • Judas Iscariot – A betrayer
  • Simon – A criminal

Now ask yourself this question, “Can God use someone like me?”  The answer should be a simple one, “DUH!”  So why do we think God can’t use us?  Why do we doubt like Thomas, get an attitude problem like James and John and become impulsive like Peter?  You might be surprised at the answer but before I continue, let me share with you one more story:

“A young boy was once given the opportunity of a lifetime, to study with the greatest minds of his day.  He was allowed into the best schools free-of-charge.  He was given exclusive access to the best teachers of the world.  This young boy became a young man and because his grades were so phenomenal, the head of the top university personally taught this young man.

He was considered the best of the best.  There was no student better than him.  One day, this young man heard that the government was going after a small group of people that appeared trying to create a revolt.  He knew they had to be stopped.

He managed to ban together a group of other highly intellectual people who convinced themselves that killing these people would be the best scenario.  He formed this small army and with the permission of the head of the university and the government officials was able to hunt down and kill this group of small people.”

This story is not fictional.  It is actually true.  This was the beginning of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  He was the top of his class, was taught a rabbi who is still considered one of the greatest rabbis that ever lived.  He hunted down and killed many followers of Christ.  In fact, Paul was there when Stephen (the 1st known martyr) was stoned to death.  The Scripture states that Paul was approving of the stoning.  Today, we would call Paul and extremist or terrorist.  So let’s revisit the question at hand – can God use me?

Before you think you are better than those mentioned in Scripture, we need to be reminded of whence we came.  For most, if not all of us, we were people who hated Christianity.  We hated the preaching, teaching and asking for money.  We were semi-content with living immoral, unethical lives in a dark and dying world.  We cared about no one but ourselves.  We probably felt that Christians were crazy, radical extremists who didn’t deserve to live.  We may have never killed anyone or stolen anything, but we probably had major attitude problems and hateful thoughts.  In essence, we are just like the disciples.

Prior to becoming a Christian, we hated God.  We hated His purposes and we hated Christ.  Now that we are Christians, we rejoice in what we once hated.  However, now we are the crazy, extremist Christ followers.  So how do we overcome this view from the world?  We don’t.  No matter what we do or how we do it, non-believers will always think we are crazy extremists.  Does that mean we shouldn’t find ways to mend differences?  As Scripture says, “They will know you are My followers by your love for each other.”

Love is the binding agent that shows the world how much God loves them.  As we show the unconditional love that God shows us to others, we become living examples of God’s love.  Scripture also says, “Pray for your enemies.”  This means not only praying for the terrorists, but also for our neighbors who don’t like us because we are Christians.  No matter what church we belong to, if we believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, then we are brothers and sisters.  Just because one believes in the gift of tongues and the other does not, doesn’t mean we have the right to call each other names.

All we need to do is love each other.  I always tell people who don’t like what I have to say, “If you can’t get along with me now, then how are we going to get along in eternity?”  We have to focus on the Kingdom and not ourselves.  When we don’t show love to each other we show the world it is about us rather than God.  So, let’s love one another and especially show love to those who hate us.  In doing this we will show the world God is real and loves them.  He wants to use you, so let Him.

God bless and encourage someone today.