Pebbles to Campfires

Goliath learned it the hard way: pebbles kill. As he crumpled to the ground, he couldn’t tell: was it the skill of the trash talking youth or his God’s divine intervention that did him in?

In a management training session long ago, our instructor made the statement that success is opportunity and preparation meeting each other on the same side of the street. The more we prepare, the more success we achieve. How true is that in our spiritual lives? How much of our success comes from our preparation and how much from God’s sovereign move? On one hand, we can point to the Lord sovereignly performing miracles, and on the other hand we can see the diligent lifetimes of people like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa. But what about me? If I want to bring revival to my community, how much do I do and how much do I step aside and let the Lord do?

Let’s take a longer look at David’s legendary victory over Goliath. What would we have done after a major victory like that? We probably would have published a book or two, had several articles in Christian magazines and interviews on Christian networks, and perhaps even have ended up starting a new denomination, something called God’s First Sling Church, complete with its own Slinger School and Seminary. Every disciple would be trained in the use of their slings. When you encounter your next giant, you gotta be prepared! We may have developed different types of sling: the nursery sling toy, the Trainer Sling, the Warrior Sling and for the prize winning slingers, the Expert Sling. We’d have an annual Slinger National Christian Conference with several satellite MiniSling conferences. No giant would stand a chance against our ranks of slingers.

How much of that did David do? Did he start his own Slinger Squad? No, he didn’t. David never used his sling again. Rather than enshrining a dramatic  miracle into a formula, he reached forward to what lay ahead, as Paul described it a few centuries later. Unskilled in the art of war, he abandoned the sling, left behind his shepherd days and entered the army as a rookie. It’s not hard to imagine that he was a cocky kid when we listen to what his brothers said and even to what he said as he approached Goliath. Nevertheless, he humbled himself and continued his preparation, learning conventional warfare from the ground up. With his growing military skill and confidence (let’s be kind and call it that) he earned the respect of the men around him and his rise through the ranks was popular and fast. In short order, he became possibly the youngest general Israel ever had. By then, his shepherd days were a dim memory, and his sling lay forgotten at the bottom of his weapon box like one of Andy’s toys in Toy Story. He had become the nation’s hero, the slayer of tens of thousands, and the king’s son-in-law. His preparation for the throne, to all appearances, was complete.

Appearances deceive. David’s preparation had not even reached the halfway mark. He authored the first phase, from shepherd to general. Just when David thought he was done preparing, the Lord took over. With no warning, David’s life fell apart through no fault of his own. The God to whom David sang all those praise psalms in the sheep pasture, the One who gave him success and favor, seemed to vanish from his life. David had no choice but to run. While running for more than a decade, we can see how his cockiness gradually gave way to a humble confidence. His psalms of this period reveal that the Lord of his youth was still with him and still loved him. His circumstances were dramatically different, but his God was still the same… and in control.

We know the end of David’s story. In his changing circumstances, we can see how the Lord prepared him for the opportunity He had waiting for him. David’s preparation was to watch sheep, praise the Lord, fight lions and bears, and learn how to use the sling. God’s preparation was humility, learning conventional warfare, and learning leadership and patience in adversity. God’s preparation was a lot tougher than David’s, but much more valuable once David stepped into his destiny as Israel’s greatest king.

What was David’s role during the time of God’s preparation? He had to keep running to survive. That might sound nonspiritual, but it was all that was required of him. In the evenings, though, he could build a camp fire, relax in the love surrounding him, and praise the Lord. Fleeing and building campfires, that’s all he needed to do. God and time were taking care of the rest. David even made a few mistakes along the way, but none of those mattered.

Do you feel like David on the run? You think you have a calling, and you may even have seen some progress, but somehow have things stalled out, if not fallen apart? Do you wonder if your card might have accidentally fallen out of God’s Rolodex? Do you wonder if you are “missing it?” Does it seem that sheer survival has become so consuming, the persecution so relentless, that your calling, even the kingdom of God itself, has faded to a distant chimera? (Your daily word to look up.)

Relax. We can take heart from David’s story. God never abandoned him. If we search after the Lord like David did, He will direct our paths. While running to just survive, we still have those campfire moments to soak in the love around us and praise the Lord. Let’s relax and enjoy those, and let the Lord take care of the rest. He does such a good job!

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The Well Revival

The first revival in the world wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. And when it did, it happened all wrong. In a society dominated by men, it was a woman who caused this first revival.

Who was this super-saint who shifted the spiritual atmosphere? The town slut, that’s who. The townspeople knew exactly who and what she was. Jesus knew who she was the moment He met her. She didn’t pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, but, then again, she didn’t try. Starting a revival never even crossed her mind; she just came to fetch water. This doesn’t fit our script for how revival should happen, does it? But revival happened anyway.

Revival wasn’t supposed to happen before the crucifixion… but it did. A woman wasn’t supposed to talk to a man, least of all a strange man, and most certainly not with a Jew… but she did. A Jewish man was not supposed to talk to a woman, and certainly not a Samaritan woman… but Jesus did. In Mark 7, Jesus explained to the Syro-Phoenician woman that He only came for the lost sheep of Israel, and so He shouldn’t have engaged with a Samaritan woman… but He did.

There were no announcements or ordinations. There was no stadium, town hall, or even farmer’s field set aside for the occasion. There was no mention of hell or any eternal damnation, no oratory, no sound system, no liturgy, no altar ministry team, no worship team, no team at all, in fact. There were no miracles or healings we are told about. There was no altar call. Jesus wasn’t even supposed to be there. He was chased away by the religious order of the day, because they heard he and his team had baptized more people than John. Rather than stay and fight, they retreated to Galilee and just happened to stop in the forbidden territory.

How does that work? How does a slut cause a revival, even (or especially) when Jesus knows who she is? It started with her listening when the Lord spoke. Jesus didn’t offer any threats or enticements to cause this revival. In order, this is what He said (like listening to one half of a phone conversation):

  • Give me a drink (request, asking for something)
  • If you knew the gift of God and who it was asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water (preach and challenge)
  • Whoever drinks this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks My water will never thirst. It will become a fountain of water springing up to eternal life (preaching, slightly mystical)
  • Go, call your husband (asking the impossible)
  • You said it: you had 5, now you’re not married (word of knowledge, speaking truth)
  • The hour is coming when worship of the Father won’t take place here. The hour is here when true worshipers will worship in spirit and truth. God is Spirit (mystical prophesy and theology)
  • I who speak to you am He

Nowhere did Jesus threaten her with hell, promise her anything, or tell her what to do. He told her the simple truth: who He was and who she was. Then He backed it up with a word of knowledge, which pointed a finger straight at her sin, unflinchingly, yet with no condemnation. The way He said it assumed she knew her sin; there was no need to rub it in.

He then proceeded to demolish the parochial theology regarding the irrelevant question of where worship physically should take place. As with her sin, He managed to do so without softening any truth, yet with no condemnation. In this exchange, Jesus displayed His unique way of pointing straight at sin and error, but never in a way that attacks the person. He simply stated the facts and then stopped. He laid out the future, but with neither threat nor promise.

After listening to Jesus, she responded by going back to town to tell everyone what happened. Was she a credible witness? Hardly. They knew her, oh, they knew her! “Isaac, if I catch you as much as looking at that women, you’re a dead man!”

It’s easy to overlook how remarkable it was that she spoke to the townspeople, and even more remarkable that they listened to her.  The very reason that she was at the well was because she was an outcast. The women of a village would normally come to get water around sunset, when it was cooler. That would also be the social gathering spot, kind of like the water cooler at the office. Not her. She had to go get her water at midday, in the heat of the day, because she wasn’t worthy of inclusion into their community.

However, the impact of Jesus on this woman was so strong that she forgot her ostracism and simply blurted out her story to all who were in earshot, whether they were listening or not. Something in her shifted. Without realizing it, she was suddenly speaking with authority and urgency. Where did that come from? Could it have been the Holy Spirit? The words she spoke resonated with people who wouldn’t give her the time of day. Why? Could it be that her words had wind under their wings, the wind of the Holy Spirit?

We don’t have to do revival right. I don’t need to be an angel to cause a revival. All I need is a real encounter with Jesus. The Holy Spirit takes care of the rest.

 

If All Your Dreams Came True…

Imagine all of your dreams coming true. Can you? Has it ever happened before? We know of one: King Solomon. He is the only person of which the Bible says that the Lord loved him so much that He wanted to change his name to Jedediah (beloved of Jehovah). Wow, imagine that! Did it show? Let’s see: Displaying the golden spoon in his mouth from an early age, Solomon grew up in a palace as the heir apparent to the greatest king in the history of God’s own nation. And God promised his reign would be even more majestic.

En route to his destiny, all the drama and intrigue of his father’s reign passed him by. He didn’t need to go and fight in any wars; his dad had Joab. When Absalom conspired to take away his inheritance, others fought that battle for him. All he did was enjoy all the fun, games and good times of a king’s kid. Solomon didn’t have to assume the responsibility of the crown until he was forty, which gave him lots of time to enjoy himself any way he wanted. Unlike Jonathan, he didn’t display any interest in warfare, and wasn’t active in his dad’s army, and nobody seemed to mind. Make love, not war, seemed to be Solomon’s motto . Being the heir apparent of the superpower of the day, Solomon got to marry a princess of the only other superpower worth mentioning: Egypt. And, get this: Solomon didn’t have to provide a dowry, as was the norm. Pharaoh wanted so badly to have his daughter marry Solomon, HE provided the dowry! That pretty much fits what we expect when we think of God loving someone enough to want to change his name, doesn’t it?

Isn’t this what we all wish for and dream about? Be honest: if you could write the script of your life, could you do any better than that? Solomon did. When it looked like he might lose his kingdom to Adonijah’s connivance, his mother and Nathan simply stepped in and protected his interests for him; he didn’t have to do a thing. But wait, as those late night TV ads say, there’s more. Once Solomon ascended the throne, he got a personal visit from the God who wanted to change his name. This wasn’t a fairy tale genie, it was the God of heaven and earth, telling Solomon he could have whatever he wanted. Well, it seems Solomon, on top of everything else, was smart, too. He asked God the right question and then, just like hitting the daily double on a TV game show, he got “everything else” thrown in (as if he didn’t already have everything).

Solomon then proceeded to build an extravagant temple for God, but even for this, his dad had already bought most of the materials. All he had to do was put it together. And when that was done, Solomon received a second visit from Lord–not an angel, the Lord Himself. This visit, though, had a gentle warning.

The fairy tale life of Solomon continued unabated. Because his dad before him was so powerful, and because God loved him, he didn’t need to fight any wars. And, if that wasn’t enough, all he had to do was rake in the money everyone was throwing at him. It was almost like you walking into a bank and the manager taking you aside and insisting that you please take this check for a million dollars.

Could we get used to that? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bottomless bank account, our face on the cover of Time magazine and our choice of marriage partner? And if that person displeased us, all we do is speak to the chief of staff… who simply finds a better one? Add to that absolute power: if someone cut us off in traffic, we simply get on the cell phone and security takes care of not only the problem, but the person, too? When we dream, isn’t that how we dream? Seriously.

Solomon had all of that. He is the one person we know of who truly had the life we only dream of.

So… how did it work out for him? Was this the first happily ever after? Sadly, no. God has (still has) a body of common sense instruction. We call it by many names, most of them unflattering: the law, Old Testament, legalism, and more. Solomon, wise though he was, didn’t follow these guidelines. We know about the woman thing, but there were several other ways in which he blew off the Lord’s guidelines. And over time, gradually but inexorably, Solomon turned his back on the Lord. Sad, very sad.

Solomon received a third visit from the Lord, the one who a few decades earlier had wanted to change his name to Jehovah’s Beloved. This time, though, all Solomon received was a stinging rebuke, and the only promise he received was that his kingdom would be ripped apart, and it was his fault. Going forward, because Solomon turned his back on his heavenly Father, he would have war, dissension and strife. As we know, God turned his back on the glorious temple, too, which was ransacked a few short years later by none other than Solomon’s father-in-law.

Having all his dreams didn’t work out well for Solomon after all. What about us? Could it be that having all our dreams come true might not be the best thing in the world for us? Below the photo, there’s a link to a real life sad article (from a very credible source) about the billionaire scion of the Anheuser-Busch fortune/dynasty, who locks himself in a huge mansion these days. It might not be representative, but it is thought provoking.

Do I still want the Lord to give me all those nice things (sandwiches) I used to ask for? I’m not so sure any more.

How about you?

Simple Pleasures, Vieques, PR

http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/fall-of-the-house-of-busch-07012011.html

(Warning: it’s a long read, and not all that edifying.

Sandwiches 2: Of rings and tattoos

She was good looking and friendly. A few days ago, I had to return something to one of the chain stores we all know. The woman at the customer service desk was one of the most helpful I had encountered in a long time. She also had the tattoo of a wedding ring on the ring finger of her left hand, where a wedding ring would go.

The first thing that struck me was how permanent that tattooed ring was. We think of a ring as the symbol of a lifetime commitment. Yet, as we all know, rings come off all too often in our day and age. I’m not a tattoo person. (I know, I know. All I can offer in defense is nobody’s perfect.) But this tattoo struck me for its location and symbolism.

As I waited for her to do her computer processing thing, I wondered why this tattoo made such a strong impression on me. We all see tattoos every day, but none has ever held my attention for more than a second or two. Then it dawned on me. I’m a notorious mind changer, and the very first thought that comes to my mind when I see a tattoo is: what if I change my mind? I have an uncle who had a tattoo on his arm way back in the fifties. I think it was an anchor or something like that. He changed his mind later in life, and it’s no trivial thing to have a tattoo removed, I learned. At the rate at which I change my mind, I’d be keeping the entire medical community in business for life, and so I’ve just kept tattoos off my radar screen. Until I saw that ring.

When we commit our lives to the Lord, isn’t that the most permanent commitment of all? What better symbol to use for the ultimate in eternal commitments than a (gasp) tattoo? I would be happy to have an engagement ring on my  finger as a symbol of my impending marriage to the Lamb. Wouldn’t that be something? And what’s more permanent than a tattooed ring? I don’t even have to take it off when I work in the garden or on the car. What a symbol of a permanent commitment! Hmmm…

I was brought back to planet earth when the customer service gal turned back to me. As she handed me my paperwork, I pointed to her tattoo and said something like nice, tattoo, pretty permanent, eh.

“Yes,” she replied, “unless you have $1,600 to remove it.”

“How do you know how much it costs to remove?” I asked.

The sadness was inescapable as it clouded over her face. “Because I asked for quotes,” she replied softly. I couldn’t miss what she didn’t say. Her heaviness walked out the door with me: someone had changed a mind (again) and someone got hurt (again).

I’m a notoriously slow processor of emotions. And so it wasn’t until a day or two later I realized what an idiot I was. I could have, should have, prayed for that nice woman. At the very least, I should not have ruined her day by reminding her of her misery! To quote Julie Andrews from My Fair Lady: “What a fool I was…what an addlepated fool, what a mutton-headed dolt was I!” (And yes, addlepated is a real word. Have fun looking it up! 🙂 )

I need to expect the unexpected. When I walk in to a store to buy or return something, I have to have my mind focused on the kingdom of God… not my sandwiches! 🙂 We never know when our paths will cross with His plans.

Crossing Paths

Happy Valentine’s Day

Psalm 127:1 – Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.

We usually think of this in terms of bricks and mortar. But it’s even more true in terms of relationships. And there’s really no need to say any more: Solomon said it well right there.

Proverbs 19:14 – Fathers can give their sons an inheritance of houses and wealth,
but only the LORD can give an understanding wife.

Through no fault or merit of my own, I ended up first at the door when the Lord opened the line to hand out awesome wives. All I can say is, “Awesome God! Thank you very much”

And Happy Valentine’s Day to all! May everyone be blessed to cast one shadow with a loved one of your own–if not today, then very soon! 🙂

Valentine’s Day Carnation

All I know is what I read in the papers. (Will Rogers)

So it’s true, then: The LaCrosse Tribune, quoting florist Lynda Christen, says whatever you give your honey for Valentine’s Day, make sure no carnations are involved. She is not alone. Kristi Gustafson Barlette of the Albany, NY Times Union states that Valentine’s tip number one (top of the list) is: “Forget the carnations.”

I had no idea. Why is the pretty carnation so despised? Rule number one doesn’t say stay away from all flowers other than the rose. No, it singles out just one offending flower: the carnation. Why?

What is so leprous about the flower whose Latin name means flower of love or flower of the gods? Curious, but not wanting to make a school project of this, I poked around the internet for answers. It’s a good thing this wasn’t a school project, because I came up with none. Nobody can offer a single reason which contains a shred of reason, logic or common sense for dissing such a pretty flower. I did learn that the carnation has become the symbol of Mother’s Day, but that surely can’t be the reason the carnation is now singled out as enemy number one of the Valentine’s Day gift giving thing. Who loves more than a mother?

The only other candidate I could track down for disrespecting carnations was: carnations are cheaper than roses. On the surface, this actually might make a modicum of sense. If I were to receive a gift made from gold and an identical one made from cardboard, which one will have more value to me? Same with flowers. Someone receiving roses might attach more value to the gift than if the gift was carnations… if the roses were more expensive, so the argument would go. However, this is flawed logic. If carnations were acceptable as a gift, there would be more demand and their prices would be higher. In fact, the reason roses cost so much this time of year is exclusively because they’re in such demand. Therefore, if carnations were in demand, they would cost more, which would eliminate the “carnations are cheap” excuse. Carnations are cheap because they are dissed, they are not dissed because they are cheap. Therefore, there is no logic to the rule that carnations are Valentine’s Day enemy number one. It just is what it is.

But this does bring up an interesting general question: what makes us attach value to a gift? One aspect is the total cost. A pair of Jimmy Choos is likely to be appreciated more than a pair of Wal-Mart no-name flip-flops. Another is what I call accuracy: the degree to which the giver knows the receiver and nails “that something” the receiver holds in high esteem. (One of my good friends hit the spot a few years ago, for example, with a six-pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter she scored for me somewhere back east.) The third thing which affects the value we place on a gift is how much it cost the giver. The widow’s mite comes to mind as a good example.

The gift Jesus Christ gave us qualifies on all three counts as the greatest gift we ever will receive: It is the most valuable gift we will receive in our lifetime, it is something we absolutely need more than anything else, and it cost Him everything. We just pick it up as a free gift… but what a gift!

To everyone celebrating Valentine’s Day tomorrow, enjoy! Especially when you keep in mind the King of all kings loves you to death!

Sandwiches

I had a dream a while ago. In it, I saw the board of directors of the Ford Motor Company having a routine board meeting. When lunchtime arrived, sandwiches were brought in to allow them to continue with the meeting. Of course, these were nice sandwiches, Ford being a Fortune 500 corporation and all.

It was a pretty innocuous, if unusual, dream. I asked the Lord what it meant. “What is Ford all about?” He asked me right back.

“Well, cars and trucks,” I replied.

“Are you sure?”

Was that a trick question? “Of course I’m sure,” I ventured.

“Those were awfully nice sandwiches, weren’t they?” He asked. “Are you sure Ford is not all about sandwiches?”

What kind of question was that? “I’m pretty positive the Ford Motor Company is not about sandwiches,” I replied, this time with conviction. “Why are You asking me these questions?”

After a few days I heard the answer, but not in a direct conversation. It was more of an awareness that dawned on me as I meditated over this somewhat unusual exchange.

What is the kingdom of God about? Is it about people/souls, or is it about money, possessions, houses, jobs… and parking spots? Just as, in the picture above, the board members received sandwiches to keep going, we receive things we need to keep going (like money, houses, parking spots, etc.). But, just as Ford is about things bigger and more important than those sandwiches, God and His kingdom are about things bigger and more important than the stuff we need to keep going.

There is nothing wrong about having to keep going, needing jobs, food, a house, and all the other things we need to live on earth. There is also nothing wrong if those are nice (or not so nice). There is nothing wrong about being responsible and diligent about those things.

But those are not the higher things. They are merely the sandwiches.

What do we pray about the most? Sandwiches or the kingdom of God?What dominates our day timers and smart phones?

The board of directors of Ford are not elected to their positions of honor to receive sandwiches. They are there for bigger things. They leave every board meeting remembering not the sandwiches (even though they enjoyed them) but the decisions they made about the corporation they serve. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with us being sandwich minded, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to serve in the kingdom of God. Salvation is a free gift, and that’s behind us. Now we’re in the kingdom of God and, if we wish, there are positions for all of us to fill so we can become co-laborers. It can be helping out with children’s ministry at church, it can be street evangelism, it can be making sandwiches (literally) for those who are going without. The list truly is endless. What all of these positions have in common is they involve serving other people in one way or another. They all are part of… the greater thing.

The kingdom of God is about people. It is about their (and our) salvation first, and then about their (and our) attaining to maturity and intimacy with our loving Father. The “sandwiches” are not unimportant, just much less important.

Bon appetit!  🙂

Superbowl and the Bahamas

A tourist in Miami rented a powerboat one day. He asked the owner how to get to Bimini Island in the Bahamas. The owner told him it’s easy, just head due east for about 50 miles. At a speed of about 20-25 miles per hour, that should take a little  over two hours. “But what if I miss it?” the tourist asked. “It is a small island, after all.”

“That’s simple,” the owner replied. “Once you see your gas tank get close to half, you missed it. Just turn around and head back west. You can’t miss the coast of America.” It’s easy to miss a tiny island in the vast ocean, but it’s impossible to miss the continent that crosses the ocean from north to south. You might not hit Miami exactly, but once you reach the U.S. coast, you can figure out fairly easily how to get back to Miami. If all else fails, you can always beach the boat and ask directions.

We often think connecting with God is like trying to find Bimini in the Atlantic, but it’s the opposite. God is impossible to miss if we head in the right direction. We don’t even have to be perfect about it – as long as we head more or less “west,” we will find Him.

There is only one way we will not find Him:  if we don’t fire up the engines and take the time to go there. In other words, we stay unconnected with God by not seeking Him, not by missing Him. He’s hard to miss… if we will but seek.

There are many ways to seek Him, and no formulas. He’s everywhere, and He sees and hears everything. All it takes is time, and that, of course, means foregoing what we were doing with that time before. Superbowl was last Sunday. It was broadcast on Fox. How was ABC going to compete against the most popular TV event on a competing channel? Simple: get the people to unplug the TV during the game. How did they do that? Take a look:

The videos are funny, but they show our feelings about our free time, don’t they? What would we do if our favorite TV program was unplugged? The bigger question is: are we willing, even desirous, to unplug the TV ourselves in order to spend that time with the Lord? If time with Him is that precious to us, we wouldn’t hesitate. Should we hesitate, well, we just declared what’s more important to us.

In my many years as a Christian, there is something I’ve discovered. I don’t see it anywhere in the Bible, but many friends have found the same thing. (So it’s offered as an observation, not doctrine.) When we’ve been absent from our Father for a while, it does seem like He plays a little hard to get at first. It’s almost as if He wants to make sure we really are serious about wanting to do what it takes to get to Him… just to be with Him. It’s almost like when you leave Bimini, it takes a while before you reach Florida. Nothing but the beating sun, vast ocean and unending horizon, and of course the loud droning of the engine–that’s just a journey that’s hard to sell. These are the times we feel like our prayers hit the ceiling and the Bible verses we read are dry. Desert or wilderness times, we call them. If we keep on regardless, we always reach our destination, but there definitely are days when it seems pressing in to Him seems like a waste of time, because we can’t see anything happening.

One day I was talking to God about this (talking does sound so much better than whining, doesn’t it?) when I got an impression of Donald Trump. If I walked up to him and told him I wanted to be his friend, what would his first reaction be? “Is it about me or is it about my money?” God’s the same. Well, almost: He’s a lot nicer, of course, and he has a LOT more money. So He’d be really entitled to ask the same question: “Are you coming after Me just for Me, or for all the goodies you can get from Me?”

If our hearts are after our Father for Him alone, He sees that and, as He says in Jeremiah 29:13: “… you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jesus Christ echoed the same sentiment when He said, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…”

Let’s just admit it: On the surface, seeking the Lord, pressing into Him, and making the sacrifice of time to do so, is less entertaining than watching television or hanging out with friends. This is especially true when when our pressing in doesn’t appear to yield immediate results.

This post is pure preach and pure guilt. I can’t sell the journey, either. 🙂 Actually, no, that’s not true. Our Father is not up there in the distant heaven, standing at the door tapping His foot on the ground with a grim expression on His face, saying, “Well! What exactly took you so long?” No, that’s what we might do, but He is different. He waits for us with arms outstretched, just as Jesus told us in the parable of the prodigal son. Any time we come, He is happy. Period. No guilt, just welcome. Having arrived at the other end, being in communion with the King of all kings, who happens to know me, love me and talk to me, I will change that for nothing. You won’t, either.

Make the commitment and just keep coming. The destination is worth it!

Miami

Jacob: The Patriarch of Imperfection

God had just made a covenant with a cheat. Jacob had just used deception to receive Isaac’s blessing, and he was on his way, on foot, to find a bride in the land of Padan-Aram. He had a blessing, a walking stick, the clothes on his back and that’s all. Early in the journey, not far from home, he lay down to sleep. That night his life changed. In a dream, the God of his father and grandfather extended the covenant He had made with them to Jacob. God had just made a covenant with a cheat.

Jacob fled to Laban to find a wife, but also to avoid getting killed by Esau. When Jacob saw Rachel, he probably thought to himself: “Hmmm… pretty girl! Let’s see. I have no money for a dowry, but if I commit to Laban that I’ll work for his daughter, that could work for me in more ways than one. I’ll not only get the pretty girl for a wife, but Laban will be obligated to protect me from Esau. Two birds with one stone, this could be really good!”

Actually, there was a third bird, but Jacob didn’t find that out for seven years. God (for reasons known only to Him) decided that Leah, not Rachel, was to be in the earthly lineage of Jesus, and Jacob found himself (a) with a wife he didn’t bargain for and (b) paying the same high price for her as for the wife he really wanted. To Jacob’s credit, and we often overlook this, he didn’t whine, pout or throw a hissy fit. He didn’t grab Rachel and escape into the night. He could have; he had a deal and Laban was the one who broke the deal. But Jacob didn’t do that. Why not?

You know, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the posts on this blog admiring God’s overlooking of our imperfections. And, of the heroes in the Bible, Jacob was probably the most imperfect of all. However, amidst all of Jacob’s questionable behavior, two things are easy to overlook: his resolute faith that God is true to His promises, and his unquestioning obedience to God’s instructions. Jacob took the trip to Padan-Aram in obedience to his father and mother (see Genesis 28). Then, when the Lord told Jacob to return to Canaan, he was on the road within 24 hours. That is obedience with a capital O!

In addition to obedience, Jacob also trusted the Lord totally. God told him at Bethel that He would take care of him, and Jacob trusted Him enough to work for free for 14 years. How radical is that? Honestly, I don’t know if I could trust the Lord enough to work for someone, especially someone as dicey as Laban, for 14 years, let alone for free. I mean, really! The only reason Jacob could do that is because he trusted his God. That is some serious trust! And look how the Lord rewarded that trust: after the 14 year slave labor contract, God made Jacob a millionaire in just six years. How? The Lord came to Jacob in a dream and told him what to do with the pregnant sheep at the drinking trough. Those instructions were pretty off the wall but Jacob, obedient and trusting, followed them to the letter. Seriously: who would have expected stuff in the drinking water to affect the color of the lambs born to the ewes drinking the water? That hasn’t been done before or since that event. So it had to be God, honoring Jacob’s faith and obedience.

God may love and covenant with people like us, who are imperfect. That is wonderful and reassuring. However, there is another side to this picture of love and grace: Our loving Father appreciates and enjoys it when we trust Him enough to surrender totally and obey completely, even if the instructions may at times appear a little off the wall to our puny brains. Moses trusted the Lord enough to obey and stretch out his staff over the Red Sea and divide it. Nobody had ever divided a sea with a rod before, so that was a pretty wacky instruction from a human standpoint. Moses obeyed, though, and the rest is history.

Do we trust God enough to obey Him when He gives us an off the wall command? Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding–isn’t that written in the Bible somewhere? It seems to me God is calling His children across the world to trust Him enough to obey Him when He says to trust Him for healing when that doesn’t seem likely, for provision when there seems to be no way, or for something else so impossible we can’t even mention it. He may take a detour, and He may wait a few more years than we think He should. But He has proven that he can be trusted.

So, what happened to Jacob when he obeyed the Lord and took off to return to Canaan? He got chased from behind by an angry Laban and he received word that Esau, the one seeking to kill him, was coming from his front with a whole army of men. Did Jacob sweat? You bet he did. Did he scheme and try to wiggle out of it? Sure he did. Did any of those actions make any difference? Absolutely none. God spoke to Laban and told him to leave Jacob alone. The Lord took care of everything. (Oh, by the way, He did that in spite of Rachel smuggling idols into the camp.)

If we surrender our lives to the Lord totally, trust Him completely and obey Him to the letter, we can sit back and drink that Diet Coke John Wimber used to talk about.

Cheers!

The Choice

It was a no-brainer, one of those rare opportunities with no downsides. In the pioneer days, Andy had moved west to Kansas. He was very successful, because he had a knack for business and got along well with people. When neighbors of his ran into trouble, Andy would help and when they gave up and  moved further west, he bought their farms for a song and so kept expanding. He knew when to buy and when to sell, and it wasn’t long before he was the largest rancher for miles around. He didn’t have a son, though, and so it was only natural that Lou, his orphaned nephew, would be groomed to take over the ranch some day.

One day, these plans were interrupted. Bert died unexpectedly, and his widow wanted to return to her family back east. Bert was a distant neighbor, more of a family friend, really. He owed Andy a small amount from one of the times he helped them out, and Bert’s widow offered to deed him the ranch as a settlement. At first, Andy protested. He didn’t want to take advantage of her misery, and offered to pay full price for the larger than normal ranch. She wouldn’t hear anything of it, though, because she was from a well to do family in Boston and, before she went back, she wanted to do this in appreciation for Andy always being there for them. Andy acquiesced and took over the ranch, which happened to come with a several hundred head of cattle Bert had bought just a few months before his death. Bert’s ranch, you see, was only a day’s cattle drive from the new railroad depot in Dodge City.

Because Bert’s ranch was quite a distance from Andy’s holdings, Andy and Lou spent several days on the road each month, traveling back and forth between their properties. After a particularly nasty winter storm, it became evident that their interests were just too spread out to manage as one. Over dinner one night, Andy told Lou he was going to split his holdings in two, and Lou could choose whether he wanted the original homestead or Bert’s ranch, which had also grown in the meantime.

That, as we said at the outset, was a no-brainer for Lou. The railroad was the key to progress, Dodge City was a boom town, and the sky was the limit for someone with property near the depot. Many of the Texas cowboys were content to sell their cattle at the rail head, rather than go through the hassle of shipping them on the railroad, with drovers to take care of them until they reached the market in Chicago. Lou saw the potential, and that is why he chose the ranch closest to Dodge City.

It wasn’t long before Lou bought a town home and split time between his ranch and the bustling, boisterous city of Dodge. There was much more happening in the city than on the ranch, and Lou eventually settled in Dodge and started several businesses, catering to the cattle drovers and cowboys with, as Lou called it, the three B’s: board, booze and beauties. It wasn’t long before he was one of the richest people in Dodge and his house one of the biggest. He even served on the city council and did a stint as mayor.

Andy, meanwhile, continued to prosper slowly and steadily on his peaceful ranch further north, content with the slower pace of life which brought with it a growing relationship with the Lord.

Except for the date and location, that is the story of Abraham and Lot. Lot thought Sodom was the no-brainer choice. The land there was greener, and the opportunities for success much greater. He pitched his tent outside of Sodom, but eventually got seduced into it and we read that he eventually lived inside the city and was one of their leaders. What drew him to Sodom wasn’t the wickedness; what drew him was the success and the wealth, and the accolades and esteem those things brought. (Wickedness just happens to gravitate to where money is.) Lot wasn’t poor when he split from Abraham, but here’s the thing about wealth: when is enough enough?

The moment “more” enters our vocabulary, it automatically means enough is never enough. Abraham was content with the lesser option, because he had the Lord. Lot, on the other hand, saw “more” and we know the end to which that brought him.

It’s important to note that God still considered Lot righteous enough to send a SWAT team to rescue him. But Lot ended up with nothing. Abraham, who valued peace and the Lord more than stuff, ended up with everything.

Jesus said if we seek first the kingdom of God, the things we then don’t care about get added. The “don’t care about” part, that’s the part that gives us trouble. The moment we care about it, we care about it.

How serious are we about pressing into Jesus and His kingdom? The answer always shows in what we don’t care about any more.