Sunday, October 31, 2010

Meek Doesn’t Mean Wimpy

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5


The meek would probably be the last among us that we could imagine taking over the world. When we hear the word “meek,” what comes to mind? Certainly not “admirable,” “strong,” or “dominate.” We think more in terms of “wimpy,” “mild,” and “unassertive.”


Often Jesus is pictured in a light blue robe speaking in soft tones. He appears sort of meek. Guys in light blue robes don’t really emit strength. (He usually also has blue eyes, which seems more Nordic than Semitic, but now I’m off the topic.) Jesus wasn’t wimpy. He worked for a living. He built with hand tools. There were no power tools (who’s wimpy now?) He got fired up. He confronted the establishment. Jesus took on evil, and He won. There was nothing wimpy or meek about Jesus.


The meek that Jesus speaks about here are not meek by choice or disposition. They are not merely shy or introverted. The meek are those humbled from oppression. Whether mild mannered or fierce, they have been subdued by the circumstances of their lives. They are no longer in a place where they will naturally rise above their situations. The oppression they face put them down and keeps them down. All of Jesus’ audiences were under political oppression, but they also faced religious, racial, gender and economic oppression.


Jesus said that those who are mistreated, dominated and forced into submission, are blessed. Those who are powerless will inherit the earth. The territory that powerful empires sought to possess and control will belong to them. But, isn’t the earth going to be destroyed (Revelation 21:1)?


Years ago, my dad worked with a guy who was a Jehovah’s Witness. They were talking about Heaven one day, and the man said, “This is all of the Heaven that I need” sweeping his arms around. Apparently, he had given up on being part of the 144,000. Earth was to be his heaven.


My dad replied, “So, what’s the point?” (Now, you understand where I get it.) If Heaven is a place on earth, then what’s the point (Belinda Carlile)?


Sure people have fantasies about “What if I was in charge?” or “If I ran this place, things would be different.” That’s not where Jesus was going here.


What Jesus has in mind, goes along with the prophecy from Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the  Sovereign LORD is on me,
     because the LORD has anointed me
     to preach good news to the poor.
     He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
     to proclaim freedom for the captives
     and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1).
In fact, Jesus read this passage in the synagogue in Luke 4. He concluded, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).


What is impossible for the meek, those humbled by oppression, is possible with God. Those regarded as a possession will possess. They will rule and reign with Christ (Matthew 19:28).


How are you feeling oppressed today? What situation do you feel stuck in or powerless over? God has justice for you. God has hope for you.


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Thursday, October 28, 2010

When We Deserve the Stick, God Gives Us the Carrot

The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Jeremiah 31:3


Jeremiah prophesied these words during a time of Babylonian supremacy over the known world. The sinfulness of God’s people in the Old Testament usually resulted in their submission to a conquering nation. Rebellion toward God resulted in surrender to another power. (There’s a lesson there, but for another day).


The Babylonians weren’t interested in rehabilitating God’s people. Babylon’s interest was self-interest. They wanted to take over the world. They were the conquering empire of the day having defeated the Assyrians. Their only motive was to take as much as they could and to keep it under control. God used people who were completely uninterested in the well-being of His people to teach His people.


It’s easy to portray biblical prophets as all gloom and doom. They are often presented as borderline lunatics wearing sandwich signs proclaiming, “The end is near.” They were the original sources of hellfire and brimstone preaching. Yet, every prophet in the Bible speaks a message of hope and reconciliation. This passage is no different.


God through Jeremiah reminds the people that He has shown His grace and mercy to them in the past. It was undeserved then and it’s undeserved now, but that’s the nature of grace. God loves His people with an everlasting love – a love that will never change regardless of what we’ve done. As long as we have breath in our bodies, God will give us another chance.


Then, God says, “I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” God doesn’t drive us with guilt and fear and shame. Those are the devil’s tools. God doesn’t back us into a corner – turn or burn! God draws us out with His kindness. When we deserve the stick, God gives us the carrot.


God knows who He is. He is not threatened by our sinfulness. He is greater than our sinfulness. God doesn’t need to make us feel bad about ourselves. We already feel bad about ourselves, and if we don’t, then we will soon enough. Life is just that way.


But, this may sound too good to be true. The people of Judah received the assurances of this prophecy (Jeremiah 30-31) while they were headed toward captivity. It would be about 60 years until they saw their deliverance. But, in the middle of their situation, God extended His mercy, His grace, His compassion and His kindness to them.


What are you in the middle of? Do you feel like God is on your side? God wants to love you. God wants to forgive you. God wants to help you. Ask Him to show you His kindness today.




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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Feel Like Dirt? Guess What?

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:13-14


The psalmist doesn’t choose flowery language to describe how we came about. He doesn’t go to “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Instead he goes back to our basic element: “from [the ground] you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19). Boy, doesn’t that just make you feel like dirt?


Have you ever made anything out of dirt? A mud pie perhaps? I used to dig dirt and dam up the creek behind our trailer when I was young. (Yes, we lived in a trailer in Kansas -- tornado alley, Dorothy and Toto and all – we had faith). I never expected my mud dams to stand the test of time. I wasn’t presenting a danger to the trailer park. No one was destined to live in a houseboat any time soon.


Dirt gets wet and washes away. Dust lacks substance and blows with the wind (another Kansas reference, awesome). Not to make light of dust, but it really doesn’t amount to much. Oh, and we’re made of dust.


God didn’t build our bodies to last forever. He didn’t compose our being to stand up against every circumstance. He created a vessel that is fragile and flawed, a clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7). We were not created to depend solely on ourselves and become “self-made.”


When we crack under pressure, God is not surprised. Life is more than we can take. But, God has compassion on us.


Parents will do anything for their children. Whether it’s my grandmother eating the neck and the tail of the chicken to give her brood of twelve the better parts or me sacrificially taking my children to Chuck E. Cheese’s, we want what’s best for our kids. Greater love hath no father than…


When our kids scrap their knees, we don’t tell them to “Deal with it.” We cleanse their wound and apply a bandage. We hold them and comfort them. We distract them with candy or soda (don’t tell their mom). We have compassion on our children.


Our Heavenly Father has compassion on us. He knows that we are facing more than we can deal with. Whether it’s our fault or not, God is moved by the things that cause us pain. He didn’t design us to withstand everything. He created us to live life with Him and to depend on His strength.


What are you facing today? Do you feel too weak to handle it? Have you tried time after time and the only result is more frustration? Well, you’re in good company. You are just as weak as everybody else. But, we have a Heavenly Father who knows what we lack and has compassion. Let Him help you today.


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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Big Boys (and Girls) Don’t Cry, or Do They?

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll —are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8


“Big boys don’t cry.” That’s what I grew up hearing. Now, Fergie tells us “Big girls don’t cry” either. But, honestly, some things in life are so terrible and so painful that it should evoke tears.


Lament is not a word that we use a lot. Jeremiah wrote an entire book of the Bible called “Lamentations.” We tend not to go there. According to the dictionary, lament means “to feel, show, or express grief, sorrow, or regret” or “to mourn.” (Source: Dictionary.com )


David, the psalmist here, had much to lament in his life. Some of those things were his own fault: adultery (2 Samuel 11), murder (2 Samuel 11:15-17), his children’s unchecked behavior (2 Samuel 13-15) – these things were David’s fault. But, in writing this psalm, David had done nothing wrong at this point in his life. In fact, David was following God’s will and was being hunted down like a fugitive. If you’re following God’s will, shouldn’t it all be rosy? Think again.
David had been anointed king over Israel to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16). David humbly served in Saul’s administration (1 Samuel 16). David wasn’t presumptuous about his future reign. He patiently waited, and Saul threw a spear at his head (1 Samuel 19:9-10). So, David ran.


David wasn’t safe anywhere he went. Saul searched for him in every dog house, hen house and outhouse in the region (a little Tommy Lee Jones there). Saul was the predator. David was the prey.


David had done nothing wrong. David was the recipient of Saul’s jealousy, anger and resentment. The problem wasn’t David. The problem was Saul. But, David faced the consequences of Saul’s sin. It was unfair. It was unjust.


David poured out his lament to God. “Be merciful to me, O God, for men hotly pursue me; all day long they press their attack. My slanderers pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride” (Psalm 56:1-2). David needed to have God on his side. David didn’t have anyone else.


The result of David’s lament was this assurance: “Then my enemies will turn back when I call for help. By this I will know that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise -- in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:9-11)


What can man do to him? They could beat him, imprison him, torture him, kill him – that’s what man can do. But, David’s focus was not on his enemies. His focus was on God. “…when I call for help…I will know that God is for me…What can man do to me?” If God is for us, then who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)


God is for you. Say that to yourself: “God is for me.” Say it softly, out loud: “God is for me.” Shout it if you need to.


What are you up against today? God is for you. Ask for His help. Give Him your praise. God will vindicate everyone who is treated unjustly. Maybe in this life, but definitely in the next.






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Monday, October 25, 2010

I Quit

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:13


Nothing makes you feel more powerless than being in a situation that just baffles you. You don’t know what to do. You don’t know what to say. You don’t know how to get help. You feel trapped. You feel alone. You feel forgotten.


Whether it’s a relationship, a project, a job or a train wreck, it’s overwhelming to feel stuck and not have an answer. It’s frustrating not to be able to figure things out. But, there is something powerful in such a circumstance.


When we have reached the end of ourselves, we have no choice but to turn to God. When we have no solution, no plan, no control or just no clue, we turn to God and say, “I’m stumped. I need your help.” In these situations God’s work is more obvious because we know that any positive result was because of God and not because of ourselves.


So, here’s some good news: while God’s work is often mysterious, it’s not foreign to believers. As this verse states, God is already working in you and in me. That doesn’t mean that everything that we do is godly. Often it’s far from that. But, we don’t need to wait for God to intervene from on high. He’s already with us. He’s already working in our lives.


The key is to stop and give the situation over to Him (Philippians 4:6-7). We must learn to run to God before we think we need to. When we reach the end of ourselves and our only choice is to turn to God, well, that’s a pretty great choice, isn’t it?


God is at work in your life. In all of the good things and in all of the bad, God is at work. In all of the crises, the victories, and the mundane, God is at work.


How do you need God to work in your life today? How does God need to work in you today?


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Problem of Comfort

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4


This verse is nearly an oxymoron. “Happy are those who mourn.” If they were happy, they wouldn’t be mourning. If they are mourning, then they are not happy. But, again, the happiness, the deeper inner joy, and the comfort are not in the present situation.


The rabbis referred to the Messiah as the “Comforter.” Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the “Comforter” as well (John 14:16-17). But, we have some misunderstandings about comfort.


If you are comfortable, you don’t need a comforter. Jesus didn’t come to comfort the comfortable, and thus make us more comfortable.The end goal of our relationship with Christ isn’t comfort. It’s salvation.


I would go so far as to say that our comfort gets in the way of our relationship with God at times. We have to be “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. For some of us, our comfort should cause us to mourn because it’s keeping us from God’s blessings in our lives. It’s distracting us from Kingdom work.


But, there are those who mourn. Why? They mourn because the world, by and large, is a terrible place. Who would have imagined that in the 21st century the world would still be plagued with war, human trafficking, hunger, piracy on the high seas, injustice, slavery, extreme poverty, racism and so many other things? The condition of our world and our culture should cause us to mourn.


Most people have suffered considerable losses in their lives. They’ve lost their hopes and dreams. They’ve lost their retirement or their livelihood. They’ve lost family and close friends. Our losses cause us to grieve and mourn. We can’t sweep them under the rug, but sometimes we can’t face them either. What do we do?


We turn to our Comforter. Ultimately, He will right every wrong and put things in order. The world will be transformed. Just not right now. We believe that God is a just God (Isaiah 30:18). It’s one of His divine attributes. We mourn the slowness of God’s justice.


One day Jesus “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). But, what about today?


From Celebrate Recovery, we learn to “Earnestly believe that God exists, that I matter to him, and that he has the power to help me recover.” You might be thinking “Recovery? I don’t need recovery.” If you are mourning something today, if your life is overcome by deep sadness, then you need recovery. You need to know that you matter to God. You need to know that He has the power, on His terms, to help you through your current circumstance and every circumstance after that.


What are you mourning today? What injustice or unfairness enrages you? As we trust in Jesus, He will bring comfort.


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are You on God’s Bad Side?

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." James 4:6


When we are proud, God is opposed to us. That’s what this verse says. Considering God’s power and might, it would be wise to have God on our side rather to live in opposition to Him.


I’m not saying this to be clever. I’m saying this because I don’t know that we understand how truly serious this is. Pride is one of the greatest hindrances to our spiritual well-being. It’s one of the seven deadly sins, according to Pope Gregory the Great (Source: gotquestions.org). (So is gluttony, but we talked about confession yesterday, and I’ve lost 15 pounds).


Pride puts us at the center of our universe. Pride is the desire to prove everyone else wrong just to prove that we’re right. Pride is the compulsion for control. Pride is hogging the ball, the remote, and the credit. Pride puts us on the wrong side of God.


Grace is not given to the proud, because the proud see no need for grace. Like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son, who did everything right, the proud don’t have a need for the Father’s grace (Luke 15:29). They are in control. They are calling the shots. The proud can take care of themselves. As St. Augustine said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils. It is humility that makes men as angels.”


So, here’s the problem: proud Christians depend on God for their eternal salvation, but depend on themselves for everything else. God’s saving grace has been applied and their destiny is secure. But, when it comes to everyday living, “if it’s meant to me, it’s up to me.” (That’s a clever phrase, though unbiblical).


God cannot work in us if we don’t allow Him to work. If we are expending all of our energy trying to figure things out and don’t seek God for answers, guess what, God doesn’t give any answers.


God gives grace to the humble, not just for eternal security, but also for daily living. The humble don’t necessarily have low self-esteem. The humble have an accurate view of themselves (Romans 12:3). They have strengths and weaknesses. They are not the center of the universe. The humble acknowledge their weakness so that God, in turn, demonstrates His strength (2 Corinthians 12:10).


God doesn’t love the humble more than the loves the proud. God loves us all. God gives grace to the humble, because they are humble enough to ask for God’s grace. Why would the proud need to ask for God’s grace? They’ve got it all under control.


How do you need God’s grace today? Have you asked Him for it? God is not stingy with His grace. He won’t scold you first. God is glad to be on your side.


A beautiful hymn by Annie J. Flint captures this well:


His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.


If you have time, the lyrics to this hymn are priceless: http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/He_Giveth_More_Grace/


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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Soul Cancer

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD "-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:3-5


Unconfessed sin is a cancer on the soul. As David writes, it doesn’t just affect us spiritually, but it also takes a toll emotionally and physically.


The deception of sin is that it allows us to believe that we have control over it, when sin actually has control over us. Sin causes us to think, “I can stop any time I want to.” But, here’s the deal: if you could stop, then why haven’t you stopped? If you don’t believe me, then I would challenge you today, to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and quit. Cold turkey. If you think you are in control, then you can quit today and never go back to it. Let me know how it goes for you. Let me know when you need to quit again.


I’m not saying these things because I am better than you. I am saying these things because I am you. I’m just as fallen and as prone to sin as the next guy. I’m just as easily deceived into depending on myself until the next crisis arises. So, I suppose that I am just as prideful and stupid as anyone else.


The power of sin lies in our secrets. My friend, Paul, says “I’m only as sick as my secrets.” We worry about our loss of reputation or embarrassment if someone found out what we were up to. We can’t believe that we let ourselves become trapped by sin, yet part of us doesn’t want to get away from it. The result isn’t life and peace, but guilt and shame.


Here’s the deal: if you were truly in control of your sin and could quit, then you would have quit already. You can’t. If you are trapped by over-working, online relationships, smoking, mindless web surfing, endless television watching, pornography, over-eating, over-exercising or over-anything else, you need the help of other believers to escape this trap. If you are trapped, that thought is terrifying.


Why can’t I just confess this to God? Why do I need to involve anyone else? Because you’ve already confessed this to God, and you’re right back in it. James writes, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). We need the accountability from someone who loves us, but is not impressed with us. This isn’t a person who keeps a “record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5), but someone who encourages us so that we don’t give up. Paul writes, “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).


The blessing of confessing our sins is found in the beginning of this Psalm:


Blessed is he
     whose transgressions are forgiven,
     whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man
     whose sin the LORD does not count against him
     and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2)


My hope and prayer for you today is that you will find the blessing of forgiveness and freedom through your confession, true fellowship and God’s power.




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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Feeling Stuck?

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. Romans 7:15-17


The Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to be a guy that many of us can relate to. He planted the church throughout Asia Minor and Southern Europe without an airplane, a computer, a telephone or a television. He wrote nearly half of the New Testament (13 of 27 books: Romans through Philemon). He was arrested, beaten, left for dead and run out of town. He preached to politicians and prisoners. The Apostle Paul is out of our league.


Yet, this passage in Romans is probably the most “human” of his writing. When I read these words, I feel like Paul is writing about me. “Why did I just say that, I know that it hurts their feelings? Why did I just eat that, I’m not even hungry?” The list can go on and on.


Don’t take this passage as an excuse to place blame for our actions. We are responsible for how we act. If we don’t understand why we do what we do, then we need to figure that out. The point is this: you and I are powerless to overcome the temptations in our lives. God never encourages us to resist our temptations (James 1:13-14). He directs us to run from them (1 Corinthians 6:18). There is no way through temptation, that will benefit us, but there is a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13).


Left to us, we will never become the best versions of ourselves. We seek comfort, safety and self-preservation. We want to be soothed. We want to escape. An old saying goes “The path of least resistance makes both men and rivers crooked.” Left to ourselves, we’re a bit of a mess.


But, God is not content to leave us there. “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).


On our own, you and I will never achieve the lives that God will bless. We’re just not that good. But, as God does His work in us, He will transform our lives through the work of His Spirit. The key is control. If we attempt to control our own lives and to control the people and circumstances around us, we cannot receive the blessings of God. Our desire for control always results in sinfulness. If we allow God’s Spirit to control us, the results are much different. “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).


How’s your peace these days? What’s the quality of your life? Are you dragging through your days or are you enjoying life that is truly life (1 Timothy 6:9)?




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Monday, October 18, 2010

"Control Freaks" Anonymous

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3


Who are the “poor in spirit”? What does that even mean? Are they depressed? Are they weak spiritually? It’s an odd term.


In his gospel, Luke just says, “blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20). We understand “poor,” so let’s start there. There are a lot of different reasons why people are poor. We are not going to explore all of that today. Let’s consider poverty in its purest form, if you will.


The advantage of the poor is that they’re disadvantaged. The poor have no wealth. The poor have no power. The poor have no influence. Most people in the United States are among the wealthiest people in the world. If you don’t know where you rank, check out this Wealth Calculator (http://www.globalrichlist.com/). (If you earn only $2,000 per year, you are in the Top 20% of the world’s richest people).


Here’s why the poor are blessed: the poor cannot help themselves and must depend on God. Their survival depends on reliance on God. They are not self-made, they are unmade. They have fewer encumbrances in life. They don’t worry about their cell phone reception or their air conditioning. They don’t have either.


Don’t get me wrong here. It’s not more spiritual to be poor and less spiritual to be wealthy. Christians become confused and carry some unnecessary guilt over this. Jesus did challenge the rich young ruler: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).
This was a loaded statement.


First of all, none of us can achieve perfection, but the rich young ruler thought that was the path to eternal life (Matthew 19:16-20). Jesus was simply pointing out that legalism doesn’t lead to righteousness.


Secondly, the implication here is that the rich young ruler trusted in his wealth and his ability to create wealth more than he trusted in God. If he could obey the Law and provide for his needs, why did he even need God? He didn’t.


Now, if you are wealthy and successful, don’t get discouraged. After all, Jesus adds “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).


The whole matter does not involve what you have or what you don’t have. The bottom line is who or what you depend on for your well-being. How big of a deal do you consider yourself to be? Are you the king of the world? Maybe it’s time to resign and to realize that there is very little that you can actually control. Oh, you can drive yourself nuts trying to control everything. (“Hi, my name is Allen, and I’m a recovering control freak.”) You and I must realize that we are not in control, but God is in control.


Whether your life is up and to the right or in the red, your circumstances can change very quickly. Some have seen that happen in the last few years. And, there’s nothing that you could have done to change that.


To acknowledge that you are not in control and that you must depend on God is to be poor in spirit. To recognize that you cannot control anyone or anything and that God has control over all is to be poor in spirit. Not financially poor, but poor “in spirit.” The poor in spirit live as though their entire lives are solely dependent on God and His goodness toward them. Well resourced or overdrawn, we’re all in the same boat.


As we learn to depend fully on God, we receive something that we could never acquire or achieve: the Kingdom of God – in this present world and in the world to come.


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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sacred Paradoxes

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:


"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
     for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
     for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
     for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
     for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
     for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
     for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
     for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:3-12


The beatitudes have always seemed like funny little riddles to me. I’m not trying to disrespect them. After all, they are the “red letter” words of Jesus Himself. It’s just that, honestly, I’ve never parked at the beatitudes for very long. Maybe it’s hard to “be happy” when I know that I’m about to get pounded with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).


One author calls the beatitudes “sacred paradoxes.” They express both present and future blessedness. The “poor in spirit” will possess the Kingdom presently as they belong to Jesus and potentially when they enter Eternity. They have part of it now and are waiting for the rest.


But, to be honest, Jesus instructs us to be happy about some rather difficult circumstances: poverty, mourning, hunger, thirst and persecution to name a few. We don’t really find much happiness in those circumstances.


Obviously, “happy” means more than just being happy. The idea is more of a deep inner joy. Happiness is based on happenstance (do you see the similarity). If I’m in a good circumstance, then I’m happy. If I’m in a bad situation, then I’m unhappy.


Joy doesn’t depend on our circumstances. In fact, joy can be sort of ludicrous. The writer of Hebrews says, “You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrews 10:34). That’s just crazy. Seriously crazy. And, seriously needed.


Right now, you and I could easily come up with a couple dozen things that we are unhappy about. (Don’t go there.) Without regard for our circumstances, God intervenes in ridiculous ways. He knows how temporary the situation is. He knows the grand scheme of things. He knows the end result.


God is saying to you and me today: “Oh, you’re poor in spirit, well, I just can’t wait to show you what’s in store. You’re mourning today, I’m going to work in your life to provide all of the comfort you need. You hunger and thirst for righteousness and just can’t stand the injustice in the world, boy, do I have something in store for you.”


Do you feel blessed today? God wants you to have His “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8, KJV).




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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Water Wells, Church Bulletins and Life’s Purpose

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28


I was listening to Roland Bergeron the other night at Monday Night with the MOB (Men of Brookwood). Roland left a lucrative construction business to found Water of Life. He has drilled hundreds of water wells to support church planting in Honduras, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now India. After dozens of 20+ hour flights and sweaty, sleepless nights on a cot, Roland made this statement, “Comfort is the enemy of serving.”


The “enemy,” really? Couldn’t comfort be merely a distraction? Why does it have to be the enemy?


Jesus said that there are two groups of people among us, “those who are served and those who serve.” Jesus came to serve. Jesus calls us to serve. Guess what we have to give up?


Entitlement says, “I deserve.” This is a little corny, but to feel that we deserve is to de-serve. If I am focused on what I need, I am not focused on what you need. My selfishness never leads to selflessness. My pride never produces humility. Self-interest is not the source of self-sacrifice.


That doesn’t mean that we become a doormat and never take care of ourselves. That would be co-dependency. God wants to bless us. He doesn’t intend to bless us into a level of comfort that dictates against serving others, however. To use an overused phrase, we are blessed to be a blessing.


You and I are not better than Jesus. Jesus came to serve. As His disciples, He has commissioned us to serve as well.


When we lived in Southern California, we were members of Saddleback Church. Saddleback is a great church, but I was disappointed with it. The church wasn’t as picture perfect as the one presented in The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren. Some days, I wondered if they had ever read that book. The themes of the sermons were quite familiar. I had downloaded and preached many of them myself over the years. I was a member of one of the greatest churches on the planet, and I was dissatisfied. Then, something changed.


I discovered that there were only five regular ushers in the 4:30 pm Sunday service that we attended. There were at least 1,500 people there every week and only five ushers! I was there every week. I could usher. And, do you know what? My focus changed. I was no longer there for myself. I was there to welcome people to the service. I gave them a bulletin, a greeting and a smile. I had to ask them to finish their coffee before they came into the auditorium. (I think I accidentally let a guy in with a beer once, but that’s another story).


Serving changed my perspective. I was no longer at church to be inspired and entertained. I was there to serve others.


What are you feeling disgruntled about these days? My guess is that you feel like you deserve something that you’re not getting. My challenge to you is to turn it around. Whether you hand out bulletins on Sunday or drill water wells in Africa, I challenge you to serve. It’s amazing how little you will feel that you de-serve.


For more information on Water of Life: http://www.givefreshwater.org/


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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are You Polluting Your Environment?

I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. Joshua 14:7-8


When Joshua, Caleb and the ten other spies were sent by Moses into the Promised Land, they had very different impressions of their possibility for success. Ten of the spies reported that the odds were strongly against their success. Caleb offered a much different perspective, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30). “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored” (Numbers 13:31-32). The negative report caused the people to “raise up their voices and weep aloud” (Numbers 14:1).


Ten of the spies looked at the circumstance. They were outnumbered and outsized. Their forecast was that the land would “devour” them (Numbers 13:32). But, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, had a different viewpoint: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:7-9). What made the difference?


All twelve spies had the same objective, saw the same things, and served the same God. Ten chose to focus on the impossible situation. Two chose to focus on the God who doesn’t know the word “impossible” (Luke 1:37). Ten chose to evaluate their natural ability. Two chose to embrace God’s call and His ability. The report of the ten produced fear and retreat. The report of the two produced confidence and hope (with a little fear).


This wasn’t so much a “glass half-empty or half-full” situation. This was more of a victory or death situation. The stakes were high. The morale was low. But, God is good.


What I have learned (the hard way) is that the negative report should be directed to God. He is the only one who can actually do anything about it. Rather than demoralize and discourage everyone around me, I give the negative over to God. He can take it. He’s never surprised.


Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am no Pollyanna. I’m definitely the opposite of that, which is what, Satan? I don’t look at the world through rose colored glasses. I usually look at the world through dirty glasses. It’s the opposite problem.


What affect are you having on others around you? Are they flourishing or are they wilting? Are they confident or are they fearful? If your effect on others is more negative than positive, today is a good time to evaluate what you are reporting and who you are reporting it to. The negative should be directed to God. The encouraging should be given to others.




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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When Bad Times Start to Look Good Again

Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." Numbers 14:3-4


When we’re in a situation, we tend to focus on all of the negative things and forget the good things. When we’re out of the situation, the good things tend to stand out and the bad things tend to fade away. This isn’t 100 percent. There are some circumstances that are so horrific that the bad things will never fade away. But, in general, we focus on the current bad and the previous good.


This was the case with the Israelites. They were not reflecting on the bondage of slavery and the horrors of forced labor in Egypt. Their current peril erased the beatings and the cruelty. After all, the Egyptians wanted them to survive. Dead slaves were of no use to anyone.


Their greatest enemy was fear. They were following God’s direction through Moses, but they were facing the unknown. That’s scary for anybody. It was scary to the point that fear of the Egyptians seemed like a welcome relief.


God doesn’t lead us to safe places. He pushes, sometimes shoves us out of our comfort zones. Often we long for the comfort of bad habits, bad relationships, harmful addictions, or even negative thought patterns, because even though it’s bad, at least we know what we have. In some twisted way, we have decided that even bad things are safe when they are familiar.


But, what’s scarier, moving forward with God or retreating backward without God? I’m not saying that God will abandon you. He has promised not to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). When we retreat into our old ways, we are embracing dependence on ourselves and rejecting dependence on God. When we move forward, we feel out of control, because we are. The unfamiliar causes a greater dependence on God.


The unfamiliar appears in many ways. It’s not necessarily a change in our surroundings or our relationships. Moving forward is changing our outlook, changing our attitude, or making positive changes in our relationships. We might think “You know, it would be easier if I just stayed grumpy, because then people avoid me. If I become friendly and they hang around, I don’t know what to do with them.” “If I offer forgiveness more quickly, won’t that just reinforce their bad behavior.” “If I think more positively about my job and avoid the negativity of others, will my friends think that I’ve sold out?”


Change is scary. But, if you think about it, so is staying the same.


What change do you fear today? What do you feel like giving up on? What from your past is starting to sound good again? Ask God to help you through this desert time. He will.


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Monday, October 11, 2010

Indulgence and the Cross

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:24-27


Jesus gave this direction to His disciples after He had a confrontation with Peter. Peter challenged Jesus about His approaching arrest, death and resurrection. Peter would have none of it. Jesus responded strongly, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23).


Peter didn’t want to lose Jesus. He had spent the last three and a half years with Jesus. Peter had given up his career to follow Jesus. He didn’t want things to end. Peter didn’t want to see Jesus suffer and die. He wasn’t objecting to taking up his own cross and following Jesus. He was objecting to Jesus doing it.


The “taking up the cross” part is a cause for some confusion. Every believer doesn’t have the gift of martyrdom. Some believers take this as carrying the enduring problems in their lives: (in a droll voice): “Well, I guess this is the cross I have to bear.” And, it could be anything from their mother-in-law moving in to watching football on an analog television.


The cross is a symbol of ultimate surrender. No one hanging on a cross is calling the shots for their own lives. But, we jump to the idea of carrying a cross to avoid a more personal command: “Deny yourself.”


The world encourages us to indulge ourselves. Why? Well, they make money off of our indulgences. Self-denial is not as profitable. Indulgence says, “You deserve it.” Denial says, “I could indulge myself, but I choose to deny myself for the sake of something greater.” Indulgence says, “Satisfaction is within your reach. You are in control.” Denial says, “I’m going to skip what is easily available and release control.” You cannot control the things of God.


Our indulgences result in shame, guilt, flab, failed health, hangovers, and failed relationships. Ultimately, indulgences lead to the loss of our souls. In fact, Jesus said that we could gain the whole world, yet lose our souls.


Solomon was the wealthiest man who ever lived. He possessed a higher percentage of the world’s wealth than Bill Gates, Cornelius Vanderbilt, or Sam Walton. There was nothing that Solomon couldn’t have. Yet, Solomon’s conclusion is this: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).


What are you killing yourself to achieve? Financial success? Recognition? Pleasure and indulgence? The lasting things of life are brought by denial rather than indulgence. As Perry has said, “The most meaningful things in life can’t be touched, but they can be felt.”




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Sunday, October 10, 2010

There’s No Problem-Free

The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:2


Joseph is remarkable to me. His brothers threw him down a well (Genesis 37:23-24), faked his death (Genesis 37:31-33), sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:28, 36), then Joseph rises up to flourish in Potiphar’s household (Genesis 39:2-6). After Joseph flees from the advances of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:6-15), he is falsely accused and thrown into prison (Genesis 39:16-20) where he prospered (Genesis 39:20-23). After Joseph had been forgotten for two years (Genesis 41:1), he is called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41:15), and then becomes basically the Prime Minister of Egypt (Genesis 41:41-57).


Here’s the difference between me and Joseph: good things and bad things also happen to me, but my response tends to be significantly less positive than Joseph’s. If Joseph had become bitter, depressed, questioned his faith, questioned the goodness of God, and wondered if he’d made a mistake at each juncture of his life, then we could be twins. This is one of many reasons why you don’t read about my life in the Bible.


The remarkable thing about Joseph is that he didn’t intentionally turn lemons into lemonade. He didn’t force himself to sing Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t worry. Be Happy.”) or listen to Tony Robbins tapes. While we don’t know what he did at the bottom of the well, other than just wait, we see at Potiphar’s house, in prison, and in Pharaoh’s administration, Joseph was available for God to use him. And, God caused him to prosper over and over again.


So often we think “Well, if I can just get through this, then I can focus on serving God.” But, here’s the deal: do we ever actually get through it? As Rick Warren says, we are always in one of three places: in a problem, exiting from a problem, or entering a new problem. There is no problem-free. (To borrow a phrase from Mark Howell). Life doesn’t stop because we have problems. Spiritual growth doesn’t stop either.


In fact, the problems that we’re facing can better reveal God’s glory and power in our lives than the peaceful times. We might think that there is no possible way that we can pour more effort in our relationship with God when our problems are sapping all of our strength. So, don’t. Don’t try harder to serve God. Let God work in you. Just lay it all out before Him: “God here I am in the middle of this problem. I feel like I’m at my brink. I can’t deal with it, and I certainly don’t feel like I can move forward spiritually. I need for You to work in me through this situation. Accomplish what You intend through these circumstances. I can’t. I give it to You.” Then, wait and see how God works.


God can bring unrealistic peace (Philippians 4:6-7). God can cause us to flourish. Our circumstances will never be perfect, and we certainly can’t afford to wait to grow spiritually.


Maybe you feel like you’ve been thrown down a well today. Maybe you’ve been falsely accused or mistreated. Maybe you feel forgotten. God wants to uniquely use this circumstance to develop His character in you and to show you His goodness.


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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Extra Mile? What About the First Mile?

If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41


Jesus is speaking to a common annoyance among the people of His time. Under Roman law, soldiers could commandeer ordinary citizens into carrying their burdens for the distance of one mile. They had no choice. One mile was the obligation. No more. No less.


Jesus challenged His followers to “go the extra mile.” That’s a term that has permeated the vernacular of our culture. “Extra mile service,” Extra Mile books, Extra Mile seminars, and Chevron even has “ExtraMile” stores.





The first mile was out of obligation. There was no choice. The second mile was unexpected. Just when the soldier would expect the citizen to carelessly drop the burden on the ground, the citizen takes the next step into the second mile and continues on. Maybe the soldier thought he had a dumb citizen who couldn’t calculate mileage. Would the soldier just have let this go or would he have reminded the citizen that he didn’t need to carry it further?


What is Mile One in your life? Working an eight-, ten-, twelve-hour day? Maintaining a home? Teaching lessons to a class? Reaching a quota? Writing five devotionals and a small group leaders’ blog? What is that first mile?


Now, where does the extra mile take you? Maybe it’s doubling your efforts. Maybe it’s not. Maybe the extra mile is not just putting in the hours and doing the work. The extra mile is caring about the work as if it was your own, as if you were working for God (Colossians 3:23). Maybe the extra mile is caring about your co-workers and your boss. How are they doing? Where do they need help?


Maybe the extra mile is giving when you have nothing to gain. Jesus’ followers weren’t going to become all buddy-buddy with Roman soldiers. But, Jesus directed them to help people and to expect nothing in return.


If you are completely irritated by this devotional today, then I would challenge you to take Jesus’ words right back to Jesus. “Jesus, You are telling me to go the extra mile when I don’t even feel like going the first mile. Do you know what I have to deal with at work, home, (fill in the blank)? If You want me to develop this extra mile attitude, then You need to do a work in me. I can’t do this on my own and maintain it.” Then, wait and see what happens next.


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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Devil + Moonshine = Trouble

In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Ephesians 4:26-27


I like to avoid conflict. Sometimes I like to pretend that there is no conflict and just go about life like normal. But, unresolved conflict doesn’t go away. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s the mound of dirt under the rug. It’s the source of passive-aggressive behavior. Avoiding conflict doesn’t make anything any better.


But, when we enter the danger of conflict, chances are that feelings will be hurt, particularly mine. Who wants to volunteer for that?


If you’ve been to Caesar’s Head State Park in South Carolina, then you’ve probably wandered down a small wooden staircase into a narrow passage called “The Devil’s Kitchen.” You walk through a gap that’s only about four feet wide where the granite has split.





“The story goes that the devil himself used to brew moonshine on top of Caesars Head. He brewed a very potent brand of shine. It was so potent that he spilled a single drop of the shine on the overlook and it split the rock. So the split became known as the Devil's Kitchen because this is where he cooked the strong brew that split the rock.” (Source: Southcarolinaparks.com )


Now, I’m not sure whether the devil actually brews moonshine, but I can definitely see the connection.


Unresolved anger creates a split in a relationship that gives the devil a foothold. One disagreement might not be as powerful as the drop of moonshine that created the Devil’s Kitchen, but drop by drop relationships are fractured until they eventually split.


The solution is easy, and yet it’s not. Don’t let things go on forever. In fact, don’t let any conflict that happened today, go beyond today. Don’t let the sun go down.


While it’s easier said than done, we need to man up or woman up and face the conflict head-on, especially if we are the offender. Whatever the issue is nothing is more important than the relationship. If the other person won’t hear you, take someone with you (Matthew 18:16). Preferably take a wiser person or a counselor. This isn’t a matter of proving who’s right and who’s wrong. This is about preserving the relationship and growing.


What relationship do you need to resolve? God doesn’t allow us to just write people off. If they are willing to talk, then listen. If they are willing to reconcile, then consider it.


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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning to Suffer Well

His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" Job 2:9


The difference between Job and us is that Job lost everything all at once: his family, his wealth, his health. You and I will also lose all of these things, but over a longer period of time. (This gets better. Don’t stop reading now.)


Suffering is not a fun topic, but it’s certainly a part of life. In fact, suffering is so costly to us, we need to grow from our suffering rather than just suffer for no good reason at all.


Life is a series of loses. We start out with great expectations, but often we lose some of those dreams. We suffer. We begin life with parents who love us, care for us, and meet our needs. Over time, we care for our parents, and then we lose them. These aren’t happy thoughts, but they are real.


In fact, out of everything that we have and everyone we know there is only one relationship that endures – our relationship with God. God is always with us. God shares in the “fellowship of suffering” (Philippians 3:10).


The Bible tells us, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). At this point, you may be thinking that this is not what you signed up for. But, here’s the reality, with Christ or without Christ, everyone suffers. If we can learn to suffer well, then we will develop Christ-like character and a sensitivity to others that we’ve never had before.


This is not a popular message, but it is a necessary message. So often when people suffer, they think that God is mad at them or that they are being punished for something that they’ve done. If you have trusted Christ for your salvation, then all of the punishment for your sin has been erased (Romans 4:7-8). That’s not what suffering is about.


Here’s the big question: If you lost everything except for God, would He be enough? Job had plenty of reasons to curse. He was under an unreasonable amount of pressure. There was little reason to be happy. Maybe there was little reason to trust God at that point. Yet, Job chose to trust. The end result was “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first” (Job 42:12-17). The reward, however, was not only material.


I believe that Job’s greatest blessing was the realization that sometimes things happen without a logical explanation. No one is at fault. There is no one to blame. Forty chapters of the book of Job exhaust every possible explanation. Job concludes, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3).


How are you suffering today? How is God working to develop your character? How are you learning to trust God more deeply?


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Monday, October 4, 2010

Is Your Relationship with Jesus Too Personal?

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 1 John 3:14


We have focused so much on our “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ that I believe we have forgotten that our faith is always in the context of community. There is a place to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus. For people who are caught up in the religion of Christianity or who depend on the church for their salvation, we need to emphasize that following Jesus is not a religion, but a relationship. But, have we made our relationship with Christ too personal?


If I have a personal relationship with Christ, and yet it doesn’t affect the other relationships around me, something is awry. If I am a great Christian in my head, yet others see very little evidence of Christ in me, there is a problem.


According to John’s letter, the evidence of passing from death to life is that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ. That doesn’t mean that we like everything that they do, but that we love them no matter what. Our connection to Christ produces something far deeper than the conditional relationships of this world. When fellow believers hurt us or otherwise misbehave, we must remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).


We have an enemy that wants to divide us and pit us against each other. He wants to create as much disunity as he possibly can. And, he will use every means possible, including our own selfishness, to keep us apart.


If you love Jesus, but you can’t stand His followers, then Jesus has a lot more work to do in you. Other people can do some pretty outrageous things in the name of Christ. I don’t like some of those things either. But, what’s going on in them? What’s their story? What do they misunderstand? What do they not know?


What fellow believer are you struggling with right now? I would encourage you to spend some time with them, not to take the issue head-on, but just to get to know them. The monster that you’ve created in your head is not the person who is sitting in front of you.


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