Lord’s sovereign will

The “What If” Game IS A Dangerous Game To Play

 

Saturday was a busy day. It was raining when we headed out to watch my oldest son compete in the conference Scholar Bowl tournament at a nearby school. In early afternoon, as his team finished and we left the school, it had begun to lightly snow. But we were on our way to another school so he could participate in a basketball tournament. As soon as this tournament was over, my husband left to take him to a third school where the high school varsity teams were playing (he keeps stats for the girls and boys team) while my younger son and I headed home.

By this time, it had been snowing for several hours. Snow was beginning to pile up. Road crews were out working but they just couldn’t keep up – it was coming too hard and too fast.

My son and I walked in our home and I fell on the couch, exhausted from the day but mainly from the drive home. It was stressful. My road had not been touched yet and I was slipping and sliding everywhere and my youngest son was in the backseat. What if I had slid off the road? He could have been hurt or even killed.

I’m so glad that my husband is such a good driver and is so careful that I don’t have to worry about him.

Then my phone rang.

It was my husband and he had slid off the road.

Another family that we knew stopped, picked our son up and took him onto the ball game.

But my husband was still stuck on the side of the road and needed help. I called a friend who lived nearby. He willingly and happily went to help my husband. Our friend was able to pull him out but within half a mile my husband slid off two more times. Finally, the friend just brought him home.

This evening we went to get our truck. It’s a small Ford Ranger without 4 wheel drive. Not much good in the snow. It took us nearly twenty minutes to get it out of the driveway he had left it in.

While driving back home, I couldn’t help but to notice the sides of the road. It was lined with steep drop-offs. Yet my husband and son slid onto level ground.

But what if they had slid off here instead?

What if the truck would have rolled?

What if it had crushed the cab with my husband and son inside?

What if… What if… What if…

Tonight as my son and husband went to sleep, I kept praying and thanking God for the protection that He had given to them. I thank Him for always taking care of my family when I cannot. And I just wanted to watch them sleep and hold them close, having been reminded of what a treasure they truly are.

But when it is my turn to go to sleep, my mind turned to the “What if…” game.

For me, personally, it is worse at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. That is when my mind really starts working and going crazy. I suppose during the day I can keep busy enough to not think about it. But at night, well, the night makes up for the day. That means more worry and less sleep. That results in a more tired and stressed mom/wife. Believe me, nobody in my house wants that!

You can probably relate. Maybe you haven’t been in this same exact situation, but you have probably been in some sort of a frightening situation. And you have been left wondering “What if…”

While I am certainly not proficient at this and still need lots of practice, I would like to make a suggestion on how to deal with the “What if…” game. Even though the weather was bad and my husband and son slid off the road, God still looked after my family. As much as I love them, God loves them more. Even as precious as they are to me, they are more precious to God. So instead of playing the “What if…” game, I am going to say to my mind, “No, I’m not going to allow you to go there. Instead I am going to thank the Lord that He did not allow that to happen. I am going to thank the Lord for His sovereignty, love, and grace. I am going to sing praises to the Lord.”

Playing the “What if…” game is a dangerous game to play. It totally discounts the Lord’s sovereign will. In the Lord’s sovereign will, He allowed our truck to slide off in a relatively safe place. He did not allow our truck to roll or the cab to be crushed. So why do we allow to let our minds dwell there? That is not honoring, glorifying, or praising the Lord – the very thing that we, as His children, are called to do.

Colossians 3:2 tells us “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Basically, that verse is telling us to think of things that are eternal and praise the Lord for them. It is telling us to trust God. It is telling us to think of Him in ALL things. Don’t worry so much about the “What if’s…” because those are not things that are eternal. He has already taken care of them.

We all have deep, dark places that our minds want to visit from time to time. If we allow them to dwell there, they can very easily lead us into a depression.

These are real fears. I’m not taking away from that. Yet, we cannot allow our minds to reside there. In fact, the Scriptures tell us not to. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “…Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” That verse is speaking of the importance of training our minds for Christ. And it sounds simple to do. But it is very difficult and challenging.

Consider this; we are all training our minds for something. So what will it be? Self-pity or admiration of the Lord? Praise and worship or fear and terror? Unbelief or praise? Fear and fright or trust of His faithfulness?

 

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73:28)

 

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His Life Pointed To Christ

 

With Christmas upon us, I wanted to take a moment to consider some of the preparations for the coming of Christ. Today, I am going to focus mainly upon John the Baptist.

Here’s the background: There has been prophecy upon prophecy promising a coming savior. There is also prophecy promising someone to prepare the way:

“Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight,’” Malachi 3:1, Isaiah 40:3.

But for 400 years there has been nothing. No prophecy from the Lord. No appearances of angels. Nothing at all. (By the way, these are sometimes called The Silent Years or the Intertestamental Period.) But the Jews continue to keep up their sacrifices, observe the Sabbath, participate in Jewish celebrations and holidays, and many other mandates given by the Lord.

At this time there was a priest named Zacharias who was married to a woman called Elizabeth. (Elizabeth, by the way, is Mary, the mother of Jesus’, cousin). While we do not know their exact age, the Bible does tell us that “they were both well advanced in years,” (Luke 1:7) and they had no children.

Today, if a couple does not have children we usually draw the conclusion that they either chose not to have children or there is a problem that does not allow them to do so. But that was not the thinking in their day. Remember that they lived in a culture where blessings were tied to birthrights and family lines. To not have children was like a curse. Barrenness carried a social stigma that was often thought to be a sign of divine displeasure. To a childless couple, it was humiliating.

So here is the priest Zacharias and his barren wife Elizabeth serving the Lord but probably not well thought of. But contrary to how the rest of the world viewed them, the Lord saw them as righteous (Luke 1:6).

At the time that Zacharias was serving as a priest, there were around 18,000 priests. Placed just in front of the veil that divided the holy place from the most holy place was incense that was kept burning continuously. A priest would need to go to light the incense twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening. There would be one priest chosen per day and no priest could ever do it twice in his lifetime. Because of the huge amounts of priests, many of them would never get this honor. But on this day Zacharias was chosen.

Zacharias no doubt regarded this moment as the highest honor and privilege of his lifetime.

As he walks in to do his priestly service, he sees an angel standing on the right side of the alter of incense (Luke 1:11). Remember that there has been no word from the Lord in 400 years. So when Zacharias sees this angel on one of the biggest days of his life, it is completely understandable that he is frightened.

The angel tells Zacharias to not be afraid, that his prayers (probably his lifelong prayers) had been heard by the Lord and his wife was going to bear a son. But this child would be a special child sent by God for a specific purpose: To prepare the way for the Messiah. In fact he tells Zacharias that his child will “be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb.”  (You can read the exact words of the angel of the Lord in Luke 1:13-17).

But remember, Zacharias and Elizabeth are not spring chickens. They are old! So naturally, he questions the angel asking, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years,” (Luke 1:18).

The angel does not appreciate being doubted. He reminds Zacharias that “he stands in the presence of God and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings,” (Luke 1:19). Unfortunately, because of Zacharias’s unbelief, the angel told him he would not be able to speak until all that had spoken had been fulfilled.

I actually find this to be a stiff punishment! Those of you who have children, think about it…  What is the first thing you wanted to do when you found out you were expecting? Of course you wanted to shout it from the roof top. You were having a child! And you were excited! Who wouldn’t be?

Yet, here is Zacharias. He knows after all these long years of barrenness and being looked down upon socially because of it, they are finally going to have a son. But he cannot tell anybody! Oh what a punishment!

Finally after what probably seemed like forever, Elizabeth gives birth. And on the eight day, according to God’s commands (Leviticus 12:1-3), they bring their baby to be circumcised. Everyone assumed that the baby would be named ‘Zacharias’ after his father (that is how people were named at this time), but Elizabeth let them know he should be named “John”. So they asked Zacharias. He wrote on a tablet, “His name is John” and immediately is tongue was loosened and he praised God (Luke 1:63-64).

Now how many people do you know that have lived most of their lives desperately wanting children, and when they’re at grandparent age, they bear a child? How many people do you know that were suddenly unable to speak while doing the Lord’s work and then are suddenly able to speak again after answering a question? Me neither.

So of course news of this spread quickly. Many people wondered, “What kind of child will this be” (Luke 1:66).

And indeed, they were right to wonder. A child born under such miraculous circumstances must have a special purpose. This baby boy will go on to become John the Baptist. Years later, Jesus will say, “Among those born of women none is greater than John,” (Luke 7:28). That is quite a statement considering that it was spoken by Jesus!

Still, John’s purpose in life was not just to be born under unusual circumstances, although those do testify to his purpose. His purpose and duty was to prepare the way for Christ. He did this just as the Lord had ordained. “He went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance of the remission of sins,” (Luke 3:3). You can read all about his ministry in Luke 3:1-21.

Why is this exciting? Why is this worth discussing 2000 years later?

Think about what it may have been like to live at that time… There are tons of prophecies about the Messiah. But no one has heard anything from the Lord in 400 years. Did He forget? Did He send Him and we missed Him? Did He die as an infant or small child? Did something not work according to His plan? Has He forsaken us? Where is He? Why hasn’t He sent Him? Did He lie to us?

So when they saw someone being sent to prepare the way for the King, it must have been very exciting. It alerted them to be on the lookout. To realize that Christ was coming. God had kept His promises.

Clearly put, the purpose of John’s life was to point to Christ.

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Why Evangelize?

 

I met *Jason the first time when I switched school in fifth grade. He was smart, funny, and very silly. He was the class clown. He could make anyone laugh. He was everyone’s friend.

But as we grew and advanced through grades, he seemed to find trouble more and more. And it wasn’t just in the classroom. Or with teachers or school officials. The first time he had a run-in with the law, we were in eighth grade (I think). He fought. He stole. He cheated.

The fun boy that we all knew and loved was gone. This mean kid had taken his place. And this “new” Jason seemed to only be getting worse.

And then he moved.

I did not see or hear from him until we were in our late 20s. Imagine how surprised I was to see him at a church’s VBS! I spoke with him for quite a while. He hadn’t graduated from high school but chose to get his GED. He met a nice girl. Got married. Became a police officer (that was the one that really shocked me!). Had three children. His wife left him and he continued to raise his children. Alone.

At this point, you could have sneezed and I would have fallen over!

And most of all, he was a wonderful dad. He played with his kids. He enjoyed his kids. He loved his kids. He worked very hard to support them.

We talked more and more. I was still so shocked that this was the same Jason that I had gone to school with. I was elated to see the changes he had made in his life. Before we left, he gave me his phone number and asked if I would please let him know the next time we had a class reunion (I was surprised he had any interest in coming).

Just a couple months later we did have a reunion. I called him and he did come. We were all thrilled to see the man and father that he had become.

And then life went on and things went back to normal and I never saw him again.

About six months later I was cleaning and found the scrap of paper he had written his phone number on. I certainly did not want my husband to think that I had any ulterior motive for keeping Jason’s number so I threw it away. I had done my job anyhow.

The very next day I received a phone call that he had unexpectedly passed away during the night.

I was stunned. Shocked. He was what, 28 years old? People are not supposed to die when they are 28 years old! I felt sick at my stomach. I thought about his sweet children.

But most of all, I thought about him. I wondered about him. Where was he? There was no doubt that a huge change had occurred in his life. Was that because Christ had entered? Maybe. After all, I did see him at a VBS. But I didn’t know for sure. Why didn’t I ask?

Why did I never call him?

Why did I never share the gospel with him?

How many months did I have his number? It was available to me and I did not seize the opportunity. I could have invited him and his children over for supper. I could have asked his family to meet mine at the park to play. I really do think he would have liked that.

But I didn’t.

And the sad truth is that I didn’t even think about it. Didn’t even cross my mind. Why? I don’t even know. Laziness, maybe. Selfishness, maybe. Out of my comfort zone, maybe. Or maybe just believing there will be another day.

I do understand the sovereignty of God. I realize that Jason’s ultimate fate was not/is not dependent upon how obedient I am in sharing the gospel. So I’m not saying that I have a huge amount of guilt. I just realize that I missed an opportunity and a blessing.

And that grieves me.

So what is my point? None of us is guaranteed another day.

With every breath, brag on Jesus.

Keep him foremost in your mind. This is not in our human nature to do, so pray that the Lord increase your love for Him and His word.

Don’t pass up an opportunity to love another person. To really love them. After all, we are all created in His image (Genesis 1:27).

Pray that God gives you opportunities to share the gospel. And then look for them so you recognize them when you see them.

Put away selfish desires and selfish motives.

Take time to commit Scripture to memory. You might not always have your Bible with you. Be prepared.

And most of all, cling to the cross.

Maybe you will be outside your comfort zone. But so what? Do you think that the Apostle Paul was ever outside of his? Probably. Yet, he is known as the greatest evangelist of all times.

All we can do is be obedient when the opportunity arises. The rest is up to God. I am so thankful for this. It is not up to how well I present the Scriptures, how good of a speaker I am, or anything else. If a work is done in someone’s heart, it is the Lord who did it. I am merely a tool in His hand. And if He is able to use something as broken and shattered as me, I am humbled and honored that He chose to use me.

I pray that I arise when the opportunity comes. No more Jasons.

 

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God have the growth.” –1 Corinthians 3:6

“…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” –James 4:14

 

*Name changed to protect privacy

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What About Joseph?

 

I have been reading through the gospels recently and noticed something I’ve failed to see before. Isn’t it strange that Jesus would be put on trial, beaten until he no longer looks human, and crucified and there is no record of Joseph, His earthly father, being present? The Scriptures speak of Mary being there (John 19:25-27) but never Joseph. This strikes me as very odd. What parent would not be there to defend, protect, care for, and grieve for their child? But after a search in the Scriptures, the last time I can find Joseph’s presence mentioned is when Jesus is twelve years old. Their family makes a trip to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. On the way back His parents realize that Jesus is not with them, they were traveling as a group with several families, and make the trek back to Jerusalem for Him. When they find Him, He is teaching in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). After this incident, Joseph is never mentioned again.  Does this seem strange to anyone else? All the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, speak of Mary being active throughout the Jesus’ adult life, but none speak of Joseph past this point.

We know that Joseph was a righteous man because…

  1. God chose him to be Jesus’ earthly father.
  2. When he found out Mary was pregnant he could have divorced her and he had planned to do so. But when the Lord told him not to, he obeyed (Matt 1:18-25).

We also know that Joseph was a protector because…

  1. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him of Herod’s plan to kill baby Jesus, immediately their small family fled to Egypt (Matt 2:13-15). They stayed in Egypt until after Herod died (Matt 2:19-21).
  2. When they were on their way back from Egypt, Joseph found out that Herod’s son had taken his father’s place. Joseph took his family to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, instead (Matt 2:22-23).

With all that said, I don’t believe that one could draw the conclusion that Joseph was a poor father or had possibly abandoned them. It appears that he was a wonderful and devoted father.

All this leads me to one conclusion…  Sometime after Jesus was twelve years old, but before He began His ministry, Joseph passed away. This means that for at least part of His life Jesus was raised in a single parent household. This also means He probably had many more responsibilities, including caring for His younger brothers and sisters.

If you have been raised for at least part of your life in a single parent home, as I was, this should be of great comfort to you. He truly understands the loneliness. He understands the tear you feel inside of you. He understands the desire for the other parent. All the times you want to see them, touch them, hear their voice, receive their instruction, but you can’t. He understands that kind of hurt and pain.

While Jesus Himself never had children, He did have younger brothers and sisters that He most definitely helped care for. And by the time Joseph would have passed, Jesus would have been old enough to have some fatherly instincts kick in. Imagine the huge responsibility He must have felt for them. He must have helped wipe tears away (remember they had lost their father too) and comfort them in the night. He probably helped clean up a few scraped knees and elbows and took care of them when they were sick. Maybe even walked them to school and home again. We know that Joseph was a carpenter, he taught Jesus, and Jesus probably taught his brothers what Joseph had taught Him. I do believe that Jesus understands what it is like to be a parent. I believe He understands that deep love, sense of protection, and self sacrifice that a parent has for their child.

If you have experienced a loss, Jesus experienced a deep loss too. We know that Jesus mourned because the Scriptures record Him weeping at the tomb of his good friend, Lazarus (John 11:35). But undoubtedly the loss of a father would be more severe than the loss of a friend, especially at a younger and tenderer age. Although it is true that Jesus must have had much more of a realization that either you or I ever will about where His loved one was or the unity that they would experience again, He still must have grieved. He had to have mourned. He must have had many sleepless nights. He must have hurt very much and not just for Himself, but for His mother, brothers, and sisters as well.

If you are a single parent, take heart, this is of great encouragement! He understands the daily struggles and challenges that you go through. He watched his own mother go through them too. Do you ever worry if your child is going to be okay with only one parent in the home? The greatest man of all times lived part of His life with only one parent. There is no better example of a man than Him. He is what we all want our children to imitate. Can we even begin to list all His great qualities? How about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control (Galatians 5:22), just to name a few!

To me, this has changed part of my view of Christ. Somehow, he seems even more human, more realistic. And isn’t this just like the Father? If Jesus is our intercessor, He needs to understand all our needs and all our trials. This is why it is so important that Christ came as a man. So He understands our need for nourishment, our limitations with energy and the need for rest, and the daily trials we go through. We go through losses. We feel extreme pressure.  We struggle and face challenge daily. With removing Joseph from Jesus’ life, He was made more aware of more struggles that we face. He knew what it was like to lose someone you love very much. He knew what it was like to have parental love and to miss it too. He knew, from watching his own mother, what it was like to raise children as a single parent. Wow! I am never ceased to be amazed at the thoroughness of our Lord.

 

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The “What If…” Game

In 2010 my family had the privilege of attending the Olympic Winter Games that were held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Although I was seven months pregnant with our youngest son, it was still a wonderful time. I consider it a once-in-a-lifetime event. Many, many memories were made there that none of us will ever forget. I want to share one of them with you now.

My son, who was eight years old at the time, and I got to attend the Closing Ceremonies. My husband did not want to go and chose to stay behind at our bed and breakfast. The Closing Ceremonies were awesome and was the favorite event for both of us. But what happened afterwards was so awful, we can hardly think of the Closing Ceremonies without thinking of this…

BC Place, the arena where the event was being held, has a capacity of nearly sixty thousand people. All those people needed to leave the arena and all began to leave at once. It took more than an hour just to get from our seats to the doors. We needed to ride the Skytrain back to our bed and breakfast. But I knew everyone else would need to ride it too and it would be chaotic. So I decided my son and I might as well have supper and enjoy the atmosphere for a while before even trying to board the Skytrain.

We goofed around for an hour and a half before making our way to the Skytrain. Still, it was a mess trying to get on. However, because I was pregnant they considered me handicapped and we got to go to the front of the line. We were waiting on the platform, next to one another, with thousands people around us (and no, I’m not exaggerating). All were trying to push to get their chance to get to the front. I have never seen a mob like this before.

Finally, the train arrived. I could feel the pressure from the other people all around me. Fearing my son and I would be separated, I grabbed ahold of his hand as tightly as I possibly could. The doors opened and immediately the whole platform began pushing, everyone trying to crowd in. But in this, our hands got torn apart. I screamed his name. Nothing. I screamed his name again. Nothing. It was so loud he probably could not have heard me. The train began to pull away from the station. I was on the train, but where was he?

I looked out the window for him. But there were thousands of faces. There were too many for me to have time to pick him out. Where was he? My heart was beating like it had never beaten before. I began to hyperventilate. Again, I screamed his name as loud as I could. This time, I saw his arm sticking out of a crowd of people waving up and down to me. He could not see me either but heard my scream and wanted me to know he was okay. I grabbed ahold of his hand and pulled as hard as I could. And I pulled him out!

I have never been so frightened in my life, before or since. We held one another as tightly as we could all the way back. Both of us were crying. We were both terrified.  He hadn’t known where I was either. I did not let him out of my arms until we got back to our bed and breakfast. And even then, it was only to use the restroom. That night I slept beside him, holding him the whole time. I cried most of the night.

That night as he went to sleep, I kept praying and thanking God for the protection He gave my son. I thanked Him for always taking care of my son when I could not. And I just wanted to watch him sleep and hold him close, having been reminded of what a treasure he truly is.

But when it was my turn to go to sleep, my mind turned to the “What if…” game. What if he had not made it on to the train? He did not have a cell phone. What would he have done? How would I have ever found him in that mob? What if someone would have taken him? What if I never saw him again? What might they do to him? If given a line-up, would I recognize someone who had been there that night? What if the authorities were slow to act losing precious time? What if authorities would not help me because I was a foreigner? What if… What if… What if…

For me, personally, it is worse at night when I’m trying to go to sleep. That is when my mind really starts working and going crazy. I suppose during the day I can keep busy enough to not think about it. But at night, well, the night makes up for the day. That means more worry and less sleep. That results in a more tired and stressed mom/wife. Believe me, nobody in my house wants that!

If you are parent, you can probably relate. Maybe you haven’t been in this same exact situation, but you have probably been in some sort of a frightening situation. And you have been left wondering “What if…”

While I am certainly not proficient at this and still need lots of practice, I would like to make a suggestion on how to deal with the “What if…” game. Even though we got separated, God still looked after my son. As much as I love my son, God loves him more. Even as precious as he is to me, he is more precious to God. So instead of playing the “What if…” game, I am going to say to my mind, “No, I’m not going to allow you to go there. Instead I am going to thank the Lord that He did not allow that to happen. I am going to thank the Lord for His sovereignty, love, and grace. I am going to sing praises to the Lord.”

Playing the “What if…” game is a dangerous game to play. It totally discounts the Lord’s sovereign will. In the Lord’s sovereign will, He did not allow us to be separated more than a few moments. Nor did He allow my son to be kidnapped. So why do we allow to let our minds dwell there? That is not honoring, glorifying, or praising the Lord – the very thing that we, as His children, are called to do.

Colossians 3:2 tells us “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Basically, that verse is telling us to think of things that are eternal and praise the Lord for them. It is telling us to trust God. It is telling us to think of Him in ALL things. Don’t worry so much about the “What if’s…” because those are not things that are eternal. He has already taken care of them.

We all have deep, dark places that our minds want to visit from time to time. If we allow them to dwell there, they can very easily lead us into a depression.

These are real fears. I’m not taking away from that. Yet, we cannot allow our minds to reside there. In fact, the Scriptures tell us not to. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “…Take every thought captive to obey Christ.” That verse is speaking of the importance of training our minds for Christ. And it sounds simple to do. But it is very difficult and challenging.

Consider this; we are all training our minds for something. So what will it be? Self-pity or admiration of the Lord? Praise and worship or fear and terror? Unbelief or praise? Fear and fright or trust of His faithfulness?

 

“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73:28)

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