The Balance Between Planning and Provision

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When my wife and I moved into our apartment nearly a year ago, I had a pallet that a friend helped me turn into a tabletop. That is what it remained for a good while, simply the surface of what could be a coffee table. Finally, we found two castor wheels that could work as legs in a shop. But we could only find two! For this project to become Pinterest-worthy, it would need all four. I mounted the two wheels on the table in hopes that two more of the same wheels would show themselves somewhere soon. Weeks turned to a few months and all I had was a lop-sided coffee table stored away in the garage with no purpose in life, no way to hold our mugs in the morning. I needed a solution and I was terrified because I’m really only a handy-man in my imagination.

My wife and I are off-beat decorators of sorts and instead of traditional lamps, we had clamp work lights that provided illumination to our home as well as an industrial, rustic aesthetic. They were old and from a garage sale, so the electrical chords in them gave out making them useless after only some short use. Unlike the lamps, a light bulb flipped on above my head and I went to get the tabletop. I cut the electrical chords out of the brushed steel lights, and placed them under the table where the other two castor wheels should have been. Voilà! A solution was found as the height of the work lights perfectly matched the height of the wheels on the other side and we had a working coffee table that maintained the look that we wanted for our living room. It finally worked when I wasn’t leaning on my own creative strategy or skillset. It just, sort of, happened.

We often try to employ strategies, especially in ministry, in ways that bank on our own skills and creativity. We may grow things through strategic planning, and we may get our name out there – but is the purpose we were aiming for really being accomplished? Things may look new and put together, but people may miss out on Jesus in the process.

There’s a balance to our planning and God’s provision.

When Jesus saw a large and hungry crowd following him, he looked up and asked his disciple Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (Jn. 6:5). He said this to test him because Jesus already knew what he was going to do. Phillip responded, “‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little’(6:7). Then another of his disciples, Andrew, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?(6:9).

The reality of our creative strategy apart from partnering with God in his perfect work, no matter the outward appearance of growth or progression, ultimately looks like the strategic plans Phillip and Andrew had to offer. We either have no real solution and claim it cannot be done logically, or we present a game plan that logically won’t work with even the time, talent and treasure available us.

Jesus has the disciples seat the people down and they go on to pass the bread and fish they already had there and it was multiplied by Jesus. The disciples got to participate in the work, but it was God who provided and accomplished the plan. Jesus says that he is the solution and the strategy. The disciples were looking at what they had and thinking about only what they could do with it. When we understand that what we have – our time, talent and resources; and strategies – can be multiplied exponentially when we ask Jesus to take the main role in them, that is when we experience the illogical in our lives and ministries. That is when the work you wanted to see come together, just sort of happen, and then some. And then a lot more!

We must not think like those disciples who only thought of what they could do with what was available. But as disciples who know that God can do anything with what we have been given.

Take a Hike.

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A few days ago, I made a commitment to get away from everything and everyone to seek a soul revamp. I heard about some fun trails about a fifteen minute drive from my hometown that I had never been to before so I headed that way. Eighty degrees, crisp sky blue, lush green and that distinct summer aroma in the air made for a perfect opportunity to pursue the Lord’s presence and stillness.

If you know me, you know that I don’t really enjoy being alone; And if you ask me how life is going, I don’t tend to unravel my intimacy with the heavenly Father. By default, I ramble about what God could be preparing me for and about the next steps he may have. That is not unhealthy in it of itself, of course we should seek our Lord’s Spirit for guidance and obedience. However, if our relationship scales down to seeing him simply as a God of directions instead of the God of our souls, then we have serious issue to work through.

So here I am 1) alone, and 2) fumbling through attempting to pray intimately. At first, I experienced heavy difficulty trying to get my mind and soul quiet. I wanted so badly to ask God what’s next in life and what I need to do to make sure I was a world-changer as well as my wife. As I said before, I’m always looking ahead and asking what’s next, so my life is always lacking a good pause. My mind frantically searches for the most efficient and impressive way to do life. Creative ideas and plans are in a constant spin cycle in my head and I desire God to just affirm one and provide the finances and faith to go and accomplish it — So I can experience a fulfilling purpose, and so I can just hit the off button on that cycle. I often feel like a disciple in the boat in John 6, headed to destination Capernaum when it is dark and the sea is rough due to strong winds. Jesus comes walking on the water and says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” I gladly take him into the boat but I still don’t know how to get to where I am going. I feel like I have a good destination in mind, but it is still choppy and cloudy around my thought and prayer life.

The funny thing about the disciples in the boat and I is we know our God can do anything (he just walked on water!) yet the what’s next question is still at the forefront of our minds more than the presence of the Creator of the universe who has come to be with us.

It took me an entire hour to just chill and enjoy God’s creation as well as his voice. Standing at a hilltop overlook, among the trees elevated by God himself towering before me, his Spirit spoke gently. The impression communicated “Stop seeing me as just a compass in our relationship. Enjoy my presence. Be near today, that is all. You don’t need to process everything today.”

That was all I needed and it was so relieving. The spin cycle slowed and again I realized that being near to God is of infinite value compared to what I do with my life. I’m the only one putting myself in that boat of confusion when God is the destination. “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (Jn, 6:21). There is no true purpose or destination until we are with God and he is taking us on the hike with him.

Not-So-Superheroes

P_20170403_112228_1“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton

I think comic-cons and opening nights for Marvel movies are so popularized because in some weird way, superhero universes are so relatable. I know that sounds so backwards since we know it is completely unrealistic to scroll Twitter and catch a teenager actually slinging through Manhattan with web-powers. But really think about it, most of us love some kind of super-powerful story: Dragonball Z, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel or DC. . . And think about how crazy praised TV shows like the Flash and Green Arrow are becoming. Whether we are publicly known for our love of these superheroes or they are our guilty pleasure, most of us can admit we get sucked into the character building that is so familiar and interesting. And of course, we are all living in a common world experiencing an epic tale of Good vs. Evil.

Recently, I skimmed an article about some of the most powerful superheroes who won’t use their power to their full potential. Originally thinking “I would want to use all my powers if I was them, what’s the deal?”, the point made total sense by the end. Glancing through the vibrant comic book pictures of some of my favorite all-time heroes and with the nostalgia of their backstory in mind, I started to read about how they purposefully limited their power use for good reason. The common thread I found was that they did this in order to never become that which they hate. Villains are the ones without boundaries, who crave unlimited power with a heart bent on evil. The real heroes remain steadfast in utmost character and caliber by limiting themselves for the sake of saving themselves from becoming all-powerful because absolute power corrupts absolutely. Their commitment to good and to putting others first outweighed the maximizing of their abilities even if it meant it would be much more exhausting to destroy evil-doers. Truly, they know their role; Humbling themselves enough to not play God.

There’s a God-fearing man in the Bible named Gideon who was a normal guy like you and me who felt like he was the least capable in not just his entire clan, but even just his immediate family. He felt small and pretty much the opposite of intimidating. And then one day something happened . . . (Sounds like the perfect set up to a prototypical superhero plot line, eh?) . . . The Angel of the Lord came from Heaven assigning Gideon to a heroic task far beyond him and his current ability. God was going to take this underdog and make him a great leader over armies to destroy his enemies.

With the power of God, not of Gideon.

After some negotiating, Gideon finally believed the Lord and trusted that it was not he who could take on such a duty, but it would depend on God with him. So he went. With God’s power on him, he put armies of hundreds of thousands to flight with only 300 men! Like anyone else (including you or I), those who witnessed Gideon’s success and supernatural ability to fight and lead thought he was a perfect fit to rule and to govern them. After putting several victories in the W column, “the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian'” (Judges 8:22). His people who doubted him and thought little of him before, wanted an immediate election to put him in office to lord over them. They wanted to give him absolute power. Knowing this would corrupt him and remembering where his strength came from, ‘Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you'” (8:23). He limited his own power. Gideon illustrates the same high level of character as that of our favorite fictional supermen and there’s something unique about him that makes us desire a way to get in on this too.

Gideon is an underdog, has doubting thoughts, desires something to change in the world of rampant evil around him but knows he has no ability to carry it out. But he trusts God’s ability to put his Super on his natural. God could be calling to you in a radical way to make a dent in his perfect work to thwart evil. Just like Gideon. You’re allowed to doubt, wrestle, find his word illogical. But obey and see what he does. With the power of God, not of you.

 

Back To Eden

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Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Colossians 3:9-10)

I have to flip the channel when I see that commercial where a girl tries to pay for her cigarettes by picking patches of her skin off and placing them on the counter. It’s haunting! When you see these terms like we have to put off the old self and put on the new self, you can start to think weird things like What, do I need to pay for this “new self” by shedding my old skin like that nasty ad?” 

The new self is a back to Eden mindset. Before the Fall, our way of thinking followed the compass of God’s good revelation, void of evil. As we know, evil entered as the corrupting agent in our thought life with just one bite.

But we have a Lord who purchased this curse. One who calls us from the deathly bite in the garden to the fruit of the Spirit that will renew our knowledge after the image of its creator. To this Lord we are able to submit every thought for his dealing.

Just like we put on new clothes each day (hopefully) we must decide to put on the new self that is progressively refreshing to the original design.

Lord let us be done with the old and embrace the new that has been ushered in by the grace of our creator.

By Faith: Noah

Have you ever felt God call you to do something that just didn’t seem logical? Your default response might have been to disregard the prompt and push it as far away from the forefront of your mind as possible. Or you may have answered back something like “Good one Lord, we both know that’s not going to work.” Perhaps another option you considered was “I’m not called to that” or “doing something like that doesn’t fit my gifting”. There are these awkward moments in the Christian race where we somehow think it seems plausible to tell our Caller – the Author and Perfecter – of our faith that he should rethink what he said and get back to us.

If we imagine ourselves in the thick of Noah’s story, we would know how foolish our responses can be. Let’s dive into that.

If Noah could have went to college, he would have been an agriculture student not a carpenter. Nobody would have taken his resume to build a mammoth ark. Furthermore, Noah lived in a land of intense drought for a long, long time. This dude probably can’t remember the last time he felt a rain drop. . drop top. . let’s not get off track. Can you fathom getting this call from God, when all you want to do is farm but you live in a desert wasteland? And God says, actually you are going to build a giant boat that can withstand the most rain this world has ever seen. Yeah right. Your mind would immediately go to the flack you’ll receive from neighbors, the lack of textbooks you have on wood working, and the tempting idea that erecting a flood ship is probably pointless. And that even [gasp] God may be wrong. But it was not Noah’s credentials or years of experience that landed him this call to the hall of faith. It was indeed solely on the merit of his faith in a great God. To such an absurd task from on high, the Scripture tells us – “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22).

You may be thinking Man, how many spiritual push ups do I need to do to get half that kind of faith?” Wrong thinking. Noah was just a normal, fouled up human being like you or I. Remember that even after his stunning accomplishment when the lush lands once again breathed in nourishment, Noah planted a vineyard and enjoyed his homebrew a bit too much.

God uses flawed human beings with an ounce of faith to write his narrative.

Our Lord calls his sons and daughters to the illogical daily. However, it is not always going to be as seemingly epic as the story of Noah. Luckily it doesn’t have to be because God said “I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth”! (Thank you Noah for taking that job off our hands): It may be that you are called to engage a hurting a person in a parking lot when you feel you don’t have the time. Teach the Bible and read it with a co-worker or fellow student when you don’t feel like you are a quality teacher. Invite your neighbors over for coffee and pray for spiritual conversation when you want to binge Netflix. Save up to go serve in an international mission instead of that trip to the beach this summer. Allow God’s Spirit room to direct your next steps of faith.

The most important takeaway from any of the character stories in the hall of faith is that God puts his Extra on their ordinary (and most of them are even less than admirable). We should long for him to do the same with us. By faith.

By Faith: Abel

‘Mericans are exceptional in the depressing sport of Foodball. Like, we literally take food and shoot it in the hoop that is the kitchen waste basket. If we are honest, we splurge on way too much food for the one or two meals we have in mind for the week. We get in the lab that is our kitchen to innovate an Instagram-worthy dish that will dazzle our family and friends #Delicious. Then we are either ill-equipped to creatively use left-overs or we lazily let the unused groceries hang out until the marked day of their calculated death and they are tossed to the curb.

We are really good at thinking of ourselves first.

In terms of food, this is clearly true in the US. As I said, most of us buy too much, accomplish what we set out to do with the ingredients, and waste the rest. According to Feeding America, there is an estimated 70 billion pounds of food waste in America each year. I don’t even have a word for how stunning that number is. What a waste of resources and an assault on God’s blessing.

A man by the name of Abel knew not to offend God with his first-fruits and only serve himself. Hebrews 11:4 references the early Genesis story – “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” Genesis 4 tells us that Abel was the keeper of sheep and his brother Cain was responsible for working the ground. So a shepherd and a farmer walk into Garden Bar and. . . nevermind. . . So Cain the farmer’s love for God and his respect for his resources lacked considerably compared to his brother Abel the shepherd. Their story goes something like this:

“In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry and his face fell” (Genesis 4:3-5).

We could unpack this like so: Abel immediately thanked the Lord for what was given to him as blessing by offering the first and best of what he received back to the One who gave it to him in the first place. His heart was oriented towards the hand of the Lord, the Giver of good gifts. Meanwhile Cain, lacking affinity for the Lord and selfish in his heart, checked his “giving back to God” chore list off by offering his left-overs.

The American issue I mentioned before, does it sound more like it comes from a heart and thought process like Cain or Abel? And for you, just you personally – are you offering your very best to God from a depth of love, purity and thankfulness to our Lord or are you bringing him a to-go box with what you could find nearing its expiration date?

We should long for God to be pleased with the offering of our lives (and stop dropping so much money at the grocery store like dang!). . .  Allow God to put his Extra on your ordinary as he did with Abel. By faith.