Characters in the Shadows: The Nameless Crowd

When Jesus was crucified, where were all the people He healed, delivered and fed? The answer lies not in where they were, but who they were.

Who

They were, you see, people that did not count. There were the quintessential characters in the shadows — a small army of them. It was the leadership of the Jewish nation who were hell-bent on getting rid of this character who challenged their teaching and exposed their hypocrisy. It was the leadership who had power and authority to judge and dispense punishment. A leper from Jericho or a blind person who spent his life by the pool of Bethesda had no say; they simply didn’t count.

Now, if you were all-wise like Jesus, and you knew you were going to be condemned, who would you lavish your miracles on? Those who can help you, or those who can’t? Jesus’ answer is found in Luke 14: when you give (or help) do that for the people who cannot repay you. He walked that talk. He still does, in fact.

You may think your country is the first one to have a political leadership that’s corrupt, evil and incompetent. You would be wrong, of course: the Jewish leadership that put Jesus on the cross set the tone for the governments we all endure today. And, just like today, the corrupt and inept government made sure any dissenting voices, the crowd in the shadows, could not be heard.

God’s Way

The Bible doesn’t say anything about this, but I’m convinced that the disregarded and voiceless masses, the blind, leprous, possessed and otherwise debilitated would have stormed Calvary if they could, and freed Jesus from the intense pain and humiliation. (Can you imagine hanging naked next to your city’s busiest freeway?) And they would have felt victorious.

God’s way, though, is different from that of the flesh. He not only endures evil, he counts on it to accomplish His plans. God doesn’t need us to storm the enemy in the physical realm. His weapons are invisible to newspapers, television and even the internet. When you or I encounter evil or malice, even just misunderstanding or lack of appreciation, our first inclination is react with the flesh, to defend God (or ourselves), storm Calvary and take Jesus down from the cross. But… what is God’s plan? If something happens outside of His will, is His arm too short to step in and take care of it? Of course not. 

More often than not God’s plan is counterintuitive to the flesh — love instead of letters to the editor, help instead of rebuttal. My challenge, and yours, is to know God’s mind in every situation. That, of course, requires us making time to commune with Him, to know His mind in everything. And often He takes His time sharing those thoughts with us, doesn’t he? Just like He took His time revealing the wonderful plan that changed the world and crippled the evil empire forever.

How much time have you spent lately to simply commune?

commune

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When Walking On Water Just Isn’t Enough

Has God ever done something special for you? A new job maybe? Car? A special meeting with someone? Restoration of a relationship? A new relationship, maybe?

We all have had at least one “special something” that we just know wasn’t coincidence. It was one of those tangible reminders that God loves us.

What is our normal reaction?

Back in South Africa, where I’m from, there’s a phenomenon that happens fairly regularly in coastal communities. They call it: “the fish are running.” No, it doesn’t mean they get out of the water and line up for a 100 yard dash. It means that a large school of fish is swimming along the coast. But what it really means is the fishing is easy and good. You just drop your line and hook and pull the fish out. Repeat as fast and as long as you can. Sometimes it’s mackerel, sometimes snoek (barracuda).

After a run, everyone’s freezer is stocked for months.

Okay, the question was: when the Lord blesses us with something special, what’s our reaction? Isn’t it something like “the fish are running, let’s get in as much as we can?” Hey, God’s got His blessing wand out, let’s see how much we can hit Him up for. If he gave us a car, we wonder about a house. If He gave us a job, we wonder about a raise. If He healed our back, we push for our shoulder that’s been bothering us.

But… did that miracle or blessing draw us into a deeper walk with Him? Does it entice us to set aside something we had planned for one evening and just crawl up with Him, even if we don’t get any goose bumps and more blessings? To just put on some worship music and soak in His presence with no agenda beyond hanging out with Him?

Jesus actually had an opinion about this. We find it in John 6. After five thousand had received a miraculous meal, they chased him down for several miles.

Was He flattered that they would regard Him that highly? Not so much. They thought the fish were running and they had to put in for some more. Jesus saw that and He was disappointed, not impressed. Seems He doesn’t particularly care for being seen as a school of fish running.

Jesus’ response: do not labor for food that perishes. I am the bread of life, the food that endures to everlasting life. Believe in Me, pursue Me, not for what I give, but who I am.

After receiving a blessing, we can pursue either more blessings, or the Blesser.

How much of Him have you eaten lately?

What?

Why has the flow of blog posts here dried up? (Both readers noticed! 🙂 )

Two reasons: first, I’m putting together a website to be the focus of my writing, albeit in a slightly different vein, and that has taken a lot of time. But that’s not the main reason. As I’m reading through the Bible, I’m in 1 Kings, just passing over to 2 Kings. I’ve read these stories many a time, but this is the first time I’m experiencing some emotional reactions.

Aghast might be an overstatement, but not by much. As I read about each of the northern tribes’ kings rejecting Jehovah as their Lord, I find an incredulous anger in me that’s new. What a bunch of idiots! And what a moronic clown king so-and-so was! (And all of them were.) Scratching my head, I can’t help wondering: if God knew in advance this would happen, why did He embark on this course (splitting the kingdom)? Why did He pick out Jeroboam when He knew he would be such a loser? And it’s not just one dynasty – four times He tossed out a dynasty and installed a new one, and every time with the same result. Why?

I have no answer. Knowing God, I’m sure there is one; there always is. So I’m reading the history with this undertone of frustrated incredulity, when the Mt. Carmel event shifts into view. I settle down. I know this is going to be good. After the parting of the Red Sea, this was probably the most stunning miracle God dropped from the sky to show humanity who God is and who is God. Mentally, I begin rubbing my hands and reading slower to savor the unfolding of this drama. In this sea of crappy futility, we’re approaching an island of heroic victory. This is guaranteed to be good!

Sure enough, the bad guys get zapped, just like I knew they would. But then, surprise! I see something I never saw before, and this just crumbles all the hopes I stored up for the reading of this event. The Great Miracle turns into one of the biggest let-downs, even tragedies, in the Old Testament!

Ask yourself: what exactly did this awesome miracle accomplish? No matter how hard I look, I just can’t see any answer but zip, zero, nada. Nothing! Nothing changed. All the leaders of the nation were there at Ahab’s command. That would be like a joint session of Congress: all were in attendance. All witnessed an incontrovertible and dramatic demonstration of Jehovah’s power. And they all confirmed it by saying, “Jehovah, He is God!” And then they killed the false prophets to top it off. Nice, right?

Wrong. Nothing changed after that. Great emotional event, but nothing changed. Ahab and Jezebel, and the nation’s leaders, made not one single change after proclaiming that Jehovah alone is God. When the sun rose the following morning, Baal was still their god. Less than 24 hours after being shown up as a loser god, totally worthless, Baal is their god again. Can you imagine that??? I am still shaking my head, trying to wrap my mind around that. Hardcore apostasy at its worst.

Oh, then there’s the rain. Elijah said it would stop until he said. Well, after the Great Miracle he said, and, sure enough, it rained almost immediately. What more did Ahab and the nation’s leaders need?

If I was Elijah and I had just facilitated the second greatest miracle in the nation’s history, and I saw myself and my God get blown off like that, how would I have felt? Devastated, incredulous, angry, frustrated, shaking my head and my fist. What, Lord, what? Why are we even doing this?

I can imagine Elijah taking all this in. Blown off like a wisp of steam from a cup of tea. Then, worse, he had to run for his life! I always wondered why he felt the need to flee, but I’m beginning to understand. The Great Miracle didn’t work. It didn’t even last 24 hours. And, rather than the hero and savior, he found himself a fugitive. A fugitive! This was not supposed to happen; this was not in the script. He had pulled off the Great Miracle flawlessly, but… no impact, no change.

How do I know nothing changed? God Himself said so. When Elijah, all devastated and discouraged, was whining to the Lord in the cave about the futility of it all, the Lord told Elijah He had seven thousand people in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Seven thousand? Out of a nation of three or four million? Really!? Remember, this is barely a month AFTER the Mt. Carmel miracle! That miracle, by God’s own math, had zero impact on the nation. God, remember, has total knowledge; He would have an immediate tally of any and all who repented and were added to His number. And none apparently were.

I could go on and make application to us today. (What would happen if you or I did a Mt. Carmel miracle in Times Square or the Mall today?) Israel’s history leaves me too dismayed to go there, though.

What am I missing? Please, talk to me!

Thanks.

The Mall

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!

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.

 

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

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.