More Than Anything

There’s a song that I hear on the radio and the lyrics always capture my mind. The chorus goes like this:
Help me want the Healer
More than the healing
Help me want the Savior
More than the saving
Help me want the Giver
More than the giving
Oh, help me want You, Jesus
More than anything
What do I like about it? It reminds me that I am confused. That I take the good things of this world and use them for my own purposes. It’s true of everything. Consider the list of things that Solomon provides today in Ecclesiastes 2. Each of them, he acquired in excess. But, it didn’t work. In the end, they amounted to nothing. Meaningless, he says.
This is what I like about Natalie Grant’s song More Than Anything. She gets it right. More than anything, she exclaims, I want the Savior, the Healer, The Giver. Give me Jesus. Solomon figured that out too. Verse 25 says it perfectly, “For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him.”

Sweeter Than Honey

I want to experience God the way David did in Psalm 19. Take a closer look noticing the metaphors and imagery he uses to describe God. These are not simple thoughts of how great God is, but elaborate descriptions of God’s character. This is not David being creative. These descriptions come from experience. God showed up in David’s life and David was careful to pay attention. Now, when writing the words, he is simply drawing from what he knows to be true.
As David establishes who God is, something profound happens. He becomes deeply reverent. That’s why he moves into the second part of the poem exclaiming that he wants God more than any other thing, Even gold! At that moment, David becomes keenly aware of his humanness. He is humbled. What Does that mean? Andrew Murray describes it this way, “[Humility] is not something which we bring to God, or He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness, which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all.” That last phrase really says it. When we develop reverence which produces humility, “we make way for God to be all.” We see David committing to exactly that in this Psalm.
Despite this amazing Psalm, David is not the best example of humility in the Bible. Jesus is. Consider Philippians 2:6-9. “Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
If you have strayed, as David did, there is one way to find your way back on the right path. Do like David did and describe the character of God.

I Am Sorry

I got married at the ripe old age of 24. Those early years of marriage were very formative. More than anything, I learned that my life is no longer my own. In other words, the commitment of marriage requires that I make choices with two people in mind, not just myself. Of course, there were many times that I did not meet that expectation. Failure to do so led to conflict. I learned quickly that I could settle the conflict with three words. You know them too. “I am sorry.” That phrase pretty much settles the conflict. They work until it happens again. At that moment, saying “I am sorry” is a false promise.
Jennifer is a patient woman. She tolerated my errant behavior and even accept my apologies. But, she quickly understood that my apology was a tactic to end the argument, rather than a sincere desire to change my behavior.  She called me out. “Being sorry,” she said, “means that you will never do it again.” Ouch.
She may not have known it at the time, but her words mimic Jesus. When it comes to forgiveness, Jesus instructs us to rebuke the sins of other believers. Meaning that we are to let them know where their behavior is not consistent with their commitment. “If,” he continues,” there is repentance, “forgive.” This process continues, as long as there is repentance.
My previous behavior has me questioning the process. How many times have I told Jesus that “I am sorry,” with no intention of changing my behavior? I fear that much of the time, I am simply trying to end the conflict. Those three words are hollow. When they are, they do not produce the justification, salvation, and forgiveness that I need. Justification comes only with a full sense of guilt, according to PT Forsyth. In fact, “you cannot get a full, justifying faith without a full sense and confession of guilt.”
Guilt, therefore, is the catalyst for change.  Now, when we experience guilt, we have two options.  If not confronted, it becomes a source of shame and embarrassment.  But that is not its design.  Instead,  Jesus wants our repentance.  When we present ourselves to him humbled and guilty, he listens.  More importantly, he forgives.  Even, he says, “if I wrong him seven times a day.”

Be Vigilant

I was listening in Bible study when the speaker made an interesting comment. He said, “Satan doesn’t want to waste his time on me.” Let me explain. This was a man of faith. Deep faith. His love for Jesus was evident in his action and his character. He worked hard to follow, faithfully. So, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Why would Satan waste his time?
This comment becomes interesting to me as I read today’s scripture. To start, we hear Jesus reminding his listeners to be ready. Being ready means being vigilant. After all, he says, “if you fall asleep while guarding your house, you might get robbed.” Jesus, of course, was talking about his return. We want to be ready. We want to be found faithful. That makes sense to me. At least it does until we get to verse 41. When Peter asks “are you telling this parable for us, or everyone?”
Peter’s question is a curious one. As a faithful follower, he is thinking “yada, yada, yada, I’ve heard this before, get on with the real lesson.” But, he is willing to endure it so that some others might be influenced. I mean, Peter is a faithful follower. He’s thinking that he has nothing to worry about. Just like my teacher.  But, the warning is real.
In typical Jesus fashion, the answer to Peter’s question is carved into a story. Even so, the answer is clear. More, not less, is demanded from Jesus’ faithful servants. We are the example. We have not been saved so that our lives can go well. We have been saved to serve. This service, when acted on faithfully, will result in opportunities for our own glorification. That is, we may begin to believe that we ourselves are responsible for the position that we have achieved. This is a precarious moment. This is what Jesus is warning about.
Jesus knew the deep faith of Peter. He also knew where Peter was vulnerable. The answer is a warning.  A reminder that Satan lurks around every corner. Things like pride, envy, and drunkenness are waiting to capture us. There is no time to waste.
So, just like Peter, we are to be vigilant, and constantly on watch to avoid danger.  The direct answer to Peter’s question in verse 41 – who is this for? – is Yes, Peter.  it is for you.  And, it is for me.  It is for you too.

A Kingdom Divided Will Fall

In today’s story, we see the Pharisees create a diversion. They want to generate doubt. Up to this point in history, they controlled the miracles. They talked directly to God. They had all the power. But, Jesus gets in the way of that. He was drawing attention to himself by doing things that nobody else could do. Feeling their power slip away, they had to do something.
“He gets his power from Satan,” they said in an attempt to discredit Jesus.  Others taunted him to perform another miracle.
Jesus masterfully puts them in their place. They never stood a chance.
As I review this story, I marvel at the audacity of the Pharisees. How could they call out Jesus like that? They were supposed to be his biggest fans! Problem is, Jesus got inconvenient.  Guess what?  Jesus will become inconvenient for you too.
Larry Osborne describes this potential best. In his book Accidental Pharisees, He writes “In the same way, we can wax eloquent about Jesus and the Scriptures. We can praise him. Sing to him. Speak out in his defense. Yet when he shows up in ways that we don’t expect, that we don’t agree with, or that make us uncomfortable, we can fight him tooth and nail.”
Osborne, Larry. Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith (p. 27). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

6 Ways To Motivate People

Joshua was a great leader.  One reason for his success was his ability to motivate people.  Let’s take a look back through Joshua 23 and 24 to identify the ways that he motivated people.
Visionary Motivation – Joshua 1:10-15
As Joshua commands his men to cross the river and take the Promised Land, he reminds them of whats in store for them.
Structural Motivation – Joshua 23:2
Joshua knew that true leadership required the collaboration of his whole team.  We too have people around us, and above us that we need to summon.
Historical Motivation – Joshua 24:2-13
Joshua gave a brief recap of God’s past faithfulness.  This is a good reminder that if God was faithful then, he will be again.  We can count on him.  How often do we go back and recount where God has been faithful in our lives?  Remember what God has done, and share it!
Moral Motivation – Joshua 24:14-15
Joshua is calling on high standards for living.  We want to live lives with high integrity and we want to surround ourselves with others that will do the same.  But, we must choose.  I like the way Joshua emphasizes his own choice.  “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”
Negative Motivation – Joshua 24:19-22
Have you ever been motivated by someone telling you that you cannot achieve it?  That tactic often makes us want to do something just to prove them wrong.  Joshua uses it too.  “You are not able to serve the Lord” he says.  Of course, it worked.  The Israelite’s response was “…but we will!”
Symbolic Motivation – Joshua 24:25-27
We are motivated by reminders. Seeing a symbol – like a cross – quickly prompts us to do the right thing.  Think too of the WWJD bracelets.  Joshua did it with a large stone set near the sanctuary of the Lord.  He set it to be a reminder of the covenant that the people made with the Lord.
How did all of this work for Joshua? According to verse 31, “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.”

That’s Ridiculous!

The battle of Jericho is one of the most ridiculous stories in the Bible. You see, God called on Joshua to lead the Israelites into the promised land. But, to take possession of it, they must first conquer Jericho. This was no easy task. Jericho was fortified with stone walls. At this time, the city was shut. None went in, and none went out (v2). Surely Joshua understood the problem. How could he take a city that he couldn’t even get into? Of course, God provided a way.
The way, according to Joshua 6 was for the army to march around the city on time, every day for six days. Then, on the seventh day, they were to march around seven times followed by a blast of the priest’s trumpets and a great shout from all the people. Once complete, God tells Joshua, the walls will fall flat (v5). Problem solved.
Is that weird? Why would God ask them to do such a ridiculous thing? I’ve come up with two answers; faith and obedience. Consider first faith. We have to assume that Joshua exhausted all of his options as any good leader would. He knew that the strength of his army could not overcome the walls. At some point, he gave up reliance on his own wisdom and strength. Faith was all he had left. If this was going to happen, he must rely on God’s promise. Second, comes obedience. He must have felt silly after walking around the city on the first day, let alone the 6th day! To make it tougher, his mighty men would have provided plenty of ridicule. One of the toughest things a leader faces is an interrogation from their own team. Yet, Joshua persisted, allowing his faith to drive his actions.
What obstacles are you facing, right now? Perhaps the solution is as ridiculous as Joshua’s seemed. Perhaps God is asking you to let go, to lay down your weapons and rely on his strength and power. This can only happen when we give up our own agendas and willfulness.  We are being called to submit to his perfect plan. Even if it seems ridiculous.

Freely Taken

Whoa, whoa, whoa?! Who do you think you are? Do you really think that you deserve this? Do you really think that the Lord is so impressed with your righteousness that he is blessing you with all of these things? No! No! No! says Moses. You’ve got it all wrong. You are not here because of the great things you have done, but because of the more horrible things that those other people did. Ouch!
These seem like harsh words from Moses. But, clearly, they are not. He explains by describing, in detail, how they have assaulted the glory of the Lord. Remember the golden calf you made? He asks. Wait, how about when you spied out the land of Kadesh? Remember, you said it was “flowing with milk and honey?” (Numbers 13:27). But, when the Lord asked you to go in and take it, you refused. You became afraid and did not trust in the Lord. Have you forgotten these things? Do you still think you deserve this?
The answer is no, the Israelites did not deserve to enter the promised land. That right was purchased for them. Moses has to remind them. He explains to them “you would do well to know what I did on your behalf. The sacrifices I made and my humble pleadings to God that he would not look at you with anger, but with love. This is why you are here. You have not gotten what you deserve. Instead, you have gotten a wonderful gift.” (Deuteronomy 9:18, my paraphrase)
We too live in the land of milk and honey. It is far too easy to believe that we deserve it all. Our freedom, our cars, our jobs, our houses, our family, our breakfast, lunch, and dinner. To top it off, we enjoy a gift called salvation. It’s free for the taking. Or is it?  Just like the Israelites, our freedom was purchased. This time, the ultimate price was paid with the life and blood of Jesus Christ.    So no, this gift is not free for the taking.  It requires something of us.  It starts with gratitude and ends in worship.

In Awe

Last week, while visiting New York City, I walked through St Patricks Cathedral.  It is everything you expect.  The building is massively overwhelming and overwhelmingly intricate.  The cathedral’s cruciform shape has an altar prominently positioned in the nave and raised in the direction of heaven.  The altar is enshrined in gold and surrounded by angels.  Throughout the building, you’ll see the saints hosting various shrines, imagery, and relics of heavenly trophies.  It’s amazing.  Awesome, even.  All of it.
I stood at the entrance gazing down the long hall, wondering how many people think about Jesus.  More importantly, how many people considered the sacrifice he made?  How many people came and found God?  That is the risk, of course, that we may go and find awe but miss what really matters.  The hope and solace of Jesus Christ.  This is what Moses is warning us against today.  He knows that we are likely to take these most beautiful things like gold and saints and fantastic architecture and turn them into something they are not.  Beware, he says, “that you may be drawn to them and serve them” (Deut 4:19).  Do you see it?  We are likely to bow down and serve the created thing over the creator.  it’s easier.  It’s tangible.  It feels real.  But, the created things have no power.
Dig a little deeper and review the mission statement of the St. Patricks Cathedral.  There, it says that these things – this cathedral – are brought to us for one purpose.  That it may “call us to respond to our shared humanity – one in the image and likeness of God, saved by his Son, Jesus Christ, in the family of the Church”.

Faith, Or Something Else?

Matthew 15:21-28

We call God many things like provider, teacher, healer, savior, and father.  The list is long, please add some that matter to you.  Now, consider how each of these things manifests in your life.  For example.  I see Jesus as my teacher.  I know that to be true because he has taught me.  It’s evident in his words, his people, and in my heart.  I have evidence.  What if, God stopped teaching me?  How would I respond?  Honestly?  I don’t know.  But, I do know how I would like to respond.  We see it in the Canaanite woman from today’s reading.
“Hey Jesus,” she shouts.  “I need your help.  My daughter is in trouble.”
Silence.  Jesus does not even bother himself with her.
As Jesus bickers with the disciples, the woman came before him again.  This time, she was kneeling.
At first glance, we may consider her kneeling to be begging.  That would be a mistake.  Jesus would have quickly called her out on that, saying something like “woman, get up!”  Instead, Jesus exclaims the greatness of her faith.  She captures Jesus’ attention, not through the quality of her begging but the depth of her belief in who Jesus is.  In this context, her kneeling is an act of worship.  She falls to her knees because of who she knows Jesus, rather than what he can do for her.  She knew, in the very depth of her heart, that Jesus could not walk away from her daughter.  It’s not in his nature. That’s faith.
Just like the Canaanite woman, God will never stop teaching me as long as I am searching.  Nor will he stop providing, healing saving, or loving.  He cannot.  It’s who he is.  It sounds like it’s time to start worshipping and stop begging.