Good Intentions

The place between desire and action is called good intentions. Sadly I get stuck there and after many, somewhat legitimate, excuses, I think, “Well, God will understand. He knows the intentions of my heart.” Right? Just last night I had a hard lesson in obedience and good intentions. And, I found my answer.

I had been praying this last week for an opportunity to share Jesus with someone. I had just helped our church with a spur of the moment mission opportunity. They were gathering coats and blankets for those that would be out in the cold during a 3 day freeze, which is quite unusual for our hometown of Houston. My kids and I saw an opportunity to help the homeless, and we jumped on board. We sent out emails, picked up bags of blankets and coats, bought supplies with our benevolence jar, and spent a few hours boxing and sorting. When it was all done, we felt satisfied that we had served God’s kingdom. As a family, we prayed for those who received the coats and I remember thinking how fun it would be for those who actually got to hand them out.

Then the very next night I had the opportunity. Driving the babysitter home after a much needed date night, we stopped at a stoplight, and there stood a woman on the corner, sign in hand, and nothing but a shawl on to keep her warm. At this point it was twenty-something degrees outside, the temperature was dropping, and she had no coat. How ironic that as a church, we had just given out over 500 coats, and this lady, the very next day, had none.

I wish I could tell you that I immediately rolled down my window, ushered her into my car, drove her to a warm place to stay for the night, and gave her the coat off my back. No, that is not at all how the story went. Instead, a series of questions, which were really just excuses, began racing through my head. Excuses like, well, we’re in the other lane and there is a car between us. And, I have a young babysitter with me, and I need to be responsible with her well being. And, I don’t have any cash, what would I give her? Where is a shelter in Katy, anyway? I would give her my coat, but I left it at home. And on I drove, right past this freezing woman on such a cold, windy, dark night.

After I dropped off the babysitter, I headed home with new resolve. “Okay, Lord. I’ll go back,” I said. “I’ll do whatever you tell me to, and I will trust you to protect me. I’ll take her to a warm hotel room if I have to.” Ideas of how to help began to form in my mind as I raced back towards her. But, like opportunities do, when I made it back, she was gone. I couldn’t believe it. She was no where to be seen, and I had left her to sleep somewhere on the cold ground in freezing weather.

I gravely drove home, went into my ridiculously large closet, took off my warm boots and my warm sweater, and my heart broke. I wept, my mind replaying the image of that woman standing on the corner with the wind chilling her to the bone, with nothing but a shawl clinging to her to keep her warm. I cried because I realized I had gotten stuck in that place between desire and obedience, the place of good intentions, and it cost someone dearly. I cried because I knew how much Jesus loves that woman and how it hurt His heart that she was out in the cold that very night. I cried because I realized that my satisfaction in fitting in a few hours of mission work into my schedule wasn’t at all what God was calling me to do. Sure, it was important that we give those coats and blankets away. But, loading and sorting through hundreds of blankets, scarves, gloves, coats and socks means nothing when you drive right past a woman standing in the freezing cold. He is about people, not plans and projects.

As this new year begins to unfold and God draws my heart closer to His, I have every intention of making my good intentions turn into action. As I pray for opportunities to share the love of Christ, I desire to obey with no reluctance and without always having it all figured out. Would you join me in moving past the place of good intentions and into obedience, in which we will all bear much fruit, and change the world for Christ?

The Hard Questions Part 2: Relationship

As we continue to look at the account of creation and the fall, we see that from the very beginning God loved blessing Adam. He didn’t create Adam quite like the other animals. He made Adam in his own image, and He made him to rule over all the rest of the creation. God placed Adam in a special luscious garden He had created, and He gave Adam the privilege of naming all of the animals and birds. The Lord saw that Adam needed a companion, and then blessed him with a beautiful wife, Eve. As we learn later in Genesis 3:8, God would often take a walk thru the garden, and so Adam and God had a face to face personal relationship, something that we can only long for.

When God placed Adam in the luscious garden, he did make one stipulation, and here is where many of us may begin to derail. God told Adam that he could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and if he disobeyed, he would surely die (Genesis 2:15-17). This tree held wisdom that was for God alone.  God knows what is best for us, but Adam and Eve wanted to take matters into their own hands. It wasn’t enough to be made in God’s image, they wanted to be like God. Now isn’t this just like our children? We give them and inch, and they take a mile. Only God had given Adam way more than an inch. He had given him the Kingdom.

The serpent then tempts Eve, and she falls for it. Adam goes along with Eve, and before they know it, what God said would happen, did. Their eyes were opened and they were ashamed. Notice that it was not the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge itself that would make them die, as if it were poisonous or magical, but instead, it was the awareness of how unholy and unrighteous they were compared to God’s own glory. They hid from Him, and the consequence of their sin was now total separation from God, a spiritual death. This was not because of God’s anger or even his punishment, but this was the natural consequences of their own sin. Consider when you tell your kids not to do something so they won’t get hurt. You don’t tell them all the details such as it is slippery and you will fall, or it is so high and your foot could slip. But, as you are consoling a crying child, kissing hurts, or rushing to the emergency room, don’t you think to yourself, why didn’t they just listen to me?

So was God only speaking of a spiritual death when He told Adam that if he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil he would surely die? No, in fact, now that Adam and Eve carried an eternal shame in their hearts, it would now carry over into all of their offspring, and so God needed to protect them even further. This time He would not give them the opportunity to disobey. God banned Adam and Eve from the garden, “lest he take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22) If God had allowed Adam to remain in the garden, he might have eaten from this tree that would have given him everlasting life. God knew that would be the worst outcome of this whole scenario, all mankind living in a state of separation from Him for all of eternity, and thus physical death entered the picture.

In God’s goodness, He protected Adam and Eve and all of humanity from a terrible fate. He also provided a proper covering for Adam and Eve from the skin of an animal to cover over their shame. Thus, Adam and God’s spiritual relationship was restored, but they still carried with them the consequence of their sin. Romans 5:12 states, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.”

Here is the answer to many of the hard questions. This was not what God originally created. He did not create evil, and the things that occur in this world are a result of Adam’s sin. Yes, in His omniscience and foresight, He did know the path that Adam would ultimately take, which is why He chose to cover Adam and Eve’s sin with the skin of an animal. This was a way for Him to restore relationship with Adam. This was a foreshadowing of the One who would come later to bring justification to all, the Light who would come to bring life to the spiritually dead, the Lamb who was slain, and the Word who was present at creation. “For just as through the disobedience of the one man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man [Jesus] the many will be made righteous,” Romans 5:19. God has been good since the beginning of time. It is His very nature and He has not changed.

In Hard Questions Part 3: Compassion, I will show that God is often heart broken by the atrocities that occur here on this earth, but that He works through them, and that He has a plan to ultimately deliver us from the hardships of this world.

The Hard Questions Part 1: Creation

Many God-fearing Christians who know and love God, still struggle with some of those “hard questions.” We all have doubts from time to time, but in an attempt to strive for faithfulness, many well meaning Christ followers stuff those doubts into the corner of their minds and decide that they have to wait to ask Jesus when they see Him face to face. There are certainly questions that we will not know or understand the answers to while on this earth, but some of those “hard questions” do have answers that can be found now. God wants us to bring Him our doubts and worries and isn’t surprised by them. With some exploring, understanding and guidance, most solutions are discovered within God’s own Word.

One of the most common questions I have come across is why do bad things happen to good people? That is a great question. If God knows everything and is all powerful, why does he allow things like rape, murder, abuse, loss of a loved one, and horrible sicknesses? Other questions exist like why is it okay for the men in the Old Testament to have multiple wives, or why does God kill so many innocent people in the Bible? Or, why are there terrible catastrophic forces of nature? Many struggle with the question of why a loving and righteous God would cause or allow these things. As Christ followers, we need to know how to respond to these questions. There are others around us who need these answers and need to understand that we have a good God before they will accept Christ. If we are struggling ourselves, we will not be equipped for a proper response.

At the heart of most of these doubts, is a basic mistrust of God’s good character. If we begin with the core belief that God is righteous and holy, then when we encounter a situation in God’s Word or in life that does not seem to align with this, then we will be compelled to explore further and find the explanation. For example, most people know the story of Adam and Eve. They know the Sunday school version of how the serpent tricked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit. She fed it to Adam, and then God banned them from the Garden of Eden. If we stop right here in the story, and are honest, most of us have probably wondered, was God being mean when He banned them from the Garden? Or, if we back up even further, was God being unfair when He prohibited them from eating from a specific tree. To some, this may even confirm in them the idea that God is an iron clad rule maker and that He is just waiting for us to mess up so He can punish us. But, a deeper look into this historical event will reveal the opposite. It will prove that God is good and just, and that He is always looking out for our best interests. It will show that it is really us who went astray from His perfect plan, and as a result, a lot of bad and unfair things happen in the world today.

In Genesis 1 we find the account of creation. With only God’s spoken word, the whole earth was created, and after each day of creation, God declares that what He has made is good. I have to stop here and ponder what it must’ve looked like the first time trees arose from the ground, and plants of every color and shape took form. I wonder what the wild animals were like as they roamed the earth freely and lived peacefully. Even Adam and Eve must have been beautiful and perfect in the eyes of God. Genesis 2:1 states, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.” What a sight it must have been! What an awesome God to make something so splendid. What is around us today must grossly pale in comparison to the beauty that once was here. Like a pair of old faded blue jeans, the earth has lost its original richness of color and form.

In fact, in Genesis 3:17, after Adam and Eve sinned against God and the curses were pronounced, the earth itself began to change. God said that it is going to produce thorns and thistles for Adam so that Adam has to work hard for his food now. Before, Adam and Eve just ate whatever grew in the garden. But now, being banned from the garden, they would have to work the fields.  God also lovingly clothed them with the skin of an animal. Here is the first sacrifice made to cover for sin, and it is made by God Himself.  From this point on the earth is different and the relationship that man has with creation has also changed. 

As we look on throughout the Bible, we see verses that point to the slow deterioration of the actual earth, such as Isaiah 51:6, which states, “The heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants die out like flies, but my salvation will last forever and my righteousness will never fail.”  In Romans chapter 8 we learn even creation waits “in eager expectation, for the creation was subjected to frustration,” it is in “bondage to decay,” and it has been “groaning as in pains of childbirth” as it awaits its own deliverance. God has a plan to relieve the earth, to rebuild it, and to start over with his righteous chosen (Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev 21). Until the day the New Heavens and the New Earth are formed, this earth will continue to deteriorate and move towards destruction. As a result, we will see the battle scars of its turmoil more and more as it nears its end.

In Hard Questions: Part 2 Relationship, I will further explore the account of Adam and Eve and how it reveals the loving and protective nature of God, which will bring to light many answers to those hard questions.

Choose the Spiritual

Our pastor recently taught a sermon on the story of Esau and Jacob. In Genesis 27, we see Esau sell his inheritance to his brother, Jacob for a mere bowl of red stew. In doing this, Esau chose to satisfy his fleshly desire of hunger instead of bearing patiently and receiving a spiritual reward that would have been even greater than a satisfied stomach. Esau would have been part of the lineage of Jesus Christ, but instead, willingly sold it to Jacob. This sermon began a conversation in my home of how we also choose the physical over the spiritual blessings that God has for us. Many times we choose to spend our money on temporary things that rust and break, when we could have chosen to spend it on something with an eternal significance. How we choose to spend our time, in leisure or in service can also have spiritual consequences. Let me clarify that not everything earthly or physical is bad. In fact, scripture tells us in 1 Timothy 4:4, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” So, not all pleasures are wrong, for God created good things to be enjoyed, but so often we settle for something that is temporary when God has something even better in store for us.

I was recently reminded of this vey concept in my quiet time. For years, I have woken early to study God’s word and to pray. Because I have two children at home, this had often been my only time to be still before the Lord. There have been seasons in my life when this was easy to do and others when it was a daily struggle. Sleeping can be great! In fact, God created us as human beings who need rest. He designed our bodies to sleep, and in fact, God even rested on the seventh day of creation. You see the importance of this in His command to obey the Sabbaths. After having my second child, I remembered feeling so tired that I was not able to wake early. I remember feeling so down and guilty that I could not spend my time with God like I had been before. He showed me a verse in Psalms one morning that spoke volumes to me. Psalm 127:2 says, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat- for he grants sleep to those he loves.” He really grants sleep to those he loves? This was so freeing to me. This verse spoke of His divine provision. Why sleeplessly toil for those things you need, instead trust in God to give you those things. I learned that at that particular time it was okay for me to sleep. Rest for me was a spiritual gift, and God would provide me with those things that I was seeking from Him.

Recently, however, God showed me a different lesson in choosing to rest. I have begun to struggle with waking early again. The end of the school year is coming, and I am ready for summer. I have found myself snoozing a few extra times and loosing valuable time with my Savior. God recently showed me a passage of scripture out of Isaiah. Isaiah 50:4-5 says, “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught, the Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.” These verses are actually speaking of our suffering Servant, Jesus, who knew scripture and who used it to encourage the weary Israelites. The Sovereign Lord would awaken him each morning and taught Him his will. Thankfully, Jesus was not rebellious, and He did listen to His Father. God was teaching me in this passage, that unlike Jesus, I was choosing the physical over the spiritual. He was attempting to teach me His word so that I could encourage the weary with it. He was trying to open my ears, and share with me the secrets of His kingdom, and yet I was choosing a few extra minutes of snooze time.

I long to be used by the Lord, and I hunger and thirst for Him to teach me more about Himself. In fact, I believe that He has entrusted me with a gift and with a ministry to other women, and I need to be faithful in that. But, in order for that to happen, I have to choose the spiritual over the physical. For me, that means many things: waking up early so He can instruct me, letting go of some the physical things we spend our money on, such as eating out often, vacation time, expensive clothes, and a fancy car. It also means evaluating the expense of my time, and always asking how is this going to glorify the Lord. When I stand before the Lord, I want to be able to say that I chose well. I hope that I can say I chose Him every opportunity I had, and that I did not waste my life on useless things and endeavors. That might look different for everyone. He does not desire that we all quit our jobs and become missionaries. However, He does desire a heart to serve Him well in everything that we do. His will is for us to glorify His name and further His kingdom, and thereby receive spiritual blessings that surpass any earthly pleasure we can fathom. I urge you, learn to choose the spiritual.