|Some days are hard. Some days are so full of stress and anxiety and fear and heartache that you long to get away.|
And perhaps you have done just that. Maybe you went to an all-inclusive resort in paradise where you lounged on the beach all day. Or maybe your choice was a cozy ski resort in the mountains where you shooshed up and down the slopes and sipped on hot chocolate as the sun set. Like any good vacation, it was probably a time filled with delicious food, beautiful sky and laughter.
Vacations are suspended spans of time where stress is left behind. No bills to pay. No deadlines to meet. Only an opportunity to commune with God, nature and loved ones.
But then the week ends. And as soon as you arrive back home you can feel it again. The things that need to be done. The concern about projects. The relational tensions. Back to a world where it seems as if Satan might be winning. But for a moment, you had a tiny taste of what could be.
The Book of Revelation is an authentic taste of what will be. It is the promise that in the end God wins. Life may be hard now. Life may be unfair now. There may be challenges now. But in the end, God will demonstrate God is the Victor.
And God will give us a life in Paradise. The Apostle John was given a vision of the New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven. It is an immense place. Some get caught up in the dimensions outlined in Scripture. But I believe the purpose we are told of the size of heaven is to give us the assurance that there is room for everyone.
“All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The end will be much like the beginning. The God who shaped Eden out of chaos will take the chaos of our world and shape it into something new. A New Heaven and a New Earth.
So call on God’s name and make your reservation. It’s all inclusive.
May 11, 2017
|One day in the late Spring they came to his cell in the Mamertine Prison in Rome and opened the door. His executioners led him out of the city on the Ostian Road.|
As they were walking out, other travelers would have been walking into Rome. They would have paid him little attention. No one would have recognized his face. No one would have known his crime. He was just another prisoner, just another “dead man walking.”
After traveling a few miles out, the executioners would have stopped. A block would be laid down. His head would be placed upon it. A sword would be raised. And in an instant the head of the most influential writer of all times would roll upon the ground.
Paul had known his share of suffering, but he did not shrink back from his calling. If we could look closer, we would see how scars spread across his back like a windshield crack and how wounds stiffened his joints. His own account of his hardships included floggings, lashings, beatings with rods, pelting with stones, shipwrecks, dangers from rivers and bandits and Jews and Gentiles, danger in the city and in the country, danger at sea and from false believers. He knew hard labor, lack of sleep, hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness.
It’s a wonder that he could move at all, but move he did. From Corinth to Ephesus, from Thessalonica to Colossae, Paul left his footprints all over the known world of his day. His visits to these cities were not for sightseeing. He worked. Long days of preaching and establishing churches.
When he wasn’t walking he was writing. He wrote letters to the church in Rome and Corinth and Galatia and Ephesus. He wrote to Titus and he wrote to Timothy. Letters that continue to bless. God’s grace turned Paul’s world upside down and his life was spent telling others about it. Until that day on the Ostian Road, when he drew his last breath.
When you face struggles because of your faith, remember Paul. He anchored himself to a purpose that was higher and greater than his life. There are many fights you can fight, but Paul trained himself for the “good fight”.
His fight did not end at death. His writings have encouraged, exhorted, and educated followers of Christ till today and for all the tomorrows to come. He gave himself totally to eternal things.
So can you. Fight the good fight. And like Paul, finish the race well.
May 4, 2017
|If you saw her backstage you never would have imagined what fame was soon to come her way. She walked out on the stage in a frumpy dress. Slightly mussed up hair. Bushy eyebrows. Seemingly a bit old and odd for the competition. But the moment she began to sing on Britain’s Got Talent she took the world by storm. By the final note she was receiving a standing ovation from the crowd and a broad smile from Simon Cowell. The video of her performance immediately hit YouTube and within a week had been viewed 66 million times.|
Susan Boyle eventually won second place in the competition but that did not stop her. An album was released in November 2009 and by the end of the year she had the top selling record world wide of any releases, selling a total of 8.3 million copies.
You probably would never have picked him either. One first century writing describes him this way: “Bald-headed, bowlegged, strongly built, a man small in size, with meeting eyebrows, and a rather large nose.”
Appearances aside, he had been spending his days with a singular purpose: persecuting Christians. Pulling them from their houses. Throwing them in prison. Even having some killed.
And yet God chose him to take his story to the Gentiles. Jesus arranged a face-to-face meeting with Saul while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute His followers. Jesus slammed on the stadium lights and Saul began to see the light. And by the end of the encounter his name is changed from Saul to Paul as he is given a new purpose and a new lease on life.
The rest is history. Paul, a Jew, took the gospel message to the Gentiles. Paul, the “chief of sinners” spoke as a gracious firsthand recipient of God’s mercy. Paul, the well-schooled expert on the Law, became the most outspoken voice for the principle of grace.
And aren’t you glad he did? Most of us would not know Christ had Paul not traveled the world telling others about Him. And most of us would not know Christ if some modern-day “Paul” had not walked across the cul-de-sac or the cubicle or the classroom to introduce him to us.
Susan’s look changed. So did Paul’s. The description of Paul ends by saying he was “. . . full of grace, for sometimes he looked like a man and sometimes he had the face of an angel.”
An “angel.” The word means “messenger.” God wants to use you to take his message to your world. Your street. Your workplace. Your school. You might not think God would choose you either. But you might just need to think again, no matter your appearance.
April 27, 2017
|William Pilkenton was one month away from turning eight years old. His family had traveled from Bellingham, Washington, to Tofino, British Columbia for a vacation. He and his father were walking up from the beach when his father turned to look for him and realized he was gone.|
When children go missing, fathers start looking. And so did this one. Before long, the entire community was helping him search for this missing child. Search and rescue crews scoured the area. Search coordinator Garth Cameron said, “I don’t think there’s a square foot in this town that doesn’t have footprints.”
When children go missing, parents go looking. And that’s what God has done. There’s not a square foot on earth that doesn’t have God’s footprints. God began searching for them the moment Adam and Eve made a choice and lost their way. God sent the nation of Israel looking. God sent God’s Son to “seek and save what was lost”.
Today God sends God’s church. In Acts 1:8 we find God’s search and rescue plan: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus sent the disciples into the middle of Jerusalem and told them to wait. While they were waiting a crowd gathered for Pentecost. Some estimate Jerusalem swelled to over one million people during this time. The Holy Spirit came on them, Peter preached, and the church swelled from 120 to over three thousand.
It didn’t stop there. They devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”. That first church in Jerusalem grounded its people in the Word, in deep community, to sharing meals and sharing Christ, and to prayer. They had to. The task at hand was too big for them to accomplish on their own. They needed each other. Mostly they needed God.
That hasn’t changed, has it? We still have the same commission to be witnesses for Jesus in our Jerusalems and in our world. We are still called to the Word, to love each other, to share life, and to prayer. And we are still searching for those who have lost their way.
We are still searching because the Father still has children who are missing. So go to your Jerusalem and wait. God will bring you power as you serve God there. Let’s not leave a square foot without our footprints.
April 20, 2017
|In the spring of 2010 archaeologists unearthed a 3,500-year-old door to the afterlife from the tomb of a high-ranking Egyptian official near Karnak temple in Luxor. This door was meant to take the official from death to the afterworld.|
Jack found another door to the afterlife. He taught English literature at Oxford and spent many evenings walking the gardens of Magdalene College. And it was one evening while walking with his friend John that Jack discovered his way.
His door seems to have found a way into his writings as a wardrobe through which his characters could enter Narnia, a kind of medieval version of Paradise. Jack, or C.S. Lewis as we know him today, went on to become one of the great apologists for the Christian faith in the 20th century. He wrote of death in this way: “If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home,’ why should we not look forward to the arrival?”
How would you write about that time you take your last breath and the moment right after? Will you look forward to it? Or will it be a terrifying moment for you? And would you want to be able to face your death unafraid?
Jesus enables us to do that, you know. He moves us from a Friday and Saturday of death and disillusionment to a Sunday of victory. Your way into that victory is through a door. Jesus Christ.
Jesus said of himself, “I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). And all of the Easter stories tell this.
In another garden, another Magdalene—Mary—was looking for Jesus’ dead body to anoint, but it was missing from the tomb (John 20). Two angels speak to her but she is so upset she misses them. She keeps talking about her “Lord” and that he had been taken away. It took Jesus coming to her and calling her by name before she recognized what had happened.
You’ll have your Fridays and Saturdays. Days that are dark and days that are lost. In those days when you can’t find the door out, do as Mary did. Keep calling Jesus “Lord.” Keep calling and keep looking for Him.
Because if you keep calling Jesus “Lord”, He’ll call you by name. And when He does, you will turn and find the door to an eternity of Sundays.
April 13, 2017
|Butch Harmon, who has instructed professional golfers from Fred Couples to Tiger Woods, tells the story of the club member who was having problems with the shanks. That is, a poorly played golf shot. He spent 20 minutes trying to get him to work his stance, his weight transfer, his wrists, his arms and shoulders, his chin. He tried everything but the man still shanked every shot.|
Butch went into the pro shop and told his father, Claude, the problem. Claude Harmon went out to the man, watched him swing one time, and told him to keep his clubface square. Five minutes later the guy was hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway.
Butch asked him how he knew what the problem was after one swing. Claude said, “I knew what he was doing before I stood up from behind my desk. . . . A shank is a shank. I knew the guy was hitting it with a shut clubface before I walked out here. The only question left was, what did I need to tell him to get him to stop?”
Jesus already knows what is causing the “shanks” in your life. He knows why your life “swing” is off. And He knows the solution before you even know to ask for help. He knows because He corrected your problem on the cross. It is there Jesus uttered these words: “’It is finished!’ With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
On the cross Jesus paid a debt that was owed by those (us) who were unable to pay it. He finished the work of satisfying both the holiness of God and the love of God. The fact that God is holy is foundational to Scripture. Holy means God is “above,” God is “higher than.” God is not just better. God is not just an improved version of us, but that God is “set apart.” Way apart.
“Holy” means something that is set apart from us. And this difference is manifested in the way God views sin. God sees it differently than we do. God wants nothing to do with sin. It has to be punished.
But God also loves. The fact that God is love is foundational to Scripture. So God put our sin on God’s Son and punished it there. In doing so, God took care of sin and God took care of you and me when we embrace Jesus as Savior.
And with the “shanks” eliminated, your swing should be full of new life.
April 6, 2017
|A BBC magazine answered the “101 greatest questions of all time.” What did they include? Well, questions like “What is OK short for?” Answer? “OK comes from ‘oll korrect’, a deliberately misspelled writing of ‘all correct.’ It was popularized in Boston newspapers around the 1840s when it was fashionable to go around spelling things incorrectly for humorous effect.”|
The #1 “greatest question” was “Where is the safest place to stand outside in a thunderstorm?” And, in case you must know the answer, it is “A car or other enclosed metal structure is the safest place to be in a thunderstorm.”
Jesus asked a question that should have been first on the list. He and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi. Call it the shopping mall of religion. It was located in a region known as Paneon, or the home of the Greek god Pan. Once it had been a center of Baal worship. A temple was located there dedicated to the godhead of Caesar. And other temples of Syrian gods dotted the landscape.
There were plenty of gods to choose from in Caesarea Philippi. So Jesus asks His disciples this question: "Who do you say I am?" (Mark 8:29). Oh, at first He asked them what others were saying about Him. The answers came back in rapid fire: “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
But Jesus was more concerned with their answer to His question, so He asked, “Who do you say I am?” They all looked at this homeless carpenter and thought about that question. We don’t know how long they thought before Peter replied, “You are the Christ.”
Who do you say Jesus is? Have you given it much thought? Some say He was crazy, claiming to be God but just a man. Some say He was just another liar, that He knew exactly what He was saying but was deviously misleading those around Him.
But there are those who have said, along with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ. He is “God in the flesh.” He is the King. He is the Savior. You may know where to stand in a thunderstorm. And you may think your life is OK. But this week, if you have not answered this question from Jesus, then go to your own Caesarea Philippi, and let Jesus ask you, “Who do you say that I am?”
Your answer will be the greatest one you will ever give.
March 30, 2017
|Only 14.3 acres in total land mass, it is a small kingdom unto itself. Located in three separate areas in the United States—part in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Northern California—you can leave the United States and enter the Republic of Molossia. It is considered to be a micro-nation . . . a “nation within” our nation.|
Molossia has its own flag, its own signs, and its own boundary markers. It even has its own tourist attractions. Kevin Baugh is the president, or Sovereign, over his own little kingdom. His space program consists of model rockets. The basic unit of currency in Molossia is the valora. The valora is linked in value to Pillsbury Cookie Dough. Three valora has equal value to one tube of cookie dough.
There is a railroad—model sized. The national sport is broom ball. And although his nation is landlocked, he claims a navy that is merely an inflatable boat. You can visit anytime you like. But—although it sounds fun—don’t think you can move there. He says there is not enough room. Kevin affectionately calls his nation “The Kingdom of Me.”
Don’t laugh too quickly. We may not have gone to the same extremes as Kevin Baugh, but we mostly live our lives as if we are rulers of our own kingdoms. What a surprise it is when we discover that we are living in a kingdom but it is not ours.
That’s the message of Jesus. He came saying, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Literally He says the kingdom is “at hand.” It is that close. All around us. Within reach.
Jesus’ Kingdom is not as a nation with armies and weapons but as a farmer who comes with seed and the seed falls on soil (Mark 4:3-9). Finding His Kingdom is like finding a treasure in a field (Matt. 13:44). And His Kingdom is worry-free (Matt. 6:25-34). Best of all, this kingdom has a King who is in control (Mark 4:35-39).
Jesus said “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. . .” (28:18). Kings say things like that. Unlike Molassia, if you want to enter and live in this kingdom, there is room for everyone. That’s not the problem. There is plenty of room in this kingdom for everyone.
But you need to know that there is only room enough on the throne of this kingdom for one King.
March 23, 2017
|Imagine living your life with a false identity. That’s what happened to Francisco Madariaga Quintela. Just over 40 years ago his mother Sylvia was kidnapped by Argentine security forces. Her husband Abel last saw his pregnant wife being pushed into a Ford Falcon by army officers dressed as civilians as she walked to catch a train on January 17, 1977.|
Sylvia was placed in one of the most notorious torture centers near Buenos Aires—Campo del Mayo. Surviving prisoners later revealed that the baby was taken away after birth and Sylvia disappeared in a short time. The baby was taken by a military intelligence officer and adopted as Alejandro Ramiro Gallo. The adoptive father was eventually put in prison for murder. When he was older, Alejandro’s adoptive mother told him the truth about himself.
In the meantime his real father Abel had joined a group called The Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo—a group formed to help return children who had disappeared during the late ‘70’s to their parents. One day Alejandro went to the group. After DNA testing a match was found and a meeting with his father—Abel—was arranged.
Alejandro, after learning his real name was Francisco Madariaga Quintela, said, “For the first time, I know who I was. Who I am. . . . Never again will I use this name. . . . To have your identity is the most beautiful thing there is.”
Maybe you need to know your identity today. A strong sense of identity can take you through the toughest tests. It did for Jesus. Just after Jesus’ baptism where His lineage was stamped with these words, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased,” Jesus endured tests in the wilderness. Satan attacked His identity three times with the phrase, “If you are the Son of God . . .” Jesus knew who He was and He changed the world so that you can know who you are and have your world changed by your faith in Him.
During a news conference where Abel Madariaga told his story, we are told “his chest heaved” as he presented his own son to the world. Like a proud papa, God has presented God’s one and only Son to the world. God wants you to believe in God so that God can, with “chest heaving full of joy,” present you as God’s child too. When Satan attacks you can stand firm. And when you need it most, you will feel God’s hug in a spectacular way and know that you are home.
“To have your identity is the most beautiful thing there is.”
March 16, 2017
|The knock came at the door of the inn. It was late. We can imagine the innkeeper had been burning both ends of the candle. The census crowd had packed Bethlehem and he had finally locked the doors for the night.|
Until the knock. He shuffled his feet through the dark and made his way to the door. Opening it with the slightest of cracks he peered out to see a young couple. Looking more closely he saw a young woman who was about to give birth to a child.
Rooms were full. It was late. And they didn’t look very special. He had to decide whether he would find room for them or not.
And you will too. John’s rendition of the birth of Christ comes in a few short words: “The Word [logos] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Greek hearers understood the word “logos” as the representation of God. The essence of God was found in God’s Word.
Hebrew readers perked up to John’s message too. John writes: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” He book ends the first sentence of his book with the phrase “in the beginning.” They knew it as the words that began the first book of the Torah, or Genesis.
John writes about beginnings. John writes about God’s very representation dwelling among us. And he writes to tell us that we have the same decision to make as the innkeeper. Will we find a place for Jesus in our lives or will we send Jesus away?
Some send Jesus away because He looks too plain. Nothing special about Him. Don’t make that mistake. Jesus comes to common places like your home and common places like your heart.
Some send Jesus away because life is crowded. Many demands and many deadlines. And you’re not sure if you have room for Him. But Jesus only comes to give you what He has already done. He desires to give you forgiveness.
And some send Jesus away because they think it’s too late. They’ve already done too much that can’t be forgiven. They’ve already gone too far away.
But it’s never too late. Not with the One who comes and makes His dwelling among us. You need only to open the door.
March 9, 2017
|Many of us were familiar with the film critic duo Siskel and Ebert. Gene Siskel died in 1999. Then, in 2006, Robert Ebert lost his lower jaw and his voice to complications from cancer. He has since relied on Post-it notes, his writing, and various automated voices. The kind you find on your laptop. He types in the words and then pushes a button that translates his written words into spoken words that come out of his speakers.|
One voice was called Alex. A generic American accent with no emotion. Very robotic. He had used a British accent named Lawrence. But no off-the-shelf automated voice matched his distinctive voice, a voice that millions knew from his show, At the Movies, for so many years. The voice he most wanted was his own.
Enter CereProc. A Scottish company that customizes text-to-speech software for voiceless customers. The company custom-builds voices by mining an individual’s own archived voice recordings and piecing together, syllable by syllable, Ebert’s voice. When it finishes its work, Ebert will sound like Ebert. At least more so than Alex or Lawrence do.
Sometimes we don’t miss a voice until it goes silent. At the end of the Old Testament there is a period of 400 years often referred to as “the silent years.” Years without any prophets or leaders whose words or lives were recorded in Scripture. Years where there was no voice from God.
But before the silence, Ezra read the word of God to the people. God’s desire was that they rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for protection. And God’s greater desire was to rebuild the hearts of God’s people. The men, women and children gathered together. They heard the word. They understood the word. And then they did the word.
You can hear God’s voice in the same way these people did. Through God’s Word. It’s not Alex’s voice. It’s not Lawrence’s voice. It’s God’s voice. When you hear it there will be a response. The Israelites wept. Others have repented. Still others have heard good news and rejoiced. And you? If you hear it today, it can rebuild your life.
Ebert’s real voice may never be heard “live” again. But God’s is still speaking today. You only need to gather the men, women, and children, open God’s book, and listen.
March 2, 2017
|Sometimes you may feel like life is a big gamble. Like the outcome of your life is resting on how the dice roll for you. If they roll right, you get “lucky.” If they roll badly, your life goes down the tubes.|
There are times when the stars seem to align just right and you find yourself basking in a bundle of blessings. Then there are times when everything seems out of sync and you find yourself drudging through a junkyard of disaster. Some would call this a coincidence. Others would call if pure luck. But another group would say that someone is working behind the scenes working out your destiny. And they’d be right! But it is more than just someone.
Esther would understand. She is minding her own business as her people are captive in Persia. Meanwhile Haman—who has been given great authority by the King of Persia—is developing a hatred for Jews. In particular, he hates Mordecai. It seems Mordecai will not bow down to Haman whenever he parades through the streets of Susa.
Haman decides to teach Mordecai a lesson. He gets King Xerxes to sign a decree that on a certain day all the Jews can be killed. And anyone killing a Hebrew would be allowed to keep the personal possessions of the deceased Hebrew.
To determine the exact day when the Hebrews will be exterminated, Haman rolls the dice. Adar the 13th becomes the target date.
In the meantime, the king is having some issues with the queen. She refuses the king’s summons so she is released of her queenly duties. Then, because he needs a new queen, he holds the first “Bachelor” contest to find a new wife. The short story is that Esther gets the rose and becomes his queen.
Yet Xerxes did not know Esther was a Hebrew. Nor that Esther was kin to Mordecai. The king adds another edict that will allow the Hebrews to defend themselves, which turned out good for the Hebrews and bad for any Persian that attacked a Hebrew on Adar the 13th.
And Haman? Well, in a strange twist of events he wound up impaled on a pole he himself had erected for Mordecai. Not sure he got “the point” of the story, but I hope you do. Oddly enough throughout the book of Esther you will never find the name of God mentioned. Not once.
There are days you may think God is not around either. But the story of Esther reminds us that God is, sometimes behind the scenes, working things out for “good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28). And when you don’t feel God is around, that’s more your problem than God’s.
God has put you right where you are, right now, so you can make a difference. You can say the words someone needs to hear. You can be the example someone needs to see. You can help someone find freedom from sin. So let others roll the dice and you let God take care of the rest.
February 23, 2017
|Beth and I have a huge plastic container full of pictures. We dream of having these put in albums and arranged by year on a bookshelf. We think when people come over they will say, “We wish we were as organized as Dan and Beth.” We get excited about the idea every so often.|
We have a collection of unfinished projects. There are some books and exercise programs too. Things started but left unfinished. Do you finish everything you start? I imagine not. And to be honest, some things aren’t worth finishing.
But don’t think, even for a second, that you can put God in your collection of unfinished projects. For starters, God isn’t a “project.” Besides, God’s not going to sit on a shelf contentedly waiting for you to give God your attention once the kids are grown or the retirement is funded or other tasks are completed.
The Israelites learned that lesson the hard way. They returned from Babylonian captivity to rebuild the temple. They started strong but in time turned their attention to other endeavors. What was important to God became unimportant to them.
Sixteen years passed without any work being done on the temple. So God allowed drought and downturns and difficulties to come upon them. And God said, “Give careful thought to your ways” (Haggai 1:5, 7).
God is either the main thing in your life or God is nothing. At the end of the day, each of us are responsible for our own schedule. There is really no such thing as partial obedience. God begins as the priority and then we schedule time with God. We schedule the things that are important to God. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God . . .” (Matthew 6:33).
The Jews eventually got back to God’s priorities and took part in one of the greatest works of heaven. You can too. There are some things worth finishing.
February 16, 2017
|Sometime after Adam and Eve committed their world-changing act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden, I can imagine Adam walking with his young sons Cain and Abel. They happen to pass by the ruins of the Garden of Eden. One of the boys asked their father, “What’s that?”|
Adam replied, “Boys, that’s where your mother ate us out of house and home.”
A lot happens in Scripture following the time Adam and Eve took that bite of fruit that gave humankind perpetual indigestion. As a result, they attempted the first cover up. But since their leaf loincloths were not very practical, God sacrificed an animal to clothe them. The pair was banished from the Garden and began life anew as exiles away from their homeland.
It wasn’t the only time God’s people lived as exiles. They spent a few summers in Egypt. Then more wandering in the wilderness of Sinai. Later, the Babylonians captured the nation of Judah and deported its people to captivity.
The first group deported included the young, elite men who would be trained as leaders. In that group were Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Shadrach, and Azariah. They were given the Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. (If you decide to give your child a Babylonian name, you might try “Intobedwego.”)
While in exile these young men lived powerful, purposeful, prayer-filled lives. They remained on a diet that helped them find more energy than other workers. They prayed to their God when they were told not to. They were bold to do what was right regardless of the obstacles placed in their path. And they made a difference.
It may be difficult to put yourself in their shoes, but according to 1 Peter 2:11-12 those who follow God today are exiles too. Peter writes: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the Gentiles that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
You may have days when you just don’t seem to “fit” in this world and that’s a good thing. It’s simply because as a child of God you don’t. You were made to live with God. Until we are home in heaven, you and I are exiles. Until then, we have things to do. We can add some good to this life so that others can get a glimpse of God. We can make a difference.
According to Peter there will be a day God will “visit” us. That’s when the exile will end. And that’s when you and I will “fit.”
February 9, 2017
|Sally Edwards is a highly esteemed third grade teacher at Jacksboro Elementary in Texas. She was preparing her students for the TAKS test and compiled an exam to prepare them for it. There were twenty questions. Number eleven on the test was this question: “List in any order the four seasons.”|
A whopping 67% of her 3rd grade students answered: “Dove season, deer season, duck season, and turkey season.”
I don’t know what season of life you are in, but I do know this. God has something for you to do. God did for Jeremiah. God told Jeremiah God had a work for him to do. Jeremiah’s assignment? Stand in the rubble of Jerusalem and weep. He was also told the people would not listen to him.
That was it. And oddly enough, Jeremiah did it. As the people of Judah were leaving Jerusalem in single file as captives, Jeremiah stood weeping and reminding them that God would bring them back with these words: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for God’s compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-23).
God had something for Jeremiah to do. And God has something for you to do too. In the New Testament book of Ephesians the apostle Paul writes to the church, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God created in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
In God’s employment contract for us today, God does not ask us to be successful by the world’s standards but rather to be faithful to God to do good things. God is not so much concerned about your ability as God is your availability.
Just like Jeremiah, God is calling you to play a role in God’s Grand Story. It may be that this is your time to change the direction of your family. Turning from a focus on you alone to concerning yourself with the things of God. It may be that God is calling you to reach out to a neighbor. Perhaps God is laying on your heart a ministry where there is a need you can’t even see at the moment.
Whatever season of life you are in, God is calling you to make a difference. And God is desiring to equip you to make that difference. Right now. Today. Are you available for God’s purposes?
February 2, 2017
|In the early formation of our nation George Washington had the opportunity to become king of the burgeoning nation. But given the young nation’s experience with England and because he had a robust prayer life he knew there was only one King, so he declined the offer. |
The people of the land apparently knew the same. In a 1774 report to King George, the Governor of Boston noted: ”If you ask an American, who is his master? He will tell you he has none, nor any governor but Jesus Christ.” The pre-war Colonial Committees of Correspondence soon made this the American motto: "No King but King Jesus."
The story of God’s chosen people might have gone very differently had they chanted the same motto. Instead, they wanted a king. Over the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah there were thirty-eight kings. Only five of them were good. Of the others a refrain heard throughout the Old Testament goes like this: “They did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
Prophets appeared exhorting the people to turn back to God. God spoke through one prophet—Isaiah—to tell the people of Judah that they would be captured and deported to Babylon but afterward God would bring them back home. The purpose? “Then you will know that I am the Lord; those who hope in me will not be disappointed. Then the whole human race will know that I, the Lord, am your Savior, your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:23).
In Isaiah 53 the prophet depicts the coming Messiah. “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53: 2, 3). God did not want the people to miss the Messiah. But they did. And still do.
Our nation would have gone a much different route had Washington agreed to be king. But he seemed to know what many others didn’t. When we displace God on the throne of our lives, the outcome will go horribly wrong. But when we put God on the throne in our lives, we put ourselves in the best possible position for godly success.
Maybe our American ancestors knew the best way to start a revolution. Adopt the motto “No King but King Jesus” in your life. See what changes that ignites in your life.
January 26, 2017
|Verizon Wireless created one of the most memorable marketing campaigns ever in 2005. In their commercials a so-called ”test man,” accompanied by a crowd of network engineers, travels the country asking the simple question, “Can you hear me now?” in an ongoing exercise to determine the reliability of the mobile phone carrier’s network.|
The “catch phrase” caught on. The company’s market share went up and employee turnover went down. It seemed people could relate to the struggle to connect. Folks were tired of dropped calls and unreliable communication systems. And Verizon sent a message that they wanted desperately to connect with its subscribers and wanted its subscribers to be able to connect with each other.
At the risk of selling God short, God has done the same. Even when the Kingdom had split in two, God kept sending God’s message. God gave the people of the Divided Kingdom some 208 years to decide whether they would “accept” or “reject” God’s call. God sent God’s own “technicians” to get the message out. We call them “prophets.”
The job of the Verizon technician is unique. But not nearly as unique as the task given Hosea. Hosea, himself a prophet, appeared in a down time in the nation of Israel. The reality is that people often hear best when things are at their worst. So Hosea signed on with God. But God gave him a most unusual assignment. Hosea’s life would be his message. He was to marry a prostitute named Gomer and love her. What an incredible request! (Just imagine a young man with a seminary degree in hand trying to explain that one to a Pastor Nominating Committee.)
The tough assignment was made even more difficult as Gomer left Hosea. She would conduct her ‘transactions’ with customers and all the time in her mind believing they were the ones supporting her. In reality, though, it was Hosea who continued to care for her and provide for her necessities even during her times of unfaithfulness.
God tells Hosea to go and demonstrate his love for her, so he does. Now picture this scene, as ugly as it is: Hosea pays some Hebrew “pimp” for some time with his wife, Gomer. When she enters the room expecting her next customer, she comes face-to-face with her husband. It is then that Hosea tells her again he loves her and wants her to come back home.
It’s the lived-out message that Hosea later gives in words. And it’s the same message God sends today. God loves us—even in our extreme unfaithfulness. And God wants us to come back home, even though we have abandoned God. But much like a call on your cell phone, you can hit the “accept” button or the “reject” button. You have the power to send God to voicemail and make God wait. Or you can answer God’s call today. The people of Israel had 208 years to pick up and they never did. The network is clear. The message is reliable. Can you hear God now?
January 19, 2017
|The decisions you make and the actions you take affect those around you.|
Rehoboam learned that lesson the hard way. Rehoboam followed his father Solomon to the throne of Israel. Solomon had exacted harsh labor on the people. A delegation, led by Jeroboam, went to the new king and asked him to take away the harshness.
In private, Rehoboam asked his elder council what he should do. They advised that he become a servant to the people, lighten their load, and the people would always be faithful servants to the king.
His circle of younger friends gave him just the opposite advice. They told him to work the people harder. He liked that idea, told the delegation his plans, and wound up with a divided kingdom.
At one time or another all of us are impacted by someone else’s decisions or actions. When we suffer the negative consequences of another’s wrongheaded decision, God can redeem the situation. Although Rehoboam wound up ruling only two tribes—Judah and Benjamin (as opposed to Jeroboam’s rule over ten tribes)—it was through Judah that Jesus came to us. God can work, and often does what seems to us as God’s best work, in situations that seem the most difficult.
We should always consider how our decisions and actions affect those around us. In “systems thinking” it is said that “you are the highest leverage point in any system you are in.” More simply stated, you can make a difference. You are more “powerful” than you think you are––no matter your station in life.
Clint Eastwood’s film Invictus tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s use of the South African rugby team to help heal a nation divided by apartheid. In one scene of the movie he explains to a team member, “Reconciliation starts here. Forgiveness starts here.” He knew his actions would have a ripple effect on those around him. Eventually the blessing of that “ripple” washed across the nation.
Rehoboam made a bad decision, but it was really his father Solomon’s actions that divided the kingdom. He forsook the one true God and chased after other “gods,” he neglected to serve the people and instead forced them to work harder, and he was focused on himself, as reflected in his accumulation of wives, gold, and horses in direct disobedience to God’s counsel. His son Rehoboam was merely living out consequence of those decisions and actions.
Learn from Solomon’s mistake. Love God first. Love others second. And serve those that do not yet know God. You will be surprised to see how far your ripple will travel.
January 12, 2017
|Here’s something that might bring back memories for some of us. Think back to Christmases of our childhood: what was the symbol of all our Christmas wishes? How about the Sears Wish Book? Do you remember it from when you were young? We would hopefully page through the giant catalogue, circle our choices in pen, and pray that Santa would deliver our requests on Christmas morning.|
The first Sears Wish Book was printed in 1933. Over time it has diminished in size and was even discontinued at one point. It was revived in 2007, but the current books are nothing in size compared to the books some of us can remember from our youth. Children today don’t really need one. They have the Internet and their high tech toys to cruise the information highway to identify their holiday “wants.” But “back in the day” the Sears Wish Book helped us answer the seasonal question: “If you could have anything for Christmas, what would you ask for?”
You may not need the Sears Wish Book today, but you have some wishes too, don’t you? This Christmas how would you have answered the question, “If you could have one thing in the world, what would it be?”
Solomon had to answer that one. He asked for wisdom. And God gave it to him. But by the end of his life he had accumulated more and more: more gold, more horses, more wives. He had it all and wanted more. In the midst of all these gifts he lost sight of the Giver. He turned away from God and lost it all.
Another King gave us another path to follow. He had it all and gave it all … for us. In the Christmas season, or any season for that matter, you can guard yourself from the tyranny of too much stuff by giving. Simply give so that others can simply live. That’s what the King born as a baby in the manger did.
And my wish? That you visit the manger and find Him.
January 5, 2017
|Imagine the scene: a scrawny sixteen year old shepherd boy takes out a 9’9” tall giant with one rock and a sling.|
You may not have a gigantic giant taunting you to come out and fight. But you are probably facing a few giants of your own. Giants like the stack of past-due bills glaring at you. Like the divorce papers waiting on your signature. Or the depression that looms over you like the Hulk. It could be low self-esteem or insecurity or child abuse in your past. But you have your giants. And so do I. And we would do well to learn from David.
David could face his “giant” because he had spent time in the quiet with God. When he arrived at the place of the standoff between the Israelites and the Philistines, he talked about God. He told Saul that “The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam.17:37). He did not hesitate to confront Goliath, saying he came “in the name of the Lord of host, the God of the armies of Israel.”
David was God-focused instead of giant-focused. He mentions Goliath two times and God nine times. He knew the giant was there and recognized his presence. But David’s thoughts were twice as much on God.
That focus led him to confront his giant rather than run away. For forty days Goliath continued to challenge Israel’s army. And for forty days everyone hoped he would just go away. But giants don’t typically go away until we face them. So David stepped into the gap and slung one well-aimed stone at him.
It helps to have someone in your corner that believes in you. David had his Jonathan. You need yours. You need at least one person who believes in you and that also believes in God. Someone who can encourage your faith—give you courage—when you most need it.
And you will need it. Because after you slay one giant, there will be more. You may wonder why David picked up five stones from the river bed. Was he afraid he might miss? Not likely. He was skilled in his use of the sling.
2 Samuel 21:18-22 hints that Goliath may have had four brothers. David was ready. He could take on one giant. You might say knew how to get a head of his giant. And then he was ready for more.
And you can too. Just follow the shepherd from Bethlehem.
December 8, 2016
|Ever since Peter Stuyvesant visited the Palace of Versailles the world has had a distorted view of itself. |
Peter was the governor of New Amsterdam—later to be renamed New York City—beginning in 1647. He was visiting France to discuss colonial land agreements. While at Versailles he was awed by the Hall of Mirrors.
Peter was determined to bring a similarly amazing showcase to his city. In 1651 he founded the Peter Stuyvesant's House of Mirrors. He charged one Dutch gulden for admission.
This house of mirrors eventually morphed into what we know as a Fun House of Mirrors seen at many carnivals. For a few tickets the fun begins by walking into a maze of mirrors, both convex and concave. We amuse ourselves by looking at distorted images of ourselves.
Today you don’t even have to go to the carnival for this experience. A laptop with a webcam and a silly photo feature will allow you to take a picture of yourself that you can manipulate to look odd.
It’s all fun. But sometimes distorted pictures can cause trouble. It did in Israel during the time of the prophet Samuel. One of the major distortions was found at the Tabernacle, that portable place of praise for God’s people.
It was parked at Shiloh and was meant to be a clear picture of God’s holiness and grace. A system of sacrifices had been established that foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. Yet anything but holiness was found there.
Eli the priest had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonored God in their treatment of the sacrifices and also engaged in immoral sexual activity with women at the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:16, 22). Because the picture of God they were giving was distorted, these two were killed in battle against the Philistines. When news of their death reached Eli, he fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and also died.
Just like Eli and his sons we are representatives of God. We represent Jesus to others. You may have heard it said that you may be the only Bible those around you will ever ‘read.’ The question is, “Are you giving a clear or distorted picture of the One True God?”
November 30, 2016
|Anyone with college-age kids knows the inundating routine that is college applications. Visit campuses. Choose a few schools to focus on. Make applications. Fill out forms. Write essays. |
For anyone who hasn’t “been there, done that,” the filing of the application and financial aid forms is nothing compared to the waiting. It’s like the first time you look at your girlfriend or boyfriend and say, ‘I love you.” You’ve made the first move. And then you wait. You wait to see if they respond in turn.
For the college applicant, the end of the waiting is signaled with a letter in the mailbox - hopefully saying, “You have been accepted.”
We all have a desire to be accepted, don’t we? In fact, that desire made it into Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs. Maslow theorized that acceptance is basic to our nature and to our psychological health.
Ruth had the same need as we do. She was a Moabite living in Bethlehem who we meet in The Story. She ended up there with her mother-in-law Naomi when her husband died. And she found herself picking up the leftovers after the harvest in a field owned by Boaz.
Boaz discovered she was an outsider—a Moabite—the same people who would oppress his nation for eighteen years. You’d expect fireworks when they met. Instead, Boaz tells Ruth, “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
His acceptance of Ruth goes a step further. Ruth finds him asleep on the threshing floor and lies down at his feet. When he awakens, Ruth asks him to “spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a family guardian.” The word for “garment” is the same Hebrew word for “wings” in the blessing Boaz had pronounced over Ruth. God’s acceptance came to Ruth through Boaz.
Your acceptance did too. You see, Boaz and Ruth had a son named Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. In Matthew’s genealogy the lineage of Jesus is traced through David. Boaz is there too along with his mother Rahab (Matt. 1:5). Yes, that Rahab. The prostitute that lived in Canaan and sheltered the two spies Joshua sent into the land. We are part of an amazing Story!
November 23, 2016
|It was my ninth grade year at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren Township, New Jersey. One of the activities that I volunteered for was to broadcast the morning announcements. It was the first step in my dream of becoming a radio personality. One day, my team and I decided to add a little spice to the traditionally dull morning litany of announcements.|
Instead of just reading off the list of birthdays, Eva Morton wanted to sing the birthday song. I was in charge of the production, so I gave her the go-ahead. I imagined our imaginary ratings soaring. But then, halfway through the song, Eva busted out laughing uncontrollably … and everything went downhill from there.
At the end of our announcements there was dead silence. Until our principal, Mr. Garcia, asked to see us. A look of terror struck the eyes of the team. I know because their eyes were staring right at me. In a moment of extreme bravery on my part, I led the way into Mr. Garcia’s office. Mr. Garcia was a retired military commander and I felt like we were going before the judge in a court martial.
Judges elicit a sense of fear, don’t they? They never call you in for something you have done right. We think of them as someone who harshly tells us what we did wrong. And they seem to be everywhere these days on television. There’s Judge Judy and Hatchett. Mathis and Christina. And my favorite—Judge Brown.
Then there are some judges you may not know. They even have a book in the Bible with their name on it. Judges. These judges appeared on the scene to help sort out right and wrong. They also helped people get out of trouble.
God’s people kept putting themselves into a never ending cycle of disobedience, discipline, declaration of wrong, and deliverance. Judges like Deborah and Gideon and Samson helped them find their way back to God.
What did the people do that was so bad they needed judges? Two things. First, they failed to put God first in their lives (Judges 1:28). And secondly, they did not teach their children to know God (Judges 2:10). These two “sins” led to their downfall and ruin.
Are you making the same mistakes they made? If so, you have a judge that can help you––Jesus. The good news is that when Jesus “calls” you into His office after you’ve messed up, you will look up to see your Judge’s face and see your Savior there.
November 17, 2016
|When someone keeps telling you to “be strong and courageous,” you might suspect you are up against something BIG. And the Israelites were.|
About to enter the land that had been promised them 600 years before, they had a giant-sized task awaiting them. Literally. Forty years earlier ten spies had come back and told the Israelites that the inhabitants of the land were so big they felt like they were the size of a grasshopper in comparison. Fear took them captive without a battle and sent them off as a group to wander around in a wilderness where they took their chances against wild animals rather than face their giants.
They wandered so long that those who had grasshopper-sized faith died out. Forty years later their children were ready to take the land. They were physically no taller than their parents had been. The enemies in the land were no smaller than before. But the Israelites’ faith muscles had grown.
There were two spies who had reported the land was theirs for the taking. One of them, Joshua, is now the Israelites’ leader. He was courageous. And God wanted to keep him that way. So God tells him three times in the first nine verses of the first chapter of Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.” He also reminds Joshua “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
My guess is you have a few giants in your life too. Some uphill battles that appear insurmountable. A task demanding more than you think you have to give. One too many things on your “to do” list than you have the time or energy to do. Unemployment is staring you down. Depression has a grip on you. Bills have raided your bank account and left it empty. An illness hovers in your life like a threatening storm. You’d rather just run and wander.
Instead, “be strong and courageous”. You have a Joshua that will lead the way. The New Testament equivalent of the name “Joshua” is “Jesus.” And Jesus has promised to be with you always. (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus knows how to lead you through battles. Jesus had a few of His own while He was on this earth. Enemies attacking Him with accusations (Mark 3:22). No home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations pressing in on Him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring He was sentenced to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14).
Yet Jesus took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the same. You need only “be strong and courageous” in your faith.
November 10, 2016
|Every parent has been there. The trip ahead is long. The travel schedule is tight. You hit the road with a full tank, confident the plan you have crafted beats anything AAA could muster. But twenty minutes down the highway you hear a small, squeaky voice from the backseat. The artillery begins to bombard you. The questions.|
Some you expected. Are we there yet? How much longer? Can we get something to eat?
The next barrage is unexpected. Who was the first person to decide to squeeze those things on a cow and drink whatever came out? Why does our dog get mad at us when we blow in his face but when we take him on a car ride he sticks his head out the window?
Every parent has been there. Questions from the backseat. You come to expect them. Every journey to a destination includes them. The same is true for the journey of faith.
Just like kids on a trip we get tired of the journey. We want to know when we can stop. We get tired of serving. We get tired of waiting. We get tired of the people we’re traveling with.
And we grumble. The Israelites did. They complained about the food, about the place they were traveling, and about their ‘driver’ Moses.
Grumbling does not set well with God. In fact, our grumbling can lead to our wandering. When offered the chance to leave Kadesh and enter the Promised Land, the Israelites listened to the fear-filled report from ten spies instead of the faith-full report of Joshua and Caleb.
Kadesh means “Spring of Decision” and it was time for one. They were in the right place to make the right decision. But the majority made the wrong one. The people wished they had died in the desert. So God told them they would get their wish. They would wander until the unbelieving generation died out.
And they did. They wandered in the Wilderness for forty years. And their children were impacted by their decisions.
The decisions you make affect those around you, just like the decisions the Israelites made at Kadesh. You can decide to grumble or be thankful. You can decide to turn away from God or turn toward God. You can decide to wander without purpose through life or follow God’s vision for your life.
Just don’t forget that those in the backseat will be affected by your decisions.
November 3, 2016
|It was perhaps the greatest opportunity ever. God tells Moses that God wants to come to God’s people and dwell right in the middle of their camp. Not on the outskirts. Not in the ‘burbs. But right in the middle of where they were living.|
You might wonder, “What preparations would a people need to make for God to live in their midst?” Would it be like getting ready for weekend guests or someone special coming to dinner? You feel compelled to make sure your home looks as good as possible. You want to make a good impression and you want your guest to feel welcome.
God anticipated the question and told Moses what needed to be in place for God’s coming. First, God wanted to be close to them but there was the problem of sin that created a breach between them. So God provided Moses with instructions about the practice of sacrificing, offering a covering for the people’s indiscretions before a Holy God. Sin is serious stuff, not to be taken lightly, and the sacrifice of unblemished animals was necessary to give the people a picture of sin.
Second, God wanted to stay close to them. Moses was given the blueprints for the building of the Tabernacle. It’s a big word for “tent.” A portable place of worship. Kind of a mobile Motel 6. And God wanted to camp out right in the middle of where the Israelites were camping. God wanted to be close to God’s people.
But God also wanted them to be close to each other. So God declared a third thing to get ready. God gave them Ten Commandments concerning relationships. The first four commandments focus on how we are to demonstrate our love to God. The second set of six have to do with how to show love to other people. In seeing these relationships of love it was God’s desire that people would come to know God too.
Jesus said the same in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another. . . By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
God gave the Israelites guidelines so that, when they sought to live by them, other nations would see them as different and know that they were God’s people. God gave us Jesus so that, when we live like Jesus, others will know that we are Jesus’ people.
For those who know God, God took care of our sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. God tabernacles in the hearts of those who have drawn near to God. Could it be then that the degree to which we are obedient to Jesus in this command to love each other is the degree of Jesus’ presence we will find among us? It could be our greatest opportunity ever.
October 27, 2016
|There’s a wall in front of you. Behind you is a past you are running from. Beyond the wall awaits the promise of a new life. But you’re not moving because there is this “wall.” You feel trapped. No way out. This is just the sort of situation in which God does some of God’s finest work. |
You need only ask the Israelites. Behind them was a life of back-breaking work and slavery. Ahead of them was a life in the land of Promise. Behind them was the fierce army of a fanatical Pharaoh coming towards them. Ahead of them was a wall. Their obstruction was made of water.
Your “wall” may be a fear of failure. Or maybe it’s a lack of confidence that has grinded your progress to a halt. Or it could merely be too many problems that have piled up in front of you at the same time. And you have no clue which one to tackle first.
So you stopped. And you aren’t sure if there is a way over, around, or under this imposing impediment.
At this point many people panic. Anxiety courses its way through the body, atrophies the movement muscles, and rigor mortis overtakes their resolve. Eyes which once had clear focus now only focus on the wall just inches away.
But some look elsewhere. The Israelites looked to Moses. They began pelting him with blame. Have you done the same? Blame the boss? Blame a co-worker? Blame your dog? Blame God? Maybe even blame yourself? Blame all you want but the wall remains!
While the Israelites were body punching Moses, he opted to look elsewhere. His options? He could have looked at the enemy’s army. He could have looked at the ungrateful people he led. He could have looked at the wall of water spread out before him, sat down, and given up.
Instead, Moses looked to God. And God opened an unlikely route through the wall of water. Safely on the other side, the very wall that had halted their steps closed in on and covered the sources of their fears.
The very name of the book where we find this story serves as a reminder when we face our “walls.” “Exodus” is a compound Greek word meaning “the way out.” And in case you might have missed it, the way out was not a better job, a different spouse, or a victim mentality.
No, the way out is God. Next time you find yourself up against a wall try looking to God.
October 20, 2016
|People nearing mid-life often crash into some startling and unexpected observations. For instance, we all dreamed big dreams when we were younger. But as we move at a break-neck pace through our twenties, thirties, and forties, we eventually slam head on into the realization that some of our dreams will never be realized.|
That observation throws some people into a mid-life crisis. Some don’t make it that far with their aspirations, having already given them up somewhere along the way. Some run into conflict that makes them weary and they settle for less. Still others make bold decisions to trade one dream in for another.
That’s what Joseph did. Talk about dreams! He had some big ones. At seventeen Joseph dreamed his ten older brothers would bow down to him. It’s enough he dreamed that dream. What makes it worse is that he told his brothers about it.
The older brothers already had issues with the younger son. Their father favored Joseph. He had even given him a valuable, multi-colored coat. That’s the modern-day equivalent of a parent of four teenagers giving one an iPhone and the other three a stack of quarters each for a pay phone (assuming they could find one on their travels). The brothers banded together and tossed the dreamer in a ditch, eventually selling him into slavery at the first opportunity. The next thing Joseph knew he was waking up in Egypt.
From there Joseph’s life was a rollercoaster thrill ride. One minute a slave. The next in charge of an Egyptian official’s house. The next in prison. The next in charge of the prison. Then he found himself in front of Pharaoh, called upon to interpret the leader’s dreams. With God’s help he was able to warn Pharaoh he would have seven years of abundant crops that he should be put in storehouses in anticipation of seven years of famine. Recognizing his wisdom, Pharaoh put Joseph second in command of all of Egypt.
And because of God’s personal involvement in his life, Joseph was able to save his family. The same family that God was building into a nation. Joseph was in position to bring his family to Egypt and give them the most fertile land to work. And it was definitely fertile. In the time they were there they were “fruitful and increased greatly” (Exodus 1:7).
Joseph could have lost his life getting caught up in the details of his life, chasing his dreams and desires. Instead, he chose a better story. God’s story.
You can do the same. If your life’s dream has stalled, look to God. If your dream now realized is not all you thought it would be, look to God. God can give you another dream. A better one, not according to the world’s standard but God’s criterion. Just like Joseph’s. Then you’ll have a story to tell.
October 13, 2016
|The casting agent enters the room with her top picks for the show’s leading man and lady. The new series will follow the spellbinding story of a clan that builds a powerful, world-impacting family tree. This is the pilot, and it is crucial to make the right call on the individuals who will fall in love and launch this Kennedy-like family of influence and fame.|
Producers and writers alike have waited breathlessly for this moment, the moment when who they have envisioned as the leading characters will be finally realized in an actor and actress. But when they turn to see who has been tapped for these most special of roles, the thud of their collective jaws hitting the majestic mahogany conference table muffles their mutual groans.
There before their wide eyes, instead of the expected vibrant, young couple with gleaming white teeth and tanned and toned bodies, stand a 75-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman. Not what they had pictured for their production.
And yet, this is who God has chosen. God’s screenplay called for a couple to launch a new nation, one that would impact the entire world. As God would say, a nation through whom “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
Abram and Sarai stand there, adorned perhaps by dusty old robes and crowned with wispy white hair and loosely fitting skin and as befuddled as anyone else. God chose them to begin a nation. An unlikely pair, especially after factoring in the fact that Sarai was barren. How could God expect to start a nation with a woman who could not bear children?
To complicate the story line, it will be 25 more years before they actually have their child of promise. By that time Abram and Sarai will be 100 years old and 90 years old, respectively (and their names will be changed to Abraham and Sarah). Perhaps Social Security checks will help this special couple decorate the baby’s tent and they’ll be able take naps when the baby does. And the rest, as they say, is history. God’s story.
God picks people you and I wouldn’t necessarily select to take part in God’s story. In fact, sometimes we are shocked who plays the starring roles in God’s stories. Unlike the way we do business, God taps people, not merely because of their abilities, but for their availability. God searches for people who are open to be used by God. Since God uses only those who are willing to be used for God’s purposes, there is no doubt that it is God who is doing the wonder- working. Let there be no doubt, throughout history God is the one making things happen.
That’s good news, isn’t it? In the business world, you may not have a great pedigree. In academics, you may not be a Rhodes Scholar. You may not have a lot of money and you may have average looks. But you may be sitting in a pretty good position to be a top pick for God’s work.
October 6, 2016
|Some movies start at warp speed. Case in point: Star Trek. From the opening scene to the end it barely lets you breathe. If you slipped out for popcorn you were sure to miss something important.|
Some think that the way to maximize the movie-going experience is to be in your seat at least 20 minutes early. Never done that? Then next time you go to a movie look around and spot the person that is in the prime seat—dead middle, eye level with the center of the screen. That’s what 20 minutes early gets you. Popcorn and drink in hand, nothing will move this person from their secured spot for the duration of the movie.
That’s where you need to be for God’s story. Its opening scene also starts with a relentless pace that doesn’t let up. The first line reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Right off the bat we find the main character in the story is not you or me. It’s God. And the rest of The Story will unfold out of the nature and person of this character. Just ten words in and there is enough action to leave you breathless.
It doesn’t take long to find out what God’s great passion is. Birds? Nope. Animals? Not quite. Sun, moon or stars? Good guess. No, in Genesis 3:8 we find that God is walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day.”
Sounds nice if you are in a hot, humid climate, doesn’t it? And yet the “cool of the day” is not the focus. God is, and God is near. God is right with Adam and Eve. And God is right here with us. God’s simple vision for God’s creation was to spend time with them every day, to take a walk with them. God’s supreme passion is to be with us.
Some of you have lived your life with the idea that God is some angry cosmic kill-joy who sits in the heavens and watches you, waiting for you to make a mistake so God can zap you. Or, you feel God is distant and doesn’t care or has simply forgotten you.
But from the beginning God has shown us this is not the case. God wants to be with you. God has not forgotten you. In fact, this might be the perfect time for you to go for a walk.
September 29, 2016
|If you think Genesis is just a band from the ‘80’s . . .|
If you think it was Dr. Doolittle who took two of each animal into a big boat . . .
If you think an epistle is a woman married to an apostle . . .
. . . you may need to know more of The Story.
You may be a bit intimidated by the Bible. You’re not alone; many people are. And no wonder, its pages mention odd names like Jehoshaphat and Nebuchadnezzar. It contains accounts from places you probably never heard of, like Sinai and Samaria. And it seems to be made up of a lot of different, seemingly unrelated stories. But it really is one big, exciting story.
You can see it easily if you open your Bible to the beginning and then flip all the way to the end.
The first words found in Genesis 1:1 read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Then, if you turn all the way to the back of the book, Revelation 21:1, you find, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . .”
In the beginning God is creating the heavens and the earth. At the end God is creating a new heaven and a new earth. So the big question is this: “What on earth happened between the beginning and the end of the Bible?” If you can answer that question you will have uncovered the one seamless story of God.
Why not read God’s story with your family this year? Studies indicate if the extent of your child’s exposure to things of the faith is a only weekly visit to church or Sunday School, the likelihood is very great that when he/she graduates and leaves home his/her relationship with the Lord will turn cold.
However, if you as a parent engage your children in the experience of reading and discussing the Bible, chances go up astronomically that they will remain strong in their faith after leaving home. You don’t have to be an expert or have all the answers. You just have to be willing to experience it with them.
Get involved in The Story of God. It will forever transform your life and your family’s life. Every day God is seeking to guide you, forming sentences that flow into paragraphs that over time write the chapter of your life––a life committed to knowing God better.
Will you choose today to take your life chapter and make it a part of the Big Story of what God is doing on earth?
September 22, 2016