The Next Right Thing

Recently, I watched a message by Dr. David Jeremiah on the sufficiency of Christ for our lives in the days we live. Christ is more than enough! But how does the knowledge of this truth become evident in our lives on a daily basis? Dr. Jeremiah offered this simple advice. After you have prayed, spent time in the Word, and trusted the Lord for your day; when you go out to live your life, Do the next right thing.

Before Covid, I was really good at planning, thinking about, and worrying about a hundred next things that might happen, but never will. But I wasn’t very good at the next right thing. I was always trying to do the next 10 right things. Jesus didn’t live this way. Consider when He fed the five thousand.  His disciples came to Him and said, “Hey Jesus, it’s supper time, should we send the people away to get a place to stay for the night and get some food?” Makes sense, right? There were an estimated twenty thousand people there, all waiting to hear or see what Jesus said and did next. And what did He do next? He said to His disciples, “You feed them?” Did you catch that, the next right thing for the disciples was to feed the hungry, but how did they respond? “Um, Jesus, we only have like 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish… that might feed James and John, but it’s not enough to feed all these people.”

I’m sure Jesus was tempted at that moment to hang his head in disappointment. I wonder if He gave out a little sigh. Probably not.  The next right thing for Jesus was to teach His disciples a very important lesson. “Ok, give me the fish and bread and have all the people sit down on the grass.” And He looked to His Father in Heaven and began to speak, “Father, thank you for providing these fish and the loaves of bread…”

Now maybe your next right thing isn’t feeding five thousand, but it might be feeding 5 people who are hungry.  Or it just might be doing a simple task in obedience to the Lord that illustrates to the world around you that you love Jesus, and you follow Him.

During His first visit to earth, Jesus gave a very small and simple instruction to two of His disciples… “Go to the village ahead of you and bring me a donkey and her colt.” He didn’t explain to them He needed this donkey to fulfill prophecy. He didn’t explain He would ride the donkey into Jerusalem as the people shouted Hosanna. He didn’t explain to them a week later, He would die on a cross, paying the price of our sin. He just said, “Go get them for me, and if anyone gives you any trouble, tell them, ‘The Lord needs them.’”

Sometimes our need to understand what’s next prevents us from partaking in the next right thing God has for us. But, even in exhaustion, or in discouragement, there is something satisfying in completing the next right thing. Who knows, the next right thing you do, just might be something God has prepared in advance for you to do… a task for you to complete that prepares the way for the second coming of the King.

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Where is God in All of This?

Billy and Johnny were making a commotion and causing poor Mrs. Smith a great deal of trouble in Sunday School class one spring morning. She finally had enough, and she sent the boys to talk to the senior pastor. Johnny went into his office first. Johnny felt very tiny sitting across from the pastor’s big desk. With a calm voice, the pastor slowly said, “Johnny, where is God in all of this? Where is God in all of this? Now I want you to think about that. Go, send Billy in.” Johnny went out to tell Billy it was his turn, and Billy said, “Johnny, is it bad?” to which Johnny responded, “It must be, they’ve lost God and they think we have something to do with it!”

When life doesn’t unfold the way we thought it would, when sadness comes, when pain comes, when a pandemic comes, it is easy to wonder, “Where is God in all of this?” There are many Sunday School answers I might offer to this question, like, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” but times like this feel bigger than Sunday School answers. Times likes this ask big questions and demand big answers. The answer to the big questions we now ask, is singular. His name is Jesus, and He is the only solution.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, they mocked him saying, “He saved others… but he can’t save himself!” Of course, Jesus could save Himself! He is the Word of God, the Lord of all creation! But in His own words He came “to give His life as a ransom for many.” He did not save Himself from the cross, because He came for the purpose to give His life, to die on a cross, for many, so that when they believe in Him, they will be saved.

This salvation is a two-fold salvation. The bigger of the two is the salvation that we learn about in Sunday School. When you put your faith and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, then the promise of eternal life in John 3:16 is yours. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) One day all of us will die, and this promise means that even though your body dies, your soul, the inner part of you, will live forever with Jesus in a place we call heaven.

But the second part of the salvation that Jesus offers, many miss out on, especially when fearful and troubling times come. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10 NIV) This pandemic, and every other sickness, and every other hardship we encounter in this life happen because we live in a fallen world that will continue under a curse until Jesus returns. (see Genesis 3:17).

These hardships we encounter are of the thief and are thieves themselves. A thief has only one purpose, to steal and kill and destroy. But, despite the work of the thief, Jesus promises to give us life to the full. An audacious promise in our current circumstance. And that is what this is, our current circumstance. This too shall pass, and what will life look like when it does? I don’t know. This I do know, God’s promises are true, and in this current circumstance and in future circumstances, in Christ, we have fullness of life. So how do we take hold of this full life? What practical steps should I take? Psalm 91 records 5 things you must do when troubling times come to take hold of and sustain fullness of life.

First, you must dwell, or live, in the Lord (v1). Our bodies, these tents of flesh and bone we live in while in the world, that will not change until we die. But as we live, we choose where the essence of our soul, our thoughts and hopes and dreams, dwell. We choose to put our thoughts and hopes and dreams into the things of this world or in the Lord alone. When we dwell in the Lord, the promise is rest (v1). In our current circumstance many of us are being forced to rest our bodies, but how many need rest for your minds and souls right now?

Second, you must trust God. The language here states “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (v2) This is more than trusting Him for salvation. This is a daily action, a daily choice, that no matter what comes today, I will trust God because He is my fortress. He is the safe place I run to when trouble comes. When you trust God in this way, the promise is safety, deliverance, and protection. (v3-v13) It is interesting that verse 3 speaks of deadly pestilence and verse 6 speaks of plague and pestilence. The Word of God is eternal and is relevant to our current circumstance.
Third, you must love God. (v14) What do you love? who do you love? Do you love anything or anyone more than God? He must be your first love. When you love God first and above all, the promise is He will rescue you. (v14)

Fourth, you must acknowledge His name. (v15) We acknowledge the names of things every day. We acknowledge our family name, the name of our job or career or position in life, the name of our college, and the name of our favorite sports team. We acknowledge the name of our religion, our race, our gender, and our sexual orientation. Acknowledging the name of these things is all about our identity. But God wants our identity to be in Him alone!

Did you know that every time we acknowledge something as part of our identity, we speak the Name of God? I am a husband. I am a father. I am a data governance manager. I am an Ohio State football fan. These things are true about me, and in each one, I have spoken the name of God, the great IAM. But more than anything I might acknowledge about my own name may this acknowledgement always be first: I am a follower of Jesus. I am a child of the King. I am a child of God. First and foremost, God I acknowledge Your great name! You are the great I AM. You are my God, and I am yours. When you acknowledge the name of God above any other name, He gives you the promise of protection. (v14)

After you have chosen to live in God, trust God, love God, and acknowledge His name, fifth and finally, you must call on Him. (v15) God is our loving Heavenly Father, and He wants us to come to him with our hurts and needs and hopes. He wants us to call on Him and ask him for help. His promise is, “I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (v15) Notice, the statement, “I will be with him in trouble.” This means trouble and troubling times will come. When they do, call on the Lord.

The final promise of Psalm 91 is a direct correlation to the two-fold promise of salvation we have in Jesus. “With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (V16) Do you desire satisfaction in this life? Do you desire eternal salvation?” Give your life to Jesus. Trust Him and through Him live in God, Trust God, Love God, and acknowledge the name of God. When troubling times come, as they have now, call on the Lord your God! I don’t know how He will deliver you, but I know His promises are true. They are yes and Amen in Christ. And even when all of life is turned upside down, and sometimes it is hard to find God in all of this, we can be confident that He seated on His throne and He will answer us when we call.

In these days of social distancing, if you have fallen ill or if you are well, I encourage you to take this time to draw near to God. He is so very near to us. Spend time with Him every day. Read the Psalms. Read about the life of Jesus in the gospels. Take this time to live in God, trust God, love God, acknowledge the name of the great I AM, and call on Him for help. Soon enough, we will be back to the overwhelming pace of life. Don’t waste this gift of time with your Creator. He made you and He loves you. Many blessings. Be safe and well.

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Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.  (James 1:12)

We all desire to be blessed.  We all want good things to come our way.  But did you know, one of God’s methods of blessing is to allow us to go through trials and tests?  We don’t like to think about God this way, do we?  It kinda crushes the false idea that God is a great big Santa in the sky!

We are called to persevere when trials come so that when the trials of this life have passed and we have stood in the midst of the test, then God will keep His promise and bless us with the crown of eternal life.  There is no greater blessing given than eternal life.  

Many trials have fallen upon us.  Hate is increasing.  Political unrest is growing.  And, there is a global pandemic bringing fear on many fronts.  When such times come, it is not easy to persevere.

In his masterpiece, The Fellowship of the Ring, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about a Hobbit named Frodo who had to endure difficult days.  While discussing the difficulties with his mentor, Gandalf, we read the following…

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

If we are all being honest, we probably would wish these difficult days away.  But we cannot.  We can only decide what to do with these days, and we must persevere.  The strength to persevere is hidden in the blessing God promises to those that do so.  That person, the one who perseveres, the one who loves God, will be given the crown of life.

The greek word here translated “love” is agaposin.  Agaposin love for God means we love Him dearly and we take pleasure in Him.  It means that we highly esteem Him and we long for Him.  

Have you ever longed for something so much that you were willing to endure pain and hardship to get it?  This is the concept here in James.  Love God so much that you will endure trials and tests to live with Him forever.  

God promises that if we will long for Him more than anything, we will have power and resolve to persevere.  We will stand in the face of any trial and test, and He will greatly bless us! 

We must stop wishing these events would not have happened in our time.  Let us love God and persevere!

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I Want the Truth!

There is a great exchange in the 1992 movie, A Few Good Men, where Tom Cruise, playing a military lawyer, demands of the character played by Jack Nicholson, “I WANT THE TRUTH!”  Jack Nicholson responds with the famous line, “You can’t handle the truth!” 

Sometimes the truth is hard to handle.  Sometimes the truth is messy and it exposes things we would rather not think about.  And, it seems like the more we grow in information and knowledge, the truth has become something we don’t like to talk about, for fear that we might offend someone.  This has led to the phenomenon where people say things like “that’s my truth,” or “that’s your truth,” as though the truth is fluid and conditional.

The truth may be complicated and messy.  It may be hard to understand or even explain.  It may be something we don’t like to talk about or even think about.  But, it is not fluid.  It is not conditional.  In every situation of life, there is truth.  Everything else falls somewhere between opinions and lies.

God, in His wisdom and genius, knows within us He has created an inherent desire to know and understand the truth.  The part of you that wants the truth, God put that there.  But, He didn’t put it there so we would fight and argue with each other over the truth, or that we would be afraid to speak the truth… He put it there that we would seek Him to know and understand the truth.  So, what is truth?   That is the wrong question to start with.  Instead, we should ask, Who is truth?  

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)  Jesus is the Truth!

God has put in us the desire for truth, and He has given His only Son, Jesus, the Truth, that we might come to God the Father through God the Son.  There is one step you must take.  You must believe in His Son Jesus, the One He sent.  It’s not about my truth or your truth, it’s about God’s Truth, and His name is Jesus!

I want the Truth!  Do you?     

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Some Trust in Horses

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.  Psalm 20:7

If the writer of this Psalm read the headlines and wrote this today, he would have wrote; some trust in politicians, some trust in science, some trust in social media, while others trust in money, but we trust in the name in the name of the Lord our God.

Trust is a critical in life.  Trust removes fear, establishes confidence, supports security, and provides a foundation for hope.  And if there is something we all need a little more of these days, it’s hope!

Some say, how can I trust in a God I can’t see!?!  How can I trust in a God Who lets so much bad happen in the world!?! If He is God, why doesn’t He do something!?! 

Those are big questions.  Those are tough questions.  Many times, in response to such questions, I simply choose to trust in God.  When fear is creeping at my door, I simply say, “Lord, I love you and I trust you.”

I do this for 2 reasons.  First, He is trustworthy.  He has never lied.  He always keeps His promise.  Second, and more importantly, He made me, and He loves me.  He loves me so much, He loves you so much, He sent is only Son, Jesus, to take on human flesh, to become God in the flesh… God with us!  Then Jesus brought transformational teaching to the world, and He did the unimaginable.  He died for our sin!  If that is not enough, God raised Jesus from the dead, so that if we believe in Him, He will live in us, and we will live forever with Him!  Yes, the Lord our God is worthy of our trust. 

With regards to our current headlines and idea of trust, if there was a poll question, “who do you trust, Donald Trump, Joe Biden, or Jesus of Nazareth?”  I choose Jesus of Nazareth every time!

Who do you trust?  Where do you find yourself today?  Where is your trust?  Are you among the some or are you counted with the we?  Stop trusting in Horses.  Put your trust in the Lord our God!

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New Normal

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Why are we so surprised when troubling times come? The Lord said they will come. The current troubles we see in the world, in our country, and in our communities are causing fear to rise, and common sense to fade. People are running to and fro over toilet paper, hand sanitizer and face masks. We are left to wonder, when will this end? What will our new normal look like?

But the troubles of this life are part of the fallen, imperfect world we live in.  “In this world, you will have trouble.” Troubles are normal. But we don’t want trouble. We long for a place of peace, free of trouble. This longing is a God given desire, for He has placed eternity in the hearts of all. (Ecclesiastes 3:11) But until we enter our eternal rest, what do we do? Do we wait for the media and the politicians to explain to us what our new normal in this world looks like?

Or do we go to the One that has overcome the world as we make our way through whatever the world tells us what normal is? As for me, I am running to, and leaning into the One that has overcome the world. Wisdom guides me to stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and where it is required to wear a mask, or where common sense guides me to do so, I will put a mask on. But I will not be afraid! I am going to hope in Jesus and look forward to the new normal promised to me in the book of Philippians.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Therefore… stand firm in the Lord (3:20-4:1)

Yes, in the coming the months, there will be a new worldly normal, but the only new normal I will focus on is the one where this worn down, broken body that is prone to illness and pain is no more. In the new normal I look forward to, my body is transformed to conform with the body of His glory! The perishable puts on the imperishable and death is swallowed up in victory! (1 Corinthians 15) But until the new normal is here, I will do what Paul instructed the Christians to do 2,000 years ago. I will stand firm in Christ my Lord. Who will stand with me?

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Divine Appointment

600 years before Jesus was born, a teenage boy from a noble family was taken from his home in Israel and brought into exile in a land called Babylon. Daniel was an intelligent and handsome young man, and so he was trained in the language and culture of Babylon that he might serve the king of Babylon. But God had a bigger plan, a greater purpose for Daniel. Daniel’s new position in the kingdom of Babylon was a divine appointment.

After Daniel had completed his Babylonian training, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams so intense, they shook him to the core, and he could not sleep. He summoned the magicians, sorcerers, and astrologers to interpret one of the dreams. To be sure the interpretation was correct, Nebuchadnezzar would not share the details of the dream. Of course, his expectation was unreasonable, and the magicians did not have the magic, the sorcerers did not have the spells, and the astrologers could not read the stars to provide the king the answers he sought.

When the king’s “wise” men could not interpret the dream, he ordered all the wise men of Babylon to be executed. Young Daniel, though not given the opportunity to interpret the dream, was among the wise men and would soon be put to death. But God, gave Daniel poise, wisdom, and knowledge, and Daniel persuaded the king’s officer to allow him to speak with the king. When Daniel spoke with the king, he asked for some time to interpret the dream. Daniel used the time given by the king well. He went to his friends from Israel, also among the wise men, and they asked God to have mercy and to deliver them from death.

That night God revealed the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to Daniel in a vision. The next day, Daniel interceded for the wise men of Babylon. He went to the executioner and said, “take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream.”

Daniel shared the interpretation of the dream with Nebuchadnezzar, and he fell at Daniel’s feet and said, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries.” And Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful king in the world, made Daniel the ruler over the entire province of Babylon and he put the wise men of Babylon under Daniel’s charge. Daniel then raised his friends, who sought God for mercy with him, to the position of administrators within the province of Babylon.

While our own divine appointments may not be as grand as Daniel’s, we can learn a great deal from how Daniel responded. First, Daniel’s divine appoint was born out of hardship and was not of his own choosing. When difficult times come, it is natural to ask, “why is this happening?” Rarely do we ask, “Lord, what is your plan and purpose in this difficulty?” When we approach God with “why,” He gives Himself to heal our pain. When we approach God with “What is your plan and purpose,” we open ourselves to His guidance, and He leads us and guides according to His perfect plan and purpose for our lives.

Second, divine appointments are not based on age or experience. Scholars agree Daniel was in his mid-teens when exiled to Babylon. And before his twentieth birthday he faced execution for the failure of others. The old saying, “God will never give you more you can handle,” simply isn’t true. When God gives you a divine appointment, by His design, it will be bigger than you. The appointment will make you answer the question, “Do I really trust God with this?” I encourage you, when you find yourself in such a place, do as Daniel did. Surround yourself with Godly friends, get on your knees, trust God, and ask Him for help.

When you trust God, you will likely encounter the third element of divine appointments, resistance, both seen and unseen. Do not be surprised when it comes, but be prepared to respond with God given poise, wisdom, and knowledge. And continue to go to your inner circle of Godly friends for prayer support. The very fact that God has appointed you to something, means He expects you to lean on Him in the midst of what he has appointed you to.

Finally, and most importantly, every divine appointment you are given is given to ultimately bring glory to God. There will be earthly elements to be accomplished, for Daniel these included interpreting dreams, saving the lives of the wise men, and appointing his friends to positions of leadership, but ultimately the purpose of Daniel’s divine appoint was to bring the most powerful man in the world to his knees and give glory to God.

Everyone of us that calls Jesus Lord, has a divine appointment. We are called by Jesus, to go and make disciples. This is our first and most important divine appointment. Stop where you are and ask God to have mercy on you. Ask Him to reveal to you where, and to whom you should go. Ask Him to give you courage and strength to live this divine appointment every day, that you might bring glory to Himself alone.

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From Sadness

There are times and seasons of life when sadness and sorrow come in like a flood. With every wave, it feels like life itself is against us. Why do such times come? There are many reasons. But I don’t want to discuss the why today. Sometimes the why just isn’t enough to help us move past the sadness. And since sadness comes in so many forms and from so many directions, sometimes the why. . . well it just makes it worse. So rather than discuss why sadness comes, I will share the secret to overcoming sadness and sorrow.

There is only one way to overcome every sadness and sorrow known to humankind. His name is Jesus. Now before you say, “Come on Steve, I don’t need another Sunday School lesson,” let me explain. The Word of God prophesied about Jesus, that He would be, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) Jesus not only knew sadness; He knew the deepest of sadness.

Furthermore, the root cause of every sadness here in life under the sun, is that we live in a fallen world under the curse of sin. It doesn’t matter if sadness comes because we sin, because another sins against us, or because the curse of sin on the world brings with it every form of devastation, sickness and death… sin leaves those in its wake with sadness. Jesus understands this root cause of sadness better than anyone that has ever walked this earth. The Bible teaches us that in His time on earth, Jesus never sinned. He is perfect in every way. And to pay the price of sin, in His death on the cross, He not only took our sins upon Himself, “He became sin.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Meaning, he became that which is at the root of every sadness known to humankind. There is no sadness you experience that He is not intimately acquainted with. He is the only One that understands. So, what must we do to move from sadness?

First, you must be right with God by receiving His Son Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin and the salvation of your soul. Until you know Jesus as Lord and Savior, your only hope for happiness is in the people and things of a fallen world, that is prone to sadness. We can find temporary happiness in the things of this world, but the only eternal source of joy and happiness is Jesus.

Second, when are you tired and weary, go to Jesus. Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Sometimes the source of our sadness is that we are tired from carrying heavy burdens He never meant for us to carry. Go to Him and receive rest.

Third, when the cares of life come sweeping in like a flood, “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” (I Peter 5:7) People spend up to $250 per hour to share their cares with people that have special training to treat sadness. But when you are sad, don’t wait to see a counselor. If you need to, make the appointment, but also go to your heavenly Father, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit (called the Counselor by Jesus). He is on call for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18)

Fourth, strengthen yourself in the Lord. We read in the Old Testament, that at one point, “David was greatly distressed… But David found strength in the Lord his God.” (1 Samuel 30:6) There are many ways to strengthen yourself in the Lord. (If you want to learn how to do this, I recommend the book Strengthen Yourself in the Lord by Bill Johnson.) The key to move from sadness to strength is to recognize sadness for what it is, but not give into it. My Dad taught me to do this in a very simple, yet effective way. As you live your life, tell the Lord you love Him, and you trust Him. And especially when sadness comes, remind yourself of the truth that you love Him, and you trust Him. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) You will be surprised, when you tell Jesus you love Him and you trust Him, how quickly you will move from sadness to praise, which is the ultimate weapon against sadness.

Finally, to move from sadness, rejoice in the Lord. Paul, writing from a prison, a place full of sadness and despair, wrote, “always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Remember, the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-8) Christ in you, gives you the power to rejoice in spite of the sadness, and when you do this, this promise is true, “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent, O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12)

For some, the pain and sorrow are so deep, this promise of turning morning into dancing may not be fully realized in this life. While the Bible teaches, we should be joyful in all circumstances, it doesn’t teach that we have to like every circumstance. And in the power of Jesus, we can be joyful in the midst of sadness. But when we are finally set free from the curse of sin, look at this great promise, “He will wipe away every tear.” (Revelation 21:4) But until that day, even if looking through tear filled eyes, fix your eyes on Jesus and move from sadness.

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This Way is Closed

There is a road near home that we like to take because it takes us around the busy state highway traffic.  Recently our town decided to close the entire road and put in a roundabout.   One day, when I was driving home with my youngest son, I decided to drive the back-way even though I knew the detour would take me well out of the way.  The highway was exceptionally busy that day, and so I planned a different way. 

The day was rainy and gray, and we were both very quiet as we drove home.  Then I heard the gentle voice of my youngest say, “This way is closed.”  I smiled, and gently said, “No, it’s not.”  I glanced at him, and he gave me a very confused look.  In his mind, the back-way home is closed, but in my mind, I already had a plan for this, so the way we were on was wide open.  Before he could protest, I gently said, “Trust your dad, I’ll get you home.”

I always love when the Almighty uses life experiences and little conversations with my children to teach me.  The day of this conversation was a Sunday, and I was driving home from church with my son.  The lesson in the church that morning was about Joseph, about how he was sold into slavery by his brothers and how God was with him every step of the way, from slavery to Potiphar’s house, to prison, to being made ruler of Egypt.

The Bible tells us, the Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything did.  Sometimes I wonder, when Joseph was in prison, did he see success, or did he sometimes say, “Lord remember that dream you gave me, You know the one, when my brothers and father were bowing down to me.  I don’t remember these prison bars in my dream.  You seem to have led me down a bad path.  This way is closed.”  To which I am certain the Lord would have gently responded, “No it’s not.  I am with you.  Trust Me, I will get you home.” 

That little conversation I had with my son came at the end of one of the most difficult weeks I can remember.  It was one of those weeks, you know the kind, there is bad news every day, everything is a struggle, and nothing comes easy.  Everything, even the small stuff is a battle, and it feels like the way, every way is closed. 

And as I quietly drove home, feeling like the paths of life had brought me down a way that is closed, I thought about Joseph.  I realized that even though it was a very hard week, the Lord was with me, and every day, He gave me small measures of success in everything I put my hand to.  And as soon as I finished saying to my son, “I will get you home,” I heard His gentle whisper, “Trust Me, the way is not closed.  I know the plans I have for you.  I will get you home.”

If you find your life journey has brought you down a way that is closed.  Look up.  Tell your heavenly Father about it.  Cast your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  Tell Him you trust Him, and listen for His gentle whisper, “I know that plans I have for you, plans for a hope and a future.  Trust Me, the way is not closed.  I will get you home.”

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Shovel – Ready Ground

…break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord. (Hosea 10:12)

It was December 2008, the U.S. and world economies were on the brink of utter collapse, and the owners of Westlund Concepts, a small business, heavily invested in the construction market in middle America, were praying and trusting God Almighty for a miracle.  And then the unimaginable happened. President – elect Obama shared details of his planned economic stimulus package.  I don’t remember the speech he gave, I am sure it was amazing…  I only remember 3 words, “shovel – ready projects.”

There is really no such thing as a “shovel – ready project.” By the time a project is shovel – ready, there is a good chance a few shovels have already been put in the ground.  The world in which we live is not a world of shovel – ready projects.  Very few people are running around executing perfect plans.  We simply don’t live in a world in which every “i” is dotted and every “t” is crossed before we put a shovel in the ground.  The world is much more fluid than that, and life unfolds in a way that is very messy.

Many times, when we think we have something shovel – ready, inevitably something changes, and the things we thought were shovel – ready, suddenly are not.  So, what do we do?  All you can do, is trust that when you put the shovel in the ground, the ground is ready for the shovel, and trust that the vision, which led you to put a shovel in the ground in the first place, will become reality.

But we don’t trust easily, do we?  We want to see the end before we begin.  We want to know without doubt that the action we are about to take is going to work out exactly the way we planned it.  This human condition, this need to see the end of things before we begin something, this need to only work on shovel – ready projects is one reason why we had been successful at Westlund Concepts, well at least prior to 2008 and Mr. Obama’s “shovel – ready projects” promise.  (I still cringe when I hear those 3 words.)

The core product I was responsible for at Westlund Concepts was 3d visualization, and the core purpose of the 3d visualization division was to help developers secure funds from banks or get approval from building commissions to move forward with putting shovels in the ground.  We would show in 3d what the neighborhood, or office building, or library was going to look like before anyone invested too much time or money in the project.

The day after the promise made by the President – elect, the phones at Westlund Concepts, which were already ringing less than prior to 2008, completely stopped.  The silence in the office was deafening.  And the days that followed brought pain to my soul that was unbearable.  Over the next 3 months, we shut down the 3d visualization division of Westlund Concepts and essentially all elements of the marketing division.  My older brother, myself and all the staff were permanently displaced.  Only my younger brother and Dad (the founders of Westlund Concepts) persevered forward with Westlund Concepts.

Our individual journeys from that day in 2008 have taken different paths, but one thing has been true for the four of us.  We and our families have had shovels in our hands, and we have put them in the ground trusting God that the ground is shovel – ready.  On this journey I have learned two simple lessons.  First, When I trust God with the ground, it is always shovel ready.  When I don’t trust Him with the ground, it is not.  In fact, when I don’t trust Him, the ground is often more like solid rock.  Over the past 9 years, I have broken many shovels on ground I failed to trust God for.  Second, I have a responsibility to act from a place of trust and put the shovel in the ground.  The word of God is full of illustrations about planting in the ground and harvesting what the ground produces.  Here is the lesson.  God supplies and prepares the ground.  I must trust Him and put a shovel in it!

As I have learned to trust God more and more with the ground, and put a shovel in it, I have watched Him faithfully provide.  It has not always been easy.  Sometimes the ground was dry… very dry.  And if you are staring at dry ground with shovel in hand, thinking there is no way, keep reading.

By the Spring of 2009, I had taken a new job.  I was significantly under employed and under paid.  I had a mortgage I couldn’t afford; 2 car payments I couldn’t afford; medical bills I couldn’t afford; and 3 children under 7 who I didn’t know how I was going to feed.  I also have the most wonderful wife (whose strength often carried us through), who did her best to not look at me with fear in her eyes.  Needless to say, the concept of trust was not easy.  The ground was so dry, that trusting God and putting a shovel in it was the furthest thing from my mind.

I remember people would remind me of Proverbs 3:5&6, that I should trust God with all my heart, and I was quick to remind them of Mathew 5:45, that He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  Early in this journey of trust, it rained and rained and rained.  Most days, it was pouring!

It rained so much, I didn’t want to trust God. I became so angry one night that I was crying so hard that I broke blood vessels in my cheeks.  It was as if my emotional pain literally beat me up and blackened my eyes.  And I yelled at God, “What do you want with me!  Why am I here!”  And he gently whispered to me, “Because I made you, and I love you.”  In that moment, I finally listened, humbled myself before Him, and said, “Ok, I trust You.”  Immediately the rocky hard soil in my heart was softened. A very special transaction occurs when we put our trust in God.  In Jeremiah 17:7-8, the Word of God says when you trust in the Lord, you will be blessed, and the ground of your life will be like the rich, fertile ground next to a river, and the roots of your life will go deep into that ground.

I understand now that it was not the pouring rain which led me to not trust God.  Instead, I did not trust God, and it just poured.  But from that moment of a renewed trust in the Almighty, as I sought the Lord, and said again and again, “I trust You,” something changed in my life.  The pouring rain, become a soft gentle rain.  Most days, it was still raining.  Life was still tough, but as I trusted Him, He made the rain gentle.  I look back and see now, the rain He brought taught me more than trust.  I also learned about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control… lessons I would have missed if I never said, “I trust You.”  It is true that He sends the rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  But He controls the rain, and He can make it a driving, pouring rain, or a gentle, easy rain.

Now pouring rain on dry ground does nothing for the ground. It just pours and runs right off.  But a gentle rain… a gentle rain prepares the ground.  Over the past seven years, as I have learned to trust Him more, God has brought gentle rains into my life to prepare the various grounds of my life for the shovel in my hand, so that when I put the shovel in the ground, it is not dry and rocky, but ready for the good work God has prepared for me to trust Him in.  The next time you see storm clouds on the horizon of your life, stop and look around you.  Are you standing in a dry and rocky land surrounded by broken shovels?  If so, don’t turn and run from the storm, but trust God for a gentle rain to make the ground of your life shovel – ready.

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