Walking through the Dark Valleys…

In over 30 years of being a pastor, I have officiated countless funerals. I have prayed with families grieving the loss of someone dearly loved. I have held mourners as their sobs shook their entire bodies. I have spoken the final words at a graveside. This is, for me, an awesome responsibility and high privilege. It can also be a great and heavy weight.

The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. This does not mean that Christians do not grieve. We do, most surely. Our tears are no less real. The sense of loss is no less painful. Separation, even though we know it is temporary, breaks our hearts and disrupts our lives in unimaginable ways. We grieve, but In our grief we are buoyed by hope and the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

With all this heavy on my heart, I write. Writing is therapeutic for me. It gives me a space to clearly communicate my heart and mind. Admittedly, it also exposes me a bit. I never want to be fake or to pretend I am someone I am not, but I also understand that my church family and the community look to me to express my confidence in God’s love and sovereignty.

When I meet with people for counseling or comfort, I open my heart to share their burdens. I cannot carry their burdens for them, but I can come alongside and help shoulder some of the crushing weight for a time. Their burdens, at least in small part, become my burdens. I am called and compelled to take their hands and walk with them at least part way through their dark valleys. As I stand before my congregation each week, I look at the faces, and I know the burdens and hurts that many carry. And I share just a little piece of them.

Here comes my exposure, my confession –
Sometimes, it is overwhelming.
Sometimes, there are too many dark valleys in so short a period of time.
Sometimes, the little mound of burdens becomes a mountain.
Sometimes, I am filled with an intense sadness, and a well of tears pours out even from my dry eyes.
Sometimes, I simply want to curl up in a dark and quiet space and grieve over all the pain, all the loss, all the empty desks, chairs, beds, cribs, and arms.

I am not looking for pity, nor have I yield to depression. God is faithful. He enters into that dark place, into my grieving… and He whispers to me, “I am here. You are not alone. Death is not final. Loneliness is not forever. You don’t have to walk this valley or carry this burden alone. As you have held the hands of others and walked with them, let me walk with you now. Lean on me. Let me carry that burden for you.” And as I rise to my feet, with every step the weight becomes less and the darkness becomes light.

Peter’s words to Cornelius are my words today, “I, too, am a man” (Acts 10:26). If I have ever given you the impression that I am something more, I truly apologize. I am a fellow traveler with each of you through this life. We share alike in the joys and the pains of being human.

We grieve, but I know that our grief is tempered by hope. We hurt, but God binds up our wounds. The King of glory has promised to never leave us or turn His back on us (Deuteronomy 31:6; Hebrews 13:5). And He has graciously filled our lives with His children who become His arms wrapped around us, His hands drying our tears, and His feet walking with us through the dark valleys. We are the body of Christ, and we are in this together. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:6)

Before signing off, let me reiterate that this is not a cry for sympathy nor an invitation to a pity party. I’m okay. My Lord strengthens me moment by moment, and His people lift my up and minister to me, and He has given me a family that energizes and encourages me. What I am doing is taking the risk of opening up my emotions to you with the hope that it may somehow encourage you.

You don’t have to be a rock all the time. You don’t have to carry your burdens alone. You don’t have to act as if you are invulnerable to the pains and losses of life. You can be honest about your struggles. You can lean on those who love you. You can be real and vulnerable and weak, for that simply opens us up to find strength beyond measure, love overflowing, and peace that is beyond all understanding.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)

Leaving a Legacy…

Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

I’ve contemplated what it means to leave a legacy a lot lately. In the span of eight days, I had three funerals and a wedding, so thinking about what really matters in life was often at the front of my mind.

In the funeral service of my dear brother Earl Smith, I shared some thoughts on what it looks like to be intentional about leaving a legacy for the generations to come. These observations were not limited to Earl’s life, but were certainly reflected in it. So, here they are:

Be faithful followers of Jesus, not just on Sunday, but every hour of every day.

Show integrity in your words and your deeds and let your word be your bond.

Take the Great Commandment and the Great Commission with equal seriousness.

Consistently read your Bible and persistently be in prayer.

Give love even when it isn’t returned.

Hold loosely to earthly treasures and live in expectation for a heavenly kingdom.

Teach your children and grandchildren to love Jesus just as you do.

May we learn from the lives of faithful men and women who live out their faith before our eyes, and may we be committed to living faith-filled lives in the eyes of those around us and in doing so both bring glory to God and leave a legacy worthy of following.

Don’t Be Like Beau…

My neighbors across the street have a dog named Beau who considers himself to be the watchdog for the neighborhood alerting us to strangers, mail carriers, other dogs out for a stroll, and various and sundry wildlife that catch his attention. Whenever I pull in my driveway and get out of the car, I thank him for his diligence.

A couple of days ago as we stood out in their yard chatting, Lawson, an energy-infused soon-to-be five-year-old tossed a stick for Beau. Now, Beau loves to fetch a stick. This stick however took an unexpected trajectory that ended up on the roof of the porch.

Undeterred, Beau leaped onto the porch, head pointing straight up, trying to figure out how to get to the stick. He couldn’t see it, but he was smart enough to know where it was. He frantically jumped and searched and stretched, but to no avail. The stick was unreachable not matter how persistent Beau might be, and persistent he was.

I had to leave before Beau gave up his hopeless quest for his unseen prize, but I walked away thinking how much like Beau we can be. We long for things that are out of our grasp. We work and strain and fret over the unseen prize that we are convinced will somehow satisfy us. But that stick was just a chew toy. It had no nutritional value. It could not give him the calories or nutrients necessary for survival. He didn’t really need it, but he really, really wanted it.

As we consider our lives and those things that we strive after and fret over, do they have true and lasting value? Do they add anything to our lives that make it richer, better, and fuller? Are we spending all our efforts pursuing some elusive desire while ignoring the deepest desire of our souls?

We read in the Psalms – “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for thee, O God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2) “My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is not water.” (Psalm 63:1) “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (Psalm 73:25)

We are given to misplaced desires, chasing after things that won’t much matter in the end. The writer of Ecclesiastes calls is “chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah – “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:12-13)

Beau’s a good dog, but in this case we shouldn’t be like Beau. Beau desperately wanted something that could not truly meet his needs and did everything within his power to get it. We are too often on that same pursuit.

Take some time today to think about the things you are longing for, those goals you are pursuing and pouring your life out for. It is not wrong to want things or to work toward goals, unless we are ignoring what is truly best. Will we end up with everything we’ve ever wanted but not that which we truly need? And worse, will we unintentionally teach our children and grandchildren to pursue that which cannot ultimately satisfy?

Remember the words of Jesus – “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

[All Scriptures is quoted from the English Standard Version]
[Image by @mockupgraphics]

Step Up…

On July 4, 2004, Grace Fellowship celebrated their first worship service in a high school theater. That first service happened because of faithful servants who were willing to do whatever it took reach people for Jesus and help them grow in their faith. Most of those faithful servants weren’t on the stage with a microphone. Most were in the background quietly serving Jesus by serving others.

Fast forward to 2021. Lives changed. Souls saved. Jesus glorified. But many of those who started with us have graduated to heaven or life’s circumstances have led them to move to be closer to family. Those who once stepped up and answered the call of service are no longer able to fulfill that calling.

It is said that our greatest ability is our availability. In so many ways that is true. It doesn’t matter how skilled or gifted we are if we are unavailable when the Lord brings opportunities our way.

Way back in the Old Testament we find a poem written by a judge and prophetess named Deborah that reflected on a battle against the Canaanites. In her poem, she shares some interesting insights – “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!” (Judges 5:2)

In verses 13-18 of Judges 5, Deborah lists the tribes to stepped up to answer the call to defend Israel. Among those tribes were Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, Issachar, Reuben, and Naphtali. These tribes were willing to risk it all to defend their immediate families and their kinsmen. But she also mentions the men of other tribes – Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Why did you sit still among the sheepfolds, to hear the whistling for the flocks? Among the clans of Reuben there were great searchings of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan; and Dan, why did he stay with the ships? Asher sat still at the coast of the sea, staying by his landings. (Judges 5:15-17)

What a contrast! Many of the tribes rallied to the cause, but others chose to twiddle their thumbs, to play it safe, to look after themselves without regard for their brothers. Their own comfort and safety in the moment overrode the great need for their nation.

When God sends opportunities our way, we have a choice. We can step up and serve or we can step aside and let others carry the weight. If enough people step aside, then those who step up become overburdened or the work simply doesn’t get done.

If you’re part of the Grace family and reading this, then I want to challenge you to consider stepping up. Be ready to say “yes” unless the Lords leads you otherwise.

So, what do we do when opportunities come our way? Are they all from God? Should we simply say “yes” to every opportunity? No. We can’t do everything. We need wisdom to know what we should embrace and what we should let pass.

Here are some questions you can ask to evaluate whether this is an opportunity for you –
Will saying “yes” keep me from fulfilling my responsibilities to my family?
Will saying “yes” provide an example of faithful service to my family?
Am I saying “yes” because of of guilt or human pressure?
Do I have a good motivation for saying “no”?
How will saying “yes” help my church fulfill its mission?
How will saying “no” hinder the mission of my church?
Is it the right time to say “yes”?

But the overriding question we must answer is this – Is God calling me? If the answer to that question is “yes,” then it is time to step up and embrace that call. Grace Fellowship has 17 years filled with men and women who said “yes,” and because of their willingness people were blessed and God was glorified. Is it time for you to step up?

[Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash]

Be Like Barnabas…

As we continued our study of Acts at Grace Fellowship, we spent some time today focusing on a man named Barnabas. His given name was Joseph, but he was called Barnabas, which we are told means “son of encouragement.”

Here’s what we can learn about this man named Barnabas as we read through Acts:

Barnabas was an encourager.
Even without the nickname, his encouraging spirit is seen throughout the book of Acts.

Barnabas was generous and cared about his fellow believers.
In Acts 5, Barnabas sells a piece of property and brings all the proceeds to the Apostles to be used to help with the needy in the church. His care for those in need was more than lip service.

Barnabas was trustworthy.
The apostles trusted Barnabas’ judgment that Saul was not hostile, and they trusted his judgment in discerning what God was doing in the city of Antioch. They also trusted Barnabas enough to send him out as a missionary.

Barnabas had a good reputation.
In Acts 11, he is referred to as “a good man.” This doesn’t mean he never sinned. It means that he lived an admirable life – that he had a good character.

Barnabas was full of faith.
Barnabas was known for his faith. His trust in Jesus was evident to all. In every time and every place, Barnabas’ faith was in the “on” position. 

Barnabas was a willing servant.
Our greatest ability for the kingdom is our availability. Barnabas was always available when the Lord called. His eyes and his heart were wide open looking for opportunities God might send His way.

Barnabas was humble.
As you read through the book Acts, you may notice a shift. Barnabas and Saul go out as a missionary team, but Luke lists Barnabas’ name first – Barnabas and Saul. After chapter 13, it shifts. Barnabas is listed second. In spite of this, we see no jealousy or rivalry between them. Barnabas’ humility allows him to rejoice with the advancement of others.

Barnabas had a heart for the weak and the rejected. 
We see this first with Saul and later with John Mark. John Mark was Barnabas’ cousin who had joined their missionary team early on but who had run home to mama. Paul didn’t want him to go with them on their next journey, but Barnabas insisted. It ended up with Paul and Barnabas amicably parting ways – Paul teaming up with Silas and Barnabas taking along John Mark.

To Barnabas, this young believer was worth the investment, in spite of his failure. He chose to take a chance and take John Mark under his wing. Was it worth it? You make the call. Consider what Paul (yes, that Saul) wrote toward the end of his life – Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). Yep, that Mark is John Mark.

Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. His life was guided and controlled by the Spirit of God. Barnabas allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work in and through Him. The Spirit’s fruit was on full display in his’ life.

Barnabas is a man whose life is worthy of our study and our emulation. Maybe Paul had Barnabas in mind when he wrote – encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Remembering 9/11…

I’m not sure I have much to add to all that is being said and written today – 20 years after the nightmarish terrorist attacks on our nation. But to say nothing at all seems to belittle the horror of that day.

I was still at home watching the news when the first plane hit the tower. There was a lot of confusion and speculation at the time. It was assumed to be a terrible accident. Reporters tried to sort through the incoming reports, but all speculation was set aside as another passenger jet slammed in the second tower of the World Trade Center. I don’t remember saying anything, only sitting and staring and wondering what was next.

By day’s end, we had our answer. The twin towers fell. There was a charred and burning hole in the Pentagon. And there was a downed plan in a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 had died. The world changed that day, and we became aware that we were not out of terror’s reach.

The world is a dangerous place. None of us is truly insulated from disease or crime or poverty or death. This is a broken world filled with broken people – sometimes broken and twisted. We who live the United States are still relatively safe, but it is only relative.

Our lives and our families can be dramatically change in an instant. Terrorism is most likely not the thing that will do us in. Auto accidents, cancer, heart attacks, and disease are far more likely to take us out. Our lifespan is finite, and our life itself with have plenty of struggles.

In an uncertain world, we need something certain, something we can hold on to, something that won’t let us down. In reality, that something is a Someone. We need God.

I know people will ask, “But where was God when the planes ran into the World Trade Center?” The answer is not all that complicated – God was where He always was – He was with us.

God created this world without the heartaches and loss that we experience today, but that first couple decided they knew better then He, and we have not only shared in the penalty of that decision, we have been making that same tragic mistake every since. The world is what we have made of it, and if it were not for the mercy of God we would all be living in abject misery without hope.

With God there is hope. Hope for peace in the middle of our pain, and hope for an eternity without pain or sickness or tears. The old song says, “This world is not my home. I’m just passing through.” This is a broken world. We make the best of it that we can. We try to relieve some of the heartache and hardships that many experience along the way. And we invite others to enter into an immediate and eternal relationship with God through trusting in His Son as Savior.

As we remember today and mourn, let us also look to the only One who can set things right – and will do so, perhaps sooner than we might suppose.

A Disciple Named Ananias…

This past Sunday, we continued our journey through the book of Acts. Our focus was on Acts 9:10-19, where a man named Ananias received a vision from God to go to a man named Saul, lay hands on him, pray for him, and be God’s agent through with this Saul would be made able to see and receive the Holy Spirit. Here is the text –

10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 

18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. (Acts 9:10-19, ESV)

Here are the takeaways provided on Sunday –

➤ We may not all be able to be a Paul, but we can be an Ananias.
Ananias is described as a “disciple at Damascus.” There is no title nor is there anything identifier except “disciple.” We may not believe we have that much to offer, especially when we compare ourselves to those giants of the faith, but we can all express the same characteristics that we see in Ananias – faith, availability, and faithfulness.

➤ God is looking for willing servants who are willing to say, “Here I am.” 
It has been said that our best ability is our availability. When Jesus called Ananias, he volunteered, “Here I am.” What he was asked to do was difficult. He had concerns. He had questions. But he gave his “yes” before he knew what Jesus was asking of him. May we show the same willingness to serve when we are called.

➤ When God calls us to do something difficult, trust that He is already aware of the difficulty and is preparing us to face it.
What Jesus asked Ananias to do sound a bit risky considering that Saul was out to get those who trusted in Jesus. Sometimes we may wonder if God knows what He’s getting us into, but, of course, He does. Not only does He know, He has prepared us for the moment and goes with us into it. If it is God’s will, then He can make a way for us.

➤ We dare not assume that anyone is out of the reach of God’s grace.
There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive it and no sinner so stained that God cannot cleanse them. Saul was likely the last person anyone expected to put his faith in Jesus, but that was precisely what happened. That person who seems so far from God is not beyond His reach.

➤ Not everyone’s salvation experience will be as dramatic as Saul’s, but we were all just as lost and blind as he was.
Saul’s conversion to Christ began as He encountered the risen Jesus in all His glory. This encounter left him confused over everything he had learned and been taught, and it left him physically blind. It was only when Ananias obeyed God and went to visit Saul and pray for him that Saul received his sight and the Holy Spirit. Your conversion may not be so dramatic, but that doesn’t mean it is any less real!

Anyone who is a child of God was once an enemy of God. Anyone who has new life in Jesus was once dead in their sins and trespasses. The angels’ rejoicing is no less over an 8 year old who comes to Jesus through the ministry of his godly family and church than over the 80 year old abusive drunk who surrenders to Jesus on a hospital bed.

➤ Being faithful to the Lord may come at a very high price.
Ananias took a risk going to Saul. It might have crossed my mind to put my hands around Saul’s neck than to lay hands on him and pray for him. Saul, who would later become Paul, certainly knew there was danger in following Jesus. And we have countless brothers and sisters in the faith who face daily hardship and persecution simply because they are faithful in following Jesus. Faithfulness may come at a very high price, but consider what they price may be for unfaithfulness.

Our adventure in Acts continues. If you are in Greensboro, Georgia and are looking for a church home, we’d love to have you visit us at Grace Fellowship. You can also find our services online at gracefellowship.ws and on our Facebook page.

Go Deeper into Grace…

I woke up early this morning. As I repositioned myself and my pillow in an effort to lull myself back into sleep, my mind became fixed on the goodness and grace of God. That is a weighty subject for so early in the morning, but it brought to me a great sense of peace and contentment. I’m not sure I want to experience that every morning shortly after 3:30, but it was more than worth the grogginess I will feel after lunch.

We spend far too little time dwelling on God’s grace. Those of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ know the necessity of grace for our salvation. The Apostle Paul states clearly – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

There would be no salvation for me or anyone else apart from the marvelous grace of God. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God’s love was so great that He sent His one and only Son who would die on a cross to pay the price for sin. Jesus declared on the cross, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and that meant He had done everything necessary for the salvation of lost and sinful humanity.

Christians sing about this grace. Pastors preach about it. But I dare say we do not dwell on this grace nearly enough. Doing so could be absolutely transformative for our attitude and our daily lives, for we are not only saved by grace, we are called to live in it!

I remember as a child taking trips to Ocracoke Island. As the tide would recede, pools of water would remain behind. There was great delight in playing in those pools. And as I get to the beach from time to time, I still see children playing in those shallow accumulation of ocean water left behind by the retreating waves. That is often where we as believers live when it comes to appreciating and enjoying the grace of God.

God’s reminder to me this morning was to go deeper into grace. There is a vast ocean to be enjoyed and explored, but we become far too content in the shallows.

2 Peter 3:18 tells us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” So, how do we do this? I’m not sure there is a single recipe, but there are actions you can take to experience more of the inexhaustible grace of God.

You need to set aside time to contemplate God’s grace.
This may be quite challenging for you. Life can be quite busy. Slowing down is a luxury. Stopping seems impossible. And when we’re not busy, we feel the need to be distracted from everything by vegging out in front of the TV or hanging out with friends. Solitude is a foreign concept for many today.

The psalmist calls us to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). This is a command, yes, but it is also an invitation. We will likely never develop a richer appreciation of grace or have a deeper affection for God without pulling apart from our routine to mediate upon the greatness of our God.

You need to spend time reading and reflecting on God’s Word.
If we want to know God more, we need to dedicate time to knowing His truth. Yes, our understanding of God may increase when we watch a sunset or hold a newborn, but if we truly desire to know Him more deeply we need read His Word.

The Bible is not merely an instruction book on how to live in a fallen world; it is God’s self-revelation. It is in God’s Word that He reveals Himself, His will, and His ways. He wants to make Himself known to us, and He has chosen a means that we can understand. Though human words can never fully express the majesty of an eternal God, the Bible is sufficient to lead us to know the Lord and not just know about Him.

It is in the pages of the Bible that we discover that “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is within that sacred text that we learn that we “were dead” in our sins and our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1) and were in our fallen nature “enemies” of God (Romans 5:10). God needed to reveal this to us because that sin keeps us from entering into a relationship with Him. He had to point out the penalty of our sin and our own helplessness to fix ourselves so that we might turn to Him in faith.

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

When we come to understand the absolute holiness of God and our own utter depravity and hopelessness, we will marvel at the vastness of God’s grace and love and mercy in Jesus Christ.

Perhaps you have heard God’s invitation to go deeper into grace. It requires an intentionality on our part, a willingness to shift our priorities and rearrange our time. It is an effort on our part to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We must lift our eyes from the knee-deep pool and gaze at the endless ocean. We must once again discover that grace that once amazed us and can do so again.

Let us go deeper into grace…

[All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version]

Discerning God’s Leadership in Your Life…

I have had those occasions when the Lord prompted me to do something out of the ordinary and sometimes out of my comfort zone. Although I’ve never had an angel show up, nor have I had the Lord speak audibly to me, I have this inward tugging, something in my heart and mind perhaps to speak to someone, to serve someone, to be generous with someone, or just to pray for someone. That compulsion is almost irresistible. I say “almost irresistible” because I know that urging can be resisted. 

I’ve resisted that tugging more than once. My hesitance or outright resistance is usually because I have an internal battle going on in my brain. I ask myself is this God speaking, or is it just some internal impulse of my own making? I’ve discovered that if the internal wrestling match goes on long enough, the moment to act usually passes. I cannot count how many opportunities like that end up in my rear view mirror without any response on my part. 

Many of you know that struggle. You wonder if it the Holy Spirit pulling you or is it just your own thinking? How can you know? Well… I wish the answer was super easy and absolutely cut and dry. My experience has shown me that it’s not, however through the years I have found some basic guidelines that can help discern whether it might be God leading you. I wish I could give proper attribution to every writer or preacher who helped me form this list, but at least let me be honest enough to say that I didn’t come up with these on my own.

Read God’s Word. Meditate on its truth. Memorize it. Tuck it away. As you try to discern God’s leading, you’ll be surprised how the Holy Spirit brings to mind exactly what you need at exactly the right time.

Get God’s Word into your heart and mind.
Psalm 119 encourages us to hide God’s Word in our hearts as security to keep us from sinning. Hiding His Word within us does even more than that; it gives us a reserve from which we can pull wisdom, encouragement, correction, and truth. It is a storeroom from which we can draw guidance in a time of need, but if we haven’t put anything in what can we draw out?

Consistently spent time with God in prayer.
It is far easier to know God’s voice if you are familiar with it. This means that prayer is more than bringing our laundry list of needs and dumping them before God’s throne just before we dash out the door to start our day. It means we pause to listen for God. We ask for Him to lead us, then we wait for Him to do so.

Psalm 25:4 makes a simple request, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.” Can we slow down enough to pray that prayer and to wait for God to answer?

Stay aware of the presence of God as you go through your day.
If you are a believer in Jesus, then He has promised to be with you always. There is never a time when you are truly alone, even when you feel that way. An awareness of God’s presence is not intended to be a threatening, guilt-inducing thing; rather it is a comforting sense of His presence and a promise of His guidance as we seek His will.

In John 16, Jesus tells His disciples something that startles them. He tells them that it is to their advantage that he go to the Father, because He would send the Holy Spirit to them. When Jesus was present with them, He might be near them one day but miles away the next. When the Father sent His Spirit to indwell them, it meant He would be with them at all times and everywhere. Jesus said, “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12). He is still guiding His people today.

Have mature believers in your life who will give you wise and godly counsel.
Do you have someone or a small group of people who will speak truth into your life? If not, you need it! “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)

Give a handful of people full permission to correct your bad behavior and attitudes. Find people who love Jesus and love you and then be willing to seek their input on issues with which you’re struggling. This constant refinement will be like iron sharpening iron. There may be a few sparks, but you’ll all get sharper and wiser in the process.

Leave room for God to change your course.
God may lead you to a certain place or a particular ministry. That may be a fruitful and satisfying time, but He may not intend for you to remain there forever. In fact, God will often lead His children through many transitions. We may be exactly where God wants us at the moment, but we should always be open for God to call us to some other place or to some other ministry.

Sometimes these transitions are a welcomed change. At other times, these changes can be difficult to swallow, especially if we have having great success where we are or if His nudging is toward something that seems particularly challenging or out of our comfort zone. We must remember that Jesus’ call was to follow Him; the very phrase leads us to understand we must be ready to move when called.

Begin with what you know God has already revealed about what it means to follow Jesus.
We often struggle to know God’s specific will about some decision we face, but are we faithful to what we know He has already called us to?

There are some ways God is leading us that we already know –
We are to be faithful in prayer.
We are to be faithful to read God’s Word and meditate on it.
We are to be faithful to gather with other believers in worship.
We are to be faithful in serving others in Jesus’ name.
We are to be faithful in sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus.
We don’t have to ask God if He’s leading us in these directions. He has already made it clear! We simply need to do it!

It has been said that our greatest ability is our availability. If we make ourselves available, stay close to Jesus and His people, and are committed to go where He leads, we may find ourselves in unexpected places doing unexpected things, but we will find great joy in being there and doing that.

In Sunday’s message, I challenged our church members to give God a blank check. By that I meant, we give God our unconditional “yes” to whatever He calls us to do. Is it scary? It can be. But there is no place more important or more fulfilling than to be in the center of God’s will for your life.

Dear Annabelle…

Thank you for approaching me after the worship service this past Sunday with a really good and thoughtful question. I am always encouraged when people hear God’s Word and think deeply about what they have heard. It is in thinking deeply and praying fervently that we open ourselves up to knowing more of God, His will, and His ways.

I’m not sure I answered your question as fully as I would have liked, so I wanted to take the time to write this out. I hope you’ll find it and read it, but I am also hopeful that others, who may have wondered but not asked the question will find it useful in some way.

Your question was – “Why would God allow the serpent to tempt Eve and Adam in the Garden?” After making everything and calling it “very good,” why would God allow it to be messed up?!

Before beginning to answer that question, I want to reference a verse to which I have often had to return when struggling to make all the pieces fit in what seems to be a biblical puzzle. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, ESV)

There are times when we simply will not understand the ways of God. That is not a convenient loophole for all the hard verses of the Bible; rather it is a bold statement that some things will remain revealed until we stand in the presence of the Lord.

I guess it is a little like my family putting a puzzle together when I was younger. Piece by piece it came together forming a picture, but when we got near the end, a piece would be missing. My dad would have hidden it somewhere. It was only when the final piece was put in that the picture became complete. The life we spent on this earthly plane is something like that, and the picture will not be made complete and fully perfect until God places that last piece into place. what an “Aha!” moment that will be for us all.

So, when I say that God’s thoughts and ways are far beyond ours, it’s not just a ready excuse when I don’t understand something. It is reality. In fact, I would argue that anyone who claims to be able to explain everything about God isn’t talking about the God of the Bible. We can know Him genuinely and intimately; we just cannot know Him fully – at least not until we are face to face with Him in eternity.

But God has not left us totally clueless. We can and should be inquisitive when a passage of Scripture challenges our thinking. So, Annabelle, when you came to talk to me after the service, it delighted my heart. Here, then, is a less rushed answer to your question… “Why would God allow the serpent to tempt Eve and Adam in the Garden?”

In Genesis 2, we read – 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)

And then in chapter 3 –

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
(Genesis 3:1-7)

Even though God had provided an abundance of fruit from an abundance of plants, there was one tree that God insisted was off limits. God had called it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and it was unlike any other tree in the garden. According to Genesis 3, the fruit looked delicious and appealing. I suppose God could have made it hideously ugly. We also see that the fruit was within reach and the tree seems to be located centrally in the garden. God could have put the fruit well out of their reach or had it hidden in some remote part of the garden. All that is true, but wouldn’t it just have been simpler to not have the tree there at all? Some people have even posited that God set them up for a fall.

I would disagree with that view for numerous reasons. Among these are:
– God is good, perfectly good. (Luke 18:19)
– God is holy. (Isaiah 6:3)
– God does not tempt people to sin. (James 1:13)

God created our Adam and Eve with the ability to think, reason, and choose. He provided for them in abundance and had a relationship with them that was personal and free of fear, dread, and shame. He warned them against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for their protection, yet God knew they would eat from the tree.

The decision of the first couple to eat the forbidden fruit did not take God by surprise. God is all-knowing (Psalm 147:4-5), thus God was fully aware of everything that would take place in the Garden. When He put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the Garden, He did so knowing exactly what would transpire. So why put it there? Why allow the Satan to manipulate them when He could have stepped in to prevent it?

God wanted Adam and Eve to obey Him. God wanted them to choose to express their love for Him and their joy in having unadulterated intimacy with Him by choosing to live in His will. God did not make robots; He made people in His image to be in relationship with Him. He desired that they want that relationship, too. They chose to abandon all that God had given them in an effort to grasp the promise of something more, something greater than intimacy with their Creator, and in doing so they lost everything — everything except hope.

Even in the midst of judgment, God gave them hope. That which was lost would not be lost forever. God had a plan to redeem, to restore, to renew. In the first book of the Bible we see everything fall apart. In the final book of the Bible, we see God making all things new.

Annabelle, I cannot explain everything about God, His will, and His ways. Had I the power to travel back in time, I’d go back to the Garden and slap that forbidden fruit out of Eve’s hand, sternly rebuke Adam for not manning up and intervening, and then lop off the serpent’s head before it could do any more damage.

God could have done the same, but He did not. So, Annabelle, I cannot fully explain why God allows and directs what He chooses to allow or direct, nor can I explain why He loves me and wants to spend eternity with me. And even those things about God that I do understand still leaves me amazed that His love is so great that He would send His Son to die for my sins. I find myself asking along with King David, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4)