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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Now Go Your Way

Are you worried about anything? Are you anxious? Have you been fretting over something, mulling over it, tossing it around in your mind the way a nervous pitcher fumbles with a baseball before the batter steps up to the plate?

I've done more than my share of worrying. I say, "more than my share" because according to Jesus I'm not supposed to worry at all. I'm supposed to take my concerns to God in prayer and leave them there.

In John 4:46-54 Jesus encountered a man who was worried about his boy who lay dying in his bed in another town. The man implored Jesus to abandon His course and come instead with him to Capernaum so He could heal his son. He obviously had faith that Jesus could restore his boy's health or he wouldn't have asked such a favor. He showed great trust in Jesus.

But, despite the measure of faith displayed by this anxious father, Jesus sent the man home...and He didn't go with him. Instead He told him, "Go your way; your son lives."

Personally, I would have felt a lot better if Jesus had walked the path back home with me...if He'd taken me by the hand and led me to my healed child. But in this particular instance, Jesus refused to change His course of direction and walk the man through the ordeal.

There have been times in my life when I wanted a little more assurance from Jesus. It would have been nice if He'd just done an instantaneous miracle or at least given me a sign. Haven't you asked for signs? I have. I'd love a sign that my children are going to grow up and make wise decisions and stick close to the Lord. I'd like a sign that we're going to be able to pay for my daughter's college education somehow. I'd like signs about a few other personal dilemmas I've encountered recently.

But so far, no sign.

I bring my requests to Jesus and I hear Him say something like, "Okay. I've heard you and I care. Now get up off your knees and 'Go your way.' It's taken care of."


We don't know if the man fretted and worried and supposed with every step he took toward Capernaum. But we do know that he turned around, left behind the Miracle Worker he had come to fetch, and retraced his steps back to his boy. "

So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him,
and he went his way.
(John 4:50b)

The faith wasn't in going to Jesus so much as it was in walking away from Jesus and going his way. I have great faith while I'm on my knees or in a church worship service or listening to a sermon by one of my favorite preachers on the radio. I have great faith while I'm sitting alone with Jesus and pouring out my heart to Him. But I find it harder to exercise that faith by getting up from that spiritual haven and "going my way."

Before the man in the story could even get home, a few of his servants met him on the road and told him that indeed his son had been healed. When had he been healed? Right at the moment Jesus had declared him so. And with that stretching of his faith, the man believed...not only that Jesus could heal his boy, but that Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be...the Messiah. The man's faith had increased and not only that, but his entire household believed with him.

And that, dear friends, is why it's so important for us to get up off our knees and "go our way." Sure prayer is an act of faith, but leaving that prayer request in Jesus' capable and loving hands and going our way is a testimony of faith. A testimony that demonstrates our faith in visible and tangible ways. A testimony of which others take note. 

Today my hope is that we all can seek out Jesus with faith that He indeed can handle every worry and problem we have. And then I hope that we can "go our way," trusting Him to take care of every last detail. There is great faith in going to Jesus, but there's even more in going our way.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Are You a Flirt?

I think she was flirting. I've probably read this story hundreds of times and yet I never saw it until just recently. But I honestly think she was flirting.

I was never much of a flirt. Not that I didn't want to be, in my day, but I just didn't know how to do it. I was horrible at it. Just ask my husband. Because of my lack of skills in the flirtatious banter between boy and girl, he almost didn't ask me out. Fortunately he persevered and eventually found out what a wonderful woman I am, but it was no thanks to my charm.

But I know flirting when I see it. And this woman was flirting.

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There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. 
Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.”  
For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.  

Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, 
“How is it that You, being a Jew, 
ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” 
(For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)  

Jesus answered and said to her,  
“If you knew the gift of God, 
and who it is who says to you, 
‘Give Me a drink,’ 
you would have asked Him, 
and He would have given you living water.”  

She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with 
and the well is deep; 
where then do You get that living water? 
You are not greater than our father Jacob, 
are You, who gave us the well, 
and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 

Jesus answered and said to her,  
“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 
but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him 
shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him 
will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  

The woman said to Him, 
“Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty 
nor come all the way here to draw.”

 Of course she didn't know who she was talking to. She didn't know Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, God incarnate. She didn't know.

But we do. I do

And yet, as ill equipped as I am at flirting, in the normal sense of the word, I've flirted with Jesus too. 

I've flirted around my issues, flirted with the idea of extreme devotion, flirted with obedience, and flirted with His commands. I've teasingly made commitments I didn't intend to keep, winked at my sin and the sins of others, giggled over my trespasses like they were no big deal, called Him up when I had nothing better to do, brushed Him off at other times, and made Him chase after me numerous times. 

Like the woman at the well, I've responded to the King of kings with half-hearted interest, mocking adoration, and syrupy sweet sarcasm. She had an excuse for her ill behavior. I've had none.

You see when the woman at the well began to realize this was no normal man she was talking to, she began to change her tune.

He said to her,  
“Go, call your husband and come here.” 

The woman answered and said, 
“I have no husband.” 

Jesus said to her,  
“You have correctly said, 
‘I have no husband’; 
for you have had five husbands, 
and the one whom you now have 
is not your husband; 
this you have said truly.” 

The woman said to Him, 
“Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 
Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, 
and you people say that in Jerusalem 
is the place where men ought to worship.”

 She stopped flirting and she started arguing. She got on the defensive. This guy wasn't cooperating with her flirtations. He wasn't flirting back. In fact, he had called her bluff and laid the facts on the table. 

She was a woman on a hunt. He knew her kind. He'd seen those same thirsty eyes on every other human being He'd encountered. He'd seen that same hungry expression on every woman, man, and child.

Sure, people were hungry for different things. Some were seeking purpose, others significance, others a little joy. This woman was undoubtedly seeking unconditional love, but He'd seen people hungry for everything from peace to healing to companionship to simple sanity. 

He'd seen it all. 

And He'd given it all, too. 

And He could give this woman what she was so desperately hungry for, too, if only she'd recognize her hunger for what it was, stop trying to feed herself through one doomed relationship after another, and turn to Him, the Fountain of Living Water.

It was time to bring this conversation to the point. It was time to let her know who He was so she could make her choice.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me,  
 an hour is coming when neither in this mountain 
nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  
 You worship what you do not know; 
we worship what we know, 
for salvation is from the Jews. 
But an hour is coming, and now is, 
when the true worshipers will 
worship the Father in spirit and truth; 
for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  
God is spirit, and those who worship Him 
must worship in spirit and truth.” 

The woman said to Him, 
“I know that Messiah is coming 
(He who is called Christ); 
when that One comes, 
He will declare all things to us.”  

Jesus said to her, 
 I who speak to you am He.”

And the flirting stopped. And the arguing stopped. And the conversation stopped because Jesus' disciples suddenly returned from their mission to find food. 
Bad timing? No such thing with Jesus. It may seem to us that the conversation was interrupted abruptly and ended too soon. But Jesus had put the ball in the woman's court. It was time for her to decide if she'd put her water pot down and let Him satisfy her with an inexhaustible supply of living water or if she'd continue to make trip after trip to empty cisterns to quench the thirst of our soul.

Good news: From what I can gather, the woman put that water pot down and turned to the Living Water for her soul desires from that point on.

She quit flirting. She quit arguing. She started following, drinking in, and worshiping in spirit and in truth.
So the question is, what am I doing? What are you doing? Are we still flirting with Jesus, toying around with the concepts He taught, wavering back and forth with our devotion, playing coy? Or maybe we've gotten our feelings hurt because He doesn't flirt back and so we've shifted to arguing with Him. Maybe we're sarcastic and bitter and resentful toward Him because He's saying things that convict, pierce, and challenge.

It's time to stop flirting. Time to stop arguing. Time to start worshiping in spirit and in truth. Time to put down that water pot with which we run to dry cistern after dry cistern. Time to drink Him in. Only Him.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

So He Can Increase

Every morning I read my Bible. I meet my Lord there. He speaks to me. He fills me up. He satisfies me.

But before He can fill me, I must empty myself. No small task. Like most people, I'm pretty full of myself.

Full of ambition.

Full of selfish pride.

Full of self-pity.

Full of dreams, desires, goals.

Full of schemes and plans.

Full of ideas and opinions.

Full of what I think I deserve.

Full. No room for anything more.


So, almost every morning, before I read my Bible I listen to (and sing along with) this song by Chris Sligh.

And many days I play it and sing it again later in the afternoon.

When John the Baptist's friends fretted over Jesus stealing their guy's limelight, they came to John and said something like, "Hey man, that guy that was here the other day...the one you baptized...well, now he's baptizing people and everyone's going to Him. We're losing our crowd! He's stealing our thunder! What are you going to do about it?"

And John simply said, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Easier said than done, but oh so necessary.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I Go to the Rock

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Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.

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From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;

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Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been a shelter for me,

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A strong tower from the enemy.

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I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;

I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.
(Psalm 61:1-4)
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As we continue to pray for those who have been devastated by powerful natural disasters in recent weeks, let's ask God to direct their gaze to Him. Let's ask that ministers of God, people who are filled with His hope, would be agents of grace to these people in need. And let's ask, as they struggle with questions like "Why?" and "What now?" that they would listen carefully for God's still, quiet voice, and that He would speak courage and love and peace and power to their aching hearts. 
And if you are going through a storm of your own, I encourage you to seek shelter in God's tabernacle, in His presence. Like the psalmist, I can say that He has indeed been a shelter for me. I go to the Rock...and He is my strength.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fool Proofing Your Life

Last weekend I had the privilege of speaking at a Mother Daughter Banquet in Scottsdale, AZ, at Immanuel Bible Church. Besides being one of the neatest luncheons I've ever even been to, the day was a blast for me because I got to speak on one of my favorite passages of Scripture - the story of Abigail and her two "fools."

Actually Abigail, for whom my daughter is named, only had one fool. The other man in the story, the soon-to-be-King David, was simply acting like a fool. He was behaving foolishly. And Abigail rescued him from his insanity by returning him to reasonable, godly thinking.

I was in love with the old-fashioned name Abigail even before I read her story in 1 Samuel 25. But when, at about 5 months into my pregnancy, I decided I might better find out a little more about this exceedingly beautiful and wise woman I was delighted with what I discovered. You see, not only does God specifically point out that Abigail was indeed beautiful and full of understanding, but He shares a crucial snippet of her life that illustrates this woman's character. I was most impressed.

What I love about the story of Abigail is that it shows us a normal housewife exercising wisdom and quick thinking in a crucial moment. Because of this woman's words, actions, and demeanor she is able to rise above her own gloomy situation to keep a future king from making a costly mistake. She has a fool for a husband, but she steps up to the plate to keep another man from behaving foolishly.

It occurs to me that most of us want to be people of influence. After all, we are influential whether we want to be or intend to be or not. But I think most of us would like to influence well. Unfortunately, many of us excuse ourselves from influencing well because we have extenuating circumstances.

We reason with ourselves,
  • "If only my family would cooperate, I could be a better person."
  • "If only my boss would be more reasonable, more accommodating, more appreciative, I could be a better employee and lead others to greatness too."
  • "If only my sister would get her act together and quit being so needy, I could be freed up to do really great things."
  • "If only my grown child would quit returning to the nest, I could get on with life and really make an impact in my world."
  • "If only my parents hadn't been so warped and I hadn't come from such a dysfunctional family, I could really 'be somebody.'"
What are we doing? We're blaming our ineffectiveness on our fools.

Our fools? What in the world?

Don't be alarmed by the term fool. While Jesus did indeed warn us about casually and hastily calling other people fools, He didn't instruct us to never use the word. In fact, the book of Proverbs describes the biblical qualifications of a fool in some detail. Why? So we'll know one when we see one...or when we be one. But for today, as we think about Abigail's predicament in 1 Samuel 25, we'll concentrate on how to spot the fool that's not in the mirror, but perhaps is in our office, our home, our circle of friends, our family.

Jan Silvious has written a splendid book on this very topic called Fool-Proofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. If you have a fool in your life, as Abigail did, I suggest you get it and read it immediately. It's sound, biblical counsel. You can read it without guilt and I think you'll gain tremendous perspective on how to deal honorably and wisely with your fool.

But, alas, I get ahead of myself. How do you know if you have a fool in your life?

Abigail's fool was named Nabal, which quite appropriately means "fool." And he lived up to his name. So today I thought we'd assess Nabal's character in an effort to spot the fools in our own lives.
  • Nabal was right in his own eyes. Proverbs 12:15 says, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." If you check out the narrative in 1 Samuel 25 you'll find that no one even tried to persuade Nabal to act differently. They knew he wouldn't listen. He was beyond reason. Do you know someone who never heeds the advice of others and even gets angry when it's offered?
  • Nabal spoke his mind with no regard for the consequences. His theory was, "I'm the kind of person who always speaks my mind." And he thought that was a good thing. He didn't care if he hurt someone's feelings, caused an argument, offended someone's honor, slandered someone's character, or perpetuated a lie. He was going to speak his mind, by golly! Proverbs 18:2 says, "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in speaking his own mind." Do you know someone who speaks every thought that comes into their mind with no filter for appropriateness or godliness?
  • Nabal reached the boiling point easily. He got angry over the littlest thing. And his anger caused destruction and weariness for his household. Everyone knew he was someone you couldn't reason with. He had a reputation for losing his temper. Do you know someone with a short fuse?
  • Nabal often created strife and drama. His bad behavior was chronic. While David, the other man in this story, was behaving badly, too, we know that his bad behavior was "out of character." While he was ready to take Nabal and his household "out" over this one offense, David refused to seek vengeance on Saul in both the chapter before this one and the chapter following it. David was no fool; he was a man after God's own heart. He was just behaving foolishly in this one scenario (and a few others, of course). But Nabal was known for his foolish behavior. His own servant called him a "scoundrel that no one could reason with." Do you have someone in your life who is constantly stirring the pot, daily causing you to walk on ice, forever keeping you on edge?
  • Nabal enjoyed his own foolishness. He didn't see anything wrong with his bad behavior. Nabal knew he had said some things and done something that would undoubtedly incite anger from David and his men, but he didn't care. He went right on with his celebration and even drank himself into oblivion. He had no regrets. Proverbs 10:23 says, "A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom." Do you know someone who seems to get a kick out of causing a little chaos? In fact, do you know someone who seems to thrive on drama?
  • Nabal was wearisome to those around him. And this is why I think God goes to the trouble of pointing out that Abigail was beautiful. You see, generally a fool wears down those around him or her so much that they even begin to look exhausted, fragile, and defeated. A fool can plumb wear you out! But Abigail had obviously learned to "fool-proof" her life. She didn't let this wearisome fool drag her down. She stayed positive, lovely, wise, gentle, energetic, and resourceful despite the wearing tendencies of her fool. She stayed godly even though she had to contend with a fool. Do you have a fool who is eating your lunch? Do you know someone who drains you every time you're around them, every time you have to discuss things with them?
So that brings us to the point I really want to make today.

At some time or another you and I, all of us, are going to have to contend with a fool. I've known my share and you have too. We may hesitate to label them as such, and indeed we should. We can't be hasty to call anyone a fool. And, hear me on this, I don't think we should ever call someone a fool to their face or even behind their back. But there are times, and you'll know it when you're in it, when we do need to confer with God and His Holy Word to see if someone who's giving us an exceptionally hard time might be a fool.

Why? So we can treat them like one. And that doesn't mean we'll treat them badly. It simply means we'll know that we can't relate to them like a person of wisdom or understanding. We'll need to:
  • detach ourselves - take a step back, detangle emotionally
  • seek wisdom - rather than fixating on our fool, acknowledge God
  • refuse to let our fool define us - stay true to who we are in Christ instead of being shaped by foolish behavior
  • resist the temptation to play the victim or martyr - act like an adult and don't become the child
  • overcome evil with good - see Romans 12:21
  • speak truth at the right time - with strength and dignity
  • leave our fools to God - we can't fix them, change them, or please them
 I hope you know I haven't written this post out of judgment or condemnation. I've written it to give you hope and encouragement if you are dealing with a fool. I've had to deal with a couple of fools recently - not someone in my family or church (I just feel the need to clarify that). But they have been people that I had to deal with on somewhat of a regular basis. And when I tried to treat them the same way I would those who are not classified as fools - turning the other cheek, offering my cloak also, going the extra mile, etc. - those methods left me drained, defeated, and baffled. But when I recognized, from God's Word, that they are quite possibly fools and began responding to them as such, my dignity, my sanity was restored. And, quite honestly, I even found myself giving them more grace, more understanding, more patience than before. 

You can truly love a fool - the way the Bible commands us to love one another - when you finally realize that they indeed are a fool.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. I realize it's a little controversial, but then again I feel like everything I've written in this post is appropriately backed up with scripture. Still, I'm open to your thoughts :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

This morning I invited Jesus to join me on my daily walk through our local park. As I walked outside and down my driveway I knew He had shown up.

I could feel Him in the cool gentle breeze, in the sunshine, and in the songs of the birds. The tender green leaves were clapping their praises and the mountains were standing up straight in honor of the King of kings. He had met me, willing and anxious to walk and talk with me.

I began to join the praises of nature by acknowledging His goodness, thanking Him for His provisions, and basking in His presence.

But suddenly something changed.

The crowd showed up. It often does as I walk in the mornings.

The worries of the day barged in first. They tend to whine and whimper. Simply annoying. I tried to keep their voices at bay by reflecting on Jesus' faithfulness in the past.

But right behind the worries of the day came the frustrations over yesterday, those pesky, unsatisfied dilemmas that raise their hands and shout, "Hey! What about us! We haven't been resolved yet! Don't forget we're still here!"

How could I forget?

And then, once the doors had been opened to all these unwelcomed intruders, other equally bothersome ones showed up and began to tag along. Frustrations and common fears tapped on my shoulder and pulled at the hem of my shirt, vying for my attention. Questions, doubts, concerns, and what-ifs kept skipping ahead of me and then tripping me up. And eventually even the resentments and disappointments and jealousies (nasty little guys, they are) came out of the bushes and jumped on my shoulders demanding a piggyback ride.

With all the clamor I soon lost the voice of my Savior. He's a gentleman, you know, and will not raise His voice to be heard. I'm sure He was still there, walking beside me, willing to give me grace for the day. But with the loud and nagging voices of the frustrations, doubts, concerns, worries, disappointments and jealousies barraging me on every side, I could no longer hear His quiet, gentle voice.

Suddenly I no longer felt the sweet presence of my Lord. Instead I felt like I was walking among the rabble.

When I arrived home I felt cheated. I had planned to meet Jesus on my walk, but instead I met up with the cares of the day plus some.

I turned on some praise music. I know that God inhabits the praises of His people. When we praise Him, He moves onto the scene.

And sure enough, those pesky "friends" began to vanish. As I fixed myself something to eat for breakfast and took care of my dogs, I began to feel my spirits lift. The resentments and jealousies and disappointments climbed down off my shoulders and scurried away. The frustrations and fears quieted. And my worries and unresolved issues subsided. I know they are all still there, lurking in the shadows and waiting for an opportune time to reappear, but my goal is to keep them away.

I realized I still needed to spend some time with my Lord. He's the only one who can truly calm my fears, vanquish my jealousies and disappointments, do wonders with my unresolved issues, and take on the burden of my worries and concerns. I've seen Him load my worries onto His broad shoulders time and time again, then walk away with them, removing them from my sight.

So this time I met Jesus somewhere that He always shows up, always prevails, and always speaks loud enough for me to hear Him over the other voices that clamor for my attention.

I opened my Bible, His Word, and asked Him to meet me there.

Sure enough, He spoke to me there:
  • He reminded me that while we sometimes see our anger as a sign of strength and/or power, He closely links our wrath with the work of the evil one in our lives. Saul's anger with David caused him to absolutely lose it! If I harbor anger for any length of time at all it has similar potential in my life. (1 Samuel 18 - 19)
  • He showed me that God can protect His children in the most unorthodox ways. He does not need weapons of war or fast horses; He can even cause our mortal enemies to act in ways contrary to their nature. He is sovereign! (1 Samuel 19:20)
  • He reminded me that to behave godly means to "study how to answer" rather than "pouring forth evil." I need to do more studying and less pouring! I tend to speak and then think later. That needs to change. (Proverbs 15:28)
  • He showed me that two others had walked with Him once before and not recognized Him. But then He told them about how He could be found in all the Scriptures, all the way from Genesis to Malachi. Suddenly they knew who they were walking with. They had met with Jesus, the living God. (Luke 24)
I've found that while I can sometimes meet Jesus on a walk, occasionally have a decent conversation with Him while I lay my head on my pillow, and often meet Him at church, I always meet Him in His Word...without fail. Only there do the other voices that clamor for my attention, whether they be pressing anxieties or simple distractions, fade away so I can hear from Him loud and clear.

Won't you meet Him there today? I promise He'll show up.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Faith Produces...a few interesting side effects

Yesterday I was reminded that a little bit of faith can move mountains. Of course I think David was demonstrating more than just "a little bit of faith" when he picked five smooth stones from the stream bed, tightened the band on his sling shot, and headed out to meet Goliath.

While the Israelite army stood on the banks of the mountains watching this young man with skepticism, David walked into the valley dominated by this mocking giant with confidence and no fear. How did he do that? He knew the battle wasn't really his, but God's. He knew Goliath may taunt him, but he was really standing in opposition to David's almighty God. He knew he simply needed to do what he knew how to do and God would do the rest.

That's faith.

Faith in itself is not powerful. It's not some magical, potent positive feeling we muster up within in order to produce results without. But when we place our faith, even as small as it may be, in our very big, powerful, and faithful God, huge things happen.

Faith is not powerful. The God in whom we place our faith is.

And so that takes the pressure off of us. We don't have to "work up" some huge faith. We don't have to exercise big faith in order for big things to happen. We simply have to agree wholeheartedly that God is good and He has it, whatever it may be, under control. He can handle it and He will.

The more we know God, the easier it is to believe that He will work. The longer we walk with God, the less we'll fear that He won't show up. The bigger the things we see Him do over time, the less we'll sweat the little stuff.

Daniel 11:32 says, "The people who know their God will gain strength and take action." David knew his God. That personal knowledge of God strengthened him and spurred him on to action.

On the other hand, Saul, who had been anointed king by God, had not bothered to get to know God all that well. And he was frozen on that mountain bank along with the rest of the men of Israel, worrying about who could step out on the battleground with Goliath. His lack of faith froze him in inaction.

But as I read this familiar story this morning, I also noticed a couple of interesting side effects of David's faith. I think we might want to take note of these because sometimes, if we're not aware of what's going on, these attitudes might stunt our faith.

First of all, David's own brother Eliab misinterpreted David's faith as pride and arrogance. In 1 Samuel 17:28 we read Eliab's reaction to David's simple expression of faith.

Now Eliab his oldest brother
heard when he spoke to the men;
and Eliab's anger was aroused against David,
and he said, "Why did you
come down here? And with whom have you left
those few sheep in the wilderness?
I know your pride and the insolence
of your heart, for you have come 
down to see the battle.
1 Samuel 17:28

Positive, God-fearing, genuine faith can sometimes be mistaken for arrogance. True faith pushes fear out of the way - fear of man or circumstances, that is. True faith leaves no room for question or doubt. It causes us to step forward when others are inching backwards. It keeps the song in our heart going when others simply hear their anxious hearts beating loudly in their chest. It causes us to appear calm and confident and assured while others are worrying, fretting.

And thus it's sometimes mistaken for audacious, gullible, and prideful arrogance. 

I doubt I've ever displayed so great a faith as to cause someone to mistake it for arrogance, but maybe... However, I know I've been guilty of misinterpreting others' faith as cockiness. Why would I do that? Only for one reason. Because they had something I didn't have at the moment: faith

Eliab was among the men who were shaking in their sandals. He didn't have the courage to go down and face Goliath. So when David questioned his fear based on God's faithfulness, it aggravated Eliab, shamed him. And he immediately accused David of something we know to be untrue. He said David had pride and insolence in his heart. But just a chapter earlier we read that David was the son of Jesse whom God had selected to be the next king based on the good that was in his heart. I doubt very seriously that when God "examined the heart" of David instead of looking on the outside, as He said men do, that He found pride and insolence. 

But Eliab's fear caused him to misjudge David's faith. I need to be cautious of judging others' faith with such skepticism and cynicism.

The second interesting side effect of strong faith is that others take notice when we demonstrate such faith, faith that moves us into action when others are standing still.

Saul had been enjoying the soothing music of David's skillful harp playing for some time. When Saul's servants had the bright idea of calling in David to help soothe Saul's tormented mind, they actually told Saul that David was "the son of Jesse, a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person." In fact, they even told Saul that David, this guy who would come and play the harp for him, knew the Lord intimately. 

I suppose all of that impressed Saul sufficiently because he sent for David and enjoyed his music in his personal chambers time and time again. And yet, he never seemed to notice David. The music helped him tremendously, but it didn't cause him to pay any attention to David. He had heard of David's reputation for being a man of war and valiant, but he hadn't asked him to fight in his army.

But when David steps onto the battlefield with faith in God and accomplishes what others could not, Saul suddenly takes notice.

Then as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, 
Abner took him and brought him before Saul 
with the head of the Philistine in his hand.
And Saul said to him, "Whose son are you, young man?"
So David answered, "I am the son 
of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite."
1 Samuel 17:58

Saul had already been told who David was, but he didn't recall that. But now he goes out of his way to find out who he is.

When you and I step out in faith, others will notice. And while our goal is not to draw attention to ourselves, our active faith does give us a platform from which to share who we belong to as well. "I am a child of God. He is my Father and He takes care of me. That's why I don't fear."

Faith is a simple key to unlocking the power of God in our lives. But it also has some interesting side effects, wouldn't you agree?

Friday, May 13, 2011

What's My Interest in Jesus?

Every day you can hear people exclaim Jesus' name, not usually in praise or even sincere petition, but in angst and frustration. And whether people know Jesus intimately or not, many know of Him. He is, undoubtedly, the most influential person in all of history, even from a secular point of view.

And thus many people eventually become a little curious about this Jesus, this man who lived such a good, loving, and self-sacrificing life. What does He have to offer me, they wonder. And so they come to church, pick up the Bible, talk to a Christian friend, whatever it takes, to find out a little more about this "Savior of the world."

That's what Herod did when Jesus was ushered into his court. The Bible says,

Now when Herod saw Jesus, 
he was exceedingly glad; 
for he had desired for a long time to see Him, 
because he had heard many things about Him, 
and hoped to see some miracle done by Him.
Luke 23:8

Herod was curious about Jesus. But his primary motive in speaking with Jesus, allowing Him into his presence, and giving Jesus a somewhat amiable encounter was that he wanted to see a show. He wanted to get something out of Jesus.

But as Herod began to question Jesus, his interest in Him swiftly diminished. Jesus wasn't going to give Herod what he wanted. He refused to even answer his questions. From what I can tell, any time anyone asked Jesus a sincere question (example: Peter, Nicodemus, Thomas), Jesus willingly answered. But here was a man who was simply trying to impress Jesus enough to get a good miracle or two out of him. He was trying to intimidate the Messiah into doing his bidding. The Bible says he questioned Jesus "with many words", meaning Herod was putting on a show for Jesus in hopes that Jesus would do the same for him.

But Jesus is no puppet to be manipulated into doing tricks or putting on performances. He is the King of kings, the Master of all things. 

And so eventually Herod got put out with Jesus' unwillingness to comply with his wishes and he treated Him with contempt and sent Him back to Pilate. (Luke 23:11)

So that's the nice little history lesson. Now here's the point of it all.

I know Jesus pretty well. Not nearly well enough, but at least I recognize Him for who He truly is. Unlike Herod, I do not hold Jesus in contempt and think He is beneath me.

But do I ever bid Him come into my presence only so He can do me a favor? What exactly is my interest in Jesus? Do I want Him to perform for me? To grace me with His wise sayings and miraculous deeds? To astound me with His power? To pull whatever I ask for out of a hat? To act like a big, burly bodyguard and protect me? To be my crystal ball and show me what is down the road? To be my hit man and take out my enemies? To assuage my guilt when I've done something wrong? To entertain me when life gets a little less than spectacular? To relieve me of the stress I've created?

Truthfully, just as He could have obliged Herod with a miracle or two that day, Jesus can do all the things I've just listed as well. He can. But He is certainly not obligated to. Nor does He have any desire, from what I read, to work like that in my life or yours.

We cannot manipulate Jesus into doing our bidding. 

But, oh, we try.

I try. 


Today I'm asking God to be God. I'm acknowledging that Jesus, while He is my friend, my provider, and my shield, He is first and foremost my Savior and Lord. I'm bowing the knee and repenting of my attempts to manipulate Jesus, my habit of being too "fresh" with Him (know what I mean? too casual?), and my tendency to expect Him to "jump" when I call. And I'm spending some time re-establishing Him as my Lord, my boss, my master, my king. Because in the long run, what I most need Him to be is my Savior. And because He has completely taken care of that task, what I most owe Him to be is my Lord.

And that is my interest in Jesus. To exalt Him as Savior and Lord, to show the world that He is those things to me and He is worthy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

From My Childhood to This Day

I've heard some mighty fine testimonies, haven't you? I've listened with piqued curiosity and amazement to stories of how God has snatched people out of lives of crime, alcoholism, loose living, and defiance to put them on the narrow path. And I've heard the powerful personal stories of folks who once claimed to be atheists, agnostics or simply disinterested, and how they came to believe in a big and loving God.

As I've listened to the testimonies of people whom God miraculously delivered from such desperate and doomed situations, I've sometimes felt that my personal testimony was somehow second rate. Have you ever felt that way?

I was raised in a Christian home and attended a Bible-teaching Christian church multiple times each week. That of course does not make me a Christian. But what happened at that church did result in me becoming a believer.

Each week, as a child and a young person, I heard the Word of God preached from the pulpit by men of God. They were not perfect men, but they were men who loved the Lord and loved the Bible. They preached it with varying styles and voices. One pastor who had a mangled hand preached each week with that one hand in his pocket during the entire sermon. One ended every sermon with "Are you listening? Are you sure you're listening?" And another preached with such sincerity and passion that he had to dab at the sweat on his forehead with a neatly folded white handkerchief multiple times during every sermon. I think he still does.

But one thing they had in common: they all preached God's Word.

So shall My word be which goes forth
from My mouth;
It shall not return empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in
the matter for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:11

I also encountered multiple, multiple adults who loved the Lord enough to minister "unto the least of these." They rocked me in the nursery, taught me songs in Sunday School, helped me build mobiles in Vacation Bible School, helped me memorize scriptures in Sunbeams, told me about missionaries in Mission Friends and GAs, took me on "tour" with the youth choir, weathered the craziness of Youth Camp, and gave me Caladryl lotion for my mosquito bites while on a mission trip just outside of New Orleans. These adults sat me down and taught me the Bible, told me Jesus loved me, and showed me that God has a plan for my life. But they also demonstrated all of that by spending their time with me, investing in me. I believed them.

And I had parents at home who not only insisted that I go to church, participate in all those programs, and tithe my babysitting money, but they also loved me the way the Bible says they're supposed to. So I got no mixed messages.

The bottom line? The church acted like the church and my parents loved me like they're supposed to and... it worked. 

At a very young age -- way before youth camp or tithing or mission trips -- I learned that I was a sinner in need of a savior. And I realized that Jesus had already paid the price for my sins with His death on the cross. I knew these things like I knew my name was Kay and I lived in Powder Springs, Georgia. There was never a doubt.

And I accepted it as truth. Not because I was indoctrinated, mind you, but because something in my spirit knew and believed with all my heart that this God I had learned about since I was just days old could be trusted. I had experienced God all around me and there was no way I was going to walk away from Him.

I just need to say it again. It worked. I want to repeat that because I want parents to know that consistently taking their children to church and plugging in there themselves is an eternally significant investment. But you have to go with the thing. You can't just take your children to church occasionally or drop them off and head out for coffee or go to worship services but nothing else. I'm here to tell you that me and my brother are living proof that if you really walk with the Lord personally and commit your family to participating actively in His church, then you will reap what you have sown. There are no guarantees, but I've seen it work over and over and over.

Truth is, I was even one of those kids who loved going to church, began having a daily quiet time while I was still in middle school, and loved studying the Bible.

That doesn't mean I was a fully matured Christian by the time I left my parents' home. I'm still not. I consider myself a work in progress, but I've never turned my back on God. Oh, I've kind of "eased" away from Him, with one eye on the Lord and one on whatever temptation has allured me. But I've also consistently felt His loving grip on me tighten each time I tried to "get away from" my Father. That "understanding " we entered into when I was just a child, that covenant, that salvation thing...it was a binding deal. And even when I've fudged a bit on my end of the bargain, He never has. 

I was truly saved as a child.

And that is why I've sometimes felt that my testimony didn't ring as powerfully as the stories of others who were saved from devastating habits, gripping addictions, and hateful attitudes. 

But today I read in 1 Samuel 12:2b the words of the prophet Samuel. Remember Samuel? He's the one who was dedicated to the Lord by his mother even before she conceived him. And when he was still a very small child she took him to the prophet Eli and handed him over literally to the God she had given him to theoretically. God began speaking to Samuel by name while he was still young. And he served the Lord faithfully (not perfectly, but faithfully) all his life. And here's what he said that got my attention:

I have walked before you
from my childhood 
to this day.

 May not sound like much, but that simple line resonated with me. What a powerful testimony!

And that made me think of the benefits of walking with the Lord from my childhood to this day.
  • I know Him very, very well. And I'll know Him yet better. But I know my God.
  • I've felt His firm, fatherly grip and I do not doubt that He is able to "keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day."
  • Because I've experienced Christ's presence in my life through ups and downs, times when I drew close and times when I pulled away, I have no doubt that He will faithfully walk with each of my children through their journeys too, even when they are not especially aware of His presence.
  • I have had the companionship and the power of the Holy Spirit in my life for a long time. That is something to praise God for. I've needed a lot of work! So it's good that He's had a long time to "fit me for heaven."
  • I've tasted and seen that He is good! And finally, a few years ago, I really began to feast on His goodness. That resulted in my Bible study, Satisfied...at Last!
  • I've had the privilege of serving Him for many years. And I do count it a privilege and responsibility. But it's also quite a blessing.
  • I've witnessed countless miracles - some so big that others witnessed them too; others so intimately personal that I couldn't adequately articulate them, but they're just as big.
Have you ever felt like your salvation testimony was somehow lacking in dynamics? I think that's a ploy of Satan. Don't you? If he can convince us that we have nothing worth sharing, then we'll undoubtedly keep quiet about the most important thing that ever happened in our lives. Now that would be a shame.

When did you begin to walk with the Lord? Whether your relationship with Christ began at an early age or only after you had experienced the bumps and bruises of life without Him, His timing is perfect, tailor made. I urge you to rejoice in the day of your salvation...whenever it was. Praise the Lord!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Someone to Fight My Battles

It's bad enough when you're in the midst of a tumultuous situation. I've been there and you have too.

You feel like you can't quite get your head above water. The waves of frustration, disharmony, friction, or simple, ugly trouble keep washing over you like foaming, salty ocean water. One troubling situation compounds another. One conversation gone south converges with another. One hurtful gesture adds salt to the wound of another.

Fortunately, my life has not seen many of these troubling days. But I've known my share. You have too.

Like I said, that's bad enough. But to add insult to injury, I tend to get in such a stew over such situations that I expect someone to come to my rescue. I resent it when others, friends even, tend to turn a blind eye to my misfortune. I want everyone to sit up and take notice. I want their pity, their compassion, their attention. Mostly, I want someone to step up and help me fight off the never ceasing waves. I want someone to come alongside me, to step up to the enemy line, to fortify me with their own additional forces, to be on my team.

I want someone to fight my battles for me, with me at least.

Today I read in 1 Samuel 8:19-20:

Nevertheless the people refused to 
obey the voice of Samuel;
and they said,
"No, but we will have a king over us,
that we also may be like all the nations,
and that our king may judge us
and go out before us
and fight our battles."

I guess that's a common feeling, to want someone to go before you and fight your battles. I guess no one wants to be alone when the going gets tough. I guess, indeed, misery likes company. 

But it occurred to me today as I read these words from God's Word that I just end up splashing around aimlessly in the billowing waves of despair when I add insult to injury by pouting over the fact that no one else is as invested in my own personal battle as I am. The truth is, while I have friends and family who care and lend a hand when they can, no other person can fight my battles for me. 

But I know One who can. In fact, He is more than willing to go before me, shield me, defend me, and stomp out the enemy for me. He gives me adequate armor to fight my part of the battle, but He also surrounds me with an invisible army that fortifies and defends me. 

Are you looking to someone else to fight your battles today? Are you resenting the fact that the government, your lawyer, your best friend, your spouse, your mentor, or some other "helpful" agency isn't defending you ferociously enough, working for you fast enough, or making things happen quickly enough? Have you spent time on the phone trying to solve your problems, but little time on your knees? Are you getting the run-around? Are you wondering who's on your side?

Quit looking for "a king" to go before you and fight your battles. Instead, look to the King of kings, the sovereign God. He is for you, so who can be against you? And, trust me, He's enough. Really, He is.