God’s House

Today’s reading: 1 Chronicles 17

Our text for today in 1 Chronicles 17 opens with King David sitting on the throne.  David had conquered the city of Jerusalem (with God’s help), and was setting it up as a home for God’s people.  After moving into a newly constructed palace, David turned his mind toward building a permanent house (temple) for God.  Even though God hadn’t asked for a temple, why did this seem like something David should do?  Let’s go back to Shelly’s post from 2 Samuel 6 yesterday.  At this point in history, God’s dwelling place was still the Ark of the Covenant.  Yesterday Shelly told us about the tumultuous journey David endured as he led his army in bringing back the Ark from the Philistines.  Even though it was back with God’s people, keep in mind that the Ark, the holy presence of God, was still dwelling in a tent (2 Samuel 6:17).  David knew God deserved better than a tent.  His motive for wanting to build the temple was God-honoring.

However, through the prophet Nathan God let David know he did not approve of his construction plan.  While God certainly intended to have a temple built, he was clear that David was NOT going to be the one to build it.  (See 1 Chronicles 28:3 for why.)  Instead, his son Solomon would be appointed King when David died and would be in charge of building God’s temple.

When your days are over and you go to be with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. I will never take my love away from him, as I took it away from your predecessor. I will set him over my house and my kingdom forever; his throne will be established forever (1 Chronicles 17:11-14).

Many years earlier God called David, a lowly shepherd boy, to be King of Israel.  He made him a great warrior and delivered David and his army to countless victories over his enemies.  Until now, David had been the man, God’s chosen one for everything.  When God thwarted his plan for the temple, do you think it stung a little bit?  Do you think it caused David to doubt his leadership abilities or his favor with God?  Was he confronted with his own mortality in a way he had never been before?  Do you think he was envious that a “forever” King would be established after he died?  How would you have responded in that situation?

The second half of 1 Chronicles 17 (verses 16 – 27) outlines David’s response.  It had no shred of envy or self-doubt.  David humbly praised God, thanked him for the years of blessings he bestowed upon David and his family, and affirmed his commitment to what God said to do.  As always, God followed through on his commitment – David’s son Solomon had the honor of building God’s temple.  Twenty-seven generations later, Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah, was born into David’s lineage.

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).

The kingdom of Jesus Christ is never ending.  He lives in the hearts of those who call him Savior and Lord. Praise his name!

Strange Tactics

Today’s reading:  Joshua 6

On Monday I started a new job.  From the very beginning, my previous position hadn’t really been a good fit.  While the teams I led delivered great results over the course of my tenure, my leadership style didn’t really mesh.  After giving it two and one-half years, I left with a feeling of failure, frustration and hurt.

As you’d expect, B.J. wasn’t interested in listening to my pity party.  He questioned me on how I was measuring success, and specifically challenged me to consider whether I was measuring the right things.  Last Wednesday, after spending time with each of my Managers to let them know I was leaving, I concluded B.J. was right.  (That is very painful to admit, believe me!).  For two plus years, I drove significant results and left that department in a better place than it was when I got there.  More importantly, I positively impacted the lives of the more than eighty people I led and those with whom I worked side by side.  How do I know this?  They stopped by, they called, and a week later they are still sending me emails to tell me this.  By these measures, my tenure in that job was actually a huge success.

See when I arrived at the office last Wednesday morning, I had put my car in park and called my Dad.  That shouldn’t surprise most of you.  He is a wise man who is always ready to give me godly advice.  This time, however, I didn’t call for advice.  I called for a specific request.  I told my Dad the day was going to be hard for me.  I asked him if he would please pray me through the day. 

When I left to go home on Wednesday, I was feeling at peace.  I made it through the day because of the prayers my parents said on my behalf.  As I was driving, Casting Crowns song Only Jesus came on the radio and convicted me yet again.  I was feeling pretty good that my work associates were sad to see me leave, and hoped they would remember me as a great leader who cared about them.  But my focus was still on me when it should have been pointing to Jesus.  During my time in that position, I can name specific times I pointed people to Jesus.  But did I take every opportunity?  Did I do enough?

And I, I don’t want to leave a legacy
I don’t care if they remember me
Only Jesus
And I, I’ve only got one life to live
I’ll let every second point to Him
Only Jesus
(Casting Crowns, 2018)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXIBP2BdYR8

Why do I tell you this story?  Our scripture today in Joshua 6 has a parallel message.  God gave Joshua some strange, specific instructions for fighting the battle of Jericho (Joshua 6:3-5) – March around Jericho one time a day for six days, then march around seven times on day seven, sound the trumpets, shout, and the wall protecting the city will fall down.  This sounds like a ludicrous plan for fighting a battle, so why was it the plan God chose?   By executing such a crazy battle plan, it would be absolutely clear God was responsible for the victory, not Israel’s weaponry or fighting skill.  There is no way Joshua’s army could have won this battle on their own.  It was only by the power of God.

My challenge for you today is this – What battle are you fighting that you need to turn over to God?  Will you trust him to get you through it?  He may use strange tactics, but he will be glorified in the end.

Redefining God

Today’s reading: Exodus 32

Our scripture today opens with Moses on the mountaintop receiving the Law from God.  He’d been gone from the Israelite camp for 40 days and nights, and his people were wondering where he was.  In his absence, they grew impatient (or perhaps just manipulative) and convinced Aaron the high priest to build them a god they could see and touch, much like the gods of their Canaanite contemporaries.  Aaron obliged and built them a golden calf to which they bowed and worshipped.  God’s anger burned against his people.     

Honestly, I don’t think about idols very much.  Even though we, in 21st century America, don’t routinely build and bow down to idols made of precious metals, there is no doubt we struggle with idolatry.   I contend that anything we are we elevating to be more important than God is definitely an idol.  Anything, other than the Kingdom of God, in which we are investing our time and money has the potential to be an idol also.  Would you consider your job, house, higher education, relationships, vacations, cars, etc, to be idols?  As I contemplated each of these examples, I quickly realized they all lead to the exact same place.  They are all about glorifying me.  My struggle with idolatry is quite simply my tendency to make me and my selfish desires a higher priority than God.

In his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (2010), David Platt challenges his readers to consider how they have manipulated the gospel to fit their cultural preferences.  Do you think molding God to fit our cultural or personal expectations / desires / circumstances, rather than what the Bible tells us about who he is, is idolatry?   Platt contends that this behavior leads us to worship ourselves rather than the God who created us.  He wrote,

“We have this dangerous tendency today to create God, redefine God, to be who we want Him to be. And really we create a god who looks a lot like … us. He’s a nice, middle-class, American God. He looks like us, and he thinks like us, and he’s quite comfortable with our lifestyles. We think He’s comfortable with our self-saturated lukewarm faith. He’s comfortable with our apathy. He’s comfortable with half-hearted devotion to him. He’s comfortable with materialistic indulgences. We think He’s comfortable with all those things, because we are. We fashion a god who looks … a lot like us.”

If we are re-defining God to be who we want him to be, are we any different than the Israelites who re-defined God to look like a golden calf?

The Fall

Today’s reading: Genesis 3

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.  “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves (Genesis 3:1-7). 

Does the story of Adam and Eve’s original sin in Genesis 3 sound eerily familiar to you?  According to the old saying – fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me – the pattern of temptation the serpent used on Eve would eventually stop being effective, right?  Wrong.  Every human since Adam and Eve (except Jesus who was fully God and fully human) has been born with a sinful nature.  The tactics Satan used on Eve have been effective throughout history, and they still work on us today –  

  • Satan implied God was selfish and did not want Adam and Eve to share in his knowledge of good and evil.  By getting Eve to doubt God’s goodness, he helped her overlook all God had given her and focus on the one thing she couldn’t have.  Focusing on what we don’t have, but think we are entitled to have, always tempts us to sin.
  • Satan tried to make Eve think that sin was good, pleasant and desirable.  A knowledge of both good and evil seemed harmless to her.  We are too are tempted to choose wrong things because we convince ourselves those things are good, at least for us.  

When Adam and Eve gave into temptation, and concluded their way was better than God’s way, they sinned.  Do you see what happened next?  They became self-conscious and tried to hide from God.  When God confronted them, they responded by trying to excuse and defend their behavior.  Ugh.  This sounds just like me.

A sinful life is not the life to which God has called me.  I must reverse this course. While not easy, I know categorically choosing the opposite of Adam and Eve will yield a different result – I must become convinced God’s way is better than my way, I must stop hiding from God, and I must drop my excuses and defenses.

As we begin 2019, I commit to choosing differently.  Knowing I cannot be successful on my own, I will rely on God’s promise of help.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Performance Review

Today’s reading:  Micah 6:8

It’s that time of year again.  Time to reflect on the accomplishments of 2018 (or lack thereof), and time to finalize annual performance ratings for my staff.  I am blessed to work with a great team of leaders.  Their varied background, experiences and styles have allowed our Department to achieve great things in 2018.  Year-end performance ratings, however, are all about differentiating between the performance of each person in order to apportion the biggest compensation awards to the highest performers.  The conversation always centers on how each of them measured up against expectations during the year.  Poor performers often don’t meet expectations, good performers meet and occasionally exceed expectations, but great performers are those that consistently exceed expectations.  These are the folks who deserve the greatest compensation awards. 

As I was pulling into the parking lot at work last Thursday morning, Casting Crowns’ song Courageous came on the radio.  I’ve heard the song many times, but this day God used it to speak to my heart.  It wasn’t the primary lyrics of the song, rather the quiet words of the background vocals that have been on my mind for the past week.  They were a very timely reminder of God’s expectations for those of us that are committed to following his ways –

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God 
(Micah 6:8).

Here’s what this passage means to me – 

  • Do justice – Choose to do the right thing for the right reason.
  • Love mercy – Because sin came into the world and ruined God’s perfect plan, none of us are capable of doing the right thing for the right reason all the time.  Thus, we need to love mercy – showing compassion and forgiveness to others who wrong us; seeking compassion and mercy from God for the sins we’ve committed.
  • Walk humbly with your God – Although redemption has been secured for us by Christ’s death, it is not granted to us unless we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives.

As you reflect on your individual performance in 2018 against God’s expectations, how do you measure up?  If you’re anything like me, I suspect you feel you could do better than you did.  Take heart my friend, tomorrow is a new day.  

The steadfast love of theLord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness
 (Lamentations 3:22-23).


This is Your Life

I spent about 30 minutes last night making a spreadsheet of my 11-year-old daughter’s extracurricular activities between now and the end of February to see if we there was any way we could fit one more activity in.  She’d like to try volleyball, I’m just not sure if we can make it all work together.  This seems to happen every year.  We get to December and we’re running everywhere.  So far this week we’ve been to diving practice, Orffcats, gymnastics, a parent volleyball meeting, a band/chorus concert, and a diving meet – the problem is it’s only TUESDAY night.  I’m tired already.

It isn’t inherently wrong that we are involved in a lot of activities.  It provides our kids the opportunity to try new things, allows our family to connect with other people in our community, and gives us a chance to build lasting relationships.  I wonder, however, if too many of them are keeping us from focusing on what is most important.  Will you read and meditate on the words in 2 Peter 3:10-14 with me today?

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. (2 Peter 3:10-14).

The second epistle of Peter was written to believers in Asia Minor to warn them about complacency and heresy.  In our world that is filled with things other than the truth of Jesus Christ competing for our attention, it could have easily been written it to us.  This section of the letter contains a couple fire and brimstone images about the coming destruction of the earth, but focus in on verses 11 and 14.  These verses are about the here and now, how we are living through the ordinary, everyday activities of life.

…what kind of people ought you to be?

living holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God

…make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him

As I reflect on the past few weeks I wonder, am I making every effort to be the person I ought to be, making holy and godly choices?  Am at peace with God?  I wonder if the business of life is keeping me from focusing on living the life to which I’m called – spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

And today is all you’ve got now.
And today is all you’ll ever have.
Don’t close your eyes.

This is your life, are you who you want to be? 

(Switchfoot, 2003).

http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/switchfoot/thisisyourlife.html

The Way

Today’s reading:  John 14

Do you have a good sense of direction? Some people have an uncanny way of being able to navigate their way around even when it’s their first visit to a specific location.  I wish this was me, but it is not.  Not knowing where I am or how to get where I’m going, and not having a good sense to figure it out can cause me great stress at times.  (How did I ever survive without GPS?)  This is especially true when the stakes are high.  If I have to be somewhere new first thing in the morning, it isn’t uncommon for me to do a “test run” the night before so I can avoid being late and/or starting off in a high stress mode because I’ve had difficulty finding my way there.

When I read the first six verses of John 14, I sense the disciples were in stress mode because they didn’t know where they were going.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:1-6).

This passage is the beginning chapter of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse – his guidance to the eleven disciples (sans Judas) after the last supper, before his crucifixion.  Even though he was preparing to leave them, he was trying to give them confidence that he was going to take care of them. Because the disciples didn’t completely understand his plan, didn’t know exactly where they were going and how to get there, they were anxious.  Think about it.  These eleven men left everything to follow Jesus, and now he was talking about leaving.  They literally had nothing to go back to.  If I had been in their situation, I think describing me as anxious might have been an understatement.

Take a look at Jesus’ response. He didn’t try and get the disciples on board by providing more information on where or how.  Rather, his words of comfort were simply about who.  The disciples didn’t need directions, they need a reminder that trusting Jesus was the way.  He was all they needed.

Regardless of how well we find our way from place to place, we are all lost. So I ask again – how good is your direction sense?  Does it point you to Jesus?  He is still the way.  He is still all we need.

Fun Hater

Today’s reading:  John 2

Do you believe the phrase “opposites attract”? After 24 years of marriage, I do.  My husband is a dreamer.  He is forever coming up with a grand scheme involving a new pet, a really expensive toy (think boats and jet skis) or an exotic vacation.  He sells the idea to my children and they proceed with a full court press to get me on board.  I, on the other hand, consider it my role to be a realist.  We don’t need to spend our energy coming up with plans for pets they’ll never take care of, toys they can’t afford or vacations for which they don’t have the time or money.  It will simply lead to disappointment.  Because of this very practical (and somewhat boring) perspective, my family has given me the nickname Fun Hater.

When you think about God, do you think he is a dreamer or a fun hater? I admit, I find myself thinking of the latter.  I generally look to places other than God for excitement and meaning.  Why do I often cast him as an all-powerful God who exists only to tell me no, rather than focusing on his extravagant creation, the many gifts with which he’s blessed me, and his promise of abundance if I follow his plan for my life?

Our scripture today in John 2 opens with the account of Jesus’ first miracle. Most of Jesus’ miracles involved a renewal of fallen creation – restoring site, making the lame walk, even raising the dead to life.  But this first miracle was a little different.  Jesus turned water to wine.  Not just a little plain water to average wine, but more than 100 gallons of water sitting in stone jars used for washing into choice wine.  All to help facilitate a marvelous wedding celebration, help the master of the banquet keep his job, and help a the bridegroom avoid embarrassment.  Does this sound like a Fun Hater to you?

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now” (John 2:6-10).

I believe the perfect God we serve is both a dreamer and realist. He doesn’t flip-flop his position depending on the situation, rather he works through a variety of circumstances to accomplish his purpose in each one of us. Sometimes that sounds like dreaming of great things to come, other times it looks like saying no to things that take us away from his plan.  If you take one thing away from this post today, take this – God has our best interest in mind. Will you trust him? He won’t disappoint.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Cost/Benefit Analysis

Today’s reading:  Luke 14

More than once over the past couple of years I’ve told you I am an accounting dork.  I naturally count and/or reconcile almost everything.  It’s just how my mind works.  I think this is why I like to go to the grocery store and figure out whether two 13 ounce boxes of Life Cereal at a 3/$5 price point is better than one 24.8 ounce box of Life Cereal for $4.29.  In case you were wondering, this is a good value and is why you’ll often find multiple small boxes, instead of a few large boxes, of cereal in my pantry.

It should be no surprise to you that my focus for today is on the last section of our text in Luke 14 – “The Cost of Being a Disciple”.  In verses 25-27, Jesus told the crowd that anyone who wanted to be his disciple had to be willing to hate his father, mother, wife, children, siblings and even hate himself.  This sounds pretty harsh, and seems a little contradictory to be honest.  If God is love, and he commands us to love others, it doesn’t really make sense that we are required to hate our loved ones to be his disciples.

As you know, Jesus wasn’t speaking in literal terms here.  His message was all about priority.  Let’s go back to the Old Testament where we find the same message.  The first commandment God gave to Moses was, “You shall have no other God’s before me” (Exodus 20:3).  God desires our first and our best.  To say it another way, God doesn’t really want our time or our money, he wants us.  That is why he made us in the first place.  God desires for our hearts to be truly devoted to him.  How we spend our time and how we spend our money then, are simply a natural reflection of what is in our hearts/what we value.

Now, will following Jesus cost us?  Yes.  Following Jesus requires us to give up control, it means that we submit to his will over our own.  It may result in loss of social status or wealth.  It may mean separation from family, persecution or even death.  As you know, following Jesus is not the recipe for a trouble-free life.  However, God never asks us to suffer just for the sake of suffering.  He never asks us to give up something good unless he plans to replace it with something even better.  He truly has our best interest in mind.  I assure you, the benefit of an all-powerful God guiding your way, watching over you and offering you a place in eternity with him is definitely worth the cost!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

Blank Space

Today’s reading:  Luke 2

Luke 2 begins with the birth of Jesus, and ends when he was 12 years old.  Luke 3 picks up when Jesus is 30 years old and ready to begin his ministry.  Do you find it interesting that the blank space between the chapters covers 18 years?  Nothing about Jesus’ teenage years and twenties is recorded here.

As I was preparing for this post, I began to reflect on my life between the ages of 12 and 30.  A lot of growing up and maturing happened over the course of those 18 years.  During that time I finished my core education, began a career and married my true love.  Some of my choices were good, some were bad, but almost all of them were learning experiences.  I’m pretty glad a transcript of my teenage and early adult years does not exist.  In fact, I wish I couldn’t remember some those “learning” experiences!

Have you ever wondered why the Bible doesn’t account for what happened during that time in Jesus’ life?  Do you think he was impulsive, emotional and smart-mouthed just like I was at that age?  It’s hard to imagine.  Here’s what I do know for sure – unlike me, Jesus lived through those years without sin.  Not just without getting caught, but entirely without sin!  Even so, I think Jesus, who was fully God and fully man, spent those 18 years learning and maturing just like I did.  Based on the last two verses of Luke 2, here’s what I see in the blank space –

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:51-52).

Jesus grew in wisdom – until he was 30, Jesus lived an ordinary life in the ordinary town of Nazareth.  As a carpenter’s son, he learned a lot about earning a living and dealing with people.  Have you ever noticed that after Luke 2, the Bible says nothing else about Jesus’ father Joseph?  More than likely, Joseph died during the eighteen year gap between Luke 2 and 3.  Jesus and his brothers would have taken on the responsibility to provide for their family.  Going to school, running errands, doing the laundry and cleaning house are likely some of the routine responsibilities Jesus and his brothers would have taken on in their father’s absence.  As God’s son, Jesus’ already had all the knowledge he needed. What he gained during this time was experience and connection.  By living through the cadence of ordinary life, he learned to how to connect with people through their triumphs and temptations.  Jesus’ growth and maturity during this time was purposeful, effectively preparing him for his ministry.

Obedience put Jesus in favor with God and man – verse 51 tells us Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents.  The story of Jesus in the temple at the end of this chapter was the first glimpse of Jesus acknowledging his identity with God.

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49)?

Jesus knew his earthly ministry was not to begin until he was age 30, but he submitted to his earthly parents for another eighteen years while he prepared for it.  It is hard to believe God’s plan for the King of kings and Lord of lords was to come to earth to save his people, but live in obscurity for the first 30 years. That seems like such a long time!  Can you imagine Jesus, who truly was smarter than his parents, choosing to be obedient when he probably knew a better way most of the time?  Jesus wasn’t just obedient to God’s plan, he was also obedient to God’s timing.

Growing in wisdom and being obedient to God’s plan molds as shapes who we are far beyond our teenage and young adult years.  Today, I challenge you to embrace God’s plan for your life.  Invite him to work through your faithfulness, and learn to be patient with his timing.  He knows what’s best for us!