A Tale of Two Kings

In 2 Kings 20, 21 we have the story of two kings.  No, it's not the show off the Disney channel either.  It's about two actual kings.  Hezekiah is the first king.  He honestly tried to serve God and follow Him as the ruler.  He cleaned up the worship, got rid of the fake idols, and turned the nation back to God.  A lot of what he did was tremendous, and God blessed him for it.  But, the story shows he wasn't wise, because he showed an enemy nation all of his money and riches, basically tempting them to come take it, which they eventually did.  He also was selfish.  When he was told by Isaiah that his children would lose the kingdom and be carried off into slavery one day, his response was "Oh well, at least it's not going to happen to me, so no big deal."  Yeah, not someone we would consider a hero.

The second king was named Manasseh.  He's the king in 2 Kings 21.  He is just the opposite of Hezekiah.  He didn't want anything to do with God, and worked very hard to be as unGodly as he could.  He had the nation worship everything except for God.  He murdered his son as a sacrifice to a fake God.  He put an idol in the Temple, where God was supposed to meet with the people.  He was incredibly intentional about being evil.

What is surprising is that Manasseh was king immediately after Hezekiah.  Even more surprising is that Manasseh was Hezekiah's son.  His own son.  Raised in his house.  As a prince.  What happened?!  How can a king follow God and do so much to set the nation straight, only to have his son undo all of it and go even farther in the direction of evil?  Hezekiah didn't live a life of influence on those closest to him.  He did a lot of great things publicly, but didn't work to love and influence those in his own house.  It destroyed the nation.  Thousands of people were killed and lost their homes and families because of it.

Who are you influencing?  No, seriously, who are you influencing?  Are you spending all of your time trying to impress those outside your home, hoping to create a good name, an attractive image?  You'll probably succeed.  But what will it cost you?

Or are you intentionally focusing on those God has placed closest to you?  Influencing those friends and family members who are with you everyday may not be as glamorous or intoxicating, but it is what we are called to do.  It's how the truth and good news of Jesus gets passed on.  Parents, are you intentionally training and teaching your kids?  Kids, are you working to influence and model a Jesus kind of life for your parents, brothers, and sisters?

It's what we are called to.  And when we don't, we destroy entire kingdoms.

What One Thing Would You Give Up?

 There is a major crisis going on in the Horn of Africa right now.  Here is an article from the World Vision blog:

(Editor’s note: In an international campaign to raise awareness about the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, World Vision offices around the world are coming together to tolerate #faminenomore. Will you join us?)
Why help? Why raise awareness? What could I possibly do to make an impact for the 12.4 million affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa?
[From the photo above] When the maize crop failed yet again this year, Hadija Hassan Abdi, 28, took her children and hitched rides for 8 days and nights until she reached the safety of Burtinle camp in Somalia. Along the way she begged for food for her children from strangers. She has been in the camp only 4 days, just long enough to construct a tiny stick hut covered in cloth scraps. There is nothing on the floor and no cooking utensils. She and eldest daughter, Nurto, 10 (on right, wearing orange scarf) are able to earn a little by hauling garbage away for families in nearby Burtinle city. But mostly she still survives primarily by begging. I wonder how we’d react if she came to us for help?
This story from Jon Warren, World Vision photographer in Somalia, really struck me. If Hadija and Nurto were begging right outside my door, what would I do? I live in Seattle, where I see people begging a lot — sometimes I respond by giving and sometimes I don’t. Hadija and Nurto aren’t outside my door, but I can’t ignore their story, their need. They are as real as the people needing help right in front of me.
12.4 million people are affected by hunger, fighting for their lives — that’s a big problem to wrap our minds around. But I know this… together, we can make an impact. So what could you possibly do to help those in crisis in the Horn of Africa? Start here.

LIVE THE LIFE OF A FAMINE-VICTIM FOR 30 HOURS. The millions suffering in the Horn of Africa are part of the some 900 million hungry people worldwide. The 30 Hour Famine gives your group a chance to do something about itRead about the Famine team’s recent experience in Dadaab, Kenya, one of the world’s largest refugee camps.
TEXT. Get those texting thumbs ready… Text “FAMINE” to “20222″ to text in your $10 donation to fight hunger and famine in the Horn of Africa
BLOG. What’s the ONE THING you typically spend $10 on that you could give up this week and use the money you save to help those in the crisis in the Horn of Africa? Write a blog on this topic. Then LINK UP to us next week (we have a blog post coming on this very topic Monday morning, August 29, right here on the World Vision Blog). 

DEDICATE A PICTURE. It’s as simple as this: dedicate your profile picture on Facebook for a day, a week, or much longer and advocate for famine no more.
RUN, WALK, OR EVEN PADDLE. Team World Vision members are already raising funds and awareness for clean water projects in Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa. Whether you’re the walking type, a first time marathoner, or marathon champion, you can use your exercise routine to help those needing clean water in the Horn of Africa and other places, too. See all Team World Vision events.
GIVE UP A MEAL. Consider how many people in your family can eat for $10. How about $50? We challenge you to give up one meal and, instead, use the money you save to help those who are going hungry in the Horn of Africa and who are on the brink of starvation in famine-declared Somalia.
PRAY. Pray for children and families affected by this severe drought and the resulting food crisis. Pray that aid organizations like World Vision would gain access to those who need help the most. Download prayer points for individuals, churches and prayer vigils.
BECOME A SPONSOR & FIND MORE SPONSORS. Sponsor a child in East Africa online or at your local Family Christian Store, and encourage others to become sponsors, too. By providing essentials like nutritious food and clean water, sponsorship helps children be better prepared to cope with disasters, like the current drought and food crisis across East Africa.
GET TRENDING. Tweet this post, or videos, and stories about what’s happening in the Horn of Africa with hashtag #faminenomore and get this topic trending in the Twitter-sphere.
ADVOCATE. Send a message to your members of Congress. Ask them to oppose major cuts to the International Affairs budget, which provides critical, life-saving assistance to fight hunger and child mortality. Devastating and disproportionate cuts have been proposed that literally threaten lives of the poor and vulnerable. It makes up just 1.4 percent of the federal budget.
MULTIPLY YOUR IMPACT BY 5. When you give to our Horn of Africa Food Crisis fund, your donations can multiply up to 5 times in impact, thanks to government grants, to help provide emergency food, clean water, agricultural support, healthcare, and other vital assistance to children and families in need. World Vision has been fighting hunger in the Horn of Africa for many years, and will continue to respond in the midst of this crisis.
PUT YOUR FAITH INTO ACTION. Get your church family involved in caring for our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa by hosting an offering and educating your congregation. Download bulletin inserts, pastor speaking points, and other resources at www.worldvision.org/churches
REPOST. Sharing is one of the easiest things to do on the web these days, making sharing posts like this as easy as the click of your mouse. (Two ways to share: Click the “like” or “tweet” at the top of this post, or click the “share” at the bottom).

When we heard about this (my family and I), we contacted a friend in Kenya, and he verified that the stories are legit.  Not that World Vision is lacking in trust, but we always want to find the best way to get involved.  Our girls put their heads together, and came up with a plan.  They have to put away 10% of what they earn to give away.  They combined their money and came up with $75 to give to World Vision. (they had been saving for months.)  We are going to add to it, and send it in to help.  What can you do to make a difference?  As Christians, the answer simply CAN NOT be "nothing".  You can also read more on the blog here.  Just do something.

Purple Flowers, Cornfields, and Killer Walnut Trees

As I was out riding my bike this morning before coming into work, I was talking to God.  Okay, no, actually, I was complaining to God.  I was complaining about finances.  I was expressing frustration with some of my friendships.  I was upset about...., well, you get the idea.  I was complaining.

So, I 'm cruising along, tense and rather unhappy deep inside, and I look over and see some beautiful morning glories.  They are climbing slowly up the cornstalks in a field, facing east.  As the sun was rising, they were brilliantly open and shining.  I love seeing them when I ride.  Immediately I started thinking about how awesome and beautiful they were, and I heard God remind me "I care for the flowers of the field.  I clothe them and watch over them, and they are just flowers that are here today and burned up tomorrow.  Why are you so worried that I won't take care of you and all the "problems" you are dumping on me?"

It's been a pretty constant theme the past several months.  I worry, God says "Wait.  Don't worry.  I have you."  But the flowers hit me and drove it all home again.  He has me.  In the much used words, I need to "bloom where I'm planted."  I need to face the sun and shine just like they do.  They make their quiet section of nameless corn field so beautiful.  It's my job to do the same.  I need to make my small piece of the world more beautiful.  Complaining won't get me there.

As I'm having this conversation with God, He reminds me of our yard.  We have five huge, very old (100 years or so) walnut trees across the front of our yard.  They define our house, they anchor everything around them, and they are focal point of the yard.  They are also poisonous.  I never knew it till we moved into our house a couple of years ago, but walnut trees put acid into the soil around them, and will kill most other plants trying to grow in their area.  A few trees can grow near a walnut, but not many.  They are poisonous.  They don't mean to be, it's not a defense or a planned attack.  They just emit acid and kill other things when they stand there.

God asked me which I want to be?  Do I want to be a morning glory, or a walnut tree?  My attitude and faith will drive me in one direction or the other.  It's up to me.  Gratitude or grumbling?  Bitterness or beauty?  Humble or hateful?  It's all up to me.

And you.  Which will you be today?

Parent Cue #2 for Rhythm Lessons

Parents, here is a Parent Cue for you that goes along with the lessons we are teaching on Sunday nights to our SrHi group, and on Wednesdays at the Middle with our middle school group.  Read it over, and spend some time discussing it with your students.  As always, let me know if I can be ANY help to you as you raise your kids to love Jesus.  You are loved, and prayed for all the time.

Here it is:

In this series we are talking about rhythm and how every piece of our lives is connected. If you went to a band concert and the flutes were out of tune, the last thing you would want is for the tuba section to just play louder in an attempt to try to drown out the squeaky flute players. The same is true in families.

When something is not right in our lives, it affects how we relate to others. If one of you has a bad day, where is that frustration usually displayed? At home, to other family members, right? For some reason, our families tend to get the worst of us, and we save our “game face” for our friends and co-workers. It’s great to have a place where you can be real and a place that’s safe, but sometimes the ways we vent put us out of rhythm with our families.

As a family, help one another find healthier ways to handle those crazy times in life. Realize that the first reaction isn’t necessarily the truest one—how someone is acting may not be the real issue. Those irritating things at home can be symptomatic of something bigger (at least to that person) going on outside the home. The fight over the remote control can be just another situation where you didn’t get something your way that day and it seemed like you were at everyone else’s mercy. The need for order may be due to something in your life that is out of control, like a sick loved one or a stressful office situation.

Help one another work past the exterior angst to the real problems. Once you’ve identified the issue, encourage and pray for one another. 

Free. Simply Free.

God makes a promise in Isaiah 46 to His people.  But it's a promise about who He is, what type of God He is.  Because of that, we can apply it to ourselves as well as to the people He wrote it to.  Check it out - 

9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me. 
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’ 
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do. 

Do you catch all of that?  Those are some amazing promises!  He will do whatever it is He sets His sights on doing.  He has known from the beginning of time how everything will play out, and He will accomplish His goals.  The beautiful part is He can allow us to be completely free to serve and love Him, or not to and sin, and yet He is unfazed.  I love that.  You and I really are free, because God has total control over everything.
We often think either we are free, and God sits back OR God is in control, and we don't really have any choice in how things go.  But it's not that way at all.  BECAUSE God is so powerful and mighty, BECAUSE He is unstoppable, BECAUSE He is amazing; He can give us total freedom to act and it doesn't impinge on His power.  
This takes a ton of worry and stress off of us.  God will accomplish His plans, and they are good.  He will win the day today.  And tomorrow.  And the next.  It's not up to us to make it all work, to be sure we hit everything perfectly.  He carries us.  This is why Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow.  God has it.  It will be finished.  He does win. 
We just need to be on His side.
So, whatever worry is holding you down today, whatever fear is stressing you out, whatever decision is making you cower; let it go.  God will accomplish His plans, in you, today.  Just trust Him.  He's promised. He's good.  What He has said, He will bring about and what He has planned, He will do.

Another Set of GREAT Free Fonts

Chad Swanzy over at Youth Leader Stash has given another great link to more fonts.  Check em out, and check out Chad's blog.  One of the most useful youth min ones I know of.



When the Sphinx Can't Save You

As I was reading through Isaiah 31 this morning, it brought up an idea that is really, really common in the Old Testament.  Israel as a country would find itself attacked by a bigger, stronger nation, and over and over they would run to Egypt, pay them money, and have them come send the Egyptian army up to help defend the nation of Israel.  They were hired soldiers.  It seems like Israel did this over and over.

I had read that a ton of times, but I got thinking about how that must have felt to them.  They had been slaves in that country.  Egypt had owned them.  It took a ton of miracles by God to pull them out of there, and from the time they left, there were people who kept choosing to go back to Egypt instead of trusting God.  Egypt was a source of embarrassment for the country, a constant reminder that they were not a world power, that they were very little, and really struggled to even protect themselves, let alone be a threat to anyone.  I mean, if you're going to claim to be God's chosen people, you'd think you'd be the dominating force in the world.  They weren't.  They came close under David and Solomon, but that was short, and did not last.  And even then, they were only able to defend themselves.  They never went on a huge warpath and took over other countries to build an empire.  The best they could do was to just manage to be safe for a couple of decades.

As a country, that's embarrassing.

But to have to run back to the very nation you had to scrape and claw your way out of only made it worse.

Yet, most of the people and the kings would rather run back to Egypt with their tail between their legs than to depend on God to save them.  Why do we do that?

Why do we trust in habits, people, or systems that we know, 100% without a doubt, that they are broken?  We know those addictions don't set us free.  We know that relationship can't actually make us happy.  We know that habit only leaves us empty.  We know that grab for power is always temporary.  In spite of that knowledge, when we come under attack, and life becomes scary and unsure, instead of turning to God, we run to Egypt, the land of darkness.


God is trustworthy.  He always has been.  He always will be.  He is not the problem.

It's our expectations.  The nation of Israel couldn't understand that maybe God's plan didn't call for them to be a military powerhouse.  He didn't even want them to have a king.  He wanted them to follow Him, to be blessed, and to bless the people around them.  That is not what they wanted.  They wanted power and revenge, just like everyone else around them seemed to have.  So, they ignored God, and ran to the center of ancient power and revenge.  Even when Egypt was way past their glory days and were no longer a world force, Israel still ran to them for help.

What goals, hopes, values, dreams, or desires do you have that keep you from running to God?  Are they working out for you?  It's probably time to find some new ones, some dreams that come from Him, and that He will honor in your life.

Free Fonts to Kick Off the Fall | Youth Ministry Geek

Chris over at Youth Ministry Geek has put up two links to some free fonts. If you do any sort of graphics work, check out the links. There's some really good stuff on there.


The Waiting Game. Again.

I almost couldn't take it anymore.  I was reading through Hosea and Isaiah today in the Bible, and I was feeling so beat down by it.  Over and over God warns His people, and they refused to listen.  So God promised to send other nations in to destroy the country and get the people's attention.  The warnings were dark, ominous, and seemed to go on, verse after verse, chapter after chapter, without end.  It was discouraging.  

In Isaiah 30:17, God says
"A thousand will flee 

at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.” 
He's saying that the nation will be completely routed and destroyed.  No one will be left.  
I read these things and I think about my own sin, my own places I wrestle with God, where I don't want to listen to Him.  It breaks me, scares me, and worries me.  I want to follow God, I want to serve Him, but there are still so many issues in my own life that I am working on and have so far to go yet.  
Then, after verse 17, I read verse 18:
"18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him! 
19 People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you.20 Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
And I have hope again.  God is a God of justice.  He will do what it takes to get our attention and get us back on the path.  He is also a God of grace and compassion.  It just gives me hope that as long as I keep trying to follow Him, even when hard times come, or consequences for my sins fall, He will stand with me in them and never leave me.  Blessed are those who wait on Him.  Again with the waiting.  It's finally starting to get through my skull.  Be faithful, stand, and wait on the Lord.
That's not quite the normal plan for business in our culture.  That's for sure.  "What is your five year plan look like Jason?"  "Oh, you know, I'm waiting on God."  (awkward pause......)
But really, what else is there?  What else can I do?  I can try to run everything myself, work myself into a worried mess, stress over a ton of details, some I can influence and some I can't.  Or I can trust that God is a God of compassion and grace, and I can wait.
That's enough.  It's more than enough.

Yeah, Sure Man, God Told You to.... Uh, huh......

I do not know anything about suffering for God.  I don't.  I just don't.  I read through a book like Hosea, and I realize that I really have no clue about obedience leading to suffering.  If you've never read the book of Hosea, then 1) stop reading this and go read it.  Your time will be better spent.  2) If you're still reading this, then here is a brief synopsis.  Hosea is called as a prophet when he's a young, single guy.  God tells him to go marry a woman who is adulterous, someone known for sleeping around.  That doesn't do anything for your reputation, either as a man or as a prophet.  I'm sure lots of elbow nudging went on with his friends; "Yeah, we know why you married her.  God TOLD you to."  (Nudge, nudge).

Then, she cheats on him, and he has to buy her back.  Did you catch that; buy her back.  He had to swallow his pride and go buy her back.  Spend actual money to redeem this woman who ran off on him.  She ran off AFTER she and Hosea had three kids together.

All of this so that the nation of Judah could learn a lesson, which they didn't learn.

Hosea was one massive failure.  Married poorly, humiliated, and all for a cause that didn't work.

Surely he didn't hear God correctly.  God would never give advice like that.  Ever.

But He does.

The question is do we listen?  I think the crazy part of the story isn't God giving Hosea crazy commands.  The miracle part is Hosea listening, and then obeying.  Repeatedly.

I want to be like that.  Nuts for Jesus.
But I also don't want to be like that.  It's expensive.

Therein lies the battle inside of me.  It's easier not to listen than to listen and wrestle.

I have to do a better job of listening AND obeying.

At least if I ever want to be nuts like Hosea.  What about you?

When God Calls Us Names, It's Serious

As you read through Isaiah and 2 Kings, the story of Israel takes such a sad turn.  The entire nation, both in Israel and Judah, are carried off as slaves into Babylon.  Other people are brought in to live in their houses, and to work their land.  They lose everything.  Everything.  The temple of God is broken into and abandoned, the holy places are taken apart and dismantled.  The dream is over.


As we talked about earlier, they didn't show justice to the poor and outcast.  They ignored the other.

And they worshiped stuff that wasn't God.  They made idols, and worshiped them.

I know we don't have small little statues that we worship sitting on our mantles at home.  I also understand that as people who have been bought and redeemed by Jesus, we are in a different boat than they were, in some ways.  But seriously, what idols do we worship?  What are the things we go to when we are scared, angry, hurt, alone?  When life is tough, what do we run to for help?  If they are anything other than Jesus, they become our idols.  We worship those things.

I'm realizing some of the idols in my life, and I don't like it.  Hurts and habits I've carried for a while are not drawing me to God.  Most people would look and be like "Really, Jason, those are no big deal.  Relax."  But they are the things I turn to, instead of turning to God.  That is a big deal.  I don't want to have said of me what is said of the people of God: "They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless." (2 Kings 17:15)

Please oh please never let that be said of me!  Can you imagine having God write those words about your life?  It breaks my heart.

So, today, what are we using as a crutch when life gets tough?  What do we run to, regardless of how "little" or "insignificant" it may be.  If it's not Jesus, it's an idol.  May the title "worthless" never be applied to us.

Parent Cue for Aug/Sept Lessons

Here is an overview of what we’re talking about in Senior High and in Middle School in the coming weeks. Listed below the summary is a “parent cue” to help you dialog with your child about the session. The question is intended not just to be asked by you, but to be responded to by BOTH of you. Use this opportunity to find out what God is teaching your child, and allow your child to see what God is teaching you as well.


Series Overview

Have you ever noticed how connected everything is? It’s almost as if there was some type of unseen structure to all of life, a rhythm. Many of us are oblivious to it until things are out of sync. We know something is wrong, and we can maybe pinpoint a few things around us that are culprits, but deep down we know there is something more going on. We are out of rhythm—with God, with ourselves or with others.
Session One (SrHi - August 21st; the Middle - August 24th)
In the beginning, God created a song, a rhythm. Humanity existed in harmony with God, with ourselves and with each other. But then humankind settled for another song--a lesser one--and the rhythm started falling apart. Yet even then, God didn’t walk away, and because of that, we have a way to restore the rhythm with Him, with ourselves and with others.

Session One Parent Cue: The first week of the Rhythm series is designed to help students understand that in the beginning, God established a rhythm. They will unpack the story of creation and the harmony that existed between Adam and God, Adam and nature, and Adam and Eve. They will entertain the idea that from the start, everything worked together in perfect harmony like a beautiful song. But then Adam and Eve made a choice that destroyed the song and threw the rhythm off. They will also look at God’s response to Adam’s sin, and they'll see that God continues to seek relationship with us even after things have fallen apart. Talk with your teen about how he or she sees the brokenness in the rhythm around them. Feel free to share your observations as well.

Session Two (SrHi - August 28th; the Middle - August 31st)
If you’ve been in church for a while, you’ve heard it all and seen it all. You know the stories. You know the songs. You know the words. Many of us even think we know all about God. We think we have Him figured out. We think we know everything about Him, and in our lives, He’s very small. But the reality is that we will never fully grasp how awesome and amazing He is. We can spend a lifetime in awe and wonder, and even an eternity, because He’s that big . . . and that good.

Session Two Parent Cue: This second week, students will be challenged to look at God in new ways. Many times we find that we are so familiar with “churchy” descriptions of God that we forget who He really is. And when we forget who God is, how awesome and surprising He can be, then we are tempted to turn our attention and affection to other things and our lives fall out of tune. In week two students will be challenged to discover a God who is bigger than our attempts to define Him. Discuss with your teen ways that God has surprised you and your family with how big He is.

Session Three (SrHi - September 4th; the Middle - September 7th)
You’ve heard the words before--“love your neighbor as yourself”--but most of the time we don’t really hear the second half of that. We don’t love ourselves. Perhaps it’s because it just seems wrong. After all, as followers of Christ, we are supposed to become less as He becomes more. But for some of us, somewhere along the way we’ve confused humility with self-hatred. God wants us to be in rhythm with ourselves because when we aren’t, it throws off the rest of the song.

Session Three Parent Cue: This week students will explore the things that create tension in their own self-perception and learn the ugly truth: Being in rhythm with ourselves and being in rhythm with God go hand in hand. How we view God our Creator affects how we view His creation, ourselves. They will consider the masks they wear and the faults they try to cover up, and they'll receive a challenge to begin to shed those masks and be at peace with who they really are. Talk openly and candidly with your student this week about the things both of you have a hard time accepting when it comes to the faults you see in yourself. How can you better accept yourselves as you are?

Session Four (SrHi - September 11th; the Middle - September 14th)
No person can have a life of rhythm unless he or she is at peace with other people. That’s easy to say but hard to live, isn’t it? But following Jesus means being passionate about what He is passionate about--and Jesus is passionate about people. So if we want to be in rhythm, we not only have to be in sync with God and ourselves, we also have to be in sync with others. 

Session Four Parent Cue: No person can have a life in rhythm if they are not at peace with the people around them. In the final week of this series students will be challenged to be in rhythm with others, to be passionate about serving those they encounter and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation when needed. How can you work at making this a regular practice in your family? 

Chess Pieces, Water Pistols, and the Keys to Hell

This morning I've been spending some time with a friend talking about spiritual attacks, and how it affects our ministries and families.  There are definitely some things I've learned over the years about how Satan comes after us, and I was reminded of them this morning.

1. It's not really about us. - Satan only wants to hurt God.  They are having the battle; we are in the middle.  We're just chess pieces in his battle with God.  We are not Satan's ultimate goal.  He can't defeat God in battle (already tried and lost.)  He can't kill God (already tried and lost.)  He can only hurt God through His kids.  So, he comes after us to get to God.  If we simply obey God in the middle of the attack, then Satan will go 0 for 3.

2. It's gonna happen. - God allows us to be under attack, so that we can rely on Him, and clearly point people to Him.  If God doesn't allow Satan to attack us, we won't grow.  So where Satan only uses us to get to God; God uses Satan to get us to Him.  It's a risky thing on God's side, but He loves us enough to run the risk.  So, attack is a normal part of growth as a Christian.

3. No water pistols. - I grew up in a culture that loved to talk about our battle we have to fight.  Phrases like "taking on Hell with a water pistol in Jesus name" were thrown around a lot.  We don't have to attack anything.  God tells us that when we've done all we can to prepare, then stand.  We don't need to attack Satan or Hell.  Jesus did on the cross, and when He left Hell, He took the keys with Him.  Satan can't even lock his own doors anymore, Jesus holds the keys.  So, we don't need to be all Rambo on the offensive.  God's won.  Trust Him, obey Him, wait for Him to save the day, be faithful and stand.  Pretty simple.

4. No fear. - God does not use fear to motivate us.  Only Satan does.  So any fears of "what if...." are not from God.  He has the battle won.  We have nothing to fear as long as we obey what He wants.

Are there any others you would add?  Anything you would disagree with?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

When Worship Won't Cut It...

I began reading the book of Isaiah today, so I'll be writing about Isaiah for a while.  I love that book.  It is not usually a book out of the Bible that people point to as one of their favorites.  It's a book written by a prophet trying desperately to warn the people of God to turn, or be destroyed.  That is NOT why I love it.  It's often dark, and painful.  That's NOT why I love it.  It has some very graphic warnings of what God is going to do to the people who hate Him.  That's NOT why I love it.

I love it because the whole theme of the book is "a remnant will return."  At it's heart, it's a book about grace and forgiveness for anyone who wants it.  THAT'S why I love the book.

It all begins in chapter one with the warnings.  God, through Isaiah, is telling the people that He is tired of their junk.  He's tired of them coming to church and singing and saying one thing, while living a whole other life the other days of the week.  He tells them to quit singing songs to Him, to quit offering sacrifices to Him, to quit coming into the church and messing it up.  He doesn't want anymore praise and worship services from them.  Instead, He tells them:

Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.  (Isaiah 1:17)

That always catches me.  God is tired of the hypocrisy and fake faith of his people.  But He doesn't give them lectures on how to run a better worship service, or how to confess their sins corporately on sticky notes and make a clean break.  How are they to show their faith is alive?  Take care of "the other".  The poor, the oppressed, the fatherless, those without family, the lonely, the needy.  Help them, then I'll know you are legit.


So honestly, where are we with this.  God says an actual faith will live itself out in our daily lives, and it will involve how we treat "the other".  Who is your other?  A neighbor who is alone and needy?  Someone at work who is broken?  A family member who is alone and alienated?  That kid in the hall at school who is poor?  Who is the other in your life?  How are you treating them?

According to God, that seems to be more important than what goes down on Sunday morning.  

How are we doing?  

How You Finish Matters

There was a king in 2 Chronicles 26 named Uzziah.  His story is kind of crazy.  He became king at 16, but he tried his best to follow God.  He worshipped God, and took advice from the priests on what to do.  He became a great soldier, ruler, and king.  His fame spread throughout that part of the world, and the kingdom grew.  He was a military inventor, designing new weapons, and a great strategist.  As long as he followed God, he was used in amazing ways.

But then, in it says in verse 16 "But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God"

There it is.  Uzziah eventually believes its all about him and God together.  He gets cocky.  As a result, he gets leprosy, and is not allowed to live in the castle anymore, and his son has to rule.  So, he's king, with no power.  

I so don't want to be that guy.  He had all the outward signs of still being what God made him to be, but he was useless because of his sin.  I really don't want that to happen to me.  I want to be the one who stays close to God, who sees God in charge of their life, who finishes as well as he starts.  Uzziah got to be king for 52 years.  That was unheard of in a day and age when kings lasted five to ten years.  But he lost his way.

May you and I always stay humble before God, and on track so that we can finish well.

A Miracle Plant, a Hateful Prophet, and Them

I read through the book of Jonah today in my reading.  The part that sticks out to me in the story is why Jonah ran in the first place.  If you've never read the book for yourself, it's very short.  Take a few minutes today, and sit down and read it.

Jonah is told to go preach to another city, in another nation, to a different people.  They are his political enemies. He says no, and runs.  You know most of this part of the story.  Big storm, sailors have to throw Jonah overboard, swallowed by big fish, fish throws up, Jonah preaches in Ninevah, people of Ninevah turn to God.  If you've been around church for awhile, you've probably heard the story.  Then at the end, God has to get on Jonah for being unhappy that the people repented.

But it just hit me today why.  They were political enemies.  Jonah says that he knew if he went, that God would forgive them because He is so good.  Jonah doesn't want the people forgiven.  He hates them.


Who in my life would I be upset if God forgave?  Who do I hate so much that I'd rather them suffer than seek God's forgiveness?  No, really, who would it be?

Because God is having none of it.  He tells Jonah that they are his children, and he needs to get over it.

Is there someone that we would secretly like to see suffer?  What will it take to see them through God's eyes?  To love them the way God does?

For Jonah, he had to go through a storm, be buried at sea, and then be digested by a fish for three days.  Then, he only got 1/2 of it.  God had to grow a miracle plant, then kill it, and the scold him.

And at the end of the story, it never tells us if Jonah got it or not.  It's open ended.

Just like your story and mine.  It's not done.

Will we get it?  Will we offer forgiveness and mercy to those "others" in our life today?

Hide and Seek with a Dead Man

There is a crazy contrast of life and death between two men in 2 Kings 13 and 2 Chronicles 24.  Elisha is the prophet of God who pursues God at all costs, and it costs him alot.  He lives a life of deep, personal faith in God.  He withstands tough trials, he takes on people who hate him for his trust in God, and he sees great works of God done through his hands.  And he dies.

Joash was a prince who became king of Judah.  He was only seven when he became king, and he reigned for decades.  He was guided by a priest named Jehoida, who loved God.  Under Jehoida's guidance, he turned the kingdom back to God, and had amazing success as a king.  He lived out a public faith, pointed people to God, faced tough battles with enemy armies, takes on other nations who hated God, and saw great works of God done through his hands.  And then, he died.

But when Joash died, it was ugly.  Jehoida, the priest, had died years earlier, and Joash quit following God.  In fact, he ran the other way, and abandoned God.  Because of this, he was wounded in battle, and then later killed in his own bed by conspirators.  His faith was wide, but not deep.  It was a faith to be seen, but not to be lived personally.  When he needed God's guidance the most, his weak faith did not carry him, and he died a broken ruler who lost his way, at the hands of assassins.

Elisha died of a disease that slowly took his life.  But, through it all, he maintained a trust in God that guided his heart and decisions.  He died at peace, and was buried.  Later, some friends were transporting a friend's body to a funeral.  As they went past Elisha's tomb, some robbers came by.  They stuck their friend's body in the tomb to hide it from the bad guys.  It touched Elisha's bones, and the guy came back to life.  Even in death, God's power and blessing stayed with Elisha's body.

That's a contrast.

Which are you shooting for?  A faith that is a Sunday faith, once a week, make everyone like you, and live life your own way the other six days?  Are you living off of someone else's faith?  OR, are you working out a faith through tough times and trials that is deep, and just by being around you, people gain new life?

Two similar but very different paths.  Which are you on?

Eyes Wide Open

Throughout the years, I have asked God over and over to let me see the world through His eyes, to hear the world the way He does, and to love people with His heart.  In 2 Kings 6:17, the story of Elisha takes this idea to a whole new level.  Elisha is in a city surrounded by his enemies who want to kill him.  A huge army takes up defenses, and is going to destroy the whole city to get to Elisha, the prophet.  His servant panics, like any of us would.  But Elisha doesn't.  Instead, he prays for his servant.

17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

What is going on is God's army is there to protect Elisha,  He never worried.  He saw the world around him through God's eyes.

We don't need the army of angels around us.  Jesus tells us that He will live in us.  He tells us not to worry, because He has us, and everything around us, covered.  But we forget.

A couple of weeks ago I was riding my mountain bike in Brown County State Park.  The trails there are sweet and fast.  But on a slow part, I took my eyes off the trail for a minute.  My glasses had fogged up, and I quit looking at the trail to look at the fog on my glasses.  In that 2 second window, I went over the bars, and I'm still healing up the wounds from that stupid fall.

When we take our eyes off of God, we fall just as fast, and just as hard.  What we focus on makes all of the difference.

So today, pray that prayer with me.  "Lord, open our eyes so that we can see."

Stolen Veggie Gardens and the Other

1 Kings 21 continues telling the story of King Ahab.  He was king over Israel, and was married to Jezebel.  They are a horrible couple.  They push God out of the country's mind, they set up idols to worship, they murder people, steal, and more.  Ahab is one of the most evil kings in the Bible.

And he's a wimp.  

In chapter 21, there is a dilemma for the king.  He wants to plant some veggies in a garden near one of his castles.  But he doesn't have enough land to do.  Naboth is the guy who owns the land, and doesn't want to sell his family farm for the king's veggie patch. Yeah, that's a tough, king-like problem....

So anyway, he resolves it by doing what any good leader does.  He pouts.  No, really, the Bible is clear that this is what he does.  Check it out.  "4 So Ahab went home, sullen and angry because Naboth the Jezreelite had said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my ancestors.” He lay on his bed sulking and refused to eat."

So, the king is pouting.  His wife meanwhile, takes a different route.  She sets up a plan to have Naboth set up, falsely accused, and killed.  The plan comes off perfectly.  Naboth dies, falsely accused, and the king takes his land.  

As I read this, I thought about how many times I act like Ahab, and how many times I act like Jezebel.  I mean, so many times life doesn't go exactly like I want it to.  Sometimes I get mad at God and pout.  I go in my room and lay on my bed sulking.  At least, in my heart that's what I do.  I try and milk the situation for sympathy from others, and I get upset with God for not giving me what I want.

Other times, when things don't go my way, I get mad, and create a plan to make things happen.  I simply take whatever it is I think I am owed or what I deserve.  I don't wait on God or anyone else, I just make it happen.  "I'm a leader, a do-er", I think as I justify my actions.  And I get what I want.

But I never stop to think why God is telling me "no".  I never think about the Naboth in my story.  I get so focused on what I want, that I honestly don't stop to think that God is telling me "no" because to tell me "yes" would hurt someone else.  I get so caught up in me, and my desires, I forget how intertwined my life is with everyone else.  

But God never forgets the other.  He always looks at my life with others in view.  Both Jezebel and Ahab got what they wanted with their actions.  They got another veggie garden.  But a wife lost her husband, children lost their father, people lost a friend.  Naboth lost his life.

When God tells us "no", maybe we need to remember the other, and trust Him.  Maybe we need to try and think of the other before we ask.  Maybe....
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