Turn that Frown Upside-Out

In Genesis 40 we learn about the cupbearer and the baker.  They upset the king and were tossed into prison.

I can’t be sure what the conditions were like there, but the ESV uses 3 different words to describe the event.  Prison, confined, custody.  None of those sound extremely pleasant to me.  I only point this out because we know Joseph had favor in all things, including with the captain of the guard who put him in charge of the other prisoners.

While this might be an improvement for Joseph (over the other prisoners), 3 things still remain.  He is in prison.  He is confined.  And he is captive.  We get a small window into his desire to leave when he interprets the dreams of the cupbearer and baker.  He asks them to remember him and speak to the king on his behalf so he can be removed from this place.

But before we get to the dream interpretations, one other line stands out.  How long were they in prison?  “They continued for some time in custody”.  I don’t know what the social etiquette for “some time” was back in the day, but this clearly is more than a few nights.  I get the impression that each of the 3 men were settled into their roles and had formed a bit of a relationship.

After both of the King’s officers had a dream and were “troubled” by it.  Joseph immediately noticed.  And he felt compelled to ask about it.  So he walks in, addresses his fellow inmates and asks, “Why are your faces downcast today?”.

Why are your faces downcast today?

In prison… he asks those incarcerated with him… one of whom we find out is essentially on death row, (he dies at the hands of the king 3 days later, per his dream).  This further tells me this isn’t likely a minimum security scenario.  This “prison” is where he put the man who was accused of advancing on the wife of the king and an officer that was killed instead of released.

And after a lengthy stay in jail, a dream that doesn’t make sense changes the demeanor of not one, but two of the prisoners.  Was it because Joseph took such great care of these men that they didn’t have anything else to worry about?  They obviously slept since they entered the REM levels of sleep and had memorable dreams.  I’m guessing they had beds and blankets.

In my mind this all points to Joseph, who while wrongfully imprisoned (for actually doing the right thing, but being accused of the opposite) decided to make the best of the situation.  It sounds to me like he created an environment that was extremely hospitable and easily livable.  The men under his care weren’t scrounging for food, freezing in corners, or fearing the guards.  They were sleeping, dreaming, and sharing their experiences with one another.

While much of this is speculative, he took enough care, that a downcast face in his ward was something that concerned him.  (again…. IN PRISON!).

Does this sound right to you?  Isn’t it considered rude to ask certain things in certain situations?  Can we actually ask:

The prisoner why he is sad?

The hospital patient why she is worried?

The accident victim what could be wrong?

The outcast why they look lonely?

The mourner what is bothering them?

You can when your purpose for living isn’t tied to this world.  When you have a relationship with God and you go about His business, its much easier to understand why Paul found contentment in prison as well.

What can we complain about today?  Traffic.  Responsibilities.  Money.  Relationships.  Health.  Jobs.  Churches.  Politics.  I’m sure, if we brainstormed, we could come up with a few hundred things.  All of those things are prisons.  Each of them has only power in this world, and only the power we allow them to have.

Our friends might not be bold enough, so its a task left up to us.  Spend some time in the mirror each day and ask… what do we have to be upset about?  What could worry us?  What could deter us from the cross?  In light of what Jesus has done for us… how could our faces possibly be downcast?

We can turn that frown upside down fairly easily when good things happen to us here and now.  Joseph turned his inside out by focusing on good things to come.  Eternal things.  They made all circumstances currently endured null and void.  With the hindsight of Jesus, we can do both.

 

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It’s All in the Name

We received a new foster child that will be in our care until the parents sort out a few issues.  In this case he has a great relationship with his parents, so calling us mom and dad is not an option.  With all the stress, frustration, and fear that the child is going through, we have our own issues.  The bigger things matter to us as well, but sometimes the logistics can feel pretty important.

What should he call us?  It’s been a week and 99% of the time he shouts, “Hey guys!” when he wants our attention.  I really don’t care what I’m called, but in an effort to help teach respect for others I’ve really tried to reinforce, Mr. Barry.  It hasn’t landed.  It’s not a battle I’ve really chosen to fight, but he hasn’t grasped the name anyway.

There are multiple anecdotes where he has asked for “the other lady that lives here”, “the person downstairs”, or any other descriptor that fits his recent memory of us.  While playing ball, he decided to make everything into a race.  Of course, with his energy and his rules, he won.  That night at dinner he calmly said, “hey slowpoke, it’s time for dinner!”.  He then used the term later in the evening as well.  Not with a smirk or grin, but just in passing to identify me.

It took a week, but I now have a name.  It’s slowpoke.  Had I known… I might have run a little faster and tried a little harder in the races that preceded it.

We often give ourselves our own names. Sometimes we let the world identify us. They call us mistakes and we listen. They call us loser and almost prophetically we make it so. They call us failure and we wallow in it.  These terms are often handed out with as much forethought as our foster child used.  Spur of the moment with a notable smidge of perceived truth.  And we wrap ourselves in it and display in shame for the world to see.

Broken.  Lost.  Poor.  Uneducated.  Simple.  Sinner.  Trash.  Some of these terms come about innocently enough.  They are never intended to carry such poisonous barbs.  But the wrong person overheard, or we were just trying to be funny, or we simply didn’t think before speaking.  What a lesson we could learn in how we treat each other.  But some of them are more hurtful.  More intentional.  In our current social climate we toss out such hate and slander.  Bigot, racist, hateful, evil, monster, …

I’d like to say we don’t have to accept the names given to us by others.  And its true that we don’t.  But, I also know how psychologically difficult it is to shed the perceptions of the masses once that hook sinks into our hearts.  But what does carry great weight, and what should lift those unnecessary burdens off of us, is that we are promised a new name.

Listen to just a very tiny list of only a fraction of the names that belong to God:  Healer, Savior, I Am, Lord, God, Almighty, Truth, Light… Father.

The God of many, many names…. one of which is our Father, has a new name for us.  Each of us.  It’s not a title or a credential.  It’s not our profession and it doesn’t relate to our social status.  It’s a unique, handpicked name just for you.

May I encourage you to live for THAT name.  To let only God define who you are.  To proudly stand against all the sinners who throw that useless tag at you… because you know that Jesus wore that tag on the cross.  It’s been spent.  It’s over.  You are no longer that person.  That name, the old one, has been ripped off and burned in fire.  You will be called something new.  From the lips of your heavenly Father, you will be called it.  Just for you.  Set aside.  Set apart.  Special.  Fashioned with love.  Solely for you.

Just like the tried and true ‘kick-me’ sign, Satan has attached to us something that doesn’t belong.  We can ignore that temptation and brush it off knowing the full truth.  Or we can accept that lie and bend under the weight as the world accepts his faulty claims.  As always, its our choice.

The Devil’s Roll Call

I’m starting to see certain issues as red flags.  And this is an improvement for me as it gives me a chance to slow down and proceed with caution.  With any luck, I’ll avoid making the mistakes of my past.

Social media is one of those places.  I’ve noticed a trend.

Gun violence occurs over the weekend, Monday morning the blogs and comments roll out about gun control.

Terrorist attack over the weekend, Monday morning the blogs and Facebook posts roll out on immigration.

Wherever you stand on these issues, these aren’t the issues that Jesus was worried about.  They tried to corner Him politically by asking a tax question, and He replied with the famous, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what belongs to God”.  He had no interest in the quibbles of the day.  He was on an eternal soul mission, which to God, was much more important.

So, if you are the enemy, and you have already lost, what can you do to try and bring down as many people with you as possible?  My guess is to keep people off track.  Off mission.  Jesus said, “I have to be about my Father’s business”.  And so should we.  But if we can get sidetracked, especially over issues that divide, then we become easy pickings for the Devil.

It’s OK to give him the credit, he is incredibly smart (conniving).  In my mind social media has become the roll call of the Devil.  He wants to see how many people he has steered off track.  How many people he has taken away from the Father.  And so after every event, he watches.  What will they post about?

Will they post about God and His forgiveness?  Will they talk about love and salvation?  Will they build each other up and focus on the hope the world has?  Or will they go back to gun control, immigration, taxes, foreign policy, racial tensions, etc, etc, etc.  Hand up , hand up, slowly raised hand up.  It’s a temptation just like any other.

To fire up the log-in page, cracking knuckles and salivating at what argument you have prepared… that is falling into the trap.  It’s no different than passing by the adult book store, the drug dealer, or the bookie.  You have a choice to act on the feelings you get.  And you will act on them.  The question is, in what way will you act.  Will you pass by and pray and continue to work through whatever addiction you face.  Or will you give in and raise that hand for the devil?

Some of you may be thinking that I’m advocating we can’t ever discuss politics.  That is not my intention.  My point is that Christians should be known for Christ.  Not political stances.  If you have a political blog, that is the perfect place to post about politics.  But many of us are blurring that line between God and Caesar.  We use our religious platforms to share political spin.

I’m reminded of the Bible story of the man who wanted to go to Heaven.  He confronted Jesus and told of all he had done.  It was an impressive list of sacrifice, worship, and honoring God.  He asked what else can I do?  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19) After hearing Jesus’ answer, the man became sad and walked away because he was rich. 

He wanted both.  He wanted to blur the line.  He wanted a foot in heaven and one in the world.  Jesus basically said, I need you all in.  I need all of you.  But the man wanted to keep his possessions.  For those trying to minister somehow in social media… God wants all of you.  We can’t leave one foot in political turmoil and then try and share the story of peace and hope while bickering amongst ourselves.

Jesus prayed for unity for us.  He knew the world would face fear and uncertainty and when they turned to look at those who called themselves “like Christ” He wanted them to see a united front pointing to the Savior.  How does that look when some of us are using the pulpit to sway votes, or counter unrelated arguments?  I find it equally offensive when someone from Hollywood uses the entertainment stage as when someone from the church uses the religious stage.  Outside messages don’t belong in either place.

I love talking politics with the correct minded individual.  (just like me?  no?  but able to calmly discuss views that might not be our own).  I can’t do that with strangers on the internet.  Tone can’t be inflected, facial features can’t be portrayed.  And no matter how many words I choose to try and drill down the point, someone will always miss it (most of the time its my fault).  So, like Jesus, I save politics for when its kosher to do so.  And the rest of my public life… I pray I’m always about the Father’s business.

What if, when the next disaster strikes, we see the red flag and avoid that topic altogether?  Instead, we pointed to the King who can get us through anything.  What if we helped people past their fears and gave them hope?  Many of us get these two issues backwards.  We worship in secret and the whole world knows our political stances.  There is a reason they put the curtain on the election booths.  I believe we should vote in secrecy, contact your representatives, write to law makers, donate as you see fit, etc.  But all of that can be done without a single person knowing.  Then let the whole world see Jesus.

 

When Life Stinks, Do it Anyway

I went with a minister to visit someone in the hospital.  This man’s wife was in bad shape.  We first met with the man.  Ready to take mental notes I witnessed this seasoned pastor ask some of the strangest questions.

“Have you eaten?” was one of the first.  I thought, OK, probably not the strongest start but maybe its a warmup.  We are gonna chase the enemy clean out of this hospital at any moment…you’ll see!

“Will you eat if I get you something right now?”.  Yeah!, take that spiritual warfare!!!!… wait… what?  The man refused.  OK, he’s not hungry, lets stop messing around now.  The preacher asked the man to sit.  He had been standing for hours.  “You have to eat, even if you don’t feel like it”.  The man started to fight back tears… “I can’t” he exclaimed.

Having been through this level of trauma on many occasions the preacher knew several key things that had never crossed my mind.  First, we have to eat.  Not because food tastes good or because its socially correct, but because we need fuel.  When we get wrecked, when our life is turned sideways or upside down… we don’t think about the most basic things.

If this man doesn’t rest his legs and put some food in his body, then he risks having health issues on top of what his wife is going through.  What if she needs him and he has passed out?  What if she wakes, or has a complication and the doctors need his permission and he is too delirious to give a coherent response?  It happens.

And so this minister cut right to the chase.  If you want to be helpful, you have to help yourself.  Lets start with the most basic.  Get yourself on a steady regiment of fuel.  And not just once, but all throughout the process.  He trained the man too.  And if anyone else shows up, make sure they eat.  Its not thoughtless, its not tacky, its doing what is best for your wife.  And that is something they could all agree on.

He asked other helpful questions… Are there pets at home?  Anything turned on that needs to be turned off?  Any children need rides?  Any major assignments or events due immediately?

The next thing I learned from this preacher, is that there is a time to preach and a time to not preach.  This man didn’t want to hear how great it was from a heavenly perspective that his wife was in pain.  He didn’t want to know the Biblical reasons that his life was shattering.  He didn’t need to hear a psalm or someone’s favorite verse.  He needed to think.  He needed physical help.  He needed tangible hands and feet.  Healing would come later.  Right now, he needed human, practical, love and intervention to help him accomplish the things a man in shock can’t take care of.

Cramming God into a void rarely brings about healthy fruit.  In most cases, it has the opposite effect.  Ecclesiastes was right… there is a time for all things.  The man who rests his legs and feeds his stomach is prepared to deal with the coming battles in life.  He can’t be caught off guard if he is prepared.

Eat, even when you think you can’t.  Rest, even when you don’t want to.  What if we carried that same lesson to our walk with Christ?  What if we read our Bibles and studied His word even when weary?  What if we prayed even when angry?  The same principle applies.  If you prepare your spirit, it will be ready when needed.  If you neglect it, for whatever reason, you will risk being dried up when the real attacks occur.

The enemy, who just happens to know how spiritually depleted we can get, will wait for just the right time to attack.  Wouldn’t it be great if we never allowed him that opportunity?  If we never left that window open for him to whisk in and take advantage of?  We can do that by staying fueled.  Steady doses of biblical and Spiritual energy and we can make the same suggestion to loved ones around us.

I think, in some ways, this is what scripture is talking about when it talks about being prepared.  So we aren’t taken advantage of by a thief in the night.  We are told to stay sober, alert, even in cooking we should not expect to have time for the bread to rise.  Preparation.  We can prepare for the coming of the end times, and we can also prepare for any of the enemy’s attacks.  We do so by putting on the full armor of God, and by constantly communing with Him.

What if the next time we didn’t feel like reading, we saw that as a threat from the enemy?  What if the next time we didn’t have words for God or thought it best not to pray, we remembered how desperate he is to separate us from the Father who protects us?  “I’ll catch up tomorrow…”  May very well mean disaster is on the way for tomorrow.

But in case I lost my point somewhere, I’ll sum up.  We need God more than we need food and rest.  If it makes sense to keep our bodies going even during times of weakness or sickness, how much more important is it to keep our souls in check?

What I ate vs. who saved me

I’m perplexed by Christians in social media.  When someone posts about their promotion, their new car, or even their latest trip… likes, loves, and thumbs up stream in by bucket fulls.  When someone posts, “God is good” (or some variation) I see a fraction of activity on the post.  (your mileage may vary, but I generally see 1 – 5% of the normal responses given to a religious based post from the same account).

Why is that?  Maybe I should preface that in the circles I’m noticing this in, most of the audience is a Christian based audience.  So it’s the saved that are liking the picture at the park.  It’s the redeemed that “LOVE” the bacon wrapped hot dog someone posted.  It’s the Children of God that scroll right past the posts that mention their very Savior.

I’m not insinuating that we have any sort of obligation… but shouldn’t we want to be about more eternal things?  I know there might be some logistical concerns such as fueling the fire of the ‘Jesus Freak’  or maybe we are being bombarded with too many positive messages (which I find harder and harder to believe these days)?

My fear is that there is a deeply rooted shame of the gospel.  And the very people I’m referring to would instantly reject such a claim.  And I think they would honestly believe it too.  And for those people… for YOU… answer for yourself.  Why don’t you want your mark on a post that glorifies God?  Why won’t you comment on matters of the eternal soul?  Why are you abstaining when your King is mentioned?  And whatever answer you come up with, will you do me one favor?  Will you say a prayer to God and mention your reason directly to the face of God?  How would He feel?  How would you feel in sharing why you don’t want to be on record for the Lord?

I suspect some of us have a preconceived notion about ‘that guy’.  And we don’t want to be him. He is a bit too happy.  He is strangely holy.  He is oddly optimistic.  And that might be just enough to get him on the societal outcast list.  We want to be educated bankers, intelligent accountants, thrifty teachers, etc.  We want to be known for what humanizes us so we can blend in with the world we identify with.

Two major problems here.  First, we aren’t to identify with this world.  Our identity is God.  Second, we aren’t supposed to look normal.  We are supposed to look odd, abnormal, and like we belong somewhere else… because we do.  We DO NOT BELONG HERE…. why is it so important to look like we do?

But we have Christians who understand this wanting to get more info on the latest gadgets but don’t want to be seen colluding with the weirdos who talk openly about God.

I’ve noticed that the Bible only seems to focus on active people.  Zacchaeus climbed the tree to get a glimpse of Jesus.  People carried sick relatives to Jesus, touched his robe, washed His feet.  Some of these stories include crazy antics… remember the one where they lower the paralytic through a hole in the roof?  A hole they cut!!!  You know what you don’t remember?  It’s easy, because the Bible never addresses them.

It’s the quiet bystander.  The people who just watched and did nothing.  They have no place in the history of Jesus.  And matching with other scriptures we can read about the activists… the Hot.  The people actively trying to get to Jesus.  And, we can read about the antagonist… the cold.  The people trying to stop them.  But the lukewarm… they have no place in this story, just as Jesus said they have no place with Him.

Actively trying to get to Jesus.  Bringing gifts across the desert, climbing trees, pushing through massive crowds… Is liking a post the point?  No.  Are you actively trying to live a life that follows Jesus?  How does that look?  How does the world know you belong to Him?  Is it because you smile?  Is it because you don’t use certain words in your vocabulary?  Is it because you follow a certain stereotype?  No.

Does your politeness make Jesus jump up and down?  “Yeah!!!!  I died on the cross and they decided to hold the door open for someone… count that one as mine!”.  The atheists know how to be polite.  The agnostic can feed the hungry and donate blood.  The truly lost can be good neighbors.  While all of this might be good to live out, its not what is called out.  We aren’t just called, we are called out.  To step out and reject the norms of this society.  To say its not enough to be nice, its not enough to be kind.

It’s time to be separate.  Different.  Special.  Holy.  Godly.  Like Christ.  Christian.  Remember the shame of Peter?  “you were with the man weren’t you?”…. “no, no… NO!!!”.  Are some of us shaking our heads at how Peter could do such a thing, while at the same time we leave no tangible evidence that we are saved by a mighty God and called to a life of love, sacrifice, and saving others along the way?

I’m not shaming you if you don’t click like on Facebook posts.  I’m not calling out Twitter ghosts.  That is a small habit that may point to a bigger issue.  Are you proud of your heritage?  Do you honor God?  Can you post about your hiking trip, but the journey with the Savior feels weird?  Can you share your favorite recipe, but your favorite scripture never makes it out?  Do you recount endless tales of the exploits of your best friend, but what Jesus has done for you never crosses your mind to share?

If this post burns a bit, or seems accusatory, don’t fret.  The solution sits at your fingertips.  The cure is in your heart.  What makes me want to share Jesus is the forgiving love He gives where my past matters not.  What I kept to myself yesterday, I can shout out today.  What I was ashamed of yesterday can be my identity today.   Jesus doesn’t just forgive.  He restores.  He renews.  He redeems.

 

 

We are Who We Worship

I see a worshiper fall into that eternal space between worlds.  As she sings her voice trembles over the notes that her powerful vocal chords effortlessly blew through moments ago.  But now, her emotions no longer control her.  She has passed through that threshold between worshiping to God and worshiping at God.  She invited God’s presence and it consumed her.  Hands shaking, mouth quivering, the song continues with new strength and yet with more humble awareness.

Someone gets up from their seat and walks across the auditorium.  They want to pray for someone.  That person is just over there, so their feet follow their convictions.  Uncomfortable, inconvenient, distracting?  No, those thoughts never enter his mind.  He wants to pray, so he goes and prays.  Tapping his friend on the shoulder mere words are spoken before an embrace occurs followed by broken, heartfelt, emotional prayer.  Deep prayer.  Honest.  Cleansing.  Godly prayer.

Three families gather around rows of chairs to take communion together.  The layout of the building isn’t consistent with what they are wanting to do, but chairs get moved, people step out of the way, and compromise gets them all huddled together to sample a meal of eternal proportions together.  Each one bows, prays, and honors their fallen and risen King.

This is the church.  Family.  We chose each other when we chose God.  Now we live life together.  We pray together.  We confess to each other.  We support each other.  We are Christ to each other.  We strengthen and encourage.  And then we go into the world sharing the amazing love of God to all humanity.  The pharisees followed rules and policies.  I’ve been to many churches that structured 3 songs, a prayer, a sermon, etc.  Jesus seemingly did the opposite.

Not that structure is wrong, but He seemed to always find Himself opposing the religious elite.  It wasn’t about the temple, it wasn’t about their status, it wasn’t about their order and structure… and they were deeply offended.  But He kept on.  Washing the feet of a woman, eating with the sinners, healing on the sabbath, speaking against human created traditions.  He didn’t have time for customs, He had a world to save.  And while the power comes from Him, He passed that torch on to us.  “Go into the world…”.

And I can’t help but wonder, what does God think of this?  It’s for Him.  His commands followed.  His will sought.  His name praised.  We know He doesn’t puff up or get ego issues.  Will this act receive the “well done, my good and faithful servant” we all long to hear?  Will He cry?  Will He well up with Fatherly pride?  I can’t say for sure because those are our actions.  Those are the things sinners do when we share in a glimpse of something good and right.  But what does an almighty and Holy God do when He is worshiped?

Let me offer something that might not sound right at first.  We are who we worship.  And by that, I don’t mean we are part of the trinity God-head.  I’m not elevating us to equality.  But in a different way, we do tend to become like those we cherish.  Have you ever noticed you talk like your idols?  Does your accent change when you spend a few years in a new region?  You’ve certainly heard the phrase, “you are what you eat”?  And just like that phrase, I’m not suggesting that we are literal peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the flesh.

But, if that is all we eat, we do take on the attributes of the food.  High carbs, high fat, high calories… so are we if that is what we choose to eat.  We take on the characteristics of the choices we make.  What happens when you switch to lean meats, veggies, water, and fruit?  You shed off the old food and become the new food.  Fat is lost.  Calories are lost.  Carbs are lost.  Old clothes don’t fit any more.  People look at us and say, “WOW!!!!, you look like a different person!!!”

And this is what happens as a result of worship.  When we truly worship, we commune with God.  We are in His presence.  Just like eating the bread and drinking the cup during our Lord’s Supper, we take on the attributes, we consume them.  We put Godly things into our lives.  We invite the Spirit into our lives.  And we change.  We start to take on those Godly attributes and before we realize it… impatience is lost.  Greed is lost.  Pride is lost.  Hate is lost.  Sin is lost.  Our old lives don’t fit us anymore and before we even realize it, people look at us and say, “WOW!!!!! you look like a different person!!!”.  And we really are.

We died to our old way of living and now have a new lifestyle that is fully enveloped by Jesus.  So, in a way, we are what we worship.  To the greatest extent that we fall under grace.  We aren’t God… but we are Godly.  We aren’t Christ, but we are Christian.  We aren’t perfect… but we are forgiven and made right… and that puts us right back at the beginning of this blog…  How can we not worship Him with ALL of our heart, soul, mind, body, and spirit?

A relationship with God is not extra credit.  It’s not optional.  It’s critical to the entire plan of salvation.  Don’t let worship be your vocal talent and nothing more.  Don’t believe that your extravagant prayers are flattering to God.  He wants to be consumed.  He wants to be eaten up (so to speak) 😉  If you aren’t getting anything out of church, ask what you are putting into it.  If you aren’t sharing with your fellow believers, start today.  If you are ashamed or embarrassed to invite people to your family of God that happens to meet in a random building… you might not be the relative you thought you were.

It’s OK to be in these situations… as long as we understand its not OK to remain in them.  If you don’t love your church… you have witnessed your first red flag.  Start with God, open your honest heart to Him and work your plan and His from there.  He gave His Son, our response in worship is our thankfulness for that gift.  It CANNOT be stale, uninspired, or Spirit lacking in nature.  Worship like we are mere men and women.  Worship like we address a God.  Worship as though He not only came to us, but He brought an unbelievable gift.

 

Erasing Makes A Mess

I worked for an unscrupulous manager when I was growing up.  He would fill out the schedule in pencil and, when it suited him the most, he would erase time slots and fill it out again.  Thankfully, the GM was smart, and when I showed him the faint outline left by the erasing it was obvious that the data was altered.

I used to use erasable ink pens until I learned that no amount of swiping would make the surface completely clean.  Maybe technology has changed, but when I was a child, writing something in an erasable format was like putting something on the internet… there was no way to get rid of it.  Like a dirty chalkboard, you can make out bits and pieces of what was previously documented there.

This is why I’m thankful that Jesus didn’t erase our sins.  He took them.  If He had just forgiven us, there would still be a remnant or stain.  And in our minds we would know what we have done.  It’s hard to live through guilt.  Jesus took our sins.  More specifically, He bought them.  They had a price and we couldn’t afford it.  Jesus stepped in and heaped them all on Himself in our place.

I know a lot of people who won’t begin or further a relationship with Jesus because of their past.  They feel that God is all powerful, but He can’t forgive them.  They think that they have messed up too many times.  They use phrases like too much, too late, or too hard.  The gift we have been given pretty much means that we don’t have a past anymore.  We only have a future.

Jesus found a way so that when someone comes along and scratches the surface of our lives, they don’t find the person we used to be.  That person is gone. We are new with Christ.  That doesn’t just mean we act different, it means we ARE different.  We have a full new history of grace, forgiveness, and salvation.

Satan would have you believe that if someone comes along, they can perform that trick the detectives use on TV shows with a pencil on a post it note to uncover your secrets.  God’s truth is that you have no secrets… His Son paid for them all.  The temptation is to retreat in your sin.  The gift is that you have no sin.  Not if you accept the gift of Christ crucified and live in a relationship with Him.  So please allow me to encourage you to stop letting your sin keep you from Christ, when it is Christ who keeps your sin from you.  Stop trying to erase the sin, when He will fully take it all.

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Listen to your Donkey

We don’t hear about this much from the pulpit… but there is a talking donkey in the Bible.  The owner’s name is Balaam and the donkey is called… his donkey.  If you aren’t familiar with the story, you might take a second to get caught up:

Numbers 22:21-33

In my Bible, the heading of that story is interesting.  It’s titled, “Balaam’s Donkey”.  After reading that story, I would have thought the angel with the sword was pretty cool… and very important.  But Balaam didn’t even notice him.  You know what else Balaam didn’t notice?

THAT HIS DONKEY WAS TALKING!!!!!  Read the text.  After the donkey asked why he beat him so, he simply responded and then added a threat to the donkey to boot.  I also think its interesting that the word says that God opened the donkey’s mouth.  Note the words it spoke,

What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?”

Balaam wasn’t beating God or the angel.  He was beating his donkey.  And the donkey spoke.  Why ME?  Not, why HIM?  Not, leave that Donkey alone… it was, “you beat ME”.  And the donkey speaks in first person again.  Later, Balaam sees the angel and the angel references the donkey directly as a 3rd party.  And while all of that is interesting, Balaam responds to the donkey’s questions as though it was a normal conversation.

We don’t receive any physical description of fear, surprise, shock, awe, or confusion.  Balaam is so angry at this creature that when it asked why he would hurt it, he had explanation prepared and shouted it readily.  Balaam wasn’t quoted with a stutter, nor were any follow up questions mentioned.  I was expecting something along the lines of:

“you can talk!?!??!?!”  Or how about an, “I’m so sorry!!”.  Speaking tends to humanize things a bit, but Balaam was wishing he had his sword to teach this animal a lesson.

This situation screams out crazy.  Who could tell this story and not end up in a white jacket after?  But I believe that we re-enact this on an extremely regular basis.  Consider the following:

  1.  We follow our own path.
  2. We keep our head down and pay little attention to what is going on around us.
  3. Circumstances try and steer us clear, but we complain, point fingers, blame, and otherwise try to work around these “obstacles” that are actually there to help us… in hindsight.
  4. Something amazing happens.  Perhaps even miraculous.  But it wasn’t what we wanted, or our way of doing it, or in our timing, so we kick it, fuss at it, and wish it harm.
  5. God performs a holy double face-palm at His efforts to put us on track and our inability to see Him through our own small thinking.

Even when I’m trying to do good, I go about it MY way in most cases.  There are two things I think we could all do better:  (look and listen).

  1.  Keep your eyes out for sword wielding angels.  God cares so much for us.  He loves us to death (His Son’s death) and He would, and has done, anything for us.  This includes working in our lives today.  Keep that head up and look for signs, opportunities, noble paths, people in need, etc.
  2.  Keep your ears open for talking donkeys.  Don’t be so entrenched with what you want, that you can’t even hear or notice that God is clearly talking to you.  If you are open to the will of God, then you need to be always prepared to step back from the worldly way of doing things.  We need to be prepared and expect speed bumps, road blocks, detours, bridges out… If these things derail us emotionally, we will never experience the miracles off the beaten path (which will be most of them).

We can get so wrapped up in our world, we don’t even recognize it when donkey’s speak.  Balaam didn’t.  Not that I can tell.  But I can recognize his exasperation for the situation.  It’s a laser focus mentality that refuses to acknowledge anything other than plan A.  Balaam was on a mission and this stubborn beast was not going to get in His way.

Be open to the whims of the donkey… it may just be spying a sword wielding angel ready to slice you down.  Did you see how the angel talked to Balaam?  He told the man that he would have killed him if he kept going… and he would have spared the donkey.  The donkey saved his life (and tried to 3 times).  Perhaps when things don’t go our way, instead of asking, “why me!!?”, why not pray about what blessings are about to happen?  Or what warning needs to be heeded?  Balaam learned, in the oddest way possible, to be thankful for unexpected inconveniences.

I know that for me, the next time I blow a tire, I’m going to be looking around the area.  Is someone else around?  Is there an opportunity here?  Should I go another way?  Should I turn around completely?  Does the hubcap have something to say?

 

 

 

It is Well… no, really!

The best, most wonderful, precious and amazing thing we can do is pray.  But what happens when we don’t feel like it?

Most of my blogs are about prayer.  Jesus spent a huge amount of His time in prayer.  The answer to all things Christian is prayer.  The modern Christian has little else to do but pray… But there are circumstances where prayer just seems out of reach.

We aren’t worthy, we haven’t been answered, we feel let down, we are stuck in a rut, angry at God, need a break, it hasn’t yielded positive results in months.  And… etc.

Christians aren’t called to be perfect, but we are made to endure.  The song “It is Well”, if you aren’t familiar with it’s roots, was penned by a man who just lost 4 children in a boating accident.  He didn’t have the strength to do much.  So he wrote.  When peace is with me… it is well.  When trials come… it is well too.

His wife, who couldn’t comprehend the devastation, said “God gave me four daughters. Now they have been taken from me. Someday I will understand why.”  She was having the same moment her husband was.  It was an ‘it is well’ moment.  Devastating, horrible, unfathomable, gut wrenching, and yet… not eternal.

They knew death has been defeated by Jesus.  They knew eternity and real life starts with death.  But, as the living, we mourn the loss of those we love.  And in those moments where our hearts are floating in the abyss we can’t muster the attitude that says, lets move on, lets celebrate!  Instead, we trust God just enough to know that it is well.  Or maybe for some… it will be.

Each day can bring a new season in your life.  You may be happily faithful.  You may be being stretched and prepared for great things.  You may be in an ‘it is well’ moment.  And while we will all endure each of these, it’s very important we don’t give up.

It is well, means… I’ve lost my children, but God has gained them.

It is well, means… I’ve lost my job, but God will provide.

It is well, means… I’ve received the diagnosis, but today is not the end.

It is well, means… I’m in prison, but I can minister to my captors.

It is well, means… I’m on the cross, but its for them.

It is well, means… whatever my lot in THIS life, my soul’s path is unchanged.

It IS well.  It really is.  But there are times when our inner resources need a moment to process and catch up.  We don’t live for the playing of taps, we eagerly await angels blowing trumpets.   Tears at a graveside isn’t the end of life, shouts from the heavens are where it simply begins.

It is well, means… the tomb has been sealed, but it was empty days later.

It’s about the victory that is to come, but isn’t quite here yet.  We can’t let go of that.  The loneliness, the bitterness, the emptiness… it will create a vacuum of pain.  That is when we need it is well the most.  Not quite the power to dust ourselves off and march onward, but enough faith to know that God will deliver in His perfect timing.

One of the greatest misunderstandings in the Christian faith is why we suffer.  And why suffering builds character.  And how suffering molds us into receptive and strong foes against the enemy… how it prepares us for future needs.  How one loss prepares us better to deal with another.  And how these moments are NOT created by God… but we are guided through them, by Him.

As cliched as it sounds, don’t despair.  It is well.  God turns water into wine.  He turns blindness into sight.  And, He turns tombs into celebration.  All we have to do is weather the storm.  The end of the story for the writer of this song???  His wife gave birth to 3 more children.  But that was just a momentary pause in the story.  The end hasn’t happened yet.  He awaits, along with us, for what the true ending will be.  All he knew in life, was the ending would be worth it.  How much so, is still eagerly anticipated.

But due to their faith… because she knew God knew…  because He knew THE day was about a heavenly battle already won… they rested their hopes on days to come.  This day will pass.  A new dawn will rise.  Tomorrow brings fresh opportunity.  With time, healing abounds.  It is well.

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Small portion of the story found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horatio_Spafford

 

 

Any Given Sunday you can Worship. Do you?

Do you go to church to sing pretty songs, or do you go to make war against the enemies of God?  You can dress that question up semantically however you like, but war has found you.  And while the end may be determined, the inhabitants of that end have not.  War is about more than staying alive… its about dragging the wounded off the battle field with you.  It’s letting that heroes’ heart take over and determining that counting is in increments of 1.  That life matters.  Every life matters.  Each soul is precious.  The call to worship is a battle cry.
If my throat is not sore, if my eyes are dry, if my feet aren’t tired, if my knees aren’t worn, if my heart is not moved, if my mind wanders.  If I am not shaken into the embrace of God… then I have NOT worshipped.
Read 1 Chronicles 16:23-31.  I’m going to list just some of the words from those verses that describe worship: (if the words repeat, they did so in the passage).
“Sing to the Lord (not to each other).  Proclaim.  Declare.  Glory.  Marvelous.  Great.  Worthy of praise.  Feared.  Splendor.  Majesty.  Strength.  Joy.  Ascribe to the Lord.  Ascribe to the Lord.  Glory.  Strength.  Ascribe to the Lord.  Glory due His name.  Bring an offering.  Come before Him.  Worship.  Splendor.  Holiness.  Tremble.”
Tremble.
“Tremble before Him.”
Who should tremble before Him?  The disciples?  no.  The Pharisees?  no.  Just the old testament?  no.  Who should Tremble?  “all the earth!”.  (exclamation mark included).
“Let the heaven’s rejoice, let the earth be glad, let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Read it again.  Read it every day.  Read it right before worship.  Read it during.  Have you ever worshipped in such a way?
Stand face to face before the Lord your God and tremble (“come before Him”), ascribe, declare, and worship.
We can sing pretty songs anytime we want.  When we join in worship,  we are worshipping a mighty and living God that will approach us as we approach Him.
He responds in kind.  And our offering?  An attempt to sing quieter than the person next to me so no one can hear how bad I sing.  Or a trip to the cry room so I can stretch my legs.  Perhaps “meditation” when I don’t like the next song?  Even the jubilant singers… if that isn’t for Him… if the jolly isn’t for the Savior, then it isn’t worship.
We just don’t always stop and think that when we ask God to join us… He will actually come.  Some of us need to share our loving Savior with others.  Peacefully and gracefully.  Some of us need to refine our worship.  We need to remove the volume cap and let the praise flow out.  We need a reminder that our scripture isn’t as complex or cryptic as we are made to think.  A sacrifice of worship isn’t simply singing on key.
Some of us need to worship for the first time in our lives.  Some of us know people who go to church every single Sunday and they haven’t yet put one foot over the battle line.  Ask yourself… please… sincerely ask yourself.  Why are you going to church?  To stretch out your new dress shoes?  To get a good spot in the ‘singles’ section?  Or is it to let go of ourselves so God can take hold and lead us to greatness for His name?
This Sunday millions of Christians will go to church and sit on their hands expecting God to make the first move.  Or they will sing under their breath.  Or, they will share scripture in monotone drudgery.
Listen to just the verbs in the passage above:
Sing. Proclaim.  Declare.  Fear.  Ascribe.  Bring an offering.  Come before Him.  Worship.  Tremble.
God may be where the power is at, but we have a responsibility to take action.  Look at the woman who sought Jesus out for healing.  First she carried her sick person directly to Him.  Then she had faith that Jesus had supernatural powers.  Finally she reached out to Him and touched Him.  (Matthew 9:20-22)
Had she not combined 3 key elements ( her faith, her action, and God’s willing power) she would not have been healed.
She was bold to reach out and touch someone who she already believed was who He claimed to be…. God.  Did she do it with fear and trembling?  Most likely… that is worship!  She went to be face to face with the Savior and made the choice to give all she had (faith and action) and to involve Him in the moment.
Worship is… If and only IF… you are face to face with the savior, reaching out and being ready to grab hold of what He has in store for you!
You can win this Sunday.  You can choose to step onto the spiritual battlefield and accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our Savior.  You can introduce others to Him and give them a fighting chance as well.  The enemy, literally, wants you and everyone you love to go to hell.  Don’t just sing a pretty song in response…. go to war!