Thursday, January 31, 2008
The reading night I planned at my house was canceled because of snow and only one person showed up.
My friend sold one million books. I sold 19.
All together, these numbers are a little depressing to me. They're just not that impressive. I don't feel like I'm doing something big for God, whatever that means.
So the other day I prayed that. I had just finished reading a bunch of verses about how when we ask things in his name, Christ will grant them. So I prayed something like, "Lord please give me a massive ministry. Give me a huge group of people to show your glory to."
And a second later God reminded me that in many ways that prayer had already been answered. I didn't get a lightning bolt or writing on the wall, he just called my attention to a verse that revealed the truth about my concerns for a massive ministry. Here is what Luke 15:10 says:
I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
In my mind, one is a very small number. It's not big or flashy or sexy and doesn't feel successful like one million. But in God's economy, in his system of math, one is massive. One is cause for great celebration among a heavenly host.
I may never be huge in the world's eyes or have a book with my picture on the front with really white teeth and manicured fingernails and hair that looks fancy. But if I reach one person, if I can tell one person that God loves them and they can believe that, then my ministry is massive. My work is huge and the angels will celebrate.
And that's enough for me.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
They have posted guards and despite not having weapons, are facing another night.
Instead of a post today, I thought I would just share their story and ask that you pray.
To read about the orphanage visit Prodigal Jon.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
I’m not sure why he wanted to beat me up, but on the bus ride home after school he came and sat in the seat in front of me. He grinned a crooked teeth smile at me, I looked back nervously with a mouth full of braces.
He raised his right hand and showed me his knuckles.
“You see these scars? Know how I got them? From punching kids like you that have braces in their mouth.”
The bus dropped us both off, he threw my school bag under the back wheels (perhaps inventing the phrase “to throw someone under the bus”) and left me alone.
But the message he had given me was so simple and powerful. By just showing me his hand he painted a pretty accurate picture of what the future looked like. And I instantly understood.
For some reason I thought about Donnie and his perfect threat the other day. I think it was because I’ve been really struck by how simple Jesus shares his messages in the book of John.
One of my favorite examples is in chapter 6 when Jesus decides to feed 5,000 men with a handful of fish. Here is what the text says:
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
What a funny question to ask, “Hey, does anyone know where we can get bread for 5,000 men?” Clearly the answer is no, but Jesus asks it anyway.
But the disciples miss it. The correct answer to that question is “Wait a second, I see what’s going on here! God, God is the only place we’re going to get bread for 5,000 men in the next 10 minutes. You almost got us!”
Instead, the disciples respond with the following:
Philip answered him, "Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!"
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, spoke up, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?"
They missed it. It was so simple. Something impossible was about to become possible. Something unreal was about to become real. And I think when God does that he does it in a really simple fashion because it shows his glory best.
Ego hides in the details. We can pretend it was us when the hand of God is not simply and powerfully shown. We can look at the situation and think, “Well, it’s not that unusual. I mean there were a lot of factors that were involved.”
But when he moves with big, wild thunder, it’s impossible to deny his hand. The blind get sight, the lost get found, lives are changed in ridiculous ways.
Have you ever experienced that? Found yourself facing odds that only God could overcome? Found yourself in a room so dark that only God could light the way out?
You will, at some point, you will.
When you do, keep your eyes open for the simple. The enemy loves to complicate and confuse and tangle, but at the core of God’s message is a single reality, he loves you.
And that’s the simplest message of all.
Monday, January 28, 2008
It made me realize though that I’ve never really shared the gospel with someone. I mean in a sense, I share the gospel all the time with my blogs, but that’s different. That’s mean sitting alone writing something else that someone far away, like in South Africa, reads alone.
Why is that? Why am I so afraid to share Christ with someone? I think in large part it’s because I’ve complicated it. I’ve bought into the idea that you have to be a biblical scholar or have a really airtight answer prepared for evolution or premarital sex or a million other sticky topics before you talk with someone. And then I see how Christ did it.
In John 4 we get the famous conversation with the woman at the well. I never realized how simple Christ approaches the whole situation. Here is the first thing he says to her:
“Will you give me a drink of water?”
That’s it. That’s his entire opening statement. Not “Do you want to know the eternal love and salvation of the heavenly father?” Not, “Do you want to interact with the living fulfillment of prophesy?” He just asked for a drink.
What was special about that though was the context. No respectable Jewish man would ask that of a Samaritan woman. So by asking that question he was doing a lot more than getting some water, he was doing the unexpected.
I think that, the idea of doing the unexpected, lies at the very core of Christianity. For above all, we are called to love, and love is never expected. Helping an enemy at work on a project is never expected. Making the first steps toward your mom even though she owes you an apology is never expected. Volunteering at a local shelter is never expected.
But when we do the unexpected, we raise questions. Just like the Samaritan woman responded by saying, “How can you ask me for a drink?” we cause people to wonder. That’s one of my favorite parts of the Prodigal Son story. When the older brother comes home and asks about the dancing and the music. He’s engaging in the unexpected. He’s swept up in the unexpected and can’t help but ask questions. And I think that’s what we are called to do. To live our lives in such a way that people can’t help but ask questions.
The one I have for you today is simple, “When is the last time you did something unexpected for someone?”
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Jonathan for instance, is a great model of faith in action. David, for his failures and subsequent return to the Lord. Joseph, for his endless patience and trust even when his path led through the depths of jail. There is no shortage of heroes in the Bible.
But what about the villains?
Clearly, satan must be listed as the first among their rank. Countless verses describe his evil, a mouth that only knew lies, hands that only knew pain. But besides him, who else is considered the "bad guy" in the Bible? Certainly Pharaoh and his enslavement of the Israelites. Baal and the pagan worshipers that prostituted themselves as his cloven feet. There are people groups that killed their children to different Gods and maybe without much thought our list of enemies in the word can grow long. But one that often sticks out is Judas.
Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss. Judas turned the Lord over to his eventual death. Judas sold the savior of the universe for only 30 pieces of silver. And here in my safe, comfortable little life it's easy to point the finger at Judas. To marvel at his depravity. To judge his willingness to sell Jesus for such a small sum.
And it was small, or at least that is what scholars argue. There is debate about shekels or drachmas or denariis and some authors place the value of those 30 pieces of silver at around $15,000. The value doesn't really matter though, because if I'm honest, I've sold Jesus for much less.
When I choose to watch a movie with questionable content, I am selling Jesus. When I engage in a conversation or mocking gossip that wounds others, I am selling Jesus. When I lie or exaggerate, I am selling Jesus. When I choose anger instead of forgiveness, worry instead of worship, impulse instead of prayer, I am selling Jesus.
At the end of the day, I have sold my savior for much less than $15,000. I am Judas. I am the one desperate for forgiveness. I am the one tempted. I am the one in need of grace.
And the next time I try to judge someone as a "bad guy," I hope I'll remember that.
Yesterday I read something in Luke 23 that I thought was interesting. This is the chapter where Luke details the death of Christ, but these two verses are at first glance, very tiny. This is all they said;
55The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
In the midst of Christ’s death on the cross they’re pretty small, but I don’t think the Bible has many bridge sentences. That is sections that are only there to connect two important things. I think when you look, when you study, you can see the meaning behind even the smallest verses.
When I looked at these, I was surprised to find a powerful testament to the importance of the Sabbath. Christ had died. These women were going to perfume and honor his body. But they waited a day because it was the Sabbath. They put the Sabbath above the need to treat Christ’s body with respect and tenderness. They “told” Christ “wait” so they could keep the Sabbath.
I don’t keep the Sabbath right now. I do freelance work on Sundays and check my work email address and do about a billion things that probably break the Sabbath. But maybe I need to rethink that. Maybe I need to treat it like these women did. Maybe I need to jump it above everything else and just be still on Sundays. Maybe you and I need to just rest.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
For instance, on its own, if God told me, “don’t count your men,” I wouldn’t know what that meant. That statement, removed from Biblical context, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But because I read 2 Samuel 24, I have an idea of what he’s talking about and it’s an oddly appropriate story.
In that chapter, David counts his fighting men as a way to reassure himself. He wants to feel strong and powerful and so he numbers how many fighting men he has. It’s a big production, with God and even satan coming into the picture when a number counting incident is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21. The lesson though is pretty clear, trust God, not your numbers.
What are your numbers? My numbers are the web traffic from these blogs. That’s really silly considering how small they are, but there it is. I am like a gambler pulling a slot machine handle when I sit at my computer and hit refresh over and over again on my Google analytics tool. I don’t know why I do it so often. Maybe it makes me feel successful knowing X amount of people are reading my stuff from XX amount of countries around the world.
But it’s similar to David counting his men. Ultimately, it’s not about traffic or conversion or hits or unique visitors. It’s about being a faithful steward of my talents. So starting today, I’m going to check my traffic once a week. Nothing more, nothing less.
How about you? Is there a bank account you count often? Do you manically look for new emails or count the number of friends you have on Facebook?
Is there an area of your life you need to quit counting and start trusting God in?
Monday, January 21, 2008
I worked out in the morning before the day started and usually showered at Bose. So on this day, after a quick work out, I realized I didn’t have any clothes. Since I was more than 40 minutes from home I couldn’t just go back and get some. So I called my friend Chris and he let me borrow some of his clothes.
That was an incredibly kind thing to do but the pants were about 5 sizes too big for me. I quickly realized this when I slipped them on and could fold the waistband over. Did you ever “peg” or “roll” the ankles of your pants when you were in middle school? Basically you just fold them over and roll them in a tight, wicked cool design. The waistband was like that.
And the crotch was worse. It was down to my knees. I had enough room to store one of those all in one printer, scanner, copier machines in the lap area. I looked like MC Hammer, which is why I did the crab dance or typewriter if you will, the moment I took the stage for the meeting.
All in all it was a fairly weird experience and yet, I’m starting to think that’s how faith is sometimes. I was reminded of that while reading 1 Samuel. In chapter 1, Eli finds Hannah praying. Here is what happens:
As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
"Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
The thing I like about that section is that Hannah wasn’t doing anything all that odd and yet, Eli, someone who should have known better, thought she was drunk. Have you ever been praying so fervently that someone thought you were drunk? Have you ever been worshipping in such a way that people stared? Why not?
I think on some level, we’re all a little afraid to look weird. By no means must you raise your hands to the heaven to worship, but what if you want to? Me, I’d be a little embarrassed. I’m still worried about what people around me are going to think. I wrote about that happening when my wife started knitting before church started. And today, a reader challenged me about why I wouldn’t write a complaint letter to Kohler about their “have an affair” toilet commercial.
The truth is I thought it would be weird. I thought maybe that was something only fanatics would do, but maybe I need to be more like Hannah. Maybe I need to be more willing to look different. To sound different. To be different.
If I’m going to follow God, I’m going to be weird and I think that’s OK.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
I think that’s fine. I think there are a lot of good books that probably expound on that topic. But maybe you don’t have time to read long, detailed descriptions of life plans. Maybe instead of trying to remember a seven step process you just want one, very easy way to uncover what you were made to do. That’s what I’ve got.
It’s like I boiled down 400 self help books into a few paragraphs. Gone are the analogies and the similes and the metaphors. All that remains is one simple idea and this is it:
Your purpose is often your poison.
That sounds a little silly, but I think it’s true. I believe that the thing you are meant to do, the thing you could be greatest at is also the thing you can be horrible at. The gift you have is also a weapon depending on how you use it.
For me, that means I can either share love with my writing or hurt feelings. I can be kind with my words or cruel. I can spread love or hate. I felt that way about the past, about the times I used my writing to hit on girls online. Instead of writing my blog, years ago my words were about manipulating people.
That’s not to say I’m a great writer, just that the thing I am best at is also the thing I am worst at. And I think there’s a reason that may make me sound like a Jesus freak because it’s about the devil. The devil has such good PR, that at this point I feel a little weird even mentioning him, as if I shouldn’t. I fear bringing him into the conversation makes me sound silly or over spiritual or weird.
Anyway, I don’t believe the devil tempts us in areas of our life that are inconsequential. If you’re not a great public speaker, the devil doesn’t try to use that weakness to lie to people. If you’re not a great prayer warrior, chances are he won’t give you stage fright before you try to pray in public. He would much rather attack the areas of your life that are going to do the most good for the kingdom. He loves to corrupt our greatest gift because that is where he can do the most damage.
Look at the life of Paul. He was a brilliant, passionate warrior against Christ. All his gifts were corrupted until God grabbed him. And then, everything he was great at was used to God’s greatest purposes. It wasn’t that he got new gifts, he was just able to use his gross, old gifts, in beautiful new ways.
So my question for you today is pretty simple. What is your biggest struggle? What is your biggest temptation? And have you ever stopped to see if there was a gift hidden behind all of the junk that you could be using for good instead?
But to tell you the truth, it wasn’t that intense of a let down. I mean, in the grand scheme of things it was a fairly minor bump in the road. What about the major ones though? How are we to handle those? How or maybe where is God when those times are pouring in?
I think he’s in the book of Proverbs and one verse in particular kind of summarizes it for me. Here is what Proverbs 20:30 says:
“Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.”
I find verses like this one inspiring. Not that I’m a sadist, but they help me deal with failure when I am tempted to believe it’s my fault. There’s the expectation these days that if God loves you, you’ll get good stuff. Big houses, cars, jobs that are important and I think that happens sometimes. I think God showers insane gifts on us. But what if you wake up tomorrow and it’s raining blows?
What if you crawl out of bed and are just emotionally beaten, over and over again? Is God giving up on you? Does he care about you? Does he want you to be joyful and whole?
I think so. I think that bad times happen for two reasons. To cleanse us. To purge away the cancers that are eating us away. And the second reason? So that God can remove distractions and create an incredible white space to speak to us. Our lives are so noisy, so busy, so manic with stuff. But when we find ourselves with wounds, things slow down. The surface things cease to matter much and there’s suddenly this perfectly quiet time for God to whisper or shout, “I love you.”
One of my goals in life is to see my wounds as new opportunities for God to love me. To see insults I receive as new chances for God to tell me the truth. To see fear as a way for God to reveal his hope.
I don’t like blows and wounds and beatings, but I want Christ to be Lord of my inmost being and sometimes he has to fight his way through a lot of sinful flesh to get there.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Maybe he doesn’t. I mean, maybe he’s up there and he’s working on really big stuff. He’s healing famines and trying to bring peace to war torn lands. The greatness of his issues makes your little issues look ordinary and simple and maybe even boring.
But it’s getting harder and harder for me to think that. Every now and then I come across a verse that shakes my deep belief that I am beneath God’s radar. One that I found recently was Psalm 56:8. Here, in what hopefully makes me look pretty smart, is the King James Version:
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
I admit, that’s not the clearest word in the world, so here’s what the New Living Translation says:
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
I think that’s beautiful. Can you imagine that? Can you picture God doing that? Taking his giant hands and tenderly picking up every single one of your tears? Knowing why it came, understanding what it means, placing it in his bottle. Waking up in the middle of the night to look at it. Standing there in his big God kitchen with the night dark and the windowsill empty except for your tears. A hand holding that bottle and wishing it was you instead that he was comforting.
That’s how God spends his days.
That’s how small this big universe is.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
The line between doing something for God and doing something instead of God is pretty blurry to me. I have a hard time understanding when I’m going too slow or when I’m going too fast or even really when I shouldn’t be doing something at all. I’ve been writing a lot about that lately and I recently I read something in Ezekiel that hit home. Here are some verses from chapter 36:
1. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor
2. I will show the holiness of my great name
3. I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
4. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean
5. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
6. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you
7. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
8. I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
9. I will be your God.
10. I will save you from all your uncleanness.
11. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.
12. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.
13. I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.
14. I will do it.
15. I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them:
16. I will make their people as numerous as sheep
Wow, 16 times God tells the people that he’ll be the one to do the action. (And I only took a few of the statements he makes.) He puts it on his shoulders. Read the list again and look at the things he promises. My favorite is probably number 8. (What’s yours?)
I like that 8 because I have a really hard time following his decrees and carefully following his laws. But thankfully, it’s not just on me. Tomorrow when I wake up, I can trust that he’ll put a spirit in me and move me to follow his decrees. I don’t have to go it alone.
I can rest safely in the words “I will.”
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Now I’m not saying that there’s not ample opportunity to really drink some poison. By this I mean I could give into some temptation. Put some junk into my head that makes me feel like a hypocrite up there on Saturday night and just throw some trash on the whole situation. But beyond believing I need to be cautious, I really want to do “extra good” for God this week so he blesses me.
That’s a weird thing when you think about it. I mean I didn’t do a whole lot for grace. I gave my heart to God and confessed my need for him, but I didn’t go to the cross. I didn’t sweat blood. I wasn’t whipped or beaten. I prayed a prayer.
So for me to think that I can earn a blessing goes against the whole system God has set up. It’s like if someone gave you a million free milkshakes and then you asked them, in all seriousness, how much they were going to charge you for the next one. It doesn’t make sense.
One of my favorite examples of how difficult life can be even when you’re in the path of God is David. When he was on the run from King Saul who wanted him dead, there is little doubt he was in God’s hand. He was doing God’s will. He was living for the Lord. And here is how he summarized his life in 1 Samuel 20:3:
“Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”
David was close to God. He wasn’t living in sin. It wasn’t failure that got him in that position. He was in that position because God loved him. God was with him, and he was a razor thin moment away from death. One step is all he had. But as far as God was concerned, that was all he needed.
I hopefully won’t be one step away from death when I read one of the pieces I’m writing for Saturday night, but maybe it won’t feel like being amazingly blessed. Maybe it will feel like throwing up, maybe I’ll say to my friend Jeff, “Yet as surely as the LORD lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and puke.”
But regardless of what happens, I won’t judge God’s love for me based on the outcome of the night. Near death, far away from death, he is love.
Monday, January 14, 2008
That feels backwards. Nothing about the rest of my life works that way. The more time I spend reading about marketing, the more I know about marketing. The more time I spend with my wife, the better I know my wife. The more time I spend practicing beekeeping, the less times I get stung.
I used to get really frustrated by that idea. I thought that the more I knew God, the more I would know in general. I guess I wanted to unravel his mysteries or probe the depths of his abyss. Both those sentences kind of felt like something from the Left Behind book series, but you know what I mean.
I got so mad at that dynamic until I read some verses that all but promise I won’t be able to grasp God. There are a number that do, but my favorite is Philippians 4:6-7. Here is what it says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If you’re a worrier like me, then you’ve muttered this comforting verse many a cold sweaty night, but I don’t want to miss the last sentence. In it, we are assured the peace of God, “which transcends all understanding.”
We are promised that we will not be able to understand the peace of God. No matter how long we walk with him or how often we read his word or where we go to college or how many verses we memorize, his peace will transcend our ability to comprehend it.
That’s a comforting thought for me. In a lot of ways it releases me from trying to figure his peace out. Instead of trying to figure it out, I get to experience it. Instead of dissecting it, I get to drink it in.
And that’s a pretty peaceful idea.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
I feel the same way about being still and waiting. I’m afraid that if I’m still, I’ll miss something that could change my life. A new job opportunity, a friendship, an activity, something somewhere will occur and because I’m waiting on God I’ll miss it. Whatever it was that would completely save me will pass me by because I’m quietly being still.
But here’s the thing, as a Christian, that’s already happened. That thing, that all consuming event that I’m so afraid of missing, has already occurred. It’s done. I’ve accepted the gift of grace. I’ve accepted what Christ did for me on the cross. I can stop fearing I’ll miss the chance to find a solution to myself. The solution has found me.
And that’s why I can wait. That’s why God cries out to me in his word over and over to wait.
Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 62:5 – Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
Proverbs 20:22 – Wait for the Lord and he will deliver you.
Micah 7:7 – But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
Romans 8:23-25 - We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
It’s impossible for me to miss something that will save me, I’ve already been saved. How good is our God that one of the first things he says to his children is be still? Instead of work, he says wait.
The challenge then becomes knowing when to wait and when to run.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
When someone at work does something underhanded to me, revenge is usually the first thing that bubbles to the surface in my head. I don’t want to forgive it because that’s not a reflex. Revenge is a reflex emotion.
It’s automatic, it’s one of those things we have to use willpower to stop. Forgiveness is something we have to use willpower to start. But God’s not that way.
One of my favorite examples is how he refers to David. The truth is that roughly 29 million books could be written about the life of David, but this is such a small reference that it’s easy to miss.
In 1 Kings 14, God has passed on a message for Jeroboam, who He’s really upset with. This is what he said:
“I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes.”
Did you see that? That is crazy. God, the all knowing, says that David kept his commands and did only what was right in God’s eyes. Let’s do a quick review of David’s life.
Helped create a family situation where a rape led to a war that claimed the death of thousands and thousands of people.
Married tons of women.
None of those things seem like something that was right in God’s eyes. How can God refer back to David as a servant that followed with “all” his heart. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
But then forgiveness enters the picture. The adultery? Forgiven. The murder? Forgiven. The civil war? Forgiven. It was all forgiven, so much in fact, that when God referred to David, he could say he only did what was right in my eyes.
I don’t believe in forgiveness sometimes. I doubt it. I think that when God tells Moses about me he might say, “He’s a good kid, trying hard, but I swear he blows it on the weekends.” Instead though, when I read verses like this, I feel hopeful. I feel like maybe forgiveness is bigger than I imagine. Maybe it’s wilder and truer and well, maybe forgiveness is real.
Friday, January 11, 2008
How about Tiffany Fallon?
Do you know who any of those people are? I didn’t either until NBC told me they were famous. Those are three of the contestants on this year’s show, Celebrity Apprentice. Donald Trump says the contestants are some of the most successful people in the world.
But if that’s true, how come I’ve never heard of them? Maybe Donald Trump was exaggerating.
And he’s not the only one. The other day I saw that the new car wash near Wal-mart had four different types of washing: Special, Premium, Deluxe and Ultimate. That’s like naming them, “awesome, awesomer and awesomest.”
We live in a world where words don’t really matter. They don’t have any meaning. Even all the cusswords have lost their teeth as they’ve quietly seeped into broadcast television. They just don’t matter anymore. They’re just words.
Where does that leave the Bible? Is it just words? Words that have been misinterpreted and mistranslated over and over again by flawed humans for thousands of years?
I don’t think so and the reason I don’t is pretty simple. I believe in Jesus and Jesus believed in the Bible.
I love how strongly he makes this point in Matthew 4. When he’s confronted by the devil, when he’s face to face with the prince of darkness, the father of murder and lies and all evil, what does he rely on? The Bible. He quotes the Bible.
It’s really an amazing thing when you think about it. Christ had all of the power of God available. He was gifted with more than we’ll ever really be able to understand. The depth of his power and majesty is unfathomable. And yet, he relied on the same exact thing we have access to. He turned to God’s word. He trusted in something that I often forget at work. He called on something that I don’t read nearly enough of. The first place he looked was honestly a place that I often look last.
I don’t know what your relationship with the Bible is. Maybe you read it all the time. Maybe you don’t, but I’ve got a ridiculously easy, new way to look at faith.
If it was good enough for Jesus, it’s cool with me.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I think what ultimately happened with my friend is that, much like I do sometimes, he turned God into an “either/or God.” That is, when it came to launching his ministry he could either do it in his own way and advertise it and hustle and knock on some doors or he could not do anything and wait on the Lord to provide.
Have you ever done that? Has there ever been something you wanted to do, but you’re afraid that if you try too hard then maybe you’ll “get ahead” of God and he won’t be cool with that?
For me, both of my websites are like that. I am a relentless self promoter, constantly struggling with the urge to tell everyone on the planet about my writing, my ideas, my ministry thoughts etc. And if I either/or God, then I have two choices: 1. I pimp myself like crazy without God or 2. I play it quiet and hope that God grows it in his own way in his own time.
But here’s the thing, I don’t think God is either/or that way. I think he wants us to take risks. I think he wants us to jump out and take chances at the very same time that we’re trusting in him. What does that look like? It looks like Nehemiah.
Nehemiah was called to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem but when he did everybody got furious at him. In Nehemiah 4:7-9 we see how he handled the hate and risk involved in building the wall:
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
I love that last sentence. It’s not either/or, it’s the most beautiful example of “and.” In the first half, he says they prayed. In the second half, they posted a guard day and night to meet the threat. Nehemiah didn’t act like posting a guard was going to make it seem as if he didn’t trust in God. He knew that if someone was trying to kill him, it might be a good idea to pray but also to post a guard.
The story continues a few verses later:
From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked.
Again, love the practicality of this. They carried a hammer in one hand and a sword in the other. They prayed a lot, they worshiped a lot, but they weren’t for a second going to hope that someone didn’t kill them while they were doing the work.
They didn’t make God either/or. They let Him be the “and God.” The God of prayer and practicality, worship and weapons.
Just don’t be surprised if tomorrow I pray for the ministry I want to start and then ask you to tell all your friends about my sites.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
But lately, I’ve felt more comfortable with admitting that to God, to starting off my prayers with “I don’t know what to say right now.” He seems alright with that. In fact, I think all along he knew that was coming, which is one of the reasons He gave me the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 says
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
I like that verse and in times when my heart feels it’s run dry or I can’t honestly see through my attempts to manipulate God with posturing I’ll simply say “Holy Spirit, please groan for me.” And I think it does.
Another thing I think it does, is that it reflects back my prayers to me. All too often, my prayers, my hopes, my dreams, are outward, not inward. I stand in a big room and peer out a window at a horizon and throw words to God for faraway people and faraway places.
I pray for Africa and people I’ve never met, missions and moments that he’ll give me so I can share his love. And then the Holy Spirit taps me on my shoulder and shows me that in addition to a really big window, there’s a mirror in the room. And it’s not as exotic looking as the window, the horizon doesn’t stretch for miles, the view feels pretty plain, the frame around the mirror is dinged up and scraped in several places from years of hard living.
But God still wants me to look in there. When I say “Give me a mission.” He points at the mirror and says “Give me a meeting on a Monday.” When I say “Bless me with people to love.” He says “your wife is people.” When I say “give me the world to help you.” He makes me look in the mirror and see that there’s already a whole world standing behind me in the room I’m in.
I still pray for big missions and big masses of people I can address from a podium and big tomorrows. But I’m learning to pray for today and pray outward and inward, with a mirror and a window.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
It’s ironic to even admit that because this is a blog about me. No, this is even worse. This is the second blog I created because the first wasn’t enough space to talk about me. Yay wordy narcissism.
I’ve tried to talk less, to use less words, to be more careful about the way I ramble but it never works. If someone makes just fleeting eye contact with me in an elevator I swear I’ll open a flood of words.
Recently though, a few verses in Numbers hit home. You have to love the Israelites. They’re like a traveling circus of mistakes and failures. They are sermon illustrations with legs, the worst and best of what mankind can be. That said, here is the story that taught me a lesson about brevity.
The spies have been sent into the Promised Land to scope things out. They come back and are divided into two groups. The people that are afraid to go in and then the people that think it’s possible (Joshua and Caleb).
Here is what the spies that are afraid say in Numbers 13:
"We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan."
Wow, that’s a mouthful. More than 70 words, most of them reasons they can’t do it. They quickly mention the milk and honey but then launch into this “but” diatribe. The people there are powerful. The cities are fortified and large. There are giants and more types of enemies than we can count.
And then as if that were not enough they say,
"We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are. The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."
All told, we’re looking at 128 words of doubt. Love too that in the midst of it they call themselves grasshoppers. (Ever said “Ugh, I’m such an idiot?”)
I can just see myself doing the same thing when I’m faced with a challenge. I ramble. I get a little sweaty. I try to “word my way out of trouble.” But how did Caleb respond to this? Here is what we’re told:
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."
That’s 16 words. About 15% of what the other spies said, but he knows it doesn’t matter. He knows that it wasn’t about the words. It wasn’t about the odds or the giants or the hardships that lay ahead. It was about God and he’s big. So Caleb’s words got to be small.
I like that idea, allowing my words to be small and God to be big. Allowing my mouth to be silent while God’s hands are loud. Allowing him to be him and me to be me. Even if that means being quiet.
Monday, January 7, 2008
I’m a little nervous about this, because what if nobody comes? What if I blog about it and I invite lots of folks and then it only ends up being 7 people at my house? Would that be a failure? I used to think so, but Ezekiel makes it hard to believe that now. Here is what 33:7-9 says about sharing the word of God:
7 "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8 When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
Wow, that’s some heavy stuff. It’s not just that sharing the truth is important, it’s life or death. It’s not just someone else’s life at stake either, it’s mine as well. I will be held accountable for the blood spilled. If I have a treasure inside that I do not share, I will be called forward and held accountable. If I see the loud march of death, the black train on a track headed to the homes and hearts of the people in my life and I don’t do everything I can to scream out a warning, if I remain silent, I will be accountable.
The party might fail. It might be embarrassing how few people actually come, but that’s not what matters. I am a watchman. I have been given a task. I have been given a message that must be shared. And five people or 500, I must give warning to the people that come into my orbit.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
Good Day, I greet you in the name of GOD, the Beneficent, the Merciful. I urge you to treat it serious. We want to transfer to overseas account $17,800.000.00US from a Bank here in Nigeria West African. I want to ask you, If you are not capable to quietly look for a reliable and honest person who will be capable and fit to provide either an existing bank account or to set up a new Bank a/c immediately to receive this money, even an empty a/c can serve to receive this money, as long as you will remain honest to me till the end for this important business trusting in you and believing in God that you will never let me down either now or in future.
There are a couple of things I like about this email. First of all, that he's using God as a way to scam people. He calls him the beneficent and the merciful. And then he throws it back on me, that at the end of the day I might be the one that doesn't remain honest. Dilly has some doubts, and they're about me.
Ultimately the thing that kills me about this email is that I think it's one more example of a rule we all believe: If something is too good to be true, it is.
There is no 17 million for me. That super attractive girl that wants to be your friend on myspace is actually just a porn site doing some tricky advertising. There is no such thing as a free lunch. But have you ever thought about that idea in the context of God?
I think part of the reason we have such a hard time getting close to God is that by his very nature, He's good. Dilly's right, he's merciful. But not in a way we can even comprehend. We almost have to create new categories of the word "good" to understand how he operates.
One of my favorite verses about this is Isaiah 30:18. Here is what it says;
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.
I've mentioned that verse in other posts because it blows me away. I don't know that I really understand what it means to "long." I've desired or wanted or needed, but long? There's such a deep sense of purpose in that word and the object of that longing for God? To be gracious, to you. And if that wasn't a clear enough description of his purpose in life, we're told that he rises to show us compassion.
When God rolls out of his hammock, pretty sure God isn't rocking the waterbed, he's got one thing on his mind, showing you compassion.
And last but not least, I love the period on the end of the sentence. Honestly, we need to collectively say words of praise about the Bible's punctuation. There's no colon in that thought, it doesn't read "show you compassion, if you don't sin and always do your quiet time."
It's a complete thought and that completely makes me feel richer than Nigeria could ever make me.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
I think what happens in situations like that, is that people get used to the wild, untamed power of the animals they have. The guy that raised a 12 foot boa constrictor forgets how strong the snake is because he grows accustomed to the snake. It's familiar. Like the Vegas magician that got mauled, the strength and power and danger of the animal dulls over the years until you ultimately forget how massive a tiger is.
But when I read 1 Chronicles 13 I realized that in some ways I had done the same thing with God. In that chapter, David is moving the ark. One of his men, Uzzah, touches the ark when it starts to slip and God kills him. His hand brushed it and he was struck dead. He came in contact with the living Lord and lost his life.
What was in that box, in that ark, was massive and powerful. It was uncontrollable and deadly and amazing. When Uzzah didn't respect it, didn't treat it like you treat something that important, he lost his life. How am I any different?
I have the power of the all mighty God living inside me. Within this temple of a body beats the holy Lord, the Alpha and Omega, majesty personified. And yet, I treat it like Uzzah. I treat it casually. I doubt it's ability to help me or sustain me or protect me. I act like it's not that important.
The other thing these verses showed me was how great a chasm Christ crossed for us. Uzzah died when he touched the ark. Because Christ died for me, the ark dwells within me. It's not that I can touch it now, it's that it touches me. Every second of every day, it invites me in and draws me out, to not just touch, but build my life within that box.
You've got something big inside you too. Don't forget the beauty of that.
Friday, January 4, 2008
When God first comes to recruit him, Gideon was hiding in a winepress threshing wheat because he was afraid of being attacked. If Braveheart started that way you would have thought Mel Gibson was a wuss.
The opening statement is great too. This is the first thing the angel says to the cowering Gideon in Judges 6, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."
Are you kidding me? If an angel found me writing my blog in a closet because I was afraid of all the people that hated the one I recently wrote for a magazine, would it feel right to call me a “mighty warrior?” If an angel found you hiding under your desk from your boss at work, would you deserve the title “mighty warrior?”
No, but the first lesson in this section is that God sees things we don’t. God names our core, not our circumstances. He speaks to who we can become, not who we are in the moment.
Gideon complains a little, “If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” If God is so big, how come my marriage ended? Why didn’t I get that promotion? Why can’t I find a husband? Why don’t people like me at work?
And then my favorite sentence in the story is unraveled in verse 14:
The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?”
I heart that. I love that God says “Go in the strength you have.” Do you ever feel like there’s some strength you’re waiting on? Some bit of wisdom or power or prayer that’s in the mail and as soon as you get it you’ll go out and do that thing God has been quietly whispering to you? It’s not coming. I promise. It’s not coming because you already have it.
And you have to like the subtle sarcasm in the end of the statement. “Am I not sending you?” You get the sense that God is saying, “What are you kidding me? I’m God. I mean seriously, this is me sending you. God. Alpha, Omega, creator of the universe. Come on already. This is me we’re talking about and I said go.”
This might not be everyone, but some of you have more strength than you know. Some of you are already might warriors and today God is simply saying, “Go.”
Thursday, January 3, 2008
I found one of those the other day in Luke 4. This chapter is primarily known as the chapter in which Satan tempts Christ. Fresh off of his 40 day fast, Christ stands in the desert and is tempted three times.
There have been roughly 1 billion sermons about those temptations, but the thing that interests me most is the verse that kind of concludes the whole episode. Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing is dramatic, but in this particular case, I find the punctuation sentence on the story really fascinating. Here is what verse 13 says:
When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
The phrase I want to focus on in that verse is “until an opportune time.” I think that says a lot about how the enemy works. He is not foolish. He is cunning, he is smart and deceptive. And he is far more patient than I think we ever give him credit for. He will wait a decade if that’s what it takes.
There’s a little trick in addiction therapy called “HALT.” It’s a word designed to capture the most tempting and dangerous situations for an addict. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. The idea is that when you feel that way, you are vulnerable. You have been captured by an opportune time.
But recently when talking with a friend I realized this phrase was incomplete for me. I don’t feel tempted when I am hungry. Instead I feel tempted when I am happy. That’s dumb maybe, but for me, when things are going really well I start to feel like I “deserve a break.” I decide to celebrate my good fortune, not by thanking God, but by indulging in temptation. I relax my boundaries. So instead of HALT, my friend and I decided to use TALC, with the C standing for Celebratory, because that’s when danger finds us most often.
Maybe that’s silly. Maybe you never let go of your standards when you find yourself holding the winning ticket to some sort of happiness. You’re probably right, but what’s not silly is taking a few minutes to dissect and study what your “opportune times” are. When are you vulnerable? When is the devil waiting to come back to you? What can you do today to make sure that when tomorrow finds you in the middle of an opportune time you’ll be ready?
The nice thing about the enemy is that he tends to use the same things over and over and over. And if we don’t take the time to understand what our stuff is, what our opportune times are, we just welcome them back into our lives.
So there it is, what is your HALT? What is your own personal TALC?
What is your opportune time look like?
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
I used to be afraid that God was going to make me a missionary and send me to
And I honestly thought that if I gave my all to God, that if I turned over my whole life, he would turn it upside down instantly. So I held back. I gave him chapters. I shared my relationships, my school life, my home life, but kept certain things for me, because he couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t want to do the stuff I knew he was going to make me do.
Have you ever felt like that? That if you said to God, “wherever, whatever and whenever,” your life would be just wrecked? I did, but in the Bible, Jesus doesn’t seem to ever do that. One of the verses that really convicts me is Matthew 4:19. Here is what it says:
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
Christ was talking to Simon and Peter when he said that. They were fishermen. That statement made all the sense in the world. But in my interpretation of God, that doesn’t work. Isn’t God supposed to shake our lives up and send us to do far away things in far away places? I mean Andrew and Simon were probably good at fishing, they understood it and maybe even liked it. So why would God ask them to do that? Shouldn’t they go to
I think the truth is that when we turn ourselves over to God, he doesn’t make us into someone else. He makes us into who we have always been. He amplifies the parts of us that are true. He purifies the dreams we’ve always had or the skills we’ve always used. He doesn’t turn poets into mathematicians or scientists into painters. If anything, I think he gives artists even more colors to create with, scientists even bigger labs to experiment in and so forth.
I’m a writer and when I gave my life to Christ, he didn’t ask me to stop writing. In many ways, he asked me to start writing.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
“O Lord, God of Israel, your servant has heard definitely that Saul plans to come to Keilah and destroy the town on account of me. Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me to him? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O Lord, God of Israel, tell your servant.”
Sometimes I feel guilty about asking God specific questions but David is detailed here. God’s answer to the question will Saul come down?
The verse continues “Again David asked, “Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?”
Forget for a moment that certain death is marching toward David. Forget that the people he’s just saved are going to turn him over as soon as that certain death arrives.
At this point in the story there are 600 adrenaline drunk, battle beaten men trapped inside the walls of a city that is not their own. The streets were littered with the dead, the doors and windows of every home shut.
And all God does to break that silence is give David four words. He will. They will. So often I demand more words than that from God just to motivate myself to get out of bed. David had four. With four words he had to motivate 600 men to flee. Have you ever tried to motivate six people to choose a restaurant for dinner?
Verse 12 ends “And the Lord said, “They will.” Verse 13 begins with “So David and his men, about six hundred in number, left Keilah and kept moving from place to place.”
Where was the analysis? Between verse 12 and 13, where was the wrestling and triple checking and months of prayer? There wasn’t any. In the space of a verse, David left and in doing so saved the lives of his men and entire city, for the second time.
Next time I find myself asking God for detailed instructions I should instead ask him for the wisdom to hear the four words he does give me and the courage to act on them.