Do Not Fear God’s Plan. Embrace it!

The Smoky Mountains at Sunrise (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)
The Smoky Mountains at Sunrise (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)

A young girl was suddenly confronted by a strange visitor whom she had never seen before in her village of Nazareth. This visitor greeted her with very strange words. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

What was going on in Mary’s mind as she heard these words? The Bible says that she was troubled in her heart and was quite perplexed.  She probably couldn’t understand why this visitor was talking with her.  In her humility, she couldn’t believe what the visitor was saying about her character and her close walk with God.

Mary’s life would soon change in a way that she would never imagine. God chose her to give birth to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s plan for her life, she would almost lose her future husband Joseph.  She would face misunderstanding.  She would give birth to the Messiah in a stable.  She would see her son suffer and then die upon the cross.  Mary didn’t choose this type of life, but God chose it for her.

Mary had a choice when her visitor, God’s angel, shared God’s plan with her. She could fear God’s plan and reject it, or she could heed the words of the angel: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30) Mary chose to embrace God’s plan when she said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary cast away her fears and embraced God’s plan for her life in spite of the obstacles she would face.

God’s plan can create fear in our lives.  We fear surrendering ourselves totally to God because His plan may include pain, suffering, rejection, and sacrifice.  Our fear causes us to forget that our loving God knows what is best for us and for those around us.  We find it difficult to say: “I am your servant. Do as you please with my life.”

All through the Bible, we see people who did not fear God’s plan, but embraced it.

  • Abraham embraced God’s plan when he left all that he knew to go to an unknown land.
  • Moses embraced God’s plan when he left the quiet life in the desert to lead God’s people.
  • Joshua embraced God’s plan when he defeated Jericho according to God’s plan of action.
  • Ruth embraced God’s plan when she left her land of Moab to go to Israel.
  • Jeremiah embraced God’s plan in spite of the persecution he faced.
  • Hosea embraced God’s plan when it didn’t make sense to him.
  • Steven embraced God’s plan though it meant certain death.

Will we listen to God’s voice when he says: “Fear Not”?  Will we embrace His plan regardless of the consequences?  When we embrace God’s plan, we will not only be blessed of God, but we will also be a blessing to others as Mary has been a blessing to the world.

David shares His desire to embrace God’s plan when he wrote: “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.”
(Psalm 143:10) God is good and His plans for our lives will lead us into a life of blessing and joy. Let’s not fear God’s plan today, but let us embrace His plan with all of our hearts.

Render Unto God the Things that are God’s

Coins

This week, I  read the account of the Jewish leaders trying to entrap Jesus with their questions. One question has to do with paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus responds by asking for a coin. He than asks whose inscription is on the coin. His questioners answer Caesar’s. Jesus than surprises them all with His answer: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

When I read this account, God convicted me about my life. I had always read these words with the understanding that we are to pay our taxes, but I never paid much attention to the second part of Jesus’ statement. God wants me to give all things unto Him because I belong to Him.

One question that comes to my mind: “Have I rendered unto God the things that belong to Him?” I realize that my answer is “no”.  I still am dealing with selfishness in several areas of my life. I often don’t recognize in my heart that belonging to God means I surrender every area of my life to Him. Surrender is the true essence of defining what it means to be a servant (bond-slave) of Jesus Christ.

“What are the things that I need to render unto God?” First of all, I need to render my life unto God. I often grab hold of my life and try to take it back from God. I can do this as I make decisions concerning my future, or the use of my time. I also have the tendency to allow my worries and anxieties to remain in my heart instead of giving them over to the Lord as He desires: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

My reputation is an area in my life that I need to give unto God. It is difficult not to defend oneself when others may not agree with you or even worse when they oppose you or try to tear you down. Jesus Christ is the great example of one who surrendered His reputation to His Heavenly Father. God’s reputation is more important than my reputation.

A second area of my life that I need to render to God is my family. Marriage can easily bring out my selfish bent.  Instead of looking at my wife in the same way as Christ loved the church. I seek to please myself. A marriage surrendered to God demonstrates a selfless love that seeks the best for one’s spouse.

Also, I am grateful for the three children that God has given to us. Our two sons are serving the Lord in Portugal and our daughter and her husband are making plans to minister in England. When we give our children unto God, it is difficult when the Lord takes them to distant place to live. This is a great reminder that our children ultimately belong to God.  They are his gift to us to raise them to honor and glorify Him.

A third area of my life that I need to render to God is the church.  As a pastor of a church, I need to remind myself that Christ is the Head of the church. I am His servant, who needs to minister to those that God brings into our local church. Patience is a necessity in dealing with people.  The Bible reminds me: “that it is God who worketh in you both to will and do of His good pleasure.”  In myself I can’t make anyone grow spiritually.  I can’t  make anyone confess and forsake their sin. I need to constantly “turn my eyes upon Jesus.”

Almost every day, the Lord reminds me of some area of my life that I need to surrender to Him. He is my Lord and Master. He knows what is best for me. What keeps me from surrendering every area to my Loving Lord?

“Dear Lord, thank you for using your Word to show me my need to give every area of my life to you. I know that I attempt to grab from you some part of my life that belongs to you. Help me to see those areas of my life, my family and the church that I have yet delivered unto you.  Sometimes transferring the ownership of some area of my life is difficult, but I know that your peace, guidance and wisdom come when I render everything to you.  Thank you that I belong to you because your Son took my place on the cross, Amen.”

Enjoying Life or Enduring Life?

Evening Sky-Photo by: Mark J. Booth

The jail cell was damp and cold.  The quality of the food was dismal.  The Apostle Paul didn’t know if he would soon be executed.  How could he enjoy life in the midst of such dismal circumstances?

The Apostle Paul faced many trying times in his life, but he enjoyed life instead of enduring life.  Many of us no longer enjoy life. We complain about our circumstances. Self-pity controls our thought patterns.  Anxiety keeps us from enjoying God’s presence.  We have the idea that enjoying life is based upon our circumstances.  Paul’s circumstances were dismal in the Roman jail; yet he enjoyed his life.  Let’s look at why Paul enjoyed life even while he was suffering in a Roman jail.

1. Paul enjoyed his life because he had a purpose in life.  “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:1)

Many people don’t have a life purpose.  They have a vague idea that they should be doing something for themselves, for their family. and for their community; however, they have no real purpose.  Paul enjoyed his life because he had a purpose!  His purpose was to serve His Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Paul enjoyed life because he knew that he belonged to the King of Kings. Paul wasn’t pulled in many different directions.  He received his directions from Christ.  He even understood that his time in prison was for the glory of His Master.  He wrote in another letter.  “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ”.   We will enjoy life when we live each day in light of the fact that “I am a servant of Jesus Christ”.

2. Paul enjoyed his life because he experienced God’s grace and peace.  “Grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:2)  

Paul wasn’t alone in his jail cell.  The Lord was with him.  Paul enjoyed his life because he was aware of God’s presence even in the most difficult of times.  God’s grace enabled Paul not only to survive in his trials, but also to thrive.  God’s peace gave him the knowledge that no matter what was happening in his life, God was in control.  We enjoy  life when we experience God’s grace and peace in even the greatest storm of our life.

3. Paul enjoyed his life because he invested his life in others“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” (Philippians 1:3)

Even in prison, Paul was ministering to others.  He wrote his letter to the believers at Philippi to encourage them.  He was willing to sacrifice his life for others.  He prayed for others.  He shared the Word of God with others.  He loved others.  Paul didn’t focus upon his problems, but he used his problems as a means of ministering to others.  There is great enjoyment in seeing God use us in the lives of others.  We minister to others through our testimony, our prayers, our words of encouragement, our expressions of love, and our sharing the truths of God’s Word.

4. Paul enjoyed his life, because he understood that his trials brought glory to God.  “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12)

Paul’s time in jail was part of God’s overall plan.  God used Paul as a witness to the many people with whom he came into contact.  God also used Paul’s imprisonment to encourage other believers to go out and share the gospel.  God doesn’t allow things to enter into our lives for our harm, but for the good of ourselves and others.  We can enjoy life when we surrender to God’s purpose for our trial.

5. Paul enjoyed his life because he knew the future.  “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

Paul showed joy even in facing death, because he knew that death was the door through which he would enter heaven.  We enjoy our life on earth when we live for Christ and keep our focus upon the eternal reward that waits for us in heaven.  When we live our lives for ourselves, our focus is upon this life alone.  Paul saw the big picture, do we?

“Dear Lord, I often feel as though I am enduring life.  I focus on my problems.  I focus on my needs.  I focus on the faults of others. Thank you for Paul’s example to me of a man who enjoyed his life in spite of the dire circumstances he faced.  Please help to enjoy my life in you regardless of the circumstances that I face. Thank you for your great patience and love towards me.  Amen”

Personal Thoughts from the Chick-fil-A Discussion

Chick-fil-A and the issue of marriage has caused me to reflect upon my own life.  It has also brought about several questions concerning my  life and my view of God.  The following questions have helped me to make this whole controversy a learning and growing experience.

1. What is my view of God?  Do I see God as He presents Himself in His Word; or do I see God as I want Him to be?  Do I believe in all of God’s attributes or only the ones that are appealing to me?  Do I understand that God doesn’t change with society?  God says in His Word: “For I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6)   How I view God will often dictate my decisions, actions, and viewpoints..

2. What is the condition of my heart before God?  Is my heart right with God?  Do I seek to please God in everything I do?  Do I pray with the Psalmist: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts.”? (Psalm 139:23)  It is easy to take up a cause, but am I willing to take up the cross of Christ? Am I willing to sacrifice my all for Him?

3. What is the condition of my marriage?  I can’t control if people accept or reject the Biblical teaching of marriage, but I can do something about my marriage.  Do I love my wife as Christ loves the church?  Am I the spiritual leader that God calls me to be?  Does our marriage bring honor to the Lord?

4. Am I willing to believe and obey the Word of God in every area of my life?   I can confuse human opinions with God’s truth.  There is absolute truth.  Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  The ideas of society may change; however, the Word of God doesn’t change.

5. What am I doing to reach others with the Gospel of Christ?  Paul clearly didn’t seek to reform the Roman culture.  He desired to see each soul  turn to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.   Paul stated: “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also. ” (Romans 1:15)  Do I get caught up in social issues and forget the main issue?

6. Do I truly live as though I am a citizen of heaven?  Do I want to fit into the society around me?  Do I feel rejected and upset if I am not accepted by society?  The Apostle Peter said: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Peter 2:11)
A believer in Christ is merely a pilgrim in this world.  My goal is not to please the world, but to please the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Dear Lord, I see that our society often disregards your Word; however, I have also disregarded your Word.  Please forgive me for the sin in my life.  Please forgive me for comparing my life to other people. I need to compare my life to your absolute standard of holiness.  Help me to keep my eyes focused upon you in spite of what is happening around me.  Thank you for being merciful towards me.     Your love for me is beyond my comprehension. Thank you for working in my life, even in times when it is painful. Amen.”

Grant Hoyland-A True Servant of The Lord (May 18, 1955-June 14, 2001)

 

In the early morning of June 14, 2001, the telephone awoke us.  Who would be calling this early?  I answered the phone and heard Pastor Ruben May (Johannesburg, South Africa) on the end of the line. His voice was quiet and sad. Something was wrong.  “Last night, Grant was carjacked and later murdered”.  Thoughts started flooding my mind.  “Why Grant?”  “God, why did you allow this to happen?”

Grant had entered  our lives in 1984.  He came to the church in Hillbrow as a result of being invited by a temporary secretary at the law office where he was working.  At first, his attendance was rather sporadic, but he soon accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as His Saviour.  As time went by, Grant became very involved in various church ministries.   He had a great love for the people in Hillbrow, especially the children.  He would faithfully do door to door visitation, and he ministered in the Awana Club Ministry.  He also became an excellent preacher of the Word.

After we left South Africa, Grant attended Bible College.  In 1999 we visited South Africa and stayed with Grant for a couple of weeks.  We had some terrific talks.   During that time, the Hillbrow church ordained Grant  for the Gospel ministry.  I never heard a person do so well in an ordination council.   Grant, by this time, decided to leave his full-time work as a lawyer and only work part-time.   His desire was to give as much time to the Lord’s service as possible as the Assistant Pastor of the Hillbrow Independent Baptist Church.

Though Grant is in the presence of the Lord,  he is greatly missed by many people in Johannesburg.  Here was one person who selflessly gave his life for those around him.

During the aftermath of Grant’s death, the young people in the Hillbrow church were challenged to fill the shoes that Grant had left behind.  One of the young people responded: “His shoes are too big for us to fill.”  Though many in this world never knew Grant, he was truly a man greatly used of God.

I thank the Lord for the privilege to have had been Grant’s pastor and friend. He truly lived out  1 Corinthians 15:58:  “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”