In Living Color

How's your Monday? Mine is off to a fast start! The weekend was GREAT for me! I had an opportunity to perform for some  20,000 people in Virginia Beach this past Saturday! I'm still on a high from the whole experience! If you're a social media person, my pictures from the whole event are on my Instagram. This week's inbox note is rather personal. I hope you won't mind. 

On Friday I sat down with a friend of mine who is pastor. Over a delicious lunch of friend chicken, green beans, cabbage and macaroni and cheese we talked about life and some of the things we had both been experiencing recently. After a while, the conversation took an inevitable turn toward God’s word. My friend Bryan talked about the Bible in a way I’d not heard it discussed before and it really started me thinking. 

Bryan said the Word of God gives us the ability to live life in full color. I have to admit, as Bryan talked about this I was intrigued, but I also found myself asking, “what in the world does that even mean?”. I walked away from lunch with a lot of questions. What was this full color life? Was I living it?

Over the weekend I thought about it some more - this living color Bryan had talked about. My mind kept striking on the same Biblical reference, the b section of John 10:10

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

If Jesus comes that we might have life, then it makes sense that we should have him first - and I know that comes by faith. So, I trotted over to Hebrews 11 - the hall of fame for men and women of faith - to investigate a little more about this colorful, vibrant and full life Bryan said the Bible opened for us. Then I started to see it - the common thread in all of this.

Reading through the Hebrews 11 chapter I saw a pattern. These people ran after God with reckless abandon. They took on what seemed to be ridiculous assignments from God. They leaned away from their own understandings, their own emotions, their own pride and ran toward God’s purposes. In the process, their lives became bright and vibrant. Their lives were made vivid by faith! What Bryan said was beginning to make more sense, now! I was beginning to see. One more scripture came to mind:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

- Romans 10:17.

The vibrance of these people’s lives originated in hearing God’s Word - whether he spoke it to them directly, or they heard it through another channel. It says so right there in the Romans verse! So, here it is, all laid out for us - the way to live a full and vibrant life: 1) hear God's Word 2) trust God's word 3) lean away from yourself (your plans, pride, and practicality) and into him. 

I began to think of all the times Jesus told his disciples not to worry about this or that. I began to think about all the impractical things God called people to do. This was the vivid life Bryan was talking about! But, what about me? What about my life? Am I living the vivid life of reckless abandon to God?

I have to be honest. No. I’m not. Well... not really. Sure, there's some color here and there, but I've not yet come to any kind of place that could be described as spiritually vibrant. These days, I don't think a whole lot of us are! We are conditioned to love our comforts and our safety and our security. We say we count on God, but a lot of the time we only pay lip service to mountain-moving faith. Sad but true - if not for you, then me!

The good news is, I’m getting closer and closer to that life of vibrance! Everyday I see new shoots of color springing up as I pray and read and hear from God. My faith is growing! He is teaching me to rely on him. It is beautiful, but not easy and very uncomfortable sometimes. Nonetheless, Jesus says this is the good life. I’m beginning to see it that way, too, more and more.

I’ve been reading a biography about George Mueller, a German preacher who opened orphanages in England in the 19th century. He began his ministry of rescuing orphans with two purposes: 1) to see to it that orphan children would have a place to grow and learn that was safe and suitable, and 2) to prove that faithful prayer worked.

Mueller started his first orphanage with little more than a shilling to his name. He never asked anyone for money. He promised God that he never would. He only prayed for what he needed and God provided it. Sometimes God took care of the needs of the orphanage week by week. Sometimes he did it day by day; even hour by hour, but he never failed. Mueller’s orphanage would expand from one house with 30 children, to two with 96 children to three with 150 children - all this within the first 5 years. Before it was all done, George Mueller would build orphanages to house and care for more than 2,000 children at a time. He never asked anyone for a penny. He proved his point. God is faithful! Talk about a colorful life!

I feel pulled toward this kind of vibrant life. God hasn’t given me any grandiose George Mueller instructions, like “build an orphanage.” However, I know he is preparing in me a deep trust in him. I’m praying about things with a new gusto. Some of these things I’ve been praying about for weeks, months - even years. Not until now have I been to a place where I am truly starting to rest in God to do these things. Not until now have I begun to surrender my ideas about how things should be done and when and how it should look when it is being done and how it should look afterward.

What I am finding is that with every little bit I surrender, I see a few more shoots of color in my life. My hands are less full with plans and schemes and worries. This isn’t to say that I don’t have to work hard or think. Quite the contrary. I think even these first few steps toward this this vibrant life reveal that trusting God establishes the work and intensifies the focus required to do it. It is teaching me to work with what is before me today. It is teaching me to follow Jesus’ advice and let tomorrow be tomorrow.

In the ears of the world around us, this kind of trust in God rings as foolishness. God’s word gives us a heads up that this kind of life will always sound foolish to people without faith. But we who have even the slightest embers of trust in God are invited to step out of the gray of the world we live in. God invites us to step into the vibrance of his kingdom - the kingdom that Jesus over and over again declared is right here, at hand. 

David raised his cup and gave a toast, extoling the deliciousness of life given to absolute trust in God: 


Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

- Psalm 34:8

 

Blessed, indeed! Everyday, I relish those words a little bit more. Everyday I trust him a little bit more. Everyday he lets me taste just a bit more of his goodness as he draws me! I join David in his toast to the astonishing goodness of God! I raise my cup with him saying those same beautiful words, “Taste and see!”

Here’s to the good life! Here's to a life in living color!

Questions:

  • How do I define security? What makes me feel secure?
  • Can I think of instances where I’ve taken incredible risks on a whim or impulse, knowing I was wrong? If so, how / why is my response to risky instructions from God different?
  • What are my biggest barriers to living a truly colorful life? Impatience? Doubt? Pride? Something else?
  • Can I think of something God is calling on me to do right now that I am resisting because it doesn’t make sense to me?
  • Who do I know that I can look toward as an encouraging example of living life in strong faith and utter dependence on God?

Dirty Jobs

Happy Monday! 

I took last week off from writing to relax and reflect on Memorial Day. I hope you found time to do the same thing last week, and I also hope your Monday is off to a fantastic start already!

I don’t have TV service anymore, but when I did, I used to enjoy watching a show calledDirty Jobs. On the show, the host, Mike Rowe traveled around the country and even the world discovering strange, dirty, disgusting and messy vocations. As disgusting as each of these vocational duties were, they were all necessary jobs - jobs that not many people would want to do, but needed to be done, nonetheless.

In the book of Isaiah we find God giving his prophet a commission to go to the king and people of Israel with some very bad news. We might describe the task God gave Isaiah as a sort of “dirty job.” Not many people would have been willing to deliver this kind of message - but it had to be done. God chose to use Isaiah because he was humble enough to take on the task with a posture of obedience.

By the time we get to chapter 6, God’s great displeasure with the state of Israel is very clear. God is angry because Israel has walked out on him, turning their backs on the covenant he had established with them. The Israeli people were deep in sin. They’d even reduced the sacred practices of sacrifice and worship to empty gestures - just going through the motions. God was furious and in chapter 6 he sends Isaiah forth with this message to Israel: 
 

He said, “Go and tell this people: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the Lord has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

Isaiah 6:9-13

If I were in Isaiah’s shoes I would have felt as if God was sending me to do a dirty job! We have to know that Isaiah wasn’t exactly excited about going to the people and leaders of Israel to tell them “God says he’s going bring pain, hunger, exile and misery on our people.” The orders he received were very uncomfortable. Still, he obeyed.

The truth is that doing God’s will is not about our comfort at all. It is about his design and his purposes. This often gets lost in our self-help, new-age oriented theology. When we listen for God’s instruction we must keep in mind that we exist for him; not the other way around. Any comforts we receive are gifts; not entitlements. Above all comforts, God’s purposes must be our objective. We must get our hearts to a place where they are ever-ready to do God’s instructions, whatever those instructions might be.

Isaiah’s example here is striking, and his response to the commission God has given him shows exactly why God chose him to do this assignment. The only question he asks is:“For how long, Lord?” He doesn’t haggle. He doesn’t ask God for a deal: “If I do this, can you do ____________ for me?” He doesn’t plead. He doesn’t remind God how uncomfortable the assignment will be. He doesn’t run from it. He simply asks God how long his judgement would last, and goes forth to do what he’s been told to do.

Oh, to be like Isaiah! How awesome is his example of humble submission to God! As we set out into the first week in the month of June, I’m asking God to give us spirits that are as humble and obedient as Isaiah was. I’m asking God to break those things in us that are prone to rebel and seek comfort and seek pathways of least resistance. I’m praying for increased faith that will allow us to bear up under uncomfortable assignments and uncomfortable positions.

I hope you’ll join me in praying for these things this week. I hope you’ll pray with me that God will give us every spiritual resource we need to faithfully and obediently answer his call - even when that call is to do dirty jobs!

Questions for this week…

  • What is my perception of God’s purposes in my life? Are those purposes for me or are they for him?
  • How do I respond when God directs me to do things that are uncomfortable?
  • What is my definition of obedience? Is obedience simply about doing what I’ve been instructed to do or does my attitude about what I’m doing have any relevance to my definition?
  • What kinds of dirty jobs has called me to do?

Stay of Execution

I hope your weekend gave you some time to relax and regroup and you’re already off to a great start with this week. This was certainly a beautiful weekend for me. I’m really grateful for it!

Last night, I sat on my couch for a few minutes and just prayed “Lord, what do I write about this week?” Almost immediately, I felt a tug toward Genesis 4. I went and got my tablet to see what the scripture said there. I had no idea what would I find, but as I read I did find something really interesting to look at in this familiar story of Cain and Abel.

Most of us know the story. Abel and Cain were the sons of Adam an Eve. Abel was a shepherd and Cain farmed the land. Both of the young men made offerings to God. However, as the story goes, Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to God and Cain’s wasn’t. At the section where we are entering the story, we find Cain sulking over the fact that his offering was rejected by God. God sees Cain’s pity party and speaks to him:

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.

- Genesis 4:6-7

Notice the B section of verse 7. God gives Cain a warning “listen dude, there’s something dangerous brewing at your doorstep and you need to get control of yourself before you fall into it.” I found it interesting that God was so gracious as to warn Cain. But that got me thinking, doesn’t God usually give us the same kinds of warnings? Doesn’t he usually (by his Spirit) give us that nagging suspicion that we’re making turns toward bad ends?

A lot of us are like Cain: blinded by emotions. One of the side effects of being caught in our emotions is a loss of reality. We are aware of God’s flashing red sign that says “DO NOT ENTER” but we can’t resist. Our emotions are at the helm of our hearts - just the same way Cain’s emotions were. We ignore the warning and we charge on toward the calamity.

Cain ultimately ignored God’s warning that he needed to check himself, and wound up killing his brother. And this wasn’t some “heat of passion” killing. He plotted it. If Cain were to stand up for trial in our legal system today, he would have been charmed with first degree murder. The Bible says he lured Abel into a field and killed him there.

Cain’s decision to ignore God’s warning led to judgement. We the sentence that God issues to Cain in verses 11-12. God says that Cain would no longer be able to produce food from the ground through his own labor. God says that Cain would be a fugitive and wanderer on the earth as a result of his crime of murdering his brother.

This is the part where the story gets really interesting to me. The word “fugitive” jumped out at me. God said Cain would be a fugitive in the land - running for his life - when he initially issues his just sentence for what Cain had done. After God pronounced the sentence, however, Cain cried out for mercy. Look down at verses 13 and 14.

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.

- Genesis 4:13-14

So, let’s line this up again: Cain displeases God. God warns Cain to get out of his pity party because it was leading up treachery. Cain ignores God and his pity party turns into rage. He kills his brother. God issues a judgement to Cain that he will be a fugitive and a wanderer, - on the run for his life - unable to produce food for himself from the earth. Cain cries out for mercy saying the sentence God has passed it too much for him to take. He knows that whoever finds him will kill him - after all, he is now a fugitive.

When Cain cries out for mercy, God listens, though! Not only does God listen, but he graciously reverses a portion of his judgement and provides him with protection. He issues a stay of execution. Look at verse 15:

But the Lord said to him, “Not so ; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

- Genesis 4:15

Even though the sentence God had passed on Cain was completely just, God took some of the sting away by sparing Cain’s life. I think this story tells us a lot about the nature of God. This is only the fourth 4th chapter of Genesis, but already we can see in the Biblical narrative a trend with God - he is not slow to exercise his grace! God extended grace to Cain in the same way he had extended grace to Cain’t mom and dad when they had fallen to disobedience in the garden. Already by chapter four of Genesis, God’s grace is a prominent theme.

I marvel at this, but then I consider my own life. I think of all the times when I have charged forward, knowing full well that I felt God pull me in a different direction, or warn me against my plans. No, I have not escaped consequences, but I’m no fool. I know that my wrongness warrants far more draconian discipline that my Heavenly Father gives me. Considering Cain’s story caused me to consider my own. I woke up this morning with a hyper-active gratitude for the awesome grace of God in my own life.

The theme that’s already clear by chapter four in Genesis, is the theme of the whole book. The climax of this particular theme is the sacrifice of God’s own son, - his only one - to restore us to relationship with him. It really is breathtaking to think about!

Think about how long your own personal rap sheet is! Think about the things you’ve done that nobody knows about! Think about those thoughts you keep! You don’t have to answer. I’ll answer for myself: I deserve death, just like Cain did! Yet, because of his unfathomable graciousness, God looked at my rap sheet and wrote “not guilty” because his son paid my price!

This week, I encourage you to take time our everyday to reconsider how gracious God is to you. Think about the blessings you’ve received. Think about your past. Don’t do it in a guilty way, but with a heart of awe. If you’re honest, you’ll find the same thing that I’ve found - we all deserve death. Coming to this realization leads to a place of profound gratitude. This realization leads to a place of wonder at the expansive grace of our perfect and glorious God and his love for us.

I don’t know about you, but I am SO glad that he (through his son Jesus) has issued for me an eternal stay of execution!

Questions. Questions. Questions!

  • How often do I think about God’s grace?
  • How can I do better at taking heed of God’s warnings?
  • Do I approach God with a heart of awe for his graciousness towards me, or do I approach him with a sense of entitlement?
  • Am I doing the best I can to be an extension of God’s grace to others?

Get Out of Your Feelings

It feels like summer is in the air already! I awoke this morning to a radiant glow of bright sunlight bursting through my window. I was immediately energized for the day! I hope your day started off with as much gusto as mine. If not, here’s to an improved day beginning RIGHT NOW!

This week’s email is really personal for me. Over the past 10 months or so, I’ve been dealing with the issue of appropriately managing my emotions. As I have been dealing with this issue in my life, God’s word has been really rich and instructive. I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve learned during this time.

I believe emotions are gifts from God. In their proper places, emotions enrich our lives and can be very constructive. However, because our emotions can be so intoxicating many of us fall prey to the temptation to overindulge in them. God’s word gives us instructions about this - instructions that hit home for me.

Most of us know that the book of Proverbs is a treasure trove of wisdom. I try to read through the whole book every year or so just to revisit the richness of it. In this book we find the issue of emotions revisited a number of times. One particular verse that underscores the general sentiments of God’s word toward our emotions is this one:

He that trusts in his own heart is a fool: but whoever walks wisely, he shall be delivered. 
- Proverbs 28:26

The Bible often refers to the heart as the center of emotions and feelings, (as it does in this verse). It also warns us over and over again that our emotions are unreliable and we do well not to let them take over our lives. In another book, Jeremiah, we find out exactly why trusting in our own hearts (or trusting in our emotions) is dangerous:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
- Jeremiah 17:9

Why is it that our emotions are so unreliable? Why is it that they lead us this way and that, often leaving us in states of confusion and distorted reality? Why are they so deceitful? What is this sickness of our emotions that Jeremiah is speaking about? 

I think the basis for Jeremiah's warning is the fact that our emotions (aka “the heart”) are a part of our flesh. They don’t operate on faith, or God’s word. They respond to what we experience based on the experience itself - without logic, wisdom or discernment.

In the book of Galatians, the Apostle Paul lays out in great detail why relying on the fleshly impulses of our emotions is dangerous:

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

- Galatians 5:16-23

One of the things I’ve learned in my own personal journey with my emotions is that walking with God often means sidestepping emotion. It doesn’t mean we ignore them. It does mean we recognize them for exactly what they are - responses; not realities. We are only able to sidestep them when we can see them and recognize them. That's why it is so important that we don't just ignore them. Ignoring them often means we fall into them unknowingly. No, we must acknowledge our emotions and our feelings and consciously move past them. 

Emotions call us into ourselves - how I feel, what I want, what's been done to ME, what I deserve, what is best for ME. The fact is, living an emotional life is also living a largely selfish and self-absorbed life. Walking with God always calls us to look away from ourselves. Walking with him always calls us to look to him and others. We can’t live this kind of life when we are drowning in self-oriented emotion!

So as we set out into this week, let’s be conscious and intentional about living our lives with emotions in their proper places. Let’s pray that God will draw us out of ourselves and our selfishness. Let’s pray that he will teach us how to religiously look to him and our neighbors.

As we get deeper into these warm days of May, let’s rest on God to take care of us and protect and balance us so that we can recognize and experience emotions in their proper places. Let’s ask God to open our minds and take control of our hearts so we can relish life in the fullness he intends. Let’s ask God to help us to get out of our feelings!

Let’s consider this week’s questions:

  • What sorts of things trigger my emotional flares?

  • When I experience these flare-ups, how likely am I to give in and respond based on what I feel? Am I pleased with the outcomes when I do this?

  • How would I rate the reliability of my emotions? Do they provide me with a reliable basis for decision making and interacting with others?

  • What is the proper place for emotion in my life?

Resistance is Futile

Good Afternoon!

I’m so sorry for the late email today. I hope wherever you are you are enjoying a day that is as beautiful as the one we are enjoying here in Richmond. The sun is out and there’s a crisp breeze in the air. I’m planning to take a few moments later to go out take it all in. Before I get outside to enjoy the sun though, let’s talk about resistance.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Jonah. We’ve grown up hearing about Jonah’s stubborn resistance to God’s instructions since our earliest days in Sunday school. We’ve heard about the big fish and the three nights Jonah spent inside the gigantic animal’s stomach. We know the story, I’m sure. Yet, there are some finer points to the story I’d like to highlight in today’s email.

1) When we resist God’s instruction we bring storms to other people’s lives.

Verses 4-6 of Jonah 1, tell us that God sent a huge storm as a response to Jonah’s disobedience. (Notice it doesn’t say he allowed it. He SENT it.) The storm didn’t just affect Jonah. It affected everyone on the boat he was trying to to escape upon. Jonah’s disobedience at the very least made everybody’s life on the boat uncomfortable. At worst, Jonah’s resistance put the lives of everyone about the boat in danger.

How often do we choose to resist God’s instructions, taking up with people, places and entities as places of refuge while we try to do things our own way? These verses call us to look at these decisions more closely. They call us to remember that our decisions to be disobedient don’t just affect us. When we go in the opposite direction of God’s instruction, we put other people in discomfort and sometimes in jeopardy.

2) God’s grace and mercy are not ours to distribute. He distributes them as he wills.

Jonah’s disobedience was based on his judgement of Nineveh. He assessed the people of the city and decided they didn’t deserve grace. The story starts off with Jonah’s response to God’s instructions and is revisited later on the story as well. Jonah’s mind was made up. Nineveh didn’t deserve mercy! The people were far too evil to be recipients of God’s grace!

How many of us do this? We may not go as far as Jonah to say people are “too evil,” but most of us do try to put the stop on God’s free flow of grace from time to time. How many of us pass judgement on others, thinking to ourselves “they don’t deserve…(fill in the blank)”?

Jonah’s story makes it clear that we don’t have the right or the authority to decide who gets grace and who doesn’t. Grace is not ours. It is God’s. When he sends us as instruments of his grace it is not up to us to be judge and/or jury. Our job is to follow instructions and be the gracious instrument we have been assigned to be. 
How does this apply? Whether it is hiring someone that doesn’t quite “look the part” or making a decision on whether or not to give money to a homeless person on a corner, or resolving a rift in a friendship, we are often guided toward decisions that are counter intuitive. We are often guided to extend grace in ways that don’t make sense to us. We have to remember in these spaces, if God guides us to do something - the grace we’re extending isn’t ours. It is His!

3) There is nothing we can do to thwart God’s plans. Period.

Whether we like it or not, if God wants something done it is going to be done. If he wants us to do it, we will do it. We can resist. We can fight. We can run. But ultimately, what God wants, he gets. Period. He is sovereign.

God makes this clear over in the book of Isaiah:

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”

Isaiah 46:10

I don’t believe God forces us to do anything against our wills. However, I do believe he knows how to change our wills. He knows how to bend us toward his purposes and the Bible is pretty clear about the fact that he doesn’t shy away from putting us in circumstances that push us toward his purposes. For instance, he gives us choices like these:

“would you rather do as I have instructed, or spend your life in the belly of a fish?”

What would you decide? …Exactly. lol!

When it comes to the will of God, we do best to realize that he is sovereign and in absolute control of everything in the universe. I totally agree with the theologian R.C. Sproul who says “there is not one rogue molecule in the universe.”

This week, let’s take a look at our lives closely and seek to find what kinds of instructions God has given us. I don’t think we’ll have to do to deep of a search. Most of us are acutely aware of the directions God is giving. Let’s check our responses to God’s instructions. Have we been obedient? If not, let’s dedicate some time this week to resolve to stop running. Let’s try to get in line with what God is doing. Let’s lay down our judgements about situations and outcomes and just do as we’re told by our Heavenly Father.

After all… resistance is futile. 
 

Questions! (I love this part!)

  • Can I see any area of my life where my disobedience is costing other people? Am I bringing storms into other people’s lives by resisting God’s instruction?
  • Am I an open conduit of God’s grace? Do I use my own judgement in distributing his mercy or do I rely on his purposes and reasoning?
  • In what kinds of ways do I resist God’s instruction? Do I acknowledge what he says and run in the other direction? Do I try to “confuse” myself about what he has said? Do I try to hide by doing “good” in other areas to compensate for disobedience?
  • Why am I resistant to God’s instruction and what does my disobedience to what he has instructed me to do say about my faith and trust in him?

Indecent Proposal

It is Monday morning! I hope you are enjoying the start to your week. Please forgive me for skipping over the pleasantries today. I’m very excited about this week’s email. It has special application to me personally. I really want to get into it right now!

So, here we go!

I’m sure this week’s title brings to mind the 1993 film featuring Demi Moore, Robert Redford and Woody Harelson. However, as we look back to revisit a passage from about a month ago we find a far more indecent proposal than the million dollar offer Robert Redford's character put forth in that blockbuster film. 

This passage outlines the tempting of Jesus in the wilderness.There are a few things in this very popular story that I have been brooding over for the past weekend. I've been focused on the seoncd temptation. The whole discourse around this part of the story strikes me. Here it is:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Matthew 4:5-7

Now, I’ve heard this story since first grade - over and over again. It wasn’t until this past Saturday night that I began to contemplate the depth of what was going on in these verses.

Let's start here: Satan is crafty! He is skilled at suggestion. In fact, that’s the tool he uses most. It is his most covert attack. As I read these verses this weekend I found myself marveling at Jesus’ approach to handling this. His methods here boil down to three applications that I can see.

1) Jesus considered the source.

By the time we get to verse 5, Jesus is near the end of a fast and already has smacked down one of Satan’s temptations. He is physically weak, yet his spiritual focus is intensified. If you’ve ever fasted, you can relate to this state. The body craves nourishment. As physical faculties grow weak, we shift to our spiritual constitutions to provide us with sustenance. 

Jesus was focused at this point! Yes, his body was weak, but his spiritual senses were keenly aware of his adversary. He knew exactly with whom he was dealing! When “the tempter” came, Jesus was already squared-up and ready for him.

The tempter had done his homework for approaching Jesus, as well, though. He didn’t come to this event without having done his own training. He throws his second jab at Jesus using the same methodology he applied in his first temptation: the use of scripture.

Jesus was ready of course, and the passage shows that he didn’t waste time contemplating what the tempter had to say because he already knew with whom he was dealing. He considered the source and recognized that Satan’s use of scripture was not credible. He stuck to his guns and stayed in line with his purpose.

2) Jesus resisted rationalization

This is where the second temptation stands out the most to me. I am a consummate rationalizer! I have a bent for living in my head. If you are like me, Jesus’ response here is instructive.

Jesus didn’t get into his natural mind to make sense of what the tempter said. We don't get any information that suggests he even considered it! Had I have been Jesus (thank God I’m not!) my internal monologue would have sounded something like this:

“Well, if I do throw myself off this building, Satan is right. My father will send his angels to protect me. Satan is quoting the scripture accurately. Maybe the people will see and know that I am God’s son. This way, I won’t have to endure the agony of the cross! They’ll see the angels! They’ll know who I am! This whole dreadful ordeal can be over!”

C’mon! If you’re honest, you’ll recognize that this kind of thought pattern makes sense to our natural minds! But, Jesus in his divine wisdom knew what to do. Having considered the source, he did not allow his carnal mind to be engaged. He dismissed it. He didn’t give the suggestion a second thought.

This is critical for people who like to think and analyze and pick apart. Once we recognize the source as being one that is not credible, we must resist the fringe temptation to rationalize the primary temptation itself. We must not take temptation and make it “okay” through reason!

3) Jesus relied on the authority of the word of God

Satan was crafty in approaching Jesus with the word of God. If we look, we can see where he has craftily bent God’s word time and time again to create abominations of murder and abuse throughout history as well. The difference here is that Jesus’ handling of Satan’s craftiness blunts the devil’s efforts to derail the plan of redemption.

It is almost as if we were watching a spiritual game of Spades here:  

Satan lays down the Little Joker: For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus plays the Big Joker and wins the book:  “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Satan can quote scripture, but he cannot blunt the word of God spoken with the authority of God himself!

Jesus spoke the word of God with authority! This is key! Quoting a scripture we heard some preacher say won’t give us this kind of efficacy with the word. Cliches and repeated phrases have no power in a duel with the tempter. Jesus’ application of the scripture is effective because it is an authoritative application! We must study the scriptures and know them. We must learn to speak them with authority just as Jesus did!

Satan stepped to Jesus with audacity and cunning. We can be sure that he will approach us with the same gravitas - maybe more. The second of the three proposals he places before Jesus is particularly indecent. This first is practical. The last is desperate. In the second, he tempts Jesus to co-opt his own purpose. The audacity!

Satan knows that if he can get Jesus to cut a corner then the work of redemption is knocked off course for all eternity! When the tempter sets his sights on you and I we can be sure that his intent is to offset our assigned purposes as well. Satan is consigned to the hopeless task of attempting to offset and derail God’s plans. When we acquiesce to his meddling, we become complicit in his efforts. God’s purposes stand regardless, but we grieve him and misappropriate his glory when we surrender to Satan’s attempts!

You and I do well to look to Jesus’ example as he begins his ministry facing these temptations. In his example we can find the strength, skill and strategy for resisting the tempter. In Jesus’ perfect pattern, we have the keys we need to resist even the most indecent of our adversary’s proposals! 
 

Questions this Week:

  • Am I prone to rationalization? Do I try to make right out of wrong?

  • What spiritual or moral corners have I been willing to cut to get what I want? Might I be giving in to suggestions from the tempter?

  • How well do I know the word of God? Do I rely on others to feed me or do I go to the source for myself?

  • Do I have strong enough discernment to know the source of my motivations?

Security Systems

Let's talk security systems. 

When I was in high school there was a string of burglaries in the neighborhood where I grew up. My father decided it was best for our family to have a security system installed in our home. After the system was installed my father trained my mother and I on how to activate it and told us to be sure that we set the alarm whenever we left the house.

The new security system took some time to get used to. For the first month or two my mother and I would leave home frequently without activating the thing. This of course will aggravate make my father. He would shake his head and say "what good is this system if it isn't activated?"

If you are like me, then you have more than your fair share of battles with insecurity. I’m not ashamed to tell you, I often deal with unnecessary questions and uncertainty about myself. I often find myself wrestling with how I believe others perceive me. Sometimes it causes me to be nervous around people. Sometimes it inspires hypocrisy. I know the root of all of this insecurity is fear. I know fear does not come from the Father. Yes, I know all of this, but time and time again I still find myself dealing with insecurity all the same. Sound familiar?

For a lot of us these battles with insecurity seem to be just a part of life. We think this is just how we are. Some of us have allowed insecurities to become so ingrained in our lives that we really do see it as a part of our identities. Romans 8 unsettles and puts the brakes on these kinds of beliefs. Romans 8 says we who are living insecure lives are in fact out of sync with the gospel of Jesus Christ!

In Romans 8 Paul drives the point home over and over and over again: we have a broad and unshakable basis for security in Jesus Christ. The passage reminds us that the work of the cross gives us solid ground to stand on - no matter the situation. In Christ Jesus, God has given us everything. Although it does not always look like we should be secure, if we exercise our faith properly, we are provided with a spiritual lens that reveals that we are always in the hands of the almighty God. Nothing can assail us here! Nothing can separate us from him! We are his completely and he protects and keeps his own! We have a security system!

I think the issue for a lot of us is that we don't believe the gospel of Jesus is effective to provide security in the situations we face. We make the mistake of thinking the cross is just about afterlife! We don’t believe the security of the gospel has anything to do with our dating lives or our financial lives or professional lives. For a lot of us, the gospel is abstract and doesn’t have any connection to these challenges.

To put it another way, we don't believe the security system we have is capable of securing us against the threats we face. If this is what we're thinking Romans chapter 8 is a sign with big, bold, capital, red letters that says “WRONG!” The security we have in Christ is supremely sufficient in every situation! The question is not whether the system is sufficient to secure. The question is whether or not we are taking the responsibility for arming the system.

There is a two-step sequence that activates this security we are provided through the blood of Jesus Christ. The first step of the sequence is hearing the word of God. This kind of hearing that is necessary is unique, however. This kind of hearing must take place in the heart - not just with ears. In this unique application of hearing, we receive, digest and meditate on the word of God.

The second step of the sequence is believing the word of God, (also known as faith). This second step arms are security. When I say believe, I don’t mean it the same way we do when we say “believe and your dreams will come true.” This isn’t some fanciful belief. This kind of believe is an ever deepening trust that manifests in complete dependence on the word of God we receive in our hearts. 

This process isn’t as easy as punching in a four number pass code. It takes work and it takes time. In fact, we’ll have to repeat step one time after time before we are even ready to touch step two. Although it isn’t as easy as arming an ADT system, this two step process equips a system that is infinitely more secure. This activation sequence places our footing squarely on what God says about us, what God says about who he is and what God says he can and will do! There is no other place to stand! There is no more secure place in the universe! This system we have is supremely secure. It works - if we arm it.

The work of the cross provides universal security because it is the action of perfect love. As I said before, the root of all insecurity is fear and God’s word says perfect love casts out fear. So, with the action taken at the cross and that demonstration of perfect love, God has destroyed the foundation of our insecurities. Our fears are mere illusions - like harmless monsters behind the curtains when we were children. They are not there. Christ has cast them out! His work on the matter is complete. He has provided us with the most secure of systems. I think he probably poses a similar question to the one my father asked my mom and I: “What good is this system if it isn’t activated?”

This week, let's meditate on Romans 8 everyday. Let's see if we can't get some solid ground under these insecurities of ours. Let's get a proper perspective on these fears. Let's see if we can't work this two-step activation sequence and find ourselves with the sweet satisfaction of seeing the green light on our spiritual security systems - the satisfaction of knowing that our system is armed!  


(There is no single verse to read today. Please take some time and check out ALL of Romans Chapter 8!) 


Questions for the week

  • What am I insecure about?
  • On what basis am I evaluating the threats I face? Am I evaluating them sensually (feeling, seeing, tasting or touching) or am I evaluating them on the basis of faith?
  • Does the gospel have any application to my areas of insecurity or are these places where the gospel has no relevance for me?
  • The scripture asks “If God be for us who can be against us?” What is my honest answer to this question? What stands a chance against me if God is for me?
  • Am I “arming” my security in Christ (using the two step sequence from the email) on a regular basis

Remote Control

Good Afternoon,

I hope and pray your day is off to a great start! I'm feeling a bit nostalgic today. Over the weekend I did a concert of music by Marvin Gaye. Motown music was a staple in my household when I was a kid.  I have to say, the music from Saturday night's show took my mind back to those childhood days. 

I am a child of the 80's. I grew up playing with G.I. Joe and Thunder Cat action figures. The top shelf toy of my childhood was the remote control car and not the cheapo ones that had a cord. My friends and I used to salivate over the high end radio remote control cars that were sold at places like Radio Shack for $50 even $100. Those were the holy grail of the toy pantheon for us boys.

There was something fascinating about this concept to us as kids. There was something about holding the controller and making decisions about which way the car would turn, how fast it would go, how close it would come to obstacles without crashing into them. I was mezmorized by the toy and the sense of control that came with it. When one of my uncles bought the cars for me and my other cousins one Christmas, all of us nearly lost our minds! 

Today, we enjoy even richer senses of control in so many different aspects of our lives. In so many places, we are able to simply speak and our will is done. We talk to our cars, computers, TVs, and game systems. We simply say what we want and our devices and machines do it! Talk about remote control! If only our daily lives were so simple. If only we had the same kind of remote control over our circumstances, our experiences, our anguish, our pain, our inadequacies. There are lots of places in our lives where, (I'm willing to bet,) we would really love to get some control - voice activated or radio; any control would do. Right?

The fact is we really don't have much control in this life. That's reality. That lack of control is deeply unsettling to most of us. For many of us, it is something we fight throughout our lives. We desperately want that control and our inability to find it is often the central reason why we cannot find peace in our lives.

What I'm slowly learning is that going for the proverbial remote control in life is going in the exact opposite direction of peace! Control doesn't proliferate peace, simply because we are so limited in all of the resources that are necessary for control. We aren't built to control.

I'm growing in my belief that peace comes from a deepening acceptance of our inability control and a childlike dependence on the source of all control. Romans 11 tells us exactly where that source is located:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgements and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen.

Romans 11:33-36

 


For a lot of us, we have such a difficult time finding peace because we don't want to give up our remote controls in life. We want authority. We want run things. So, we sit with our remote controls like children, frustrating ourselves trying to move the controls this way and that. We press every button, we twist every control and find ourselves unsettled when things don't cooperate with our controlling.

Paul's soaring doxology at the end of chapter 11 in Romans reminds us that our remote controls won't ever work. Romans 11 reminds us that not only does God have every resource necessary for effective control of all things, but also that we do not. Romans 11 not only reminds us of who is in control, but also why he is in control.

As we set out into this week, let's pray for a deeper acceptance and flourishing trust in God's sovereign control. Let's ask him to create hearts in us that not only trust him for the outcomes we pray for, but also trusts him with decisions in all things - whether we get the outcome we want or not. Let's pray for a deepened trust that accepts and joys in God's sovereign control. The byproduct of this kind of deepened trust is unshakable peace and that's something we are all seeking after in our lives.

So, this week's goal: look for ways to let go of our remote controls.

Questions for this week

  • Do I try to "counsel" God about how things should be done or what the outcome of situations should be?
  • Do I really have faith in God or is my faith just about getting what I want, avoiding discomfort, etc.?
  • Do I really believe I have the resources and capacity that are necessary to effectively control my life?
  • Can I see that if I do more accepting God's sovereign control I can enjoy more peace?

Drink Up!

Happy Monday!

I apologize for not writing last week. I was on the sick and shut-in list with a nasty flu-like bug. Thank God I’m back in the swing of things this week. 

When I was a kid, I loved soda. I mean I REALLY loved soda. I mean, if I could have had a Sprite IV installed on my left side. I would have done it in a heartbeat! I really loved soda.

One day I was working in my uncle’s yard and grew thirsty. I asked him if he had any soda to drink. He laughed at me and asked “have you noticed the more soda you drink, the more soda you want? It never quenches your thirst does it? What you need is water.”

He was right. I was really thirsty that day in his yard. If he’d have brought me some soda, I would’ve only wanted more and more. My thirst wouldn’t have been quenched. Water wasn’t what I wanted to taste, but it was what I needed to drink.

In American popular culture these days, “thirst” has taken on a slightly different connotation. In pop culture “thirst” indicates a lust for something - an insatiable desire. The term is applied to lusts for attention, sex, money, and the list goes on and on.

In John chapter 4, we find Jesus dealing with a woman who probably would have been labeled as “thirsty,” by our cultural standards today. Reading the story, it is rather clear that Jesus intentionally positioned himself to encounter the thirsty woman as she came to draw water at the well that day. When she arrived Jesus made her an offer - the same offer he makes to you and I:

Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

John 4:14

You and I aren’t much different from that woman. We all have our own individual thirsts. Just like when I was a kid in my uncle’s backyard, we think the objects of our thirsty desires will fulfill us. The truth about these kinds of thirst is a lot like what my uncle said in his backyard that day. The things we have thirsty tastes for aren't often able to satiate our thirsts. In fact, the more we get of what we think we want, the more of it we need. We're never satisfied. We need living water - the kind Jesus promised. We need the kind of water that quenches our thirsts once and for all!

Jesus knew this woman’s particular thirst just as he knows ours. He knew she had been moving from man to man searching for something. He also knew that no man would ever be able to satisfy her soul’s deepest desires. He knew her soul needed water. Nothing else would suffice. 

As we set out into this week, let’s do some self-examination and find our own thirsts. As we uncover these areas of desire in our lives, let us pray that God will teach us not to rely on our emotions and thoughts to drive us toward the salty, syrupy, dehydrating substances the world offers up. Let us pray that God will continually develop in us a taste for the purity of his living water. Let’s ask God to develop in us a taste for that which completely satisfies. Let’s ask him to pour out in us the pure and refreshing water he promised that woman all those years ago!

A strange thing happens when we pray prayers like these. Not only do we find ourselves fulfilled, but we also find ourselves glorifying God in the process of being fulfilled. One of my favorite theologians, John Piper, puts it this way:

“God is most glorified in us when we are more satisfied in him!”

Drink up!

Questions for this week

  • What is an area in my life where I am thirsty - where I’m making questionable decisions or cutting spiritual or moral corners to get my way?
  • What is the root of my desire? Is merely that I desire this thing or person really bad, or is it something deeper than the object of my desire, itself?
  • Do I believe this desire of mine is outside the will of God? If not, why have I considered cutting spiritual or moral corners?
  • How can I look to God to fulfill me in this space of desire in my life?



BONUS THIS WEEK!!! Here's a song by Phil Wickham that helps in meditation and prayer on this week's subject. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. "Thirst" by Phil Wickham

Eat This!

Good morning!!!! It's Monday!

It is a lovely day here in VA! Hopefully you're enjoying the beauty of the day wherever you are. If this is your first time getting one of these emails, I hope you find it useful. If not, there are unsubscribe links on the top and bottom of the message. 

Today's email takes a look at something Jesus said during his 40 day fast in the wilderness. The Bible says that Satan came to temp Jesus while he was in the wilderness. Knowing that Jesus' physical body was weakened from being without food, Satan tried to exploit the opportunity and makes a suggestion to Jesus: "Why don't you just turn those rocks into bread and eat them?" (my paraphrase.)

Jesus' response to Satan's sly suggestion is our focus today. Jesus said:

"It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"

Matthew 4:4

Obviously Jesus is quoting scripture to deal with Satan, here. (This is a good point of note for all of us as we deal with Satan's attacks!) He's making reference to Deuteronomy 8:3. See, God had fed Israel with his word before, during their wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan. Israel was hungry and God fed them with something they'd never known before - manna (which literally means, "what is it?"). The Israelites had no idea what the food substance was, but the Bible says they were literally fed with the word of God! Brilliant work, Jesus! (As always!)

Let me stop you. No, I'm not suggesting that we look for God's word to fall from the sky in a and land on our plates for dinner tonight. But, what I am saying is that God's word is spiritual food and we should eat it, spiritually. We should savor it the same way a foodie savors the confluence of flavors at the finest restaurants. We shouldn't rush through it. We should digest the word of God with deliberation and thought.

Eugene Peterson wrote a book, "Eat this Book," based primarily on the experience of St. John during his vision recorded in the book of Revelation. Peterson's whole book focuses on Revelation 10:9-10 and offers this paraphrase of what the angel metaphorically instructed John to do in those verses:

"Eat this book. Get this book into your gut; get the words of this book moving through your blood-stream; chew on these words and swallow them so they ca be turned into muscle and gristle and bone."

(Peterson, Eugene. "Eat this Book". pg 38.)

I've been on a fitness binge for a few months now. I subscribe to Men's Health Magazine for tips, workouts, motivation, etc. The magazine has a weekly feature called "Eat This!" that's all about enjoying foods that are good for you instead of gorging on fatty and carb laden foods (let the church say AMEN! lol). It is a column about choosing dietary alternatives that provide rich nutrition while minimizing all the bad stuff you have to struggle to burn off at the gym.

In the same way Men's Health prescribes better dietary choices for me, I'm learning to "Eat This!" "This," being the richness of God's word. I'm learning to chew on his word more and digest less of what the world and our culture presents. Whenever I go to today's cultural buffet, I walk away with spiritual fat to burn off - disatisfaction, anxiety, worry, greed, guilt, jealousy and so much more. Quite frankly, I don't need any more spiritual baggage! I'm trying to shed the fat I've got already - around my waist AND in my spiritual walk!

Instead of the fast food our culture serves up, I'm learning to appreciate the unbelievable richness of God's thoughts as revealed through his word. Instead of being a cultural consumer, I'm learning to enjoy the feast God has laid out before us. I'm learning to say with King David, "How precious to me are your thoughts, God!" Psalm 139-17a

So, this week I challenge you to make an attempt at savoring the word of God, more. Pace yourself. If you're not racing through 25 chapters a day, it's cool. Even one verse of God's word is substantial! It isn't about how much we can consume at all once. It is about how much we appreciate and take away from what we do consume. I believe with God's grace we'll find ourselves in much better shape to interact with, worship and serve God if we learn to "Eat This!"

...and the questions for the week:
 

  • Do I believe the Bible is really God's word?
  • When I go to the scriptures do I go for answers or do I go hoping to learn more about God's thoughts?
  • When / if I do read the Bible, how much do I usually read? Do I read to fulfill a quota?
  • Evaluating my thoughts, what do I think about most? How might my life look different if my thoughts were more centered around God's revealed word?

Father Knows Best

Good Afternoon!

There is snow on the ground here in central Virginia! Imagine that - in the middle of March! God certainly has a way keeping us on our toes, doesn't he? Hopefully your Monday is off to a fantastic start. Wherever you are and whatever the weather is there, I hope you're being safe!

I had a conversation with a coworker this morning that coincides perfectly with today's inbox note. My friend was telling me about her son. He's a 9th grader at a school here in the Richmond area and is having a bit of trouble with finding motivation and passion towards... basically anything. Like any good parent, my friend is doing what she can to help him find something to inspire him. She's encouraging him to try new things and pushing him toward things that might awaken some kind of drive and motivation. 

For his part, he isn't liking his mom's approach very much. He's at that age where indifference is the disposition that's "cool". So, his mom's push toward different experiences and opportunities is met with resistance. He asks her "Mom, why do I have to do this? I don't want to!" 

When her son replies this way, it aggravates my friend. She wants her son to understand what she's trying to do. But how can you effectively explain to a teen that it is important to find passionate paths early in life? How can she make him see that he needs to devote his energies constructively if he is to ever make something of himself? Her teenage son isn't likely to grasp all of this. All he sees is what is right before him. He does not yet have a concept of the future or what he will need to be successful in that future.

Because his perspective is so limited by his lack of life experience, my friend has to put her foot down with her son. When he asks why he has participate in the things she pushes him toward, she tells him, "you have to do it because I'm the adult here and I'm looking out for your best interest. I know what's best for your right now."

My coworker is a great parent. She's doing the right thing. She's disciplining her son and appropriately using her authority as his mother to direct his life in a positive direction. Our Father God takes a similar approach with those of us who are his children.. Hebrews 12 highlights this fact:

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 

Hebrews 12:9-10

Through the twists and turns of life, it is easy to lose sight of this truth. God is our Father and our role as his children is to submit ourselves to his direction and discipline. Just as my friend has a much broader understanding of life than her son does, so too does our Father God have a much broader perspective on our lives. Greater still, God has the supreme perspective of all time and creation, knowing exactly what is coming down the road for us, what challenges we will face and what pitfalls await us on our paths. Knowing this, how much more should we submit to the Father

My friend has warned her son about rebelling against her discipline. She's made it clear to him the more he resists the more it is going to cost him. God's discipline works the same way. We can rebel against his direction and discipline all we want. We only hurt ourselves. Ask Jonah. No amount of our own resistance will ever serve to thawrt God's divine plan. His will will be done.

True. It is hard to submit. Everything in our nature and our culture tells us that submission is for the weak. Our egos tell us there is nothing and no one with more authority than self and our society feeds this ideal. Its true, all of us struggle - at least from time to time - with god complexes, wanting to assume autonomy for ourselves. Freud was right about this: our egos do in fact want to be God. Submission is not a part ofour natural psychology. 

But, if we are new in Christ, then we are to be conformed to his way. Over and over again we see in the gospels that he deferred to his Father's will - even unto the cross. Of course, Jesus never needed to be disciplined. He was without sin. But his example shows us how to submit to God's discipline nonetheless - "not my will by thy will be done."

This week, let's seek out areas in our lives where we might be resisting God's discipline. Let's look to spaces where we can sacrifice our wills on the alter of God's grace. For this we know - our Father knows best! 

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.  

Hebrews 12:11

Here are our questions for the week:
 

  • What does it mean to submit?
  • Do I really belive God knows more than me?
  • Do I have spaces in my life currently where I know I am being rebellious against God's leadership?
  • Are there places where I know I've spiritually rebelled in the past and can see where my rebellion has been costly?
  • How would might my current circumstances or state of mind look differently if I had responded in those places with submission instead of rebellion?

Rest

Happy Monday!

Hopefully, you’re enjoying this reprieve from the frigid weather! Today I'll dispense with the pleasantries and get right into this week's Inbox Inspiration.

Hebrews is where we’re anchoring things in this week’s inbox note. 

Scholars haven’t been able to come to a consensus on who wrote Hebrews - a letter to a group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. However, they do seem to pretty much all agree that The Letter to the Hebrews is the most eloquently written book in all of the New Testament. It was probably written around 63-64 CE, according to most historians.

One thing is clear about the writer of this letter. Whoever they were, they knew all about Jewish history and culture! This writer masterfully ties a bow around the intricacies of narrative in the Old Testament, longstanding Jewish customs and their fulfillment in the coming of Jesus Christ. It is clear that this author is concerned that his brethren in Jerusalem are missing the point of Christian faith. By chapter 4, the writer of Hebrews is full steam ahead with his eloquent letter, passionately entreating his friends to come back to faith in Christ and warning them against sliding back to works-based religion. 

Chapter 4 of Hebrews resounds the same theme over and over again: rest.  

The writer exhorts his friends:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11

Now, for me this book of Hebrews hits hard - especially in this chapter. I’ve been around Christian life and culture ever since I can remember. The impression of Christian life that I obtained through the years was apparently a lot like that of these Christians in Jerusalem. My impression was that my salvation hinged on how I acted; what I did.

According to Hebrews 4, that’s fundamentally wrong.

The Bible is pretty clear - our works don’t add up to jack before the inconceivable holiness of God! (see Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23, Titus 3:5, for example.) So, the writer of Hebrews tells his friends to eighty-six the religious posturing through works and rest through faith in Jesus Christ. Put another way, the writer exhorts his buddies to stop putting their faith in their actions and put that faith in the action Jesus took at the cross and at resurrection.

He spells it out to the Hebrew Christians this way:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

The passage tells us to rest. And rest is the perfect word! Let's be straight up about this. Religious posturing is exhausting - mostly because it isn’t usually for God at all. If we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that a lot (if not all) of our posturing is about how other people see us; not God.

I had to come to this conclusion for myself, as a Christian. I had to get rid of some stuff I’d learned growing up. I had to get rid of the “be good or God will get you” mentality. I’ve finally learned how to rest in God’s grace!

It’s a funny thing about resting in His sovereign grace. What I’ve found is this: as I rest more on God’ grace through Jesus and less on my own maneuvering and posturing I find my heart to be more conformed to his ways. As my heart is more conformed, my actions follow suit - not through my effort, but through His work in me. This remarkable rest that God encourages us to enjoy isn’t just a rest that enables salvation. This rest renews us and transforms us!

Not to get all into theological weeds here, but the doctrine of regeneration - the teaching that accepting Jesus Christ fundamentally changes us into new people (check out 2 Corinthians 5:17,) -  is often misunderstood in Christianity. A lot of us have come to believe that once we are saved we are supposed to regenerate ourselves! Hebrews 4 flies in the face of this assumption. Hebrews 4 tells us to enter into the rest of God. When we enter into his rest, we come to realize what regeneration really is. We learn that it is a complete transformation - not just of what we do, but who we are in our hearts! 

As we set out into this week, let’s take reconsider our religious posturing and try resting in God’s glorious grace - in honesty and earnestness before him. Instead of trying to work to please him, let’s allow him to work his pleasure in us. I’ll bet we find that resting in him is more productive than anything we could ever do on our own!

Here are our questions for the week:

  • Do I try to earn God’s favor by my work, behavior, actions, etc?
  • If I do, what kinds of things do I do to posture myself before God?
  • Being honest with myself: is my posturing really for God or for other people?
  • What would “rest” look like in my life?

Enough

Good Evening and Happy Monday!

I hope this snowy Monday is going well, for you. Please excuse the lateness of today's email. It's be a busy morning. Nonetheless, I'm happy to be back to Inbox Inspiration after taking a week off from writing while traveling to visit family in Kentucky. 

This week, let's talk about one word: enough. 

In Philippians 4, Paul discusses his situation with his friends in Philippi, Greece. Paul had established the church at Philippi himself, during his 2nd missionary excursion. (Learn more about that voyage in Acts 16:1-40.) And he writes them this particular letter while incarcerated. Most scholars agree he writes from prison in Rome between 60 and 62 CE. 

After addressing divisions in the Philippian church, and tackling theological issues the church was facing, Paul gives the Philippians an update about his personal situation and thanks them for their generosity. This update portion of chapter 4 is the place where we are focusing this week. The fact that Paul writes this from jail is particularly important. So keep that in mind. 

Paul tells the Philippian church: 

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:11-13 NIV 

The Philippian church had a history of looking out for Paul. They'd sent him help when he was in Macedonia and Thessolonica. It even appears that Paul sends this letter to the church by way of an emissary, (Epaphroditus,) they'd sent to deliver help to him while he was in prison in Rome. Paul thanks the church, but he reminds them, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Skip down a couple of verses and Paul sums up his contentment - even in prison - with one of the most famous verses in all scripture: 

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me - Philippians 4:13 KJV 

The NIV says it this way

I can do all THIS through Him who strengthens me. 

In other words, from his prison cell, Paul proclaims to the Philippians - a church who has just sent him aide and comfort - "I'm good. Jesus is enough!" 

Astonishing! From jail? Not me! I'd be asking "When are you sending Epaphroditus back?" I probably would have sent back a list of "needed items" for them to send to me with the next care package, too!  

Not Paul, though. He even turns it up a notch after this. He proceeds to tell the Philippians that not only will God supply his needs in prison, but He will also supply theirs, too! (Philippians 4:19) 

This is incredible! Paul asserts that in whatever circumstance, whatever situation he has learned to let go of his desires and let Jesus be enough! He follows up this affirmation with the key to understanding how do to this; how to let Jesus be enough. He reassures his generous friends that God will supply their needs - everything required of them to complete His perfect will. He asserts that Jesus  is enough! 

Paul doesn't promise these folks cushy lives. If you read the rest of Paul's writing, you know he didn't live a cushy life himself, and neither did many of his Christian contemporaries. He doesn't promise  "and my God shall make you rich." He doesn't say "and my God shall give you all that you ever want." He affirms that God is sovereign to supply, yes. But implicit in that affirmation is the truth that if God is sovereign to supply needs, He is sovereign to assess them, too - on His own terms. He knows what we need and He gives it to us according to His own wisdom and His infinite riches.  

The hard part for us here is recognizing that God has a better grasp on our needs than we do. So, a huge part of enjoying the supreme sufficiency of God is recognizing our own insufficiency. We have to submit ourselves to the fact that He knows everything about us - even things we haven't learned yet. He assess our needs according to His plan and He meets them.  We can be assured as His beloved children, that as He assesses those needs His word says that  He will never withhold any good thing - anything that is progressive to His purposes for us - from us if we're walking in His ways, (Psalm 84:11). 

As we grow in His grace, we realize that what God has provided to use through Christ is enough. And as we mature in Him we learn to not only accept this fact, but also to be contented by God's glorious sufficiency! 

Here are some questions for this week 

  • What do I think I need?
  • Am I "letting" God be enough by deferring to His sovereign perspective?
  • When I think about Philippians 4:13 do I only think Christ strengthens me to do stuff I want to do?
  • Do I believe my will and God's will always align? If no, which will defines the needs God promises to supply?
  • Do I really believe God's going to give me what I need to fulfill my purpose in His will?

Winning... Duh!

Good morning and Happy Monday!

Today's email might rock some theological boats. I know it rocked mine! Let's start with this question: how "in control" is God? Don't answer this too quickly! Think through your answer. If you're like me, this inquiry might be a little unsettling. Again, how "in control" do you believe God is?

There's a famous Biblical promise that gives us a context for considering this question. It is one of the most quoted scriptures in all of Christianity - Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 KJV)

This usually is where we start shouting, right? But not so fast! This is something to be excited about, true. But it isn't for obvious reasons. It isn't as simple as it sounds. This verse has very deep implications and raises key questions about the nature of God. Is God passively permitting things to happen and working them for our good on the back end? Or, is God actively working through things toward the good ending He promises?

We'll need to take a look at a few other Biblical references to get some clarity here.

We all know the story of Joseph and the grotesque actions of his brothers who sold him into slavery. Without a doubt this is one of the great examples of things working together for the good. After being sold into slavery and a few other dramatic twists, Joseph became the second most powerful man in the ancient world! At the very end of the story, Joseph says something that gives us a clue about how things worked out the way they did. He says:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

Joseph says "God intended," not "God permitted." Intention is motive for action, right? God's intentions always accompany His action. Let's check somewhere else - Job.

Usually we read Job as God "allowing" evil to happen to Job. But a careful reading of the story reveals that God did more than just allow the Devil's testing of Job. The Devil didn't ask"Hey God, can I have a go a your boy Job?" God INVITED him to do it!

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)

Job's family and friends knew what was up, too. The Bible says they recognized that God was behind what was happening to poor old Job.

All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. (Job 42:11 NIV)

These are just two examples. The scriptures are full of these illustrations of God actively working through bad stuff. The language is consistent. Over and over again we read about God's intentions in the worse situations. Again, intentions are motives for action! 

I know this challenges what a lot of us have been taught about God - that He doesn't get His hands dirty by involving Himself in the bad things that happen in our lives; that He merely allows bad to happen. But the Bible is pretty clear that God is the first and the last of EVERYTHING. 

So, you must be asking "Ok, thanks Jon for telling me God is behind all of the troubling stuff in my life. Now, what's your point? Why does this matter? What difference does this make?" Glad you asked! 

Let's take this framework for understanding God's working one step further - the cross! It is quite clear that God did not just allow the cross to happen. It was a part of His plan all along. All of that ugliness on His son's shoulders; God did not just allow it. He willed it! This way of considering how God works makes the cross even MORE profound - just as it makes our challenges and trials more meaningful. 

This is fantastic news for we who love God! That Romans 8:28 promise becomes something more, now. We don't have to wait to see how God works these things out in the end. He IS working IN these things! We've got ground to stand on, here. These challenges we face aren't happening TO us. They are happening FOR us! 

Later in that same chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul asserts: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37 NIV)

He says " in all these things" - not over, not through, not even after. IN all these things! Because we accept the absolute sovereignty of God we are conquerors IN life's challenges as believers. We know that in every trial we are winning because we know God is at work IN the circumstances we face. He's not passively "letting things happen," to us. We are absolutely His through His Son! Because of that, He is shaping everything that happens to us to perfect us and His plan! That's how we know that all things are working together for our good! 

This is blessed assurance! What a wonderful blessing to face every challenge with this unshakable rock beneath our feet! God is absolutely in control! Even when our friends look on, watching us grapple with heart wrenching challenges, wondering how we cope, we can quote Charlie Sheen in all seriousness! Because Of Christ, God Himself is for us and because He is for us, IN all these things we are in fact... "WINNING!"

Here are some questions to help keep you focused on God's absolute sovereignty through this week:

  • What circumstances am I currently facing that seem outside God's sphere of influence?
  • How would my reaction to circumstances change if I reframed my perspective? What if I recognized that God is at work for me IN these circumstances?
  • Do I assume that God is not at work in situations because I don't get what I want or because situations feel uncomfortable?
  • How would my choices about the things I pursue in life change if my of perspective God's sovereignty changed?

 

 

Talk to Yourself

Let me ask you this: do you talk to yourself? Before you say yes or no, let me say this is a rhetorical question. I already know you talk to yourself! Everybody does. We may or may not do it with our mouths, but we all have internal monologues - an internal conversation with ourselves.

A lot of people don’t pay much attention to that internal monologue. The thoughts that compose that internal conversation go unchecked. For them, it is just something that happens involuntarily like a breath or a blink of the eye.

I think those of us who pay no attention to that internal conversation are missing out on some important stuff! I think the Bible instructs us to pay close attention to that internal discussion with ourselves. I also think our internal talking has within it great potential to empower us to be better people for God.

One of my favorite passages by King David is a written transcript of his internal monologue. In Psalm 42 David lets us into his internal world and we find a very rich verse that shows us how he used his internal conversation as a tool to escape despair. David is known as a “man after God’s own heart.” He was a consummate worshipper of God and I think the kind of talks with himself that we see in Psalm 42 much illuminate exactly how he was able to worship God with such abandon.

Amidst a lamentation about his troubles and sadness, David stops himself flat:

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” - Psalm 42:5

Here we find David putting the brakes on his thoughts about the issues that are plaguing him and redirecting himself to hope. This is effective and intentional use of his internal conversation to keep his mind on what mattered most in the situation: keeping his hope in God. By extension of that hope, we find an affirmation! David says “I will yet praise Him.”

When we learn to use our internal monologues to regain focus like David did here, we find strength. It is so easy to be distracted by the things we see and hear around us. If you read Psalm 42, you’ll find David struggling with lots of the same issues we have to deal with everyday - feeling alienated, concerns with what people think about him, feelings of defeat, even feeling ignored by God. But we find in this chapter the thoughts of a man who was continually redirecting his thoughts back to the place where his hope is rooted!

Check out the outline of the chapter. Verses 1-4, David is lamenting. Verse 5 he redirects his thoughts back to his hope. Verses 6-7 he calls himself to remember the Lord’s goodness to him in the past. Verse 8 he reminds himself that God loves him. Verse 9-10 David slips a bit. He reflects on the troubling issues before him. In the culmination of the chapter however,  at verse 11 David repeats the refrain of verse 5 - refocusing on hope.

What a great example this chapter is for us! Life is not easy. We are pushed and stretched and challenged day in and day out. But I’m so glad to know that we don’t have to be subject to rambling in our minds. We can take control of our thoughts and use them as a weapon against our circumstances. We can encourage ourselves!

David is a master of this kind of internal conversation and as we read through Psalms we find this pattern throughout his life. When in trouble, he redirected his thoughts. He gives us a rich example of how to start the march toward victory.

The great explorer Douchan Gersi said: “Victory always starts in the head. It's a state of mind.” I believe he’s right, and I’d be willing to bet a dollar or two that King David would agree as well!

As we set out into this week, let’s pay close attention to how we talk to ourselves about our circumstances. Let’s see if we can’t start some winning streaks by redirecting all of our thoughts to the source of all our hope - God our glorious Father!

Here are some questions for this week…

  • What’s my natural state of mind? Am I a pessimist, optimist or realist?
  • Do I control my thoughts or do my thoughts control me?
  • What does my internal monologue sound like when I’m facing adversity?
  • Do I find that my internal monologues usually inform how things turn out for me?
  • How often do stop negative trends of thought to turn situations over to God in my thoughts?

Go for the Glory

You really don’t have to search very far in the Bible to find out that God is very concerned with His glory. He says it over and over again throughout the good book. The theme is inescapable, God is the “King of Glory.”

As I thought about this, I found myself at this thought - “God must have a huge ego problem.” I mean, c'mon. I'm human. That's what my brain thinks when I read some of this stuff in the Bible. Isn’t that what we’d say about any other person we encountered who constantly talked about their glory and how awesome they are? You know I’m right! What would you think of a friend who said stuff like “I am Tom and beside me there is none other,” or “I am a jealous Tom,” or “Thou shalt have no other Toms before me,”? Its safe to assume that friendship wouldn't last too long, right? Right!

I’m glad the scriptures reveal God isn’t at all self-obsessed. He doesn’t have an ego problem. It does look like it when we parse scriptures down to Biblical sound bites, but when we look at the whole Bible, we find a very subtle indicator of God’s genius. We find that God is so serious about getting all of the glory because He knows humankind cannot handle glory for himself.

I wasn’t the best history student when I was at college, but I do know this much: we don’t have to look very far into history to see what mankind does when he gets glory for himself. First and foremost, we recognize that mankind is never ever satisfied with glory he gets. In fact, the more he gets, the most desperate he becomes to get more. Glory in man’s hands is almost always an addiction that drives him to do insanely destructive things. He kills, he steals, we destroys - he does the work of the Devil - to keep himself on top! When we taste glory for ourselves, we’ll stop at nothing to keep getting it.

God’s genius plan is that we give glory to Him! He doesn’t need us to do this. He’s infinitely glorious already. In fact, all glory that man can ever possibly get is already God’s property anyway - just like everything else in the earth (See Psalm 24:1 ). God’s designed things so that He gets glory and we get satisfaction.

When we give (the better word is return,) glory to God, we look to Him and are fulfilled. We don’t get self absorbed, or trapped in an addiction to self-gratification. We look away from ourselves to the source of all glory. We look away from ourselves to the source of our strength, Who enables us to do whatever it is we do. When we look away from ourselves and at Him glory becomes that much more glorious! In our hands glory is just a trifle. In His hands our little contributions of glory become awesome and we are supremely satisfied!

This is some good stuff, here! Learning to just relish the glory of God is amazing and rewarding beyond words. It turns even the most mundane, small and tedious actions into a deposit into God’s bank of glory! It changes everything! This is why we are instructed:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. - 1 Corinthians 10:31

Whether it’s going for a run in the morning, or taking out the trash or washing the car, when we learn to try to make every action a deposit into God’s bank of glory, every little task becomes something potentially spectacular - something to be relished and enjoyed. In this process, God’s glory becomes the source of our joy!

As we set out into this week, let’s purpose together to keep a keen focus on the glory of God. In even the tiniest little things we do let’s look for opportunities to make deposits in His glory bank. At the end of the day, we can look to Him and say - “Look what you enabled me to do today, God! Look how you lifted my head!” I promise, if we get good at doing this, everyday can be breathtaking. Everyday can be the kind of day where we are pumped and excited to go for the glory and give it all back to God!

Here are some questions to help keep us locked on our goal for this week:

  • How do I think about giving God glory? Is it just a church thing? Is it just about big triumphant moments? Do I think about giving Him glory in the small things I do?
  • When I do things to gratify myself or make myself “look good,” am I ever really satisfied with it?
  • Do I look to God’s glory with any regularity? Do I acknowledge Him as the source of all my resources and abilities?
  • How would I change the things I hate doing if I started thinking of them as actions for God’s glory?

Ready to Lose Your Mind?

Happy Monday! I took a break from writing last weekend for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I hope you enjoyed the day reflecting on the life and work of Dr. King.

Let’s talk about our thought lives. What’s on your mind these days?

Here’s what’s on mine: relationships, plans for the future, trying to save money, music... lots and lots of music.

I’ve learned a lot in the past year about the mind and how it works. The more I learned, the more I started to pay attention to what was going on in my own brain. I found some pretty surprising stuff going on up there!

The Bible has a lot to say about the life of the mind. Having spent so much time thinking about what’s been going on in my own head, I decided to take a bit of a trip through the scriptures to discover what they had to say about thinking.

The Biblical reference that started it all for me was Romans 12:2:

"Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will."

I was stuck on this passage of scripture for a really long time. I wondered “how do I get a renewed mind?” and “what does a renewed mind think about?” I found answers in 2 Corinthians 3:18

"And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are beingtransformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."

If I’m reading this the right way, this verse shows us that an undivided concentration on God's glory opens the door to the Spirit’s work of transformation in our minds and thinking. This scripture also makes it clear that we can’t transform our own minds. The Holy Spirit does the transformation; not us. This is pretty straight forward, right?

Now that we know how to get a renewed mind, let’s go back to the Romans 12:2 piece. The verse says “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is.” This answers the question of what the renewed mind is thinking about. The renewed mind that’s thinking on God’s terms is thinking about God’s will.

So, we can now answer the two questions we started with. But we’ve got one last piece to tackle in Romans 12:2. The verse says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world.” What is the pattern of this world? Answer: self gratification.

It is easy to see how this kind of thinking gets in the way of thinking about God's glory, right? If we are consumed with thoughts about our desires, our issues, our hurt, our pain, or our fears then we’re without that “unveiled face” that the scripture says we need in order to get transformation in our minds. Transformation is interrupted when we cannot see beyond ourselves to recognize the glory of God.

I believe faith is the key to removing this veil of self. Faith takes everything that concerns us and cast those cares on God, ( Psalm 55:22 , I Peter 5:7). Faith trusts Him to include our best interests in His plan. I don't think there's any other way to keep focus on what God is doing and bring Him glory. This may be one of the main reasons why the Bible says "Without faith it is impossible to please Him." - Hebrews 11:6.  

Another reason why we have to get beyond ourselves and put trust in Him is this: while thinking and acting with a transformed mind is exhilerating, it isn’t exactly the norm. Thinking about things on God’s terms will sometimes (or a lot of times) lead us to do and say things that go against the grain. People are likely to think we've lost our minds. Check your Bible! People thought Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David and countless others had completely lost it! And in a manner of speaking they had!  

So here’s the question... Are you ready to lose your mind? Essentially, that’s what it comes down to. In order to be transformed, we have to be willing to let go of the old self-gratifying brain we’re used to and allow it to  replaced by a new one that is focused on God’s glory and His will. One more time. Are you ready to lose yourmind in order to gain His?

Paul had a great answer when folks thought he’d lost his scruples: "If we have lost our mind, it is for God"- 2 Corinthian 5:12a

Here are some questions to help you as you consider the "renewed mind" through this week.

  • What do I think about the most?
  • What are some of the ways God has most spectacularly manifested His glory in my life?
  • How often do I think about those events and others where God has made His glory present to me?
  • Do I take notice of God's glory in small ways - the sky, the air, interactions with people?
  • What would my life look like if I were to shift attention away from the things I'm currently thinking about the most and think more about God's glory?

Jesus Couldn't Do It

Did the subject line give you pause? I know it made me look twice when I initially read it. In my personal study and prayer time, I’ve been reading the Gospel according to Mark. As I read the first section of the 6th chapter, I found myself reading the words Jesus “could not.” I thought to myself… “Wait. That can’t be right. Jesus could not?” So I read it again…

Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.”  - Mark 6:4-6

Astonishing, right? The Bible actually says Jesus wasn’t able to do miracles that He apparently wanted to do in His hometown. The Bible says the people didn’t believe in His authority or what He was saying to them. So, Jesus couldn’t.

When I read this I found myself wondering, how could it this be? How could Jesus’ ability to work be limited by anything? Is this a question of his power? That can’t be so. Jesus is the physical manifestation of God on earth - that means His power was limitless. So, no. This couldn’t be a revelation of Jesus (read God,) somehow not having ability or power to do something. Jesus is omnipotent - all powerful. 

So what is this? Why is it that Jesus couldn’t?

To put this in perspective, we take a look back into Mark 5 and the story of a sick woman who snuck into a crowd to touch Jesus and be healed of a sickness she’d had for over a decade. This is clearly an instance where Jesus could because the Bible says the woman was made whole. So, why is it that Jesus could for this lady, but He couldn’t  for the people back in Nazareth? If I’m reading this the right way, it’s because of a key word in both of these passages - in the story of the sick lady and in the story of His visit to His hometown. That word is faith.   

Jesus tells the sick woman “your faith has made you well.” (Mark 5:34). In other words, “I was able to heal you because of your faith.” In the story of His visit to his hometown, the Bible says there was a lack of faith. In fact, there was such an absence of faith that Jesus was “astonished.” (Mark 6:6). This is the difference between instances where Jesus could do miraculous things and instances where Jesus couldn’t do the miraculous things He wanted to do for people. 

Okay. So, this leads to another question, right? If your brain is like mine, then the next question is this: does faith make Jesus able? I prayed about this and this is what I got from my prayers…

Think about these three things: an electrical power station, a power line and a house. The power station is fully functional and it generating copious amounts of power. The power line connects the power station to the house; it provides a causeway for the power to move through. The house receives the power from the station through the power line, and enjoys the benefits of the electricity. If the house is not connected through the line, it doesn’t mean that the power station is somehow deficient! It means the owner of the house needs to tap into the power source!

To use Jesus’ own language: such is the kingdom of God!

God is the source of all power. When the Bible said Jesus “could not,” it isn’t because of a lack of His capacity. He was and is infinitely powerful! The issue was a lack of connection. In His hometown, there was no connection to the power source. Jesus “could not” because they would not connect with Him. Faith is the power line and they had no faith; no connection. So, much like the house who’s owner refuses to connect to the power supply, the people is Jesus’ hometown remained in the dark about who He was and what He could do for them. For the sick woman in the crowd, the opposite was true. Jesus could act on her behalf because she made a decision to connect to His capacity and power through faith.

Now, you and I may not be as disconnected as the people in Jesus’ hometown were, but I’ll speak for myself and say there are certain areas of my life that are disconnected. To continue with the power supply analogy, my house is connected but I haven’t plugged in all of my appliances! 

As we move through this week, let’s take a look around our lives. If we pay attention, I think we can find some stuff that needs to be plugged in. Maybe we need to plug in our financial appliance. Maybe we need to plug in our relationship appliances. Maybe we need to plug in our professional appliances.

Our God is a limitless supply of power. He is infinitely able. The question regarding what God can do in our lives is not at all a question of His capacity to do. It is a question of our willingness to connect to Him through faith. 

Here are some questions to help with our considerations this week: 

  • Is my proverbial “house” really connected to the source - God’s power - through faith?
  • If my “house” is connected to the power source, are all of my appliances plugged in? Are there areas of my life where I am operating without faith? 
  • Am I working harder to do things and make things happen in my life because I won't connect my life appliances to God's power supply? 
  • If all of the "appliances" in my life aren't plugged in, what might my life look like if I was to connect some of them to God's power through faith? 

Wait

Who likes hearing this word? I know I certainly don't. What is it about waiting that makes us cringe? Most of us, (if we are honest with ourselves,) suck at being patient. Whether it's in a line at the grocer or for God to move on something we've requested, waiting (or being patient) is among our least favorite things to do.

Apparently God is a comedian, because He's put particular importance on patience. Great! One of the things we like to do the least is one of the things He pleasures in most. The Bible isn't ambiguous on this. If it is impossible to please God without faith it is just as impossible to really love Him (or anyone else) without patience. It is, afterall, the first law of love (See 1 Corinthians 13:4).

If you're like me, whenever I try to impose the discipline of patience on myself the outcome isn't pretty. It starts with frustration. This usually starts with me getting ticked off with just the idea of having to wait. After this first stage of my impatient tantrum, I usually start to get frustrated with everyone and everything included in the waiting proces - including myself. But that isn't the ugly part, really. Things take a turn toward the ugly when frustration gives way to me trying to force things and make them happen. You do the same thing, right? C'mon! It isn't just me!

When I try to force things I always make a mess. I almost always wish I had let patience win over my frustration. But, how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we let patience win?

Patience is a fruit - a proof of the Spirit's presence in us. This is the good news in all of this! Patience is not a fruit of our own spiritual awesomeness. Instead, it is a byproduct of God working in us. He must produce it in us. We can't do it on our own.

Letting patience win starts with openness to the Holy Spirit. Letting patience win is actually letting the Spirit win, and that victory starts long before the test of patience even surfaces. We have to come to terms with the truth that it is His power in us that makes things happen and not our own.

When we lean hard on the Holy Spirit, we find something special in waiting. We learn to observe the process that plays out during our periods of patience. Abraham's faith grew during his long wait for his promised son, Isaac. David developed deep relationship with God while he was on the run from Saul, waiting to become king of Israel. Jesus grew in favor with God and men while working in the carpentry shops of Nazareth, waiting for His ministry on earth to begin.

There is always something special in the waiting period. In fact, the word of God says that we are perfected by the work patience does in us (See James 1:4 ). When we learn to listen intently to the Spirit of God within us, He reveals precious epiphanies, truths, relationships and experiences through our periods of patience! When we lean on His presence, patience becomes more joyous. When we are open to Him, we become enthralled with the experience of the process and less aggravated with the drudgery of waiting.

I really believe this is what Isaiah meant:

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don't get tired, the walk and don't lag behind.

- Isaiah 40:31

So, this week let's meditate intently on patience. Let's make a point of looking around while we're waiting - whether we're waiting for a slow download or waiting for something in our prayer lives. Let's commit together to take a look at what's going on while we're waiting. If we take our time and count on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, I'll bet we'll find some pretty incredible discoveries!

Here are some questions to consider this week. Hopefully these will help fine tune your focus on patience:

 

  • What have I asked God for, or what has God personally promised me?
  • Has He called me to be patient for the thing I've asked Him to deliver?
  • Have I been trying to force God's hand or rush the outcome that I want?
  • What kind of results do I get from rushing outcomes? Do I get what I ultimately have prayed for by forcing things?
  • What opportunities to grow and learn might I have missed as a result of my impatience?