The Promises of God

When I look at the state of the world I cannot help but wonder “What are you doing, Lord?”

With the Islamic State, the Ebola virus, the Houston subpoenas, the droughts permeating the American Southwest, and a myriad of other social, economic, geopolitical, and environmental issues facing both the United States and the planet as a whole, it’s so easy to throw up my hands and despair.

Last night, I felt close to that point. While sprawled across my bed at home, a deep anguish began to settle over me, thicker, even than the comforter on which I lay. Stephanie, my wife, entered and saw me, and knew right that I felt burdened.

I remember saying “I can’t quite put my finger on it. I just feel sad.” Her response demonstrates why I fell for her so easily and completely.

“We should have some prayer time tonight.”

I want to share with you some of what we prayed.

Psalm 46 popped into my mind, as it so often does in the midst of strife. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but a few verses that struck me right away were 1-3

“God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

I felt a touch better; just remembering that God is here with us. He isn’t a distant God who we hope will get here in time to save, but a “very present” God who by our sides, walking with us through even the worst suffering our broken world can throw at us. And this Psalm ends with a promise.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” God says in verse 10. It’s not a question of if God will be totally and unquestionably honored and worshiped, or even where He will be. It will happen. It will be throughout the world.

Then Stephanie and I read II Chronicles 7:13-14.

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Though I don’t know the state of locust populations in the US, we have drought, and I’d call Ebola pestilence. This verse, though technically directed to Israel, spoke volumes to me last night, and convicted me that I never pray for revival. I do try to repent, personally, when I know I need to, but I rarely if ever ask God to stir the hearts of this nation (much less this world) and bring revival. What would it look like to see large-scale repentance and a deep, abiding desire to know God more and worship him fully? I confess, I cannot even fathom what that would entail. But I know what would cause it: The Holy Spirit moving in our lives. And there, once again, is a promise of God: “I will hear… forgive… and heal.” If I really believe we need forgiveness and healing, why am I not praying for and seeking revival?

Then the Lord lead us to Revelation 21 and 22. Again, I recommend reading the whole thing when you have time. Here’s the verses that I want to focus on:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

No matter what, regardless of what happens with all the pain and sickness and persecution and disobedience, God has promised us that a day is coming when those things will end. He makes all things new. His promises are trustworthy and true. We have nothing to fear from this world because the worst of the worst that Satan can dish out is dwarfed by the goodness of God.

As Stephanie and I prayed through these promises of God, we praised Him for His goodness. We asked Him to remember what He has said He would do, and petitioned Him to do it in our time. To be quite frank, I had never really prayed for that; at least, not in a way that was genuine or full of faith. We asked Him to strengthen our faith, telling Him we do believe while asking Him to help our unbelief.

And during our time of prayer, I thought of Acts 4:27-30, where the church, faced with persecution and revulsion, asks for boldness and to see God move, not for a decrease in pain or suffering. My heart broke as I thought of how often I’ve prayed for my comfort and to avoid troubles. Another promise of God bloomed in my mind: “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

I want to exhort you, whoever you are reading this, to think over these promises of God. Understand that God’s promises will be fulfilled. God is sovereign and we have no need to fear the future. We do not serve a god of “oops” or “darn-it” or “uh-oh.” We serve the One, True, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Eternal and Benevolent God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And with the knowledge of who God is, I ask you to consider and pray over the final promise of our Lord, recorded in Revelation 22:20 -“I am coming soon” to which we ought to respond, as John did, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Whose hearts are completely His?

2 Chronicles 16:9a says “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

In the past 2-3 weeks I have seen my support percentage jump from around 25% to upwards of 70%. Some of this came from drastic budget cuts where I had to remind myself that my trust is in God, not in my own ability to save, but most came in the form of God providing generous people who are willing to be involved in the vision God’s given us, as the benefactors of both myself and the ministry I am going to join.

More so than ever before I feel the weakness of my own flesh weighing down my spirit; Even in the face of these incredible strides toward my financial support goals, I find ways to doubt God, doubt the call in my life, doubt His ability or willingness to provide. How can I be so fickle? How can God use me, fickle as am? Back and forth my mind and heart volley my confidence from the Lord, to myself, and back again!

It is encouraging to know that the Lord seeks to “strongly support” me if my heart is totally devoted to Him. More than anything, I am writing this post in hopes that you would be in prayer, asking God to capture my heart, asking Him to help my unbelief, so that my heart will be His only.

Beggars and Choosers

Whether you call it support raising, fundraising, ministry partner development, or some other name, the process of inviting people to invest in a ministry is daunting. Sometimes I want to sit back and exclaim the immortal words of Inspector Gadget: “Wowzers!” Sometimes that exclamation would be out of frustration or stress, other times out of sheer awe at what the Lord is doing in my life and the lives of others though this process.

When I first started raising support, I think my attitude was that I was begging others to give their hard earned money to a ministry they knew little about. I was, by my flawed view of things, asking them to provide for me financially so I could chase a dream. I felt like a beggar. And there are many days when I still have those thoughts, and I’m sure that many people who know what I’m up to see it as that. But when I search scripture and open my heart to the truth of God, I remember that what I’m really asking people to do is trust in God with every aspect of their lives, including their finances, as I do the same thing. I’m asking people to see the importance of loving children and teaching them how to love and to help me do those things.

Jesus, when He sends out the 12, and when He sends out the 70, commands them not to take their own provisions, telling the 12 that the worker is worth his keep. Paul takes a similar stance on the idea, reminding Timothy that the ox is not to be muzzled while working and that the worker is worth his wages. When I read of the way the church supported Jesus and the disciples, and then Paul, and the way the Levites had their provision from the tithes of the other tribes, I realized that as I seek to become involved in “full time” ministry, there is nothing wrong with asking others to support the ministry, in fact, an approved workman is not ashamed, Paul wrote.

However, the way I ask, and my expectations of the responses I will receive, matter greatly. My attitude is not to be one of arrogance or manipulation. I am not entitled to anyone’s support. I am free to ask, but those I ask are free to deny. And their choice to give or to refrain from giving doesn’t change my attitude toward them. The love I have for others is dependent only on God’s love for me. I love because he first loved me. My love flows from an overflow of God’s love to everyone I come across, not from material wealth to those willing to provide said wealth.

When describing to a good friend of mine the support raising process, I compared it to any other charity; people believe in the mission and thus are willing to support it, knowing their money will not be returned to them. And to some extent that is accurate. Just as Aggies support the Association of Former Students because they believe in the mission of the organization, my ministry partners believe in mission of the Gospel to seek and save the lost, to make disciples of all nations, but there is more to it than that. I fully believe that giving to ministry is an investment. No, you won’t be leveraging God; giving to support my vision for ministry will not obligate God to return more to you. He may do that, but He may not. However, I am firmly convinced that as we seek to view our possessions as God’s possessions on loan to us, and as we seek to offer them to Him, He will return to us a multitude of blessings. I have seen this in my own life as I supported friends in ministry over the last year. Countless times I would be at work, having a terrible day, frustrated with life in some way, doubting that God was working in my life, only to have a notification on my phone that I received an email from one of the friends I was supporting. Each and every time, I would be uplifted, encouraged and reminded that God works in all circumstances, even the bad or frustrating. I can imagine God reveling at my marvel when I read about the way my small gift was helping His message of grace and truth to spread through east Asia.

I don’t just want my supporters to believe that what I’m doing is important, I want them to understand that what THEY are doing is important. I don’t want them to feel like an observer of the ministry, but an active participant, because they are. I went them to feel like choosers, not obligated to donate to a charity cause, but electing to involve themselves in God’s work in places they can’t physically be.