Monday, February 24, 2014

Tying our shoes

One of my early childhood memories was when I was really little and hadn’t learned to tie my shoes yet. I was stubborn and wanted to tie my own shoes (this was before the days of Velcro – ouch, it hurts to admit that).  Never mind that I hadn’t the ability to, or knowledge to; I didn’t want to be bothered by the details.    My parents tried to tell me that it would be better, on all of us, if I just let them tie my shoes for me, but no.  I had to do it myself.

Of course, I failed miserably.  I couldn’t do it on my own.  All I could accomplish was to frustrate myself and my parents and take a long time fiddling around with the laces, but alas, they failed get tied in the nice bow that my parents could achieve.  I was simply unwilling to wait, unwilling to let my parents do what (at that point, at least) only they could do, and unwilling to let go.  I insisted on doing things my own way, taking matters into my own hands.

My reading this week allowed me a view into a similar situation with the Israelites.  My journey through the Old Testament took me through Genesis 48 – 50, Exodus 1 – 4, Psalms 48 – 54, Ruth 3 – 4, and 1 Samuel 1 – 5.  In 1 Samuel 4 (verses 1 – 5) we find an apt lesson similar to what I learned in the whole “tying shoes” episode.

At that time Israel was at war with the Philistines. The Israelite army was camped near Ebenezer, and the Philistines were at Aphek.  The Philistines attacked and defeated the army of Israel, killing 4,000 men.  After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?” Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.”  So they sent men to Shiloh to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, who is enthroned between the cherubim. Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were also there with the Ark of the Covenant of God.  When all the Israelites saw the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord coming into the camp, their shout of joy was so loud it made the ground shake!

The Israelites had experienced some successes after their wilderness wanderings … successes by the direct intervention of the Lord.  They had defeated their enemies many times.  Like a growing child, they began to have some positive experiences growing as a nation and began to develop expectations of being able to do what they set their efforts to.  But like a child, they didn’t have maturity to realize what they couldn’t do.  So when they suffered defeat at the hands of the Philistines, they were perplexed.  They decided to take matters into their own hands.  Set aside for the moment that they didn’t have the ability to win; that didn’t matter and certainly didn’t dissuade them.

We can be the same way, can’t we?  The second things don’t go the way we want them to … when God doesn’t fulfill our wishes the way we think He should … we revert to our own way of doing things.  We selectively set aside our memories about God’s blessing in our lives and try to take on a task we can’t do, or we figure He must need our help.  Forget that we haven’t the first clue how to bring ourselves the blessings God can.  Forget that we can’t see the things that He can see about our lives, the lives of those around us, etc.  Forget that He is all-powerful and we aren’t.  Don’t let the details get in the way.  We want to tie our own shoes and perish the thought of anyone … God included … telling us we can’t just yet.

Sure, there are things in life we can eventually learn and do on our own.  Tying shoes included.  It comes with surrender in early life, taking the time to learn and grow, letting someone else show us how it’s done, and then … in the right timing (God’s timing perhaps) … we might be ready to do it on our own.  But, there’s no skipping ahead, and there are at times certain things we’ll never be able to do.  It sure doesn’t stop us from trying, does it?  Sometimes it goes right past “trying” to “insisting”.

That’s what we see from the Israelites.  How’d it work out for them?  Verses 10 and 11 tell us.

So the Philistines fought desperately, and Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents.  The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed.

It couldn’t have gone worse.  Just like (in a smaller, simpler way, of course) my trying to tie my shoes when I was a little kid.

When we take matters into our own hands, we are inherently refusing to trust God.  We wrongly assume we know what we’re doing … and compared to God, we haven’t the foggiest notion of how to run life.  It can only work out to our detriment.

Think about times when God didn’t seem to respond in the way you wanted Him to, or thought He should.  Or maybe He didn’t respond fast enough.  Maybe you figured a particular situation was too sensitive for God to handle, or that He was busier with other things and needed you to jump in to manage the small stuff.  How did those times work out?  I can attest, when I’ve done that … actually, when I DO that (because there are times when I still do) … it’s been a disaster.  I just screw stuff up.  I’m not able to do it the way God would, I don’t have the knowledge and context that God has.  It’s an epic failure.  Just like me trying to tie my own shoes as a little kid.

Bottom line, God has all the ability to do all He needs to do.  He has the knowledge, and He has the context.   Rather than trying to rush to do things we can’t, we should just wait for Him to work in the way He knows He should.   Instead of INSISTING we tie our shoes well before our time, we should just let Him tie them for us.  We’ll save a ton of failure and frustration in LIFE.

This week let’s prayerfully ask God to reveal to us what areas of our lives we are trying to take over … what are the areas where we’re trying to tie our shoes.  Let’s ask Him to give us the courage and patience to trust Him and let Him do what only He is capable of doing, and to remind us that there are areas where we don’t have the requisite knowledge.  And let’s ask Him to help us accept as such and to rejoice, even if He hasn’t tied them already, that He will tie them soon enough … as soon as He plans to … as soon as we need (rather than want) Him to.

Blessings in Christ Jesus,


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Every ... word ... counts ...

Few things in life are more difficult than waiting or being still, particularly through tough times.  Doesn’t it seem like the very things in life that are challenging to experience tend to move slowly, and the exciting, glorious moments tend to move by at the speed of light?  As you would imagine, knowing me, I think there is without question a purpose God has in those moments … and that leads to my reading this week.  My plan this week took me through Genesis 41 – 47, Psalms 41 – 47, Judges 17 – 21, and Ruth 1 – 2.

Psalm 46 is a remarkable reminder of God’s power and protection, and His desire and ability to defend and intervene for us in the toughest times in our lives.  It starts with a profound statement about God’s strength for us, and culminates with a relatively counterintuitive roadmap for how we can survive the trials the world throws at us.

Verse 1 – 3 …
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.  So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.  Let the oceans roar and foam.  Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! Interlude.

Note that this says when the troubles of life come … not if the troubles of life come.  Troubles are a certainty of life.  We needn’t cower in the face of the inevitable tonnage of issues and trials we’ll face.  Verse 10 gives us what I believe is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible to remind us how we can survive those trials … not only survive them, but to grow because of them.

“Be still, and know that I am God!  I will be honored by every nation.  I will be honored throughout the world.”

“Be still, and know that I am God!”  What an overwhelmingly powerful promise!  What I love most about God’s Word is the fact that every single word is purposefully placed and was thought-out from time immemorial by the Creator of the Universe.  Of course, the words were selected and rendered in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, leaving it to us to translate from those languages to ours, and our English language doesn’t always do God’s chosen words justice.  But in the times when it does … and I believe it does when it comes to Psalms 46:10 … I find it strength-inspiring to take His Word, word-by-word.  It’s a technique I apply from time-to-time to slow down, to draw in all I believe God wants us to.  I actually think it’s really helpful to read this section of scripture (and others) in such a way that you emphasize each individual word separately, in succession, and reflect on each one individually that way.  Here’s how …

BE still and know that I am God!
Be STILL and know that I am God!
Be still AND know that I am God!
Be still and KNOW that I am God!
Be still and know that I am God!
Be still and know that I AM God!
Be still and know that I am GOD!

The word means a variety of things, but chiefly among them “to exist or to live.”  Importantly, this verse is telling us to choose the state of existence that follows.  It means to live as a particular state … in this instance …

Unmoving.  Unwavering.  Patient.  Active by being inactive.  I don’t know about you, but being still, especially in trying times, is NOT my typical M.O.  But think about it.  When we’re truly still, we can hear, see, feel, etc., much more clearly because the otherwise ever-present distractions of life get in the way.  All too often, through the muck and muss, I tussle, fight, wiggle, etc.  Anything but be still.  Which is why we should instead choose stillness.

The conjunction “and” gives us the connection between one thing and another.  It’s an assurance that when we do one thing, the other thing follows in turn.  The precedent statement is indelibly tied to the following one.

Not “believe.”  Not “guess.”  Not “hope.”  Not “wonder whether.”  KNOW.  KNOW!  One definition says, “To perceive or understand as fact or truth.  To apprehend clearly and with certainty.”  Enough said!

God is personal to us.  That’s one part of the power of the “I” in this passage.  The other thing I love about this word in this passage is that when He says, “I” He doesn’t say “you.”

He is.  He is not, “not”.  When we wonder, He is helping us remove the wonder.  When we question, He is answering the question.  When we doubt, He is removing the doubt.  It’s a statement of reassurance, of validation, of fulfillment, of guarantee, of fact.

He is GOD!  He is the Creator of the entire universe and every infinitesimal detail within it that holds it and ties it all together.  His nature is to be able to do anything and everything in accordance with His nature.  Hence, He can get us through any current trial, and any future trial.  He is Truth, He upholds His promises, He can’t fail, He can’t not love, He can and will protect and defend us, even in the difficulties.  He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving.  He is GOD!!!

When times get tough, or when I question or doubt, I recite this passage slowly, emphasizing each word individually and independently, in the same manner I have outlined.  Yeah, I know it sounds a little goofy, but it works!  So, as you confront something that seems bigger than you, something that brings anxiety or nervousness, rest on God’s promise, and receive God’s strength.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

What an amazing, powerful, bona fide promise!!!

How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  We should approach the enormity of God’s Word the same way.  Every … word … counts.

May our Lord bless you by every word He speaks to you in whatever way He speaks it this week!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What's in the donut?

This week I read from Genesis 34 – 40, Psalms 34 – 40, and Judges 10 – 16.  The story of Joseph, which starts in Genesis 37, has long been one of my favorites in the Bible.  No one, other than Jesus, underwent more unfair, difficult treatment or circumstances in the Bible in my opinion.  Here are some of the salient sections of my reading this week …

Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe.  But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.  One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever.  “Listen to this dream,” he said.  “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain.  Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”   His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.  Genesis 37:3-8

Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime.  Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed.  So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.  Genesis 37:26-28

She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible.  One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work.  She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.  When she saw that she was holding his cloak and he had fled, she called out to her servants. Soon all the men came running. “Look!” she said. “My husband has brought this Hebrew slave here to make fools of us! He came into my room to rape me, but I screamed.  When he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me.”  She kept the cloak with her until her husband came home.  Then she told him her story. “That Hebrew slave you’ve brought into our house tried to come in and fool around with me,” she said.  “But when I screamed, he ran outside, leaving his cloak with me!”  Genesis 39:10-15

So let’s take stock a little bit of Joseph’s plight.  First, while not totally undeserved because of his arrogance, Joseph earns the ire of his brothers to the point where for a time they decide to kill him.  I’ve made my sister mad over our childhood years, and vice versa, but to my knowledge never to the extent of wanting to kill one another (though, you could check with our folks as they might have a different impression … LOL).  While he avoids his brothers actually carrying out brutality to the point of his death, they nonetheless decide to sell him off for 20 pieces of silver.  He gets sold to some Ishmaelites and taken away to a foreign land.  He then gets sold to one of the most powerful men in Egypt, as a slave.  EGYPT!  The land where they HATED Israelites, refusing to even share a meal with them.  Later, his slavemaster’s wife tries to seduce him, he does everything he can to avoid it including running away, but because he left his cloak behind she was able to frame him for something he didn’t do.  This lands him in prison.  Prison!

Think about this … Joseph really did nothing to deserve any of this.  Yet here he was, in prison in a foreign country.  You couldn’t paint a portrait of worse circumstances.

How did Joseph respond to his situation?  Let’s look …

The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.  Genesis 39:2

In this situation, and in a number of other ones, Joseph rises above his circumstances.  He embraces the situation.  He performs in an exemplary way … so much so that he continually is promoted into positions that declare him to be the most trusted person in his roles.  How?  Simple.  Joseph trusted God (you’ll have to skip ahead to Genesis chapter 50 … or just trust me).  Joseph KNEW God was at work in the midst of the crazy circumstances.  Even under incredible pressure, in the worst of surroundings, in the scariest of situations, Joseph remained focused on God, and God’s will through it all.  I have to admit, I don’t always respond well to insignificant problems; little issues can sometimes set me off.  No doubt, bigger ones can really pin us to the ground; they can throw us in a tizzy, taking our focus off of the fact that God is at work, not by happenstance, but by purposeful design and intentionality.

When I was a kid, on weekends at times we would buy donuts for breakfast.  I used to LOVE the smell of the donut shop.  But I REALLY LOVED the taste of the custard-filled donuts.  The problem was, those looked a lot like the jelly-filled donuts, and I didn’t like those as much.  In order to figure out what the real custard-filled donut was, I’d have to squeeze the donut.  Whatever leaked out gave me the reality of what was inside.  The best way to figure it out was to put enough pressure on the donut in squeezing it … and see what came out.  And only what was really inside could come out.

And so it is with us.  We see what is really inside of us when we’re squeezed.  The best way to observe what someone is … or we are … made of is to observe what we’re like under real pressure.  Perhaps that’s what God is up to sometimes in these circumstances.  I’m not sure.  What I do know is that God has our best interests at heart (again, see Genesis 50:20, skipping ahead a wee bit).  But put the squeeze to us, and you’ll see exactly what we’re made of inside.

Just like the donut, the only thing that can come out is what’s really inside.  That’s the secret to Joseph’s situation … he was able to trust God because, well, he trusted God.  He had placed his love and reverence of God and reliance on His promises deeply enough inside his core that what came out under pressure was the love and reverence of God.  Which holds the secret for us … what we have inside is key … because that’s what come leaking out when we’re squeezed.  If we’ve pumped ourselves up with God’s word, His promises, our relationship with Him, then when we’re squeezed all those will come out.  If instead we’ve filled ourselves with fear, arrogance, selfishness, etc., then those will ooze from us when the pressure is applied.

There’s the emphasis for this week … because one thing we can be sure of in this life is the pressure and the squeezing WILL occur.  It’s just a matter of when, not whether.  So, what will ooze from us?

Let’s prayerfully resign ourselves this week to make sure we’re filling ourselves with the good stuff … God’s word, prayer, memorizing scripture, recognition of the promises He makes to us, His Holy Spirit residing IN us … rather than the bad stuff that can tend to falter when the pressure’s on.  Let’s really ask God to challenge us to think honestly about whether it’s the custard or the jelly that’s going to squeeze out of us when the time comes.

Praying for the custard in all of us!!!  8-)

God’s blessings,


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Trust. Unfailing. Love.

My journey through the Old Testament took me through Genesis 27 – 33, Psalms 27 – 33, and Judges 3 – 9.   As I read this morning, it was a section of Psalm 33 that struck a chord in me … specifically, verses 1 – 5 …

“Let the godly sing for joy to the Lord; it is fitting for the pure to praise him.  Praise the Lord with melodies on the lyre; make music for him on the ten-stringed harp.  Sing a new song of praise to him; play skillfully on the harp, and sing with joy.  For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does.  He loves whatever is just and good; the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.”

What I found interesting about this is the emphasis David puts on being joyful … he says our hearts should be longing to sing for joy to God, to praise him with our voices.  Essentially, what he’s saying is that our general demeanor should be reverent gratefulness to God, so much so that our joy in Him should show and should fill us at all times.

The thing is, I confess I don’t always walk around singing praises to God at all times.  I think I’d bug people after a while, particularly the way I sing.  Clearly I’m praying that God gives me a new voice once I get to heaven, because the one I have now sometimes couldn’t carry a tune if I had a bucket to put it in.

Anyhow … the beauty of David expressing his heart in this Psalm is that he (as he usually does) shares with us the reason we should have this yearning to worship God in our innermost being, and in the process he shares some important attributes about God that naturally should create a reaction of this type.

He says, “for the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything He does.”  WE CAN TRUST EVERYTHING HE DOES.  Think about this for a moment.

Let’s get real honest … day-to-day, when challenging things happen, when disappointments come up … do we trust God in those things?  Do we question Him?  Do we wonder if He’s paying attention?   Do we accuse Him of sleeping on the job?

Several years ago, some friends of ours went through the unspeakable struggle of their five year-old daughter getting diagnosed with a rare cancer in her heart.   After a three-year battle of epic proportions and the understandable emotional toll, the little girl died … at eight years old.  The torment of that tragedy rocked the core of so many of us in their sphere and throughout the entire community … and their family never recovered.  Like the majority of couples who lose a child tragically like this, their marriage couldn’t handle the pain and divorce resulted.

I was asked to speak at the memorial and did.  I struggled to think about how I could possibly offer any degree of explanation about the situation.  The truth is, I couldn’t.  There is no explanation over something like this, humanly-speaking.  And I’m not saying that God should be called upon to explain Himself over something like this.  Unfortunately, death resulted from the fall in the garden of Eden and this is one unfortunate, unfathomable result.

But what we can rely on is what this Psalm expresses … “the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything He does.”  Why can we trust everything He does?  Because, “the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.”   Everything God does is in love.  God cannot do anything that is not from the abundance of His love.  His very nature IS love … hence He can’t do anything to violate that will.

Does that mean the fact that our friends daughter died at just more than eight years old is a good and loving thing?  Well of course not.  But somewhere in the event of heartbreak, God was at work … and His word promises that He works all things together for the good of those who are the called according to His purpose.  In all that happens, we have the immense blessing of being able to trust God and take Him at His word.  His word says He cares for us.  His word says He loves us.  His word says that everything that happens is intended to bless us.  No, I can’t say how this all equates, I just know it does.  God is actively at work all the time, bringing the entirety of His creation along to the intended state He had in mind when He created it.  So, he’s got His most favored part of His creation at heart (humankind), as well as the rest of the entire universe and everything in it.

This doesn’t mean we can always see HOW it comes together.  It means we can trust and rely on Him THAT it will come together … somehow interwoven into the billions of people on the earth and all else that has His fingerprint on it.  His love FILLS THE EARTH.  He loves each and every one of us enough to express it openly, consistently, visually, fervently, equally.

Whatever we’ve been through or are going through … no matter how terrible things feel or seem …  God is always, actively at work with us in mind.  Even in what seems like tragedy … but to me, the REAL tragedy is that there are people in our world who think it’s all purposeless, random, haphazard and by chance.  This is above all the most empty, pessimistic, hopeless of philosophies.  Instead, we can take heart and bask in the peace God offers us from knowing He’s at the helm … even when we don’t understand what He’s up to.  We can trust everything He does.  Because the unfailing love of the Lord fills the earth.

Let those last two sentences hold you upright this week, no matter what you’re going through.  Offer them to others who need it this week as well.

Trusting Jesus with you, because of His unfailing love!