Book Review: Fixing Our Eyes on God

Do your prayers always start with, “Dear God … ” or, “Our Father in heaven … “? “Fixing Our Eyes on God: An A-Z Journey Through The Names of God”, will broaden your understanding of the God who calls you His own, will strengthen your faith showing you how God applies Himself to every aspect of your life and deepen your prayer life.

Maybe you see God kind of one dimensionally. I mean, even when we think hard to give our children meaningful names that represent the person or personality we want them to honor or express, we still only give them one name. And for the rest of their lives we call them by that descriptive. Often, they grow to fulfill that name.

So have you ever wondered why God introduces Himself throughout Scripture using many names?

In her book, “Fixing Our Eyes on God,” Billie Jo Youmans will take you on a simple, daily experience of God as you’ve never known Him before. She identifies names and descriptions of God that perhaps you’ve never heard or thought of before. Can you think of God as your Guide and Guard? What about your Intercessor? She even includes some of God’s names in the original language such as the Omega.

I say that Youmans’ devotional book is simple in that you can enjoy its riches even if you don’t have extensive biblical knowledge or hours to devote to Bible study every day. As the title indicates, there are 26 entries, one for each letter of the alphabet. Each includes a short devotion delving into the name of God highlighted that day. Youmans includes scripture, anecdotes and biblical research to explain each name. Then, a page is provided for journaling.

This book called to mind an old hymn, “He’s Everything to Me.” One line that has always touched me from that song says, “Then I knew that He was more than just a God who didn’t care, who lives away up there … “. Youmans’ book has done just that for me. I understand now, better than before, more of this wonderful, indescribable God who loves me.

You can find Billie Jo’s book here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1518725821?keywords=billie%20jo%20youmans&qid=1455152904&ref_=sr_1_1&sr=8-1#customerReviews

What I Thought God Wanted

A man stood before God listening intently; he wanted to catch every single word of instruction.

“Do you see that boulder there?” God asked. “The one on the very edge of the precipice. I created it and placed it exactly there with you in mind. This is your mission, your calling. I want you to push that boulder.”

“That’s all God?” The man glanced down at his puny physique and felt a flush of shame redden his cheeks. It doesn’t seem like a very important job, he thought. At the same time, doubt clashed with his indignation. What if I’m not strong enough to move that huge rock, he wondered.

“That is exactly what I made you to do,” God affirmed. “I will always be with you. Don’t worry, you can do all things through my strength.”

So the man set his shoulder against the stone. Day in and day out, night after long night, he pressed on. Over time, his shoulders broadened with sinewy muscle. His skin grew dark and tan at first, then weathered and ruddy. His shoulder bruised. Once or twice, he pulled back and looked at the massive rock. It hadn’t moved a millimeter.

The voice of doubt reached a fevered pitch in his mind: I’m failing. The one, seemingly insignificant thing God gave me to do and I can’t even manage that. And where is God? I thought He was going to help me—be my strength! Maybe I didn’t hear Him right. Maybe He’s not even pleased with all my work. I only wanted to be obedient. I’m sure someone else could do a better job.

Just then, he felt a presence behind him. His Lord stood there, quietly assessing the tired man and the stone. “I’m sorry, God,” the man whispered. “I couldn’t move it even one tiny bit.”

Jesus reached out a scarred hand and tipped the man’s face up to look Him in the eyes. “What are you talking about?” He asked gently. “I never asked you to move the stone. I only asked you to push it.”

My pastor told that story in a message about finishing well. He quoted Paul in 1 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

My hearted perked up with his words. I’ve felt like that! In particular, I have prayed and prayed and prayed for my husband to love the Lord with all his heart and to lead our family spiritually. (I’ve also employed some unsuccessful tactics like pleading and bribing.) Now, 15 years later, I’m tired, I feel like a failure and I want to quit.

As a Christian wife, I know that my most important assignment on earth is to help my husband become the man God created him to be. God brought us together; He created me to be my husband’s helpmate. Sometimes this appointment seems mundane and unimportant compared to world-wide evangelism and other lofty callings. Other times, it seems like much more than I can handle; it feels like I have sweated and struggled to no avail.

As I listened to the sermon, I felt Jesus’ presence. I turned my heart to listen.

“Daughter,” He said. “I never told you to change your husband. I assigned you to be his helpmate. You put a great burden on yourself when you expect a specific outcome or result. You are only to obey me—be his helpmate. I will be the one to move and change him in my time. But, do you see what good has come of your labor? You, yourself have grown strong. When you were tired and weary, you learned to rest in me. You’ve gained some calluses and bruises, but now you are wiser, too.”

Whether it be our hopes and dreams for a certain type of marriage or something else, our lives and sanity depend on understanding specifically what God has called us to do. He has not called us to bring about an outcome, only to allow Him to use us in the process.

“So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.” Colossians 1:28-29 (emphasis added)

The Problem With “I Did It My Way”

I choose My Way. Words on old wooden board.

I’ve been haunted recently by a fresh perspective of the Gospel. Don’t worry, that’s a perfectly fair use of the word which dictionary.com defines as: “preoccupied, as with an emotion, memory, or idea; obsessed.” So, I’m perfectly happy to have this Gospel ghost invading my thoughts, permeating the atmosphere of my mind.

That doesn’t mean that my mind is completely settled and at peace though. No, instead I’ve come to realize how poorly I’ve assimilated this Good News into my daily life. We’ve been told that the Gospel must get from our head into our hearts, but I think it’s more truthful that the Gospel must rule in both places—occupy both head and heart simultaneously to do us any real good. Otherwise, it may affect our destiny but it won’t change our day-to-day.

You see, since I said “yes” to Jesus at seven years old, I’ve been doing my best to live for him. But, while most of my life has been a valiant effort to please and honor God, it has also been a belligerent rejection of his unrealistic mercy, affection, love and provision. Ultimately, I’ve gotten stuck on the hamster wheel of “Oops, sorry God,” to, “I’ll do better; try harder,” to, “Thanks for giving me eternal life,” to, “See how pretty and shiny my life is now?” and back to, “Oops, sorry God. I’ll do better.” Then, it’s back to work on how best to manage my sin, get my behaviors (the external and obvious sins) under control so that I can go back to being a happy, successful Christian quietly humming, “I Did It My Way.”

So, God’s been relentlessly kind in pointing this out to me through various excellent books: Craving Grace, by Ruthie Delk; Waking Up, by Ted Dekker and of course, the Bible. Now, if you’re interested in joining me on this journey, you’d be wise to read both Delk and Dekker’s books cover to cover. I recommend doing that with the Bible too, but it’s helpful to start with a story that illustrates exactly what I’m talking about. So, let’s look at a lesser-known story—the story of Amaziah, king of Judah, in 2 Chronicles 25.

Young Amaziah, barely 30 years old, was a newbie to ruling a country. But the Bible says right off the bat that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. (If you know anything about the ancient kings of Judah and Israel, you know that’s not a common characteristic.)

But even though Amaziah (like those of us who call Christ Lord) was obedient to God mostly and desired to do what was right, he still had the human hankering to “do it my way.” Just before heading out to war, he gathered his troops and then decided he needed a few more. So he paid 100,000 men from Israel to join his army. God quickly dispatched a messenger:

“O king, do not let the army of Israel go with you, for the Lord is not with Israel, with all these Ephraimites. But go, act, be strong for the battle. Why should you suppose that God will cast you down before the enemy? For God has power to help or cast down.”

This was Amaziah’s first opportunity and he triumphed. He quickly released the Israelite soldiers and headed into battle confident God’s way was best. God delivered. Amaziah and his army conquered their enemies and took much spoil. But suddenly, Amaziah’s pride at his success took a turn for the worse.

“I Did It My Way,” must have been playing in his head too, as he took the idols of his conquered foe and set them up at home. Another messenger arrived saying, “Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?” (Good question!)

But Amaziah replied angrily, “Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop!”

Let’s stop here. Can you see yourself? I see me as clearly as if a polished mirror lay between the pages of my Bible.

How often have I sought to obey and Lord, been successful—even acquired the admiration of other Christians—only to pat myself on the back (discreetly) and think, “I’ve got this good-God thing down!”

Don’t deny it. It happens to every. single. one. of us. The telling point is what we do next. God faithfully sends a reminder to each of us, in every situation (The Holy Spirit is called the counselor for a reason!) to pull us back from the devastating affects of our own way.

What next? Will you shout (with the memory of your most recent victory playing in your head) that, “I’m doing okay doing it my way!” Or, will you quickly see again the cross, the Good News, the Gospel—the resurrection—and realize that every single victory is from the Lord. Will you realize that if you adopt the idol of your most recent success you will quickly find yourself in the position of your defeated foe—guarded by something that cannot deliver or save?

Dynamo!

Dynamite

Sooner or later, you’re going to face a day when you just don’t think you can make it–everybody does. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by loneliness, stress, anger, hurt or fear. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just seems like God has given you too much to handle. Maybe He has.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

The phrase, “so that you are able”, is actually one Greek word: dynamo. This word means: to be capable, strong and powerful whether by one’s own power or resources.

We may not feel strong, capable or powerful and really, we’re not. But, we do have the best resources. Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us what these are, “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”

The same power that brought Jesus out of the grave is God’s power for you and me. Because nothing is impossible with God, we can overcome anything!

Reasons for Seasons and Rain

Heavy rain

Sometimes, when we go through difficult times, we call them “storms”. If you ever watched Winnie the Pooh, gloomy old Eeyore was often pictured with a storm cloud hovering over his head. We say things like, “I’ve got the blues” or “He’s under the weather”, or we try to encourage people by saying, “The sun will come out again soon.” These are called “figures of speech”, ways to describe something that have become so common that everyone understands.

You can think of figures of speech as tiny parables. The dictionary says that a parable is, “a story or phrase that uses familiar things to explain something.” Jesus told many parables in the Bible. He used things that his listeners understood to teach them about God whom they could not see.

In Matthew 7, Jesus tells the story about a wise man who built his house on a rock. Another man, a foolish one, built his house on the sand. Then, mighty storms came. The wind blew and the rain pounded on both homes. The wise man’s house stood firm. But when the storms came and the water washed away the sandy foundation, the foolish man’s house collapsed.

Jesus used this story to explain that when we build our lives on Him, on the truth of His Word, we can stand strong and the sad and difficult things in life will not destroy us. However, if we set our hopes, dreams and future on a worthless foundation—like wealth, popularity or faith in a false god, when the storms of life come, we will fall apart.

Storms are usually used to describe the bad times, but there is value in the storms and rain, too. Another phrase we often hear is, “April showers bring May flowers.” We know flowers, plants and trees need rain to grow. Streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans need rain. We depend on the rain to fill these bodies of water so that we have water to drink, shower and swim in.

When it comes to the storms of life, there is a benefit in them too. When storm passed, and the wise man’s house was still standing, he knew that he had built in the right place. He knew that foundation on which he built his house was strong.

It’s the same way for us in life. When we go through sad and hard times, God proves Himself to us. He proves that He is strong, faithful, wise and loving.

Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs him down, but a good word lifts him up.” The word for “weighs down” actually means “to bow down to someone greater”. When bad times come and we are sad or anxious, they cause us to bow down before God and seek His help in our troubles.

Just like in nature, we face seasons in our lives. There will be sunny days and rainy seasons; times of happiness and joy as well of times of discouragement and sadness. Remembering the purpose of rain in nature can help us look for God’s goodness and purpose in the hard times of our lives. Our struggles help us to see God’s faithfulness and strength for us and they help us to remember to bow down and trust God.

The Simple Key to Relational Bliss

keys

I sometimes find it radically difficult to please my husband … and my friends, and my parents, and the dog (actually, he’s pretty easy), and those I work for and those I edit for and … myself.

Do you?

Ever feel like you’re a fragmented failure?

This complaint, or wise observation, is nothing new. Everyone has heard the adage, “You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

But let’s get real–we all still try–and we all find it exhausting. I wonder too, if those of us who call ourselves Christians try harder than others to keep everyone around us happy. After all, we are called to honor others above ourselves and told that whatever we do for the least of these we do for Christ. We are also told that they will know we are Christians by our love–right? So don’t we have to constantly strive to evidence that love to them?

And then I’m tired. And then I fail. And then, I don’t really want to try again tomorrow. How are we supposed to do this?

I have found the incredibly simple key to relational bliss. Are you ready? You’re not going to believe how simple this is–not easy, but simple.

Quit trying. 

That’s it. 

Quit trying to please everyone, prove your love to everyone, validate your Christianity to everyone. Just stop it. 

Galatians 1:10 says,

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

I think Paul is going beyond the idea of simply trying to impress people, but actually admonishing us to drop our social standards, to ignore the typical expectations of us in each of our relationships. Then, we use all that reclaimed energy to focus on pleasing only one person–God.

But what happens if I forsake all my efforts to show my husband how much I am committed or quit worrying what my kids think of me? What happens if I quit trying to be the best of faithful friends?

What happens? That’s when you get it. That’s when it fall falls into place.

You see, when we please God, the fruits of His Spirit begin to grow and ripen. Suddenly, just by sheer proximity to the Savior we become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, faithful and self controlled. By focusing with laser intensity on pleasing the Savior who is our righteousness, we become the kind of people we need to be in each and every other relationship.

You can study more about this topic with me by grabbing a copy of my book: Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What?

Book Review, 50 Shades of Grace

Fifty Shades of Grace. Who knew there were so many?

Weren’t you taught, as I was, that grace had a rather simple definition? Grace is, “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” It has a nice Sunday school rhythm, but honestly, it doesn’t mean very much. It prompts all sorts of questions:

How many or much of God’s riches?
Did Christ pay for all of it, or was it simply a down payment?
What are God’s riches?

These are questions I believe everyone entertains, whether consciously or not. I was twenty-five years into my own walk with Jesus before I admitted my struggles with the concept of grace. One question in particular plagued me: “If grace saved me, what keeps me saved?”

“By grace you are saved through faith!” I knew that by heart, but the trouble is, that’s where it stopped. I was saved—now what? Does grace still apply to me or do I now have to earn my keep?

As I listened to countless pastors and teachers, attended to dozens of pulpits and persuasions, only rarely did the fog, the confusion over the concept, lift a bit. Instead of feeling adopted into God’s family, I felt a little like a foster child, hoping to please my temporary parent so much that He wanted to keep me forever.

Don’t get me wrong, for a couple decades I denied I felt this way. But my actions shouted over my voice. The anthem of my heart was, “God, what do you want me to do?”

Slowly, God has been removing the veil—the same veil that hung over the eyes of the Hebrews in 2 Corinthians 2:14,

“But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.”

I felt worse in church or Bible studies; a cross between motivated to, “go out there and serve God more”, and a fear that I wasn’t doing enough. The old covenant of law-keeping still hung partially across my vision. Saved by grace … saved to serve … and what if I’m not serving God well enough?

If you identify with anything I’ve said so far, you must read, 50 Shades of Grace.

Who knew there were so many shades of it? Who knew the grace that saved you through the red-hot blood of Christ, is the same grace that beckons the golden sun every morning, the same grace that shelters you in the blue-black storms of life, the same grace that tastes like green grass and looks like being led by streams of living, blue water. It’s the same grace that transfigured Jesus and allowed the disciples to see Him in all of his brilliant white splendor; the same grace continually transforms you from golden glory to golden glory.

This book is meant to be read steadily and digested like a scrumptious meal. From the very beginning, author, Dr. Eddie Summers, instructs his readers not to rush through the book. We’re shifting whole paradigms here; this is going to take some time!

Fifty Shades of Grace, is effectively broken into 10 chapters, which contain five sub-chapters or “shades” of grace. Beginning with “Grace Every Day”, Dr. Summers walks with his readers through the application of grace in health, troubles, spiritual growth and extending this grace to others.

It’s tempting, as a life-long Christian, to throw up our hands indignantly, insert a snippet of Scripture and move on to “deeper” books, believing we’ve mastered this grace thing. Believe me, you haven’t. You never will.

Don’t miss this book; or you’ll never know the glorious, full spectrum of grace you’ve been missing all along.

If you’re interested in a Bible study on this topic, you can find my book Beyond Belief: Jesus Saved You, Now What? here. 

The Universal Battle Plan for Anything You’re Facing

What’s your battle?

I’m the first one to admit I’ve fought the same battles over and over–be they marriage struggles, remnants of eating disordered habits and behaviors, jealousy of others, bitterness, boredom in my walk with the Lord … simple frustration. These aren’t characteristics that describe a thriving believer in the one true God–one who has firmly grasped the Gospel and is influenced by nothing more than the Gospel.

So this morning, after a perfect Thanksgiving holiday with family, I sat back down before the Lord for my usual morning quiet time–the sanity of routine returned. But the luster was gone.

I got the best kind of answer. Guess what? I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m simply doing when I should be waiting, listening, leaning …

Walk with me through Jehoshaphat’s problems. He was facing the ancient enemies of Israel. The Moabites and Ammonites were chronic irritations for the Israelites–generational plagues. It might have been tempting to look back and see what he’d done before to hold them at bay. Or, to muster all the armies of Israel in “the name of the Lord” and go out to do battle against this horde of evil. After all, doesn’t God want us to valiantly resist at all times?

That would have been a safe assumption–I think: I’ve got a nation here to protect, a nation called by the name of the Lord! Surely, God would have me take up arms and do diligent battle!

Instead, Jehoshaphat was admittedly afraid. The Bible makes no effort to hide this “weakness”. And, “he set his face to seek the Lord.”

Jehoshaphat’s next words are stunning:

“Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. Our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying,  ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.’

“But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:6-12

Can you imagine? Have you ever just looked at God and said, “Guess what? I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”

Rather than have you go look up the battle plans God gave to Jehoshaphat, I’ll outline here what happened next:

  1. God told Jehoshaphat to not be afraid. He told him exactly where the enemy would be, what they would do and that he didn’t need to do a thing: “You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf … “
  2. Jehoshaphat bowed
  3. All Israel fell down and worshipped
  4. The priests stood up and praised loudly
  5. Jehoshaphat stood and commanded everyone to hear and believe the Lord
  6. He told them to give thanks — even before the battle was fought or won

So, I ask again: What’s your battle? How are you fighting? Have you drawn up your battle plans yet? Have you told God that you really need to be involved a bit more?

What would happen if you said: “I don’t know what to do, so I’m just going to sit right here in front of you, shut up and look at you.”?

How God Plans to Keep His Word

How long have you been waiting?

What on earth are you waiting for?

Is that the problem–you’re waiting for something on earth when the fulfillment of your longing lies in the realm of eternity?

But I’m not going to be that ethereal with this post. I’m talking about waiting on the things you actually need, long for, must see, can only realize here on this earth.

Maybe you’re waiting on a restored relationship, healing, someone to come through on their word … God to come through on His Word …

I wonder how Abraham felt waiting … and waiting … and waiting … on God to fulfill His promise of making Abraham into a great nation and planting him in the most beautiful, resourceful land.

In his book, Climbing With Abraham, David Ramos reminds us:

“And of all the land he was promised, [Abraham] only ends up legally owning a fraction of one percent of it by his death.”

I wonder if Abraham reflected on the fact that God had created the whole earth in seven days and destroyed it with a flood in 40 days. That’s pretty fast, all things considered. So why on earth did God drag out the time He required to fulfill His promises to Abraham.

Ramos says again:

“God cares for you intimately, but is never thinking of only you. His plans are always bigger than us, and that is for our ultimate good.”

I’ve got a list of things I’m waiting for, a list of things I pray for incessantly and wonder if God has even grown dull to hearing my repetition.

But I cling to some New Testament truths here too: He told us to keep asking, seeking and knocking–implying that the answer will come but not necessarily in a timely window. He also promises that He who began a good work in us will complete it. No ifs, ands or buts. (Matthew 7:7, Philippians 1:6)

So there you have it. God’s recipe for meeting your heart’s desire:

You pray, you seek, you ask, you knock. You pray more, ask more, seek more, knock more. You believe God (Genesis 3:6). You die (maybe) (Hebrews 11:13), you see God (1 Corinthians 13:12), not a single promise fails–ever (Joshua 21:45).

All things (for all people who love God, in every place, over all time) work together for good (Romans 8:28).

You see, it’s “bigger than us” (you’ve got to read Ramos’ book).