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god-in-a-boxI like to keep my house tidy and well organized. If I can’t have clean, I can usually find peace with hiding the clutter. If I don’t have to look at the messy, irrational parts, I can pretend that they are not there. I can find comfort in considering only what I allow myself to see. I can define my surroundings with the appearance that I am in control.

Sometimes we try to do the same thing with God. We want enough of His presence to give blessing to our plans. We are so comfortable with our expectations and opinions and comfort zone that we assume He agrees us. We don’t actually want His input, unless it reinforces what we want to believe. We make decisions and assumptions on what is good and right, and then we require that God bless them.

Surely God agrees with me! Surely God likes the things I like and dislikes the things I don’t! Surely God recognizes the wisdom of my perspective! But what if He doesn’t? What if God is less interested in my opinion than in my testimony? What if my self-righteous indignation is more “self” than “righteous”? What if God is more concerned about the people I alienate, than in the validity of my perspective or personal choices? What if God wants me to represent His love, rather than put me in charge of straightening out those who think differently than I do? What if God wants to do a new thing or an old thing in a new way? What if God wants me to obey Him, and I want Him to obey me…and just stay inside the tidy box I build for Him?

The most cursory reading of the Bible reveals a God who is unpredictable. He doesn’t have a set response that applies in all situations to all people. He may deliver his people from their fears, or He may walk them through their fear to a deeper trust. He may destroy their enemies, or He may use the testimony of His people to change the hearts of their enemies. He may reveal His power, or He may give power to those who choose to obey.

The Bible also reveals a God who is always in control, even when he allows things His children don’t like. His goal is not to make us comfortable or content; His goal is to reveal His glory and increase our holiness. His goal is that all peoples know Him. What happens when we claim to represent God, but our words and behavior come from our own need to be right, rather than the love and righteousness and power of God?

Putting God in a box may mean that we separate ourselves from Him. Insisting that God confine Himself to our expectations may mean that our testimony to those watching us includes nothing more than our own preferences. Worshipping the God who will not stay in the box requires that we see Him as He is, not as who we’d like Him to be. Loving those around you may not include browbeating those around you into agreeing with you. There is no trust required for the things you can control. Faith kicks in when we remember that He is God and we are not, especially when He destroys the box and works in our world in ways we don’t like or don’t understand. Our job is not to draw boundaries for Him; our job is to honor the boundaries He draws for us.

How do you respond when God doesn’t confine Himself to what you think is right? Do you assume He isn’t in charge? Do you appoint yourself as judge and jury over those who see things differently than you do? Does your testimony give evidence of love or of condemnation? Do you give God the space to work His will in ways you didn’t expect? Are you mindful of how you represent Him to those around you, or are you more interested in proving that you are right and those who disagree with you are wrong?

May we seek His will, not our own. And may our faith in His power be manifested in our testimony.

Eph 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit those who listen.  

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wolves

I’ve been very troubled lately by the animosity in America. We are utterly polarized in our beliefs and expectations. We are far more likely to despise those who disagree with us than to find a way to work with them for the common good. We began as a nation that respected all people, but we’ve become a nation that demonizes all who disagree with us. We have more access to facts and information now than ever in history, but we have less understanding because we claim only the facts that support what we want to believe. The media is more interested in keeping our attention than in reporting the truth, and we are more interested in furthering our political agenda, than in right and wrong.

This whole mess we’ve made for ourselves reminds me of what might have been an Indian parable.

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?” The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.

 America is feeding the wrong wolf. We are quick to blame and slow to take responsibility. We are enthralled with violence in our games and movies and lament that crime is increasing. We immerse ourselves in materialism and can’t understand the rise of entitlement and greed. We entertain ourselves with immorality and bemoan the lack of integrity. We praise those who tolerate everything, and we malign those who are defined by their convictions. We honor our enemies more than we honor God, and we can’t understand why a good God would allow so many bad things to happen. We are feeding the wrong wolf.

God gives us the ability to choose which “wolf” to feed. He has been clear about the consequences and blessings that will result from that choice. The briefest assessment of American history indicates that what He said is absolutely true. When we ignore God, individually and corporately, we suffer.

My daily prayer for my country is that God will give us “eyes that see and ears that hear” the truth, and that the truth will help us intentionally choose to feed the things in ourselves and in our society that bring about good. He is God; we are not. Ignoring God and trusting ourselves will ultimately bring about our destruction. God allowed judgment on his people when they refused to honor Him; America will be no different. I beg you to join me in praying for our country. Here is the promise God makes to those who do:

II Chron 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

fullMy life is full of relationships and demands. My calendar is full of appointments and deadlines. My house is full of stuff. I have filled my life, my time, and my heart with all sorts of things that take up space and time. Some are very important; some just take my energy with minimal return. I can have my “hands full”, a full day, or a heart filled with whatever I am consumed by that day.

How can I be so busy, have so many demands, and still feel so empty sometimes? Why is it when I ask God to fill me with his Spirit, sometimes it feels like He’s ignoring me? I’m doing everything I know to do to obey Him and honor my obligations and responsibilities, and I don’t always feel fulfilled.

I suspect that I’m the problem. I am a task oriented person. I can fill every empty space on my calendar and in my heart in dozens of different ways. And then I wonder, why don’t I feel fulfilled? I’m not lazy. I’m doing all the stuff I think is right; why doesn’t it seem to work? I ask God to fill me with peace, but I refuse to let go of the busyness. I ask God to fill me with compassion, but I’m still clinging to pride and nurturing judgmentalism. I ask God to fill me with joy, but I’m still focused on the things that irritate me. Perhaps God can’t fill me with what I need because I’m so full of myself.

The difference between having what the world describes as a “full” life and being fulfilled is the source of the filling. In Luke 14 Jesus told a parable of a man who gave a feast, but those he invited had lives that were too full to attend. They were busy; they had responsibilities and relationships that were more important than attending the feast. So the man sent his servant to invite people who were willing to make space for that feast, who were willing to come and fill themselves at his table. If God is the man giving the feast and Jesus is the servant issuing the invitation, that makes us the ones receiving the invitation. We can choose to fill our time with our stuff and our activity, or we can feast on what God prepares for us.

Filling can be an active verb. I can fill my life, my calendar, and my heart with countless things. I can choose to be filled with joy or hope or pride or anger. But then when I seek God, I’ve left him no room to fill me with anything else. God has a history of filling his people. He filled oil jars and stomachs; He filled mouths with songs and His word; He filled the Tabernacle and the Temple with the manifestation of his presence; He filled his disciples with His Spirit.

But filling can also be a passive verb. An empty glass can be filled by someone thirsty in the same way an empty heart can be filled by God. Attempting to fill an empty heart with material possessions or busyness or relationships will always create only temporary relief. But things, activity, and people will always, ultimately disappoint us. We cannot expect them to fill the spaces that are meant to be filled by a relationship with God.

Being filled is nearly always a matter of choice. I can fill my glass with water or Dr. Pepper or fruit juice. I can fill my life with my best efforts and intentions. Or, I can make space for God to fill me with what will ultimately fulfill me.

Perhaps what stands between your full life and fulfillment for your soul is your decision to give God an empty place in your heart, on your calendar. What would happen if you emptied yourself of expectations and control and allowed God to do a new thing? If your self-satisfaction was rooted in understanding how much God loves you, rather than in measuring your own accomplishment? If you joy came from within, rather than being contingent on the attitudes of others?

Fulfilled does not equal busy; having demands on your time and attention will not fill your soul. You were created for relationship with God. Make space for Him. You will find that being filled with His Spirit is much more fulfilling than anything you can accomplish on your own.

servant 7

God is in charge whether we pay attention or not. God is in charge even when we’re not getting our way. God is in charge even when it seems that evil is winning and chaos is taking over.

Over and over in the Bible God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as “my servant”. Nebuchadnezzar was the pagan king of Babylon who enslaved much of the population of Judah and destroyed the city of Jerusalem, including the Temple built by Solomon. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t love God; in fact, he required that the people of Babylon, including the Jewish refugees, worship a statue of him. But God used Nebuchadnezzar to teach his people that only Yahweh was God. God actually called one of his most famous prophets, Daniel, just to speak the word of God to Nebuchadnezzar and the succeeding rulers on the throne of Babylon and later Persia. God used his servant Nebuchadnezzar to teach the people of Judah the consequences of their sin. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t know that he was serving God; he didn’t realize that he was part of God’s plan; he didn’t understand that the God of his captives loved him until the end of his life.

When I studied the life and heart of Nebuchadnezzar in the first four chapters of the book of Daniel, I was struck at how much trouble God expended on Nebuchadnezzar’s behalf. God used Nebuchadnezzar as surely as he used Daniel, whether or not Nebuchadnezzar realized it. Even those who don’t honor or even acknowledge God are completely under God’s control. Daniel says, God “changes times and seasons; he sets up and deposes kings.” (Dan 2:21)

I am heartsick at the vitriol on both sides of this political campaign. I am desperately trying not to fear what I seeing happening in our country and pray daily for God’s mercy on us, not His judgment. I see the arrogant raving of all those seeking the office of president and see only rare evidence of a heart that seeks to honor God. I see people who praise themselves and denigrate those who oppose them. They declare that their presidency will save America from all that threatens us. But if I believe that God has all power, I have to acknowledge that He “sets up and deposes” presidents as well…even those who worship themselves, more than they worship God. They serve His purposes as surely as those of us who intentionally try to obey Him.

America will not be saved by any of these candidates. Our problems will not be solved by a new government program or a different leader or higher taxes or more regulation. Most likely, I will again be unable to vote “for” a candidate; I will just vote against the one with whom I disagree most. But God is in control no matter who occupies the Oval Office. November will come and this election will resolve itself. God may use the next four years to teach the people of America the consequences of their sin. He may use them to punish us or to bring us to repentance. God may use the next four years to teach those who take power that they serve Him, not themselves. He may even raise up a Daniel to speak for Him, to soften the heart of the one to whom He will raise up and give power in this country. Paul instructs Timothy to pray for all those in authority over him that he may live a life of godliness and holiness. (I Tim 2:1-2) If the people of American pray for a tender, contrite heart in the leader God gives us, we may become the Daniel God uses in our generation.

Rom 13:1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

runaway

 Jesus promised that in this world we will have trouble, and some days that trouble is just more than I have the strength or wisdom or patience or desire to deal with. When I consider the difficult or unpleasant situations and relationships of my life, running away seems like such an attractive option. The grass is always greener in someone else’s world; pretending that I don’t have problems is so much easier than actually dealing with them. And there are so many ways to run! Busyness and escapism can separate me from the situation or the relationship, and I can pretend it doesn’t affect me.

 But when I run away, the problem doesn’t follow suit. Sometimes it festers and becomes worse. Sometimes it just eats away at my joy and peace. But it never disappears.

 God does not allow his children to run away from Him or anything else; He insists that they confront their fears, their enemies, their failures, and their past. Over and over in the Bible you see various ones try (unsuccessfully) to run away. Over and over you see God lead them back to deal with what they tried so hard to escape from. Hagar ran away from a contentious relationship with Sarah; God saw her in the wilderness and told her to go back home. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing and ran away when Esau promised to kill him; twenty years later God led Jacob back home to make peace with Esau. Moses committed murder and ran away from Egypt; forty years later, God sent him right back to Egypt. Elijah successfully defeated the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, and then promptly ran away from Jezebel; God followed him until he stopped running, fed him, gave him rest, and then told him to get back to work. Jonah didn’t like the task God gave him, so he tried to run as far away as it was possible to go; God sent a fish to bring him back, and repeated his instructions for a fresh start.

 Running away is a sign of defeat, and God empowers his people to have victory. When I run away, people don’t see the power of my God; they see my weakness. When I run away, I can’t see how God is at work in that situation. When I run away, I prove that I don’t trust God to work in me or through me for victory; what oppresses me controls me.

 There are times when we need to intentionally withdraw from a situation to allow the heated emotions to settle. Jesus walked away from the crowd that wanted to stone him in Nazareth because it wasn’t yet time for his sacrifice. Withdrawing to wait for a more opportune time to stand firm can be a good thing. There may even be a time when we need to leave a relationship behind because the other person may not be receptive to God’s activity and healing. Jesus told the disciples that if a town didn’t accept them, they were to shake the dust of that place from their shoes and move on. Often, Jesus intentionally withdrew to a quiet place in order to be in his Father’s presence, to gain insight into his Father’s will for that situation on that day.

 But running away is not an option. We can intentionally leave, or we can intentionally stay. Whatever God calls us to do is the only option that will bring resolution and allow our circumstances to improve or to permanently leave our problems behind.

 

start-finish

 There is a difference between a starting line and a finish line. They may actually be the same line, but your goals as you cross it are different.

 Crossing a starting line requires that you completely focus on what is ahead of you. You may get off to a running start or a slow start. Whatever preparation you have made for that particular race must be intentionally applied to the path in front of you. Your energy and focus and effort is on what you are doing.

 Crossing a finish line means that race is over. You can’t go back and change your position in the starting blocks or your strategy for running that race. Whether you triumphantly cross the finish line in first place or just drag yourself to the end of the course, that race is over. You will be judged by what you have just done.

 But what happens if the race you’ve just completed is the preparation for what is to come next? How many of us come to what we decide is the end and stay there? We choose to be defined by our past, rather than allowing it to refine us for our future. I failed; therefore, God can’t use me. People have disappointed me; therefore, I won’t trust again. I’m not perfect or powerful; therefore, God should find someone else. And we set up camp on what we think is the finish line, when God intends us to make a new, different start.

 The mistakes and pain of your past are not an excuse to refuse to run. Refusing to try again is the easiest way to fail and the best way to be defined by your weakness. A good coach will use the mistakes and successes of past races as a teaching tool to run future races more successfully. Sometimes that new start is a brand new adventure based on the lessons we’ve learned in the past. Sometimes that new start looks like the same old race…but we learn to master the course, rather than allow it to defeat us.

 Sometimes all the “lines” look the same from where we stand. How different would the story of our lives be if we allowed God to determine whether we are at the beginning of something new, or at the end of something old? To use our beginnings and our endings to train us to depend on His plan and trust His power, rather than our own? There are some things you need to let go of and put behind you. There are some things you need to work toward and trust God with, even though you can’t foresee success.

 When you sit on the starting blocks, it hinders your ability to begin the next race. Allow your belief in what you do know about God to determine your choices for what you don’t know about your future. Trust that God can take all that is in your past and use it to prepare you for what is to come.

 

risen

It never occurred to me to consider the Easter story from the perspective of the soldiers who were commanded to find Jesus’ body and kill the notion that “the Nazarene” was resurrected. I never considered that God could use the commands of a Roman governor to change the heart of a Roman soldier. While it is a new perspective for me, it is so like God to allow those who seek the truth to find it in His story.

 I wonder how many stories we don’t know. I wonder what post resurrection appearances or miracles are unknown to us because God chose to make those personal, rather than eternal. I wonder what would happen today if we pursued the truth, rather than trying to prove ourselves right. I wonder what the Church would look like if we were as interested in being in God’s presence as we are in achieving our self-prescribed goals.

 Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie is when the soldier goes to sit on a rock with Jesus at dawn. The soldier says, “I was there when you died.” It’s not profound or deeply philosophical. It’s not a great statement of faith. It has far more to do with his doubt than his belief. But his honesty led him to God. May it be so for us.

 Go see the movie. Allow yourself to celebrate the miracle of Easter and the privilege of knowing God.

 

delight heart

Our culture seems fixated on finding passion. Channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon shows sports fans that pay lots of money to attend games where they can be part of the crowd, enthusiastically cheering for their team. Jerseys, foam fingers, and face paint are evidence of the depth of passion for their team.

We like the thrill of being caught up in the moment, and we pursue that thrill every chance we get. But the thrills we pursue are so often short lived. We have substituted  pornography for intimacy, sex for love. The passion of our political arguments usually change nothing but the other person’s opinion of us, not their politics. We choose to be a part of the cheering crowd, rather than a participant in the event. The delights of our hearts in those moments are short lived and, too often, disappointing.

I thoroughly enjoy a close score or race. It is exciting to watch people give their all in pursuit of their goal. But the outcome of the match or game rarely matters in the grand scheme of life. The thrill of that moment…only lasts for a moment. Sex becomes the impediment, rather than the first step, to deep relationship. Two weeks from now, a year from now, we spectators may not even be able to remember which teams played, much less the score. Our passion from the “stadium seats” doesn’t really impact anything but our moment and their advertising dollars. The events that bring a smile to our hearts for the rest of our lives come only from lives invested in the relationship, in the victory. We can’t know profound victory from the cheap seats. We spend our passion in pursuit of things that do not feed our souls.

God created us with the capability for deep passion. Our free will governs what passions we will pursue. What feels good in the moment may disappoint us in the long run. What is difficult in the moment may fulfill us in the long run.

What would change if we were as passionate for the things of God as we are for things of this world? How would those around you be impacted if your passion for God was as obvious as your political opinion? How would your life be different if your most enthusiastic moments were in the presence of God, rather than in front of your TV? If the thrill of your life was seeing God at work in the situations of your life, rather than just being a spectator of someone else’s success?

Many believers see Lent as a time to sacrifice – to consecrate themselves – to remove things from their life that threaten their purity or to use the desire for those things to remind themselves to pray in order to deepen their relationship with and understanding of God, to increase their holiness. God commands us to be holy – to be set apart from this world, and when we consecrate ourselves to that end, He will do mighty things for us, in us, and through us.

Don’t settle for the temporary, shallow thrills of this world. Don’t just study the stories of others who knew God. Ask God for a front row seat to his power and presence in your own story with Him. Let this season of Lent be a time when you intentionally, consistently expect Him in your day, and let your life show evidence of increasing holiness and decreasing worldliness. Ask God to give you the desires of His heart as you seek Him with all of your heart.

ignorance

Perhaps the biggest threat to the future of America is the ignorance its voters. Late night TV entertains its viewers with interviews demonstrating how little the average person knows about government policy and current events. For some reason, people feel that what they want to believe must be true. They are more interested in their opinions than in facts, and they make no effort to support their opinions with facts; sound bites are good enough, even when they don’t mean anything.

I wonder how many who blindly support a party or a candidate actually know the difference between a flat tax, a VAT tax, and a graduated tax system. I wonder what their definition of “Wall Street” is or if they have any understanding of the impact of trillions of dollars of debt on the future of our country. Do people actually believe that health care or a college education can be free? For those who support the nuclear deal with Iran, exactly how does it prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? For those who oppose Hillary, what exactly does the FBI say she has done that is illegal? What is the difference between a US citizen and what critics of Ted Cruz say should eliminate him from running for president? Since when is being young a liability or being rich a sign of competence? What evidence is there now that our allies trust us or that our enemies negotiate with us with respect? When those who support the repatriation of Syrian immigrants promise to do background checks, what exactly will they do and how will they do it? What exactly is socialism, and how is it different from progressivism? What has been the outcome of socialist governments in the past, and how might that be good for America? What exactly would be the financial implications of abandoning US dependence on foreign oil or the cutting our carbon emissions? Does increasing the minimum wage mean that small business owners will cut their own pay or that their product will cost the public more? How will your candidate change what has been done into something better?

Good intentions get lost in the reality of implementing change. As long as the American people make minimal effort to educate themselves about the issues at hand, the winners of our elections and the leaders of our future will be those who have witty comebacks and catchy slogans, those who look good on the evening news, those who tell us what we want to hear. The success of a republic rests on the education and participation of its voters. Hope for our future and change for the better will not come from those who refuse to hold our leaders accountable or from leaders who are dedicated to protecting their own power, rather than serving the American people.

God held the ancient Hebrews accountable when they allowed their corrupt leaders to defile their culture. I can’t imagine American will be any different. If we subjugate God to our own ends, if we serve ourselves rather than obey God, I suspect God will allow us to see what it’s like to face our enemies on our own strength. I pray every day for the people and leaders of our country, and ask God, in his mercy, to send us citizens and leaders that will lead us to repentance and obedience.

 

promised land 2

What if the “Promised Land” is literally the territory that becomes Israel in the Bible…AND figuratively the blessings of God on the obedience of His people? What if our study of Old Testament history is meant to lead us to deeper understanding of both God’s will for all his people, and God’s will for us individually? I believe God set aside a geographic place, but I also believe God prepares a “promised land” that is unique for each of His children. It may be a geographic place. It may be a relationship or a ministry or a front row seat to see God at work…it was all those for the ancient Hebrews. There are some things that were true about the promised land God gave to his people back then that are also true for each of us as we seek God’s will for us right now.

 We have to separate themselves from what has been and allow God to do a new thing. God required that Abraham leave Ur and that the Hebrews leave Egypt in order to inhabit a different place. They could not have become the people God intended them to be if they had refused to obey God’s instructions. For us, that may not necessarily mean physical relocation, but it will mean that we have to let go of things that keep us bound to the past, or prevent us from seeing new things about ourselves and about God.

 Getting from where we are to the promised land God calls us to is not a magic miracle; it is a journey. There will be times in the wilderness. The journey to possess our promised lands may be fraught with tests and tribulations intended to make us strong enough to overcome the “giants” that already live there. Dwelling in our promised land will require that we trust God more than we fear those who oppose us, that we want what God chooses for us more than we want what we’ve chosen for ourselves.

 Promised lands are not a one-time gift; they have to be defended. Satan is threatened by those who obey God’s call on their lives and inhabit the promised lands God gives them. But when we stand firm in what we know is God’s call on our lives, God fights the battles for us, just as He fought for the ancient Hebrews as they moved forward into Canaan to possess their land.

 God led those ancient peoples each step of the way. They walked across the Red Sea on dry land as they left Egypt; they walked across the Jordan River on dry land as they arrived in their promised land. And in between, they saw some of the most magnificent miracles recorded in the Bible.

 God still leads those who will follow. May we let go of the things that prevent us from knowing the full measure of His blessing on our lives, and may that process let us see His glory and allow us to fully trust Him for our next step forward.