Archives for the month of: August, 2014

staff2

When God gave Moses his job description, Moses gave God all sorts of excellent excuses why it was a bad idea. To help Moses have the confidence to move forward, God asked him an incredibly important question, “What is in your hand?”

Moses’ hand held a staff. We don’t know when he acquired his staff. He may have used it as he crossed the desert. He may have found it as he watched the sheep and saw that it would be helpful in navigating rocky terrain, keeping sheep on the path, or for fighting wild animals who attacked the sheep. Did he cut it from a tree because he knew he’d need it? Did God place it on a path, then lead him to it….like a present he wouldn’t really appreciate until he grew up some more? Is this one Moses has used for years, or is it a new one? Did he carve it as he watched the sheep? Had he smoothed it where his hand would grip it?

Because Moses trusted God with what was in his hand, God took it, changed it, and gave it back to him. God used it to give Moses confidence and to get Pharaoh’s attention….in the throne room and to turn the Nile red. Later it will bring victory on the battlefield and water from a rock. God took what Moses had and what he feared, and he challenged Moses to step out of his comfort zone and make a difference. When Moses first clutched that staff that had been a snake, he could not even fathom the ten plagues or the parting of the Red Sea. That staff was both a symbol of what Moses was, and what he would become.

What is in your hand? It may not be your talent or your strength. It may be your weakness or vulnerability. It may be what comes easily or naturally to you, but not to others. It may not seem like much to you, or it may seem like everything you have. It may be the pain of your past meeting the need of someone in your present. It may be the consistency of your testimony in the life of someone who has brought you pain or frustration or someone you don’t even know is watching.

If you can fill in this blank, there is a problem. “I’ll obey as long as he doesn’t ask……” Anything we have: talent, strength, passion – will never reach its full potential until we give it to God. Before God can work through you, he will have to work in you. What does he want from you so that he can take it, change it, and give it back to you with new purpose? Do you need his vision for what it can become or his courage to trust him to use it…for your good and his glory?

 The things that you hold so tightly in your hand and your heart, that are so very, very precious to you – you have no control over them. They are only safe in the hand of God. Release them into God’s hand; let them go, throw them, and see how he changes them, nurtures and grows them in ways you never considered. Surrender them to him – manipulate, worry, obsess over them no more – watch how he transforms what is in your hand into something new that will give you a glimpse of his glory, of his power.


For years I’ve prayed that God would raise up godly people – in our government, our media, our entertainment, and our educational institutions. That he would give them his wisdom and his power, and that when they have the courage to rise up and make him known, he would give them his protection. Sometimes I read the headlines or see the evening news and wonder if he’s heard me. Last night, in his great mercy, he let me see just a glimpse of his answer.

While I was praying, God raised up writers and directors and producers and actors that were willing to leave the Hollywood “box” and make a movie that didn’t depend on special effects or crude humor; it didn’t use bad language or insert gratuitous sex scenes. It was the simple story of a few people in one college town who were trying to figure out their faith in God. It was captivating in its depth and honesty.

If you haven’t seen the movie God’s not Dead, see it. If you have, encourage others to see it and take the challenge to share what you know about God. You don’t have to have deep philosophical understanding or theological analysis; most of the time, people don’t need that. Most need to start with the conviction that there is a God, that he unconditionally loves them, and that their “here and now” and their eternity depend on whether or not they believe it. Your testimony is no more or less than what you already know.

One of the first lines of the movie that grabbed my attention was spoken by a young college freshman being encouraged to renounce his belief in God. He spoke of his faith saying, “It’s not easy, but it is simple.” And we get that wrong. We insist on easy, and we make it complicated. We take a loving God and try to fit him into a theology box that is predictable and controllable. We want minimal effort on our part to produce maximum blessing from God. We are less interested in the truth than we are in getting our way.

For years I prayed and had no idea what God and the makers of this movie were up to. God calls us to pray for his will to be done, but he doesn’t necessarily show us the process. God certainly didn’t owe me proof that he was listening, but that “proof” let me see the tender mercy of the one who is leading me into deeper relationship with him while he is making himself known in the world. I will continue to pray that God raises up those who will use their voice in this generation to speak truth, to point people toward God.

Those prayers, that process, are not easy. They will invoke the repudiation of a hostile media or a cynical public. They will anger Satan who doesn’t want us to see or know the truth about a loving God. But that prayer is simple. God’s way, God’s will, God’s timing – not mine. Characters in the movie encountered obstacles and fear that led them to deeper understanding of the character of God. May our prayers give us the vision to see God beyond our obstacles and fear, and may our faith lead us to deeper understanding of the character of God. And may we share what we learn as God answers our prayers.

Luke 10:25 “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Rather than answer, Jesus asked him what the law said. Being a good lawyer, he could quote the right answer. Luke 10:26 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

He should have stopped while he was ahead. We don’t know the motivations of this one who asked the question. He is described as an “expert in the law” who wanted to “test” Jesus. Lawyers like arguing details and finding loopholes. Maybe he was truly looking for Jesus’ honest answer so that he could put boundaries on his obedience to the last 6 commandments. Maybe he just wanted to be admired for asking a profound question. Maybe he wanted his lawyer friends to be impressed that he had showed up this upstart rabbi. Maybe he was really worried about his eternal life. But rather than acknowledge that Jesus was committed to the law, he tried again. “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:27)

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) didn’t endear Jesus to his listeners. We much prefer that God praise us and condemn those we don’t like. The antipathy the Jews felt for the Samaritans was hundreds of years old at that point and grounded in racial impurity, rejection of the writings of the Old Testament prophets, and the construction of a temple other than the one in Jerusalem.

The priest and the Levite had good reasons for ignoring the wounded man. The man might already be dead or die while they were trying to help him. If they touched a dead body, they would be unable to perform their jobs in the Temple, according the rules of their profession. It could also be a trap. This road to Jericho was notorious for criminals. They took the safe route and left the wounded man alone. In contrast, the Samaritan was moved by the man’s need, not his nationality or his own safety.

Jesus made the Samaritan the hero. How that must have rankled the lawyer. When Jesus asked him, “Which of these was a neighbor?”, the lawyer couldn’t even say “the Samaritan”; he answered “the one who had mercy on him”.

The problem with asking God a question is that once you do, you are accountable for how you respond to his answer. Jesus’ answer attacked this lawyer’s prejudice against Samaritans and his preference to follow the rules, rather than love the one God put in his path. We don’t get to pick and choose the pretty, friendly people to be our neighbors; God holds us accountable for how we treat the difficult ones we don’t like as well. How we treat them affects our relationship with God. Who will God put on your path today? Will you love that neighbor like you do yourself?

fruit of the spirit

It would be so much easier if the fruits of the Spirit were gifts instead, if we were just born with them, rather than having to nurture their growth in our lives. I don’t want to learn patience or self-control, but I’d really like to have them. I’d really rather just be naturally joyful or peaceful than have to choose it when I don’t feel it.

Gal 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

There are spiritual gifts, but they don’t include the things on this list. I wonder if that’s why Jesus said “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” (John 15:1) Even evil people want these fruits, they just think they can take them by their own efforts. Fruit, by its nature, has to grow, but it has to stay attached to the vine or the tree in order for growth to occur.

John 15:4  Remain in me  and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

 Jesus calls this desire to stay attached “dwelling” or “remaining” or “abiding”. There are several things I’ve found to be true about abiding. One is that abiding is based on will and intent. Where and how I choose to spend the majority of my time are the places that best reflect my priorities. I avoid places I don’t want to be. Abiding is also more than just having a place to put all my stuff at one time. All my “stuff” is in my home, but my heart and my history, the things and people who are precious to me are a part of my home. I don’t just live here because I have to; I live here because I choose to. When you consider the places where you feel most “at home”….that is the definition of abiding. Keeping the commands of God is different from abiding in him. Following the rules is different from loving and belonging. God doesn’t just want us to go through the motions; he wants us to desire his presence.

Little creates reverence in me faster than to remember that the entire Bible is the history of God trying desperately to abide or dwell with his people. God created Eden where he could “walk in the cool of the day” with Adam and Eve. After their sin forced them out of the garden, God spends the rest of Bible establishing ways he can dwell with his people – in a Tabernacle, in the Temple, when he came to Earth. In the Old Testament “abiding” was God’s choice. But with Pentecost in the New Testament, the “helper” Christ promised came, and the “dwelling” or the “abiding” is now our choice. God’s promise to all who seek to abide with him here on earth is that we will dwell with him eternally in heaven. It never ceases to amaze me that I am part of what God defines as his “home”; he chooses to dwell in me…for now and forever.

 Where you “abide” determines your fruit. The kind of fruit you bear is evidence of how you are fed and what “DNA” has motivated your thoughts and choices. Fruit is totally dependent on health of the branch; the branch is totally dependent on the vine. We are only capable of spiritual fruit if we stay attached to Christ: if we allow his word and his spirit to so infuse our hearts and minds, we begin to show similarity to his will and character.

Production of fruit is evidence of the health of the vine; the spiritual fruit produced in the life of a believer is proof of the depth of his relationship with God. In John 15:2 it is daunting to note that Jesus’ explanation of the relationship we have to him and his Father not only requires fruit, but he expands it to “much” fruit by verse 5. He goes on to say in verse 16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”

Introspective philosophers of the last few decades have spent much effort and ink trying to understand the purpose of life. Jesus is really clear; our purpose is to bear fruit. May we choose to be attached to the vine of Christ, so that our obedience bears the fruit of thanksgiving and love and peace that can only be expressed in songs of joy.

(Italicized portions are excerpts from my book He Wants You to Know available at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com)