Friday, May 4, 2007

People of Faith, Success on the Job?

Can a person of faith succeed on the job? The question is addressed anecdotally in the Book of Daniel.

Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were among a group of people who were exiles. They were carted off to live in Babylon, even though Judah was their home.

While in Babylon, they were "selected" for the fast track for young professionals. They showed "aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace." (1:4)

Who wouldn't want employees like that to oversee the business?

Daniel, in particular, was promoted early and often. He was brought into the king to help with a difficult situation in chapter 2. Later, he came to the attention of the queen (and subsequently, the king) in chapter 5. And when there was a hostile takeover, he was promoted to become 1 of only 3 administrators with the new leadership in chapter 6.

Daniel became the object of corporate jealousy in chapter 6 (where "Daniel and the Lions' Den" takes place). His rivals wanted to get Daniel into trouble, set him up, maybe even frame him for some wrongdoing. But they could find "no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent." (6:4)

If YOU were the king, the leader, the owner of a company...wouldn't YOU want to have people like Daniel working for YOU?

Apparently God agrees, because Daniel is EXACTLY the type of person God blesses.
Today as you and I fulfill our responsibilities, to the job, the church, the family, the community, or the school, may WE display the level of skill, competence, and dependability that Daniel did.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The center of pr-I-de

C.S. Lewis refers to IT as the big sin; the one out of which every other sin flows.

IT is easy to overlook in ourselves.

IT is impossible NOT to see in others.

IT may reside in an extrovert or a introvert.

IT may attack the leader or IT may become attached to followers.

Sinners and saints are equally susceptible to IT.

IT is as home in the church as it is in the world.

IT caused a king to lose his mind and his kingdom.

When IT was squashed, his kingdom, his mind, and his position were restored.

IT is pride.

Daniel had been instructed by God to warn King Nebuchadnezzar (pronounced something like "neb YOO kuh NEZ zer") that IT would cause his loss of power and sanity.

Twelve months after the warning, the King was walking around admiring all he had done and all he had built. "That very hour...he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen..." (Read chapter 4 verses 19-36 to get the whole story.)

For seven "times" or years he lived that way until he knew "that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men" not King Neb.

Once his sanity returned and, apparently, accompanied by humility, the King who was once warned, now warns us. "I praise and extol and honor the King of heaven...(who is able to put down) those who walk in pride." (Daniel 4:36)

What causes you to house an unhealthy pride? Your accomplishments? Talents? Looks? Money? Job? What people say about you?

Or how 'bout the way you don't have those things like other people? The fact that you don't have to worry about having too much praise, honor, or attention? We can take pride in that too.

What about taking pride in your spirituality? Your religion?

Be careful. God is able to put down those who walk in pride. ANY pride. Pride over ANYTHING other than Him.

Instead, let us walk as Daniel walked: ready to help wherever God puts us, but always remembering the ability, the gifts, and the praise that follows belong to Him.

Grace & peace

Monday, April 30, 2007

Living (Mondays) as an Exile

Low energy.

Looking at the week ahead with a mixture of dread, angst, or apathy.

Looking back at the weekend that was, wondering how two & a half days could have slipped by so quickly.

It must be a Monday.

Mondays often leave us feeling like we're fish out of water.

And for people of faith, maybe it's even worse. If we spent the weekend with our church family, we sang the songs, we read the scripture, we prayed the prayers, we shook hands and exchanged smiles and hugs with people who CHOSE to be with us.

Now Monday makes us feel like exiles. The next five days and forty plus hours of having someone tell us where to go and what to do and how long to do it.

Where do we go from here?

Ever notice how many of the prophets in the Bible are living in exile? Ever pay attention to the number of them that are speaking, their whole prophetic career to people living in a foreign land or strange culture? Dragged off to a place they don't want to be. Living in a situation they would have never chosen. And in the midst of that exile, God speaks and acts.

In the exilic tradition, Daniel's opening verses tell us he and his circle of friends are living in just such a situation. Their country was overrun by a foreign king (Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon). King Neb came in and hauled off slaves from Daniel's country.

In the new country, they were going to confront a dominant culture that was very different than theirs. The religion was different. The government was different. The priorities were different. The language was different. EVERYTHING was different...except that God was the same (though they would learn and interact with him in a different set of circumstances).

I wonder, do books such as Daniel have something to say to us? I think so...ESPECIALLY on a Monday.

Grace & peace

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Setting Your Eyes

"Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (20:7)

What have you "set your eyes on" recently?

Have you literally watched images that are "vile"?

The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene tries to help us set a standard that is holy and worthy of the LORD our God.

It calls us to avoid "all types of entertainment...that produce, promote, or feature the violent, the sensual, the pornographic, the profane, or the occultic, or which feature or glamorize the world's philosophy of secularism, sensualism, and materialism, and undermine God's standard of holiness of heart and life."

What have you literally set your eyes on today?

If you're having a hard time with this today, why not grab a trusted brother or sister in Christ and ask them to help you stay accountable in this area?

But equally damaging and potentially damning is the next question:
What have you figuratively set your eyes on today?

These enemies can be even harder to detect. Ask yourself:
Have I set my sights on goals that are selfish (making a lot of money or making that purchase I've been wanting)?

Have I set my sights on revenge or paying someone back (because of what they said about me or did to me)?

Have I set my sights on getting noticed or being complimented (a promotion or getting a kind word)?

We all face these temptations. Maybe we're even tempted to justify them. Till we put them to the Christlike test: Do these sound like the types of things Jesus would have been concerned about?

Ezekiel warns us not to set our eyes upon things about which the world fixates.
Take a moment and ask God to check your eyesight today. Ask Him to help you fix your sights on things that are "true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy" (see Philippians 4:8).

Grace & peace

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Divided Heart

Do you remember being in elementary school math class, trying to grasp the concept of division? Addition was easy. Subtraction a little harder. Multiplication more advanced still. But division...ugh. For many of us it was the first moment we realized math wasn't "our thing".

Division can be a tricky thing to get a handle on. But as bad as it can be in math, it can be even worse in life. Consider these situations:

- A marriage divided. The husband sees it one way. The wife sees it another. And nothing is able to bring them into agreement.

- A nation divided. That's not at all difficult to imagine right now, is it? Issues such as campaign finance, health care, or more locally, road repairs, seem to remind us just how divided a government can be.

Even more costly is a person divided. If it is severe, we talk about split personalities or being bi-polar.

Spiritual division within the soul is a problem too.

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 11:19)

God doesn't want us to have a war raging within us. He wants us to clearly see where He is leading and then go wholeheartedly in that direction. Think about it:
- Instead of being divided between the right and the wrong, God wants to put a spirit into us that consistently chooses the best.

- Instead of being constantly conflicted about priorities, habits, or attitudes that destroy us, God wants to give us a spirit that overcomes.

- Instead of being blown back and forth between choice A and choice B, one day feeling this way, another day feeling that way, He wants to empower us by His Spirit to set our jaw with a determination so we freely go the way of life.

Do you remember what problems some of the disciples were having before the Spirit came upon them at Pentecost? Peter would deny Jesus...three times in a matter of hours.

But when the wind of the Spirit blew upon Peter, his old heart of fear was gone. The heart that was quick to abandon the Lord was replaced by a boldness and a certainty that couldn't be shaken.

Do you need such a Spirit today? Tell God you need help with division in your life. Ask for an UNdivided heart; a heart that seeks Him first. "And all these things will be added."

That's the promise of Ezekiel. That's the promise of Pentecost. That's His promise for you right now, if you'll wait upon Him.

Grace & peace

Monday, April 23, 2007

Why Don't Christians Grieve?

Have you come in contact with evil this week?

Have you run into people or situations that are sinful, unjust, or simply plain out and out wrong?

What was your response? Anger? Maybe.

Sadness? Probably not.

Here's another question:
What did the people of faith do or think or say in response to the situation you thought about earlier?

There was a Supreme Court Ruling this week. It had to do with the prohibition of a particular type of abortion. Bring up the topic in different settings, with different groups and you're likely to get very different reactions.

If you asked people what the most common emotion involved in such a "discussion"
would be, I'm guessing a large number would say "Anger".

We get charged up over such an issue and contention seems to be the immediate response.

There is certainly a place for righteous indignation when innocent people are wronged, hurt, or dehumanized.

But another significant event occurred this week as well. As you all probably are well aware, the Virginia Tech slaughter of more than 30 people has been plastered on every media outlet from television, to internet, to newspaper. And while much of this talk also eventually moved to the gun control debate (which also elicits significant emotion in the anger category), it is our collective, universal, initial response that I want to point out: grief.

Initially, our first responses were shock and overwhelming sadness. Before we had the luxury to move to anger, we saw the bodies of innocent people and stories of people who literally watched others die.

In such a situation, to have any emotion other than overwhelming grief would seem unhealthy, inhumane and inappropriate. Who's heart didn't break at the mass killling? We would all agree that would be a natural response.

So here's my question: Why is grief not ALWAYS a part of what the Church feels when sin is ravaging a life, a home, a community, or a society?

Amos was announcing God's judgment on His people when he proclaimed:
" did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph." (6:6)

Looking over the city where he would be falsely accused, laughingly tried, and unbelievably convicted, Jesus cried, " often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing." (Matthew 23:37)

I wonder: if injustice, sin, and the wounding of innocent people (even when self-inflicted), breaks the heart of God and causes Him to grieve, what should it do to me?

Next time you get angry over such an issue, ask yourself: have I been properly moved to grief? If not, maybe we need to look inside before we speak about what's happening outside.

Grace & peace

Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Said It!

"Better to have people think you're a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." Mark Twain's words were well-chosen and well-spoken.

Words can get us into serious jams. I have a lot of stories like this, and I bet you do too.

It was probably along those same lines the writer of Proverbs was thinking when he wrote, "...the mouth of a fool invites ruin." (10:14b)

It happens almost anywhere I happen to be. Someone will be using their everyday vocabulary, a word or idea will slip out that they probably would choose NOT to use if they could have it back. Then they catch themselves. They look at me, "the minister", and say something like "Oh...sorry" or "Uh...excuse me".

The ones that make me laugh the most were folks who didn't think anything about it till someone says, "The MINISTER's here" or "This is my PASTOR!"

They get red-faced and guilt kicks in.

Are they feeling unnecessary guilt? Are they looking to the Church to police their language?

I don't think so. I think they're in touch with something much deeper and more significant.

"Do not let any evil talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit others to listen." (Ephesians 4:29)

This is a lesson most of probably heard (learned?) when we were little children.

"Think BEFORE you speak!"

"If you can't say anything nice..."

You can ask any kindergartner about it and they know the words you're not supposed to use.

But "evil talk" can take all kinds of forms.

GOSSIP is brutal. Talking behind someone's back can devastate them. I've known situations where church preachers and teachers would bring out someone else's dirty laundry in the name of "praying for them" or "teaching a lesson to others". But using names and desiring to tell to the world someone else's failings and faults is more "evil talk" than "holy help".

What about name calling? Or being told we're "stupid"? You and I can probably pull up the memories from years ago where someone demeaned us, dehumanized us, or made us feel very small by what they said to us or called us.

That's the type of talk that doesn't have any place in a home, a school hallway or classroom, a church, a city hall, an office, the high school locker room, or ANY PLACE ELSE.

"Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips." (Proverbs 14:7)

But the Bible sets a higher bar than "not saying bad stuff".

We're called to use words that will build each other UP. That may be by expressing encouragement. It may be by offering forgiveness.

The writer of Proverbs tells us that the right words bring "healing" and are "sweeter than honey". "The lips of the righteous nourish many." (Proverbs 10:21)

May your words and your life be used to build people up, bring healing to our world, and a little sweetness into the lives of others today.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Being the Body of Christ

Yesterday our church shared the Lord's Supper as we recommitted to being the Body of Christ in our world.

Hebrews 2:14-15 tells us how his body was and is redeeming the world:

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death."

While I like being a part of destroying the works of the devil, I'm NOT so excited about how we must do it: by our death.

Christ, by giving his body over to death, was able to redeem the world and destroy the works of the devil. Then we, who are part of Christ's body, must be willing to do the same.

Today, you and I are in the garden with him, praying that the Father would "take this cup" of sacrifice and death "from me".

Maybe today you are having to serve someone you would really rather step on or by whom you should be served.

Maybe today you are having to initiate relationship and communication with someone who has continually wounded and demeaned you.

Maybe today you are having to forgive someone who doesn't care about your forgiveness.

Maybe today you are wrestling with being obedient in these ways or some other way.

But you and I are in the garden with Jesus, who asked the Father to "take this cup from me." And you and I hear him say, "Nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will be done."

And you and I come to that same crucial moment.

Healing will only come as we initiate it.

Forgiveness can only occur as we obey.

The Spirit might not bring conviction and real change in the other person until we do what we know we need to do.

Salvation of all creation can't begin until he denies himself, takes up his cross, and dies for you and me.

So as we reach those crucial moments today or throughout the week let us stand with Christ and so by our deaths "destroy him who holds the power of death...and free those who all their lives were held in slavery..."

Grace & peace

Monday, March 12, 2007

Known For Our Parking Lot

It's Monday morning and I wonder if you're in need of a pick-me up. Here are a couple.

1. God's word to us is one of power, power for change. "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes..." (Romans 1:16a)

The Good News or "gospel" is an agent of change for salvation. It is sent for the salvation of people who have to go through Monday mornings. It is sent for the salvation of marriages that had a bad weekend. It is sent for the salvation of families that are going through particularly horrific times.

The Good News of God is that you and your life are on His screen for salvation. Take a moment and thank God that He's in the process of bringing salvation into every aspect of your life.

2. God's kindness leads to repentance. "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repenatnce?" (Romans 2:4)

Sometimes we think of God's default mode as one of judgment and wrath. That doesn't seem to be the case. He longs for all to come to repentance.

However, we musn't mistake His patience for neglect or approval of a life lived self-centeredly. He is patient, with the hope that we will come to repentance (which simply means, "turning around").

Any area in your life right now where you need to turn around?

At this moment I'm sitting at the computer in the front classroom of the church. If I sit here long enough, I'll see a vehicle or two drive into our parking lot simply to turn around and go the opposite direction onto Jackson Rd. It happens several times every day. We're close to an exit/entrance for I-94. Probably many of them were speeding down the road one way, missed an exit, and caught the first chance they had to do a u-turn.

Not a bad image of what the church is all about, right?

Maybe you're going at break-neck speed one way, (in a relationship, a habit, an attitude, priorities, whatever), and you realize you've "mised it". Good news! You can turn around!

The Gospel of God is the power for salvation and is brought to full effect as God patiently leads us to repentance. May God lead you to powerful U-turns in your life today!

Grace & peace

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Word to Worry Warts

What makes you nervous?

Costs of college?

Taxes due April 15?

Decisions a child or family member is making?

Whether or not your car will start?

What the results of that recent stress test or MRI will show?

How you're going to pass that next exam?

Fussing and fighting between people you care about?

Maybe you need the opportunity to get rid of that anxiety.

"How can I do that?" you ask.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." (1 Pe. 5:7)

May that be the first thing you and I do when we get nervous or stressed about ANY issue. "Let Go and let God" goes the old saying. Good advice.

"Easier said than done!" you say?

Try it.

"God, I've been worrying and stressing out about _________.

I'm sorry. I know worrying means I'm not trusting you. But that all changes right here, right now. You're SO MUCH BIGGER THAN ALL THIS. I'm trust you completely to handle it."

Then imagine that giant load rolling off your back onto the floor at the feet of the King of the Universe. Either YOU can worry about it or YOU can give it to Him. But you can't do BOTH. What will you choose?

Grace & peace

Friday, March 9, 2007

God: Loving or Judge?

Sometimes God gets a bad rap.

In some of the congregations where I grew up, there was a tendency to emphasize God's justice to the exclusion of his grace. Most of you know how that went.

God came across as constantly sounding angry. The preacher would spend most of the sermon yelling. There seemed to be a lot of time spent on the stories of God in the Old Testament where people would be struck dead for an act of disobedience.

Nowadays, we have probably gone to the other extreme. "God is love" and that is the only side of God we hear from many pulpits, books, websites, and tv churches.

If we're honest, God is holy and therefore can't tolerate sin, AND God is love. Both of those things are in there. It is a balancing act to present the truth of who God is honestly and as completely as we can.

2 Peter 2 is an attempt on the part of the church to do just that: balance these two very important parts of God's character.

We start with justice and punishment. "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment, if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people...if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes...then the Lord knows how to...hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment...They will be paid back..." (2 Peter 2:4-13a, NIV)

BUT, in the midst of all that, there is Gospel (or Good News).

"The Lord knows how to RESCUE GODLY MEN FROM TRIALS..." (emphasis mine). And in the time of the flood God, "protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others" (v5). He also "rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men).

God IS going to judge. There is no getting around that. But He is also patient, not wanting any to perish but ALL TO COME TO REPENTANCE. (1 Peter).

So God is both the God who demands his people be holy, and live holy lives, as well as the God who sends his one and only Son, seeking to save all that are lost.

May we learn to live between the tension of these two great truths today!

Grace & peace

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Words for Sufferers

Are you in hurting today? Do you have a friend or a family member who is sick, in prison, feeling alone, going through divorce, experiencing job loss, or some other form of pain?

If so, maybe words from 1 Peter 4 can provide some comfort and solace. Peter is specifically talking to those who are suffering BECAUSE they are Christ-followers. But I think the words are instructive for all of us.

"Don't be surprised" or "Don't let it seem strange to you" that you're going through this struggle or trial (4:12).

"Rejoice" because as you suffer for God, you "participate in the sufferings of Christ". Even if you don't suffer BECAUSE of your faith, you can give the suffering to God and let Him use it for His glory. Give you pain and your hurt to him as an offering, a sacrifice.

"It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God." Am I saying what you're going through is judgment? Not necessarily. Sometimes our hurts and pains are self-inflicted. And the pain may actually be grace at work in our life, giving us a chance to change actions and patterns that were destructive. Or the pain may be a chance to draw closer to God in midst of undeserved consequences. Either way, DON'T WASTE THE PAIN. Let it work for you. Let God have it and bring some type of healing and redemption out of it.

"Commit" yourself to your "faithful Creator". Give God your circumstance, your questioning, anger, fear, and your pain. Trust that somehow He is at work in this dark place you find yourself.

"Continue to do good". Don't you think the devil would like to use this trouble and circumstance to turn us away from the good God has been using us to do? But don't let him do it. Don't give him the victory. Refuse to stop doing good. Instead, press on as you faithfully trust in the God who loves you. And continue to meet with others who'll share their victories in the midst of their trials.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction: Who's Really Blind?

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of people who have a hard time seeing.

There's the "Blind Man at Bethsaida". Jesus puts spit on the man's eyes and asks him if he sees anything. The man is seeing some, but not seeing well.

Once again, Jesus puts his hands on the man's eyes and sight is restored.

(This is about the only time Jesus does a two-part healing. Was it because he couldn't do it all at once? Probably not since he raised dead people to life.)

A couple of chapters later we come across "Blind Bartimaeus" sitting by the side of the road. He gets word that Jesus is walking by and he begins to shout for Jesus to have mercy on him. Jesus does have mercy, and heals him by simply saying, "Your faith has healed you."

But before, after, and in between these episodes, we see people who don't find sight so quickly or easily.

The disciples, followers of Jesus, can't seem to SEE what it is Jesus is all about:
- They tell children to stay away from Jesus
- They fight amongst themselves about which of the 12 is the "greatest"
- They are unable to cast out demons
- They fight with other people who ARE able to cast out demons because they weren't part of the 12!

Jesus has some of his harshest words for his followers:
- He calls them an "unbelieving generation"
- He rebukes Peter, the vocal leader of the 12 by saying, "get behind me, Satan!"
- He asks them "Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?"

Our family recently watched "Stranger Than Fiction" with Will Ferrell. (Spoiler Alert)

He hears a voice narrating his life. He finds out that it is an author who has been writing his life's story. He realizes she plans to kill him. He willingly lays down his life after he finds out how he will die.

The disciples didn't seem to understand why Jesus had come here and what he had come to do. Peter is rebuked because of this misunderstanding. Jesus, much like Will Ferrell's character, was willing to give up his life.

Some days I'm inspired by that story and ready to "deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus". Other days I think I'm as blind as the poor disciples.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Salted With Fire?

Ever wonder what types of confusion can be created because the Bible was written in one language (actually, several), written down in others, and translated and now read into many more?

Here's an interesting example (the following is from Aramaic Thoughts with Benjamin Shaw and the web address is below):

The Gospel of Mark has a curious saying of Jesus that is not found in the other gospels. In 9:38-50, John tells Jesus of his attempt to silence an exorcist who was using Jesus' name. John's rationale was that this man was not traveling with them. John's comment provoked a short address from Jesus about discipleship. It ends with the statement, "[49] For everyone will be salted with fire. [50] Salt is good, but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

This statement has usually provoked extended discussion from the commentators. There are two elements to the discussion. The first has to do with the relation of verse 50 to verse 49. Some have been of the opinion that the two verses have been conjoined in a "sayings of Jesus" list on the basis of the "catchword" principle. That is, in this view, Mark has adapted this material from a collection of Jesus' sayings. Originally, these sayings (verse 49 and verse 50 are, in this view, considered two separate sayings) were probably not related, but because both contain the word "salt," they were connected on that basis by the collector of the sayings.

While that view is certainly clear enough, it fails to recognize first that Jesus' words as Mark records them follow a logical progression. Jesus begins where John's comment started: with divisions among disciples and calls for judgment. He then moves on to real causes for judgment and the reality of judgment before moving back to the issue of peace among disciples. On a second level, it fails to recognize that the sort of wordplay reflected in this passage is characteristic of Semitic literature, and does show merely a mechanical conjoining of two sayings sharing the same vocabulary.

The second element in the discussion has to with the meaning of verse 49: for everyone will be salted with fire. The combination of salt and fire seems odd, to say the least. William Lane (Mark, New International Commentary, p.349) argues that there is a move from the fire of judgment (vss. 43-47) to the fire of persecution. This is based on the connection of salt with the Old Testament sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13). He comments, "The salt-sacrifice metaphor is appropriate to a situation of suffering and trial … The disciples must be seasoned with salt, like the sacrifice." There is one other interesting possibility. The Hebrew/Aramaic word for salt is malach. It has a homonym which means "to be dispersed, dissipated, torn into fragments" (see Isaiah 51:6, "the sky will vanish [malach] like smoke). It is possible that Jesus was playing on these homonyms in his statement, thus tying the themes of judgment, sacrifice, and discipleship together. This play on words then cannot be retained when placing the saying into Greek. Interestingly, the Greek verb "to salt" (halizo) has a homonym that means "to gather, assemble." Hence, even in the Greek text, there could be a play on words, subtly indicating that all will be gathered for judgment.

Finally, here is some bibliography with regard to camels and needles' eyes for those interested in further study. The best place to start is with Craig S. Keener's commentary on Mark, published by Eerdmans in 1999, pp. 477-78. A second source is Darrell L. Bock's commentary on Luke, published in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series in 1996, vol. 2, pp. 1485-86. Both of these will lead the interested reader into other resources on the issue.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Give Me Watcha Got

- Walking on the water

- Feeding 5,000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish

These are two of Jesus' most famous miracles and they happen, back-to-back, in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6.

Can you imagine being told that you're supposed to whip something up for 5,000 guys and their families who dropped in? How long would it take? How much would that cost?

Jesus' followers had done the math. They figured it would cost 8 months wages!

The crowd was large. The time was getting late. The location was far from any food source. People were getting hungry. The disciples were getting nervous.

So Jesus asks a seemingly unimportant question: "How much food do you have?"

You could page Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, Emeril, Alton Brown, and all of the other Food Network Stars, AND IT WOULDN'T BE ENOUGH!

5 loaves & 2 fish came the report.

You could visit Gordon's Food Service or Sam's Club Warehouse and you STILL might not have enough to feed all these people.

"Bring it to me" was Jesus' reply.

I wonder if anyone was tempted to argue. I wonder if people thought Jesus was simply gathering enough food for himself. I wonder if they thought, "THIS is a waste of my time." Or "Somebody should have planned ahead."

Whatever they thought, they brought the food to Jesus. He blessed it and started passing the food out. The next thing you know, everyone has more than enough to eat. There are actually 12 baskets of leftovers.

Immediately, Jesus shuffles his followers into a boat and they sail off without him. But late in the night, while on the sea, they see someone walking toward them.

They do what you or I would do if we saw someone walking toward our boat WHILE IT IS SAILING: they freak out!

"Don't be afraid" Jesus tells them. "It is I." Or as some have translated it, "I AM." Which might not seem like a lot to you or me. But if you read the Exodus account where God introduces Himself to Moses, He uses those exact same words. "I AM".

I wonder. What do you think Jesus was saying? Do you think he was telling the 12 scaredy cats on the boat that God was with them, in their midst, in the person of Jesus? Do you think he was saying that the same God who was with Moses was the same one who fed 5,000 people just a few hours ago? Do you think he was telling them that just as Jesus is Boss of the sea, he's boss of any other problem they'll come up against? Do you think he was saying, "I know you don't have enough. But I'm calling you to give me the little you DO have and let me make up the difference?"

What might Jesus be saying to you in these two stories?

Friday, February 23, 2007


I'm sitting in my favorite reading chair. The sun is pouring in through our huge window at about 8AM. No one else is around. I'm listening to the song "100 Years" by Five for Fighting, thinking about how quickly life goes by, and the amount of time I still might have to live. At this moment, I'm locked in on how great life is, really aware of what a gift this second of clarity might truly be.

While I'm listening to the music and the words, I'm reading about a guy who squandered a lot of his years.

He had it all. He was the king of the nation. He had a great home. He had a house full of kids. He had the respect of everyone in his kingdom and the fear of those outside his kingdom. What a great start to a great life.

But it wasn't enough.

One day as he looked over the fence, he saw a beautiful woman. It was his neighbor's wife. He wanted her too. So he did what he had always done. He took.

You can read the full story in 2 Samuel 11 and the consequences for King David's actions in the chapters that follow.

He started strong. He had been given all he needed to finish strong. But he didn't. He crashed and burned.

And because he crashed and burned, so did his family. And because his family crashed and burned, so did his kingdom.

The books of 1st and 2nd Samuel are full of strong starters who crashed and burned along the way.

Saul had been made king out of obscurity, much like David. And much like David, somewhere along the way, he didn't do what he knew he was told to do. And he paid for it. And so did his family. And so did his kingdom.

Eli & Samuel were given the great privilege of discerning God's will for the leaders, kings, and the nation of Israel. They were given the gift of being in on the secret things of God.

But they were failures in the home. And their families paid for it. And so did everyone else who lived around them.

How 'bout you? If you've only got "100 years to live", what have you got to show for it? And what are you going to do with the time that's left? 15, 22, 33...they've all passed so quickly. 45 is on the horizon for me. 67, Lord willing, will jump up faster than anyone could have expected.

So why not make a decision, right now, that you're going to make sure the finish is strong. That the end of your life will be devoted to what matters, to what will last, to the things that will make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My Favorite Story Ever?

I LOVE stories. I collect them. I retell them.

Stories help me to make sense of the world in which we live.

So deciding which 1 is my favorite would be difficult, if not impossible.

But if you held a gun to my head and made me choose, this one just might be it.

Imagine a young boy spending the night at his grandparents' house. After he has gone to bed, the boy, Samuel, hears someone calling his name. He goes into the living room where grandpa is reading by the fire.

"What is it, grandpa?"

"I didn't say anything."

"Oh. OK" Samuel replies and heads back to bed.

A few minutes later it happens again.


He gets up a 2nd time, heads into to see what Grandfather wants. But again, Grandfather tells him he didn't call for Samuel.

When this happens a 3rd time, Grandfather finally clues in.

"Next time you hear the voice say this: 'Speak God, for your servant is listening.'"

That's about what happens in the Book of Samuel in the 3rd chapter. In that one conversation, Samuel learns to discern for himself when God is speaking.

I wonder, has anyone ever taught you how to listen for the Voice? I've never heard it audibly. But I've had impressions, thoughts, ideas, and feelings that came from outside of me. They were a sense that Something was happening beyond me.

This one story sums up, to a large degree, why I feel like I was put on the face of the earth for however long I'm here. And it describes why I do what I do. (I collect my check to pastor a church. But my passion is helping people learn to discern God's movement in and around them.)

I'd consider it a privilege to help you do the same.

Grace & peace

Friday, February 9, 2007

What Are These Stones Doing Here!?

You arrive in New York Harbor by boat. You see a towering statue. Without any more description than that, you probably conjure up the image of the Statue of Liberty.

You probably even know the story:
- It was given to us as a gift from France
- It was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on 10/28/1886
- It was later inscribed with words from the poem "The New Colossus"
("Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore...")

I would argue...

1. It is within the line of sight of people
(Even those of us who live far away from NYC see it on tv or in many other forms of media often)

2. Someone knows the story
We know it has a torch, and we know that it stands as a symbol to freedom, choice, and liberty, at home and abroad.

3. The people who KNOW the story have communicated it to others
We've heard the poem and it stirs within us a great, generous spirit, to share the dream of freedom and liberty.

All this reminds me of another memorial that was built and a question someone asked.

"What are these stones doing here?" (Joshua 22:9-34)

2 and 1/2 tribes were heading back across the Jordan River. They were going home to the land Moses had given them. They had been required to cross the Jordan the first time in order to help the other 9 1/2 tribes conquer the Promised Land. Now that the mission had been accomplished and the war was over, they were allowed to go back to their families and their land.

But before they made the trip, there was one thing left to do. They built an altar.

Initially the other 9 1/2 tribes were perplexed and angry. They saw the construction of this altar as heresy because the minority had not been instructed to build the altar as a place of worship. The majority was getting ready to go to war to wipe out the unruly minority. Until...

...they heard an explanation. This grouping of stones was NOT a place to offer sacrifices or a rebellious act of worship. It was to be a VISIBLE REMINDER.

It would remind future generations on BOTH sides of the Jordan River that they had kinsmen on the other side. It would remind future generations that BOTH groups had a place in the worship of Yahweh. It would remind BOTH groups that they were part of a history larger than themselves.

After hearing this explanation, the leaders of the whole nation "were glad to hear the report and praised God." A collective sigh of relief was breathed, backs were slapped, brows were wiped, and the Visible Reminder was set in place.

Fast forward to today.

You and I may never visit that part of the world.

And if we did, would THAT altar still be there today? And if it were, would every generation have been faithful to communicate to the next generation WHY it was there, and what purpose it served? (It only takes 1 generation that doesn't know the purpose of the altar to decide, "This pile of rocks isn't serving any purpose. Let's tear it down and scatter them around."

The Bible offers us a memorial, a reminder of God's activity in the world with people. But for it to be effective:

1. It must within the line of sight of people
(How are you doing at keeping the history of God's activity in front of your eyes, within earshot of your ears, alive within your heart and mind?)

2. Someone must know the story
(Are you placing yourself under the teaching of people you trust, who know the story and are willing to tell it to you?)

3. The people who KNOW the story must communicate it to others
(To whom are you telling the story? Will the people who come after you know why this Book is here and what it means? Tell them. As the old saint said, "Use words if necessary.")

Grace & peace

Thursday, February 8, 2007

An 85-Year-Old Man's Dream

Imagine an 85-year-old man who has outlived nearly all of his peers. You would think that such a person might feel like if he has any unfulfilled dreams, it is time to let them go.

But if you think that, you don't know Caleb very well.

Four decades ago, Caleb and 11 other men had been sent out by Moses to scout out the Promised Land.

Ten of the other eleven had decided that while the land was spectacular, the risks and obstacles were too great. So they voted to set their sites on something else. But not Caleb.

For 40 years, Caleb dreamed of the day he and his family would inherit the land God had promised them.

40 years. 40 years ago this e-mail and the internet were barely a dream.

40 years ago Ronald Reagan would have had a better chance being recognized as an actor than as a two-term president.

40 years ago I wasn't even born yet. (This is the LAST year I can say that!)

And for 40 years, Caleb nurtured a dream and held onto a promise. Now here he is, still expecting that dream to be fulfilled and that promise to be kept.

"You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God. I was forty years old when Moses...sent explore the land...(M)y brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, 'The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.'"

Wholeheartedly he scouted out the land. And wholeheartedly he followed for 40 years.

Are you willing to follow, full-throttle, all-out, wholeheartedly for as long as you need to until you see God's promises fulfilled in your life? Sometimes wholeheartedly seems more like plodding. But no matter. Are you willing to do it, patiently, consistently, for as long as it takes?

Have you had an encounter with God that leaves you that determined? My prayer for you today is that you will have such an encounter if you haven't yet.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

In the Face of Danger or Opposition


That's the record of the Hebrew children in their battles in the first 12 chapters of the Book of Joshua. 31 wins. 1 defeat. (You can read about the defeat in chapter 7.) And even that defeat they avenged in chapter 8.

At the beginning of the campaign, they were given an unofficial slogan. "Be strong and courageous."

Now they hear Joshua saying it again, as he has his boot on the neck of kings who came to attack Israel's friends. (10:25) "Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you're going to fight."

Courage is defined as "That quality of mind or spirit enabling one to meet danger or opposition with fearlessness." (Funk and Wagnall's)

Do you have "danger or opposition" in your life? I bet you do. I think we all do.

For some of us it shows up as the inability to control a habit. (It may be greed, lust, or anger.)

For some of us it shows up as the an attitude that runs part of our life. (It may be unforgiveness or pride because I don't think I have such opposition in MY life.)

For some it is a wayward child.

For some it is a faltering marriage.

For some it is a failing body and broken spirit.

For some it is a fixation with others who are so rude, loud, or generally thoughtless in the things they say and the things they do.

The temptation for a lot of us is to say, "That's just the way I am" and decide we're going to live with it.

To that I say, "Be strong and courageous."

Ask God to help you conquer this enemy within you.

Here's a prayer that might be helpful. Would you consider whispering it to God, right now, right where you're at?

"I need help. This enemy in me has been getting the best of me. I want so desperately to cut it down, chop it up, and get it out of me. But I can't do it. If I'd been able to, it would have been gone by now. So I'm asking you to help me. I'm not dictating to you HOW or WHEN. I'm simply asking you, begging you to step in and give me strength and courage. Thank you."

I'm interested to know if you prayed that prayer. Let me know if you want to. And I'll be praying with you.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Weak Heart, Worn-out Faith

It's 3 degrees Fahrenheit outside right now. With the wind chill it feels a lot colder than that! Michigan is not a place to be for the faint of heart today.

A weak heart is trouble.

A weak heart means you should be careful shoveling snow. At the beginning of every winter, all of the stations run stories about how dangerous shoveling a lot of wet, heavy snow can be on a heart.

A weak heart can kill you.

A weak heart can make facing battles in life difficult too.

In the Book of Joshua, a witness reports the following:

"When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below."

The "it" she was referring to was the invasion of the Hebrew wanderers. They were about enter the Promised Land. And the people who currently occupied the land were afraid because they had heard the stories of how the rag-tag group of former slaves were unbeatable because their God was powerful.

Has your heart melted and your courage leaked out of you?

Maybe you need to hear the words God spoke to the leader of the Hebrews, before they became so unstoppable:

"Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them." (1:6)

"Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you...that you may be successful wherever you go." (1:7)

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (1:9)

Do you catch a pattern here? "Be strong and courageous". Because God has promised success. "Be strong and courageous" because as you obey God, He will display His power. "Be strong and courageous" because He will be present in your situation.

If you're suffering from a weak heart, feeling overcome by your circumstances, ask God for strength and courage so you can be strong and courageous. Trust His promise. Depend upon His power. Seek His presence.

Grace & peace

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Woman with Depression

If anyone ever had a reason to be suffering from circumstance-induced depression, it was Naomi:

- There was a famine in the home country.

- She and her husband, sons, and their wives had moved to a foreign country where there was food.

- Her husband died, leaving her a widow. She had no means of taking care of herself, let alone anyone else.

- Her two sons died, leaving their wives as childless widows.

- Naomi was telling her daughters-in-law to go back to their families of origin (which would leave her COMPLETELY alone)

- She changed her name from Naomi (meaning "pleasant") to Mara (meaning "bitter").

- Not even God could be counted upon to help her out. "(T)he LORD's hand has gone out against me...The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."

The opening of this story makes you want to close the book, crawl back in bed, throw the covers over your head and ask, "What's the use?!"

But I encourage you NOT to stop there. The story, all of which can be read in about the time it takes you to watch a 1/2 hour television show, takes some pretty incredible turns.

God DOES show up. God IS working on Naomi's behalf, even when she thinks He isn't.

Without giving away the ending, God uses someone who is already in Naomi's life to bring GREAT blessing and prosperity. Naomi is so fixated upon her trouble and calamity, she is completely missing the friends she already has.

And in the not too distant future, God will bring another person, Boaz, across her path, to redeem her story and her fortunes, and her future, and her family.

But enough from me. Read this short little drama for yourself in the book of Ruth.

Grace & peace

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Greatest and Strongest

Ever feel like you're up against a greater number of problems in your life than you can handle?

Ever feel like you're up against enemies that are stronger than you?

Ever feel like no matter what you do, how hard you work to make progress in a situation, the foe you're fighting against is greater and stronger than you?

Twice Moses uses the phrase "greater and stronger than you" to describe Israel's foes.

The first time it is a reminder:

(Deuteronomy 4:37-38) Because (God) loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today."

God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from their Egyptian oppressors, busting them out of the country, as the masters loaded them down with gold and valuables, ASKING them to leave! And God had brought the wanderers great victories over other groups that were greater and stronger than the Hebrews.

The second time the phrase is used, it is as a promise:

(Deuteronomy 9:1) Hear, O Israel. You are about to cross the Jordan to go in and dispossess nations greater and stronger than you, with large cities that have walls up to the sky...But be assured that the LORD your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire.

The previous generation had been too fearful of the greater and stronger nations, so they failed to conquer the Promised Land. But now God is promising that HE will be the One who takes care of the greater and stronger nations on behalf of his people.

Do you need the promise of the Greatest and Strongest today in your fight against enemies greater and stronger than you? If so, stop right now and ask for The Greatest and Strongest God to help you fall in on His side and watch as enemies greater and stronger than you begin to fall.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Don't Come to MY Church Sunday!?

"No Trespassing"

"There is NO Re-entry"

"No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service"

Have you ever seen one of these signs? Have you ever been the victim of one of them?

I'll never forget waiting in a long line to enter an establishment for lunch, only to be told I was not properly attired. (I had on a tie and a cardigan sweater. But a JACKET was required.) I was fuming mad, never wanting to return.

Sounds a little like what's going on in Deuteronomy 23 that reads:

"No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the LORD."


"No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation."

Can you imagine us posting such a sign on the door of our church? If your mother and father weren't married when you were born you can't come in. And if you have physical defects, don't bother showing up because you wouldn't be welcome. Can you imagine the groups that would be picketing outside of our building. You and I might even join them!

So what's the deal with such prohibitions? Don't we want EVERYONE to worship the One, True God?!

A hint to this passage may be supplied in verse 14:

"For the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you."

Throughout the first chapters of Deuteronomy, God has taken extreme pains to show the people He is unlike anything or anyone else they have ever known. God has chosen them to be his very own people, his children.

And in response to the choosing, God wants, expects, and even demands the very best we have in return.

I'm so thankful that the prophets in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the New, show us that God has thrown open the doors and delivered the invitation to people of every race and every physical category.

But in our excitement to hear the invitation to everyone, let us not forget that God is holy and calls us to be the same. God has given us the very best and it is the very least we can do to offer our best in return.

Will you give God your best today? Take a moment and ask how you can give God your best at home, at school, at work, and in the world today. Wait silently for a moment, and see if you don't have a response throughout the day or evening about what God would like you to give to Him.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

God's Top Three Financial List

If you were God, (always a dangerous and somewhat ridiculous way to begin ANY discussion), and were designing a culture where you were going to go out of your way to bring great financial and material comforts to your people, what would you want the people of that culture to be wary of?

The 15th chapter of Deuteronomy deals with EXACTLY this type of situation. Moses is reminding the people of God's instructions for being a holy, completely different type of society.

Here are is a TOP THREE LIST of God's financial instructions:

1. THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU (15:4) (The passage goes on to tie this statement to obeying God's commands. And while I can't control others' obedience or disobedience, I can ask myself this question, "How am I doing at wiping out poverty in and around my area?")

2. DO NOT BE HARDHEARTED OR TIGHTFISTED TOWARD YOUR POOR BROTHER (15:7) Sometimes HARDHEARTED or TIGHTFISTED shows up as apathy ("I don't care"). Sometimes it shows up as ignorance ("I don't know what to do") or laziness (and I'm not going to try and find out how I can help.)

3. GIVE AS THE LORD YOUR GOD HAS BLESSED YOU (15:14) If you enjoy the comforts of your own home, your own vehicle, your choice of food on your table, then you have been blessed. Period. God has blessed you, at least in part, so that you might pass some of that abundance on to those in need.

So now maybe you're asking, "Where do I start?" or "How do I begin?" Here are some practical steps.

- Sponsor a child through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries or Compassion International (Build it into your budget monthly. This will be a constant reminder that there are people in the world who are in need.)

- Regularly support your local food pantry with food, clothing, or money (Faith in Action in Chelsea and Eastside Mission in Flint are 2 great organizations, worthy of your hard-earned dollars)

- Consider "random act of compassion" like dropping off a bag of groceries or mailing a gas card to a single mom or a senior citizen on a fixed income

And may God bless your softhearted, openhanded generosity!

Grace & peace

Monday, January 29, 2007

Indiana Jones & Talking to God

"Today we have seen that a man can live even if God speaks with him." (Deuteronomy 5:24b)

In our world, the idea of the holy, the sacred, the so-very-special-that-you-have-to-be-careful-talking-about-it-or-holding it seems foreign.

We talk about EVERYTHING.

To some extent, that openness can be positive. (Someone said that sunlight is the best cleanser, especially when it comes to things like government [or church?]). And so democracy and capitalism have combined to create a culture where everything is open, and, ideally, nothing is hidden. Our entertainment and our information thrive on this concept.

But this openness often leads to casualness with things we ought to take more seriously.

Have you ever seen the Indiana Jones Trilogy? In various scenes of various movies, Indiana is searching for and dealing with things that are more powerful than anyone realizes. In the first movie, it's the Ark of the Covenant. In the third it's the Holy Grail.

We see the power of belief and the understanding of the sacredness of the objects expressed in these 2 stories.

While searching for the Grail, Indiana comes in contact with people who have vowed to protect it, and keep it from falling into the hands of mere profit seekers.

Throughout the journey, Indiana is reminded by his father what a special truth is symbolized by the Grail, (it is believed to be the cup Christ drank from), and that it is not something to be handled carelessly.

In the first movie, some who approached the Ark of the Covenant cavalierly, soon regret it. They open the top, an indescribable light and power explodes out of the box, and all who are looking at it are incinerated. We learn that such sacred things are too powerful or holy for us to toy with.

This is a LITTLE like the way the Hebrews in the Old Testament must have approached God, the Tabernacle, and the sacred objects which were a part of their worship.

They knew that there were particular places they were not to go. They knew there were particular things they were not to do. And they knew that crossing those lines entailed a significant, even fatal, cost.

In the midst of that environment, (Deuteronomy 5:7-21 is the 10 Commandments; the "Thou shall not's"), the people are reminded that there is a balance to be struck.

Yes, God is holy. Yes, His word is to be taken seriously. No, one does not handle the holy things without great care. However...

In seeing Moses speak face to face with God, and in hearing Moses bring God's word back to them, they had learned "that a man can live even if God speaks with him."

May God help us to find that sense of balance between the holy, all-powerful God, and the relationship He seeks to bring close to us.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Will The Real Donkey Please Stand Up?

If I started to talk to you about a talking donkey, you might think I'm referring to the movie "Shrek". But no. (Nor am I referring to "Shrek 2"!)

I'm referring to a story of a man named Balaam (BAY lum).

He was a prophet. (And a rather curious choice at that. Most of the references to him in the New Testament are unflattering, to say the least.) But for whatever reason, God sends His word through Balaam with some regularity, for a time.

In this story, Balaam is being summoned to go and speak to a king. The king is an enemy of the people of Israel. And the king wants Balaam to prophesy a curse upon the Hebrews.

Balaam goes, (even though God initially says NOT TO go). However, Balaam's having transportation trouble. Not with his car or his bike. But with his donkey. His donkey doesn't want to run (or walk).

Apparently, the donkey sees something in the way. (Spoiler Alert: it's the Angel of the LORD in the middle of the road, standing there with a drawn sword.) Good 'ol Balaam doesn't see it, can't understand why the donkey won't move, and gives the donkey a beating.

This happens 3 times. (Balaam apparently is a slower learner than the donkey. However, as you'll soon see, he's NOT the slowest, most stubborn person in the story.) Finally, God opens the donkey's mouth and she asks Balaam, "What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?...Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?"

Eventually, Balaam sees the situation for what it is, and goes on to the king, with the firm conviction that he can only pronounce blessing upon the king's enemies, which INFURIATES the king.

Several times, the king (who seems even more obtuse and stubborn than Balaam), tries to coerce the prophet to say what would benefit the king (and thereby hurt God's people).

Balaam's response every time is something like this: "Didn't I tell you I must do and say whatever the Lord says?" The prophet can't just make things up or simply say them because the king will pay the prophet to say them.

The king moves the prophet to different locations, hoping the surroundings will change the prophet's word. But no.

The king promises tons of money and riches, hoping this will change the prophet's word. Again, no.

Finally, the prophet has had enough (and apparently, so has God). Because the fourth oracle the prophet gives to the king, not only includes blessing for the enemies. It includes destruction of all of Israel's enemies in this story, and that is what happens shortly. The king just doesn't get it.

It makes me wonder: Who's the donkey in this story?

But that's the easy way out. If I'm to let this story do it's work, I must ask another question: Where, in my life, am I stubborn, rebellious, and just not getting it?

It seems like this would be a great time to pause, and ask God for insight. Then, ask for forgiveness. Finally, this would be a good time to ask for help, strength, and wisdom to learn from my mistakes and not be the donkey in my life's story.

Grace & peace

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

250,000 Snails?

Did you hear the story about the guy who tied a string around his finger to remember something and then couldn't remember why he had that string around his finger?

It reminds us of a fact: we are forgetful. And we need help remembering.

(One of my favorite descriptions of the Bible is that it is the collective memory of the Church. To remember, we need to read it.)

God was so concerned about people remembering that He gave us reminders. The Sabbath, 1 day out of every 7, remind us that this is all God's creation, that He owns it, and we are only stewards. In the New Testament, the Christian Church began to celebrate Sabbath on the Lord's Day (or Sunday), to be reminded of Christ's resurrection from the dead.

Numbers 15:37ff tells about another specific reminder: tassels on garments. Specifically, BLUE tassels.

The tassels were dyed with blue dye.

According to one commentator, "the blue dye was extracted from the gland of the Murex trunculus snail and was very costly." He goes on to tell us that "one chemist estimated that a quarter of a million snails would be needed to produce one ounce of pure dye"(IVPBBCOT).

If 250,000 snails were needed to help turn your tassels blue, you'd remember it, right?

And every time you looked at those tassels, you'd think, "SOMEBODY wants me to remember this."

Remember what? "Remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes...(R)emember...I am the LORD your God, who brought you out Egypt."

So my question to you is this: What reminders do you have in place to help you live the life God created you to live? What new "tassels" might you sew into your life today?

Grace & peace

Monday, January 22, 2007

I Wish I Had a Cloud

Have you ever watched the clouds? Maybe it was a bright, sunny day, with lots of blue sky, and you laid down in a field of green grass, with your hands folded behind your neck, gazing at the formations.

Maybe it was traveling down the road in the backseat of a car, watching the shapes move and change as you sped along.

I remember sitting on the porch of a house in Durango, Colorado. There was a hill just beyond the house where we were staying. And our elevation was so high up, that it seemed the clouds just barely snuck over the top of that hill, surprising me with each second, as they continued to roll overhead.

In the book of Numbers, chapter 9, Moses and the Hebrew children were out in the middle of nowhere. God broke the slaves out of Egypt. That was what everyone had wanted.

But now what? Where do we go from here?

And beginning in verse 15, God guides a cloud. When the cloud moved, the people moved. When the cloud stayed, the people stayed. It became their compass and their guide.

Neither Moses nor his people really knew exactly where they were going. But they DID have the cloud. And if they would keep their eyes on it, God would make sure it would take them where they were supposed to go.

"I wish I had a cloud." These were the words of one of my children. They were responding to a conversation we had regarding making decisions, sensing divine leading, and knowing which path to choose.

(Or maybe those were just the thoughts of a teenager who thought the idea of God sending a personal cloud was really cool, really mystical.)

Do you ever wish YOU had a cloud?

Let me ask you: If you KNEW God was going to send a sign, a sense of His leading, clues to the way you should go, what would you do to find it? How hard would you look to piece things together?

Would you pick up your Bible and work through those ancient words, seeing if they really might come alive?

Would you spend a few minutes in quiet meditation, waiting for thoughts to come into your mind, or impressions upon your spirit?

Would you be willing to seek out other like-minded people who are also looking for the mystical clouds in life? Would you be willing to spend time with them, even if they're in a church!?

What if you already have clouds around you, and you just have to open your eyes and expend a little energy for them to be able to do their work?

May God send clouds into your life today. And may you have eyes to see them.

Grace & peace.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lamp Snuffers

It was as if God told Moses to take a big, bright, fluorescent, highlighter, and instructed him to mark it on the priest's Job Description.

The oil that was used, according to several commentators, was the best oil available. It would burn for a L-O-N-G time. And that was important because they provided the ONLY light in the holy place.

"(B)ring...oil...for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning continually."

Three times in a span of 4 verses, (Leviticus 24:1-4) Moses is commanded to have the priests keep the lamps lit and tended to CONTINUALLY.

Seems like one of the more basic jobs of the keeper of the holy things: KEEP THE LIGHTS ON!

Seems like it would go without saying, right? Nobody can come in if the lights are off.

Seems like it would be priority one: Nobody can see anything if the lamps aren't lit.

It is true in a church, both literally, and figuratively. If the Light is not shining, if the grace and goodness of God are not evident in us, if the Power and Person of God aren't present, nothing else matters. If the Holy One isn't at the forefront of all we do, if the Holy One isn't being reflected in our everyday lives, nothing else matters.

The same is true in your life and mine. We let so many other insignificant things crowd out the first thing. If the light goes out, who cares how comfortable I am? If my light goes out, what difference does it make how much money I am making? If my light goes out, who cares if my car is new or five years old?

Sometimes the things that snuff out the light are subtle. Gossip (talking about others behind their back), anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and greed are examples of "lamp snuffers".

In the New Testament, Paul tells us that "You are the temple of God."

So my question is this: What are you doing to keep the lamp burning in your life? What are you doing to fan into flame that which God has started in you?

Grace & peace

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Intentional Compassion

Leviticus is book of instructions. It instructs the Hebrew people how to worship. It instructs them how to remind future generations of their heritage and how God has worked with them in the past. It instructs God's people how to live uniquely in the world and how to be holy.

Within those instructions is an interesting phrase that appears multiple times. When picking grapes in the vineyard (19:10) or harvesting the land (19:9 & 23:22), the instruction is to not wipe the place clean, don't pick up every grape or every single head of grain. Instead, "leave them for the poor and the alien".

Rick Warren has gained international attention with his book "The Purpose-Driven Life". I like the book. I especially like the title.

But before Warren was around, Leviticus was instructing us to be compassionate on purpose.

Our culture rewards the biggest box-office hit, the largest crowds, the most-watched tv shows, most-read books. Restaurants copy the "super-sizing" of meals. Costco and Sam's Club package everything in bulk so we can get the most for the least.

In the midst of all that, I wonder: when do we intentionally leave some behind? Do we ever build into our lives the idea of leaving some for those less fortunate?

This week we had an ice storm in Michigan. Many households lost power. A friend of mine was telling me that they had opened up their home to 2 families, in addition to their own, to share electricity, warmth, food, and hot water. Intentionally compassionate.

Seems like something the people of God ought to be, don't you think?

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What's This Have to Do with Me?

I recently saw a billboard that read,

"If you're an educated person, you have read the Bible"

Do you agree? Is that a classic on the must-list for literature?

Right now I'm walking through the Bible in a year with some of my friends. This week we're in the book of Leviticus.

Leviticus is not one of the easier books to read or apply for someone who is simply curious about the Bible, about Christianity, or newer to understanding Judaism.

Along those lines, this week's blogs may be a little different from some of the others. They'll include some background information before we get to the application (see the "What's This Have to Do With Me?" section at the bottom).

There are several things that make Leviticus seem foreign to us. One of the major difficulties is the idea of sacrifice.

The first 7 chapters of this book all have to do with sacrifices or offerings.

Offerings were common among many different religions during this period. However, several ideas the Hebrews had about sacrifices distinguished their ritual from those of other religions.

One such idea was that for some religions, the purpose of sacrificing food to the gods was to provide the gods with sustenance. If your god was hungry, he needed you to bring a sacrifice so he could eat.

Hebrews didn't believe this. (Do we really think the One we worship, the One who created world and all that is in it, needs food from us to feed Him? See Psalm 50:12-13)

What was the purpose of the offerings? Each offering had a different purpose:

BURNT OFFERING - serves as a means to make a request to God. Mercy, victory, forgiveness, purification, or any number of other things the worshiper was getting ready to ask for, would be preceded by the Burnt Offering. If you're getting ready to ask for something, this would be an offering you'd include.

GRAIN OFFERING - "The rabbis considered this to be a substitute of the Burnt Offering for poor people" says one source. It was a "gift" or "tribute" where respect or honor are intended. If you're simply wanting to acknowledge the exceeding nature of God, you're overwhelmed with gratitude, this would be appropriate.

FELLOWSHIP OFFERING - this would often go hand in hand with the Burnt Offering. The Fellowship Offering was primarily to indicate or underscore the covenant, the relationship the worshiper and God are in.
Promises have been made. Allegiances have been sworn. This sacrifice is the worshipers pointing to the covenant and saying, "I remember this. You are my God. I am your person."

This offering also comes with a NO FAT clause: "All the fat is the LORD's" (This offering also prohibits the worshiper from consuming meat with blood still in it).

PURIFICATION or SIN OFFERING - Interesting to note that this section begins with "When anyone sins unintentionally..." (in 4:2, as well as vv 13, 22, 27). This offering restores the relationship between the worshiper and God (and other people, when they have been offended as well.)

GUILT or REPARATION OFFERING - This sacrifice is "designed to address particular categories of offense: breach of faith and sacrilege (desecration of sacred areas or objects)."

(The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament)

What's This Have to Do With Me?

1. Our Hebrew parents remind us that coming to worship is not something we do nonchalantly or thoughtlessly. It involves preparation and intention.

Do I enter into worship with a sense of planning and preparation or haphazardly and at the last minute? Does God deserve my intentionality or does He simply receive whatever is leftover of my mental, emotional, or social resources?

2. Worship is costly for the Hebrews because more often than not, something has to die, blood has to be spilled. (And even in the Grain Offering, something of value is given away.)

Do you treat worship as something that costs you time and energy and finances and priorities? Or do you try to find a way to worship that doesn't cost anything?

May Leviticus challenge you to examine the way that you worship.

Grace & peace.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Whose Kid R U Anyway!?

It happened again just this morning.

"I can't believe your children are such slobs!" one of us said to the other.

"My children? No, no, these are your children."

We had been moving furniture around and as often happens at such times, we found a items. You know how that is right? An unmatched sock, a remote control, a stray crayon, crumbs, wrappers, etc.

Occasionally in a moment of frustration, we'll try to pawn our offspring onto the other spouse, claiming no responsibility whatesoever. Right.

But did you know sometimes God tries to pawn His kids onto someone else?

Exodus 32:7 shows God abruptly ending a meeting with Moses up on the mountain. "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt."
They had made an idol and begun dancing around it, bowing down to it, and praying to it. God tells Moses that Moses' people are about to be extinguished from the face of the earth.

But Moses was not so easily persuaded. In verse 11 he responds to God, "Why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?" Moses argues that if other people hear how God wiped out God's people, they'll think it was for an evil intent that God rescued them in the first place.

All this makes me wonder, am I living in such a way that God wants to claim me?

Is my life a living, breathing, walking, talking sacrifice to the One who made me and has reclaimed me?

Or would God like to pawn me off on someone else?

Grace & peace.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Give It a Rest!

"Give it a rest!"

As a parent, I've used those words, or something similar to it on many occasions.

Maybe you've used them in a car, restaurant, or other close quarters. Maybe you've used them when someone or something was repeating a noise, a thought, a word, or an act, over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and...

Sometimes those words can be for our good too.

God told Moses, "For 6 yrs. you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the 7th yr. let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among you may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave." (Exodus 24:10)

Sabbath is good stewardship of the environment and bringing about social justice.

Then He tells Moses, "6 days do your work, but on the 7th day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed." (Exodus 24:12)

Sabbath is good stewardship of people and equipment.

It was also interesting in Exodus when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God, Moses waited for 6 days. But on the 7th, God appeared.

Sabbath is good for worship.

And when the children of Israel left the comforts of Egypt and wandered in the desert, God provided food, 6 out of 7 days. On the 6th day, they were to save up enough for two days so they wouldn't have to gather on the sabbath. God would provide a double portion, just this 1 day of the week.

Sabbath is good for our faith.

How are you doing at giving yourself and those around you a rest? Do you treat every day just like the rest of the days? Do you take a break, change the pace, give it a rest 1 out of every 7?

Eugene Peterson wrote that as a pastor, it is easy to think our work is "SO IMPORTANT" that we neglect to rest, even though we call the church people to do it. Peterson says that the principle of "sabbath" (resting 1 out of 7), reminds him that the world was here before he was, will be here after he's gone, and will be just fine without him working that 1 day.

I've tried to put that into practice in our household. The kids each have a paper route. (3 kids, 3 routes.) And it is a 7-day-a-week job. But we make sure everyone has a day off. The girls take off Sun. morning. Noah and I go and do the route that day. Noah takes off Sat. AM. The girls get the Sun. inserts bagged, and I get up and do the routes, most Saturdays, by myself.

Sometimes it's no big deal. I'm an early riser and the peace and quiet of the morning can be refreshing for the spirit, the mind, and the body.

But there are other days when allowing them to have a sabbath isn't easy. It would be better for me if I could get one of them up.

Then I remember, "If God rested on the 7th day, the land is supposed to rest on the 7th day, and I've been commanded to let everyone under my roof rest on the 7th day, it's probably more important for them to sleep in that 1 day."

So how 'bout you? How are you doing at giving it (and yourself) a rest?

Grace & peace.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Getting Ready for God

What is the picture of God you have in your mind?

Is it of a kindly, old, bearded man, sitting in a rocker? Is it of a lovey, dovey, mushy, syrupy sweet guy, always ready with a positive word, affirming your decisions and choices? Is God just another buddy of ours we talk to when things get a little rough?

While the Bible DOES talk about God being loving ("God IS love" and "God so loved the world..."), and He does call people friends several places throughout scripture, this image, taken by itself, is a one-sided, partial picture of Who God is and what God is like. Relationship with God solely based upon this perspective is underdeveloped and only 1/2 baked.

Even Morgan Freeman's portrayal in "Bruce Almighty" dressed in casual vacation-wear, gives a fuller picture than simply All Love, All the Time.

Exodus 19 gives a different picture.

Moses and the people are getting ready to go up to the mountain and hear from God. God wants interaction with the people. (The 10 Commandments are coming, along with some other instructions, in the next chapters of the story of how we are to live. [If you read chapters 20-23, give particular attention to the place of widows, orphans, aliens, and sabbath in God's economy.])

God has recently freed the slaves from their taskmasters and led them through the Red Sea (which was parted in chapter 14). And God has some things He wants to say to His people. But before the people and God meet, God tells Moses there are some preparations that need to be made for this meeting.

- They are to set themselves apart (or consecrate themselves) from the ordinariness of life (v10)
- They are to wash themselves and their clothes (v10)
- They are to observe limits between where they will be standing and where God is going to appear (v12)
- They are to prepare themselves for the meeting (v15)
- They are to abstain from sexual relations between now and the time they meet with God (v15)

Does this mean we have to be perfect before we come to God? No. None of us is or ever will be perfect. I don't think Moses or the people would have claimed this for themselves.

Does this mean we come to God based upon what we do and how thoroughly we have prepared? No. Relationship with God is based upon the fact that God created us, sees our need, hears our cries, and is responding. Again, Moses & the Hebrew children were responding to a God who had liberated them from a 430-year-old curse.

So what DOES it mean? It means that God is unlike anyone else you or I know.

It means God deserves the very best, most heartfelt praise, and whole-hearted devotion we can give Him.

It means if we are willing to take the Person of God seriously, there will be a bit of weightiness and a measure of trembling and seriousness and awe in our interactions with him.

It means that when we have the opportunity to meet with God, we have a chance to be with One unlike anyone else we will ever interact with.

What kind of preparations might you feel led to make prior to your next meeting with God?

For some of us the issue is simply clearing time in our schedule. We can get so cluttered with tasks, responsibilities, rides to games or concerts or meetings for good things, that we forget to take time for the Best.

For others of us the issue may be turning off the music, shutting off the dvd or the tv, and finding a little quiet time by ourselves, away from the computer screen.

For others of us, it may be listening to that still, small voice inside us, telling us to send a card to the family member, make a phone call to a friend, stop by for a visit with that irritating person, or willingly forgive the one who wronged us. Funny how so often God shows up as an unexpected 3rd party in our meetings with other people.

Maybe your preparation is going back and reading a verse or a chapter or a book of the Bible. How long has it been? What might explode off the page, jump start your spirit, or cause your heart to swell?

From my experience, anything you are asked to do, any sacrifice you are called to make, will be dwarfed in comparison to God's presence and arrival at that meeting.

Grace & peace.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Do You Know?

Ever feel like THIS is NOT the way life should be?

Ever feel like AFTER ALL YOU'VE DONE, AFTER ALL YOU'VE GIVEN, you deserve better than

I bet that's how the Hebrew people were feeling in Exodus 1. Think of all they and their
foretfathers had been through. Abraham and the promises and his faithful following,
Jacob's wrestling with God, Joseph kicked out of the family, sold as a slave, falsely
imprisoned, and all the dreams, and finally rescuing the country and moving the family to

Whew! That's enough, isn't it? Time for a rest, right?

"Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt." (1:8)

You get the feeling we're in for a whole new series of events. And you'd be right. Because
now the Hebrew people are slaves. The Hebrews were "oppressed" and "forced labor" for
foreigners. Their taskmasters "worked them ruthlessly". And at one point, Pharoah orders
all of the boy babies to be slaughtered. An attempt to wipe the Hebrews off the face of the
earth, end their culture, write them out of the story.

The thought comes to the mind of the reader: doesn't anyone remember history? Doesn't
anyone remember the previous chapter to this story? Doesn't anyone remember how God
intervened? How the Hebrews were used to SAVE the country, the ancestors of the very
people who are now mistreating us? Doesn't anyone remember Joseph?

No. Not this king. "The new king...did not know about Joseph."

It's like chugging up the next huge hill on a rollercoaster when you were sure the first one
was IT...the hill to be feared, with the huge drop-off, taking your breath away. You pull into
the station, thinking the ride is complete. But now the ride starts up again and you're going
down a whole new set of tracks with bigger challenges than you had faced before.

It's the life of the People of Faith, God's people.

Seems like a bit of a bummer. Seems like a devotional for a Monday.

But even in a story like this, there is a glimmer of hope.

Don't miss them at the beginning of this story. They aren't royalty. They aren't rich people.
They aren't powerful.

They're nurses, midwives really. They help deliver the babies. They refuse to give into the
king's genocidal plan because "they feared God".

I wonder, WHY did they fear God? Could it be that someone had told them the story about
Joseph? Could it be that someone told them that when a famine was coming, it was the God
of the Hebrews who had given them warning?

Maybe so. However they found out, they had some history with God, knew God had a
history with them, and they did what was right.

The king didn't know about Joseph. But the midwives did.

How 'bout you?

Grace & Peace.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Stay with the Jerk?

"Better to have loved and lost than stay living with the jerk!!"

Better to have loved and lost than to have stayed with the jerk!

So said the bumper sticker.

Of course the original saying comes from Tennyson:

"'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

But the "update" got me thinking, "is there someone specific the driver was referring to? Is this their way of sticking it to their ex?"

There's an interesting story about a brother that had a chance to stick it to his siblings. He had every reason to. They had made fun of him. They had stolen one of his most precious items, given to him by their father. The other brothers had kicked "the favorite son" out of the family.

If anyone had a right to stick it to someone, it was this 1 brother, Joseph, the favorite. If anyone should have been glad to get the jerks out of their life, it should have been him.

And here was his chance. There was a famine back home. Times were bad.

So the brothers had all traveled a great distance to the place where there was plenty of food. When they arrived, they went to see "The Man", the authority who had the power to grant food or deny food; the ability to extend life or to take it from their entire family.

The Man...was Joseph.

The scene was set perfectly. The brothers didn't even know it was him. The years had made him unrecognizable to them. What would he do? How would he get back at them? After seeing all the injustice, you're just about giddy for him to pounce on them.

But Joseph didn't do that. He played it cool. He didn't tell them who he was. Not at first.

But he didn't make it easy on them either. He accuses the brothers of being spies. He sends 8 of the 9 half-brothers that are there home to bring back the 1 full brother to "prove their story", (when in reality he probably just wants to see his brother Benjamin with his own eyes). And he keeps 1 of the brothers as ransom to make sure they return.

At the climactic scene in the whole story, (you REALLY need to read the whole account in Genesis chapters 36, 39-45 because time doesn't allow me to tell you about great scenes like the brothers bowing low, begging for mercy and food to the one they've wronged, and they don't even know it!!) he is ready to reveal his true identity to them, and, you hope, STICK IT TO THEM. This is what he says:

"I am Joseph!!" Alright. Here it comes...

"Is my father still alive?" Well, that's natural. He wants to know his dad is doing. But get ready for payback!

"...Don't be angry at what you did to me for God did it. He sent me hear ahead of you to preserve your keep you and your families alive."

WHAT?! No retribution? No vengeance? No punishment for all the picking on him, kicking him out of the family and making him go through all this pain? (I mean, he didn't speak Egyptian very well! [A.L.W.])

And what's all this "God did it" stuff about anyway??

The Hebrews of the Old Testament had this irritating habit of seeing God behind nearly EVERYTHING. The sun comes out or the rain falls and God causes it. Children are born or a couple is infertile and God is working behind it. Nations rise or nations fall and it is directly linked to divine will.

Now, I'm not saying that everything you experience is directly caused by God. (Even Scripture would argue against that idea when it says "the rain falls on the just and the unjust"; some stuff JUST HAPPENS.)

But I AM saying that maybe there is something going on, Someone at work, behind the scenes, just past our normal ability to see and hear, and it might be worth our while to investigate further.

Joseph did. And what he saw told him that God was at work in the midst of all the injustice he had experienced, all the punishement he had unfairly taken, all the time of separation from his father, all the pain intentionally caused by is brothers. That in all of that, God had not forgotten him, and was actually USING it to benefit those around him.

Joseph saw something else too. He saw that forgiveness on his part would save his father and all of his father's sons. He saw that returning kindness to them would provide life and healing that vindictiveness could never give.

Now, I have to tell you, something within me wants that type of forgiveness when I mess up. Something in me cries out for people to be that gracious and wise when I drop the ball, step on it, and lose it. And I'm guesssing something within you feels the same way.

So what will you do? Will you be willing to love and lose? Or will you stick it to the jerk?

Grace & peace.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Gritty Integrity

Not too many people have had the run of undeserved misfortunes Joseph had:

- Selected as the favorite by his dad, among all his brothers
- Mom dies while giving birth to a younger brother
- Teased and admonished by family because of his dreams
- Sold by brothers into slavery
- Falsely accused by his boss' wife of hitting on her
- Left to rot in prison

But not too many people are able to maintain their integrity in the midst of such persecution:

- His boss "gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn't have a worry in the world, except to decide what he wanted to eat!" (Gen. 39:6a)

- Likewise, "the chief jailer had no more worries after (Joseph came under his charge), because Joseph took care of everything. The LORD was with him, making everything run smoothly and successfully." (Gen. 39:23)

- And again, "Joseph was put in charge of all Egypt. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I am the king, but no one will move a hand or a foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.'" (Gen. 41:43b-44)

What a lesson for us when things go bad. Will you follow Joseph's example and do what is right, give your best effort, and earn the trust of others, when things are at their worst in your life?

Grace & peace.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Who Will Hear You?

When was the last time you were DESPERATE? So desperate that you had nowhere to turn and no one to help you?

When was the last time you were in such despair that the ONLY thing you could do was cry or yell "HELP!"?

Imagine a family that is broken up. Imagine this family has a father who has had children by two women. Imagine how much those women DON'T get along. Imagine being the woman that has to leave the home with your little boy, and it becomes easy to imagine despair (Where will I go?), rejection (The father that was supposed to protect us is nowhere to be found), fear (How will I feed my boy?).

The woman, the mother, has a name. It is Hagar. Her son is Ishmael. The father is Abraham. Yes, THAT Abraham, the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

As the mother is crying and lost in the wilderness, something happens. Or, put more correctly, Someone happens to come on the scene.

"Hagar...where have you come from and where are you going?" It's the voice of God.

Hagar and God begin a conversation and before it is all over, Hagar goes from being all alone to having a Friend. She now calls this Friend, "the God Who sees me".

One interaction. One conversation. A woman, (a servant woman), of desperation goes from being all alone to providing us with one of the most amazing names for God in all of scripture.

What would you call God today?

Do you know Him as "the God who sees me"?

Grace & peace.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Have You Ever Read the Bible?

Most of us have formed SOME kind of opinion about the Bible: THE Word of God, or "just a collection of stories," or "written by people".

But beyond that I wonder: Have you ever READ it? I don't mean cracked a Bible and randomly read a sentence or two and then put it away.

I mean REALLY read it.

If not, I invite you on a journey. Begin to read it. Throughout the year I'll be leaving bread crumbs on my journey, little pieces of where I'm reading.

Now I know that New Year's Resolutions are a dirty word to many of us skeptics. A recent survey by John C. Norcross from Univ. of Scranton in PA found that by Feb. 1, about 1/3 of those who set resolutions had failed.

But wouldn't it be great to reach the end of the year and arrive at the summit of this task together?

Here are a couple of suggestions that might be helpful:

- If you're new to the Bible, get an easy-to-read-translation, something that's been written AFTER 1960. Maybe even a paraphrase for your first reading. (A translation attempts word for word communication, while a paraphrase puts it into the words of the author, trying to explain how they see this going along.)

- Don't get discouraged if you get bogged down or lose interest. That's why we're doing the Buddy System. I'll keep leaving those bread crumbs throughout the year, and maybe we'll separate at places on the trail, only to hook-up again at other places. Maybe you'll skip a day or two, occasionally. That's ok. If you slack off a little, allow yourself to jump back in as the rhythym of your life finds interest in a new book. We won't beat you up at all.

- Consider alternative forms of "reading". Maybe hearing it on cd is good for you. I have a friend who types parts of the Bible as she finds the activity helps to stimulate the brain and comprehension. One of my kids has started doing the same thing.

- Learn to live with questions. Sometimes reading the Bible will raise more Q's than answers. That's ok. Would you really want to hear from a God who could be figured out by you or me in ONE READING?!

- Finally, and this is key, whisper a little prayer before beginning. Ask for God to give you a return on your investment of time and energy. Say something like, "I'm not sure how this is going to work out, but I ask you to meet me on the journey" or "Would you show up along the way and every once in awhile surprise me with your Presence?"

You'll be amazed how such a commitment and request on your part will result in God's Spirit responding.

This week I'll be in Genesis. "In the beginning God created..."

What does God want to create in you and your reading?

Several times in chapter 1 we notice God reflects upon His creation: "God saw that it was good."

May God be creating good in your life.

Grace & peace.