God Isn’t Finished with You

Not long ago, I received a valuable shock. I’d completed a novel manuscript and received enthusiastic reactions from beta readers (volunteer test readers). Excited, I considered this manuscript nearly ready for publication. However, as a final precaution, I hired experienced novelist and editor Sharon Hinck to read my story to look for mistakes and offer suggestions. I’m glad I did!

Although Sharon called my young adult story “terrific,” she also found mistakes and a great many passages that could benefit from fine-tuning and additional polish. So, although I had considered this tale ready for publication, the reality was that I needed to squelch my impatience, roll up my sleeves, and get back to work, revising and polishing my story. 

This experience caused me to reflect on the Christian life. After years of following Christ, we might consider ourselves pretty good. We might even be tempted to relax, to set aside our armor and be satisfied with the plateau we’ve reached in the Christian life. But that’s a mistake. 

Even though each of us can probably look back and receive encouragement by seeing how we’ve outgrown past foolish thinking, the truth is that the Christian life is a continual process of maturing spiritually. Of growing closer to God and allowing Him to continue shaping and molding us. Along the way, He might cut unnecessary and distracting things from our life (which can be painful). On the other hand, He sometimes gives us fresh subplots, new character qualities, and improvements we ourselves would never have managed without His editing hand. 

Whether you consider yourself “pretty good,” or whether you realize your flaws and feel discouraged, keep this in mind—God isn’t finished with you. Yield to His shaping hand!

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Why Shepherds?

After Jesus was born in a stable, Mary wrapped Him up and laid Him to rest in the soft hay of a manger (a feeding trough). Then God once again did something unexpected. He sent an angel to announce Jesus’ birth to an unlikely audience – a huddle of shepherds watching their flocks in the darkness of a field:

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”*

Looking back, the story is so familiar that we hardly consider it, but a question remains: Why shepherds? After all, God had just performed something stupendous – He had manifested part of Himself in the womb of a virgin, who gave birth to a unique baby, a child who was actually God in human flesh. Emmanuel – “God with us.” Didn’t such a monumental event rate a bigger, more important audience than poor shepherds?

King Herod lived only 7 miles away, but God knew that ruler was unworthy of the angelic announcement. (Later, when news of a newborn king finally reached Herod, his instinctive reaction was an attempt to kill the child.)

Of course, there were plenty of influential people in Israel: religious leaders, scholars, craftsmen, merchants, Roman occupation troops… But God bypassed them all in favor of ordinary shepherds. Why? Perhaps part of the reason is found in the angel’s own words. These tidings of great joy were “to all people.” If the angel had made the announcement only to this world’s “elite,” then perhaps ordinary believers would feel like second-class citizens. But God worked in a way that shows He isn’t impressed by earthly wealth, fame, education, or celebrity status. 

Perhaps another reason God revealed His working to shepherds lies in another fact. When John the Baptist saw Jesus, he declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” The symbolism of God announcing the Lamb to shepherds is fitting.

Jesus willingly became the sacrificial Lamb, the sinless One who allowed Himself to be killed on a cross to take on Himself the punishment for people’s sins. 

Have you accepted His sacrifice? Have you placed your faith in Christ, the “Lamb of God”? If not, it isn’t yet too late. Join the shepherds and millions of others who have come to Christ!

*Luke 2:10-11

The “Wrong” Place Can Be the Right Place

Ever get perturbed when your carefully laid plans don’t go the way you wanted? In World War II, that happened to Captain Alvin Carlson in a dramatic way. Carlson served as chaplain to the 134th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Division in Europe. He wrote…

“One Sunday evening about sundown I had gathered with a large group of replacements (later called reinforcements) in our marshaling area, which was approximately six miles from the front lines. We had assembled in an orchard well protected by apple trees and other foliage. The service of worship was in progress when, without warning, ‘Bed-check Charlie’ started to strafe and hurl bombs at us. One of the men, detecting the first plane, shouted, ‘Enemy planes!’ and we ran for the foxholes. A short time before this I had dug a special foxhole which I could use when I remained in the area overnight, but I could not reach it. I jumped into another hole which was near. Suddenly someone shouted, ‘They got the chaplain.’ I rushed out of my foxhole and shouted, ‘No, here I am!’ A bomb had fallen in my hole – but no one was in it.” 

Friend, you may lay your plans, and God might allow those plans to work as you hope, and He might not. But for those who love the Lord, even the “wrong” place – the unplanned place – can be the right place to be when God is working behind the scenes.

Source: He Is Able, by Chaplain Alvin O. Carlson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1945), pp. 35-36.

Schools of Life

Photo by Nils Stahl

Students rejoice when – at last! – they graduate and leave school days behind. But even if we don’t attend college, trade school, or a military academy, life has a way of forcing us through other schools.

These other schools aren’t made of brick and mortar. They’re seasons of life that teach us lessons we don’t learn in a classroom. 

For instance, years ago I knew a particular man. Truth be told, I sometimes avoided him. Not because he was bad, but because he held opinions that struck me as nutty, and he enjoyed sharing those opinions whether you wanted to listen or not. We were friends, but I didn’t highly value the friendship. Then came a summer when I needed to reroof the house. To save money, I put out a call for friends to lend a hand on Saturday. Many came! We didn’t bang out the whole job, but we made good progress. However, because I had to leave the country on Monday for a ministry trip, I needed to finish the roof on Sunday afternoon. Out of all my friends, guess which man showed up to help that second day—the one I had appreciated the least. The experience humbled me. God taught me that even people I hadn’t highly valued could be the very ones He sends to bless. 

For several years I’ve been in another season of life—caregiver to aging parents. This “school” has taught me about Medicare, Power of Attorney, etc. Just as important, I’ve had to learn lessons in patience, self-sacrifice and understanding. Caregiving even teaches that you don’t need to correct a person who firmly believes something that’s not true. (Just try to convince someone with dementia that a dream never actually happened!) 

This season of schooling has stretched me in ways I didn’t want to be stretched. Yet, through it all, God is there. He knows my situation. He knows where I’d rather be. But, as someone once noted, we usually pray for God to change our situation when God is wanting to change us. I guess my progress shows, since a family member says I’ve become kinder and gentler.

This year, a good friend shared this fact: “Happiness is a choice.” It’s true. Life might not turn out the way we want. We can find ourselves in seasons we’d rather skip. But rather than blame God or let circumstances rob our joy, we can rise above circumstances, focus on blessings, and choose to be happy anyway. 

That’s a lesson from life worth learning.

The Most Vital Kind of Love

As an author, I find the topics of love and relationships fascinating. Countless writers have penned love stories. Movies constantly depict love in personal relationships. These never-ending topics are intertwined with human experience.

No wonder. The Bible declares that God created people in His own image. Because God is love (1 John 4:16), it’s only natural that—despite our flaws and shortcomings—each of us contains that inner flicker, a wish to love and to be loved.

But that valuable word love has become so commonplace. People declare their love for Oreo Blizzards, hairstyles, and stylish cars. It seems there are many varieties of love. Which is most important?

A lawyer once asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22) Jesus didn’t miss a beat: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.”

Boom. Jesus stated pointblank that giving our Creator our highest measure of devotion and faithfulness is more vital than the 10 Commandments and every other rule in the Bible.

But do we live that way? Even for those who have read the Bible and believe it, there are constant temptations.
Temptations to embrace sins God hates. Temptations to elevate our personal desires over His (idolatry). Temptations to step outside of His will and to pursue goals of our own choosing. (Is there anyone among us who has never done this?)

God loves us. He invites us, His creation, to embrace Him in a mutual loving relationship. But I’m afraid God understands perfectly the heartbreak of a husband or wife with an adulterous mate. He continues to bless with sunshine, rain, and provisions, even while so many ignore Him and run around with the Devil.

Yet, God waits. Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He knows what we’re doing—but still loves and waits for our return. If your love for the Lord has faltered, He doesn’t want you to wallow in guilt. God lovingly waits for you. He’s only one prayer away!

The Author Who Entered His Own Story

Like any novelist, I conjure the characters in my stories out of my own imagination. I decide what they will look like, how they will talk, and which talents and abilities each one will possess. In the case of my fantasy novel, Kiriath’s Quest,I even invented the world in which my characters live. But no human author can finish his manuscript and then “beam down” into his story to live inside it and talk among those characters he created.

God is an author, too, but He’s definitely not limited in the way human authors are limited. Out of His imagination, and for His own good pleasure, God imagined what we call “the universe,” and He created it! He further imagined inhabitants called men and women, who would have physical natures (bodies), and would also have non-physical natures (souls). It pleased God to manifest Himself to the first humans (Adam and Eve) and to fellowship with His created beings.

But there came a time when the first two humans decided to distrust God. They wanted to be like Him, to decide  good and bad, and to ignore His one prohibition and to eat the forbidden fruit. After their disobedience, their physical bodies looked the same, but they had corrupted their own souls. They lost the perfect communion they once had with their Creator.

But God—the Author of Creation—didn’t shred His manuscript. In order redeem and restore part of mankind, God did the unimaginable plot twist: He manifested a portion of Himself to “beam down”—to be born of a virgin (the first Christmas) and to grow physically and to walk and talk inside His creation as part of it. What a mind-blowing idea! This is why the angel who explained events to Joseph, Mary’s husband to be, told him the child would be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matthew 1).

While living on earth in human form, God (named Jesus in this form) taught people spiritual Truth and healed their afflictions. But more importantly, He lived a sinless life, and then permitted flawed and sinful soldiers to capture Him and nail Him to a cross for execution. (Just imagine—an author being murdered when the violent characters in his story rise up against him? Whoa!) In this way, God Himself—in the person of Jesus—voluntarily took on Himself the punishment for the sins of the human race. But humans can’t defeat God. Jesus rose from the dead. Ever since, any person who wants to be reconciled with God and to rejoin His family can do so. “…Whoever believes in him [Jesus Christ] may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Believing in God is good, but that’s not enough. Do you believe and accept Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf? “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

This Christmas, I wish all of you a wonderful, festive time with friends and family. But don’t let the whole purpose of Christmas slip by without recognizing its importance: our Creator did what no human could so that you and I could have cleansing from sin and rejoin His family forever. If you’ve never prayed and accepted Christ as Savior, let this be the year you do!

 

 

Who Needs Me?

img_7857While reading a book of inspirational thoughts, I came across a section titled “Wants and Needs.” After drawing a distinction between what we humans want and what we need (particularly from God’s perfect perspective), the author explores the idea of relationships as they apply to needs:

“It isn’t always easy to accept that someone in our life is the exact person we need in our life to help us learn, grow, and develop into what God planned for us in the first place.”*

A few moments of thought persuaded me that this has proven true in my life in various ways… A college roommate with grating habits that taught me patience. A past coworker who (unwittingly) challenged me to upgrade my ability to overlook offenses and forgive as Christ forgave. Mature believers who modeled excellent qualities I didn’t yet have… You get the idea: God can and does use other humans to mold us into better people even when those “needed ones” don’t realize He’s using them.

But then I pondered further: If it’s true we need others to improve, conversely there must be people out there who need me (despite my shortcomings and the fact that I remain a work in progress). Who needs me? In what ways do they need me? And am I meeting their needs as God intends? Or am I so absorbed with my own problems and agenda that I’m failing those who need me?

A bit of reflection reveals a few way each of us could meet others’ needs:

  • I can smile. Is there someone who simply needs a tiny uplift?
  • I can listen. Is someone burdened with a weight they need to share, in person, or by phone, or by email?
  • I have knowledge. Does somebody need information I carry in my head?
  • I have abilities. Could someone be in need of my skills?
  • I can pray. Although I’m too limited to pray for all the world’s needs, God has put me in contact with specific people. Some have problems only God can solve. Am I being a friend and upholding them in prayer?

Of course, there are other ways to meet needs. Americans tend to throw money at problems (and sometimes that’s valid). But better solutions might involve donating time and self, in short, caring enough to be involved.

So, Lord, which people in my life need me, despite my imperfections? The closer the friend, the more likely You put here to help. Here am I. Send me.

it-is-well*It Is Well with My Soul, by Judi Robinson, copyright 2016, p. 57 (https://www.createspace.com/6510186)

Radio Interview with Author Rick Barry

Triumphant LivingI enjoyed being interviewed for radio by Beth Stewart of Triumphant Living Ministries. We discussed my inspirational World War 2 novel The Methuselah Project, writing, and Christian living.

You missed the interview? You can still hear or download it using the link below. Blessings to you!

http://bethstewartministries.libsyn.com/interview-with-rick-barry-the-methuselah-project

 

 

God Wants to Edit You

error

What does a good author do to make a manuscript worth publishing? Easy—that first draft must undergo a thorough editing. Fluff needs to be cut. The characters need deepening lest they remain cardboard cutouts. The author adds colorful details, vivid verbs, inspirational dialogue… Of course, errors in spelling and punctuation must go.

Imagine how horrible the literary world would be if all authors typed “The End” onto their first draft, declared it “good enough,” then published it without revisions. Scary notion, isn’t it?

Yet, just as each manuscript needs polishing to make the story shine, so do you. Bluntly, the Lord wants to edit you and me. Jesus is “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). If you’re one of our Author’s characters, He loves you more than any earthly author loves his novel. But that love doesn’t mean He wants you to remain a rough draft of your potential.

When a novelist sizes up his creation and cuts out paragraphs, scenes, or chapters, that doesn’t mean he hates his creation and wants to punish it. The writer is eliminating the dross to leave only gold. God does likewise. With loving care, He works to remove the vices and to polish our rough spots. Often a human author puts his hero through horrific events. So does God with us, but not just for fun or excitement.  When He chastises His children or allows troubles, just like the conscientious writer, He desires to improve us. Troubles have a way of refining people. They cause us to re-evaluate our priorities and cut out bad elements while driving us back to God.

However, imagine a scenario in which an author labors for hours to prune sloppy lines from a story, only to have the characters reinsert those shoddy portions when the author looks away. How exasperating that would be! Fictional characters can’t do that, of course. But humans can. God works to edit from our lives the pride, dishonesty, disobedience, lust, anger, vengeance, and other vices that mar us. Certainly it must grieve Him when we reinsert the junk into our lives.

In the story of your life, do you resist God’s editing? Do you fight to remain a rough draft? Or do you submit to God’s editing and polishing so you can shine like the Son?

 

“My Name Is Pride”

Don’t you just love it when someone creates a fresh way to deliver a timeless message? That’s what Beth Moore does in the following poem. Instead of simply stating, “Beware of pride,” she endows pride with personality. She lets it speak to the soul willing to listen. What would pride say to you? Take 60 seconds to read the answer, but continue to ponder the message.

 

“My Name is Pride”

by Beth Moore

My name is Pride. I am a cheater.
I cheat you of your God-given destiny…
    because you demand your own way.
I cheat you of contentment…
    because you “deserve better than this.”
I cheat you of knowledge…
    because you already know it all.
I cheat you of healing…
    because you are too full of you to forgive.
I cheat you of holiness…
    because you refuse to admit when you are wrong.
I cheat you of vision…
    because you’d rather look in the mirror than out a window.
I cheat you of genuine friendship…
    because nobody’s going to know the real you.
I cheat you of love…
    because real romance demands sacrifice.
I cheat you of greatness in heaven…
    because you refuse to wash another’s feet on earth.
I cheat you of God’s glory…
    because I convinced you to seek your own.
My name is Pride. I am a cheater.
    You like me because you think I’m always looking out for you.
Untrue.
I’m looking to make a fool of you.
    God has so much for you, I admit, but don’t worry…
If you stick with me you’ll never know.