stories, lessons, and a lot of nonsense

I love to celebrate.  I celebrate little victories and big victories.  I celebrate personal accomplishments and the accomplishments of others.  It doesn’t take much to get me to celebrate with you. If you’re excited, I’m usually excited (pastoral exclusion clause for excitement over sin; I can’t get excited about that). I especially love to celebrate church things. I am deeply moved when people accept Christ at church.  It never gets old.  I get excited for baptism Sundays, for baby dedications, for people joining the church, for students signing up to go on their first (or 8th) mission trip, for when an elementary kid brings his quiet time for the first time.  These things are worthy of celebration.

We all celebrate some of those things together in church, and I think we’re all excited for what God is doing, but not everyone is invested in it. Some have worked and fought hard with and for others to experience victory.  People have given their time, their abilities, their finances, their friendships, their wisdom, etc. to the church, to their neighbors, to their friends, to their families, because they are invested in the Kingdom, but not everyone is.  Some are just there to celebrate at the end. I was thinking about this dynamic as I was reading about David’s Mighty Men in my devotions last week.

“Next in rank among the Three was Eleazar son of Dodai, a descendant of Ahoah. Once Eleazar and David stood together against the Philistines when the entire Israelite army had fled. He killed Philistines until his hand was too tired to lift his sword, and the LORD gave him a great victory that day. The rest of the army did not return until it was time to collect the plunder!” 2 Samuel 23:9-10

Eleazar stayed to fight.  David was at war with the Philistines, and he wasn’t going anywhere.  Most of his soldiers left, but not Eleazar.  He was invested in the battle and the subsequent victory. The rest of the soldiers came back only when the battle was won to collect the plunder.  They returned for the celebration.  On that day, they were nothing more than party guests, while Eleazar was a mighty warrior.

In the context of the church, which are you?  Party guest or mighty warrior?  Are you standing in the trenches, pushing forward for the advancement of God’s kingdom?  When we celebrate at church, are you celebrating as someone who was invested, or are you celebrating as a party guest? Are you doing what you need to do to see victories for the kingdom: people coming to church for the first time, people accepting Jesus as Lord, baptisms, kids learning about Jesus, etc.? You can.  Even if you haven’t in the past, you can.  You can start investing in other people, inviting other people, serving in one of the many ministries in the church, investing your offering in the church.  You can get involved and fight for victories and advancements for the Kingdom of God.

Don’t be just a party guest. Be a mighty warrior.


not swayed

Did you know that not everyone likes everything I have to say?  I know that is shocking, but it is true.  I have found in ministry that there will be times when I’m called to preach a particular topic that I know in advance will not be popular.  Sometimes students don’t like everything I teach.  Sometimes adults get upset with what I teach.  It’s par for the course.  This most commonly happens when the subject matter is more charged or sensitive, perhaps difficult and/or countercultural.  Some days you just know you’re not going to make everyone happy.  I don’t intentionally say things to make people unhappy, but I’m willing to teach what the Bible says regardless of how it might make someone else feel.

I just finished 1 Kings last night.  Throughout 1 Kings, you pick up a pattern of Israel’s kings not following after God, choosing rather to listen to false prophets and worship false gods.  God’s prophets were often instructed to deliver bad news to the kings as a result of their sin.  These conversations tended to be awkward and not welcomed.  In 1 Kings 22, King Ahab wants to take back a city that had previously belonged to Israel.  He consulted many false prophets of false gods regarding his plan, and they all readily agreed with him.  King Jehosaphat shared his concern that a prophet of the one true God had not been consulted, so Ahab relented and sent for Micaiah.  When Ahab’s messenger reached Micaiah, this was there exchange in 1 Kings 22:12-14 (NLT):

Meanwhile, the messenger who went to get Micaiah said to him, “Look, all the prophets are promising victory for the king. Be sure that you agree with them and promise success.” But Micaiah replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, I will say only what the Lord tells me to say.”

Micaiah was not swayed by the request of the messenger.  He was not swayed to tickle the ears of the king to make him happy and avoid his wrath.  He wasn’t going to compromise, knowing that speaking the truth to the king could get him killed like many prophets before him.  He was only going to say what God told him to say.  He would only speak the truth.

I think this is an important lesson for us as Christians.  Humans have a long history of not liking what God has to say and of going against Him. Even people who believe in and worship God have disagreed with Him, but our disagreements do not change His truth.  It is important for the Christian to stand firmly on what God says, not dispute with Him when what He says goes against how we feel, and communicate what He says without watering it down to avoid conflict.  Sometimes God will put someone in your path who needs to hear His truth, and we can’t shy away from it just because it may make us uncomfortable. People will want us to agree with them.  They may denigrate us when we do not.  They may want to silence us.  But we cannot let fear of disproval from people cause us to be swayed from the truth of the Bible.

Don’t be swayed.  Don’t compromise.  Only say was the Lord has said.

be still

Be still.
Be quiet.
Be silent.
Stop moving.
Stop fighting.
Stop ignoring.

God keeps bringing me back to Psalm 46.  I cannot tell you how many times I have read it in the last month, but it has been several times.

But why?  Why does He keep making me read this.  It has consumed my mind.  I think of it as I go to sleep, and it is still there when I wake up.  Why?

Because I am not good at being still.  I cannot sit still most of the time.  I struggle to still my mind.  He wants my attention – when I read, when I pray, throughout my day – but I struggle to stop thinking of conversations, details, scenarios.  My mind drifts to things that make me happy, things that make me sad, people that make me angry, and what I want to do about all of those things.

I need to be still.  I need silence.  I need solace.
I need to empty my mind, so I can empty my heart to Him.
I need to stop talking to God, so I can listen to Him.
I need to cast all of my cares on Him.
Wars and storms may rage around me.  I can’t dwell on that.
That means no more worrying about finances, no more worrying about defending myself, no more worrying about what others do.  I can’t waste another minute on the things I cannot control.  Whatever is nagging at me belongs to Him.  The less time I spend worrying, the more time I can spend accomplishing the things God wants me to do.

Be still.  Be silent.  Listen and hear.  Watch and see.

Psalm 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Jakob made me proud this week.  He asked me if he could have 26 Easter invite cards from church.  I asked why he wanted to many, and he said he wanted to invite everyone in his class, including his teacher, to be at church Sunday.  Tuesday night, he spent time writing names on the cards and making sure to put “from Jakob” on all of them, and then he put them in his backpack.  On the way to school yesterday, I told him he needed to ask his teacher when the most appropriate time would be to give them out instead of being disruptive to her schedule, so he did.  I also told him that he needed to understand that not everyone would want to come, because some have their own churches, and some just don’t go to church, so he shouldn’t get upset if some people didn’t want them.  He said he was okay with whatever they said.  After school, Sarah was waiting for him to come home.  We live across the street from his school, so if his brother is napping, Sarah waits for him in our driveway as he walks himself home.  He was running late, though. When he finally showed up ten minutes late, he told Sarah that he was late, because he was handing out his invites to all of his classmates.

I was proud of him for making that choice.  It was his idea, not ours, and he went through with it.  He didn’t get nervous and back out, as I would be tempted to do.  I asked him if he was nervous at all, and he said that he was not, because it was important and needed to be done.  He’s very pragmatic.  I admit that I was a little jealous of his boldness.  I don’t know the last time I shared the Gospel or invited someone to church without feeling nervous.  I can talk myself out of opportunities to invite and share. I know it’s because I don’t like rejection. What if they say no to me?

The reality is that some will turn you down, and some will even be rude in the process.  Jesus knew people would not accept His message when He sent out His disciples, so He gave them encouragement in this regard.  In Luke 10, Jesus sent out His disciples to share the truth about Him into the surrounding towns.  He tells them how to handle being accepted, and He also tells them how to handle being rejected, because Jesus knew some would reject them.  But He assured them it wasn’t them the people were rejecting. Jesus told them, “Hey, when people reject you, it’s not you; it’s Me they’re rejecting.”

Don’t get discouraged when people do not accept the truth of God when you share it.  It’s not you that they are rejecting; it’s God.  As Christians, we are simply responsible for telling them the truth.  We are not responsible for making people believe, because we can’t make them believe.    What people do with the truth that we share with them is between them and God.  We are the messengers.  We have the most important message.  I encourage you to share it this week, invite people to hear it this week at church, and remember that it’s not you, It’s Jesus they’re rejecting if it comes down to that.

I know that I can be stubborn and defensive.  Unfortunately, I have several eyewitness testimonies to support that claim.  As I mentioned in my last post, I tend to trust my own wisdom, which is prideful of me.  Sometimes this makes me very skeptical of other people trying to push me in a direction other than the one I was already intending to go.  It can make me very defensive over any correction.  I know that because of this, it can be difficult to lead me.  Knowing one needed to correct me has been stressful for those that have led me, because they were not always sure how I would react.  Would I listen to grow, or would I listen to defend?

One verse that struck me when I read it last year, and struck me again last month, is Deuteronomy 1:12. As Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about how God had appointed him to lead them, he pointed out that they were not the easiest to lead.  He said, “But you are such a heavy load to carry! How can I deal with all your problems and bickering?”  It first caught my attention, because I thought it was funny.  Moses was often very blunt with Israel. My first thought was that I wish I could get away with talking to people like that!  But then I realized I was identifying with the wrong side of the conversation.  I have often been such a heavy load to carry for those that have led me.  I have been contentious, I have bickered with others, especially over corrections.  I wonder how many of my bosses have ever wanted to say to me, “You are such a heavy load to carry!  How am I supposed to deal with you?”  This is something that God has convicted me over, and it is something that I pray about daily.  I want to experience full life in my field.  I want to listen, learn, and not always be defensive.

I want to grow, and I want to be better at my job, but I will never grow if I don’t let others lead me well.  This has gotten better as I’ve gotten older and realized how much I still don’t know, but I wouldn’t say I’m 100% cured. Pastor Dave can attest to that, at least to the not 100% cured part.  One practical tip I have adopted is trying very hard to not respond immediately to critique.  I listen, I try to fight the urge to respond, and then I go home and think about it.  I pray about it.  I will usually respond the next day or the next week.  And do you know what I’ve found?  I would have been wrong to defend myself every time, because the critiques have often been true.  Sometimes I don’t reach the same conclusion, and I do come back and explain why I disagree, but I do so respectfully, not combatively, because I want to be a joy to lead, and I want to be better than I was yesterday.

How heavy of a load are you for your boss(es) or your teachers?  Are you a joy to lead, or are you a burden at work and/or at school?  Be honest with yourself.  Maybe ask someone else’s perception.  And listen without defending yourself!  Wanting to be a joy to lead should be a priority for all Christians.  We should want to listen and follow well, because at the end of the day, we know whatever we are doing, we are doing for God.  Imagine everything you do at work and at school is an offering to God.  What exactly do we want to give Him?

Colossians 3:23 (NLT)

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”

consult the Lord

My default setting when problems arise in my life is to figure out how I can fix it.  I will come up with several ideas on what I can do, bounce my ideas off of Sarah for her input, research ideas that are not even agreed upon, and I will usually pick a favorite or best idea.  There have been several times when this hasn’t worked for me on bigger issues, because for me to proceed with an idea that will be life-changing and a great undertaking, I have to have peace about it.  There have been many times when I felt restless and didn’t have peace from God on proceeding with one of my many solutions.  I get frustrated in these times when God isn’t on the same page as me, and after griping for a while to Him about it, I always come back to the conclusion that it’s my job to get on His page, not the other way around.  So then I pray and ask for guidance.  I consult the Lord.  The time between recognizing the problem and consulting the Lord keeps getting shorter, which is good.  I want it to be my instinct to seek Him first when problems arise, not after I’ve exhausted my mental efforts.

Not only are the solutions God often provides not what I came up with, but His solutions have often been something I would not have wanted.  They solve the issue, but they stray far from what I wanted and what makes sense to me.  I like doing what makes sense to me.  It’s comforting, and I tend to trust my own intellect, reasoning, and problem solving skills. But sometimes what makes sense to me isn’t exactly as it seems, because I’m not perfect.  I can’t always see the big picture.  I don’t know everything going on behind the scenes of what I see before me.

In Joshua 9, the people of Israel were in the process of taking the land of Canaan.  God had instructed them to not make treaties with nations currently living there, because He did not want their false religions tripping up the Israelites.  This meant that Israel was either going to take the land peacefully, or there was going to be war, but there weren’t going to be any allies but God.  The Gibeonites didn’t like their prospects, so they set out to deceive the Israelites.  They lived in the land Israel was taking, and they knew Israel wasn’t making any allies.  They didn’t want to give up their land or their lives. So they put on old clothes, worn out sandals, and packed some moldy bread, and they went out to meet the people of Israel.  They told the Israelite leaders that they were from a far away land and had traveled a great distance to make peace with them, because they knew they were a mighty nation.  They asked how they could know that the Gibeonites were really from far away, so they showed them their clothes, sandals, and their food. They looked road weary, their clothes and sandals were old, worn, and dirty, and their food was spoiled. It all made sense, so they entered a peace treaty God had forbidden.

Joshua 9:14 says, “So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord.”  They stepped outside of God’s will, because they did what made sense without so much as asking God.  We must be careful not to fall into the same trap.  We just don’t know everything, cannot see everything, and are in need of His guidance.  We must be careful to consult the Lord first, seek His guidance first, and do what He instructs us to do.

eyes fixed on Jesus

Every time I really wanted to do something when I was younger that my parents wouldn’t allow me to do, I would always tell them who else was doing it.  When I wanted to go to movies (we weren’t allowed to go see any movies For a long time!), I told them who in church I knew were going.  Deacons and Sunday school teachers’ kids, even.  When I wanted to watch Seinfeld, I let them know it was the pastor’s favorite TV show, according to his kids.  Whatever it was, I always came armed with people who were doing it, hoping to sway my parents.  It never worked.  They always said the same thing: “We’re not so-and-so’s parents.  We’re your parents, and you have to listen to us.”  I always hated that, but it was true.  I had one set of rules to follow, one standard to meet, and it was set by my parents, who were my authority.

Every so often, I catch myself doing this with God.  There may be a show I want to watch on Netflix, but I know I shouldn’t based on the content.  But then I’ll hear that someone I admire and respect has watched it, and I start to think, “But God, so-and-so does it.  Why can’t I?”  It would be wrong for me to watch something I am deeply convicted is not okay for me to watch, because those convictions are based on God’s standards for my life, and He is my authority.  But it’s not hard to find Christians who are doing things that you are specifically called not to do or even to find Christians who are doing things God has commanded all Christians not to do.  It’s really quite easy.  And then it’s easy to excuse yourself in doing it.  After all, that person may seem like a pretty great Christian to you, and if they think it’s okay to do, you may as well do it, too.

The problem here is that people are not our standard of holiness.  Not even your pastors as your standard of holiness.  We should be pursuing God and setting good examples by trying to live a holy life, but we cannot be your standard.  When God commanded the people of Israel to be holy, He didn’t tell them to be holy, because their leader Moses was holy.  He said, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the lord your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2, NLT).  When God had Peter instruct the church to be holy in 1 Peter 1:15, He didn’t say to be holy, because Peter and the other apostles were holy.  He said, “But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.”

It’s easy to get distracted and tempted to do things that don’t meet that standard when we fixate on what other Christians may or may not be doing.  We need to instead keep our eyes on God, because He is both the standard and the authority.  We should strive to be holy, because He is holy.  Hebrews 11 talks about some great people of faith, but then in Hebrews 12, God instructs us to look through that crowd, to cut through it, and to keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.  Just Jesus.  That’s how we are able to run the race set before us with excellence.  Don’t get distracted by what others are doing and not doing.  Focus on the standard: Jesus.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.