The Mystery Of His Will Made Known

God’s will has been made known to us in and through Christ. He has redeemed all of creation to himself and his will is to “in the fullness of time, gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1.10). So why has God’s will seemed to remain such a mystery to us? A problem to solve. A code to decipher. As we have often done the message of the gospel has been hijacked and meshed together with the messages and slogans of our culture and led to confusion and misdirection on what exactly it is that God is up to. Our society is all about self and individualism thus the prevailing gospel message of God’s plan of salvation and redemption of all of creation has been replaced with a message of self-help, self-improvement, personal faith and relationship with God. Our gospel message has narrowed from a view of what God is doing in the entire cosmos to what God can do for you as an individual. It is the Jesus for me Jesus. Thus when we try to discern God’s will even the way we go about it is shaped by this subtle misunderstanding.

God has always made his will known to mankind. We are not left in the dark. We are insiders when it comes to what God is up to. The problem is we so often want the details of how it all works. And we want specific instructions on what we are to do the choices to make, the right decision to be made. The mystery has never been an issue of what. It has always been an issue of how. When God made Adam and Eve he made them in his likeness. They were content to figure out what that looked like until they were deceived into thinking that there was another way of how, by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be like God. Likewise we get distracted from the “what “ of God’s will, wisdom and understanding, and become obsessed with “how” we can get him to reveal it to us. When we do this we fail to realize that Jesus himself is the mystery revealed. When Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us God’s will was no longer a mystery. His will for us is to abide in and know him. When the mystery of God’s will becomes a personal thing that involves predestined fixed plot points of our story that require moral adherence or practice of disciplines to be revealed then we fail to recognize that Jesus is the way the truth and life as opposed to specific life events, ‘divine’ appointments, choices, or life decisions.

Five Tips For Christ Following College Freshmen

August is upon us which means another crop of incoming college freshman are about to descend upon their college campuses all over the country the next few weeks. The summer after graduating from high school before my freshman year of college may have been the best summer of my life (the summer after graduating from college right before starting my career and the summer I got married rank up there too). As the summer weeks wound down closer to the time I would be leaving for college I tried to recall all the things that people told me to expect when I went to college. For the most part I could remember all the encouragement, warnings and things I could expect for how college was going to be different than anything else I had experienced.

I appreciate that people tried to prepare me, but honestly nothing they said made that much of a difference because the information in advance paled in comparison to the actual experience. Simply put the information gave me an awareness of what to expect, but in a lot of ways it didn’t prepare me because it was just so different from High School. I remember thinking I won’t bother telling incoming college freshmen all the things I was told cause it just didn’t prepare me. Well now that I’m a youth pastor I feel a little obligated to give some advice or heads up. So here are a few things for you all to keep in mind before you go off to college.

“You’ll Have Way More Time On Your Hands”—This is the one thing that no one told me that I wish they had. If there is one thing that I failed at in my first few years of college it was time management. The best way I can describe college is that you have way more time than you know what to do with. This is especially important to note if you are a procrastinator because you’ll have more time to do just that. Interestingly enough a student I had coffee with this summer had the opposite problem, “I got so used to being in school seven hours a day, and doing homework until at least ten o’clock at night that the first few months of college I never left my room because I thought I should be putting as much time in as I did in High School even though the professors didn’t assign much in the way of homework.” First things first, is the key principle to practice regardless of which camp you fall into. When I finally figured that out, with the exception of the occasional project, I never did homework and studying past eight o’clock and had plenty of time to hang out with people without having it in the back of my mind that I still had work I needed to finish.

“Free T-shirts Are the Doorway to Debt”—most schools that I know of have an orientation at the beginning of the year where you can find out about all the different student organizations on campus. Inevitably there will be one booth set up with the offer of free t-shirts. Well free if you fill out a no obligation application first. More than likely this is a credit card company getting a bunch of broke unemployed college students to sign up for a credit card by baiting them with a free t. Personally I think it’s kind of unethical for credit card companies to prey on college students who don’t have a real job will have an enormous debt awaiting them upon graduation to get into even more debt before they have the means to handle. But they can do it because you all are technically adults so just no what you’re getting into before you sign up to get the free t.

“Find Christ-Centered Community Immediately”Over the years most of the students I know who maintain a vibrant growing faith in Christ through college are the ones who don’t waste time getting plugged into a on-campus Christian ministry. I know of very few colleges and universities that don’t have either a Campus Crusade or Inter-Varsity. Both ministries have a great reputation nationally. One recommendation I would give though is to go a step further and find a local church to get plugged into. Look for a local church where you can form healthy adult relationships and serve. You’re going to be with people your age and life stage all the time. The local church is a great place to branch out and go beyond homogeny. In all likelihood there’s bound to be a church near your campus that does a great job of recruiting families to ‘adopt’ a college student. During my college years the churches that I felt most connected to and a part of were not the ones that had a college ministry but the ones that I served and formed relationships with other adults.

“Drunkenness is a Moral Issue. Underage Drinking Is A Legal Issue”—So just don’t do it. Even if you have the discipline not to abuse alcohol and become drunk you are taking a risk with the law when you choose to drink as a minor. If you get caught your parents aren’t going to be around to smooth things over with the authorities, and you can actually be kicked out of school if it becomes a problem. [Sidenote–It goes without saying that I’m not condoning it, but girls if you choose to drink at a party I strongly advise you get your own drinks and literally eye ball your drink into the cup to assure that it hasn’t been tampered with]

Don’t Rush To Rush—The only Christians I have known that entered the Greek system and didn’t compromise their morals and lose their identity to the identity of the fraternity or sorority are those who approached it with the mindset of doing ministry; to be salt and light. I don’t want to come across as completely bashing the Greek system because they still do good things, but let’s just call it what it has largely become; a place where you can get easy acceptance and identity as long as you can pay the dues, and become a part of a community that for the most part is about partying, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity with the occasional service project thrown in. Sure they’ll have made connections that often prove to be advantageous when they enter the workforce, but at what cost? Not to mention that similar connections can be gained by getting to know at least one professor or administrator and a handful of fellow students in the department you’re majoring in. What was once a culture of developing and nurturing future leaders has become a culture of recklessness. I believe the culture of the Greek system can and should be redeemed but it will require people who enter it with a missional mindset (And if that is your aim I know some people I can refer you to for mentoring on how to do it and what to expect). So if you’re going to rush, rush for the right reasons.

In ClosingAs a youth pastor I want to give students the opportunity to take ownership of their faith. In a lot of ways the college years is the proving ground of whether or not they’ve done that. I can’t take too much credit for how they turn out because there are so many variables. That being said, no matter what ups and downs they encounter at college and university over and above all that stuff above I hope my students know where they can find me.

Are You Obsessed With Finding God’s Will For Your Life? (5 Tips To Understanding God’s Will)

mqdefaultMany years ago, well over a decade, I met a girl. I really liked this girl. We hit it right off immediately. The first time we met we ended up talking for three hours. The second day we talked for another three hours. The third night she was game to do something she had never done before. Watch a Star Wars movie. Only thing better than a woman who is willing to watch Star Wars for the first time is a woman who wants to watch Star Wars again like my wife, the always beautiful, Mrs. Lundy, but this story doesn’t involve her. Suffice it to say I really liked this girl a lot and wanted to date her.

Being the good Christian man that I was with latent insecurities and fear of rejection, I prayed about it first. I wanted to make sure that I was living in God’s will and not stepping outside of it. I took relationships very seriously and wanted to make sure it was the right thing with the right person and that most of all, that God willed it. I wanted a sign. I wanted some assurance. I didn’t want to be rejected. I wanted to please God, and I wanted to be her man. I laid myself bare before the Lord opening up my heart but ready and willing to submit to his will. My petition was simple; do I pursue her or do I just be her friend (At this point my non-Christian friends are probably wondering, “is this how Christians really think and make decisions?” Not all but enough that I feel inclined to write this).

I’m not claiming that I audibly heard God speak to me while I sought his will in my prayer regarding whether or not to pursue this girl. I am claiming while practicing the discipline of quieting myself over the years coupled with discerning and learning the heart of God according to the scriptures, a very clear thought or word became profound in my mind that I believe was God speaking to me. “What do you want to do? It’s up to you. Do you trust me? I’m less concerned with what you do and more concerned with how you do it. I’m less concerned with what you do and more concerned with who you are and whether or not you trust me regardless of what you choose to do.”

I had my answer and it wasn’t quite the answer I was expecting but it was an answer nonetheless. I chose to pursue her and her response was favorable but after a month of “talking” she decided that she just wanted to be friends. I learned a lot from that experience. It’s likely not a stretch to guess that many Christians trying to honor and submit their life to God have also spent much time seeking God’s will about all manner of decisions and choices that lay before them. What college to attend, what classes to take, what job to pursue, whether or not to marry the person you’ve been dating for four years. We are often faced with pretty big life decisions to make and Christians should want to submit to and live within God’s will for their life.

The problem is that we obsess over it and miss what God is trying to do in our lives and what the bible actually says about God’s will for our lives. If we’re not careful we live lives that are paralyzed by fear of stepping outside God’s will and having to deal with the consequences of not staying within the boundaries of the path he has laid before us. In America with a culture driven by performance busyness, goal setting, accomplishments and the next thing, we mistakenly adapt and adjust God’s values to American values. When we do this God’s will for our lives is no longer about being with God himself, and the path to God being to abide in Jesus who made the way for us to God. Instead God’s will becomes personal achievement and success, personal development, personal happiness and avoiding pain, difficulty and suffering, and the path to it is prayer spiritual disciplines and good moral behavior—aka sin avoidance. If we see God and his will this way then the instant our lives come off the tracks and we experience major setbacks, disappointments, pain and suffering although we’ve adhered morally then our faith will unravel just as quickly as we do.

With all that in mind here are five things that I’ve learned about God’s will that I believe are supported by scripture (even though I haven’t gone to the effort of citing a bunch of scripture for you, feel free to do so yourself and see if God’s word agrees).

  1. You Are Not A Patriarch: In other words God’s will for your life is probably not as specific as you think or would like it to be. Christians often take verses or narratives involving the patriarchs and prophets that tells of God’s plan for their life, and claim them for their own life. Abraham Isaac and Jacob, King David, and a number of the prophets God chose for very specific purposes because they were all leading and pointing to the one in who God’s plan for all of our lives ultimately rest—the Messiah, the Great Shepherd, the Suffering Servant, Christ Jesus our Lord. We live in the time between the ascension and the Christ’s return. In multiple places throughout the New Testament, in particular Revelation, we’ve been told exactly what God’s will and plan for our lives is—continued obedience, faithfulness, long suffering, and yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us making us more like Jesus through whom we are justified.
  2. Becoming v. Doing: I’ve become convinced that God’s will for our lives has less to do with what we doing and more to do with who we are becoming. Certainly we are to do right but as far as scripture is concerned what we are to do is not a mystery and has not been withheld from us. God’s will is not about being at the right destinations. God’s will is about being who he destined us to be in Christ. Regardless of what job you take, person you marry, school you put your kids in, college you choose God’s plan for you is to be like Christ whenever, wherever, whatever, and with whomever you find yourself.
  3. Wisdom: I’ve come to realize that scripture spends way more time talking about and teaching wisdom than it talks about or teaching us to ask God for specifics, yes or no answers to choices. The reason why many Christians may find themselves in turmoil or trouble is not because they’ve made choices and decisions that have taken them off the track of God’s will for their lives. We find ourselves in trouble and turmoil because either circumstances outside of our control, the effects of individual and corporate sin, or because we lack wisdom. There’s not a whole lot we can do about the first two but we can ask for and seek wisdom. In fact asking for and seeking wisdom is one of the specifics that God has made known he desires for our lives. God wants us to learn wisdom so that we can navigate all the grey areas of life.
  4. Trust: Wisdom is good but it doesn’t guarantee we will avoid trouble and hardship. In fact we are told numerous places in scripture that we should actually expect to encounter trouble and that trouble and evil will increase as the time draws near for Christ to return and God to put the world to rights. When bad and terrible things happen people will often try to incorporate it into God’s plan as to suggest that he is using that specific situation to build something us in you. The reality is that this world is broken enough that more times than not stuff just happens. Not to say that God won’t bring or allow something very specific into your life to accomplish his work in you, but who are we to know? When we come out the other side of trials and tests is it because we knew we were being tested or because we trusted God? When we fully trust God we become less concerned with whether or not something is a test and more concerned with trusting God no matter what comes our way.
  5. Who Brings The Glory: When I was obsessed with discovering God’s will and plan for my life it came from a good place. I wanted my life to glorify God. I believed that if I didn’t make the right choices and my path was somehow altered then God would either have to intervene or my life wouldn’t bring God as much glory as it would have otherwise done if I had made another choice. There were two mistakes with that thinking. First mistake, I don’t bring God the glory, God glorifies himself through me. Secondly, it places higher value on position and accomplishments as though God’s glory is dependent on what we achieve and our lofty endeavors instead of depending on God himself. God can glorify himself just as much through a janitor as he can through a professional athlete.

 

Summary: Maybe you’ve seen those Fidelity Investments commercials where someone has just met with an advisor and upon departing is directed to stay on track. On the ground there appears a green line with arrow icon streaming down it directing their path down the plan to a secure future. In a western culture with so many things, so many options, so many choices I believe many of us are like the people in those commercials—we want some guidance. God has given us all the guidance he intends to give in his word and the presence of his Holy Spirit residing in us. Learning to just trust God and know that I have the freedom to choose while remaining faithful and obedient to what he’s made known has kept me from being paralyzed by all the options that I am fortunate to even be able to consider.

Are You Blessed?: Recapturing What It Truly Means To Be Blessed

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Blessed had become a dirty word as far as I was concerned while my wife and I struggled with unexplained infertility. Hearing the things that people saw as evidence of God’s favor had put a bitter taste in my mouth. I wasn’t bitter things were apparently going their way and God possibly had a direct hand in making sure things worked out for them.  I was bitter about what it implied. If getting the job or the house or the car or the new pair of jeans at the right price meant that you had God’s favor, then what did it say about the unemployed, the homeless, the people that have to ride the bus, and those who get hand-me-down pants? Are they not favored? If they don’t have God’s favor then does that mean they’re cursed?

This came to a head for me one Sunday morning during baby dedications when it was repeated a few times that babies are a blessing. Not to say that children are not a blessing. Still when you’re sitting there childless and enduring months of infertility treatments, it’s like a punch to the gut. It’s easy to wonder if maybe, just maybe, God has cursed you. It’s easy to start wondering if there is something you did to really tick God off and he’s not going to bless you until you make amends. I’m sure I’m not the only Christian who has had dark moments like this when you look at what seems to be the overflow of the lives of others claiming God’s abundant blessing and wonder where you went wrong.

It’s not as if this kind of thinking doesn’t have a biblical precedent. Look no further than Leviticus 26, subtitled “Blessings for Obedience, and Punishment for Disobedience”, to see where it comes from.  In an ancient world dominated by pagan religious practices shaped by the pursuit of the gods’ favor, God did this to show his people and the nations that he was the one true God. So when the prophet Elijah predicts that it won’t rain for three years, except by his word, it wasn’t to simply punish the people. It was to demonstrate that God was real and Baal was not (1st Kings 17.1-7), which is exactly what happened three years later on Mount Carmel (1st Kings 18.20-41).

Of course if we understand Jesus’ ministry in light of these things we understand that the New Covenant, established by Jesus’ death and resurrection, does not include the if you do this, then I will do this equation. Because Christ was obedient unto death, we have God’s favor. Because Christ was punished for our disobedience, God is with us. And because Christ, our mediator has ascended to the right hand of God, those of us who are being sanctified always have God with us (Hebrews 10.12-17). In other words we are blessed in good times, bad times, ugly times and everything in between.

So when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven”, he’s saying God is with those who we assume according to Leviticus 26, he is not. When he says, “blessed are the hungry”, he is saying God is with those who we assume are cursed. In fact Jesus completely turns Leviticus 26 on its head, and he warns against assuming that just because things are going you’re way, [“Woe to you who are rich”, “Woe to you who are full now”, “Woe to you who laugh now”, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you”] that you’re blessed and experiencing God’s blessing.

I think this is important to know because there are still churches that preach Leviticus 26—at least the blessings part—so loudly people get the message without ever listening to a sermon. It is important to know because if life is really hard for you individually, it can be depressing to log on to Facebook and see what people are claiming as God’s blessing.. I think it is important because I know good Christian people who are growing angry with God, or walking away from him, because little if anything seems to be going their way. It is important because there is a growing movement of believe-ism claiming if you believe hard enough God will bless you so your life goes well and your dreams come true. Jesus is little more than a genie granting countless wishes and the Bible is the lamp. It is important because the truth of the matter is God’s blessing and favor is as simple as his presence. His presence and desire to be with us in good times, bad times, awful times, and everything in between… God is with us. When we understand that we don’t have to be the person in the poem Footprints who looks back and wonders why God abandoned them. When we understand that we may not even have to be carried at all because we know God is walking alongside of us always.