Getting Ahead of God

April 7, 2021 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Personal Growth

By Art Fulks –

A commonly known example in the Bible of someone getting ahead of God is found in Genesis 16. Here, Abram and Sarai have been waiting for God to give them a son who will be their family heir and the one through whom the Messiah will come. After waiting for ten years, they agree to use a surragate mother named Hagar, a servant. As a result, they experienced personal strife that still exists in national stuggles today.

Why did they get ahead of God? For many of the same reasons we do today. First, they sensed that God’s timing or lack of action was a sign of His abandonment. Sarai even blamed God. In God’s seeming silence, Abram listened to Sarai’s alternate plan and they both agreed that God needed their help. It does not take much for me to see instances from my own life that directly correlates to their experience.

When we get ahead of God, our relationships with Him and others are strained by our sin. Often, we even blame others for our circumstances. But God pursues and responds by showing up personally and exhibiting grace. Yet His call is for us to repent and return from our detours to trust His plan and timing again.

On my journey, I see three basic steps that generally lead to unpleasant detours. First, I begin to struggle with His timing and get impatient. Then I begin to allow culture to impact me into walking by sight and not be faith. Third, I begin to second-guess God and believe that He needs my help. My experience agrees with the old preacher, Vance Havner, who said, “The detour is always worse than the main road.”

The invention of the GPS has given us new options in a traffic jam. You can always hit the ‘Alternate Route’ button. But I often find that the barrier to free flowing traffic is not as far ahead as I thought. The detour keeps me moving, but with more energy and struggles than if I had stayed on track.

Three questions have helped me discover if I am walking by faith or not. (1) Am I willing to wait for God’s timing? (2) Am I most concerned about God’s glory or my happiness? (3) Am I obeying God’s Word in the process with inner joy and peace?

One of Satan’s greatest tools is the detour…trying to get us to move ahead of God. And one of his greatest lies is telling us that our ‘disobedience detours’ must become the permanent road for the rest of our lives. But God is waiting to help us get back on track.

“And He said, ‘Where have you come from and where are you going?’” (Genesis 16:8a NASB).

Back to Bethel

March 10, 2021 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By Art Fulks –

In following Christ, most (if not all) of us experience dry times when we feel like a failure. Due to testing or sin, we feel far from God, at least from the perspective of an intimate relationship. There are times when I would rather people not know that I am a pastor. If they saw the caverns of my heart, they would not find much evidence that I am pursuing God.

When dry times come, it may seem like the thing to do is to try harder or to be more disciplined. And it may be necessary. However, I am reminded in the Scriptures that trying harder is rarely the answer to a spiritual drought. The Book of Genesis gives us two examples that have really helped me on the journey.

The answer: Go back to Bethel.

Where is Bethel? It may be the place where God made a promise to you, like Abram in Genesis 12. It may be the place where you made a vow to God, like Jacob in Genesis 28. But you are confident that you met with God there. It is the place where you experienced His grace, forgiveness, encouragement, correction, or conviction. No matter what the original circumstance, you know without a doubt that you connected with God.

For some of us, the physical Bethels may be geographically unreachable when we need them. But it probably was less about the geography of the circumstance and more about the context of our heart. For some, Bethel may have been a painful place on the first trip and a bit uncomfortable to revisit. However, we are not looking to relive a memory. We earnestly desire to encounter our faithful and loving Heavenly Father in an intimate way.

In my life, one Bethel was a hillside in Southern Ohio where I went to camp as a teenager. Another was a chapel in North Carolina where God gripped my heart with a desire to do something impactful for His Kingdom. One was the first tee on a golf course in Georgia where a mentor taught me the concept of investing in others. And one was a church parking lot on the other side of town where God called me to the ministry where I am today. Even a pastor has need to go back to Bethel sometimes.

“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (Genesis 35:1 NASB).

“And he built an altar there, and called the place El-bethel, because there God had revealed Himself to him, when he fled from his brother” (Genesis 35:7 NASB).

Veggietalization

January 26, 2021 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By Art Fulks –

As a a father of four, I love being a Dad. When my kids were little, we watched all of the Veggie Tales videos we could find. With grandparents living far away, we watched (and I listened) to every song and line as we drove. We knew them by heart. Our children learned many of the great stories of the Bible, especially from the Old Testament.

Recently, I was teaching about the Great Flood in Genesis and a particular line really caught my attention. It said, “All flesh on the earth that moved perished,…and all mankind.” (Genesis 7:21) As I pondered this verse, I realized that all of the animated ark pictures with smiling faces emerging from under the frame of a rainbow were not realistic portrayals of what really happened. Imagine stepping off the ark after a year and being overwhelmed by the fact that you are one of only eight people on the face of the planet.

Certainly the faith and obedience of Noah teaches us a great lesson about following God. Surely, the grace of the Father was poured out on his family and the rainbow is an incredible reminder of God’s covenant to never destroy the earth by flood again. But if we allow it, we realize the serious nature of the holiness and judgment of a righteous God.

Every child is different and matures at varied pace. However, I have come to realize that as they grow up, we need to give them the most accurate pictures of God, our enemy, real life, and the cost of following Christ.

I still find myself at times humming the tune to: “O where is my hairbrush.” But there is no real Island of Perpetual Tickling as told in the Veggie Tale version of the story of Esther. The Jews were faced with imminent death. We want our kids to know that God is a loving Father. But I am learning to be careful about my characterizations of His nature.

God is not a Veggie Tale character. He is the glorious Creator, Savior, Judge, and King to whom we are all accountable. It is only when we begin to grasp His righteousness that we can see our sinfulness. And when we begin to recognize His holiness, we can experience His grace. That is an amazing story!

Am I Cain?

December 14, 2020 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Worship

By Art Fulks –

In the popular movie, ‘Remember the Titans’, a girl recognized that the relational struggles of our culture were as old as that of Cain and Abel in the first century. How about our struggles in relationship to our God? Have they changed? Have the issues really changed?

In Genesis 4 we read the story of Cain and Abel, each coming to worship, bringing offerings with them. Both came to worship the right God the right way, with the fruits of their work as an offering.

But God only accepted Abel’s offering. For most of my life, I thought it was because he offered an animal. That may be true. But the Hebrew text does not necessarily validate this, and the formal requirement of a blood sacrifice had not yet been given. So why did God accept only one of their offerings?

If both came to worship the right God in the right way, what was missing? The answer may be partly found in Hebrew 11:4, which describes Abel as bringing his offering in faith.

But how did Cain bring his offering? Genesis 4:5-15 gives us insight. When confronted that there was something wrong with his offering, Cain responded in pride with anger, resistence, and hostility toward God. That hostility turned into jealousy and violence toward Abel.

Many of us come to worship the right God. Some of us even come the right way, bringing an offering of the fruit of our labors. But how are our hearts? How is my heart? If we accept that sanctification (becoming more holy) is a process for the believer, then we must know that coming into God’s presence and hearing His Word will consistently confront our sin. But how will we respond?

Our response reveals the condition of our heart. God knows we are not sinless, so His expectation is not that we worship in our perfection. But He does expect us to come with a humble spirit revealing a right heart that desires to be molded into His image for His glory.

The lesson I am learning is how to better evaluate my heart in worship. My heart may be best judged in my attitudes toward others in my family and church. I have found that I can be just like Cain. When I resist God, it is reflected in my words. It is a sure sign of my heart.

So now, my new question each week is: “Am I Cain?”

Tag…You are It

September 20, 2020 by  
Filed under Daily Devotions, Family

By Art Fulks

One of my favorite movies is ‘Remember the Titans’. It is a story of school integration in Virginia during the early seventies, and how a football team helped shape a new perspective in a divided community. During one game, the star quarterback is injured. As the coach prepares to send in the back-up, he relays a quick story about the loss of his own parents and how he had to unexpectedly step into their role. It must have worked because they won that game and eventually the state title.

Being thrust into leadership unexpectedly does not just happen in athletics. It happens in families, work, ministry, and can happen with nations. No matter how you prepare, it seems like there comes a moment when you wonder if you are ready. But at some point, you hear, ‘Ready or not…Tag…you are it.’

Joshua had been preparing to take over for Moses for forty years. In fact, he and Caleb were the only men left from their generation after standing courageously during the reconnaissance report from spying out the land of Canaan. But imagine what it must have felt like when God tapped him on the shoulder and said it was time.

Moses had gone up to Mount Nebo and then died. The man God had used for decades to lead the nation was suddenly gone. How could Joshua fill his shoes? Would the people follow him? Was he capable? Was he prepared? But then, just as God had spoken to Moses, His words came to the ears of Joshua.

“Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.” (Joshua 1:2) God’s words of commission continued with instruction, promise, and encouragement. Then Joshua responded, not by declaring his own position, but by proclaiming and carrying out the commission he had received from God.

When God places someone in leadership, they need not declare what has already been declared. They need only proclaim the commission to which they have been called and lead the people to carry out that mission for the glory of God.

That may sound like a church scenario. However, I believe that this is God’s model for marriage, family, work, and nations. Joshua was one of two potential, faithful men.

Has He ‘tagged’ you?

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