Destiny

God can even use the bad things in your life to better equip you for the calling He has for you. As long as you are whole-heartedly seeking after God, He will use you in amazing ways.

Why I No Longer Chase after “If Only”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week, we looked at how God never says If Only… This week, I’d like to look at how learning that truth changed the focus of my own life now that I know He loves me just as I am.

The temptations in this world are all pointing us toward the same thing: If only we could be like God (without His help). When I took up that effort, I became controlling, constantly swinging between feelings of shame and pride, and looking for comfort anywhere but in Christ.

Photo by castgen, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by castgen, Flickr Creative Commons

Sure, I did some good stuff, but my church attendance, Bible reading, and “righteous” deeds were nothing but cheap polish on the clay jar that God made me to be.

Somehow, I imagined that all this effort at perfection would make the Gospel more appealing to others, allowing God’s kingdom to grow. Yet it was all folly.

You see, God never intended for me to polish my own jar, to make the vessel impressive. My self-righteous deeds were like filthy rags before Him. All of the glory I was seeking was for me, not for Him. And all such glory is fleeting.

So now, I’ve set down that desire for self-won godliness, and instead pursue full-surrender to God instead.

But what exactly does that look like? For me, it started with rejecting the impressive things I wanted to do and doing the hard things I knew God was calling me to do:

  • I became transparent and open with some God-fearing friends.
  • I was finally honest with my wife and faced the evil I was doing to her.
  • I began making humble sacrifices instead of prideful excuses.

In reality, though I didn’t do anything. I merely allowed God to finally do what He wanted to do: Pour me out like an old, clay pot so that His life could be what fills me up.

And with His new life in me, I now get to live knowing that He is perfectly pleased with me doing the things He has called me to do, which sets me free from constantly wondering what I could become if only I were doing more…

God Never Says “If Only…”

In the winter of 2006, the church I loved (and simultaneously hated) was crumbling around me, my pregnant wife had developed a growing sense of loneliness that would eventually bring us to the brink of divorce, and my porn habit was still safely wrapped in lies. However, if you had asked me, I still would’ve told you I was on my way to doing great things for God and living out the Gospel each day.

Photo by paolobarzman, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by paolobarzman, Flickr Creative Commons

I didn’t recognize the one thing that was driving all of my pending catastrophes: the selfish desire to focus on the If only’s…

If only my wife’s sex drive had spiked in the second trimester like that book said it would…

If only my pastor would see my potential and hand me the reigns…

If only God would choose me… bless me… anoint my efforts…

If only people would understand that my occasional lust binges were no big deal…

If only I was someone else… somewhere else…

If only sin didn’t have consequences…

I’ve since learned that God never says if only… He never wishes that He had another plan or another Church. He never looks at His beloved like a poorly picked schoolyard team.

No, God chose His children before the world began. He knew us and predestined us for the good works He’s setting before us even now. He doesn’t wish He’d only made you taller, or smarter, or whatever (see Exodus 4:11). God made you a jar of clay on purpose. He wants to put His treasure in you the way you are now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part 1 in a 2-part series. Be sure to check back next week for the second part: Why I No Longer Chase after “If Only…”

Want to Know God’s Will for Your Life?

It’s a new year once again, which undoubtedly means many of you have been thinking about New Years Resolutions. Maybe you’ve resolving to lose some weight, learn some new skills, or finally take care of that thing you’ve been putting off for a long time.

But instead of asking what you want to do this year, what if you asked God what He wants you to do?

In other words, what is God’s will for your life?

Fortunately, He tells us exactly what His will is throughout Scripture. For example:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).

That seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Or, how about this verse:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister (1 Thessalonians 4:3–6).

Well, that’s relevant for our struggle, isn’t it?

So, apparently, God’s will for you in 2014 is to rejoice, pray, be thankful, and avoid sexual immorality.

Well, yes, technically…but that’s not really what you where hoping to discover here, was it?

Goonies MapWhen we ask God to tell us His will for our life, what we are usually requesting from Him is a map that outlines exactly how to get from point A to point Z. If He were to reveal all of that to you, though, you would never need to check back in with Him regarding your next steps.

And what happens to relationships when there is no interaction? They die.

That’s why He is much more interested in walking with you from point A to point B. Once you reach point B, He will open the door to point C and walk with you there. And so on.

God is more interested in you being
with Him than you doing stuff for Him.

By asking you to keep coming back to Him for the next step, He is inviting you into a close, continual relationship with Him. 

So instead of asking “What is God’s will for my life?” perhaps the question we should ask is, “What does God want me to do today?”

This year, don’t worry so much about God’s will for your entire life. Ask God what He wants you to do today. Over time, you will discover that trusting Him in the small, daily steps will result in you living your life in alignment with His will automatically.

Better yet, by doing it this way (His way), you’ll get to experience a close relationship with Him throughout your entire journey.

What is God asking you to do today? What’s your next step?

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Focus on My Voice

Unless you’ve been living in a box for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the new Superman movie: Man of Steel. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you get to a theater and check it out.

Superman-new-1It’s no secret that the Superman story is heavily influenced by the life of Jesus. Both men willingly set aside their superiority in order to experience life as a human being. Both men came to Earth with unbelievable powers, yet chose to use them for the good of others rather than their own gain. Ultimately, both men were willing to sacrifice everything in order to save mankind.

The main difference between the two, is that Superman is a fictional character, and Jesus Christ is the living Son of God.

I tend to geek out on theological parallels in movies, which is perhaps why I also enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies so immensely. What touched me the most in Man of Steel though, wasn’t the way that Superman modeled Jesus and His miraculous power. I was impressed with the way He modeled Jesus in His humility and humanity.

The first scene that stood out to me, which modeled his humility, was when Superman was detained by the military—in handcuffs. Obviously, the only reason Superman was even in handcuffs was he allowed it to happen, which he makes clear a few minutes later as he snaps the handcuffs like a piece of thread. Yet, even after displaying his strength, he continued to remain in their custody voluntarily.

It reminded me of the time when Jesus was being arrested. Peter pulled his sword out to defend him, but Jesus just asked him to put his sword away. He then goes on to tell Peter:

Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now? (Matthew 26:53–54)

Jesus knew the guards had no power to stop Him, yet He still chose to willingly put aside His infinite power and humbly surrender to them. Likewise, the entire time He was being tortured on the cross, He was a single prayer away from that very same army of angels coming down to set Him free from His pain. Jesus knew this full well. But He also knew He was the only one who had the power to rescue us from our sin and fulfill the role God had called Him to fulfill.

In the same way that Superman willingly surrendered to the military, Jesus willingly surrendered to death—not because He had been overpowered, but because His love for us was so overpowering.

The other scene that touched me, and reminded me of the humanity of Jesus, took place when Superman was still a young boy. He hadn’t learned yet how to control his superior senses, which often resulted in him becoming overstimulated and causing panic attacks. This particular time, it overwhelmed him so much that he locked himself in a closet to drown out the world. No one was able to calm him down, so they asked his mother to come to the door to try to talk to him.

Clark Kent: The world’s too big, Mom.

Martha Kent: Then make it small. Focus on my voice.
Pretend it’s an island out in the ocean. Can you see it?

When I heard that line, it was as if God was speaking to me directly.

If Jesus had to rely on My voice when His world got too big,
you will need to do the same.

I obviously recognize that I’m not Jesus, and no amount of spandex will ever make me Superman. I’m just a normal guy. Which is why the only way I will ever have any hope of making it through the seasons where the world seems to big—those times where life is overwhelming—is to focus on the voice of God to make the world smaller. If I keep looking at the big picture and all the steps I’ll have to take, I’ll get overwhelmed. If, however, I listen for God to just tell me the next step and focus on Him rather than my problems, it becomes easier to trust that He really will get me through.

Jesus recognized his need to be connected to His Father throughout His entire earthly ministry. He knew how dependent He was for God to direct His every move. And if Jesus (who was fully God as well as fully man) needed that support, how much more will we need it?

So go and see Man of Steel. And as you watch it, remember, Jesus willingly set aside His power, submitting to death on the cross and setting you free. And if you have trusted in His work on the cross to give you life, you have full access to God and can boldly come to Him whenever your world feels too big.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me… (John 10:27–28)

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Love Does, and So Can You

If you aren’t familiar with Bob Goff, or his book, Love Does, you should be. Seriously, stop reading this post and go pick up a copy of the book. You can come back here after you’re done reading it.

Last week, I had the joy of attending the Love Does Conference in Tacoma, Washington. The best way I could describe the event was that it felt like a glimpse of Heaven. There were ball pits, a bounce house, hundreds of balloons, free coffee and donuts, and over 1,000 people looking to discover more ways they could love others with the love of Christ. The overriding message was that love doesn’t argue about opinions or spend forever planning—Love actually does stuff. As Christians, we’re called to love people with the love of Jesus, and that can only happen if we actually get out there and do it.

Up until a few years ago, I would have left a conference such as this with the feeling that all these other folks in the room are such great Christians. I would walk away hoping that someday I could be good enough to finally catch fire for Jesus and make a difference. I’d want to love others without inhibition and see lives changed. But if I were being honest, I’d have to admit that I didn’t feel capable of doing anything. I felt like a B-team Christian.

But here’s what I know now. The very same Jesus that leaks out of Bob Goff, Donald Miller, and all the other speakers who inspired us to change the world lives in me. I don’t need to fix anything or arrive at a certain point before I can love others and change the world. I’ve got the full power of Jesus empowering me to do it right now. Every single person in that room—and every man reading this blog—if they have trusted in Jesus, has all the power and ability they need to make a difference today. The only thing required of us is to trust in His power, get off the couch, and actually start loving people.

One of the speakers, Randy Seiver, gave us an amazing illustration of this truth. He mentioned how we tend to look at church in the same way we look at professional sports. We feel as if we need to be Barry Bonds before we can step up to the plate. For some reason, we expect God is only happy with our home runs. In reality though, God is a loving father who sees us as his children—not his draft-picks—which means life in Christ is more like tee-ball than the major leagues.

Web_T-ballHave you ever seen a tee-ball game? They’re awesome. It’s a bunch of kids who have no idea what they’re doing, but they’re learning and they’re having fun. It doesn’t matter if little Billy actually hits the ball or knocks the tee out from under it, his parents still cheer as if he just hit a grand-slam. Half the kids aren’t even paying attention to the game—they’re off chasing bugs or picking flowers—but their parents still encourage them from the sidelines. If one of those kids does decide to pick up the ball and toss it back, the whole crowd goes wild. “Did you see that!? Billy just payed attention!”

God views us the same way. We’ll strike out a few times and get distracted as we try to spread the love of Jesus to those around us, but God cheers us on regardless. He knows you’re learning and growing. Honestly, I think He loves seeing the process as much as the end result. So don’t wait until you feel like you’re a spiritual MVP to start loving others. Get out there and spread that rookie love around.

That’s what love does.

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Brennan Manning (1934–2013)

One of the men who was at the top of my list of “People to invite on my epic cross-country Air Stream trailer road trip extravaganza when I win the lottery” has just gone home after an amazing life full of God’s Grace. Few men have taught me more about how God loves me in spite of my issues than Brennan Manning. The world will miss you Brennan, but now you finally get to feel that unconditional embrace of Abba you have only felt in your soul until now.