Hot Dogs, Fine Steaks, and Jesus (new blog post)

Sometimes I think about giving up on God.  I do.  Life can get really hard, and I don't see God's plan, and I think about giving up.  It's part of loving people and caring for them.  When I see what other people are facing, the pain they are dealing with, sometimes it makes me ask questions to God about how faithful He is, and gives me thoughts about quitting.

David felt like this too.  In Psalm 73, David writes:

"1 Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.

3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked."

You see what is going on here?  He knows that God is good, but still he almost slipped.  He came close to blowing it, to giving up.  He looks around, sees how people who are not following God seem to be living, and thinks about calling it quits. 

We all do every so often.  We begin to feel like "What's the point?"  We try and try, and only seem to fall behind.  David puts it like this:

"13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.

14 All day long I have been afflicted,
and every morning brings new punishments.

15 If I had spoken out like that,
I would have betrayed your children.

16 When I tried to understand all this,
it troubled me deeply"

It's not the thought of quitting that is the problem.  It's what solution do we take?  Do we toss in the towel?  I've seen quite a bit of that over my time in ministry, that's for sure.  People give up, walk away, and don't come back.  Jesus even tells us that will happen.  So, what is it that separates those who quit from those who stay?

Here is David's answer to that one:

"21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,

22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever." 

Do we stop and remind ourselves of all that we have seen and experienced God doing in our lives?  Do we let Him hold us by our right hand?  Or do we pull away?  It's a choice.  It's completely a choice.  One is no harder than the other.  What will we do?

I've got to admit, those times I want to quit, it doesn't take long to come back around to David's point of view.  Who do I have in heaven, but You?  Who can I possibly hope in if I give up on You?  What on earth has any draw besides You?  Everything I can chase leaves me empty and broken.  You are it.  You are my hope.  I grew up around a goofy, silly phrase that actually fits here; "You can't go back to hot dogs once you've had fillet Mignon."  It's dumb, but kind of true.

Please, don't quit.  Remember what God has done for you.  Look around and see what He is doing today.  He is here.  Trust Him. 

Where else can we go that is better?

What You and I Really Need Today (new blog post)

This is my prayer for myself, and for you, today:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure, and all of them are righteous.

 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. 

                                                                                                                - Psalm 19

Missing Your Wife's Wedding Because You're Dead

Nabal hated everything.  Nothing was good enough.  He wanted more money, stuff, power, and friends.  He was selfish, bitter, and very angry.  He was also an extremely good businessman, who was amazing at what he did, and everyone loved him to his face.

Then he died.

I wonder if he was so bitter because his mom named him Nabal?

Nabal was a guy in a small story in 1 Samuel 25.  He plays opposite of David, and is really just a footnote in the whole story.  He definitely isn't the main character, David is.  Nabal's wife Abigail plays a much larger part that Nabal himself does.  But he is fascinating just the same.  The Bible describes him as very, very rich.  He is the wealthiest guy in the whole area.  His wife is beautiful and smart.  He owns lots of land, and tons of stuff.  He's got it all.

Only, his name means "fool", and he lives up to his name.  David sends some men to ask him for help.  David and his crew of soldiers have been unofficially guarding Nabal's shepherds and sheep for him for a while, and David asks for some help in the way of food.  Nabal has it, and could have been an amazing part of God's story in David's life.  Unfortunately, Nabal has lived a life where he can't see past himself and his own wants, and he tells David to get lost.

So, David decides to kill him and all of his men.  He's on his way to do it, when Nabal's wife Abigail comes out to meet him with the food David asked for.  She averts her husband's destruction, and goes back home.  Nabal is having a huge party, and is drunk.  The next day, when she tells him what she did, he gets so mad that he "becomes likes stone".  He is so mad, he has a stroke.  Nabal dies a few days later.

Abigail marries David.

Nabal lies in the dirt, cold.

Wow.  That's a tough story.  How often do we make the small decisions Nabal made, to be selfish, to worry about ourselves, our own stuff, what we want, and ignore what God is doing in front of us?  How many times has your or my selfishness caused us to miss an opportunity to be a part of God's bigger story?  Nabal could have been a hero to David.  Instead, he died.

What decisions will you or I make today to step into God's plans and let go of what we want instead?  It's definitely better than the alternative.

Judgement, Death, Pain and Love for Others (new blog post)

I'm not sure what to make of God sometimes.  When I think I have Him kind of figured out, He shows me another side that I don't understand.  For example, I've been reading in some of the Psalms today (7, 27, 31, 34, and 52).  They are songs David wrote about struggling with King Saul when the King was trying to kill him.  David is on the run, and has to leave everything and live in the woods and desert.

David prays that God will judge him if he is in the wrong, but he also prays that God will judge Saul if Saul is wrong.  King Saul has decided to ignore God and is living and ruling in his own way instead of God's way, even though it was God who made him king.  David can't stand it.  So he prays that God will judge Saul harshly, even with death, for how he is living. 

What gets me is it's in the Bible, and in the story, God does just this thing.  Saul is judged for his actions, and dies.  David becomes king.  God blesses him.  He prays for his enemy to be judged, for God to hold him very accountable, for him to die.  What?  What about grace?  What about love your neighbor as yourself?

I think that is the key.  David does show love to Saul.  He himself will not kill Saul, even though he has several chances to do it.  It would have even been "legal" since he had been appointed the new king.  But he doesn't.  He begs God to do it, so that he can be sure it's just.  He wants justice, but David is willing to wait on God's justice.  Not the other side of death/heaven/hell justice.  Justice here, in this lifetime, on earth.  He begs God to act.  But until God does act, David shows mercy and grace, even though he doesn't feel it personally.  He obeys from faith rather than feelings.

That's the part I don't understand.  That's the disconnect.  I'm willing to obey as long as I feel peace about it, as long as it's the logical decision.  David obeys in spite of his personal feelings, in spite of what he sees in front of him, in spite of what is expected of him, in spite of what everyone else is telling him to do.  He trusts God at a level that I really want to get to. 

What about you?  What is it that God is calling you to trust Him on?  Who in your life needs justice, and you are waiting on God to act?  Will you trust Him?

He's worth it.

You Lying, Stealing, Rotten Jesus Lover! (new blog post)

Can you be a man or woman of God, and lie to a pastor?  Can you steal and have God use you to do good in amazing ways?  Is it okay to deceive people, hang around the wrong crowd, and be dishonest, all in the name of serving God?


And yes?

Obviously God tells us to do the right things, to speak truth, to be honest.  It is always the best policy.  It's not just a saying, it's true.  There are deep consequences for doing things our own way and ignoring God.

But then you read in 1 Samuel about David.  The dude is a chronic liar and deceiver.  In chapter 21, he lies to a priest in order to get food and weapons. and later when it's discovered, the only thing he is sorry for is that he didn't kill the shepherd who told on him.  He lies to a king of a different country and pretends to be insane, so that he can escape safely.  He steals food, he deceives people, he forms a small army of guys who are the bottom of society; thieves, robbers, etc.

But somehow, God uses him and continues on with His plan to make David king.


Yeah, that's how life works.  David wasn't perfect.  Deal with it.  He had a LOT of growing up to do and maturing to complete.  He was a young guy making dumb decisions.  BUT, and it's a big BUT, he wanted to keep moving in the right direction.  We see him praying and asking God for direction in life.  We find him honoring the King who God had appointed, instead of grabbing for power on his own.  In the middle of a lot of bad decisions, he makes a few good ones.  You understand what this makes David, don't you?


Completely normal.

This is our lives.  We all stumble and fall.  We all sin and turn away from God at times.  But, when you stumble, what direction are you falling?  I mean, is your life moving towards God overall, or away from God.  Falling isn't the big deal.  The bigger issue is do we fall towards God or away from God?

David was falling towards God.

That was enough.  God kept working with him, and he kept growing.

I hope I can keep falling towards God as well.

Choosing to Be Destined for Greatness (New Blog Post)

What would it be like to be someone who was destined for amazing and great things from the time you were born?  No, really, what would it be like to actually be chosen to accomplish world changing tasks because God has picked you?

I am starting the book of 1 Samuel today, and that is the story.  Samuel is a boy born in a miracle, to a woman who couldn't have kids.  She went years without children, prayed and asked God for a miracle, and was given it.  The baby boy was presented to God to be His, and He grew up in the temple serving God.  As a young kid, God speaks directly to him, even though He hadn't spoke to the priests in several years.  Everyone can see that Samuel has been picked by God, and they watch him to see what is going to happen.

At the same time, the priest in charge, an older guy named Eli, has two sons who use the whole religious thing to get what they want.  They take people's sacrifices for themselves, they sleep with the women who serve at the church, and they ignore God.  He tells them they will die for ignoring Him and abusing their positions.  But they had been chosen for this role by God, and given every opportunity to do what is right.  They simply chose not to.

The whole story sure does have a similarity to another boy born to a mom who shouldn't have been able to have a kid.  That boy was chosen for great things for God, was known from childhood to be a man of God, and had to confront corrupt religious leaders.  I love it when God gives a story like this that points to Jesus.

But even more than that, what about us?  The Bible tells us that we are chosen by God to do great things for Him.  He loves us, and gives us the ability to work miracles. 

We are all in the role of either Samuel or Eli's sons.  They both were raised in the same place, with the same opportunities, and with the same chance to choose to serve or not.  Samuel served, and is set aside for amazing things.  Eli's boys didn't, and destroy themselves.  Each day we face the same decisions.  Will we serve and do what is right today, or will we settle for just living for ourselves?  Which boy will you be today?

You have been loved and picked to do great things for God.  But the choice is yours.

What will you choose?

Maybe Your Boxes Are Keeping Him Out, Not In

The Bible always amazes me, because it tells on itself.  I've talked about this before, but I'm still caught off guard by it.  Today, I read the book of Ruth.  If you aren't familiar with it, go read it instead of reading this.  It's only four chapters, and won't take long.

The story is a story of faithfulness, grace, hope, and redemption.  Ruth is the star of the story.  The kicker is, she is not a Hebrew.  She is a gentile.  It's not God's people who do what is right in the story, but someone who doesn't know God very well.  She even calls God "your God" when she talks to her mother in law, who is from Israel.  So, we have a story of a girl who is faithful to a God she barely knows.

The whole story happens during the time of the judges, when there was no king, and Israel was running around like a drunk, evil college fraternity house.  It was anarchy, and so very, very not God focused during that time.

So, do you see this then?  Ruth, not a Hebrew, does what is right, during a time when God's chosen people who knew better, are not doing what is right.  God doesn't even have a voice in the story.  He is mentioned, but doesn't play a direct role.

So, what do we learn about God?  He doesn't fit in our boxes, He doesn't play by our rules, and He doesn't act in the way we think He should.  This begs the question, then, when was the last time God surprised you with something He calls you to, or something He does, that doesn't fit the stereotype you have for Him?  If He isn't surprising you, could it be that you are not actually listening?  Could our boxes we keep God in, actually be keeping Him out of our lives?

It's worth asking.

When God Writes the Prequel for Scream 8 (New blog post)

When God's stories sound more like Scream 4 than Mother Goose, it messes me up.  In Judges 19-21, we have a story so gruesome that it would be a R rated movie AFTER they cut out half the scenes.  I don't know that it would even get funding, it's so bad.

The story is about a guy who has a lover/half wife.  She cheats on him, then leaves and goes home to another part of the country.  After a while, he decides he does want her, and goes to get her.  The father in law is a manipulative guy, and keeps them both around a lot longer than the husband wants to stay.  Finally, they leave.  The husband is arrogant, and ignores good advice on the trip, putting the family at risk because of his racist attitudes.  When they finally stop, its in a dangerous place.  An old farmer takes them in, because he is kind and is worried about the family's safety.  That night, the men of this creepy town come, and call for the old farmer to send out the man so they can rape him.  The farmer won't, and in desperation, offers his daughter and the man's lover.  They refuse, and demand the man come out.  The farmer sends out the man's lover instead.  They abuse her for hours, and leave her for dead.  She crawls back to the doorstep of the farmer's house, where she dies alone.

Meanwhile, the guy is asleep in the house, completely not caring about his girlfriend.  He sleeps in, and when he finally wakes up, he finds her on the doorstep, where she died trying to get back in the house.  He tells her "Get up, let's go".  Only then does he realize she's dead.  He takes her body, goes home, and decides what to do.

If this movie isn't terrifying enough at this point, it goes downhill fast here.  He cuts up her body and mails parts of it to all of his family around the country in order to get them stirred up and angry.  This ignites a gang battle / civil war that ends up splitting the country into pieces, results in thirty thousand people dying needlessly, and in the kidnap and slavery of dozens of more women before the story ends.

Oh yeah, did I mention, that the guy in the story is a pastor?

That is messed up.  And unfortunately it is a true story about the people who were supposed to be following God and showing His love and compassion to the world.  It's not a script from some warped mind.  It's historical non-fiction.

It's also a reminder of what happens when we quit listening to God in our lives.  This story comes at the end of the book of Judges, which is packed full of stories of God's nation as they continually refused to listen to Him and change.  It's our story.  As gruesome as it is, we can each become this destructive when we try to live life on our own terms. 

Just consider the fact that we go to movies with stories like this, and consider them "entertainment".  Are we that far off then?

The book of Judges is a wake up call of God's concern and love for us, and our severe need to depend on Him each day, and live each moment by His plans as best we can.  We are called to be a people of beauty and light, grace and hope, peace and joy.  Does that describe your interactions today?  Yesterday? 

Or do we line up more with the self absorbed, bitter, pastor in the book of Judges?

The story is a shocker, and it is intended to shock us into evaluating where and how we live as part of His Kingdom.

Does it work?

Or is it just a story?

Book Review of "Fasting" by Scot McKnight

Fasting by Scott McKnight

In Fasting, Scot walks the reader through a newer, more comprehensive understanding of what it means to fast as a Christian.  When most of the Western world ignores fasting, he contends it's often because we don't understand what the Bible is calling for in a fast.  If you've ever wondered about fasting at all, Scot's book is a great read.

After reading the book, I have a lot to think about.  I've actually read it fairly slowly, because I wanted to process all that Scot gives in his writing.  Basically, he states that fasting is misunderstood by many of us, and if we can see what it is and why we should fast in a clearer way, we would be more likely to integrate it into our lives.  I agree.  He writes in a straight forward, clear style which is fairly easy to follow.  It's what I would consider a college level writing style.  He offers a lot of Biblical and historical support for his ideas, and they are used in a fair, valid way which keeps them in context.  It's not what I would consider entertaining reading, but it is not intended to be.  It is well written for the type of book Scot set out to write.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do as a response to this.  Obviously, I need to reconsider my understanding of fasting.  I also need to incorporate it into my patterns of life.  It's a gentle book with a compelling argument, and it convicted me in some surprising ways.

If you want to understand fasting in a more comprehensive manner, I'd recommend picking it up and reading it.

You can find the book here.

NOTE: I was provided this book for free in order to review it.  That has not affected my review, but you do need to know it just the same.


Buy One God, Get One iPad for Free! Today Only! Hurry! (new blog post)

What if God was for sale?  Like an iPad, a car, or a new pair of shoes, you could go out and buy God off?  What if, instead of a God who knows what is best, and gives you plans for how to live the best way possible, He instead was something you could buy and bring home and create your own comfy little religion?  Would you do it?  Would it work for you?

In Judges 18, that is exactly what happens.  This guys ends up with a little silver god statue.  He makes some other religious stuff, and sets up his own church.  He even decides that his kid is going to be the priest.  That is, until a better offer comes along.  This Levite priest comes into town looking for a place to stay.  Micah, the dude with the self-made church, offers to hire him, and provide food and clothing for him.  The priest agrees, and they set up a little religion in his home.

If it sounds weird, it's supposed to.  At this point in Judges, everything in Israel has fallen apart, and is getting worse by the day.  It's a complete mess.  So, what does the First Church of Micah-ology have to do with us?

We do the same thing.

Really, we do.

We try to blend our want for control, power, influence, and stuff with our belief in God.  We will pick and choose which parts of Jesus we want, and pitch out the rest.  Okay, we may not worship a little silver idol, but we worship idols with an apple printed on them.  What would happen if you knew that God was telling you to give up your cell phone for a year because it was messing up your relationship with Him?  Would you give away your car if God clearly told you to?  What about getting off of Facebook for a while?

If you think "No way!" to any of these, then there is your idol.  We all have them.  They are slowly killing all of us.  We have set up our own little religions, and God often sits off to the side of it. 

What are the things you allow to get in your way?  What are the things you would really, really struggle with getting rid of if God asked you to give them away to someone else, and not replace them?  Why?  Why are they so important?  What does that tell us about ourselves?  Do they REALLY matter that much?  Or are they just some dumb little silver god in our house?

Over and over the book of Judges says "There was no king in Israel" and that is why everything went to pot.  Which begs maybe the ultimate question:

Who, or what, is your king?

Review of Love Wins by Rob Bell

I've finished reading Love Wins by Rob Bell, and gave myself some time to think it over.  I wanted to drop my thoughts on here, simply because some people have asked what I think about it.

Rob does a great job of asking questions, and providing some of the possible answers.  In "What About the Flat Tire", he asks several questions about what salvation is, and what it isn't.  It's a great discussion to have, and continue having.  Often our views of what salvation is becomes so narrow, that it no longer is "good news", and therefore, in my opinion, doesn't qualify as the Gospel anymore.  Since the word Gospel is literally "good news", we can't honestly call any version of salvation "the Gospel" if it's no longer good news.  Rob's questions bring this point to the forefront, which I appreciate.

His discussion on Heaven in chapter 2 is equally poignant.  Rob brings in a discussion on the ideas of eternity and how it relates to the concept of eons.  Not having done the work on the Greek words, I'm not in a spot to agree or disagree with him.  The issue of heaven being the Kingdom of God and starting in the here and now is not a new idea in his writings, and it is one I have found very helpful. 

The chapter on Hell leaves me wanting a bit.  I agree that Hell is not a literal lake of fire.  How can physical flames burn a soul?  What good would that do?  If the soul could feel the flame, it would become numb to the pain.  That version of hell makes no more sense than a place with streets of gold and big mansions being heaven.  I do agree that hell begins here on earth as well.  We see people choosing that everyday, and we often choose hell for ourselves when we turn away from what God wants us to do. 

It's Rob's chapter on "Does God Get What He Wants" that I struggle with.  His basic idea is that God died for all of us on the cross.  Agreed.  He wants us all to be saved.  Clearly Biblical.  So Rob contends that therefore, wouldn't it make the most sense and be the best story if eventually everyone finds their way to Christ through the cross, even if it takes thousands of years for that to happen?  He never openly proclaims this is his belief in the book.  He asks the questions, and posits the answer as the best option.  But he never owns it as his own.  I'm not sure I buy this point.  By that rationale, Satan and all of his demons should return to God too.  God created them, and loves them.  Satan is not God's equal opposite, he is God's creation who God wills to exist.  Shouldn't he return to God as well?  But the Bible gives absolutely no idea that Satan ever comes back.  He speaks of Satan being locked up forever. 

Rob also states that people would likely succumb to God's love given enough time, because it is so powerful.  Again, I think that is a weak argument.  I don't believe that is the case.  I think that people who want nothing to do with God will continue on that path by their own accord.  It tells us that demons confess that Jesus is God and recognize who he is.  But they don't change.  Rob brings my argument up, but doesn't do much to answer it, in my opinion.

Overall, I think the book is pretty good.  You don't have to agree with all of Rob's views to learn from him.  Some of his points about the story of the rich man in hell calling for Lazarus, and how the miracles of John are sequentially ordered, were amazing.  The book is worth it for those types of nuggets that I love Rob for.  The questions he asks are valid, and his point that they are as ancient as the faith is true as well.  These are not new questions.  He was not the first, and won't be the last, to ask them.  We all need to wrestle with them, whether we agree with him in the end or not. 

While I'm not convinced that he is right, I would love for him to be right.  When I arrive home, and see Christ for the first time, if I find out that everyone will eventually be there, you will hear no complaints out of me.  But here, today, from what I see in the Bible, I'm not convinced it's going to go down like that.  The facts are that we need Jesus, hell is real, heaven is God's Kingdom, and Jesus is the only way to be saved.  Rob agrees with all of this in the book.  We can disagree about the parts we don't understand.  I'm good with that. 

I'd recommend reading the book.  It's worth it.
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