Is It Me?

Colossians 3:4(ESV): When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

I’ve been reading about the Enneagram lately. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s one of many resources to help a person discover their personality typing, similarly to the Myers-Briggs. One of the key differences of the Enneagram is that it isn’t purely a psychological metric but is also used for spiritual growth and discernment as well. The goal is to help a person discover their motivations, why they do what they do, and what their temptations are as a result.

It reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from Seinfeld. Jerry has just come home with an expensive suede jacket. Kramer bursts into his apartment, as you’d expect, to find Jerry modeling the new coat in his PJ’s. Kramer notices the new jacket immediately, and comments on its beauty. “Is it me?” Jerry asks. “That’s definitely you!” Kramer responds. “Are you sure?” Jerry asks again.

“That’s more you than you’ve ever been.” Kramer says. And then he sees the pink lining of the jacket, striped like the uniform of a barbershop quartet.

That line has always stuck out to me, though. That’s more you than you’ve ever been.

Interestingly, the Enneagram would posit that there is a point in our early adulthood (think early-20’s) where we are our purest self, personality wise. We are old enough to have developed a unique way of thinking and responding to the world, but not so old as to have our behaviors and responses molded, shaped, and in some cases confused by life experience. There is a fundamental, core way of seeing the world that is at its truest during that time period. We are, in that sense, “more us than we have ever been.

But Biblically speaking, that’s not true at all. According to what we’re learning in Romans, we’re still waiting for the day when we become fully who God intended us to be. We see the first fruits of it happening now but won’t see the full impact until Christ appears again.

2019 is a good year to do some things differently. It seems like as good a year as any to make some changes; get fit (if we want), discover how we are really wired; so that we can make a difference in the world. Don’t lose heart when you discover that sometimes it’s difficult, and sometimes you can’t figure out who God has truly created you to be. There will be a day when you are more you than you have ever been, on the day when Christ returns in glory.

What Defines You?

Romans 8:38-39For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I haven’t been on social media in a while. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution or anything. I just stopped at some point last year.

One of the reasons I decided to back away was the seemingly constant barrage of “encouraging” posts that may have served as a quick pick-me-up when scrolling through a news feed, but were at best pretty shallow, and at worst downright false. Posts like the one that said, “You’re better than they think you are”. Or the one that said something to the effect of “Do what you want. Live your truth.” All I could think was, what if you aren’tbetter than everyone else thinks you are? What if doing what you want was something negative like punching your neighbor because yourtruth was that he/she was a jerk–and what if he felt like he was betterthan you thought he was? It gets tricky, shallow, and false pretty quickly.

I get it, though. We all need encouragement, especially as we come into a New Year. Many of us have goals that we want to accomplish or changes that we want to make. Some of us are looking at career changes or big life decisions and we know we could use someone to give us confidence along the way. One of the reasons that we don’t proceed and accomplish more is that we never start. We delay because of the possibility we might fail. What’s the solution? 

It isn’t convincing ourselves that we won’tfail or convincing ourselves that we’re stronger than failure or any other thing that those self-help posts might try to tell you. It’s foolish and dangerous to think that we are above failure. 

The solution is to understand that failure doesn’t define you. It doesn’t have to stop you or classify who you are. You might fail, but it doesn’t matter, because it won’t change your fundamental identity, so long as your fundamental identity is found in Christ. And that’s the key.

Paul’s message to all of us is that when who we are is rooted in who Christ is, then there is nothing that can come in between us and who we really are in Christ. Not even failure!

I don’t know what you’re setting out to do this year, but don’t let the fear of failure be the reason you didn’t try!

Make Their Day a Little Better

Matthew 6:1-4 says, 

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.
When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘play-actors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” (MSG) 

Why do you do good deeds? Is it so the people around you can look at you in awe? Is it so you can impress the people you help? Or is it because you saw something wrong and had the time/resources/authority to make it right?

In a perfect world we would always pick option three. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world yet. That is why we must make the choice every day that we are not the center of the universe; that we can help others and not make a big deal about it; that there are people around us with needs, and we can help meet those needs. 

While in our heads we know that a perfect world will never be achieved this side of heaven; we can still follow our hearts in trying to get it here early. We may not always be happy, but we can always be kind. We’ve all had the experience of a rough day being turned around because someone else took a moment out of their day and gave us a compliment, held a door open while our hands were full, or simple smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here.”

There are plenty of issues and arguments going on that make the world a worse place. I pray that the church can be a legion that wants to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, and kindness to the stranger. Jesus says in Matthew 25, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Go love people. Do something to make someone’s day a little bit better.

Say You Want a Resolution

So, this is the New Year, and I don’t feel any different. A few days ago, it was 2018 and now it is 2019, and the hardest part will be remembering to write the date correctly, so I don’t have a scribbly nine written over an eight. For some reason, we as a society have deemed January 1 as the best day to make a big change in your life. New Year, New Me: I’m going to stop doing this. New Year, New Me: I’m going to start doing that. New Year, New Me: I’m going to moderately adjust how I do the other thing.

January seemingly comes out of nowhere, emerging from a haze of quality eating, time with loved ones, and the aftereffects of too much holiday cheer and hits you in the face. After the holiday season, that is Halloween to New Year’s, you hit January. There are no big party holidays, you have to take down decorations, and you’re getting into peak winter grossness where everything is just wet, cold, and dreary.

It is from this haze that we try to make big decisions for how we will live the rest of our year. We call these New Year ideas our resolutions, a firm decision to do or not to do something. We want to stop a bad habit or start a good one. Too often we set ourselves up for failure by setting an unreachable goal as our resolution. We think of an end goal we’d like to reach and feel disappointed when we don’t make it. We want to jump to the top of the mountain or the end of the journey. We want to skip the hard part.

We need to find a path to them rather than just hoping we end up there one day. Psalm 37:23-24 says, “The steps of a man/woman are established by the Lord, when he/she delights in his way; though he/she fall, he/she shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his/her hand.” Sometimes life changes through leaps and bounds, more often it happens by putting one foot in front of the other, getting a little closer every day. We will probably stumble along the way, nevertheless, we will not be cast away because we can lean on the Lord.

As you head into 2019 instead of several lofty goals ask yourself one question: What is the next right thing I can do? 

And then do it!

Remember

It’s easy to make Christmas into a marathon event. Instead of celebrating the birth of our Savior you celebrate the completion of “To Do” lists. You didn’t get to enjoy dinner because you were too busy solving an eggnog crisis. You were so worried about whether or not Aunt Suzy likes her Instant Pot™ that you completely miss the thoughtful gift she gave you. You went to bed late because you wanted to get a jump on writing thank you cards. Doing all these things can be good when done in a healthy way. Too often we lose the meaning of Christmas in the activity of Christmas. However, you can slow down take a deep breath and remember.

The birth of Jesus was a turning point for all of humanity. The things he would teach, the people he would lead, and the ultimate sacrifice he would make set the world on a path towards a new creation. The hope is that when we realize what the birth of Jesus means we are all able to sing Mary’s song (The Magnificat) from Luke 1:46-55

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Now, It’s the day after Christmas, wrapping paper has been cleaned, dishes have been done, and hopefully you woke this morning refreshed from a day of rest. Then the record scratches, vacation ends, and you’re going straight back to work. And once again you are overwhelmed by To Do lists. But just like you go back to the fridge for one more bite of leftover Christmas dinner you can go back to the story of Christ’s birth to remember that a savior came for you. You don’t have to do this all on your own.

 Merry Christmas!

And Presents On The Tree…

Every year I look forward to when I can play Christmas music at home, in my car, and the office. I particularly love the classics like Bing Crosby, Vince Guaraldi, Bobby Darin, and Perry Como. One holiday standard that has been covered by pretty much every artist is, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and I love every version 

A line that stands out to me says, “and presents onthe tree.” As a child I thought this was simply incorrect as I only ever saw presents under the tree. One theory is that prior to the use of wrapping paper gifts were, in fact, hung on the tree. As often happens, when was researching I fell down an internet rabbit hole learning about various customs and histories from all over the world related to Christmas trees.

For a long time, Christmas trees were banned. This seems crazy today, as the Christmas tree has become the universal symbol of the holiday. Christian missionaries forbade their converts from using trees because it reminded them of some ancient cultures that brought trees indoors and decorating them to honor their gods.

For Christians Martin Luther is widely credited as bringing the Christmas tree to its favorable position today. On a walk in the woods, Luther was struck by the beauty of the snow laden branches of the evergreens. He realized that trees are at the heart of the gospel story. 

What he observed was that a Savior was born and placed in a wooden manger. Before he started his ministry, tradition says, he was a carpenter. He lived his life knowing he would be nailed to a tree outside Jerusalem thirty-three years later. Jesus the Holy one, pure as driven snow, carried our sins and took our punishment so we can be forgiven by God’s grace. 

During this time of year, we can get so focused on giving and receiving perfect gifts from under the tree that we forget about the greatest gift of all. This year let’s remember that the best gift ever given was not placed undera tree but was hung on one. Paul says 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

Just what I wanted?

Sometimes there is a big gap between what the Christmas the commercials promise and the Christmas we experience. Despite the music and festivities, this can be a difficult season for many. Some folks experience “Christmas blues,” finding the holidays to be a time when they’re particularly vulnerable to depression. And then there’s the “Christmas hangover,” (not the one caused by too much eggnog) it’s the one that hits after the presents are opened, the stockings are empty, the meal is over, and we find ourselves thinking, “Is that it?” We can find it all very anti-climactic.

The Christmas blues and the Christmas hangover come together when expectations meet reality. We build up anticipation to a level that can’t possibly be met. We have plenty of help building these expectations. Social media, TV commercials and department stores paint the picture that our loneliness will be turned into joy when the gifts we want so badly ultimately satisfy us.

The problem is that we can’t possibly meet these unrealistic expectations. Sometimes instead of families coming together and bonding, they just come together and argue. There are times you get everything on your list and still you feel empty. Maybe this season is lonely because you have lost a loved one.

If we can feel this as believers, imagine what it’s like for someone who has yet find the realmeaning of Christmas. Beneath plastic smiles and obligatory “cheer,” these can be dark, difficult times for those who have yet to meet the Savior, the one whom the season is about.

The thing we need to remember is that many people are searching for what Christians already have. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:23-24 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. 

We give gifts to not only commemorate the gifts brought to baby Jesus, but they also remind us of the gift of God’s Son to save us from our sins. Mild He lays His glory by; born that men no more may die! Let that be the carol you hold on to this Christmas. We have been given the gift of eternal life and ultimate peace.

I Don’t Like That Answer

How many times have you wanted something and just knew that it was yours? You can see it. You can picture that thing as being a part of your life. You think, “God wants me to have the desires of my heart.” And I really really want it, so God obviously wants me to have it. Then you find out that no, that thing, that job, that person, that house is NOT yours.

Writer Lewis Carroll, once said, “I have had prayers answered—most strangely so sometimes—but I think our Heavenly Father's loving-kindness has been even more evident in what He has refused me.” Hearing “no” doesn’t sit well with us. Think about being a kid and being told no. When you’re young you only see the prevention side, “no” is a barrier. As we mature however, “no” can become a gateway to better living. “No, do not touch that electrical outlet.” “No, don’t touch that hot stove.” “No, may not play in the middle of the street,” etc. Too often, we see only the prevention and not the protection.

At the end of King David’s life, he expresses a desire to build a house for the Lord. “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent” (2 Sam. 7:2; 1 Chron. 17:1). A passion arises in David to construct a temple for God—not for David’s renown but for the worship, honor, and glory of the almighty God. It’s a good desire, and the prophet Nathan even confirms his aspirations, saying, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the LORD is with you” (2 Sam. 7:3; 1 Chron. 17:2). 

David desired the good thing of constructing the Lord’s temple, but God had a better plan. God promises David that even though David would not build the temple he would raise up his offspring, Solomon, who would usher in a reign of peace and prosperity in God’s kingdom. 

When our friends receive a “no” we like to throw out the old saying, “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” What if he just wants you to be content in the room you are in?

How do you persist in seasons like this? Pray to be content in the room of quiet faithfulness. Pray to be okay with not knowing everything the future holds. Pray to be okay when you hear no, understanding that His deliverance of you is secure forever by the life of Christ. He might have said “no” to you in one thing, but we can rest in the eternal “yes” of Christ. And that’s the most important yes we need. God doesn’t always open a window after He closes the door, but we can still praise him in the hallway.

Hashtag Blessed

Tomorrow most of America will enjoy a huge feast for Thanksgiving. Tables will be set, friends and family will gather, and all will give thanks for their blessings. The day after has become known as Black Friday, the first shopping day that ushers in a season of overindulgence and consumerism. I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with these holidays. Celebration is good! Gathering with family it good! Giving gifts is good! Receiving gifts is good! How then do we avoid overspending, overindulging, over-scheduling, and the melancholy that comes when we over-extend? 

Jesus ministered to the whole person. He addressed physical needs by healing the afflicted and ill, and he addressed depravity and spiritual needs by offering renewal of the mind and heart. In Matthew, in the area of Galilee, Jesus performed many miracles, and then he went up to the mountain and spoke to the people about the condition of their souls.  

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 
5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God. 

A quick search of the hashtag “blessed” reveals a bit about what our current culture perceives as being blessed. Many are selfies at exotic places or with exotic things. Others are showing off possessions. And many feel blessed by having family, friends, or a new baby to bring home. These aren’t the things that Jesus addresses here. He is speaking to a condition of the heart. The person who is merciful, pure in heart, meek—THOSE are the people that Jesus says are blessed.  

Throughout Matthew 5 Jesus is speaking to the condition of our souls. This is not a list of rules, like the ten commandments, but a heart and mind transformation that goes deeper even than our actions and words. 

You can have a huge feast, or no feasts at all this Holiday season. You can have a tree full of presents that rivals the best of Pinterest or forgo gifts altogether. Many Christians attempt to fight consumerism and aim for a simpler Christmas, in hopes of experiencing more of Jesus. Our best efforts, at extravagance or simplicity, will still come up empty if the condition of our heart is in need. 

How then should we be blessed? Spend time with God this season. As you make your shopping lists, also make a prayer list. Make a commitment to read the Bible every night at dinner by yourself or with your family. Ask God to examine the innermost parts of your heart, "...search me and know me God, know my heart and deeds, and if you see any offensive way in me, point it out.” (Psalm 139:23-24) 

What if this season we sought forgiveness? What if we prayed when we told people we would? Consider what spiritual practices can bring you into closer knowledge and understanding of God. Make those things the priority and see blessedness in your life. 

Prayer in the Desert

It was nearing 100 degrees in the dry, arid heat of the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea. Our destination was Masada, an ancient fortress built by Herod the Great on top of a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. There is an old path that weaves back and forth leading to the top of Masada called the Snake Path. It literally looks like a snake slithering back and forth up the side of the mountain. This path has over 700 stone steps and is just over a mile long.  I thought I was well prepared for lots of walking so when faced with the decision to hike the steep and narrow trail to the top or ride the gondola, I chose the Snake path. I probably should have taken the gondola.  

About half way up I felt my legs weaken and the throb of an impending headache. There is no shade from the heat, and despite the 2 liters of water on my back I couldn’t quench my thirst. My thighs burned with every step and as others forged on ahead full of zeal, I thought “is it time to take a break yet?” I just wanted to rest. 

Most of us have felt the desperation of being in the desert, even if we haven’t been in an actual desert. David’s words, in Psalm 63, echoed with my every heartbeat as I strained to take another step up that path. “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” David actually wrote this Psalm from the desert of Judah and looking around I could understand why. Difficult situations and the struggles we face in life, are much like being in a desert. They expose our weakness. They make us feel parched as if no water can satisfy the brokenness and thirst we are feeling.  

The good news is that David knew that what his soul really longed for, was God. Even when our circumstances seem hopeless, or our pain feels intolerable, there is a God who loves us. A God that walks with us, and promises to quench our thirst, our real thirst. 

Eventually, I made it to the top of the Snake Path. I repeated every Psalm I could think of in my head to keep my mind hopeful in the journey. While one friend encouraged me, another carried my back pack to lighten my load. At the top there was much rejoicing as each person reached the end of the journey.  

God doesn’t promise us we won’t have troubles, but he does promise to walk with us on the way. Seek God in your deserts, focus on his word and promises to keep you steadfast on your journey. And let us also be a community of people that walk with one another, not just in the joys of life, but in the deserts and valleys as well. 

Psalm 121 I lift up my eyes to the hills. 
    From where does my help come? 
2 My help comes from the Lord, 
    who made heaven and Earth. 

He will not let your foot be moved; 
    he who keeps you will not slumber. 
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel 
    will neither slumber nor sleep. 

The Lord is your keeper; 
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand. 

Today Is Worth Celebrating

Happy Reformation Day! When I was in seminary, I knew a guy who would wear a monastic robe to class (far outside of the dress code) and he would carry a small boombox playing Gregorian Chants as he walked the campus. It was great, adding a little levity to the high-pressure environment of school. 

Happy Halloween! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It signals that fall is here in full effect, the leaves are changing, the year-end holiday season is beginning, I can watch spooky movies all month, and there is candy everywhere. 

No matter how you celebrate, maybe you combine the two and go down the street and nail a Thesis to your neighbor’s door (joke explanation), today is one of the days during the year that we designate as special. During the year we set days aside: days to celebrate, days to remember, days to spend with family, and days to be thankful. We save these days in our hearts and minds because we want them to be special. 

However, everyday has the potential to be special; it’s all about how you use it. The most famous passage about this in the Bible is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (a time for everything...) but the writer of Ecclesiastes continues that wisdom in verses 9-13 

9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. 

Most of our days fall into regular rhythms: wake up, go to work/school, come home, eat dinner, sleep again. And if we’re not careful that rhythm can turn into a rut where we go through the motions but never make an impact on the world and people around us. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes wants you to remember “there is nothing better for [YOU] than to be joyful and to do good as long as [YOU] live!” So, what can you do? You can just let today be today. Wake up this morning with a smile on your face. The pressures and toils of life are going to happen. Whether you are smiling or grumpy they are going to happen.  

If you are stuck in a rut do what you can to climb out. Ask for help. Often, we get so focused on the hole we are in we don’t look up at the hands that want to pull us out. Let us all work together to encourage the people who are around us when we toil. Let us be the people that are trying to make the world better. Today is special because you are here, and you are doing your best!

Whatcha Thinkin’ About Today?

Work. School. Kids. Laundry. Groceries. Yard work. All those chores that never really seem to get done. In our day to day life it is so easy to get lost in the rhythms of survival that we lose the bigger picture. We worry so much about to do lists and the things we need to get done that we forget to appreciate. Today is special. Right here, right now, because this is the day (this is the day) that the Lord has made, and I WILL rejoice and be glad in it.  

This simple hymn from 1967 comes out of Psalm 118 and it’s talking about every day. When I was younger, and we sang it in church, I definitely thought that we were just singing about it being Sunday. My kid-brain thought, “okay the rest of the week is all yours, but Sunday belongs to God. So, we get to go to church, so we should celebrate that it’s Sunday, or something like that.” 

My kid-brain was wrong. When you look at Psalm 118 it is more about the amazing love that God has for his people. Psalm 118:4-9,  

4 Let those who fear the Lord say, 
    “His steadfast love endures forever.” 

5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; 
    the Lord answered me and set me free. 
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. 
    What can man do to me? 
7 The Lord is on my side as my helper; 
    I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 

8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord 
    than to trust in man. 
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord 
    than to trust in princes. 

Verse after verse we see a picture of a God who loves us deeply and wants to walk with us and protect us with his steadfast love that endures forever. And forever includes today. We face many storms in our lives. From the minor ones of laundry that is never finished to the big ones like the loss of a loved one. Throughout these storms, we can remember that we are people of hope, loved by God, and we can find refuge in his steadfast love. 

This is the day that the Lord has made. I can rejoice and be glad in it even on the bad days. Weeping may last for the night, the longest night of your life, but joy comes with the morning. Whatever storm you are facing today take, a moment to remember that you are deeply loved and significant to God. 

We Have a God Who Sees

Genesis 16:13 - So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

Yesterday afternoon I had the chance to speak at the Christian school where my children attend. The spiritual theme of the school year is “Name Above All Names”, and the kids in the middle school are learning about various names of God that we discover in Scripture. I was assigned “El Roi” (pronounced, “El Roh-ee”), meaning, the God who sees.

The name comes from Genesis 16. Hagar, the female servant of Abraham’s wife, Sarah, runs out into the wilderness to get away from the abuse and mistreatment she received once Sarah discovered that Hagar was pregnant with Abraham’s child. (It’s a complicated story.) Hagar was just doing what she was instructed and paid the price for it in the end.

Now she’s hopeless, laying by a spring, probably tired, probably wondering what her life held now that she had left the protection of home as a pregnant, single woman. While she’s lying there, God shows up, and Hagar discovers that God has been with her all along. She calls him El Roi—the God who Sees—because she realizes that he had been looking after her like a shepherd would have watched over his sheep.

I had committed to do this chapel towards the beginning of the school year. It didn’t occur to me that it would be the same week that Christi and I were headed to Israel, and I hadn’t thought about where I’d find the mental energy to put together the message in the midst of our preparations. I breathed a sigh of relief when it was over, the kids were gone, and it was only the Principal, Dan, and I who remained in the room.

Dan asked me how the preparations were going for our trip. I told him that we were looking forward to getting on the plane, knowing that all our preparations were completed. There would be nothing left to do, even if we wanted to. I also told him that I had some anxiety about leaving our kids and going overseas. God forbid something would happen.

“El Roi,” he said.

“Huh?” I responded.

“El Roi...the God who sees.”

I paused. In the midst of the busyness of life and the preparations to leave I thought that “El Roi” was just for the middle school kids. I hadn’t considered that maybe I was the one who needed to be reminded of the God who Sees. In the midst of preparation, busyness, anxiety, travel, leaving kids, buying supplies, packing, and the rest of the routine of life, the God who sees needed me to stop and consider that he was looking after me–and not just me, my family, and all those things I am anxious about.

“I guess that was providential,” I finally said.

And that was exactly the point.

My Role, God’s Role

1 Corinthians 4:7 – But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 

Davide Letterman used to have a bit on his show called “Stupid Human Tricks” (feel free to give it a quick Google if you’ve never seen it). The basic idea is that he would have a guest on the show who could do something ridiculous like bulging their eyes out of their head or contort their body into a pretzel. Stupid tricks, done by humans. 

There were also extraordinary tricks. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill double-jointed thumb, these people got on the show because they could do something that almost no one else could do. It was supposed to be funny, maybe a little cringe worthy, but also oddly awe-inspiring. 

That’s the thing about humans, we can be simultaneously extraordinary and, if we’re honest, stupid. We’re capable of amazing things, but we’re also needy. We get tired. We need companionship. We need encouragement. We need all those things that keep us alive: food, shelter, clothing, and so much more just to get us out of bed on a normal day! 

Most of us want to focus on the extraordinary in our own lives, but Paul was just the opposite. His view was that it wasn’t his gifts or abilities that were the most important thing about him, it was his frailty. He was aware that he could have and maybe should have been discouraged and overwhelmed by his circumstances, but he recognized that it was in those circumstances that God’s power was most clearly seen. He was just a jar of clay, easily broken, but inside of that too normal, run-of-the-mill, ordinary jar was the power of the Gospel. 

Many times, Christians want to do far more than they have the capacity to do. It might be every day activities like work, running the kids to school, or going to the gym. It might be kingdom work. Whatever it is we run ourselves ragged thinking that people like us—extraordinary people—should be able to do it all. 

I think Paul might say that trying to “doing it all” isn’t extraordinary, it’s stupid! God didn’t save us to run ourselves ragged. He saved us to set us free. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed remember” you’re a jar of clay. You are desperately dependent on the surpassing power of God!

The Obedience of Faith

Restore Church

Romans 1:5 - …we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name

Everyone in our house woke up late this morning. It was rainy, dreary, and Wednesday–a combination that made us all want to stay in bed. Once we were up, the fighting started: one kid shoved the other one who said something mean, one didn’t want to get out of bed at all, one hated their lunch, and no one cleaned up their rooms.

I wanted to scream, “Just do what I’m telling you to do or else I’ll…”

Fill in whatever it is you think you would yell in this situation. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Whatever the punishment would be, the message was, do what I’m telling you to do, or else.

Most of us think that this is what Christianity is about. I better do what God is telling me to do, or else…

Or else we’ll be punished, or we’ll be sent to Hell, or we’ll lose our blessings, or terrible things will happen unless we learn to fall in line, do the right thing, and not complain. When I hear words like “obedience” that’s what I think of. But that’s not what Paul means.

Paul lays out what he intends to do in his letter to the Romans in the first chapter: his call is to bring about obedience, however he says it’s the obedience of faith. In other words, it’s a specific type of behavior that flows from faith; it is preceded by faith, informed by faith, and even empowered by faith. Faith is the active ingredient that brings about the obedience that Paul wanted to encourage.

I thought about that in relation to my children’s behavior and why they didn’t want to do what I asked them to do. I think it’s because they don’t trust me. 

I mean, they trust me a little. They trust me as their dad. They trust that I’ll make sure that they are clothed, fed, and have a roof over their head. They trust that if they fall I will catch them, I’ll be waiting. But they don’t trust me enough yet to believe that the way I’m asking them to live will be better for them in the long run. They still want to follow their own instincts, and their instincts are (almost) always wrong.

So, they shove, mock, yell, act lazy—all the things that seem good to them in the moment but in the long run will leave them in a bad place. If they only trusted that my instruction was in their best interest, maybe they’d start to obey. My plan is to keep on being their dad while they learn to trust me even more.

That’s what Paul means by the obedience of faith. He wants you to trust your Heavenly Father so much that you begin to honor him with the entirety of your life, including getting to that point where you believe that his instruction is for your own best interest. In the meantime, God is patient and loving with us, still acting like our dad while we grow in our faith. As Jesus once said in Matthew 7:11, if imperfect father’s can figure that out, don’t you think our Heavenly Father will love us even more?

More Than You Can Bear

One of the major downfalls of not spending time in the Bible, and knowing what is actually written there, is that you become trusting of false ideas. Occasionally short verses can be specific and to the point, too often we have transformed several scriptures to mean something entirely different than what was intended, and we don’t even know we are doing it!

Many of us are guilty of perpetuating the spread of false ideas. We mean well, but I know that I am one of those guilty people that has had a friend share about a burden and responded by saying, “Don’t worry, God won’t give you more than you can handle” followed by a pat on the back or a prayer. For the person saying it, you have the best of intentions to encourage your friend. For the person who feels the immense weight and enormous desperation of their burden it comes up empty. Why?

While the saying is basedon an actual Bible verse, it distorts the wording and meaning behind the verse and morphs it into something that is not only unsympathetic to the hardship, but also untrue. The actual scripture from 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV), and speaks about the temptation to sin, and reads: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” What began as encouragement to the followers of Christ to resist sin and temptation, has morphed into a catch all phrase for any Christian facing a tough time. 

The truth is, when it comes to hard times, God usually gives us more than we can handle by our own means. Jesus tells us in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble,” but he goes on to say “But take heart! I have overcome the world”. Paul tells his followers in 2 Cor. 1:8-9, “We do not want you to be uninformed brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced…We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” The truth is, the Bible does not hold back on the sufferings of life, and our inability to endure them alone. The truth is, we will find ourselves in despair, far beyond our own ability to handle. And what we can’t handle God can.

Real Biblical truth points to the sovereignty and power of God, not on human ability. It reveals the hurt and brokenness of the world that we will experience. It leads to us not relying on our own strength, but the strength of the living and breathing God. The only way to keep yourself alert, and in tune to this truth, is through the study and reading of God’s word. Then, we will be equipped as believers to respond to suffering, not in empty phrases, but grounded in the truth of the Gospel.

Reading the Word

A few years back I was invited by a friend to join a Bible study. This group offered childcare for my littles and the fellowship with other women that I, as a stay at home mom, craved. It also included, as the title would suggest, studying the Bible. While I looked forward to weekly time in the word and the accountability of a group, I was overwhelmed at the homework involved in the study. I went to class many times unable to participate in discussion because I hadn’t been done the work for that week’s lesson. Bible study began to feel like drudgery. It was difficult to fit it into my daily and weekly routine.  

Over the years I’ve read my Bible at various levels, from taking Old Testament and Greek courses in college, or to the point and pick method where you treat your Bible like a magic 8-ball and open it randomly hoping the answer to your life’s question will pop out. The Bible at times has been a textbook for me and other times a mysterious oracle. I think many of us struggle with exactly how to approach this book. Sometimes it feels too overwhelming to understand and other times too simple to be the Holy word of God. 

I remember listening to a sermon by Pastor Matt Chandler years ago, and he was talking about what it takes to fall in love with someone. The analogy was that he could tell you all about his wife, and about his deep love and affection for her, but that wouldn’t make YOU fall in love with her. By that same account, he could tell you about God, and about his own relationship and love for Jesus, but that wouldn’t make you fall in love with Jesus. For you to grow in your relationship, you need to do the work of getting to know God yourself. The best way to do that? Through looking at His Word. 

There is no substitute that will replace personal time reading the Bible. Daily devotions will give you a cursory glance at basic Biblical principles. Sermons will help you understand God’s word with a depth and application of a learned teacher. Personal Bible study, and time spent in God’s word, will help it to dwell in your heart and mind in a way that not only transforms you, but brings you to a closer understanding of the love that God has for you, and allow you to love him in return.

We tackle so many things with love and devotion. What if we tackled Bible study with the same fervor and commitment? What would it look like for “the word of Christ to dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16)? How might your life be transformed if you were “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17) through your study of scripture? God’s word is not hidden from us. It is made readily available in multiple platforms (audio, digital, book) and translations. Someone said recently that we make time for the things that are important to us. Will you make time to get to know God?

Who Is Your Audience?

Before social media, the word audience had a specific meaning that was associated with a public gathering of people, such as the audience at the movie. Nowadays the word ‘audience’ takes on a whole new meaning in relation to social media and the vast audience that exists there. Kids aspire to become YouTube personalities, or Instagram influencers, and even if you don’t have thousands of followers, you have an audience. Not only do you have your ownaudience that is seeing your content, you are an audience to someone else, and can constantly see their content as well. This allows us to, for more time than we’d like to admit, either silently judge others for what they posted or congratulate ourselves on what we put out there. 

Our audience extends way beyond plays, concerts, books, music or art. We have all these opportunities, maybe hundreds a day, to peak into the lives of others. We hear their words, see their videos, or read articles that are important to them. In this climate of easily accessible information and media, we as a culture have become EXPERTS at judging. It is no surprise that anxiety is on the rise in high schoolers, and that young mothers everywhere feel more pressure than ever to meet certain standards of perfection. We place unrealistic expectations not only on others, but ourselves as well.  

Self-righteousness creeps in when we see others and think we are better than them. Insecurity creeps in when we see others and think they are better than us. Neither of these attitudes is the posture that God wants for us. Paul tells us in Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

God calls us to a humility that is grounded in the assurance of salvation through a faith that is from God and not ourselves. In this humility and truth we can be free from judgement and comparison. In this humility we don’t need to be insecure, but rest in the security of God as our Father in Heaven who has made us each in His image and loves us as we come to him, broken and imperfect and in need of a savior. 

When we think of self-righteousness or insecurities as we compare ourselves to others we must stop and remember our focus needs to be our audience of God.  Instead of spending time on what others are thinking about you, and what you are thinking of them, dwell instead on the gift of faith and salvation that God has given us in Christ. Focus on living a life that is worthy and pleasing to a holy God, in humility for the faith, grace, and love that he lavishes on us daily.  

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

(Some of you already hear the music in your head as you read this.)Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho…and the walls came tumbling down. 

In keeping with last week’s theme of testing our faith, I want us to consider Joshua and the Israelites conquering Jericho. And when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him. (Joshua 6:5) The shout of true faith stands in direct contrast to the whimper of wavering faith. 

Joshua 6:2 says, “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand…’” God did not say, “you should seize Jericho,” or “I will give you Jericho,” but, “I havegiven you Jericho.” Meaning, the city belonged to Israel already and now they just had to take possession of it. What the people could not understand was how? This task seemed impossible.

The thing that may be easy to overlook is that it was not simply the shouting that brought the walls down. How poorly was the wall building in Jericho that people yelling at it would make it fall? The shout of God’s people was a claim of the promised victory. It was according to their faith; so that when they shouted, He made the walls to fall.

God declared that the victory was Israel’s and they trusted in that promise. The book of Hebrews mentions this, By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. (Hebrews 11:30) God could have simply leveled the walls himself and let the people of Israel know what he had done, and they can go move in. But that is not what happened. Joshua and the people had to respond and follow the call of the Lord.

There have been times in my life when I needed to make a decision. And in those times I would have to ask, do I sit and wait on God to direct me or move in the direction I feel is right until God intervenes? Often times, God is working His will in our favor, but we have to step up and make a move. These can be scary times, but the ones where we see God do incredible things. 

Kid Tested, Mother Approved…

In 1978 the General Mills company introduced a new slogan for one of their products. That slogan was, “Kid tested, Mother approved.” They were appealing to parents. They were promising that this cereal, Kix, was loved by kids. When you’re a kid your only requirement for food was that you liked the how it tasted. You weren’t concerned about calories or grams of protein. However, if parents just let the kids choose it would be candy breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, parents must make hard choices even if the kids don’t like it while it’s happening.

In the gospel of John, Jesus is speaking to his friend Martha. Jesus had just arrived at the memorial service for Martha’s brother, and one of his best friends, Lazarus. Jesus had received word that his friend was on his deathbed and that he should come quickly so he could see and hopefully heal this friend. Jesus, upon hearing of Lazarus’ condition, decided to stay longer in the place where he was. (John 11:6) 

By the time Jesus arrived Lazarus was already buried in his tomb and had been in there for four days. Martha, upset that he did not arrive sooner, tells Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus replied that Lazarus would rise again. He ordered that the stone be rolled away. Martha reminded Jesus that Lazarus was dead four days and there would be an awful smell. Jesus answered, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” (11:40) 

Jesus looked to heaven, prayed and called Lazarus out of the tomb. John tells us that after this event, many of the Jews believed in Jesus. Mary and Martha knew Jesus had healed the sick and raised the dead. They had seen it first-hand. Yet, when Jesus arrived they thought he was too late! In their minds they believe that Lazarus was fully and completely dead, so they were out of luck. They believed that Jesus missed his opportunity. Their faith had never been tested like this. Jesus could have shown up earlier and healed Lazarus’s illness, but then people could write it off as Lazarus not being that sick. Jesus knew that the glory of God would be illuminated by raising his dead friend. 

We know what Jesus can do. We have seen it in scripture and we’ve experienced it in our own lives. So why do we still have trouble keeping the faith? You really start to see God’s influence when your faith gets tested. If you look back on your life where do you see God coming through in those tough times? When you struggle with doubt, remember that those where our faith gets tested are opportunities to see God moving.