Archives for posts with tag: choices

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.

new years resolution 2

Many will begin their New Year with resolutions to change their behavior: stop smoking, start exercising, eat fewer carbs and more fiber, decrease debt, increase savings, lose weight, improve health. Setting goals for our behavior can change our future. But what would happen if we focused on changing our perspective, rather than our habits? How would our lives change if we were as focused on our spiritual growth as we are on our physical health and financial stability?

How different would your 2016 be:

If you lived as though you believed your God was more powerful than your enemies?

If you made up your mind to find joy and be thankful every day?

If you started being defined by the possibilities of God’s power within you, rather than by your limitations, your past, and your weaknesses?

If you believed that doing the right thing was more important than blending in with the crowd?

If you focused as much on being holy as you do on being heard?

If you refused to allow those who wronged you in the past to continue to make you angry?

Improving your health and your habits can honor God. But becoming who God created you to be involves more than your weight, your habits, or your bank account.

As you make plans for your new year, what will you do to:

increase your holiness?

know the Word made flesh and to know His presence in His written word?

be kinder to the people around you?

make your prayers more of a conversation and less of a monologue?

May the changes you choose to make in your new year allow you to become more of who God created you to be. May you know the pleasure of your Father who created you for fellowship with Him because you have made Him your priority.

glory 4

It came down from heaven, and the people watched as it filled the Tabernacle and the Temple. David wrote that heavens declare it in every language. It reflected from Moses’ face. The angels proclaimed it on in their greeting to the shepherds, and it transfigured Jesus’ appearance. Gospel songs remind us that we’re going there. In Jesus’ last prayer before he was arrested, he asked God to reveal his glory to his disciples and to let his glory be manifested in those who believe in him.

We use it to describe some things that are too big or too deep for words. It is a mystical blend of magnificent and holy and precious and important. But seeing the glory of God comes at a cost. The Hebrews had to consecrate themselves and their camp before God’s glory would dwell among them. Moses had to hide in the cleft of the rock as God’s glory passed by. Isaiah’s view of God’s glory cost him an honest assessment of his sin.

The mundane comes cheaply and easily, and too often we learn the hard way that “You get what you pay for”. When we take the easy way out, we miss the glory of great achievement. When we refuse risk doing something new or different, we will achieve nothing new. Seeing God’ glory right here on earth will cost us the control we pretend to have, and will require our obedience. And it will give an unquenchable thirst for more of his presence. God’s glory is free to all, but it is not cheap.

My pastor reminded us a few weeks ago that we are going to “spend our lives”. What we choose to “spend” our lives on determines what they are worth. Jesus willingly “spent” his life for you. On that last night of his life, Jesus could have gone somewhere Judas couldn’t find him. He could have left Gethsemane as he saw the Romans and Jews coming down the hill from the city to get him. He could have skipped Passover in Jerusalem that year. He could have called down angels from heaven to destroy those who wanted to execute him. But he chose to pay the price….because you are worth that to him. He spent his life earning your spot in glory – now and in heaven.

How you spend your life can bring Him glory. Choosing to reflect His glory into your world will bring you magnificence, holiness, and precious purpose. Don’t settle for cheap and easy. Those things seldom matter, will not last, and almost always end in disappointment. Aim for His glory. It absolutely matters and will last an eternity.

sacrifice 2

 A baseball player may hit a sacrifice bunt that gets him out, but advances a runner from his team. A soldier, policeman, or fireman sacrifice their own safety to protect others. A parent may sacrifice himself to protect his child. Our culture values convenience, money, and time, and we usually must sacrifice at least one of those to have the others. Deep down man has always understood the concept that what is easy must be sacrificed to achieve what is good and eternal.

The Old Testament sacrificial system required that man offer sacrifices of unblemished livestock or the first fruits of his harvest to acknowledge his sin or honor God. God sacrificed his perfect son to end that system, but it did not end our need to recognize the sacred and sacrifice the profane in our lives.

The problem is now we seem to be far more comfortable with sacrificing the sacred to honor the profane. We sacrifice the Sabbath for shopping or recreation or entertainment, but the vast majority of Americans don’t honor God on the Sabbath anymore. God created marriage as a sacred covenant with sex as a means to intimacy and procreation; we’ve sacrificed that intimacy and made it a spectator sport in our entertainment and publications industries. We’ve sacrificed integrity for fame and money. We’ve sacrificed our deep relationship with God and relegated him to a distant acquaintance that we only visit on major holidays or when there is a crisis. We’ve become far more comfortable with bad language and immoral behavior than with holiness. We can spend hours watching a movie, cheering at a sporting event, or reading a trashy book, but we sacrifice prayer and Bible study because we don’t have the time.

When you sacrifice enough of the sacred things in your life, you lose perspective on their holiness. Jesus’ sacrifice came through his death. Our sacrifice must come through how we live.

Rom 12:1  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.

Every choice you make requires you to sacrifice something. This day intentionally examine your choices. Be willing to sacrifice what is easy for what is good; what is lesser for what is better; what is profane for what is sacred. Let your sacrifice lead you to what is holy and eternal.

Right and Wrong

I saw a movie this weekend that will most probably win at least one Academy Award. The story was well written, the plot was tight and creative, the characters were well developed, and the lead actors certainly gave Oscar worthy performances. The problem is there was nothing and no one in the movie that was remotely admirable. None that was respectable or set a good example. Not once was I inspired because a character made the difficult choice to do the noble thing. Not one saw marriage or integrity as sacred. All were perfectly willing to cheat and lie and destroy others so that they could have what they wanted. The closest character to respectable went to jail, while those responsible for the chaos and destruction went scot free. No character in the movie had the slightest sense of right and wrong. And the producers of the movie missed any chance of reminding the viewers of what is best in people by focusing on what is worst in people.

I don’t think that this movie is unique. Several very successful TV shows in the last few years have praised those who enjoy the blessings of our country while plotting to destroy it, who allow their revenge to dominate their politics, and who allow their anger and hopelessness to be a justifiable excuse for their depravity. An actor from one of these series actually said that they had intentionally blurred the lines between good and evil until you couldn’t tell them apart. As clever as that may be, it is evil.

Right and wrong are not ambiguous, abstract ideas that are based on our convenience or change with our circumstance. If we don’t have a clear understanding of right and wrong, we may find ourselves somewhere we don’t want to be, because we didn’t realize where the boundary was. If we don’t teach our children and youth right and wrong, they will learn those definitions from our culture. And our culture is far more interested in profit and power than they are right and wrong. We don’t teach them about God because we want them to make up their own mind, we don’t want to offend those who believe differently than we do. We tell our children to be “good”, and give them no indication of what that looks like. Our inability and choice to take a back seat to self-indulgence and cultural influence leaves God out of our culture.

The most cursory glance at history shows that when a culture loses its sense of right and wrong, it begins to die. Classes on bullying, stricter gun laws, and warning labels will not save a people who have no basic understanding of right and wrong. God gave us his laws, not so he could be in charge…he’s in charge whether we obey him or not…but because there are moral absolutes that don’t change. Ever since Eve ate from the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil”, God has held us accountable for our choices. We don’t get to blame our sin on ignorance and laziness; we are responsible for the choices we make. His law is designed for our good, to help us choose right and avoid wrong. What our culture needs isn’t more laws; what our culture needs is God.

We’ve depended on Hollywood and Washington to make choices for us that are not theirs to make, and allowed them to diminish us into less than God intended us to be. Both have made very clear that they are not bound by God’s law. I’m going to choose my entertainment more carefully in the future. I can’t change what Hollywood is producing, but I can refuse to let their celebration of depravity change me.

Control/Alt/Delete

The default settings on my computer were probably meant for good, but they have been a huge source of irritation and frustration to me. They do correct spelling and typing errors, but they also change settings I don’t want changed. I have to be meticulous and intentional in order to override what my computer does.

Habits, both good and bad, become default responses for us. Favorite phrases, bad language, food and drink choices, driving routes and so many other things begin as a choice and end as a default response we don’t even really have to think about.

Jesus identified Satan as the “Father of Lies” in John 8:44. Anytime Satan speaks, you can be sure he is not telling the whole truth…or any of the truth. He makes sin attractive so that we will want it; then he uses that choice to entrap us into a lifestyle that becomes our default response. One bad choice leads to another until we have formed habits that make us less than who God intended us to be. Satan’s first lie was to Eve in Eden when he tells her what God said isn’t true. Satan convinced her, and still tells our culture today, that sin brings fulfillment and that being good is boring, when sin actually steals our fulfillment and makes our life empty.
How many people have said they want to wait to become a Christian and have a relationship with God because they want to live their life and have fun first? Those people are missing the very best part of their present and creating a past that will scar them. Those who seek worth and purpose and happiness in disobedient sinful behavior will be destroyed by it.

Hell is a default destination, but heaven is a lifestyle choice. Satan wants to make sure you don’t choose heaven. Satan’s lie to us is grows into the belief that since being good is boring, heaven will just be more of the same. If he can make us believe heaven is boring, we do not feel compelled to share the good news of Jesus Christ and the hope of heaven. Christians who don’t learn what the Bible says about heaven dangerously ignore what God taught to help us have his perspective on our past, present, and future. Understanding the truth about heaven will help us make better choices here on earth.

The promise of heaven is a problem for Satan and the plan he has for your destruction. He lies to us when he makes us believe that being good is boring. He says we’re not loving or we’re judgmental if we talk about hell. He says we’re fanatical and narrow minded if we insist that the Bible is true. Our ignorance of God’s word, the weakness of our flesh, our desire for acceptance and pleasure and control, the power of Satan: all of these lead us to default to sinful choices.

When my computer defaults to something I don’t want and I don’t know how to change it, I have the control/alt/delete option. Notice that the default button requires no effort on my part; changing it is a three step process. I will be intentional, or I will end up with what I don’t want.

God sent his son and his spirit and left us his word so that we would not just stumble through life, defaulting to the things that will entrap us and make us less than who he created us to be. Changing habitual responses, changing course, changing how things are into how they should be will never be a default; it will always involve self-control, alteration of the choices we make, and deletion of the sin that separates us from him.

Called to Believe

Belief happens when information merges with intent and passion. Good teachers believe they will positively impact the lives of their students. Good lawyers believe that the law given in our Constitution works for the benefit of society. Good law enforcement officials believe that the risk they take to protect citizens is worth it. Good citizens believe that right and wrong transcend legal and illegal.

Belief is more than just accumulation of information. I am aware of information that sometimes has absolutely no impact on my thoughts or behavior. I am aware that driving too fast in rain or snow is dangerous, but sometimes I’m in a hurry. I am aware that more exercise and fewer calories will make me healthier, but relaxing is easier and sugar and fat usually taste better. I am aware that Christians who spend intentional time communicating with God know the peace of his presence and see evidence of his glory, but sometimes I’m busy with other things. When what I believe about my health or safety or righteousness becomes more important than what I want or what is easy, that information becomes action.

The next step you take toward God will begin with belief, whether you’re seeking him for the first time or whether you’ve known him for a whole lifetime. Before God gave Abraham children in his old age or tested him with Isaac, before circumcision, before the covenant, Abraham chose to believe God (Gen 15:6) , and that began his amazing story with God. Thomas was brokenhearted when the Lord he believed in died on the cross because he believed that Jesus’ death was the end of the story. The resurrected Jesus saw his pain and showed him his scars, and said to him in John 20:29 “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

God doesn’t ask us to begin our story with him by accomplishing great feats of valor or performing mighty miracles. He asks us to start by believing he is who he says he is. Believe that God can, even if you can’t. Believe that God sees you, even when you don’t see him. Believe that he loves you personally and has a plan for your life that is far greater than anything you can dream up for yourself. The Bible, beginning to end, is full of the accounts of people who chose to believe him, and knew relationship with him, right here on earth. The Bible was preserved for you so that you can be inspired by its words to believe for yourself.

God knows our frailty. He knows that our struggles sometime make it hard to see him. He knows that the world demands our attention, and Satan is dedicated to our destruction. He knows that even our best motivation and intentions can be crushed by fear and doubt.

There is one story in the Bible that God gave us just for the times when believing is hard. It has become one of my “go to” verses. In Mark 9 the father of a boy who probably had severe seizures came to Jesus and said, “If you can do anything, take pity on him and help us.” That is hardly a rousing declaration of faith, but Jesus’ response was to remind him that “Everything is possible for those who believe.” The father, wearied by fear for his son’s safety and crushed by hope that was dying said to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” And there it is. Jesus healed the son and the father with one miracle. The God who requires that we believe he is who he says he is will help us take that step toward belief.

Maybe today you need to choose to believe God for your next step, or maybe you need to pray this father’s prayer before you can find that step. God does not change, but your perspective will as you choose to believe him.

What About God?

Annual pageants in churches around the world bring to life the names and roles of the people in the Christmas story. We know that Mary and Joseph chose obedience; the angels chose praise; the shepherds and wise men chose wonder. What did God chose in this story? What does this story teach us about God?

One of the first things that strikes me in this story is that God chooses to see the potential in his people, rather than the frailty of his people. The world saw Mary as an immature teenager; God saw the godly mother she would become. Joseph was a broken hearted man who had to have believed his fiancé betrayed him; God saw a man who would love and protect the Son of God as he grew up. The world saw shepherds as unimportant; God saw their capacity for joy and invited them to celebrate. The Wise Men were honored for their education; God saw men who needed a personal introduction to the savior of the world.

A second thing that I see in this story is that no detail is too unimportant for God to handle. There has never been a time when God rocked back on his heels, and said, “I never saw that coming!” He handles the details before he leads us forward. Elizabeth was pregnant just before Mary, so I suspect that is where Mary learned about pregnancy and birth. All the rooms in Bethlehem were full; what was it that made the innkeeper offer them his stable, rather than just turn them away? The wise men brought gifts fit for a king, but hardly appropriate for a baby. I wonder if the value of those gifts supported the holy family as they fled to Egypt and hid from Herod for a couple of years?

A third thing I see about God here is that no matter the circumstances, no matter the status or mood of the individual, God comes to us. He comes to people like shepherds who are not looking for him. He comes to people like the Wise Men who have to leave where they are to seek him. He comes in ways we don’t expect. He may show up in a stable, on the Damascus Road, or walking on water. He comes to people who don’t love him back, who don’t acknowledge or appreciate the sacrifice he makes for them. He loved, healed, taught, and fed people who never understood who he really was, who never realized they were face to face with God.

The God of the universe intentionally left the glory of heaven to appear in the humility of a stable, covered with the frailty of human flesh. All of this demonstrates his incredible love for such an undeserving people. He didn’t just want to protect us from the punishment of hell; he wants to provide the salvation that will allow us to spend eternity with him. All he asks of us is that we believe he is who he says he is, and that we trust his love enough to obey his plan.

May you be awed and humbled by the incredible love of this holy God, especially during Christmas. May your response to him be to seek his presence, and may you find joy and peace as we celebrate this incredible interruption in history.

Divine Interruption

Luke 2:8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

Those shepherds were doing what they were supposed to do. They were ordinary men doing a menial job – low skill, low status among their people. Their whole job was to keep those sheep fed and safe from predators until they could be raised and sold, maybe even to the Temple for sacrifice. Their plan was to take turns dozing throughout the night. Their perspective was that they were the least of the least and didn’t matter much. Their expectation was that nothing would change. They weren’t watching for God, but God came anyway. Their night was interrupted by God and a group of angels.

For those shepherds that night, everything changed. They got a personal invitation from heaven to go to Bethlehem and see and worship the son of God himself. The shepherds abandoned their field and “hurried” to “see”. They didn’t just work God in when it was convenient or when they were well rested. God’s invitation to come took priority over everything else, and they got to see God up close, on the night he came to earth as a baby. The angels didn’t magically transport the shepherds back to town; they just gave them the information so they could chose to go for themselves, and that choice changed everything.

Wonder if they immediately found the right place, or if they had to search a bit. Wonder if they actually asked someone if they’d seen a baby in a manger? Whatever their journey from the field to the stable looked like, God amazed them when they got there, and their response was worship. Don’t you find it interesting that the people God chose to come and celebrate with Mary and Joseph were so common? Why not temple officials or priests? I wonder if any of those people got a holy nudge to take a walk through the stable district that night….and ignored it.

The shepherds saw a God who came to them, who sought them out, to be included in his story. These men were overlooked by the world, but they were chosen by God. The ones who took care of the sheep were the first chosen to see the child who would become the Lamb of God. Once they had seen the Christ child, they undoubtedly returned to the same life they had left the night before. They worshipped because they saw God as he was, they understood that God had answered the prayers of his people and had come to deliver them once again, this time in human form.

God has a long history of interrupting the lives of his people. Those interruptions may involve new locations, new family members, or new vocations. He may change your plan or your perspective or your expectations. He may convict your heart. His will may look like a pink slip or a new job offer. It may be the “surprise” baby when you thought your family was already complete, or it may be that your child chooses a spouse and you receive a new adult child. He may take someone or something from you so you can experience him in a new season of your life. He may add responsibility, or he may change your circumstances. Sometimes God’s interruptions change your life activity; sometimes his interruptions change your perspective as you continue to do the same life activity. Interruptions may be a happy surprise, or they can be inconvenient or unwelcome. They may cause celebration of what is new or grief over what is no more. They can give you rest or a new purpose or passion. But they always change things.

At this point in your life, what are you doing? What are you plans right now? What perspective do you have on your present/future? What are your expectations for this day? For next year? Is God a part of your plans and expectations, or is he going to have to seriously interrupt you to get your attention? Where is God calling you to come and see him? Will you trust God’s nudging enough to pursue it to the place where you can see his glory? To see him in action? Will you allow him to show you what he wants you to see, or will you ignore him and just protect your sheep, your job, your agenda?

May this Christmas find you listening for the angel’s invitation and seeking the face of your Savior. May you be reminded that you are absolutely loved by God. And may you respond to whatever interruptions God puts in your path with the obedience that will lead you to awe and worship.

Become a star

Sometimes we want to blend in. There is comfort in anonymity. There is security in routine and “met” expectations. But doing what you’ve always done, will get you what you’ve always gotten. God loves us as we are, but he is in the process of making us new; our obedience in that process matters…to others and to us.

The shepherds (Luke 2:8-20) are mentioned only in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. They were out in the field in the middle of the night, doing what they always did, what they were supposed to do. They were ordinary men doing a menial job when God sent angels to interrupt their sleep, their schedule, their expectations, and their lives. They weren’t special because of who they were; they became special because of what they did. They weren’t angry because of lost sleep; they weren’t dismissive because their agenda had been interrupted; they saw enough glory in the angels to want more. For 400 years God hasn’t spoken to his people, and now these angels beckon them. “Come on. I know where you can find God.” And the shepherds left what they were doing and walked back into town and found the promised Messiah wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. They saw the face and tiny hands of God himself.

The Wise Men (Matt 2:1-12) were astrologers. They weren’t looking for a Messiah, because, most likely, they didn’t even know Yahweh. They were watching heaven, trying to make sense of what they were seeing. But what made these men different was that they didn’t just catalog and record data from their study; they wanted to see and understand what it meant. There was a new star in their sky, and they couldn’t rest until they made sense of it. They interrupted their lives and packed their camels and journeyed many weeks or months over hundreds of miles to find what they didn’t know, but desperately want to understand.

The shepherds were asleep; the Wise Men were watching. The shepherds were society’s outcasts with no education and probably very little money or earthly wealth. The Wise Men were well educated, admired for the knowledge and expertise, and were paid by the king.

The shepherds weren’t looking for God; they were looking for a good night’s sleep…but God came to find them with a holy, once in a lifetime invitation. The Wise Men intentionally sought a God they didn’t know based on what they did know. Both paid attention; both went looking for God; both found him; both worshiped him; both returned to where they came from, forever changed by the result of their obedience to the call of God.

Sometimes the glory of God is right where you live, but you have to be willing to be interrupted to see it. Sometimes seeing God’s glory comes as a result of a long journey of looking for answers and seeking explanation and meaning. Sometimes God interrupts your life and forces you to choose between what you know and what you’ve planned and what he says. All the time, when you seek him, you will find him. Your seeking might just be over the next hill back to the town you know, or it might be a long journey to a place you’ve never been. The angels might make themselves known to you, or they might just invisibly guard and guide you into the presence of God.

Where are you this Christmas? Are you mired in the mundane? Do you need just a glimpse of glory to help you choose obedience? Or are you in an unfamiliar place desperately seeking answers to things you don’t understand?
Both groups traveled from where they were to where he was, in full expectation of finding him. What do you expect from God? What will you give him? A heart full of hope and expectation that he can use to spread the news of his birth and love to others who don’t know him? Or will you bring him the talents and blessings he’s given you so that you will be a blessing to others?

He is Immanuel, God with us. He may choose to interrupt you this week with glory, or he may choose to gradually, tenderly draw you from where you are to where he is. Either way, don’t miss it. The king of Heaven came to Earth to find you. Get rid of the clutter of distractions and the need to control and let him interrupt your life. Don’t miss the awe of finding the Messiah. And when you do, tell what you know about him to the people who aren’t looking for him, who don’t know where to find him, who refuse to be moved by the power and promise of Christmas. You become the angel or the star that calls them from where they are to where he is so that they can see God’s glory come to Earth, too.