- Samson knew his gifts. He wasn’t out trying to sing or put on shows. He smashed stuff. His accomplishments are legendary because he acted in faith with the tools God provided him. Bare hands, donkey jaw, pillars, etc.
- Samson was pretty smart. He loved riddles. He did stupid things but he wasn’t stupid.
- Samson put himself in temptation’s path. Look at how obvious Delilah was and how each time she tried the very thing he suggested. He knew… but he didn’t want to know.
- Samson believed that even though God had left, he would return when asked.
- Samson prayed for a mighty miracle. Something supernatural that could not be confused for something a mere human could do.
- Delilah is never mentioned in the Bible again after she is paid for her betrayal. We do not know her fate. In other words, when you serve the enemy, your story is over the second he is done with you. She was given an ENORMOUS sum of money and lived free… yet we never hear of her again, however, Samson, who was blinded and imprisoned still had amazing moments left to tell about as he served God.
- The more we fall away from God’s plan for us, the more difficult it will be to carry out the tasks assigned to us. Ponder how different life would be for Pharaoh if when Moses said, “let my people go!” the very first time, Pharaoh said, “sure, you may leave, have a safe trip!”. God’s plan was to set the Israelites free, but Pharaoh had to adjust to his own disobedience before it happened. Samson did something similar. He was set aside to free God’s people from the Philistines. Due to his disobedience, God still used him to accomplish this task, but at a much greater cost. When God was with him, he freely conquered on the battlefields. When He left God, he had to operate within prison walls and with no sight. Disobedience reduces our own options to work within God’s plan.
- Samson’s prayer aligned with God’s plans and gifts to him. It wasn’t selfish, it wasn’t a deviation from the path. It was exactly what God called him to do. It was almost like Samson said, “I accept and I’m ready”. It’s difficult to think through this at times, but we aren’t the only ones God is working with. Asking for something that someone else is set aside for, might yield more ‘no’s’ than we would like. Knowing our calling and asking for opportunities within God’s plan yields holy and unbelievable results.
- Samson did not know that God’s powers had left him. This plays into point 10 quite a bit, but it also makes me wonder… how many of us are functioning off a call that we received years ago, yet we do not live the life called out of or into? How many of us think God is with us when He has no reason to be? How many of us think He is just sitting back, watching us play Nintendo, when He is really waiting for repentance and renewal before He will work within us?
- Samson, now knowing that God’s powers had left him, prayed for a mighty miracle and then pushed on the pillars. This is faith. Praying and then pushing. Believing that there is power within a faithful God. If he did not feel God leave, did he feel Him come back? How did He know God returned? Because a called man asked a faithful God to fulfill His will through faith, mercy, and obedience. He prayed… and then he pushed.
A 100 calorie snack… and then you realize there are 10 servings in the tiny bag… (or the entire contents of the bag fits in your hand).
Free drink!!!! … with purchase of overpriced sandwich and fries.
Going through the drive though, paying, getting your food and going home. Then when you sit down to eat the order is wrong and missing items.
Having the film real burn up at the ending of Titanic. Not during the credits, but right before the final dramatic reveal. And then, because you still got to see 3 hours of the movie, the manager deems it sufficient and provides no refund or credit. (This happened to me).
Eating healthy and exercising your entire life and still getting heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, etc.
Being kind to a friend and then getting stabbed in the back.
These all have something in common. They are lies, or at best, half truths and deceptive. The Bible is full of promises from Jesus. Every one of them that has been passed by time has proven to be true.
Before texts or phones he told a fearful parent to return home to their healed child. And the child was healed. He told his disciples of His betrayal, who would do it and how they would know… then it all happened just as He had said. He foretold His death and resurrection. Everything that has been spoken by the mouth of Jesus has come to pass.
There is one more thing we await. His return. We know He will come back, but we don’t know when. While we wait we can ponder what the kingdom of Heaven will be like. We don’t have to wonder too much, because He told us in many parables.
The kingdom of heaven will be like:
Treasure hidden in a field, a fine pearl, a mustard seed, a net full of fish. But as we wait, we do so in a fallen world. A place with evil intention, greed, and hunger for dishonesty. Promises are made daily. Have you received a phone call claiming to be the IRS? What about an email from a foreign prince that wants to share his wealth? Maybe Walt Disney really will pay everyone that participates in the chain letter?
That deception comes from greedy souls who have bought the lies of the enemy. It’s a tried and true philosophy. If I can’t win naturally, I will cheat, steal, and worm my way to the top. Another promise from God is that Satan has been defeated. With my whole heart I believe that. And I see it in his desperate attempts to trick and entrap.
Just like the man who can barely speak English but wants me to give him my credit card and social security number for back taxes that I have never owed… and he will just make it all go away over the phone. It’s so obvious. It’s laughable. Except people are buying the lies. If everyone knew enough to not fall for that crazy scam, the crooks would never have success and would not waste their time.
But it does work. It just takes a few. Just a few people to be scared enough to try and stop all the promised bad things from happening. They don’t want to go to jail. They don’t want to be drug through lengthy court proceedings, so they pay up to satisfy the lies. It does work. People do pay. And to get those few who don’t know better, our phones ring constantly with “opportunities”.
Chances for me to get rich without working or to avoid a horrible fate that makes no sense. Mankind has learned this tactic from the best. Eat this apple, it will give you knowledge. Ignore your friends, it will make you seem more independent. Change that number on your taxes, you deserve it anyway. Don’t tell your spouse, how could they ever find out what you have been doing.
Little whispers in our conscience and before you know it we live in a world where a con is the rule. It’s just expected. I don’t even answer my phone unless your name is in my caller ID. I don’t talk to anyone at my door that I’m not expecting and I don’t believe what I hear regardless of the source. We have fallen. We have bought the lies and we continue to sell them.
While Jesus told us a little bit about what to expect from Heaven, I thought we should honestly and sincerely consider the alternative.
The kingdom of Hell is like a promise made that would change your life. You believed it and went against the will of God to have it. Once you signed on the dotted line, everything you were told ended up being a lie. You lost everything and everyone for the promise of something better. Now you have nothing. It’s an eternal con for the cost of your soul.
Every word out of the mouth of Jesus has proven to be true. No other man, woman or child can make this claim. If you want to follow the truth and only the truth for your life, there is only one place to turn. There is only one word to obey. There is only one hope. Everything else, it turns out, has been compromised.
We do something subtle in the English language that I think speaks volumes to how we think of ourselves and treat others in respect.
The pronoun ‘I’ is the only pronoun capitalized. But this wasn’t the original intention. After very brief research, it seems the only reason it was changed was because i (lowercase) didn’t stand out enough when written. We have the word ‘a’ that remains lowercase, but i became I so it could be more easily noticed.
I might not have thought much more of that if we didn’t also do something peculiar with the word ‘you’. We completely take it away. Its called the understood you. So, I can say, ‘go to the market’ and the ‘you’ remains absent from print because everyone simply understands what I meant, so I shouldn’t have to say it.
Did you catch that? ‘I’ needs to stand out and be noticed, while ‘you’ needs to remain hidden. ‘I’ is the exception to the rule. And we know how to do that so very well.
I’m reminded of the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, who after being forgiven his massive debt rounded up those who owed him smaller debts and refused to forgive them. He was a capital I. He sought mercy when he couldn’t pay. It was all about him. And once the mercy was received he sent the lowercase ‘you’s’ to jail because it was still all about the important capital ‘I’. They owed him money.
He simply couldn’t understand how they could be in the same boat he was in. They had families and needs and sicknesses and circumstances and they cried for mercy just as he had. This is exactly what happens when I am capital and you are lowercase… or even worse, you aren’t even on the page with me.
It’s in how we write and talk, It’s in how we drive, how we treat each other online, it’s even seen in the churches… we just can’t stop admiring that tall, slender, capital ‘I’. There are so many scriptures to quote about how God intended for us to treat each other that I feel like just handing over the Bible should cover it. It’s everywhere. It’s in every book, in every timeline, in every parable. Both Old and New Testament, both before and after Jesus..
Even as Jesus hung from the cross he found a moment of compassion and made sure someone would take care of his mother after he finished dying.
We have spent so much time learning how unique and special we are, we forget that everyone else is too. And while there are some good lessons to be learned about how God created us as individuals and why… it kind of lets the air out of the balloon when we consider that if every single one of us is special, then the very thing we all have in common is our special-ness.
In other words…. none of us are special because we all have something special. Special is common among God’s creation. Instead of finding our servant and demanding what is ours, we are meant to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32, Luke 6:31, John 15:12, Matthew 7:12, Romans 12:10… and so, so many more)
What an amazing verse, that Romans 12:10… ” Outdo one another in showing honor ” Its a contest to come in last place. By our standards, we need to concede. We should yield. Words that don’t sound positive at all… lose, forfeit, surrender, sacrifice.
Ah, sacrifice. So many verses in the Bible talk about forgiving as we have been forgiven. Just like the unforgiving servant. A sacrifice has been made for us as well. Should we accept the sacrificial lamb and then refuse to sacrifice for others? I don’t believe that was the spirit of the gift.
I believe we are meant to deflate the I. It’s time to put you back on the page. The most significant man to walk the earth made himself insignificant with us in mind. He did it completely so we could have some significance. Our response is not to demean or belittle others.
There is an age old lie being whispered to your inner conscience. It was told to Jesus when he fasted for 40 days. I will make you a king. I will give it all to you. Others will serve you. You will never want again. Look at how big and shiny that ‘I’ is. Nothing can compare. You deserve this. Those insignificants can’t take that from you…
We are supposed to be fighting. It is a war. But the battle is to lift each other up. To outdo one another in showing honor. To lover greater, sacrifice more, and forgive first.
The sound of the buzzer was deafening. It had to be to over come the uproarious noise of the crowd. But the gasp of the fans wasn’t anticipated. The shrill of the clock sounding zero echoed through a vacuum of silence. And after the lengthy, blaring siren ended… you couldn’t hear a pin drop. Because no one would move enough to cause one to fall.
The ball floated in the air for moments. Had it taken any longer to reach the basket some of the spectators would have needed to breath again. The fate of all things basketball hung on this rubber sphere gliding over the court.
Watching with breath held and heart clinched, the young man that launched the ball said a quick prayer. “God, please, please, please, make it go in!” He wanted to close his eyes and let the crowd’s reaction tell the story… but he couldn’t stand to miss history happen. Even if he were responsible for the bitter defeat.
This player prayed the way many of us do today. Let’s say what he was really praying:
“Lord, I have already planted my feet, aimed, and taken my shot. Now that I can’t possibly control it any longer, I want you to intervene and change the dimensions of gravity. I want you to adjust the natural order of things. I want you to fix my mistake in midair. I want you to overcome my lack of training, I need you to erase the days I gave up, I’d prefer a do over on how I handled my conditioning. I chucked this thing in the general direction of the goal set before me and now that time has ran out, I realize I should have taken this more seriously… so can you help a sinner out? Oh, and by the way, if it doesn’t go in… you will have let me down. Amen”– Desperate Player
Instead of going into all the issues with the mentality that goes with praying this kind of prayer. Lets just back it up a few seconds and consider a different prayer: “Lord, not my will but yours!” What is this one saying?
“Lord if this ball goes in I will be forever grateful. You are a mighty God and I am your servant happy to do your will. If this ball does not go in, I will be forever grateful. You are a mighty God and I am your servant happy to do your will. I will follow the path you have for my life whether it be a spectacular basketball career or as a traveling accountant. I will acknowledge the grace I have received that has no bearing on the trivial moments of life. I will honor you in all things. Like a wedding vow, my relationship with you will not waver on successes or failures. Each one will draw me in and remind me of your faithfulness and love. Whether ‘swoosh’ or ‘brick’ I will do my best to be your example. This game will not undo the sacrifice you made for me or its many promises that remain.– Thankful Pray-er
The difference is spelled out plainly in the second prayer. Jesus prayed it in the garden before His sacrifice. The first prayer is about what I want. The second prayer is about what God wants. The first prayer is about what I have done, the second prayer is about what God will do.
The first prayer is all to common. Whether it is a relationship, a job, financial struggles or just bad luck. We want God to press the easy button and fix everything for us. The second prayer is very rare. It says, even if I have to suffer torture and death I will not lose faith and I will continue to follow you.
The first prayer makes God a genie while the second prayer makes us His servants. The first prayer grasps onto worldly things, statuses, situations, and titles while the second prayer looks to the real and eternal future… where none of those things have any value.
The second prayer was spoken by Jesus. Can we pray that prayer? It doesn’t matter if I win. I don’t care if I’m broke. I don’t mind being alone. The unbearable pain doesn’t define me. All I care about is what God wants. All I’m living for is the life that doesn’t really begin until Jesus returns.
One final question: Does your lifestyle match your prayer life? When you desperately need God… do you have to introduce yourself first? Or is He already your friend, companion, and Father nurtured through worn knees and moist eyes? As Jesus can attest to, simply praying for God’s will doesn’t automatically get you the answer you want. But if you want what God wants… you will get it every time.
All things belong to God. If we are intentionally giving 10%, we are effectively paying membership dues. Call it what you want, church tax, enrollment fees, registration, premium… none of those sound holy, do they? If we are setting aside for God, we aren’t being holy either. We aren’t called to give God what is left, or even to portion out a little bit. We are called to leave it all behind.
A simple Google search will compare the world we have become comfortable in against the word of God. “How much should I tithe” yielded for me today “10%” in many of the top searches. But, “How much should I tip” came back “15 – 20%”.
The problem is, while tithe typically means one tenth, the folks in the Old Testament did this more than once. It’s estimated that after their initial tithe of crops, the tithe to the Levites and all of the festivals, it was common that 20 – 30% was actually given.
Since tithing typically means 10%, I decided it was self defeating to look up “tithing” and expect another number. So I then did a search on “how much should I give God?”. Thankfully, there is a more diverse response, but it’s still haunting how many questions there are about giving.
Do I have to tithe? Do I have to tithe on inheritance? Do I have to tithe on gross or net? Is this still a command of the New Testament?
There are 2 verses in the New Testament that answer all of those questions and many more not listed. The first is how to give. And the second is how much to give and how often.
2 Corinthians 9: 6-7
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Let’s be blunt. Some of us are trying to figure out if we can get out of tithing. Some of us want to give the bare minimum. We have lots of reasons and justifications that make it so it doesn’t sound so bad. And if we pick the right scriptures and ignore others, we can rest safely on 10% or even less. That just doesn’t sound cheerful.
Giving cheerfully isn’t an expression that we say, it’s something that we feel. Deep down in our hearts we rejoice as we sacrifice. Sacrifice means we do without so that others can do with. Your child hitting a home run. Your spouse getting that new job. Your crush says, ‘yes!’. You hand over the money you needed. Do any of those seem out of place? Jesus says, they shouldn’t. All of them are meant to be expressions of joy and worship.
As Michael Scott proved, you can’t declare bankruptcy by just shouting it out. You Can’t be a cheerful giver by just claiming that you are. It’s a matter of the heart. You can fake out the church, you can fool the receiver of the gift, but God knows the heart. If you are not excited about giving. If, in private, you aren’t happy about the loss, something is wrong. This isn’t a shame-on-you judgement, it’s a red flag that needs to be addressed.
Mark 12 tells us how much we actually give.
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”Mark 12: 41 – 44
How much did she give? “all that she had”. It was so moving that Jesus called over the disciples. It was a teaching moment. The disciples, who were learning to be like Jesus needed to see this. She could have put in 1 small coin. She could have put in less. But her heart was affected. It wasn’t about the money. It wasn’t about what others thought. It wasn’t about legalistic doctrine from the past. It was about putting her money where her heart was. How do we know for sure? Jesus said so. She gave more than anyone else who gave abundantly.
When we tithe 10% we are doing a good thing. When we give all that we have (be it flocks, produce, time, facilities, food, money, help, etc) we are being disciples. We are observing and learning from the example that Jesus pointed us to. We have to stop following a book of rules and start living like we have a Savior that loves us and wants the best for us. What is absolutely best for us, is to build up treasure in heaven.
Is there something in your life that you just keep putting off? Hour after hour, maybe even day after day you find other distractions to pass the time until eventually, inevitably, you just have to break down and do it? We call them chores. A necessary task that we would rather not do, or at least, its no where near the top of our priority list.
Sadly, this sums up our placement of God in situations. I know there have been times when I only read because I skipped the last few times. I’ve only prayed because I felt guilty. I’ve only asked because I needed something.
Have you ever been in a relationship like this? Has anyone ever told you, “you weren’t my first choice” or “you are the best of what’s left”? I sure hope not. But, if we aren’t excited to great God each day and spend time with Him, I’m afraid we might be on the giving end of this type of neglect.
The phrase sounds harsh, and maybe even a little sacrilegious. But if I’m honest with myself, I have made God a chore at times. He has been a burden to me. Something I only did because I had to, not because I wanted to. But I think that honesty will let me rebuild the relationship. I can confess and bask in the new day God has given me.
We live in a world filled with evil when temptation successfully convinces us to shrug off the only hope we’ve ever had. It doesn’t even feel like an attack at all when it happens. Just a passing thought… I’d rather watch TV, or go to the movies, and hang out with friends, or catch a nap, or maybe even do real chores. I’ll spend time with my creator later… when I’m not so busy.
A simple thought. A passing notion. And maybe even a little productivity in life as we run errands or build relationships with others. But demons cheer. They know something we often forget. We are at war and they just separated us from our defense. They drove a wedge between us and our community of faith. They delayed a mighty prayer.
We grabbed a hotdog and played some Sudoku, but they exchanged high fives and danced a fiery jig. Anytime they can make God into this mystical, distant, abstract thought, they win a massive stronghold in our lives. They like to take the humanity away from God.
God became flesh. He walked this earth. We are already made in His image. When we don’t see the face of God, we tend to think more of Him as an ideal. Maybe even a cause. Sometimes I don’t recycle because the recycling bin is too full, or its too far away. Sometimes I don’t give an extra dollar to cure cancer at the checkout line because I’ve given enough already.
But Jesus isn’t a faceless organization. He is our brother. God sent His Son to embrace us as family. When we reject time with him, we aren’t just telling a stranger that we gave at the office, we are telling a loved one that we found someone else. Something better. Something more meaningful to us.
We need to understand the implications of our priorities. This isn’t a plea to go to church. God doesn’t want people to sigh and exclaim, “fine, I’ll go to church!”. He wants His family to join Him in the victory. He wants what we all want. He wants to be chosen back. We all know what it feels like to be left out, forgotten, and ignored. Can we comprehend that we can do this to the one who gave it all for us?
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”Helen Howarth Lemmel (1922)
Those words are from a beautiful hymn and if you haven’t heard it there is a short clip of the chorus embedded at the bottom of the page. You might wonder about a few things. Strange. And dim. Those aren’t typically positive things. Try asking your best friend or spouse if they could start being strangely dim for you. Some of them may be way ahead of the game or already there… others will just look at you weird.
The best way to explain why we want strange and dim in our earthly things can be described in a short camera tutorial.
Examine the picture at the top of this page. You might recognize Emmet from the Lego movie. Hi Emmet! Can I ask you to see what is behind him? I’m going to presume you can’t… even if I tell you. From left to right we have Chloe from Secret Life of Pets, A Camel from Prince of Egypt, the Ghostbuster’s car, Bob the minion, Teddy Pierce from Community and the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazard. How many did you get right? I’ll show you another picture in a moment.
That blurriness in the back that you can’t make out is called bokeh and most photographers will pronounce it wrong. It’s pronounced BOH-kay. It is intentionally putting parts of an image out of focus using light and depth of field. You might start noticing that most pictures and even movies and TV use this effect because it makes the subject stand out. It separates items from the background and immediately draws the eyes in to what you want the viewer to look at.
To pull this off you have to do a few things that I will itemize below.
- You have to put the subject in focus.
- You have to open up the aperture to let in more light.
- You have to separate the subject from the background.
Briefly put, you have to put your focus on what matters. You can’t be a good image of Jesus if you aren’t even looking at Him. We must focus. If you have used a camera, you likely know that isn’t as easy as it sounds. You may have to zoom in and isolate the object you desire. You have to wait for lighting, move things around to get them in or out of view. Adjust settings, change positions, etc. You don’t just click a button and walk away. You may need to brace yourself against something to reduce arm shake, or get down on a knee to get the correct angle. Focus means taking time and really studying the subject.
We are taking an image. A likeness. The more time we spend on the subject, the more accurate the picture will be. The more time we spend with Jesus, the more reflective we will be of Him. We can’t just take a quick glance and claim Christ-likeness, its a lifelong process filled with blessings of pain and hope. And each step along the way we are perfecting our portrait of Him in our lives.
Opening up the aperture is widening the hole that lets light come in to hit the sensor. More light means a better picture and less grain. But as you do this it creates a depth of field. The more light you let in the easier it is to focus on what matters. The subject pops off the screen and looks incredibly sharp as it is contrasted against things that begin to blur away. The more depth of field you have, the more the focal point stands out. We need more light to look like Jesus. He is the light of the world and many of us turn out underexposed when we try and act like Him… without Him in our hearts.
If you need to, scroll back up and check out Emmet again. He is the only discernible thing on the page. The final way this happened is that I separated Him physically from the background items. If they all existed on the same focal plane (i.e. they were all side by side), there would be no way to visually differentiate them to create any depth. They would all be blurry, or they would all be sharp, but either way, no one would like the image. It would just be a jumble of items.
When we focus on Jesus, and separate Him from the garbage of this world, and let His light into our life… the stuff that doesn’t matter begins to blur. The junk disappears. The treasure in heaven becomes sharper, brighter, and closer and the things that will burn up with this world will darken into a distant background.
If what you want is Jesus, there isn’t room for the other stuff. We either take Him and only Him and we push back the lies and garbage that the enemy promises… or we buy the lies and enjoy the temporary treasures of this world. But look at what happens when you leave the camera in the same place and adjust the focus…
Now you can see the cool toys I lined up behind Emmet. But what happened to Him? Like I said, you can’t focus on both. If we make a grab for the strange and dim… we lose the Savior. Focusing on Jesus isn’t easy. But once we realize the things of this world are traps, garbage, and extremely temporary use-once kind of things… We can begin to see how its easy to find joy in seeing them fade out.
What are you focused on? What is keeping your eyes from locking in on Jesus? Why is it so hard to let go of addictions, pride, greed, lust, anger, and all of that trash? We hate it, we are ashamed of it… but we can’t seem to let it out of sight. Try focusing on the Master and letting His light in your life. And when things that seem important now start to slip away… let them! It’s the only way to get Him in clear view. That is when we can start to look like Him and draw others to the one we strive to imitate.
You have likely heard the expression, “Dumb as a rock”. I feel extra special because my coach in high school told me I was dumber than a box of rocks. It took many years, but I now know what that expression truly means. It can be found in the Bible… At least, this is how I’m defining it now.
I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
This was Jesus’ response to the pharisees who were telling him to quiet down His disciples. They were praising Jesus. ‘Stop them from praising Jesus!’ ‘no, if they don’t do it, the rocks will’. In other words… Jesus WILL be praised. The question remains as to who will be doing the praising?
I have a range of emotions when I visit this passage. First, I’m excited. I think of other scriptures that talk about mountains bowing down before the Lord and paths straightening, and trees singing. Wouldn’t these be sites to behold! (psalm 98, Nahum 1:5, Micah 1:4, Isaiah 55:12, 1 Chronicles 16:33, Psalm 96:12, Matthew 3:9, Psalm 148:7, etc).
I don’t believe God created those things to be animated. But the fact remains that God did create those things and I believe that He can have them do whatever pleases Him. In short, it’s not beyond His ability to have the forest dancing if He chooses to.
So when I think in terms of God’s power and abilities, and all of His creation praising Him in unison… I get excited. But then I get very sad. Because if the rocks are singing praises, then it means someone else chose not to. Back to my high school coach… if he put in my backup, that meant I was sitting on the bench.
I would rather play. If I was on the sidelines, it means I messed up. I didn’t do my job. Not only was I not in the game, I was sulking in my poor performance and worrying over who all I let down. I think of Jesus on the cross and and how He knows who loves Him and thanks Him and praises Him for all that He did for us. And to think of someone choosing not to partake in such an event… It’s completely heartbreaking.
So when I think of the rocks clearing their throats and warming up their voices, I can’t help but wonder who would choose not to sing? Who would take themselves out of the game and sit on the bench on purpose? Was the cross not splintery enough? Was the beating not convincing? Were the miracles unimpressive? Was it too much love He showed? The healing, the forgiving, the resurrections… were these not our cup of tea?
Can you imagine a scenario where someone in this world saved your life? A real human made of flesh and blood performed a heroic action, and because of them you now live where you would have otherwise certainly died. Would you just walk away? Would you withhold a thank you or a hand shake? Upon seeing this person in your life, would you take a different path to avoid them?
I claim you would run to them and embrace them. They would have to ask you to stop hugging them. Some of us are so grateful, they may seek a restraining order 😉
Jesus will be praised. Either we will thank Him directly, or a box of rocks will take our place. Surely we are smarter than that? How embarrassing. Right there on the bench sits our backup. Our replacement. If we can’t muster up enough faith and courage to put God in His rightful place, God has crafted a stand in that will get the job done.
And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.
How about right now? Can we remember what Jesus did for us in this moment? Can we say thank you? Can we open that mouth of ours and let nature take a break? Will you kneel before the throne? Or, will the gravel be taking your place?
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.John 4:23
I know many will question whether the rocks will actually, physically, literally sing. First, I would say, if God tells them to, they will. I’m not willing to put God in His place by predicting how that will play out either way. But I will offer that it doesn’t change the message. Whether the rocks are simply witnessing a failed generation neglecting the Savior, or whether they will get an encore, the core of the message remains in tact. We were built to praise. We were given vocal chords and lips and tongues and rhythm and hearts and brains and freedom and salvation… If we don’t put all of those together and praise God, a great travesty has occurred.
Consistently in scripture nature points to God. The heavens, the skies, the seas, the creatures in the deeps, the stars… are we at least doing what the rocks are doing? I want to be constantly pointing to Him. Praising Him. I want to at least be as smart as a rock.
Last night my wife made meatballs. They were tasty! Our five year old boy was excited. “Meatballs!!!!!” he exclaimed. As she was portioning out the food to make sure we had enough for tomorrow, she mentioned he was getting 6 meatballs. His excitement turned to concern. “aw… I wanted 7”. He said it again when he heard no response. He was now sad. As he ate his food he kept mentioning how hungry he was and how desperately he needed more meatballs. (of course he was stuffed before he could finish what he was initially given).
If you have any experience with a 5 year old, you know the number does not matter. If she had promised 4 meatballs, he would have wanted 5. If she had mentioned 20, he would have needed 21. But what we can all relate to, even us seasoned adults, is that he did not enjoy his food while he ate because he was preoccupied with what he didn’t have.
Some of us are better about this than others, but I know many adults who still struggle with enjoying what they have and living in the moment. It’s this latter part that is more universal. Living in the moment. Forgetting the past and using the time given to you as you get it to make the most out of life.
We spend so much time idolizing or regretting the past and so much time worrying about or trying to expedite the future, we spend very few moments living in the present. The problem is that God doesn’t promise us an earthly future and He doesn’t care about our past. So the only thing we have that can connect us to God is the now. The moment we live in where we actually have the ability to be Christ-like (Christian).
We can’t connect to God through our past decisions, even the good ones. God doesn’t hold a grudge, He will accept us as we are, but He also doesn’t accept yesterday’s version of you. Our walk with Him isn’t a decision made in the past, its a constant, life changing, on going, daily, adventure where we live and breath while basking in the presence of our Savior.
We can’t connect to God through our future. It hasn’t happened. We can’t control it. We can’t make it happen quicker. The future is futility. Each moment passed is another future moment just out of reach. Tomorrow simply becomes tomorrow the next day. Even worse, Not only do we still have a tomorrow after tomorrow, but now we have another yesterday to pile on that we will likely regret or overly cherish.
So when do we enjoy life? When do we commune with our Lord? When are those moments that build up a fruitful and successful life? We miss them so often because they are so rare. Not rare in quantity but extraordinarily rare in our ability to choose them. They are the moments we have. The time that is given us. The present. The now.
We are given them every day. We have one right this minute. But when we fervently try to refuse the moment, it goes un-lived. Our nose is stuck in the rear view mirror while our foot has the gas peddle mashed in. We live only for the future while trying to change the past. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t live in two time frames at once.
This is not a new struggle. We have been cautioned to ‘stop and smell the roses’. But we have sped up. Stopping isn’t enough anymore. We need to get out of the car. Its the notion that we have control. We can back up and move forward at will and with great speed. And while we think we are having an effect while doing that, all we really accomplish is spinning the wheels over every useful moment until they become yet another regret in our mirrored past.
This might all make sense if our God who became man was still buried in a tomb. It would be fitting that people who seemingly worship the past would be the followers of an ancient god that once lived but now rests in a sealed crypt forever. We could ponder what he once was and how it could have been.
But since we are the followers of a risen King… a living God… our monument’s door is open and the insides are kept, clean, and EMPTY… so, past tense doesn’t really work for us. He wasn’t god… He is God. He is alive. And so our worship is to Him. It is with Him. Now. Today. Right now.
Our minds have become tombs of their own. Past conversations… what I should have said, what I would do if I had the chance, how I felt. They aren’t just full of regrets, but feelings, memories, expressions. One of the first things we need to do as we don the label of Christian, which means Christ-like… the first thing we need to do to resemble Jesus… is to blow the door off our own graves and let out the past.
Free it. Let it go. That isn’t us anymore. We can’t be the transformed person God wants us to be if we are clinging to the past. We can’t be renewed if we are prisoner to our mistakes and missed chances. Through Jesus, we have died to that life. When we climb out of that mausoleum, we are faced with the now. The moments that actually matter… the ones that contain that magical ability to live. To actually live free from regret and worry.
This is when we can grasp the Savior’s hand and walk with Him. And when we do that, there is no fear or worry, because our future becomes every waking moment, thoroughly enjoyed and gracefully lived to the fullest. This is where we can taste the meatballs and enjoy them in the moment. No taxes, no root canals, no bills, no traffic… just savory goodness.
Because this moment right here… it’s all we have… and it’s where God is. He isn’t in the worry over things not seen, and He isn’t found in the regret. He wants to eat meatballs with you, but we have to rise to our new life in this open, unclaimed moment and pick up the fork with thanksgiving.
We can all shovel food down our throats and effectively accomplish the task of eating. Each of us knows how to breath and we can turn oxygen to carbon dioxide with the best of them. But that doesn’t mean we are LIVING. The living God left his tomb behind. We are meant to join Him.
One of the more difficult tasks I face as a Christian is to see the perfect and holy plan of God play out in a fallen world.
There are some great selling points in the Bible. Lining up behind God means I never have to fear again. God is my rock, my strength, my resting place. Rest! Oh, how I love the sound of rest. Peace is also promised along with never having to worry again.
Verse, chapter, and book, all line up to show the amazing, wonderful, and awesome life of a Christian. Sign me up twice!
Then I have a bad day at work. The car breaks down. The kid gets in trouble. My friends are all on sabbatical, I get sick, A loved one dies, moths have taken up residency in my wallet, and in this crowded world with so many people in my face I can hardly breath… I feel all alone.
Do you ever flip through the pages of your Bible like you just signed a bad agreement with a used car salesman? I have. This isn’t what I thought I had bought. Is there fine print in there? Where are the parts that talk about fun, freedom, and constant happiness? I could have sworn those were in there somewhere.
Part of my problem is my ability to selectively read. When its positive, I tend to take it as literal and immediate fact. But when the Bible mentions picking up my cross and following in the footsteps of Jesus… the one who stepped through torture, and death, I tend to feel like this part is more symbolic.
When the disciples faced fear while Jesus was in the boat with them… or when we are told that prophets are never accepted in their own home towns, or even when Jesus promises suffering and persecution… well I thought He meant that for everyone else.
When we look at Christianity as a fix to our problems we end up being sorely disappointed. It’s not a cure for sickness, nor immunity to pain or loneliness. God isn’t our genie and Jesus didn’t die to take away our pity parties. With Christ we still suffer and we will all die.
Jesus didn’t take away death, he defeated it. He took away its sting. He turned it upside down. Instead of death being the end, its now the beginning. Where it once was the defeat, its now the victory. Funerals have become celebrations.
When Jesus said, “it is finished” as He died on the cross, He created the ability for us to do the same. We get to bury our loved ones knowing they are in rest. They have now gone to a place where pain can’t get to them. After a life of loss they have passed into an eternity of gain. They will never be taxed, cheated, or mistreated ever again.
No more alarm clocks, no sickness, no barking dogs, no crying babies, no traffic… we retire from the pains and losses of this life. Jesus made this possible by going first. He heaped our sins on Himself and paid the price.
He didn’t sacrifice Himself to cure hangnails or stop cars from breaking down. He came to us to take the permanency away from death. His empty tomb is the real promise made. Yes, life is better with Jesus. Yes, God can and will do amazing things in this life… but we will still suffer. We are still human. We still live in a fallen world with a terrible enemy that wants to destroy everything.
The promise Jesus made is that one day, our grave will be empty too. And because Jesus paid that ultimate price for us, we get a choice. Do we want to spend our eternity on the other side of death with the one who causes pain, promotes sickness, breaks up families, destroys lives, and deceives… or do we embrace the man who meekly climbed on the cross?
The man who cured blindness, raised the dead, walked on water, prophesied the future, and exposed the true hearts of all He encountered… just calmly allowed human men to torture and execute Him. Why? I mean, really… why?
We have to grapple with that question and come to terms with our own understanding of why someone capable of commanding the weather and the seas would simply give up Himself. The answer I have come up with is that He loves me. He loves me so much, He wants me on His side of eternity. He loves me so much He doesn’t want me to be sick anymore. He doesn’t want me to lose loved ones. He can’t stand seeing me in poverty.
And His solution is Heaven. He is going to take us home. To the place where we belong. With death defeated, we will still die… but the grave becomes a cheap hotel on the way to an amusement park. It’s the temporary place holder until the amazing and indescribable happens.
So today, I’m going to stump my toe, deal with a headache, work a tiresome job, offend someone unintentionally and get offended. Soon, I’ll lose a loved one, get sick, and eventually die myself. And that is what I live for. I have a relationship with God that assures me that life begins with Jesus’ return.
Until then, there is an enemy who has everything to lose. More specifically, he has me to lose. He will lie, corrupt, and kill to get at me. But I love the one who loved me first. The man who gave it all to me… I will give to Him. He will call my name and I’ll run out of that grave.
But this choice we have… it isn’t made at the gates of heaven with one of the saints holding a list, like we see in so many cartoons. The choice is made while we still live. It’s the decisions we make in spite of the pain. It’s how we respond, how we act, and what we do with the minutes afforded to us.
If there was a really long line to get into a great club, would a complete stranger invite you to skip the line and stand with them? Would they give up their spot for some random person wandering by? No. But a friend might. I believe Jesus plans to vouch for His friends. He is going to mark our sins as “paid” when He recognizes those that chose Him in those darker moments of life. He has every incentive to because He chose us in His absolute darkest, most lonely, moment.