What Do You Want?

Luke 18Psalm 66

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind beggar was sitting beside the road. When he heard the noise of a crowd going past, he asked what was happening. They told him that Jesus the Nazarene was going by. So he began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  “Be quiet!” the people in front yelled at him.  But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:35-41)

Did you pay attention to Jesus’ question in this story?.  How would you respond to him?  Think about it.  If you captured Jesus’ attention and, point-blank, he asks you, “what do you want me to do for you?”  How do you respond?  My own answer to that question sends panic through my heart.  Why?  Because, my answer reveals the condition of my heart.

There are a thousand things that I want from him.  I want a new car, a new house and another sale.  I want my company to grow faster and have more influence.  I want him to heal my friend with cancer and to provide more money for the needy.  All of those things are what I want.  Do those Lord.  Should we be surprised that God doesn’t jump in and honor all of my requests?  We shouldn’t.   James 4:3 reminds us that, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”  Yes, that answer stings a bit.  There is, however, a better way.  Consider the response of young King Solomon.

Similar to the blind man, the Lord appeared to Solomon.  He asked him, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” (1 Kings 3:5).  Solomon replied, “Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”  (1 Kings 3:9).  Solomon’s response pleased the Lord.  So did the blind man’s.  He answered, “Lord, I want to see!” (Luke 18:45).  Jesus immediately responded to this request.  Why?  Because like Solomon, his request required faith in God for the sake of God.

Do you know what you want?  Do you know that the Holy Spirit is here, waiting for you to ask?  What do you want him to do for you?

Go Into The Wild

Luke 4, Psalm 81

Where do you most often look for God?  Maybe its in your living room, or in your bed before you go to sleep?  It’s not important where you go, as long as you go.  There are times, however, when longer, more focused times are needed.   This practice called solitude.  Jesus did it too.  He can be seen retreating into lonely places, sometimes called the wilderness.  Today, in Luke 4, we get to witness this experience as Jesus is called into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit.

Why would the Holy Spirit call Jesus to a lonely place?  To the wilderness?  Doesn’t the wilderness seem like a bad place to be?  In the wilderness, we lose our sense of direction, fear is elevated, and attack by a predator is likely.  The answer is that he simply followed the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:4).  I can tell you that the picture in my head is wrong.  I see Jesus as an innocent child being lured into danger by the Holy Spirit.  That is totally wrong.  Instead, Jesus has one hundred percent trust in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is leading him with one hundred percent love.  The purpose, as Richard Foster so wonderfully puts it is, “so that he could all the more fully enter the divine feast.”  Do you hear that?  The Holy Spirit is leading Jesus toward a Spiritual Feast.  It will not include physical food.  No, it will be God only – spiritual food – for the next 40 days.

What would your life look like if you spent 40 days alone, no cell phone, no TV, no internet?  40 days with God.  If you don’t know, then we are even.  I cannot imagine it either.  What I do know is that Jesus comes away full.  Not just full, but complete and perfectly equipped to be our Savior.  Here is the proof.  Think of the physical toll 40 days without food would take.  Your body is weak and lethargic.  Your mind is starved.  Your thinking  is slow and dull.  The combination of these jeopardizes every action, every decision.  The same was true for Jesus.  However, instead of giving in to the Devil’s schemes, he drew on his deep well of God’s power to hold fast.  Why?  Not because Jesus was unable to be deceived.  It was because Jesus spent enough time with God to know that nothing, absolutely nothing compared.  The Devil was not able to offer him anything better than he already had possession of.  Even better, this opportunity sets up Jesus’ ministry.  By denying the Devils worldly schemes, ”He intended to demonstrate a new kind of power, a new way of ruling. Serving, suffering, dying — these were Jesus’ messianic forms of power.” (Richard Foster)

As I read the account of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and his subsequent temptation, its easiest for me to believe that he was different than me.  That i am a mere human and he was God.  That belief confronts me with two problems.  First it denies Jesus identity as being fully human.  Second, it effectively eliminates any responsibility for me to follow the Holy Spirit into the wilderness.  That is where I too can “fully enter the divine feast.”  Will you go too?

Foster, Richard J.. Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christ. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Introduction to 1 John

Psalm 38

How do you view accountability?  As a child, accountability often looked like a yard stick.  Maybe that’s why I get nervous when I think about it.  I may not have liked it, but I always needed it.  Even now, as an adult.  It was true in Bible times too.  Today, as we ready to read 1 John, the apostle John is exercising his responsibility to hold Christians accountable.  When you examine it you will see three distinct components.  A reminder of who Jesus is, how we react to that understanding and finally, why it matters.

I John starts with a reminder of who Jesus is.  If you haven’t noticed, its easy to get mixed up about Jesus.  That is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when John wrote this book.  People everywhere were questioning Jesus’ divinity.  After all, how is it possible to be human and God?  Our faith is easily sidetracked with such questions.  Many of us already have. For example, it is far easier to believe that Jesus was just a “good guy” than it is to believe he is God.  In 1 John, John rebutts these falsehoods with a strong message of truth.  He reminds us that Jesus was, in fact, “from the beginning,” meaning that he was with God before all of creation.  He also points to evidence of his humanity, recalling that they saw him personally and were able to touch him physically (John 20:27).  These reminders of truth hole us accountable to the core truth’s of Jesus.  

As we recall his perfect nature, John begins to encourage us to act accordingly.  The behavioral change John is talking about starts with our heart which is justified through Jesus’ sacrifice. We need to remember our need for forgiveness and salvation, often.  This remembrance causes behavioral changes.  He fills our renewed hearts with His love and goodness.  Out of this river, flows righteousness and good deeds.

In conclusion, John encourages us to be confident.  Not just for eternal life, but for true life.  Right here on earth.  God cares about our struggles.  He wants to intercede.  He will intercede.  Sometimes, we just need a reminded.

Heads or Tails?

James 2, Psalm 24

Do you say that faith is the only requirement for salvation?  That if you confess with your mouth and believe with your heart you are done?  Maybe you prefer to think that your “goodness” will pave the way for you.  That salvation is about how you treat others and what you do to care for the world.  Today, in James 2, we get a full dose of reality.  Apparently, both are true and neither is true.  How can that be?  For me, it’s easier to think about faith and works as two sides of the same coin.  To help illustrate that, I am recalling a movie series from the late ‘70s called Oh God.  Those movies captured my imagination and probably, in some twisted way, shaped part of my theology. I’m thinking specifically of an exchange where God, played by George Burns,  was talking with a young girl, Tracy.  He was attempting to explain the paradox of good and bad.  It went like this:

God: I know this sounds like a cop-out Tracy, but there’s nothing I can do about pain and suffering.  Its built into the system.

Tracy: Which you invented

God: My problem was I could never figure out how to build anything with just one side to it

Tracy: One Side?

God: You ever see a front without a back

Tracy: No

God: A top without a bottom?

Tracy: No

God: An up without a down?

Tracy: No

God: OK.  Then there can’t be good without bad, life without death, pleasure without pain.  That’s the way it is.  If I take sad away, happy has to go with it.

It is this conversation, along side James 2 that shows me how faith and work are two sides of the same coin.  You can’t have faith without works.

We must have faith.  We must believe that Jesus died, for our sins.  We must acknowledge that this sacrifice removes allows us to live free and abundantly.  Through Jesus, we have no guilt, no shame and no punishment.  We are justified and sanctified.  Righteous even.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Some would have us believe that nothing more is needed.

The other side of the coin, however, is works.  Many in this world believe that their “goodness” is all that is needed.  They care for others and the world giving freely of their time and money.  They say, “I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). 

What faith alone fails to acknowledge is that Jesus’ resurrection gives us power.  What works alone fails to acknowledge is our need to be justified and sanctified.  They attempt to be fronts without backs, or backs without fronts.  Nonetheless, faith and work are two sides of the same coin.  When they work together, God’s plan is realized.

Consider Jesus’ challenge to his disciples.  He said, 

Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

God wanted the disciples to have great faith.  Not just so that they would be saved from eternal damnation.  He also wanted them to do great works.  Likewise, he wants us to do great works.  It is through faith that we are empowered to do anything.  Even move mountains!  Of course, we have to get on with moving the mountain.  Otherwise, all that power is useless.  It’s like an electrical generator running at full power with nothing plugged into it.  What a waste!

I could never write about faith and works without adding in a little Rich Mullins. One of my favs!

 

Credible

Hebrews 2, Psalm 10

I spent two days last week at the Global Leadership Summit, hosted this at Eastview Christian Church.  They presented a fantastic array of world-class that provided their wisdom, insight and instruction to become better leaders.  These talks are nothing new to me.  In fact, I consume an unbelievable amount of similar information every week.  I read blogs and books, listen to podcasts, even receive daily tips in my email.  Why?  Because I want to become everything that God created me to be.  Filling my heart and mind this way helps to assure my success. I must be careful, however, with who I listen to.

Each of last week’s speakers and authors has credibility.  For example, in her talk about forgiveness, Immaculee Ilibagaiza described, in detail, the horror and terror she experienced during the Rwanda genocide in 1994.  Her personal experience and resulting triumph offer me encouragement and hope in any circumstance. Clearly, she is a trustworthy source.  

As I reflect on last week’s speakers and consider Paul’s conversation with us today in Hebrews 2, I noticed an interesting correlation.  God, did the same thing.  He experienced life, just as we do, right here on earth.  He did it for two reasons.  First, so that he can understand exactly what it is like to be human. The only possible way to do so, was to send his son, in flesh and blood to live life, just like us.  

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. Hebrews 2:4 (NLT) 

The second consideration in God’s becoming human is credibility.  Why should we listen to Jesus Christ?  What makes him an authority?  Simple, his performance during and after hardship and suffering prove his character.

Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:18 (NLT)

Thankfully, Jesus can help us better than any speaker or leadership guru. He conquered death.

For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Hebrews 2:14 (NLT)

Because of his living sacrifice, we are no longer bound, but are free.  Nothing can prevail against us (Matthew 16:18).  Nothing.

 

Fight The Good Fight

Today’s Reading: 1 Timothy 6

Not too long ago, I scheduled Friday evening walk-thru to discuss some problems a customer was having with his house.  It was the only time he had available.  Not surprising, this busy executive was running late.  When finally he walked into the house, I greeted him with a handshake and a big smile, expecting him to unload on me about the busy and tumultuous week that he has had.  Cautiously, I asked, “did you have a good day?”  His response was one that I will never forget.  He said, simply and authentically, “I fought the good fight.”  What an interesting comment!  Since that conversation, I’ve stopped thinking about my days as good, or bad.  Instead, at the end of my day, or week, I remind myself that I am fighting the good fight.  Paul gives us some interesting feedback today about the good fight.  He uses four words to outline how we do it.

Flee – (v11) to escape, shun, run away from

From what in your day, or week did you flee?  Or, maybe you did not flee when you should have.  Perhaps, there s something in your life this very moment that you need to flee. 

Pursue – (v11) to run swiftly in order to catch something, to seek after eagerly, earnestly attempt to acquire

What are you pursuing in your life?  Are you full throttle in your career?  For what purpose?   Maybe its money, or is it power?  In this passage, Paul is encouraging us to pursue faith and only faith.  That means running after God, earnestly and swiftly.  The goal is to catch him!

Fight – (v12) struggle, strive, to contend with an adversary

No, it will not be easy.  Things won’t go our way.  It will often feel as if someone is fighting against you.  The good news is that we have been given amazing tools for this battle.  Ephesians 6:10-18 describes how God protects us.  He gives us “full armor” so that we can stand firm.  Additionally, He wants us to fight hard against our adversary with his sword of truth.

Take Hold – (v12) take possession, attain, seize

God does not want us to wait until the battle is over.  He wants us to claim the prize, now!  Don’t forget, he already won the war.  He sent his only son to die on the cross (1 John 2:12-14).  Its time to stake our claim.

Father, thank you for simple ways to better understand your Truth.  Give us wisdom today to see clearly what we are pursuing.  Provide us with the courage we need to flee from temptations.  Resolve in our hearts a desire for you that enables us to fight.  We trust in your armor to help us stand firm.  Today, Lord, victory is yours.  Not even death can overcome it.

Living From Abundance

1 Thessalonians 2

Most of us go through life working hard, trying to get ahead.  We all define “getting ahead” differently.  Some strive for money, others look for more time, we even throw family into the mix.  We think that having more of this one thing will give us the life we dream of.  We think it will bring us abundance.  Sadly, it never comes.  In fact, the harder we chase it, the more elusive it becomes.  For example, our toil for more money never reaches abundance.  John D. Rockefeller confirmed it.  When asked, “how much is enough?”  He replied, “just one dollar more.”   The Apostle Paul, however, knew better.   Simply said, Paul worked out of his abundance, not for abundance.

In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul tells us how he works from abundance.  To start, he reminds us of his terrible sufferings and mistreatment.  How can that be abundance?  Obviously, Paul’s definition of abundance did not look like ours.  His definition sounds more like righteousness.  Now before you check out because you are not righteous, consider this.  Paul references the righteousness of Abraham in Romans 4:21.  He says that Abraham was granted it by having “no unbelief to make him waiver concerning the promise of God” and that he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”  The result was righteousness.  Paul shared in God’s righteousness as well.  This righteousness is exactly what allows him to live abundantly in any situation.

When we are fully convinced, like Abraham and Paul that God is able to do everything he promises, we too will be able to live from abundance.  In fact, Jesus promises it specifically in John 10:10.  Like Paul, when we live in abundance, no adversity, no pain, no suffering or mistreatment will ever discourage or destroys us.

 

Negotiating For Grace

Today’s Reading: Ephesians 5

I had an interesting conversation with a woman recently about joining my my company.  As we talked, she appeared to be a perfect match.  We value similar things and have many goals in common.  We agreed that if she were implement the systems and models we provide, she would experience unprecedented growth. The only logical conclusion is to be in business together.  As the conversation moved toward commitment, however, her tone changed.  She began to talk about the things that she would need before we could partner and the considerable expense that she would incur.  Of course, she wanted me to bear the cost.  It was in that moment that I realized the truth.  Yes, she would make a great partner and no, she does not yet understand the benefits and opportunities of this organization.

As I reflected, I recalled Matthew 13:25-26.  Jesus is telling a story about a merchant who sees a pearl of extraordinary value.  He says,

“the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

You see, when we find something of real value – of more value than anything that we have – we will use whatever means necessary to get it.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not comparing my company to the kingdom of heaven.  I’m simply saying that the woman I met with didn’t understand the full benefit.  She, therefore, attempted to enhance her perceived value by negotiating.  How about us?  Do we recognize the full value of Jesus sacrifice, or are we trying to negotiate a better deal?

Consider that question in context of our reading today.  The people of Ephesus saw the benefits of a Christ-following life.  Unfortunately, like us, they haven’t fully given in to the cost.  In a sense, we negotiate with God to take the grace that we need and save our old selves.  For example, Paul confronts them about their sexual immorality and covetousness.  He also adds simpler things like filthiness, foolish talk and crude joking.  All of them are equally relevant to us today.  Don’t we push the boundary of sexual immorality?  Yes.  It is evident in every movie, website and catalog that I see.  What about crude joking and foolish talk?  How do we even define crude joking?  I found an interesting definition on Biblehub.com.  “Ready wit.”  Interesting.  I don’t know about you, but I can cut down a person faster than most.  It’s a skill that I have finely tuned.  I wield it fiercely, proudly and often.  Trust me, I am not admitting that easily.  At this moment, it brings forth guilt and shame.  God does not discourage my reaction.  In fact, he reinforces it through Paul, calling me a “son of disobedience.”  The action God expects upon my acceptance of his gift is not negotiable.  There is no “mostly” good.  My failure, our failure, to surrender fully and still expect the full benefits of His loving grace is nothing short of trying to negotiate a better deal for our salvation.

Problem or Possiblity?

2 Corinthians 12

I read an interesting blog post last week from Seth Godin.  He talks about making two lists.  On the first, we list all of our troubles and ailments.  The second gets filled with our opportunities, strengths and talents.  Godin’s challenge is to choose, intentionally, which list you are going to focus on.  This list, you will read everyday.  There is no question that the list you choose will shape your day, your year and your life.  I found this axiom playing out in today’s reading as well.  As you know, Paul suffered from an ailment.  A “thorn” in his flesh.

Paul wanted nothing to do with his affliction.  Who would?  In fact, as it drew his attention and distracted his purpose, he did exactly what I would do.  He “begged God to remove it” (2 Corinthians 12:8).  (I would have added some complaining and self-loathing to the equation.)  As Paul persisted in begging God for relief, he was continually denied, which produced an interesting crossroad for Paul.  Just as Godin suggests, he had two choices.  Either focus on the his debilitating weakness, and wonder why God would do such a thing to him, or accept God’s sovereignty.

No matter our hardship, if we accept God’s sovereignty and authority in all things, He will offer us solutions.  Rather than shut God off, Paul continued to submit and listen.  As he did, God provided him with encouragement, assuring him that grace was all he needed.  Immediately upon his acceptance, Paul understood that any affliction, when compared to the grace that God supplies is irrelevant.  All work is possible despite our human weakness.  In fact, it is in our weakness that God receives the most glory.  Why?  Because without Him, our affliction is debilitating and the work is impossible to complete.

Paul’s new understanding prompts gratitude.  He comments that, “I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift” (2 Corinthians 12:9, MSG).

Take a moment to list of all your troubles, as Seth Godin suggests.  Now, imagine that they may never go away.  Rather than tuck them away in a drawer, consider what will change in your life when you submit them to Gods sovereignty and treat them as a gift, not a curse.  I find incredible peace in that exercise. The peace comes not from a second list of my strengths, but  from God’s presence.  It is His power, His strength, His glory, His perfection and His grace that make me whole.

First Importance

Today’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 15

Are you good at prioritizing?  Can you focus your thoughts and actions on the one thing that makes the most difference? The truthful answer for me is “no.”  I am continuously overwhelmed with the number of choices available to me.  Combine that with external pressures from friends, family, co-workers and Christians and its likely that I will choose poorly.  Apparently, the Corinthian church wasn’t any different.  They engaged every kind of dialogue and strategy to be better people. To “be closer” to God.  To fulfill their potential.  While their effort may have been noble, just like ours, their result was failure.  You see, in our attempt to define what God wants for our lives and how he wants us to live them, we lose sight of the most important thing.  It’s what Paul calls “first importance.”

I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 1 Corinthians 15:3-5

I love Paul’s gentle reminder in those verses.  He’s telling the Corinthians, and us, in our busy and distracted lives, not to forget the most important thing.  It doesn’t matter what our spiritual gift(s) is, or if we can speak in tongues, or if we can prophesy.  Only one thing matters.  The Gospel.  That’s right.  Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day.  How is this helpful?  Simply put, it brings us in touch with his perfect grace.  The grace that allows us, sinners, idolaters and haters to live in harmony with our perfect creator.  Paul was clearly in touch with his need for the grace found within the Gospel.  He says, “I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9, NLT).  Despite Paul’s unworthiness, he knows that hope and abundant life come through, “the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

That’s it.  That’s the thing of first importance.  It’s the understanding that we are sinners and acknowledging that God is willing to look past it, because of Jesus.  When we are continuously in touch with both our need for God’s grace and the reality of God’s grace, new life is upon us.  Looking again to Paul, we can see this at work.  He “[worked] harder than any of them” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  No, that does not mean he was earning it.  Paul’s hard work was a response of worship.  He wanted to be sure that God’s precious gift, his glorious grace was not wasted.  He lived in the reality of God’s grace.  All the time.