Experiencing God – Looking to God

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Welcome to week 2 of Experiencing God. If you are enjoying this study so far, then you are in for a treat as it only gets better from here.
So, let’s pray and get into it.

I look at the first two units of this study as setting the stage for the rest. They introduce two very important things we must know about God and His ways before we can move forward to learning how to actually know and do His will.
The first we covered last week and is spelled out in the first reality – God is always at work around you. On which I illustrated how our relationship to Him is like that of a tool to a master craftsman.  And indeed it is. As Jesus said, apart from him we can do nothing, but in his hands, or abiding in him, we can bear much fruit.
Which is not something that is difficult to understand. I think, for the most part, Christians get this, at least conceptually if not in practice.
But the second important truth, related to this, is something we can all quote, but few of us actually really believe.
That is the fact that God’s ways are not our ways. Not even close.
Isaiah 55:8-9
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
   neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
   so are my ways higher than your ways
   and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
This truth is not so much difficult to understand, but it is very difficult for us humans to accept and embrace.
Just as Proverbs observes…
Proverbs 21:2 & 16:2
All a man’s ways seem right to him…
It’s true. Most of us do not go about doing and planning things that we know are wrong or foolish. In fact, most of us who are Christians try our best to do and plan things that are good and pleasing to the Lord.
Which is not necessarily a BAD thing – it’s just not always the OBEDIENT thing.
It’s making our own plans and asking God to bless them rather than asking Him what He wants to do.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Our plans include God, and they may even be plans FOR God – to serve Him in some way. We make good plans!
But as I’ve often pointed out:
GOOD is not always RIGHT.
Or at least not OUR good.
On example I like to give is…
If I tell my son to clean his room but he cleans the bathroom instead, did he do a good thing? Yes!
Did he do the right thing? No! Because he did not obey me.
God does not want us to think up our own good things to do for Him.
He wants us to obey Him.
And His ways are not our ways.
In other words, you shouldn’t expect God’s ways to make sense to you – at least not in the short term.
They always make perfect sense in the long run, but most often in the short term, His assignments can seem downright crazy.
And that’s because His ways are not our ways – and He has a much better view of the bigger picture than we do.
Just look at some of the stories from the bible:
Noah – Build a giant boat and put two of every animal in it. I’m going to destroy the earth with a flood.
Abraham – Kill your only son, the son of promise…
Moses – Go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let his millions of slaves go free…
Gideon – Fight this army of thousands with only these 300…
Mary – You are going to give birth to the Son of God even though you are a virgin…
The Disciples – a group of fishermen, one tax collector, simple, common, uneducated men – Go into all the world as my witnesses so I can build my church through you!
Saul of Tarsus – I want you to stop persecuting Christians and become my chief spokesman.
Not one of those assignments made sense at the time. In fact, they were all ridiculous and crazy sounding such that most of them doubted and argued with God at first, but in the end God’s ways won out and proved to be much better than whatever plans they may have had of their own.
I know many of you have experienced this.
I know I have.
As I’ve mentioned before, I ran away from the church after high school and joined the Navy where God caught up with me in the belly of a submarine. Well, at that point I had no intention or desire to go into ministry. But about a year before I got out of the Navy came the call.
At the time it made no sense. Other than my own doubts about my ability to do it, the church had no money to pay me. I was making good money as a prior enlisted officer with 11 years in. How could the church support my growing family? Those were the fears that made me procrastinate, but finally I gave in and told the Lord I would do it if He would provide – even though I had no idea how He would do that.
Well, a year later I got out of the navy and stepped into ministry as the Administrative Pastor here at Reality making half what I was making in the Navy. But that was ok because a year before I even considered the ministry (so two years before), God used Dave Ramsey and his Financial Peace University to set us on a path that would result in us paying off $90,000 just a few months before the switch.
So, by the time I went from military to ministry, we had already been living on half of my salary for two years, so the transition was rather seamless – and we had even saved up a three month emergency fund before making the change.
So, you see, God had already been working toward that goal before He ever told me about it.  And when He did tell me and I hesitantly agreed, He just kept right on working, paving the way for me to do what He had planned for me to do all along.
Three years later came another call.
This time it was to leave the church and my position. I wasn’t told why or even what to do instead. I was only told to leave. Many of you have heard that story about how God spoke to me through a whisper, through another person’s dream, and even through my five year old son – anyway, He made it loud and clear I was to leave – and through sobs on the floor in my home office I said YES – and again, God started opening doors.
This time, instead of my pay being cut in half, it was going to be gone. All I had at the time was the GI Bill because I had just started school. But God was good and provided in various ways such that we barely had to dip into savings, though I still didn’t know why I had to leave or what was next…until four months later when the previous pastor of Reality invited me to lunch and told me that he was leaving and wanted me to take over. Never in a million years did I see that coming.
Obviously I took the job, but again it didn’t make any sense at the time.
Again the pay was not going to be enough (less than I was making before, actually).
Again, I felt unprepared and inadequate for the assignment,
but again God did not disappoint!
My friends, I can attest –  God’s ways are not only different than our ways – they are better.
Just look at our journey as a church over the past year. Did any of us see this coming? In fact, I think most of us dreaded this – saw doing church in this location as a death sentence. Yet here we are and I dare say we are finally exactly where God wants us to be and it feels good. And I believe God has great plans for us in the coming months and years that we can’t even imagine at this point.
You know how I know that?
Because I see before me a group of people who are hungry to know the Lord. We aren’t obsessed with all the surface stuff. We want to know the Lord and do His will both individually and collectively as a local Body of Christ. And that, my friends, is exactly the kind of body Christ loves to HAVE and USE.
So, keep it up,
but be warned…
God is going to interrupt your plans.
Because they are not His plans. By definition they can’t be. God’s ways are not our ways. We make our plans based on our ways, thus they cannot be God’s plans.
That story I just told you about my own life…do you think any of that was my plan? Nope.
That’s not to say I haven’t made ANY of my own plans over that time. Oh I have. Such as the BRTFAC incident over the summer. That was my plan.
I think God did actually start it, but I took over pretty quickly and made a mess of it. But again, thank God that His plans do not depend on us. And so, we ended up where He wanted us in the first place – allowing me and all of us to learn some lessons.
In fact, one thing Henry Blackaby points out in the video for this week is that often times, God will give you an assignment to do the same thing you just failed at doing YOUR WAY so that this time you can do it HIS WAY. I believe that’s exactly what has been the case over the last 9 months for me.
Anyway, all that to say that God is going to interrupt your plans and set you on a path you never would have dreamed up on your own but will be so much better than your very best plans could have ever been.
The only question is – Will you let Him?
Many of us get very attached to our own plans. I know I’ve had many conversations with people who had the next five years or more planned out in detail, and as they laid it out for me all I could do was smile – knowing that if God had anything to do with it – almost none of that would take place.
But the fact is, we don’t like our plans messed with. Especially our plans for retirement, or our next house, or how many kids we will have, and things like that.
Do you think Nicole and I planned to have five kids? Certainly not when we first started, but now we are of a mind that we’ll stop having them when God stops making them, because we definitely know what causes it and we’re not stopping that!
Not because we want to but because the Bible tells us so…look it up…1 Corinthians 7.
Now that I’ve embarrassed my wife and made you all uncomfortable…let me ask you a rhetorical question..
How is it possible that after all the interruptions God has placed in my life, and all the challenges that came with them…how is it possible that I am so thrilled that it all came out this way?
How is it that a man who originally only wanted 2 kids is now thrilled with five and ready for more?
How is it that a man who was obsessed with money and possessions is now perfectly content driving my 1998 4 cylinder Toyota Tacoma, wearing thrift store clothing, and living in a townhouse that gets smaller with every new kid?
How is it possible that an introverted, self conscious, socially awkward, Charlie Brown, who couldn’t even stand up in front of class to do an oral book report in middle school and ran away from the church right after high school is now the pastor of his own church and people come to him for advice?
How did that happen? How is that possible? I ask myself that in the mirror all the time.
I’ll tell you how – as the Apostle Paul said – But for the grace of God do I!
I claim none of it.
None of this was my plan, but praise God for interrupting me with His far superior plan.
And it’s not as though I deserved any of this or was prepared for any of it.
Part of the amazing grace of God is that He not only saves us from ourselves and gives us a better plan, He, himself, enables us to do it.
As the saying goes…God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the call.
Because every assignment He gives us is never meant for US to do FOR Him but for HIM to do THROUGH us.
In other words, when God changes your plans He also changes YOU when you choose to obey Him.
My wife can attest – I am not the same man I was ten years ago. And I am oh so grateful! I am oh so grateful that God’s ways are not my ways.
I’m certain I would be miserable right now if I had followed my way. Probably divorced again, still in crazy debt. Probably an alcoholic like my father, doing who knows what.
And the world would not have been blessed with the likes of Caleb, Isaac, and Phoebe.
But thanks be to God for His great mercy and grace and His relentless pursuit of a sinner like me.
Thank you Lord for interrupting my plans.
It’s like Paul says in
Philippians 4:11-13
..for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
A lot of people like to quote that last verse out of context and use it as though God is some kind of genie – I can do all things though Christ who gives me strength. Like these shirts…who is the emphasis on here?
This NIV translation does it right. I can do all THIS…be content in these situations that God put me in – not do all the things I want to do.
God’s assignment for you will ALWAYS be more than you can handle, because He’s not asking YOU to handle it.
He’s going to handle it through you, if you will let Him.
As Paul says…
Galatians 2:20
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
And in..
Philippians 2:12-13
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
The fear and trembling simply means reverence for the God whose ways are so much higher than our ways, and awe in the fact that God himself is doing the work in your life according to His purposes.
What a marvelous thing it is that the God who created the universe with a word would live inside of us and literally live through us as we let Him. As we surrender our lives, our plans, our everything to be changed and interrupted for His purpose and glory. He would show us a life more wonderful than we could ever dream up on our own, with heaven as the final reward.
The alternative is sobering…
Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
God’s ways are not our ways. God’s ways are good. Ours are not.
The memory verse for this unit was
Psalm 20:7
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
The chariots and horses represent man’s power and plans. Some, or rather most, trust in what we can do and think ourselves. We think we have a good grasp on the world and how it works, especially now that we are so advanced and stuff. But in reality, we are no better off than Adam and Eve and their children at the very beginning. In fact, I would argue we are worse off in many ways.
And yet we trust in our own intuition, our own reason, our technology, and so on –  far more than we trust in the Lord our God.
And we make our plans…
Now, this is not to say we shouldn’t make plans. We do have responsibilities, and it’s OK to have dreams and desires. The difference is they must always be subject to the will of God – able to be changed at a moment’s notice.
As James puts it…
James 4
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
And then listen for the Lord’s will, being ready to be interrupted.
These two truths are very important to understand, embrace, and remember here at the start before we start talking about how to actually know the will of God.
God is the one working – always – all around you.
And His ways and His plans are NOT our ways and our plans.
They are so much better!
Let’s Pray