February 1 – God’s Will – God’s will and others

Read John 21:1-25

Although the Bible doesn’t record his death, church tradition has it that Peter died by crucifixion around 67 a.d.  And yet, deeming himself unworthy to die in the same manner that his Lord had died, Peter asked that his crucifixion be carried out with him hanging upside down.

This was the event to which Jesus had referred when he told Peter, “. . . when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”  (18b)  Now, that was something to look forward to!

Most of us yearn to know God’s will and to be able to have a glimpse into what He has for us in the future.  Rest assured, not all of your future is what you might wish for yourself.  Some of it will include things that you would avoid if you could.

There are a couple of downsides to knowing the negative aspects of what lies ahead.  First of all, you might live a life of dreadful anxiety.  As you wait for that unwanted moment or chain of events to unfold, you might waste the precious present in worry.  You might overlook the beautiful waves of the ocean that are right there in front of you all because of the tempest that you know will one day arise.  Don’t waste precious time in worry.

But Peter illustrates for us another danger of experiencing the negative aspects of the will of God.  We are people prone to comparison.  Words like “Lord, and what about this man?” flow easily from our lips.  We don’t want to be “singled out” when it comes to suffering.  But the truth is that the will of God is unique for each individual.

Downsides aside, here is an important take home for all of us.  You may have read write over these words without capturing their power.  Right after indicating the fact that Peter would be led to martyrdom, we read this brief parenthetical commentary, “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God” (19a).  His death was a means by which God was to be glorified.

Even the most undesirable of situations you may face in life offer to you an opportunity to bring glory to Him.

That’s a good reminder!

Steve Kern

January 31 – God’s Will – God’s will and prison experiences

Read Philippians 1:1-26

Paul’s letter to Philippian believers is categorized as one of the “prison epistles.”  In other words, this was a letter he wrote from a prison cell.

So what do you write from a prison cell?  Paul described some of his experience and his greatest desires starting in verse twelve.  He said, “Now I want you to know, brethren, that . . .”  So what followed the “that . . .”?

Yes, it’s true, he communicated the uncertainty of his own future.  God’s will was unclear to him.  Would he live?  Would he be executed?  Good question.

Yes, it’s true, he described a rising opposition.  There were people intent on adding to his affliction.  They tried to make things worse for him by taunting him (v. 17).

But rather than camping negatively on either of those realities that flowed from God’s permitted will for his life at that point, Paul really wanted the Philippians to know something else.

  • He wanted them to know that his prison was a mission field.  That is the way he saw it.  It provided him with a captive audience for talking to others about Jesus.  He wanted them to know that the word of God had spread as a direct result of his imprisonment.  Even when the permitted will of God takes you places you wouldn’t choose for yourself, do you recognize the associated opportunities that are opened up to you?
  • He wanted them to know that he was choosing joy.  It was a choice, you know.  He could have allowed his life situation to dictate his response.  If he had done so, the obvious response would have been one of anger, frustration, and bitterness.  Instead, he chose a different response . . . a joy-filled one.  When God permits the undesirable in your life, are you able to lift your eyes above the situation and choose joy?
  • He wanted them to know that he was going to honor God regardless of his circumstances.  If he lived, he would honor Christ in living.  If he died, he would honor him to his last breath.  In that way, his life situation did not affect him.  In the midst of unwanted or the most desirable of circumstances, do you seek to bring Him honor?

Steve Kern

January 30 – God’s Will – God’s will and my trials

Read 1 Peter 1:1-12

Trials.  If there was one aspect of the will of God for us that we would eliminate, it would be this one.  Trials seem to interrupt our nicely packaged and well planned lives.  They create tension and anxiety.  Our imagined life without them seems to have a certain appeal.

But, in our tendency to blow our trials out of proportion, have we lost track of some of the realities about them?  Let’s pause and remind ourselves:

  1. Trials are brief (v. 6).  Peter describes them as lasting “for a little while.”  Although it may feel like it, most people are not in a continuous state of trials.  And even Paul reminds us that our present trials are but “momentary light afflictions” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that awaits us (2 Cor. 4:17).
  2. Trials are required.  Sorry, life without them just won’t happen.  They are an outcome of Adam’s sin in Eden, but they are also part of the plan of God.
  3. Trials have purpose (v. 7; Js. 1:2-4).  Your heavenly Father uses trials to develop deeper trust and greater character.  Without them, would you find yourself turning to and depending on Him as much?  Without them, would you have learned many of life’s valuable lessons?  Without them, would you have experienced some of the life change that you have?  More opportunities like that await.
  4. Trials come in various forms (v. 6; Js. 1:2).  They are as variegated as Joseph’s Old Testament coat.  They vary in intensity and type.  Some seem minor; while others seem all-consuming.  Some touch us with respect to health; while others hit us financially or relationally.  We must be ready for any and all.
  5. Trials have their expiration date (v. 9; Rev. 22).  I am glad for this one.  When our faith becomes sight, trials will give way to glory.  Sickness, pain, suffering, and anxiety will one day be engulfed in a salvation that is tangible and comprehensive, addressing not only our eternal destiny but also redeeming us from the outcome of sin and all of its tentacles.

Steve Kern

January 29 – God’s Will – God’s will and His purposes

Read Romans 8:18-39

Over the last two weeks, I have been in regular contact with a family where one of them has just received the diagnosis of cancer.  In these last few days, the doctor appointments have focused more on treatment plans and next steps.

Perhaps you are journeying through or have journeyed through that or some other major health issue.  Perhaps you did everything you knew to do to eat healthy, exercise properly, and take care of yourself.  Still, here you are.  Maybe yours is not a health issue, but it is something else that is just as unwanted.  Perhaps it is relational or financial.  Regardless, there is no changing this seemingly irreconcilable reality that the good God of heaven has allowed this, your bad experience on earth.

But take a moment and wade through your experience viewing it through the lenses of Romans 8.  Suddenly, you gain a different perspective.  You are reminded of things like these:

  1. You are loved (vv. 35, 36)!  Your situation is not a statement of how God feels about you.  His love is undeniable . . . even in the face of your experience.  The love of God is like a laser focused on you.  It penetrates anything else placed in its path.  Your are loved by God.  Don’t let your situation convince you otherwise.
  2. You are prayed for (v. 27)!  It doesn’t matter if you have shared your situation with countless others or if you haven’t shared it with another living soul.  The Spirit of God is fully aware.  With wordless groans, He prays for you in total agreement with the will of the Father.
  3. Your welfare is God’s plan (vv. 28, 29)!  Somehow, He wants to make good out of what seems awful.  The seemingly twisted path of your life ends at His feet.  The broken pieces of your life are reassembled in a way that allows you to be more like Jesus.

I realize that those realities don’t answer all of your questions, but they should begin to quiet them.  Slowly but surely, these can become the first-register thoughts of your mind as you consider your current situation.

Steve Kern

January 28 – God’s Will – God’s will but never abandoned

Read Luke 13:1-5

It was the day after Christmas, 2004.  It seemed like life as usual in the Asian countries around the rim of the Indian Ocean.  But a 9.0 earthquake deep underwater in the ocean would change all of that.  The earthquake itself went unnoticed by many, but it set into motion a tsunami that caught the attention of most all around the world.  In fact, that Tsunami left nearly a quarter of a million people in its wake as casualties.

Or step back just over three years earlier to September 11, 2001.  Even though the number of casualties was not nearly as severe, Americans felt its impact deeper still.  What unfolded on that day, you see, was no natural disaster.  It was a terrorist attack on American soil that left thousands dead.

Still, the response/question rising out of the rubble of both is the same.  Where was God?

I make no pretenses of having the definitive answer that people have looked for throughout the ages.  Even Jesus . . . in recognition of the terrible acts of Pilate, a mad-man terrorist, and of a seemingly “natural disaster” of a tower falling . . . even Jesus doesn’t seem to respond to that one.  One thing that can be said for sure in response to God’s “location” is that He never abandons His own.  The author of Hebrews put it like this:

“. . . He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say,

‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.
What will man do to me?’”  (Heb. 13:5, 6)

We live in a world that has been and is continually being influenced by the tsunami set into motion by the earthquake of sin thousands of years ago.  That will be true until the day Jesus returns.  But the child of God can know that he/she can cling to a Rock and find shelter in a fortress even though everything else around him/her seems to collapse (Ps. 46:1-3).

Father, I am so glad I have you.

Steve Kern

January 27 – God’s Will – God’s will and enough grace

Read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

In the previous chapter, Paul gave quite a list of difficulties he had experienced as a servant of Christ.  But, rather than whining about them because God owed him a bed of roses, he seemed to embrace them, even boasting in them.  From that chapter, we pointed out that adversity is often part of the will of God for us.  We can accept that, knowing that He loves us infinitely.

Still, there was yet one thing that didn’t make Paul’s list in the eleventh chapter.  It sees set apart as if it hit deeper, hurt more, and held a different purpose.  We cannot be 100% certain of its exact nature.  Paul only describes it as a “thorn in the flesh.”  It was Satan’s little messenger to him.  It harassed him, perhaps causing him relentless discomfort.

About this particularly burdensome malady Paul prayed.  There was apparently no response.  He prayed a second time.  Again, the thorn seemed unchanged and heaven remained silent.  Have you ever experienced the silence of heaven?  You are calling, but no one is picking up.  Perhaps you don’t even sense the reassuring voicemail that promises, “. . . I’ll get back with you, as soon as I can . . .”

And then, Paul prayed a third time.  This time, a response came.  It wasn’t the one for which Paul had prayed.  Nope, the thorn was still there.  But, neither was it a hardened, “Quit complaining and deal with it!”  Instead, it was a statement that reassured him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Sufficient grace.  Perfecting power.

Was that a promise unique to this single thorn of the apostle Paul?  Paul certainly didn’t interpret it that way.  In the next two verses, he is quick to apply it to every adversity he faced.  He was comforted in knowing that, though God’s will may take him down a path other than he would prefer, still, at his greatest point of weakness, there would be divine strength.

And that same strength-giving grace is available to you when God allows you to go down a path you would not plan for yourself.

Steve Kern

January 26 – God’s Will – God’s will and my troubles

Read 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

“And this is what I get as one of your children?”  “This is the thanks I receive for the ways I served you?”

Though you may have never verbally expressed those statements to God, they may have crossed your mind or you may have heard others essentially say those words.  Generally, they are contemplated/whispered/spoken in the aftermath of some undesirable experience.

Funny, isn’t it, that those kinds of remarks didn’t seem to cross the Apostle Paul’s mind in 2 Corinthians 11 or 12?  Talk about one who had served . . . indeed, he had done so.  He spoke to countless people about Christ, saw many of them come to faith, discipled them in their walk with Christ, developed leaders from among them, and coached them as growing congregations.  He did this over and over again.

And what did he get?  Sounds like, prison cells, bodily scars, near death experiences, and an occasional empty stomach.

Rather than voicing the lines suggested above . . . the lines voiced by many . . . he listed off his experiences as if they were medals of honor hanging on his jacket as a soldier of Christ.  He seemed to remember what we often forget.

  • “In this world you will have trouble . . .”  (Jn. 16:33)
  • “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  (Matt. 5:11, 12)

As one who has pondered the kind of responses written above in the throes of the realities of life, I want to clearly include myself in a collective “we.”  Is it possible that we have wrongly assumed that life or God somehow owes us only sunshine, smiles, and ice cream cones?  Is it possible that one of the most important steps we may ever take towards understanding the world in which we live might be grappling with this?

God will sometimes allow us to experience things that we would not choose ourselves.

And I can be OK with that because I know that He loves me.

Steve Kern

January 25 – God’s Will – God’s will and my value

Read Acts 17:16-34

If you are familiar with the writings of Paul or with other sermons that he preached in the book of Acts, you know that the words expressed here were different.  His listeners in the Areopagus had little to no biblical foundation.  They were apparently unfamiliar with the Old Testament.  They had not heard about Jesus.  Nevertheless, they were deeply religious people.  The influence of pagan gods was symbolized by the numerous idols that filled the city.  These were men and women who enjoyed a good debate and philosophizing about life.

Recognizing his audience, Paul had a different starting point . . . the visible creation and its creator.  He punctuated his presentation with a quote from one of their own poets.  But, of course, he brought all of that to a close with a clear reference to the Savior who was raised from the dead and who will one day judge all.

In these few lines, however, I want to do more than point out obvious contrasts in Paul’s preaching style.  Instead, I want to express something very clearly:

You are deeply valued by God!

He is the ultimate source of your existence.  He gave to you life, breath, and movement.  It doesn’t matter if you were planned by your parents or a surprise.  It doesn’t matter if you felt loved, tolerated, or used by them.  God chose to give you life in the past and all that is necessary for you to carry on life in the present.  You are part of His will and an object of His love.

But, your Heavenly Father has purpose in your existence.  He has orchestrated the chronology and geography (the when’s and where’s) of your life with one intention in mind.  You see, He does all of that so that you “would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him” (v. 27).

You are part of His will and an object of His love.  He wants to be in relationship with you!

Indeed, you are deeply valued by God!

Steve Kern

January 24 – God’s Will – God’s will and celebration

Read 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11

Cynical creatures that we are, we can falsely conclude that the will of God is . . .

  • Something that God only reluctantly reveals.  We may wrongly feel that we will have to beg and bargain in order to discern His will.  We may feel that we will need hyper-sensitive hearing aids in order to hear His almost imperceptible voice.
  • Something that we will always hesitantly embrace.  We may mistakenly consider Him a cosmic killjoy.  He may seem to be One who wants to put the kibosh on our dreams, sending us down a painful path we will dread every step of the way.

Friends, let’s identify those thoughts for what they are . . . wrong!  They are just not true.  He directs the path of those who trust in Him (Prov. 3:5, 6).  He gives the desires of the heart to those who take delight in Him (Ps. 37:4).

I wonder if Hannah had drawn those wrong conclusions.  There was nothing she wanted more than a child of her own.  But her nemesis taunted her with painful reminders of her barrenness.  And her God?  He seemed to be deaf to her pleas for fruitfulness.  Until one day, she poured out her heart in a way that she had never before.  She entreated God for a son.  If God gave her a boy, she promised to surrender him to the Lord’s service.

And then came Samuel.

Do not forget that the Lord does give Samuels.  Do not forget that at times He does give us precisely what we have dreamed of and asked for.  Do not forget that, in some instances, He even goes above and beyond what we asked or imagined and blesses us with more than we ever could have hoped for (Eph. 3:20).  Don’t forget that the greatest and richest blessings are ones that we have yet to fully realize and unpack because these are spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:15-20).

And, as a result, don’t hesitate to pause now to express to Him your gratitude that He is a gracious Father who has a good plan for His kids.

Steve Kern

January 23 – God’s Will – God’s will and His Spirit

Read Acts 11:19-3013:1-12

“. . . the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’”  (Acts 13:2b)

So how did the Spirit of God express His call on Barnabas and Saul to the church in Antioch?  Was it through an audible voice that shook the heavens?  Did He express it through an individual?  Was it written on a wall?  These are all ways that God has spoken.  What was it like in this instance?  I would like to know.  But I suppose that it is good that I don’t because I would probably make it a rule that “this is the only way that the Spirit expresses His directive leading.”

Even though we don’t know all of what this looked like, there are a few things we can say about the Spirit’s guiding.

  1. This was guidance related to ministry for Christ.  Now, don’t take that simple sentence and run to an extreme.  Does the Spirit only guide with regard to ministry?  No.  But, I wonder, does the average one of us spend much time asking for God’s guidance in how He might use us for His purposes?  Don’t forget, the Holy Spirit has given each child of God a gift that we are to leverage to God’s glory and the blessing of others (Rom. 12:3-8).
  2. This guidance was consistent with past performance.  Barnabas and Saul had already developed a track record of faithful service for Christ.  This was not one like a lightning bolt on a cloudless day.  It wasn’t a situation where you couldn’t imagine it.  From their conversion until that day, they had proven themselves faithful and this was a new chapter in the same book.
  3. This was guidance directed to and affirmed by others.  The Holy Spirit directed the leaders of the local church in initiating this important next stage of the gospel ‘s global impact.  It wasn’t just something that only Saul or Barnabas sensed and later announced, “We have been called to go.”  The church and its leaders played an integral role.

Let me close with a question or two.  Are you involved in serving Christ? Have you ever invited the Spirit’s guidance and the guidance of other believers to direct you into the ministry where the Lord wants you?

Steve Kern