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.

But My Hands Are Full

I remember watching my kids play and learn when they were younger. Watching them interact with their environment brought endless entertainment. One of my favorite things to watch was when one of them would have a toy in each hand and want a third one. Instead of putting one down, they would often try to grab the third item not realizing that they couldn’t because their hands were full. They had to let go of what they were holding to grab something new.

The Apostle Matthew writes in chapter eighteen, “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV) What follows is the parable of the unforgiving servant. Essentially there is a king looking to settle his accounts and he discovers that one of his servants owes him 10,000 talents (1 talent = 20 years’ wages). The servant pleads with the king to not go to prison and the king forgives his debt. That same servant runs into a peer who owes him wages equal to 100 days, he chokes him and throws him in debtors’ prison. When the king learns of this, he scolds the servant and reinstates his debt placing him in prison.

We all have our own debts, our sins, and deserve judgement from God. However, we have also been given the great gift of forgiveness from God. Knowing all the things we have done and how much we have been forgiven shouldn’t we be able to forgive others as well. Too often we are the wicked servant in this cautionary parable. We hold too tightly to the things we need to let go of and forgive. 

So many of us are walking through life with our hands full, burdened by unforgiveness. We know how much we have been forgiven, and that God offered up His Son, Jesus, as our payment. God wants us to be forgiving. In knowing this we need to be able to put down the bitterness and hurt we are holding and pick up the opportunity to forgive others. It’s not easy. When the wicked servant was forgiven such a sum he could never repay, he should have been able to share that blessing with his friend. When you consider all that God has forgiven I hope you are able to share a small glimpse of that to the people that have done you wrong.

Fill ‘er Up

Over the summer I visited some friends in another state. While I was there I needed to put gas in the car I was driving. For a split second I sit at the pump waiting for someone to approach my window asking what I need. The issue is, unless you are in New Jersey (or Oregon), no one cares what you want at the gas station. They might get mad if you block the pump, but other than that you’re on your own when it comes to making sure you’ve got enough fuel in your tank.

Having a full tank in your car also give you a strange feeling of security. You know that for the next few days you have one less thing to worry about. In our lives we have a number of mental and emotional tanks that we must fill and expend to make it through the days. 

You mostly become aware of these when they are starting to run dry. I’m sure it’s easy to point out the last time something like your patience tank ran out, or your working hard tank, or your dealing with other people’s…um…nonsense tank. But the tank I’m most concerned about is your spiritual tank.

If you are new to the faith or dipping your toe in the water checking out church on Sunday or looking into parts of the Bible is enough. However, if you fully believe in the promises made by God through Jesus you are called to do much more.

James 4:5-8 says,
“…do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. When our spiritual tanks start feeling depleted we need to do the difficult work of self-examination. When’s the last time you read your Bible, spent time with the Christian community, or even gone to church. God loves you. God wants to spend time with you. God wants to fill your tank to overflowing so that the joy and fullness you experience is shared with everyone around you. But like any relationship it takes work on both sides.

Draw near to God. Let him fill your tank.

All You Need Is...

There was a cartoon I remember from when I was younger that, in a very 90s fashion, had a cartoon within a cartoon. The cartoon within the cartoon was a parody of the heavy-handed wholesome children’s television of the past and featured a group of bears that were all about getting along. Each episode would have them trying to make a decision, immediately agreeing, and then singing a song which said, “We are the [something] bears. We always get along. Each day we do a little dance and sing a little song. If you ever disagree it means that you are wrong.We are the [something] bears we always get along.”

Many of us act as if we are duty-bound to argue. We see the line above and our gut says it’s ridiculous while our actions make it true. And we feel the need to argue about everything: from the high stakes of politics to the low stakes of toppings allowed on pizza. We want to be right, always.

However, as Christians, we are never called to be right. At no point in the Bible are we commanded, “go forth and make other people feel dumb by proving them wrong.” Instead, we are called to love people, even people with whom we disagree. 1 Corinthians 13 is a pretty famous discussion about love. Even if you’re not a Christian you’ve probably heard it at more than a few weddings, but it’s about so much more than just the love between two people. The love Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13 is the high standard Christians are called to strive for.

1 Corinthians 13:2-3 says, “…if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We can have and do all these great things for our faith but if we can’t love our fellow humans it doesn’t matter. 

Paul continues to define love in verses 4-8, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends...”

Some people are easier to love than others, but we don’t get the luxury of picking and choosing. We are to share the love of God everywhere we go. It’s challenging, it’s difficult, but how could the world change if Christians were known more for how well they listened than how much they attacked. 

Like the old hymn says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

You May Ask Yourself, “How Did I Get Here?”

Esther 4:14- “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Every year on our anniversary Christi and I have a variation of the same conversation reflecting on life, where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going. It’s not something we plan, but I think it happens because our anniversary is less than two weeks after my birthday, and I’ve entered into that period of mid-life where every year that passes is another opportunity for me to analyze and question all of my life-choices.

The three parts of this annual anniversary conversation progress in difficulty. Talking about where we’ve been is easy, it has already happened, and we can recount the memories, laugh at the mistakes, and remember not to take ourselves too seriously. Talking about where we are at in the current moment is a bit more of a challenge. There are the objective realities that we can identify: the house we live in, the jobs we have, the organizations we’re involved with, the age of our children, and so on. However, there is also the philosophical task of interpreting all of those things. “Why did life line up this way instead of that way?” “What are we supposed to do with these responsibilities?” “How do we enjoy this season of life more?” These are the questions that fuel the majority of our annual conversation. And of course, that all leads to the question of “where are we going?”

My guess is that there are times where you are unsure how you got to where you are, and times you definitely don’t know where you are going. No matter how wise or hard-working we consider ourselves to be, much of our life and our current circumstances can remain a mystery to us. We know that somethingwe’ve done has contributed to our situation, we just don’t know which part or to what degree. We’re left to wonder not only why we are where we are, for what purpose, and what our future might hold.

Queen Esther faced a similar dilemma, as told in the Biblical book of Esther. She has been chosen by the King to be his Queen, partially because of her great beauty. But there is more to Esther than beauty: she is wise, she is loyal, she is empathetic, and she is also Jewish (a fact that becomes astonishingly important when an enemy of the Jews comes forward and tricks the king into issuing a decree that the Jews all be killed, and their goods stolen). Esther likely wondered how she had gotten to such a privileged position, now she likely wondered what the future would hold, and that’s when she got that encouraging word from her friend Mordecai. He asked her, “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

The implication is, you don’t know, but God does. The application is, be faithful, and stay the course.

When you come to that place where you wonder why you are where you are and where you might be headed, you can have the same type of confidence as Mordecai. If God has been faithful this far, surely, he will continue to be moving forward.

Bad Days and Barking Dogs

There is a dog that has been barking outside my office window all afternoon. And it’s not some big cool dog it’s one of those little yappy dogs. YAP. YAP YAP YAP. I don’t know if it’s barking at something, trying to get someone’s attention, playing with another dog, or just wants someone to call him a good boy. No matter the reason, today it is distracting and annoying. I have work to do, and while I can usually tune out as white noise like this, if I do notice it becomes all consuming. Today I noticed it.

For many of us there is a barking dog that we carry around. It is a thought or feeling that mostly stays in the fringes; we know that it is there, but it usually doesn’t pull us from our daily activity. However, from time to time, it rears its head to take all of our attention. Paul describes his as a thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul has just finished talking about how the only thing he wants to boast about is the great work that God is doing. He has the history and credibility to be well-respected by the Hebrew people and most Roman citizens. However, to Paul the only thing that matters is spreading the good news of the Gospel and using his life to point others to God.

We are never explicitly told what Paul’s personal affliction was, and I think that is a good thing. Once we see that someone else’s issue is X the temptation is to devalue their experience. We all know someone who had a similar issue, but theirs was way worse. Paul should just stop whining think about this group that are even sadder. Whatever this thorn may have been—depression, physical pain, money issues, the loss of a loved one, etc.—Paul used it as a tool rather than an excuse.

Most of us, like Paul, carry a thorn, some may even have two or three. Whatever our weakness or affliction may be I hope that it always reminds us that we can’t do this alone. Even in times when we want to tell God to just take it all away He tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12) It’s not what we want to hear, but usually it is what we desperately need. And Paul responds, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” We may never learn to love that barking dog, but in moments clarity we may be able to see its purpose

Jesus loves me this I know / For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong / We are weak, but He is strong.

Calling

People always ask kids the same question: What do you want to be when you grow up? You’ve probably asked a little kid this question yourself, and their answers are usually jobs like fireman, teacher, astronaut, or doctor. All respectable jobs, but what if we changed the question a little?

Think about the person you respectthe most in the world. This is a person you admire, appreciate, and hold in the highest regard. This is a person that if you grew up to be just like them you would be happy with how your life turned out. What are those qualities that you respect most about them?

I would guess that very little of what you respect comes from their job title. There is so much more to life than how people trade their time for money. We all have a God given calling. No matter what job you have when you finish school and join the workforce, God has put a higher calling on your life.

Paul, who was arrested for preaching the good news of Jesus, wrote a letter from prison to the people of Ephesus. 

In Ephesians chapter 4 he writes:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 Verse 11 tells us that Christ gave us all these people to help us along the way. These are the pastors, teachers, and leaders that help us grow closer to God and live out the truth of his teachings. These are also positions we take as we guide and mentor others. We are all called to be the people that speak the truth in love and help everyone grow as we have ourselves grown.

So instead of asking, “What job do you want when you grow up?” we start asking, “What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?”

The Great Adventure

Finish this sentence, the scariest thing I have ever done by choice was____. (This is something you’ve done of your own free will not a presentation you weren’t prepared for.) What made it scary? How did you build up the courage to do it? 

It’s no surprise that life is not always going to work out the way you want it to. Even if you think you have planned things perfectly, unforeseen circumstances can sometimes hit you in the face. You were excited for the cookout but now it’s raining and you’re sad. Life is supposed to go a certain way, but too often we deal with disappointment. 

There is a song that says, “with every broken heart, we should become more adventurous.” The hardest thing we can do when things don’t work out the way we want is to keep pushing forward.

James in chapter 1 tells us2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 

When we hear the word adventure we usually think of going on safari, or exploring Antarctica, or going on some crazy trip with your friends to find pirate treasure. The truth is all of life can be an adventure.

If you call yourself a Christian, then you know that you have joined something bigger than yourself. You are part of the community of believers and we are all in this adventure together. We are called to do challenging things, take risks, and step out on faith. God has a plan for your life and it’s a lot more than where you might go to college or what kind of food you’re going to eat.

In this adventure we are all on, called life, we must recognize that there are things that we cannot control. We can and should make plans. It is good to plan for your future; it’s okay to plan what you will eat or wear. However, when those begin to consume you, when every project is life or death, when you fear your neighbor’s judgment if you don’t have the nicest whatever on the block, when you get angry your post didn’t get enough reactions, you are not on an adventure you are in a cage.

God sent His son Jesus so that we can be free. Too often, we fight back against that freedom. Sometimes it’s because of our own choice sometimes it’s because of choices made by other people that have changed us. No matter what, life is an adventure, and while we will face setbacks, we are called to push through in faith and trust.

Pray about those things that get in your way. 

The Community of Believers

There’s an old African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast go alone; if you want to go far go together.” If you’ve ever gone on a long trip you know this to be true. You could make it in a few hours if so-n-so didn’t have to pee every 20 minutes.

Every party where you’ve had fun, every trip you’ve ever taken, and every church service you’ve attended was better because you shared it with the people around you. How awkward would it be to come on a Sunday morning and have the sermon preached or the band play just for you. In the church, if you want to do it right, you don’t have a choice. If you believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ, you are a part of the COMMUNITY of believers.

The community of believers is more than just the people in your own church. The Christian community spans the globe. Where ever a person is in the world if that person is a Christian that person is your brother or sister. Being a Christian is not something we are ever asked to do alone. In God’s eyes we are all his children who he loves very very much. 

In 1 Thessalonians 5 Paul encourages us by saying:

12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil. 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brothers and sisters, pray for us. 26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. 27 I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters. 28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

As Christians we don’t have any secret power that eliminates the stress of daily life. What we do have is a community of people around us who want only the best for us. When you become a Christian, you join a family. We may not always get along, but when push comes to shove we should have each other’s backs.

How can you inspire others and be inspired by them?

We are in this together.

More Than Circumstance

Philippians 1:20 ESV - Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

This inspirational passage is from the Apostle Paul. He is writing from jail to the church at Philippi. Paul is awaiting trial and left facing the possibility of execution. But rather than feel sorry for himself, he is praying for boldness. 

Paul writes that it is his EAGER expectation and hope that he will not be ashamed. That word in the Greek that Paul uses is APOKARADOKIA(ap-ok-ar-ad-ok-ee'-ah). This is a word that scholars believe Paul himself coined. It is comprised of three different words and when combined, the definition is “to look into the distance with outstretched head.” To paraphrase, Paul is saying, “I can’t move my feet, I can’t move my body, but I’m stretching my head forward to the future and so I will rejoice.”

Talk about confidence! We wrapped up a series in Ecclesiastes a few weeks ago and what we learned was that life ‘under the sun’ is meaningless. If all we can see is our earthly circumstances in this broken world than we should just end it now. For unbelievers, life on earth is all there is. So naturally, society finds itself striving for worldly things. Paul is after the opposite!

Sometimes we are so consumed with our difficult circumstances that we lose hope. Paul reminds us to fix our gaze on what lies beyond this life. As believers, we know where we are going! This makes us free to serve and to focus on what counts without fear of death.

Think about that eager expectation that Paul had next time you feel stuck or trapped. You may not be able to move your feet, or your body, but lift your head up and stretch towards the future and rejoice. Remember that there is more in your life than your current circumstances. God is sovereign over all.

Say a Prayer today,