He Wants Us

2 Samuel 19 and Psalm 51 – Resurrection Eve

Have you ever wondered when the deniers, doubters, crucifiers, and liars had their moment of realization of who Jesus was and their role in His death? Was it immediate, like Peter when the rooster crowed the third time? Or did it take longer, after Jesus had been taken from the cross and put in the tomb? Or was it not until days later, when word got around that Jesus was alive, and Thomas even put his hand into his side.  Did they respond like David does, in his Psalms about his own sins? Had I been there, would I have realized it immediately, or would it have taken me awhile to understand? What would have been my response to knowing I put Jesus on the cross?

From an early age I learned about Jesus and have never doubted who He was or what He did for me.  As I got older, my heart to please God was challenged by my selfishness and temptations to sin. In high school especially, I was stuck on this hamster wheel of wanting to “be good” and do the right thing, but time and time again would fall into cycles of sin and rebellion. I would go through a period of mourning, praying, and vow to not fall into that junk again. I would “be good” for awhile and then it would start over. I was so frustrated with myself and lack of self control. Everything seemed so easy and made so much sense sitting in church on Sundays and at youth group on Wednesday nights.  But by Friday night – it all flew out the window.

I made a decision when I was 16 to try to get off that hamster wheel for good, and I wanted a REAL CHANGE. While I had always believed in Jesus, I needed to do something different and drastic in my life so that I could be more consistent in my choices to follow Jesus. I believed. I could talk the talk. I needed to WALK the WALK – even on the weekends.  I joined a conservative faith community that was rich in tradition and strong in holy habits.  The fellowship of the close-knit group was unmatched. The believers there invested time and energy in helping me understand God’s Word. I learned so much in this season of life and thank God for putting people into my path to draw me to Him.

One of the biggest things I learned is that even with all of the holy habits, fellowship, and accountability, I still sinned.  As much as I wanted to ‘be good’, I couldn’t. I wasn’t. And it took my early adult years to figure out that God doesn’t want me to ‘be good’. He wants me forgiven. This is why He brought us Jesus. In my youth I found myself categorizing sin and thought mine was the worst – if I could just stop those major sins, then I would be acceptable in God’s eyes. It took a lot of years to really believe that ALL sin is unrighteousness in God’s eyes. While sins may have greater or lesser consequences on earth – the sin itself is all the same: separation from God, no matter how big or small.

During this time of growth, the elder of our church, a kind and sweet man named Ervin, would point me back to Psalms 51. Over and over again, I would counsel with him, pour my heart out, trying to figure out why I would still from time to time fall back into those old sinful ways and make bad decisions.  He was so patient with me, and would read this scripture with me.  Even though it was twenty years ago, I can clearly recall our conversations.  He would encourage me to go home and pray the prayers that David did, a man who loved God so much and would still find himself in a mess of sin. And just like David, I would weap and mourn over my sins and ask God for forgiveness.  My quest to “be good” was a fruitless journey – and through prayers like Psalm 51, I found that a broken heart for my sin drew me closer to Him more than my checklist of ‘being good’ ever did.  As C.S. Lewis said: God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants US.

Today, on Holy Saturday, the time between Jesus’ death on the cross, and His victory over the grave tomorrow, I can’t help but put myself there and walk through the range of emotions.

It is our sins against God that crucified Jesus that Friday vs. 4 and David calls his own sin what it is – evil.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;

I wonder how quickly we would have realized this and sought forgiveness and change. Would it have been the very next day, on Saturday?  Would we have prayed vs. 10?

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

And then to wake up Sunday morning and learn that HE IS ALIVE! Would we really believe? Would we spend the rest of our days living in the JOY that salvation brings (vs. 10)?

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

How would our lives be different if we lived everyday with the utmost JOY for Jesus conquering the grave and the utmost JOY for our salvation?

Love vs. Law

 

Today’s Reading:  I Samuel 21; Psalms 22

In today’s reading, we find David, our anointed king running for his life. King Saul has been attempting to trap and kill David, but Jonathan has been a savior for David. This friendship has proven more valuable than the relationship that Jonathan and his father, Saul, had together. In I Samuel 21, David is fleeing and terrified for his life and safety. David enters the temple of God and request food and weapons.

I Samuel 21: 1-6

 Then David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David, trembling, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.

It was against the Levitical Law for anyone to eat of the holy bread except the priest and this was a very important law, which had fatal consequences if broken. The priest was faithful, even with the potential of death to show love for David. David had been anointed the next king of Israel, but it was not revealed to many.   But the Spirit of God revealed something in David to the priest, and this caused the priest to show compassion toward him. By listening to the Spirit, the priest empowered David to face his adversaries with the needed nourishment and protection. This account with David is so impactful that Christ in the New Testament about the Love vs. Law scenario references it.

Matthew 6: 1-8

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Over the last several weeks, I have been reading and spending meaningful and intentional quite time and have had several enlightenment times that circle back to the necessity of learning the word of God, but allowing the Spirit of God to lead and direct me. Sometimes I get wrapped up in the “obligatory” and traditional ways and manners of worship and lose sight of the true purpose of the “why”.   In this passage the priest listens to the Spirit of God and loves the person and presence of God in David.   I have attempted to be more like David and search for God’s heart. As Christ and David understood and lived, “God desires mercy, not sacrifice”. It’s not the “act” that God wants from us, it is the “want and need” to be close to him. Can we desire God more today, this week, and so on going forth?

Lord, allow us to desire you the same way that you desire us. Allow us to love you as you have loved us. I pray that my prayers and actions are not just to perform them, but to actually seek you and your presence. Amen

Courage

Luke 23

What emotions arise in you when you read of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and burial in Luke 23? Although I know it was part of God’s plan and Jesus willingly gave His life for you and me, anger at the Council, Pontius Pilate, and the people yelling “Crucify Him!” is one feeling that is stirred up in me often times.

Today though, let’s focus on the courage shown in Luke 23, instead of the cowardly actions of the Council, Pontius Pilate, and the people. The first act of courage we see is shown by Jesus. I had a Sunday school teacher growing up who would cry nearly every time he spoke of Jesus’ death. In my young age and immaturity, I did not understand why this moved him so much. Now older, and maybe a tad bit wiser, I think about the sacrifice, pain felt, and courage shown by Jesus to justify not what He had done, but because of what I have done, and it can move me to tears often, too. Watching The Passion of Christ movie really helps to grasp this. If you have not seen this movie, I strongly suggest you do.

The second act of courage in Luke 23 is that of one of the two criminals being crucified next to Jesus. While the people below and the other criminal being crucified mocked Jesus telling Him to save Himself if He truly was the Christ, this criminal stepped up with great courage. He was willing to be different and asked Jesus in Luke 23:42 to “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Although we don’t know his name, we are assured that Jesus does. He says in Luke 23:43, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” This is also a good reminder for each one of us and to others we love that need to know Jesus that regardless of what sins we have done and no matter how many times we’ve committed them, anyone can be saved if they believe in Jesus and ask for forgiveness, even in the last seconds of their life. It is never too late.

The last act of courage we see is that of Joseph of Arimathea who went to Pilate in Luke 23:52 and asked for Jesus’ body to give him a proper burial. Had he not just seen what they did to Jesus and the contempt they had for Him? But greater than that, we are told in Luke 23:50 that He was a member of the Council…the same group that had Jesus arrested and just asked Pilate to kill Jesus. However, Luke 23:51 tells us that he was “looking for the Kingdom of God” and that he “had not consented to their decision and action.” Wow…talk about showing courage and a willingness to stand up for what you believe is right!

As I reflect on this, I ask myself the following questions. Am I looking for the Kingdom of God like Joseph of Arimathea? Am I willing to take a stand, despite criticism for doing so, like the criminal on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him in paradise despite mocking from the other criminal and likely the people below? Am I willing to be different and live the type of life we are called to live as the Bible instructs us? Or am I conforming to what the world tells me is right? Although I can never be perfect like Jesus, am I striving to be more like Him daily and following His example? Am I like the criminal who gave His life to Jesus? Am I like Joseph of Arimathea who was willing to be different, not only risking his reputation, but potentially his life? Or unintentionally and unbeknownst to me, am I more like one in the crowd yelling “Crucify Him?” I do know one thing is for sure, I am forever and immeasurably grateful for Jesus’ love, mercy, forgiveness, and saving grace!

Christ Humbled Himself

Malachi chapter 1 speaks directly to people making sacrifices to the LORD that He finds unacceptable.

6 A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ 7 “By offering defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. 8 When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. – Malachi 1:6-8

As this Christmas season passes us by we look to Christ’s example for acceptable sacrifices. Christ humbled Himself supremely. That is, being the highest, He made Himself the lowest (Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 2:9). Though we do not need to descend as Christ did, we too are called to make ourselves low, to humble ourselves (Luke 9:24).

Humility is linked to sacrafice. After all, if one believed they were above all, would not sacrifices be due them instead of the other way around? The lower we make ourselves the more opportunity we have to realize and make true sacrifices that are pleasing to the LORD.

Sacrifice is linked to service. That is, sacrifice to God is linked to the service of others (Matthew 25:40) and to serve others, placing ourselves beneath them is required (Mark 10:43-45, Matthew 18:4).

Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 33; Revelation 19; Malachi 1; John 18
Challenge: look for an opportunity to go last today. Make yourself low and let your light shine (Isaiah 58:7-8).
Further Study:As Christians we rely wholly on God’s promises. Read Isaiah 58 to learn how God calls us to humble ourselves and what He promises us when we do.

Perfect In His Eyes

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Today’s Readings: 1 Samuel 14, Romans 12, Jeremiah 51, Psalm 30

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

 I am just loving these words for a Monday morning! Doesn’t this just make you wish you were one of the Romans? As much as I would love to meet Jesus, I think I’d put Paul on my top ten list as well. In just a few sentences he gives us so much wisdom that can truly sustain and fortify us. Once again, I left writing to the last minute this week, and I’m so glad I did. It’s almost as if God speaks to me so much more clearly when the “hour” is upon me! Let’s start at the beginning. Paul says, “I’m appealing to you by the mercies of God.” He’s picking up a thread previously woven in this letter. He’s reminding the Roman’s of God’s mercy in their lives:

  • Freedom from death (5:12-21)
  • Freedom from sin (6:1-23)
  • Freedom from the previous law that fosters sin (7:6-25)
  • The gift of the Spirit (8:1-17)
  • God’s plan to conform believers to the Son (8:29)
  • God’s faithfulness to keep promises, especially those made to Israel (11:25-29)

In other words, Paul is saying, look at all the great things God has done for us. Now, the least we can do is give our bodies over to him. He’s challenging us to push back against the urge to passively conform to this world. Rather, he wants us to be active in our pursuit of transformation through continuous renewal of our minds. I love what he says next, “…by testing we will discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2). This week we finally got a diagnosis for our 5 year old son, who has suffered with illness for months. When his physician called us to tell us he has Crohn’s disease, we didn’t shed tears. Instead, we felt relief. As parents, we felt that we could finally give Oliver’s body over to God’s care. We knew that we had run the “race” of medical testing and intervention for Ollie, now we leave it to Him. As I send my first born to Kindergarten tomorrow morning my heart is heavy with the knowledge that he has seen more pain, more suffering and more fear than most 5 year olds. But at the same time, I know that I will experience absolute joy when he bounds off to hug his little friends and be with the teachers he loves. He is our living sacrifice.

But God has given us freedom from death. He reminds us through Paul’s letter to the Romans that God is faithful and he keeps his promises. What may feel broken today; our bodies, our hearts or our minds will help us to discern the will of God tomorrow. Whatever sadness, whatever hurt or anger you have today, give it up to Him. Remember that through mindful, purposeful renewal of our mind we can discern what he wants for us. Know that you are good, acceptable and perfect in His eyes.

The Thin Places

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town…-Mark 6: 8-11

In 2007, as my wife Heather and I walked along the pilgrims trail between Florence and Rome, I was reminded of this passage from the Bible when Jesus sends out the twelve. Like the disciples, if we follow him, we need little more than our faith. Traveling light was the idea, not burdened by the things of the world. What was it about this place that tugged on my heart so strong? There was just something undeniable about the high places. They were called the thin places by the Celts, where that which separates us from God is less, where the sacred meets the secular. In these places we come closer to God.

Later we stood near the place Saint Francis of Assisi (circa 1205) had cast off his clothing, rejecting a life of wealth and power, choosing to follow Jesus and serve the sick and the weary, through hospitality and service.

Writing to you this morning from a rooftop in Paris, I can’t stop thinking about last Sunday when we traveled by train from Bern Switzerland to Mulenen, then by funicular, almost straight up the side of Niesan Mountain (I know, lazy Americans), also known as the Swiss Pyramid. imageHeather, my youngest son Cooper, my niece Chloe and I unloaded from the red mountain cable train, immediately stunned as we walked out onto this special mountain. Our breath was taken by three hundred and sixty degree unobstructed views of the Bernese Alps and the valley bellow that surrounded lake Thun.

Everywhere we turned the view was incredible. It felt as if you could reach out and touch the jagged glaciated peaks. We were suspended above the earth under a cobalt blue dome and we prayed. Each of our prayers were different and more than just words in our heads. And each heard the voice of God, overpowering and silent, in the splendor of our moment, above the earth and beneath the heavens.image

I watched my twelve year old son eagerly strike out on the switchback trail down the mountain. He had to go! There was no stopping him. imageOf course a four hour trek in tennis shoes wasn’t going to happen, but he was born again on the side of a mountain that day. Something about this place called out changing each of us forever. The magnificence of God’s creation was certain, God’s power undeniable, His calling tailored to each of us perfectly in this moment. For me it was sharing the message of hope found in Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. image

In the holy name of Jesus, I pray: please God, release us from the burdens of this world, those that separate us from you. Lead us to the thin places to see your brilliance, to hear your voice and feel your power. May our lives never be the same as we learn to walk with you, more sublime each day. Amen.

Today’s reading link: Judges 7; Acts 11; Jeremiah 20; Mark 6

Good Soldiers, Athletes, Farmers

Today’s Reading: Leviticus 23; Psalm 30; Ecclesiastes 6; 2 Timothy 2

One significant and meaningful spiritual transformation occurred last year during a time when I was blessed to go through, A Little Manual for Servant Leaders by J.K. Jones & Jim Probst.  J.K, Jim, and six other brothers in Christ, John, Josh, Chad, Eric, Shawn, and Scott, along with myself, shared eleven weeks together studying scripture and testimonies on servant leadership.  This is definitely a great manual that provides all servant leaders, like you and I, with bible based tools to continue to “fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.”  Thank you God for divine appointments to be among wonderful people who share their knowledge of You and help others build an eternal relationship.

Today when I read 2 Timothy 2 I was reminded of this chapter we discussed in the Servant Leaders Manual.  After reading the following verses I was asked what metaphor would you most relate to the soldier, athlete, or farmer.  Which one would you pick? Are you all of them?

2 Timothy 2: 3-6 says, 3 Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. 5 An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.

The good soldier modeled a disciplined life. The Greek word for “good” is kalos which means noble or excellent. A disciplined life involves training all the time in order to always be battle ready.  This includes making sacrifices and showing courage, commitment, and willingness to discipline yourself.  Jesus followers give up worldly security to focus on our God that enlisted us. Ephesians 6:10-18 provides us with the whole armor of God to protect us in the battle.

The honest athlete trains hard and follows the rules to the game.  This training will help you to compete in the race and includes no short-cuts or cheating.   1 Corinthians 9:24-27 affirms that athletes needs to exercise self-control in all things and must discipline their body. 1 Timothy 4:7 says to train in Godliness.

The hard-working farmer works tirelessly all day long, with no glamour or crowds, and in hopes of a bountiful harvest.  The farmer receives a share of his own crops after spending much time preparing for the harvest. 1 Corinthians 9:7 talks about person who plants a vineyard and eats some of the fruit. There is also the Parable of the Sower in Luke 8:5-8.  Likewise, the Christian life and sharing His word requires a lot of hard work and patience. We face adversities during every season, but if we remain consistent in our own faith and steadfast in our sharing with others, we will reap a bountiful spiritual harvest.

Does one person connect with you more?  No matter the metaphor we keep fighting for victory, focus on victories, and patiently toiling for a bountiful harvest.

What does a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer all have in common? They are all occupations that require perseverance! Soldiers, athletes, and farmers all face adversities which require tremendous patience and steadfast endurance to achieve their respective goals, whether it is prevailing in battle, winning a competition, or reaping a bountiful harvest. All of our hard work will be worth it when we realize it is to glorify our God.  When we share this love with others and spend eternity with Him. What kind of soldier, athlete, or farmer will you be?

Are you enduring in your faith right now? Are you enduring with Christ in the midst of your current adversities and sufferings? Remember it’s not if we face trials its when. Are we willing to suffer in our efforts to please the Lord? Are we willing to discipline ourselves to receive an imperishable crown? Are we willing to work diligently that we might benefit from our first fruits of our labors?

Dear God,

Please provide us with the endurance we need to persevere through the adversities we face. You alone are what we need to recognize your blessing through it all. We thank you for providing us with a focus and ambition to look to you and make you the center of our hearts and lives.  God help us always to think over what you say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. 2 Timothy 2:7.