There’s gotta be more to life…

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Bill Naron

No doubt life is a balancing act, learning to juggle — work, home, relationships with spouses, children, and friends. We spend our days racing from one place to another and from one activity to another. We must balance the checkbook, do the dishes, get gas and groceries … on and on it goes. We rush and rush and we try to hold on tightly to as much as we can. This is life in America, right? This is the American dream, isn’t it? We work 40 hours, sometimes more a week to get as much money as possible to line our pockets so that we can afford nice cars, houses, a yard that looks better than our neighbors’. But, is there something more?

Jesus has showered blessing upon us, in ways we cannot even fathom. A couple of years ago we lived in a house that was 990 square feet. It had three bedrooms and we felt we were bursting at the seams. Our little family of six at the time was outgrowing the house so fast, and we had no clue what we would do. We began to consider our options and as we did it started to feel overwhelming. The thought of moving and trying to purchase a home all seemed so impossible because we wanted more kids, which naturally meant we needed a larger house than we could afford in our price range.

So, amid our running around frantically trying to figure out what we were going to do, we realized something: We had not sought out what God would do for us in this situation we were in. The Bible says that God cares for his children, and that He knows the plans He has for us. So, in our newfound clarity we decided to stop pursuing options and simply wait on the Lord to see what He would do.

Less than a month later we were offered the opportunity to move into the house we currently occupy. God brought us a larger house, in the exact perfect way that we needed it at the time, and in His perfect timing — because six months after moving into this house, our family of six would be prompted to enter a fostering situation where we would find ourselves growing in size, from six to eight.

I share this as a hopefully encouraging testimony of God’s goodness and provision that we have had the chance to experience, as a family. I have been reading on the topic of “reverence.” As we see God work in our lives, through the events and people we encounter, we grow deeper in our awe and respect for our Father. We learn that we can trust Him and gain an awareness of the way He is working within our lives.

I believe that this is the “something more” that is there beyond the facade of the so-called “American dream,” beyond the glamour we are encouraged to seek, beyond the glory of the kingdoms of this earth. There is a life lived in reverence to our Creator, Father, and Redeemer. There is a life lived in dependence on Him for our sustenance. There is a life lived as a disciple of Christ, where the desires of our hearts become the same as His. Where we desire to share the experiences that have made the power of God a tangible thing to us. Because our desire becomes like the heart-cry of the Father, that we who act orphaned would come home.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

EFCA UPDATE: A Call to Fasting and Prayer

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Kevin Kompelien
President, Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA)

In less than two weeks, citizens across our nation will head to the polls to cast their vote in what has become one of the most difficult and challenging election cycles I can remember. On November 8, our votes will shape the make-up of national, state and local government institutions for the next several years.

Events in the past months have uncovered deep wounds in our land. The words and actions of people have revealed anger and fear in the hearts of some, along with a sense of confusion and discouragement in the minds of others. As we approach November 8, what should be the focus of God’s people?

Let me begin by calling us back to what we know and need to rest in now more than ever. God is sovereign over the affairs of the nations of the world. His sovereign will and plan will ultimately prevail resulting in His glory displayed among the nations. No matter who wins the election on November 8, it is our God, the King of kings, who will ultimately be victorious.

As we look back on biblical and church history, we see how the Lord has worked through both godly and ungodly rulers and leaders to accomplish His will. Wednesday morning November 9 will not find the Lord wondering what happened. Rather, He will continue to be at work to accomplish His will to His ultimate glory. The Lord calls us to trust Him fully and follow Him completely.

In preparation for Election Day, may we prayerfully and wisely evaluate candidates for national, state and local elections considering biblical truth and the righteous character of our God. Then, graciously allow others to do the same.

Reflecting on the challenges of this election cycle and the rapid cultural change going on around us, I find myself going back to the account in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 where the people of God were up against what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. In response, King Jehoshaphat called the people to fast as he led them in a powerful prayer extolling the sovereign power and might of the Lord, calling on God to help and ending with these powerful words in verse 12, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

In these days, my call to us as the EFCA is to come together to fast and pray for our nation. The EFCA national office staff will gather on Monday morning November 7 for a time of corporate prayer. Consider fasting for a portion of a day and gathering with other believers in your church to cry out to the Lord on behalf of America. We are in desperate need of the mercy and grace of God in our land. Will you join me in humbling yourself before the Lord to ask Him to accomplish His will in our nation to His glory?

For further reflection, please use this resource on 10 truths to consider during the election year.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Why Does God Send Worms?

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

I don’t know whether women struggle with this as much as we men do, but, as Americans, I think we are all way too performance oriented. Whenever something good happens to us, we have a tendency to feel a bit buoyed up. We may think, “Yes, I deserved this.”

Conversely, whenever something bad happens, we are deflated and frustrated. We also may think, “Yes, I surely deserved THIS.”

Scripture provides great anecdotal perspective on these, our very American tendencies. In the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah, we find our reluctant prophet—who so far in the story has struggled with massive disobedience issues, prejudice, and lack of compassion—acting like a spoiled child, disappointed because God has given grace to his enemies, and sitting alone on a hillside overlooking Nineveh, hoping for fire and brimstone while a spiritual revival of historic proportions is going on in the city below him.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

“But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”’

As Jonah sat and sulked, two very interesting things happened:

“Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.”

“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’”

Jonah 4:1-11 NIV

As Elim’s young adults group, Pulse, was studying this chapter, God sent a worm to take away a shade tree I had enjoyed for 22 years: my job at World Vision. I’ve had the privilege there of doing enjoyable, meaningful, and rewarding work for more than two decades. I can’t remember when I last felt bored at work. I started an Internet program that is now the third-largest online nonprofit fundraising platform in the world, pioneered online products that now raise hundreds of millions of dollars and save or change countless thousands of lives, and enjoy a huge amount of respect and a significant sense of accomplishment.

Then along came a worm. I was informed that I was being laid off on August 3.

World Vision is a wonderful organization, despite being staffed by fallen human beings like me, and I’ve learned not to take such things personally. I’ve gone through a lot of challenging transitions in my four decades of adult work life, and each and every one has ultimately proved the truth of Paul’s words in his letter to the church at Rome:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV

It’s awesome news … we, too, can claim this promise if we love God, knowing that we have been called “according to His purpose!”

I know many of you reading this are going through far tougher things than I am right now: cancer, heart disease, family or marital struggles, addictions, or financial challenges. But God’s promises are true. The same gracious and loving God sends both shade trees and worms. He cares more about building Christ-like character in us than He does about making us comfortable.

I am praying for you as you face whatever “worms” God sends your way. Thank you for praying for me as well!

P.S.—One quick insight about the worm God sent Jonah. The Hebrew word for that worm is a very specific one: Tolah, the crimson worm who, throughout Scripture (as in the messianic Psalm 22), represents Christ Himself! Our suffering Saviour is present in a very real way in the midst of whatever sufferings God brings our way to build our character. So chew in that one for awhile!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

The Day I Said, “Prove It” to Jesus

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Nate Champneys

moneyLately, I have had an “epiphany” of sorts that I would like to share with you. As I have been reading the words of Jesus, the thought has continued to occur to me, “What if Jesus actually meant these things He is saying?” I wrote about one of those moments in my last blog about loving others, but I had another one of these moments as I was reading the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6. I think the Sermon on the Mount is one of the most important statements Jesus ever made as to how we are supposed to live our lives. But I think sometimes we read it like it is poetry, as opposed to hearing it as literal instructions in how we should live. There is so much there, and sometimes we almost seem to think, “Those words sound nice and fluffy and I’m not sure I get it, but I’m just going to keep on reading.”

About every week I take an hour or so and I go to my secret place in the woods at Clark’s Creek Park in Puyallup. It’s just a log up on the mountainside where I spend time sitting, hanging out with Jesus. I ask Him questions. I listen for answers. I write songs. I read the Bible. He always shows up. Every time I go, it’s different, but it’s always good. I was reading in Matthew 6 because I am working on a set of songs based on “The Lord’s Prayer.” So I began to read the Lord’s Prayer, but then continued to the end of the chapter.

Beginning in verse 19, Jesus begins to address the topic of money and possessions. Now, as people who live in the wealthiest nation to ever exist on the face of planet earth, if anyone ever needed to hear what the Son of God has to say about money and possessions, it’s probably us. If I am honest with you, money is probably the thing that my wife and I have had the most conflict over in our marriage. And on this particular morning as I read this passage I felt frustrated. It seemed like lately, money talk had dominated our recent conversations. Jesus talks about the idea of not storing up treasures here on earth and that whatever our treasure is, that this is where our heart will be. Our hearts are tied to what we most value, and because of this inseparable connection between what we treasure and our heart, Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money” (Matthew 6:24). I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Is this me? Is money more important to me and my wife than You, Jesus?”

Now one of the chief reasons I think that we become enslaved to money is that we worry about life and whether there will be enough to take care of our needs. In fear, we want to control our situation. This is why Jesus follows up His words about money enslaving us by talking about worry, and He literally says, “THAT IS WHY I TELL YOU, not to worry about everyday life- whether you have enough food and drink or enough clothes to wear.” “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly father feeds them. And aren’t you more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (vv. 25-27)

We have all heard this verse about the birds. I just don’t know if we really believe it. I tend to think, “Well, birds don’t eat as much as the family of six in my house!” 🙂 But Jesus draws this message to a close with this statement: “Your heavenly Father ALREADY knows all your needs. Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Wait a minute: What if Jesus actually meant this? He already knows everything we need and we don’t need to worry?! Our job is to seek our Father first, “above all else,” and He has promised that He will give us what we need.

So sitting there on that log I said, “Jesus, will You prove it? Will You prove this to me?” Now I am not recommending we put God to the test, but honestly, this is where I was at that day. So then I continued to sit on the log and enjoy my time there.

After a few minutes, a little bird came and landed a few feet in front of me, and sat there, looking at me. It then hopped up on the log next to me, picked at something, then flew off. I thought to myself, “Wow, that’s cool. That bird got really close.” I continued to sit and read.

Now in the park there are lots of people around, and so you hear interesting sounds from time to time. I started to hear a sound up in the woods behind me, like somebody striking rocks together. I continued to read, but after a few minutes of listening to this, I stopped and said to myself, “What the heck are they doing up there?!”

Curiosity finally got the better of me and I started to walk up the trail toward the sound. As I approached the sound I realized it was actually up above me, and I looked up to see a beautiful woodpecker with bright red feathers on his head! He was clinging to the side of an old tree and picking at it.

Every time I see wildlife when I am at my spot in the woods I always feel like Jesus put it there for me to enjoy, so I said, “Thanks for this, Jesus! This is really cool!”  I stood there and enjoyed it for a few minutes. As I looked up into the tree, the thought occurred to me, “Man, it is amazing that the woodpecker knows where to find bugs in the trees. How do they know that …” and I stopped short. A light went on in my head: “Look at the birds of the air … they do not store food in barns …” I prayed, “Jesus, are you proving it to me right now?” And He said, “Yep.” So I replied, with a smile, “Well, it’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s pretty cool.”

How do you view your money? Do you find yourself constantly worrying about whether or not you will have enough? God accepts you in the middle of your worry, but He loves you too much to let you stay there. Even in my worry and distrust, He is so gentle and so full of grace, while still teaching me as I listen to Him.

As I walked down the mountainside to my car, I came across another bird that stood in the middle of the trail, then flew off. Then another. And another. As I approached my car, I couldn’t help but smile and feel completely loved and taken care of by my Father.

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Important Lessons from Esther

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Larry Short

Elim’s young adult group, Pulse, is nearing the completion of a study of Esther. In case you’re unfamiliar with the story, it takes place in postexile Persia (formerly Babylon). Freed from captivity, about 60,000 Jews have emigrated back to the Jerusalem area to rebuild the Temple and pick their lives back up as God’s people living in their Land.

Esther Denouncing Haman, by British painter Ernest Normand

“Esther Denouncing Haman,” by British painter Ernest Normand.

But what many people don’t realize is that at least 10 times that many Jews willingly chose to stay behind in Persia. Why? After 70 years, it was home. They were used to it. They were rebuilding comfortable lives and businesses. Almost everything was going well.

Almost. There was a strong anti-Jewish sentiment among many of the Persians. The Jews’ “strange” ways, coupled with their business acumen, caused many to look down upon them in envy and disapproval. (Sound familiar?)

One man in particular bore a grudge. His name was Haman, and he was descended from a group of pagans who were almost wiped out more than a century earlier (at God’s command) by Saul. The fact that Saul compromised and didn’t completely obey God resulted in Haman later rising to power as prime minister to the king of Persia, Xerxes (or Ahaseurus), and harboring a secret hatred of the Jewish people who had almost wiped out his forefathers.

In ancient Persia, much as it is today, money translated to political power, and Haman had lots of it. And he used his capital to trick the king into signing a death warrant against all Jews remaining in Persia.

Mordecai and his cousin Esther were two of those Jews. And it just so happened that King Xerxes, after banishing a queen who had disrespected him, fell in love with the beautiful Esther and chose her to be his queen. Xerxes didn’t realize, of course, when he signed Haman’s paperwork, that he was giving Haman permission to put his own wife to death!

The book of Esther never even once mentions God, but it is a book full of “coincidences” that clearly show God’s power to order circumstances (even very difficult circumstances) to bring about His will. And His will was (and is) the protection and salvation of His people.

One such “coincidence” was the elevation of Mordecai to favor with the king, even as his death was being plotted by Haman, because of his role revealing a plot against the king by his bodyguards. Mordecai also revealed the plot against the Jews to Esther, and urged her to plead their case before the king. She knew that to do so was to risk death, for anyone approaching the king without being called would be summarily executed if he didn’t intervene. Mordecai challenges Esther with these famous words: “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for just such a time as this?” And Esther’s classic, courageous response: “Tell everyone to fast for me for three days, and on the third day I will approach the king. And if I perish, I perish.”

The king spares Esther’s life, and she definitely gets his attention. Even so, she doesn’t immediately reveal her request; she waits. Why?

God’s timing is perfect! In waiting, Mordecai is elevated to power, and Haman is shown for the schemer he is. Once Esther finally reveals her request (that the king spare her life and the lives of her people), Haman’s plot is undone. He finds himself instead skewered upon the pole which he had planned for Mordecai’s demise. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

There are so many lessons in this book, it’s hard to choose one, but let me list three favorites:

  • When life’s circumstances become difficult, we can trust that God is behind the scenes, working, even if we can’t see Him. He is for us, and Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 are true: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
  • There is tremendous power in waiting upon the Lord. Esther waited until the moment was right and God said, “Go.” His power is seen in the perfection of His timing.
  • Like the Jews in Persia, in many ways we Christians have become a little too comfortable living in a land that is not our home. In the process, we have in some ways become a stench in the nostrils of the people of this land. There are Hamans here who seek our destruction, but God knows their hearts and will ultimately skewer them upon their own devices.

I am so grateful we have an all-powerful God who is for us, and who is working behind the scenes to secure our salvation from the plots of the enemy! May God help us to learn to wait on Him!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

Two Stories

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.

By Brian Sharpe

The older I get, the more I think in terms of story. All of us have a story. In some ways, we have two stories: we have our story and we have God’s story. I think the people with the most integrity understand how those stories coalesce and work together. Let me unpack this for you.

I am the youngest of four, and that shapes my story. My dad was a pastor, and that shapes my story. I moved when I was 16 to a state where I knew no one and had to start over in life, which shapes my story. I have had some wins and I have had some losses, and that shapes my story.

Every experience I have shapes how I look at life. This is normal and natural. The problem comes when the experiences that I have in life trump what God says is true. Over the years, I have had some experiences in my life that were so painful that I could have let them trump what God says. I have had instances in my life where I have made the wrong choice and consequently felt unloved. I could sit there and believe that I am unloved. I could listen to my experience and let that shape how I feel and ultimately react. Or I can trust what I know to be true from Scripture. God says that I am deeply loved, that His love for me is not based on what I do, but is based on Him and what He has chosen to do.

We have all had experiences that were not of our choosing. It could be that we were wronged severely, or it could be that, because we live in a fallen world, death came too early for a loved one. It could be because of a divorce or an abusive situation. All these situations are not what we would have chosen, but they happened. All these situations shape our stories. The question is, are we allowing these negative events in our lives to control the main narrative of our story? We cannot change these events, but we can limit the control these events exercise in our story by allowing God’s narrative to shape and to be on the forefront of our story, not in the background.

I see way too many people who allow real circumstances, feelings, and consequences to have too much control. Instead, I want Jesus and what He says to take control. He can forgive the past, and so can I. He can heal a wounded heart, so I need to trust Him in that. He can take my mistakes and the things done to me to bring glory and honor to His name. We need to receive what Jesus is giving us. We need to receive that He is making us whole, that He can make us whole in this broken, messed-up world. We have two stories, and my prayer is that we yield to God’s story and His narrative and let His narrative shape us more than our own. It is hard, but it is so worth it!

If you liked this post, say thanks by sharing it.