Home Alone

Deuteronomy 15-18, Psalm 115, Luke 9

Can you remember the last time you were alone?  No, I am not talking about being by yourself; I am talking about being alone.  Just you and your thoughts.  Unless you are intentional about it, it happens less often than you think.  Not because we don’t have the opportunity but because we extinguish the opportunity.  That means when we find ourselves alone, we do everything possible not to be alone.  Think television, the internet, social media, and maybe even alcohol.  If I am honest, being alone terrifies me.  But Jesus sought it out.

Jesus sought out alone time. A closer look through Luke 9 is surprising to see.  Starting in verse 9, “he slipped quietly away” (NLT).  Verse 18 explains that Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. He even took advantage of being alone while the others were sleeping (V32.) Clearly, Jesus understood the need to recharge.  We all do.  But Jesus wasn’t about “time off.”  He didn’t want to be alone.  He wanted to be alone with God.  And that is even more terrifying than being alone.

As CS Lewis writes in The Lion, in The witch and the Wardrobe, “Is he-quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…” safe?” said Mr. Beaver … “Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

You see, something happens when we are in the presence of the King. Respect and humility are only part of it.  When you get alone with God, he will change you.  Problem is you may not want to change.  Or, maybe God wants to change you a lot, and you’re only willing to change a little.  Perhaps, you are not willing to change at all?  There is a simple solution to all of those.  Don’t get alone with God.

Of course, that is no answer.  To give up Jesus is to give up life.  But, if we are to live fully, we must make time to be with him.  The results will be unmistakable, just like Jesus.  As he prayed, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white (v29).

Go Be Great

Numbers 30-33, Psalm 35, Luke 3

Chad’s post yesterday stirred up my own desire for greatness.  Some days, I want to be like Elon Musk, changing the way the world works.  Or maybe Mark Cuban, one investor at a time.  Often, my desire to change the world is twisted.  I have to be careful.  Do I want to change the world, or do I want the world to be shaped by me?

John the Baptist didn’t see it this way.  He had no interest in power or possessions.  He was consumed only with the love and power of God and from that, he did what came naturally.  He went into all the regions around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).

It is no surprise that John’s passion and fever led others to view him as a leader.  The people wanted more.  But, John was clear.  His mission was not to be the one.  No, his mission was merely to tell as many people as possible that he who is mightier than I is coming (Luke 3:16).  

I have to be careful with my desire for greatness.  I do want to change the world.  But not to look more like me.


What You Focus On Expands

Numbers 15-18, Psalm 113, Colossians 3

It’s been a hard day.  Actually, it’s been a tough week.  Now that I think about it, the last month has been pretty rough.  The longer I sit and think about how tough my life is, the tougher it becomes.  This is nothing new.  You have heard it before.  Earl Nightingale says it this way, “we become what we think about most of the time.”  I also like the way Craig Groeschel puts it.  He says, “your life is moving in the direction of your strongest thoughts.”  Hmmm…. maybe I should take an inventory of my thoughts.

I did it tonight as I sat down for dinner.  I caught myself thinking about my day, reliving conversations and frustrations.  I reminded myself that I didn’t sleep well last night and that tonight was probably going to be tough too.  I am busy, you know.  As my family gathered around the dinner table, concocting a blessing was not in me.

“Mom, will you pray for us?”  Clever, aren’t I?  I can still fulfill the obligation of praying before dinner without actually praying.  At least, I thought so.

As Jennifer began to pray, I found stillness.  Not because I was still but because my mind turned to God.  In an instant, I found an undeserving peace.

I think this is what Paul is talking about in Colossians 3 when he tells us to “set our sights on the realities of heaven.”  This is, he says, where Christ sits.  He is sitting n the place of honor, at God’s right hand.  I think of the throne room.  It feels holy and sanctified.  I feel small.  At the same time, I am whole.

These thoughts are not for God’s benefit; they’re for ours. Think about it.  Where would life take you if you spent more time thinking about the things of heaven, not the things of earth?

Here Be Dragons

Leviticus 26-27, Psalm 112, Hebrews 10

Long, long ago, world maps were incomplete. This was a real problem for people who were traveling long distances. Many were not willing to face the uncertainty. But, a few adventurous souls would throw caution to the wind and set out into the unknown. When they failed to return home, friends and loved ones could only guess their fate, fabricating awful and spurious stories. To warn future travelers of the dangers, they highlighted the unknown territories with dangerous creatures, like dragons. In some ways, this practice still lives within us.

Think of your most significant opportunity. Maybe you have been asked to speak publicly. Perhaps it’s confronting a negative situation at work. Hastily, you say, “yes, I am going to accept that challenge.” As time passes, however, your commitment wanes. You consider all the negative possibilities, and fear shows up. Left unchecked, fear builds to the point of capitulation. We call in sick for the public speaking event and avoid our negative work situation. Both are horrible endings. Why? Because God created us for more. To become who we are created to be, we must live by faith.

The church in Hebrews had a similar problem. They lost their confidence and replaced their hope with fear. The writer of Hebrews is encouraging them to endure. “Just a little longer; trust me, everything will turn out well.” (v23)

Don’t you know that medieval sailors had similar situations? Knowing that a shorter trade route was possible, they set sail. Upon entering the unknown, they experienced storm after storm. Their fear builds until they are faced with a choice.  Continue, or quit.

The truth is that we all have these opportunities. It is our choice whether we advance with faith in God’s promises or retreat. Hebrews 10:33 calls it “shrinking back.”  The result of shrinking back is destruction. That’s the same as death.

Responding through faith, however, we are able to press on. Not just once but every day. With faith, we travel into the unknown with full assurance of what we hope for and the things that we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1).


Let’s Get Going!

Leviticus 15-18, Psalm 31, Hebrews 6

Many people want to become real estate agents.  Maybe you watch Million Dollar Real Estate Agent or House Hunters and get the itch too.  From those shows, lots of people decide to take the next step and get licensed.  But, did you know that lots of people who get a real estate license never sell any real estate?  It’s true.  It’s because getting a license is different than selling real estate.  Let me explain.  The licensing process is a requirement of the state.  The state needs real estate agents to know the laws that govern real estate.  Some of this is practical, like the division of land into sections and acres, and some of it is protectionist, benefiting the consumer.  Training from the state, however, is just the beginning.  To sell real estate, you must go out into the world and help people.  That means you have to come out from behind the computer and share your knowledge.  That’s where the real fun begins.  To be great, you have to learn about the economy, psychology, negotiating, and develop business skills.  It’s a lifelong process.  But some won’t make it.  They don’t want to take the steps to become great and instead stay behind the computer.  Some only last a couple of months. Some will hang on for years.  Eventually, they fade away.  Ironically, this is exactly what Paul is talking about today in Hebrews 6.

As new Christians, we are excited.   Salvation has changed us; we have a new outlook on life.  No longer a slave to our old selves, we get to step out and be whoever we want to be.  Yahoo!  Thank you, Jesus!  But we don’t.  We take our newfound salvation and sit on the couch, watch tv, or read a book.  Paul is urging us to get on with it (v6).  If we don’t, it could turn out badly.  Remember what happened to the real estate agent?

What Paul really wants us to know is that our great life is “out there.”  We need to get out into the world and do things.  “But, but, but I don’t know what to do,” we cower.  But we do.  Armed with faith, we can do any work.  Soaked in God’s love, we can lead and heal people.  Encouraged by God’s promises, we can endure every adversity (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  So, stop being sluggish, lazy, and dull, Paul charges.

Paul has stirred my soul.  I’m ready to “get on with it.”  I want to be Christ’s love in the world. I want others to experience God’s joy through me.  I’m ready to carry my faith to maturity.  This is how we do good things.  This is how we become who God created us to be.

Stop It!!

Exodus 35-37, Psalm 26, Philippians 4

“Don’t worry,” people say.  I do, anyway.  They try, “You shouldn’t worry.”  That doesn’t work, either.   It makes it worse.  Now I’m worried about being worried!

I’ve tried many things to quell my anxiety, to no avail.  Attempting to steer my thoughts in another direction leaves me wanting solutions, and engaging distractions delays the inevitable.

I am sure that you have some advice for me, but is it as good as Paul’s?  Paul knows that this is a battle for our minds.  He also knows that there is a real and permanent solution.  It starts with taking our thoughts captive.

Once we identify that our thoughts have gone astray, we must do something with them.  Since we can just forget them, we need to transform them.  In Philippians 4:8, Paul hands us a simple framework.  In this situation, what is:

True – consider what is true from a Biblical context.  Truth exposes lies

Honorable – what is correct and righteous

Just – right, equitable

Pure – free from defilement, holy, sacred

Lovely – what is beautiful, pleasing, and agreeable

Commendable – well reported of, spoken in a kindly spirit, laudable, reputable

Excellent – moral goodness and virtue

Worthy of praise – what would God be proud of

Every time I filter my worry through these words, it resolves.  Not because I have put it off or quenched it with a temporary elixir but because I’ve brought it into the light.  The darkness dissolves, and I find peace.  At that moment, I see clearly that the Lord is at hand (v5), and the peace of God that surpasses all understanding guards my heart and mind (v7).

GO, Fight, Win!!

Exodus 22-24, Psalms 109, Ephesians 6

We fight every day in the physical world.   Money, pleasure, and power are the primary objectives.  We have it wrong.  Paul tells us clearly in Ephesians 6.  There is another war, and it is not physical.  It’s spiritual.  In the spiritual battle, war is not waged against our bank account or in a competition for the next customer, it’s for our hearts and minds.  That means we are fighting against ourselves.

Evidence suggests that we are lousy at waging this spiritual war.  James 4 points us toward murder, fighting, and quarreling as the symptoms.  What’s really happening, according to James, is that our physical and worldly passions are going unfulfilled.  The only way to satiate our hearts and minds is to act out.  If we want freedom, we must wage this spiritual war.

Two things make this war especially hard.  First, we must surrender.  Jesus said it this way, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23).  Note that he added the word “daily.”  That means surrender is not a one-time event.  Our passions and desires will continue to bubble up in us.  Even worse, our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8).  Thankfully, we are not left to be wimpy fighters, which leads to the second reason that this war is hard.  We simply do not know how to wage a spiritual battle.

Thankfully, we get a great picture of waging the battle in Ephesians 6.  The message is hidden in the armor of God.  While it’s easy to focus on the pieces of armor, it is far more fruitful to see what they do.

Truth – the purity of the gospel ought to remove from our minds all deception, pride, and hypocrisy.

Righteousness – blameless, above reproach.  Our actions matter.

Readiness – the gospel of peace – the gospel that brings peace, even in great uncertainty.  Armed with it, we are ready and prepared for anything.

Helmet – salvation.  Our most valuable asset that can never be taken away.

Shield – Our faith.  Remember Hebrews 11:1? Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Sword – the word of God.  For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12 (NLT)

It’s one thing to know how our armor functions, but it’s quite another to use it.  Today, I am going to start by putting it on.

Ask Better Questions

Exodus 4-6, Galatians 6

What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?  Go ahead, take a moment to answer that question.  Now that you have it, consider one more factor.  What if God blessed your plans?  It’s a no-brainer, right?  If God came to you and asked you, specifically, to do something, like maybe through a burning bush, would you then be fully encouraged to run with it?  Of course!  If God is in it, failure is impossible, right?

This is how it starts.  You know from our recent reading that Moses has been called to free the Israelites.  God has very specific conversations with him about it.  Reluctantly, Moses accepts and charges forward.  But it doesn’t work.  Moses fails.  Not because Moses wasn’t obedient, he was.  He went to Pharoah and did exactly as he was told.  Pharoah didn’t listen.  Instead, he retaliated.  Now, the Israelites are forced to work twice as hard.

Moses had to be devastated.  What more could he have done?  The people hate him and have lost faith in him as their leader.  They curse him, saying “the Lord look on you and judge because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” (Exodus 6:20).  Why in the world would God call a leader, then let him fail?

At this point in the story, I become frustrated.  I am rooting for Moses, but he is losing.  And it’s God’s fault.  He didn’t even hide it.  God told Moses, that “[He] will harden [Pharaoh’s] heart so that he will not let the people go.” Exodus 4:21.  In other words, God set Moses up to fail.  Wait.  What?

I could pontificate about why God would do such a thing.  I could stretch the words to weave a story about how God had to do X to get to Y, or that by taking the circuitous route, more people got to experience God and his power was better revealed.  When I started down that path of thinking, I realized that I was asking the wrong question.  I have been focused on how.  What if I focused on who?

Something changes when I move to who this reveals God to be.  Sovereign is the word that comes to mind.  God is sovereign.  He can do what he wants, for whatever reason he wants.  Yea, but….

I want to resist his sovereignty.  I want to argue with his methods, just like Moses.  “Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord?  Why did you send me?” Exodus 5:22

God is patient with my questions, as he is with Moses.  Despite his careful explanations of why (Ex 6:2-7), my pride and self-preservation prevent my agreement.  God has to remind me I am the Lord!  (Emphasis God’s).  (Ex 6:8)

Now, at this moment, I see God as Lord.  I stand down, surrendering my foolish pride to exalt the Lord God Almighty.  Thy kingdom come.

Victory Dance

Genesis 45-46, Psalm 108, Galatians 2

I like this part of Joseph’s story because I get to do a victory dance.  Joseph is now in charge.  He has the authority and ability to do as he pleases.  His dream was right.  He has been vindicated.  He is living in victory.  I picture him, in his private moments, doing a little victory dance.  But, this is not at all what happened.  These are pictures of the old Joseph.  The one we were introduced to back in chapter 37.  Remember him?  The Joseph that flaunted his favoritism (Gen 37:3-4).  The man blustering with self-glorifying dreams (Gen 37:9-10).  He’s not that man anymore.

Along the way, Joseph’s heart changed.  Perhaps it changed while he was enslaved.  Maybe it happened while he was in prison.  Did all of those demoralizing and challenging years beat the pride out of him?   Maybe.  But this story is less bout what came out of him and more about what got into him.  You see, many of us would replace pride with humiliation, emerging from slavery and prison as a shell of the person we set out to be.  We refuse to allow our current circumstances to drive us to our knees in submission.  Rather than cry out to God, we hold on to false hope.  God will protect us, we say.  Because God wins, we win.  But, that is incorrect.  God is not looking for our victory in the circumstance, he is looking for our humility.  Not our humiliation, mind you, but our surrender to him.  This is what happened to Joseph.  Never once does Joseph appear humiliated.  He does, however, appear surrendered.

What does surrender look like?  Consider the evidence of Joseph’s new life.

He looks upon others with compassion, instead of contempt – Genesis 40:6-7 (ESV) When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?”

He denies himself to exalt God – Genesis 41:16 (ESV) Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

He gives God credit – Gen 41:25 (ESV) God has revealed to Pharaoh, Gen 41:28 (ESV) God has shown to Pharaoh

God was visible in him, through others – Genesis 41:38 (ESV) And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”

He testified of God – Gen 41:51 – “For God has made me forget all my hardship”

Joseph’s journey brought him to freedom, but not victory.  While I look upon his final situation and declare victory, Joseph did not.  For Joseph, victory was not secured when he could lord power over his brothers, or find vindication for the trespasses of others.  Nor was his victory in loving, caring, and providing for his brothers.  Joseph’s victory happened every day, serving God.  No matter the circumstance, he had a reason to do a victory dance.

Who Is The Jerk Here?

Genesis 30-31, Psalm 11, Mark 12

Why do you read the Bible?  Your answer to that question is essential.  There may even be more than one.  I answer it with to be a better person and to know God.  Both of those are fine answers.  But I question, how can either be true when we are reading about a bunch of idiots?

Let’s start with Jacob.  He was the 2nd born son, but he wanted to be first, so he stole his brother’s birthright.  Then, with the help of his mother – who is no better – tricks his father into giving him the family blessing.  Trickery is something Jacob was especially good at.  He even tricks his wife’s father into a greater share of the family assets.  Seriously, Jacob is no prize.

Jacob leads us to Laban.  His tricks start with his daughters.  He swaps the ugly one for the pretty one, so Jacob ends up marrying both.  Then, he convinces Jacob to keep working his farm, even after Jacob has paid off his debts.

It’s not just the men.  Jacob’s wife Rachel is just as deceitful.  She can’t get pregnant so she offers Jacob her servant.  Then, hates her for it.  She is a thief too.  On her way out of town, she steals idols from her father.

What a mess!  As I read through this cast of characters, I consider them as who I do not want to be.  But, I am perplexed.  They live twisted lives and God blesses them anyway.  He gives them wealth and prosperity, family, and babies.  This is my quandary.  What in the world did they do to earn God’s favor?

Nothing.  That is the answer.  They did nothing to earn God’s favor.  They were undeserving jerks.  All of them.  He loved them anyway.   God loved them with the love of a lover, giving gifts and staying close by.  He loved them in their lying, deceit, trickery, and theft.

Truth is, if someone reads about my life 3,000 years from now, they will see me as an undeserving jerk too.  I am not proud of that.  But, prayerfully, they are a diligent student.  If they are, they will see the unconditional love of our great God. When they see it, I hope that they realize it is for them too.  He will take you too.  Just as you are.