How to Pop a Killer Wheelie for Jesus

I remember my dad, in the field by our house, on his 1979 Honda XL175.  It was black and red, and a huge bike, at least compared to me, since I was 10 at the time.  I had a small yellow moped.  He was teaching me the fine art of using the clutch and the gas to perform a move of beauty; the wheelie.  Mom didn't know what we were doing, and it's a good thing.  I doubt she would have been too happy with us.  Over and over he would demonstrate how the timing of the gas, along with popping the clutch at just the right time, would help me get the front wheel up, and then using the gas and brake to keep my balance.  It took awhile, but I got it.

Then there was Andy.  Andy was a guy who was three years older than me, and a nationally ranked bmx racer.  He further refined the wheelie craft, teaching me how to ride a wheelie on a bmx bike.  Not the kind of wheelie where you stand up, pedal as hard as you can, and go about 10 feet.  He taught me how to balance, sit on my seat, use my brakes, and go forever on one wheel.  I remember the first time I rode a wheelie for one mile on the school's track.  It was a big day.

Over the years, I taught dozens and dozens of kids how to ride wheelies.  I taught kids in the inner city, in suburbs, from all across America.  It was hilarious, because I would be somewhere doing a show, busting out all of the hardest tricks I knew.  But eventually, some kid would ask me to do a wheelie.  Then it was on.  I wouldn't just do one, I would begin teaching them how to do it.  It was so fun to watch them figure it out, and ride off to show all of their friends.

All right, I know, who cares?  Well, in a sense, God does.  This idea of passing on what is important in life is seen in Judges 2.  The nation of Israel has experienced 20 years of growth and peace in their new land.  But then we are told that the entire generation that had lived in the desert, and had watched God deliver them at Jericho and other battles; they all died.  Now it was up to their kids, the third generation out of Egypt's time of slavery.  Here is what it says:

"10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel."

Can you imagine that?  Just three generations in from all of the miracles, and these kids don't know God, or any of the stories He had performed.  In the words of the short villain from "The Princess Bride": that's inconceivable!

But it happens today, too.

If we don't tell our stories of God and what He has done in our life, they die with us.  It doesn't matter if you are 11, 16, 25, 38, or 62.  We need to be passing on our stories, today.  We need to invest in other people, and point them to Jesus by showing what He has done, and what He is doing, in our lives.  

It might be through helping with a local youth group if you are an adult or college student.  It might be volunteering in children's ministry if you are a teenager or a parent.  Simply sharing with your friends is one way to pass on God's truth.  Teaching your little sister or brother what you've seen God do at camp, at work, in your family, on a retreat, on in a ministry can make all the difference in the world.

You see, the third generation in Judges didn't know about God because their parents hadn't told them.  That was all it took.

Who will you invest in?  Where will you get involved this week?  It's crucial for you to pass on what you know.  

And if you want to know how to ride a killer wheelie, I'd be happy to teach you that one as well.


We're Just Dying to Be Known....

What do you want to be known for?  No, really, what do you want people to say about you?  What do you want your reputation to be?  Is it to be known as a nice person?  Funny?  Beautiful?  Wealthy?  Smart?  If you had your way, what would people call you once you leave this planet?

I think I've found my title, my epitaph that I want to have said of me.

It comes from the book of Joshua, in chapter 24, verse 29:

"29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten."

I know, I know, it's in the Bible, so of course they are going to call Joshua "the servant of the Lord".  But wait a minute.  Joshua was a lot of things.  He was an incredibly brave man.  This is the guy who went into enemy land as a spy, met giants, and came home saying they could conquer them.  This is the guy who was "vice president" under Moses' leadership.  This is the man who was a brilliant military strategist; he took down one of the best fortified cities in history, with a week's worth of parades and a big band concert.  This is the leader who organized hundreds of thousands of former slaves into a terrifying fighting machine.  This is the man who lead a nation to victory and peace, at a time where peace was impossible to find.  Joshua was a brilliant, brave, fearless, tactical, stud.

But when it was all said and done, those words weren't adequate to describe him.  They could have been, and probably should have been.  But above those things, he was known for something else.  He was the servant of the Lord.  His life, in victory after victory, and in struggle after struggle, mirrored God.  His faith defined him to everyone who knew him.

All of the other praises and accolades would have been true.  He was all of those things.  But he was more servant to God than any other single thing.  

That is what I want to be known as when it's all over.  Whatever God may accomplish through my life, I want it all to come down to being known as His servant.  That begins for you and I today.  Joshua formed that persona early on in life.  He was faithful when barely anyone else was.  He was committed to God when others wanted to quit.  He stayed and prayed when others were asleep.  He listened and learned when others were pursuing their own dreams.  You and I can have that same epitaph, but it doesn't come at death.  It comes today.  Run after God today.  Pursue Him with all you are.  Be a servant today, and the rest will follow.

I really hope it will be said of both of us, "a servant of God".  For His sake.  He's worth it.

Falling Isn't the Problem. It's All in How You Land.

Last night I had several conversations with students who were dealing with big things.  We have one student who is working hard to carry out what God is telling her to do.  She is trying to get a group of students together from all over the area, and put on a small Acquire the Fire type of conference.  It's a huge dream, and she is really serious about it.

I spoke with other students dealing with relational issues, hurts at home, struggles at school, fears, uncertainties, and pain.  Some of the students I talked to last night are trying to figure out their future, what they want to do with their lives, or simply how to handle prom.

Life as a high school student is tough.

I have adult leaders dealing with hurts, concerns for their families, personal pain, uncertainty, empathy for the kids in their small groups, job issues, schooling, and a ton of other stresses on their horizon.

Life as an adult is tough.

So what do we do with all of this?  Today, I was reading through the book of Joshua, and it was verse after verse and chapter after chapter describing the boundaries of the lands and which cities each tribe of Israel inherited when they went into the Promised Land.  It was pretty dry reading, to be honest.  Especially since I have no clue where any of the boundaries or the cities are, or were.  I was lost in the details.

Until I hit one verse, the very last one I read.  It was Joshua 21:45:
"45 Not one of all the Lord ’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled."

That was why the long, expansive list of cities, peoples conquered, and land borders was given.  It was all proof.  Proof that God kept His word.  He had promised the impossible, that this rag tag group of wandering ex-slaves would conquer one of the most fortified, protected areas of the world, and that they would claim it all as their own.

They did.  It took five years.

Five years.

Of fighting.  Struggling.  Hoping.  Worrying.  Uncertainty.

Five years.

But God kept every promise, every single one was fulfilled.

So, what promises has God made us that you are still waiting on?  

Some of His promises are 
  • He will never leave us or drop us 
  • He knows us and loves us 
  • He creates all the good things in life 
  • He will give us wisdom if we ask
  • He is our protection 
  • He is a safe place to hide when we are scared
  • nothing can ever separate us from His love
  • nothing can ever take us out of His hand
  • He knows what we need before we ever ask for it
  • He takes care of the flowers and the birds, so He will certainly provide and care for us.
Is there a promise you're hoping for, waiting for, and uncertain about?  Don't be.  When the story of your life is told, there will be a chapter 21 verse 45 for you too:

45 Not one of all the Lord ’s good promises to (insert your name here) failed; every one was fulfilled. 

It's a promise.

God Likes Telling Messed Up Stories

God always surprises me with how bad of a story teller He is. A good story teller will cover all the details that make his side look bad, or that make the other side look good. God never does that. He just lays the facts out as they are, and leaves it up to us to make of it whatever we will.

Take this story, for instance. The Hebrews are marching through the land, and a lot of the nations are deciding whether to fight them or surrender to them. One group comes and acts like they are from far away to fool the Hebrews into a peace treaty. The Israelites listen to their story, and are doubtful. Check out what the story says next:

"14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. " (I added the italics) They have doubts, but trust what they see, and then don't stop to pray and ask God what they should do. They act on their own. They know what God has told them to do, they have a "gut feeling" (which is God trying to talk to them), but they ignore it and act on their own. They end up getting burnt by the plan and made fools of.

But then, there's more to the story. Later, when they confront this group of people about their lies and deceiving them, look at what they tell the Jews:

"24 They answered Joshua, “Your servants were clearly told how the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you the whole land and to wipe out all its inhabitants from before you. So we feared for our lives because of you, and that is why we did this." (Again, the italics are mine).

Did you catch that? These people who were Israel's enemies had heard the same info that the Hebrews had heard. They hadn't heard it from God or experienced it themselves, they heard it all second hand as rumors. But they believed it AND acted on it. They were saved because of it.

So, God shows us that the people He chose still aren't smart enough to stop and listen to Him, and the people who are not God's chosen hear second hand about Him and act in obedience to Him.

That's a messed up story.

But the bigger question at hand is, which one am I going to be? Will I be the one who knows what is right, or the one who does what is right? There is a HUGE difference! Titles, knowledge, belonging to a group, none of that matters in the end. It's what we do with what we know.

There is something in your life that you're wrestling with today, that you are worried about. Are you going to do what seems like the best choice to you, or are you going to stop, and ask God for advice, and then take it, whatever it is?

Sometimes the stories don't change very much, even 4000 years later, do they?

Stealing a Dead Guy's Robe Will Get You Everytime!

Remember the last time you did something you knew you weren't supposed to do?  You had a plan, but you knew that carrying it out was wrong?  Or maybe you had a sense that God wanted you to wait on something in His time, but you forced the issue and carried out your own plan?  Yeah, me too.

I struggle so much with waiting on God sometimes.  I want something, often something that is actually a good thing, but God tells me to wait.  Then I have that crazy tough decision to make; do I wait and trust Him, or move forward on my own schedule?  So many times I've moved forward on my own, and pursued whatever it was in my sights.  Again, often it's a good thing.  It could be something good for my family, some part of ministry, an opportunity to serve, or a long list of other good things.  Sometimes it's not.  But it's the timing that is the big issue.  God says "Not now", and I say "No, now". 

It always ends up burning me in the end.

I was reading in Joshua 7 today.  This guy named Achan is a Hebrew.  They move into the Promised Land, march around Jericho, blow the horns, and the walls fall down.  Veggie Tales has a great version of the story in one of their videos.  I don't remember Achan being in any of the kids versions of the story, though.  You see, God tells them when they capture Jericho to destroy it completely.  Don't take anything out of it.  Achan doesn't listen.  He takes a robe, some gold, and some silver.  Then he buries it under his tent. 

He knows it was wrong to take the stuff.  There isn't anything wrong with a nice robe, or money.  But he wasn't supposed to take it.  He did anyway. 

Thirty-six Hebrews die because of his actions.  In the next battle, they get spanked in the fighting, and 36 people die.  Because of Achan.

God shows everyone whose fault it was, and he confesses.  But it's too late.  Achan is killed, along with his family, and then their bodies are burned.  God really wants us to obey.  He's serious about it.  If he let Achan live, he would pull down the rest of the nation. 

Here's the crazy part.  They march back to the city where they were beaten, due to Achan's sin.  They attack it, and capture it.  But before the battle, God tells them to take the good stuff out of the city, then burn it. 

Did you catch that?  God says to take the stuff.

Achan missed it by a couple of days.  If he had listened to God, no one would have died, and he would have received more stuff.  Just a couple of days.  Achan couldn't see down the road, and he decided to not trust God.  He did it his way, and he and his family suffered for it.  It killed them.

We can be the same way.  We simply need to learn that God is really generous, and loves to give gifts to those who trust and obey Him.  If we will listen to Him and wait, amazing things come our way.

I promise.

Gotta Love Substitute Teachers

Yesterday I went in to substitute teach at the middle school, and taught 6th grade and 8th grade English classes.  The teacher I subbed for was terrific, because they left me straight forward and easy to understand directions.  His instructions made sense,  were easy to follow, and they worked.  All I had to do was read them, and follow them.  It made my life as a sub SO much easier.  Not every sub understands that.

Sometimes subs come in and want to add to the teacher's guidelines, so that they can be "creative" or "impressive".  They work above and beyond what is expected of them, ignoring the advice of the very person in charge of the class.  It usually tanks.  You remember them from your days in school. 

Then there are the subs who don't care enough to actually do the work given to them.  They're just passing time, getting paid, and going home.  The class is pointless in their hands.   These are the ones you always see in every dumb movie about high school.

I really just want to be the sub who does what is expected of me, and enjoys the day as best I can.  So today, I'm reading in Deuteronomy 30, and God lays out a teacher's plan for life.  Here's what He drops in our laps:

"10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?”
14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. 15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction."

I love that phrase "it's not too difficult for you or beyond or reach".  He keeps life's commands simple.  If we follow them, it all works.  If we try to make things to difficult (here is where religion comes in), we'll miss it.  We'll live stressed out lives that don't go anywhere.  If we ignore him and do things our own way, we end up with a life that's chaotic, like an 8th grade gym class.

God's word is very near us, in our mouths and hearts.  He has given it to us.

It's up to us to read the manual left for us, and decide what sort of follower we want to be.

I'm so glad He left great instructions!

God Wants You to Fight Like You're In a Cartoon

God cracks me up in Deuteronomy 20.  He is giving instructions to the people of Israel on what to do when they are in a war.  He says that before they go into war, they are supposed to tell anyone who has a new house, a new wife, or a new vineyard that they are excused from fighting and can go home.  If anyone is afraid or worried about going into battle, they can go home.  God just releases soldiers from duty left and right with no concern.

Then later He tells them that if they march up to a city and have to lay siege to it, not to cut down any fruit trees around the city, because they will want those to eat from later.  It's okay to cut down the other trees, but keep the fruit trees.

This is crazy talk.  We're talking about war here.  Take no prisoners, fight to the end, use every ounce of resources you have to win.

Unless you KNOW that you will win.

Then you aren't so worried.

When you have a secret weapon that is invincible, you can let soldiers go home.  You can leave trees standing for later, because when you take the city, you WILL eat from them.  When you're certain of victory, you can afford to do crazy things like this.

God is certain of victory.  He never doubts.  He is fighting for them.  They will win.  Period.

What about us?  Does God fight for us in life?  He tells us not to worry, not to get vengeance, not to defend ourselves.  Why?  Because He will do all those things for us.  They sound crazy, UNLESS you have a secret weapon.  Then you can act looney in the middle of a battle, you can live without worry as you march off to war.

What's your secret weapon?  Do you trust Him?

A Whole New Justice League

God is really big on justice.  In Deuteronomy 16, Moses is explaining the plan for the people, and winds down his speech with these words:

"19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you."

He throws out several commands in this one:
1. Do not pervert justice - Don't cheat other people.  Don't lie.  Don't deceive others.  Justice happens at work, at school, at home, in our town, our nation, and globally.  Wherever you have a relationship, don't pervert justice.  Be truthful, honest, live so that accusations can't stick to you.

2. Do not show partiality - Don't be impressed or afraid of anyone because of "who they are".  Don't let other people dictate how you live.  Live for God, not for other people.  Don't show favoritism to one person at the expense of someone else, no matter what you may get from it.

3. Do not accept a bribe - Don't let yourself be bought.  People try to buy us with fake friendships, with popularity, with dishonest praise, with acceptance/rejection, with fear, and all sorts of stuff.  Most of us aren't bribed with cash by someone, but other people try to buy us off all the time.  Don't fall for it.

4. Follow justice, and justice alone - Do what is right, because it is right.  Not because it's easy, fun, convenient, simple, painless, or benefits us.  Do what is right, what is just, regardless of how big, scary, intimidating, powerful, rich, or strong the oppressor might be.  Do what is right.  Follow justice, and justice alone.

Which of these four is God pushing you to work on today?  For me, it's number two.  How about you?

Humble Beast

I discovered a great website today.  It's Humble Beast, a group of hip hop artists who are producing some amazing music.  They are making it available for free/donation.  Check it out, download some new favorites, and donate.  It's well worth it.

300 and Counting

I just noticed that today's post was #300.  Wow.  It's rolling faster as time moves on.  If you read what is posted on here, I'd love to hear any feedback on what works for you and what doesn't.  Are there things you'd like for us to talk about?  Issues you'd like to see covered?  I'd love to know.

One Simple Question We All Need to Consider Today

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses is speaking to the Hebrews before they take the promised land.  He is giving them a farewell address, and desperately trying to pass on what he has learned after serving God for 50 years. 

There is a set of verses that popped out to me today.  Check them out.

"17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”
18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. 19 If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.
20 Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God."

I'm not sure I need to make any comments on this.  It's pretty straight up.

So, I just have one question for us.  The stuff we have (money, iPods, phones, clothing, food, cars, etc.); whose is it?  No really, WHO does it REALLY belong to?

Taking a Turn from the Worst

There is a fairly famous verse in Deuteronomy 4 that goes like this:

"29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul."

In church, we often talk about how comforting this verse is, how encouraging it is.  We read it, discuss it, and quote it. We make pretty posters with it on them.  We cross stitch it into wall hangings.  We ... well, you get the point.

And often we misunderstand it.

We live our lives doing our best to follow God and obey Him.  We try and try, and have a mixture of success and failure.  But at some point, all of us fail in big ways.  We fall flat on our faces, we blow it, we make fools of ourselves and our faith.  For a few of us, it's in a big, ugly, public way and we feel humiliated.  For many of us, its in more private ways, where we know we've messed up, and wonder if God could ever forgive us.

On those days, this verse may not feel encouraging.  We haven't been seeking God with all our heart and all our soul, and we've made a complete mess out of everything.  Now we are too far gone, and there's no coming back.  Things can begin to feel very, very, very hopeless.

If only we would read the rest of the verses around this one verse.
"24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. 25 After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God and arousing his anger,26 I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed.27 The Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the Lord will drive you.28 There you will worship gods of wood and stone made by human hands, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.30 When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him.
31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God;"

Did you catch that?  This verse is packed into a section where Moses tells the people what will happen to them if they disobey God.  They are getting ready to inherit this huge blessing, and Moses is desperately trying to warn them.  If they wander from God, they will lose everything.  They will worship fake Gods, and turn their back on the real God.  If they get really, really ugly about it, God will take away their blessing (the land) and ship them off to other lands.  Once they get there, if they STILL won't turn around, it will get worse.  At this point, they are about as far from God as they can get in their hearts, they are stubborn, they have lost everything, and He is MAD at them.

Then comes our little verse: 

"29 But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

And do you catch how it ends?  

"31 For the Lord your God is a merciful God;"

He is, you know.  He loves us, and when we are truly broken, when we want God, He is there waiting for us.  He doesn't want us to come to Him as perfect people who never mess up, He just wants us to come to Him.

I don't know what it is you've done.  I'm sure it's been painful.  But He is waiting.  No matter how bad your mess is, it isn't as bad as what the Hebrew's did.

And it was into their mess that God sent Jesus.

He still does the same thing today.

When It Seems Dark, Where Do You Look?

God is really, really good.

I know it's true.  I'm struggling today with some stuff going on.  Some students in the youth ministry are hurting, and I hurt with them.  Some are hurting and seeking for God.  I'm so grateful for how He is working in their lives.  Some students are hurting and want nothing to do with God, and I hurt with them.  I know God is working in their lives too, and for that I am grateful.

But it's tough.  It's hard not to take it personally when someone rejects Jesus.  It's not so much that I feel like my ministry if failing or anything, it's just that I love Him so much, and can see so clearly that if they would just trust Him a little, radical life change would come.  Things would be SO much better for them if they would let Him have control.  But they won't.  For now.  So my heart breaks.

That is why I say

God is really, really good.

He keeps reminding me that He has been rejected before.  By me.  Yet He never gave up on me.  He kept loving, calling, speaking, creating.  He kept going when I stopped.  He will do the same for them.  In that reminder, I feel His love all again.  It's not about my fears, it's about His strength.  It's not an issue of "What do I need to do to help this student/family out?"  It's a fact that He IS helping them out, in the middle of this all.  I may not see it, and it may be a bit dark right now.  But He IS working, today, in the middle of it.

I just need to trust Him.

I can do that, because

God is really, really good.

You Really Don't Want to Go There

Why does God put limits on things?  I mean, really, why does He feel it's so necessary to tell us where to start and where to stop?  In Numbers 34, the Israelites are getting ready to go into the promised land.  They have to go in and fight for the land, and drive other people living there out.  You would think whatever they could conquer, they could have.  That's how it works.  If you can take over land, it's yours.  If the owners can defend it, it's theirs.  At least, 4000 years ago that's how it worked.  Today we have lawyers.  But that's another discussion.

Even though that is how it worked in their day (strength/conquering = land), that wasn't exactly how God wanted it to work.  So He promises the people they will conquer the land if they obey Him.  But then He tells them where the boundaries to the land are.  He says "You can go this far, and then stop"  It's like He's telling them He will bless them completely, up to a point.  Then it will end.  Why?

He was giving them more land than they needed.  But He knows us.  He knows greed and selfishness destroy us.  If they kept conquering and conquering, a couple of things would happen.  One, with no enemies around them, they would quit depending on God.  And that is the point of our very existence, to know God and be in relationship with Him.  If He gave them unlimited success, they would convince themselves they were in charge, and abandon God for land.  They would be trading the reason they were made for some dirt.  Secondly, this self-reliant attitude would destroy them.  If they kept conquering other lands, they would spread out so thin that there would be no way to defend themselves.  Their greed would make them vulnerable to attack.

Not much changes.  God still puts boundaries around me in life, guiding me on what actions are helpful to my growth, and which ones will destroy me.  Lying? Destroy.  Prayer?  Growth.  Selfishness?  Destroy.  Forgiveness?  Growth.  Lust?  Destroy.  Purity?  Growth.  Judging others?  Destroy.  Humility?  Growth.  He puts boundaries all around my life.  Now, understand, He blesses me every day, and gives me PLENTY of room to move.  But when I challenge one of the borders God has put around my life, it leads me to depend less on Him, depend more on me, and it leaves me weak and vulnerable to attack.

Not much changes.

What about you?  What boundaries that God gives are you pushing against?  Where do you want to expand your life out into, that God is saying "No, that's too far?"  And at what cost? 

Build Good Today, or Conquer Great Tomorrow. Your Choice.

I'm reading in Numbers 31 and 32 today.  At this point in the story, the Israelites are getting ready to cross the Jordan into the promised land and take control of what they have been waiting on for over 40 years.  An interesting thing occurs at this point.  Three tribes of people come to Moses and say they want to stay where they are.  They like the land they are in, and they want to stay there. 

Moses gets on them for not being willing to follow God's plans, and for bailing on their nation and avoiding the fight.  So they agree to fight with their brothers for the new land, but then come back to the old land.  Moses doesn't get it, but he agrees.

So, these groups of men build cities where they are.  They build nice, safe cities in the land that they can see.  Then the prepare to leave and go fight the battle they are called to fight.

Why in the world would you settle for "okay", and then go fight for "great", only to return home to "okay"?  The place they were in was "okay".  Where they were heading for was "great".  They settled, literally and figuratively.  They still had to fight, but their decision guaranteed they would lose out in the long run.

Maybe they thought their nation would lose, and the people shooting for "great" wouldn't get anything.  Maybe they thought this unseen place everyone was talking about was just over hyped, and couldn't be any better than what they already had.  I don't know.  But they wanted comfort, and they wanted what they could see and hold today as opposed to what was unseen and promised tomorrow.

How many times do we do this same thing?  God promises if we will live a life of truth, integrity, and honesty, He will reward us tomorrow.  Instead we settle for half-truths and silence today.  God tells us if we chase after purity and holiness in our thoughts, actions, how we dress, and how we speak, then we will see God.  Instead we settle for not being as nasty as some of our friends are.  God tells us if we will be humble, kind, patient, and generous, we will inherit the earth.  Instead we settle for inheriting our little patch of life today, quietly.

We trade "great" for "good".  And never know what we miss.

We need to fight the battles that need fought today, so that God's kingdom can grow, and we will see just how generous God is in meeting our needs.  It will be amazing.

Don't ever settle for "good", fight for "great".

Standing in the Middle of a Hurricane of Grace

Yesterday I spoke in the main service as we ended up our iPray series. I got to speak on the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6. One of the points I continue to work through, even after the sermon is done, is the plurality of the prayer. What I mean is, it's a community prayer (OUR Father...give US...forgive US...etc.).

As I was prepping the message, and praying, I got to thinking about some of Jesus' other teachings. "Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there". Why is two or three better than one? When Jesus goes on the mountain for the transfiguration, He takes three with Him. When He goes to Gethsemane to pray, He takes all the disciples, but then He calls three further on. Over and over, He points to this idea of two or three in prayer. Why?

I think it goes back to the idea of a robust Trinity (a phrase I stole from LeRon Shultz, a seminary prof of mine.) God exists forever as a three in one community. Father loves and serves the Son and Spirit, Son loves and serves Father and Spirit, and Spirit loves and serves Father and Son. Forever. Always has. Always will. It's the definition of what it means to be alive.

So when Jesus prays that we will be one they way He, the Father, and the Spirit are One, it means much more than we think. When He tells us that His death forgives us for our sins, but His resurrection leads to a new life, He means it. We get invited to live inside of this eternal, ridiculously beautiful, frighteningly powerful love relationship the Three have. We get placed right in the middle of it and it flows in and through us, all because of the resurrection.

So is it possible that when we pray with one or two others, that at that point we are most like God? Could it be that when we abandon our selfish, autonomous fears and open our lives up to others, we most become like Jesus? Is it that in that moment, we are truly, at our best, Christians?

It's something to think about. I surely am.

If you'd like to hear the sermon, you can find it here.

I'd love to know what you think.

Presenting Donald Miller

Are you living a great story with your life? from Donald Miller on Vimeo.

You can get the book here.

It's Like Shrek, Only Real

In Numbers 22 we hit one of the funniest stories in the Bible.  It's the story of Balaam and his talking donkey.  I promise, I'm not going to use this as a chance to throw around the other words for donkey every chance I get.  The eternal junior high boy inside of me really wants to, but for the sake of this conversation, I'll drop it.  Sigh....

Anyway, the story goes that Balaam is a prophet hired by a king to come and curse the Hebrews.  The king wants them cursed so that he can fight them and kill them.  So, he tries to hire Balaam to come curse them.  God tells Balaam no.  Balaam tells the king no.  End of story.  Right?  Nope.  The king sends more important guys back with even more money to try and get him to come.  Balaam knows the answer is still no.  But he tells the guys to stay the night, he will ask God again.  God tells him if the messengers ask again, then he can go with them, but can only speak what God tells him.  So, instead of waiting, he gets up and takes off.  This ticks God off. 

God sends an angel to stop him.  His donkey that he's riding sees the angel, he doesn't.  A crazy, sit com scene follows with the donkey stopping because it sees the angel, and Balaam getting mad like a fool.  Finally, he sees the angel as well and gets turned around.

There are a TON of stories about Balaam and his talking, uh....err....donkey.  I've taught em.  But my question today came out of the middle of the story.  Here's the text:

18 But Balaam answered them, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.
19 Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.”
20 That night God came to Balaam and said, “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you.” 21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the Moabite officials.22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him. Balaam was riding on his donkey, and his two servants were with him.

Why did God get mad?  I looked around and read some ideas.  Some were solid.  Some were, well, very not solid.  Wow.  I'll let you decide where my ideas fall on that list.

Balaam is given an offer to do a ministry (prophecy) and God says no, because these people are blessed.
His answer is that God said "no" so he can't come.  He sounds like a seven year boy explaining to his friend why he can't come over.
When they come back, he doesn't just say no.  He says he's only allowed to do what God tells him.  Do you notice that shift?  He's not really being truthful.  He's trying to "obey" AND keep the door open for the money.
"Hang around and I'll ask again."  Why does he need to ask again?  God hasn't changed his mind.  He's obeying in action, but not in his heart.
So God tells him ok, if they ask again, you can go.  But God isn't going to have them ask again.  He's going to close the door once and for all.  
So Balaam jumps out in front of God's plan and takes off BEFORE they have a chance to ask again.

There it is.

There is me in this story.  I've never had a donkey talk to me. (Again, I'm ignoring the junior high boy yelling inside of me right now.)  But I have had God say "no", I've tried to bargain with him, and then weaseled my way to get what I want.

It always leads down a path to a very scary place.

God always has to show up in power and turn me around.


I am Balaam.

Sticks and Stones and Words.

In Numbers 20, Moses is faced with another challenge.  The people are out of water, and once again, they complain against Moses and God.  "Why didn't you let us die before?" they whine. 

God tells Moses to take the staff that had been set aside as holy in the temple in yesterday's reading, and take it out to the rocks on the mountain side.  He is supposed call for water to come out of the rocks, and it would come out.  It was going to be a sign once again to the people that God can take care of them anytime He needs to.

Moses gets mad, though.  I don't blame him after all he's been through with them.  In his anger, he takes the staff and hits the rock.   God still makes water come out of it, He still provides for His people.  But He tells Moses and Aaron that they won't be allowed into the promised land because of this.  What?!  Man, that's a stiff penalty after all this time of obedience.

But, let's look at a few things.  One, for them to die peacefully wasn't a curse.  They were set free from the roles they played here, and got to go home with Him.  And they didn't die painfully or over a long time.  God just takes them home.  (Aaron now, Moses later).  Two, the staff had been set aside as holy.  It was a beautiful sign of life and provision.  This is the staff that God made bloom.  It was a miracle.  Moses used it for his own purposes, in anger.  He should have suffered much worse than he did.  Third, by striking the rock, Moses shows a lack of faith.  You can't just speak to a rock and have it pour out water.  So he hit the rock.  He compromised with God.  This miracle is a little bit me, a little bit You.  But it doesn't work that way.  It's all Him.

What are we trying to compromise with God on today?  What is He wanting to do, but we aren't trusting Him on it?  Where are we saying "It's a little bit me, and a little bit You?"  He may still bless those around us, but it will cost us something. 

Whatever God is telling you to do, do it.  Speak it, don't strike out at it.

Sinkholes, Fire, Plagues, and Me

In Numbers 16 and 17 the story of the people grumbling against Moses, Aaron and God continues.  Repeatedly in these stories the people complain about how they are being treated, God decides to be done with them, Moses begs for Him not to do it, and they are spared.  But several thousand of them still suffer for their disobedience.  God sends a plague to kill some, fire comes from the Tabernacle and burns up 250 priests, and the ground opens up and swallows two families.  It's crazy stuff.

Moses keeps begging God to forgive and save the people.  He really is a foreshadowing of Jesus to come.

Here is my question for the day, though.  How are we, how am I, acting like the Hebrews?  Where am I grumbling before God, complaining about my blessings, choosing to see my past and my present through distorted lenses?  Where am I deserving death?  Yeah, I know, that's harsh.  But true.  I don't want to live in such a way that I am ungrateful before God, and cause Him the stress that the people of Israel caused Him. 

I look at their story, and I get disgusted with them.  I think that they are hopeless, foolish, selfish, idiots.  I want God to destroy them.  But that's the point.  We are supposed to feel like that.  And when we do, the Spirit whispers in our ears, "Are you really all that different?"

I'm not different at all.

I have so much to be thankful for, and I'm so quick to complain to God about what I don't have.

I'm sorry God.  I really am.

Help me, help us, to be grateful.  You deserve it.

And thanks for not opening up a huge hole in the earth and swallowing my house. 

That I am definitely grateful for.

Anchors In the Desert

In Numbers 14, we see the story of the spies returning from Canaan, and the people decide that they won't trust God after all.  They want to call it quits and go back to their slavery.  God gets mad with their lack of faith, and wants to destroy them right then and there.  Moses prays for them, and God forgives them.  But then He says they will all die in the wilderness, and their children will inherit the land instead of them.  He curses them to wander around in the desert for 40 years until that whole generation passes away.

Here is what hit me as I was reading this.  Imagine in year 39 that you are the last one left of your generation, and all of the kids are waiting on you to die so they can get out of the desert.  Man!  That's a lot of pressure.  It's one thing to not be wanted, but it's another to have a million people waiting on you to die so that they can get on with their lives!

I don't want to be that person.  I fully realize that God hasn't declared that type of curse on us today.  But, I don't want to be a person who is holding back God's plans for a group of people.  I don't want to be a dad that holds back my kids because of my sin.  I don't want to be a husband who holds back my wife because of my lack of faith.  I don't want to be a friend who holds back my friends because I'm afraid to trust God.  I don't want to be a pastor who holds back my ministry because I want to be comfortable and do things the way "they used to be".   I don't want to be that person.  I don't want to be an anchor in my community, dragging along, holding us back from God's blessing.

What in your life needs to change so that you are following close on Christ's heals, leading the way, instead of holding everyone around you back?
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