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Welcome back to The Digital Disciple Blog

hs-1-250pxSeptember 8, 2016

Welcome to the relaunched Digital Disciple blog.  The blog is still about life’s journey and the lessons learned along the way.

I have begun by re-posting some pieces that I wrote from the Cleveland Clinic in 2014.  You will find them if you scroll to the bottom or select The Cleveland Clinic in the categories to the right.  I have also added a Site  Map (see the list of pages in the right column) that gives a short introduction to some of the content and makes things easier to find.

If you would like to receive e-mail notices of new posts, please fill out the subscription form on the top right side of the page.  All of the old subscriptions have been deleted.

 

Pray Now

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  Mark 9:29

On Father’s Day four years ago, I was in the Cleveland Clinic, in a coma, with no promise that I would eventually “wake up.”  Many of you know the story and those that don’t can read about it here.  I did wake up a week later and began a long rehab process full of victories and setbacks.  Toward the end of the process, I began writing about the experience.  This time of year I go back and revisit those posts.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to share a few posts from those days that have been helpful to me and others.

One of the things I have noticed as we are going through this process is that I don’t worry about the outcome.  At this point, it appears that God will heal me completely and that I will walk again. There have been enough worrisome things happen to us that I might fret a little about what is next or what we will do.  But, instead I find a peace that passes understanding and the assurance that comes from knowing that God holds the future.  He has already determined what will happen and my responsibility is to follow His leading and cooperate.

This conclusion is not based on some blinding revelation from God but, rather, on the years I have spent building a foundation of prayer, Bible study, and learning God’s character.  I believe in an unchanging God who loves me unconditionally and who will work all things together for my good because I am called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30).  All the truth that I have stored up is now ready to use and God has the raw material to build this situation into the outcome that He desires.  I could not imagine coming into this situation unprepared.  I would be overwhelmed with questions about why bad things happen to good people, why it feels like God is punishing me, and what would have happened if I died.  I will talk about all those topics over the next days and weeks.

When you go on a vacation, you probably plan for it months in advance.  A journey like I am on starts in a heartbeat.  You must always be ready.  I chose the scripture for the opening because it highlights an important point. Please take a minute and read the entire passage from Mark 9:14-29.  Mark writes that Jesus told the disciples they could not cast out the unclean spirit because this kind only comes out with prayer.  But, when you read the passage, you see that Jesus did not pray, he simply commanded it to leave.  The disciples couldn’t command the spirit to leave and apparently did not think to pray.

Was this a situation where Jesus was telling his disciples to do something while he modeled a different approach?  That’s not likely.  As you read the gospels, you see that Jesus was a man of prayer.  This event was the day after the transfiguration.  Jesus was undoubtedly up early and in prayer about his day.  He was ready when he encountered the boy with the unclean spirit.  The spirit came out with prayer because Jesus had gone into the situation with prayer.

My goal is to live in a state of readiness.  I don’t know what I will encounter, but I know that there will be trials and temptations along the way.  And, sometimes, there are experiences like I have had that are completely unforeseeable.  On June 12, I never would have expected to be where I am today.  Without the years I spent in prayer, Bible study, and learning about God, I never would have been ready.  This has been the greatest physical challenge I have ever faced.   The spiritual battle has been ferocious, there is an adversary, and for some reason he does not want me well.  But, I am trusting the grace and mercy of my unchanging God to lead me through this process and bring me out stronger and better because of it.

What should you be doing?  I will talk in my next post about my approach to daily prayer.  Think of it as preparing your “life’s journey emergency suitcase.”  You want it filled with prayer, Bible and a firm knowledge of who God is.  Sometimes you will pull things out of your spiritual suitcase as you need them and sometimes you may be called to live out of it for a while.  Either way, you want it to be ready.

Press On!

David

Living in Babylon – Updated

I am repeating a blog post written during my hospital stay at the Cleveland Clinic six months ago.  This was one of my spiritual insights from the time.  I thought the six-month anniversary of the beginning of that stay would be a good time to repeat the post and add an update at the end.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:4-9 NIV)

I had gotten to the book of Jeremiah in my Bible-in-a-year reading plan when this hospital journey began.  By this time of the year, I should be in the book of Revelation.  Those of you familiar with the Bible know that I have missed a few days reading this year.

Jeremiah was a prophet during Jerusalem’s fall to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.  It was a terrible time for the people of Judah.  The Kings of Judah and most of the people hated Jeremiah.  They wanted good news from God.  They wanted to hear that Nebuchadnezzar would fail and the city would not be captured.  But, Jeremiah continued to speak the words God gave him, condemning Judah for their idolatry and predicting the city’s defeat.  In the end, he was proven true.

There were several run-ins with Nebuchadnezzar that resulted in groups of exiles being taken from Jerusalem to Babylon.  Today’s verse is a letter Jeremiah wrote from Jerusalem to the first wave of exiles taken to Babylon.

Over the last two weeks, I have come to see that this letter was also written to me.  And, as I explain myself, you may find that it has been written to you too.

The people in Babylon were completely displaced. They longed for their homes in Jerusalem, for the Temple, the bazaars, the places they knew well, the way of life that had become comfortable for them. They hoped God would rescue them.  Somehow, they would be released from Babylon, return home and get back to the old life.  They would attend their daughter’s wedding, in Jerusalem.  They would buy that vineyard and make wine, in Jerusalem. They would be a stone mason, in Jerusalem. They would celebrate the feasts, in Jerusalem.

But, we know today that the people reading Jeremiah’s letter would never return to Jerusalem.  They would continue to live, and die, in Babylon.  What’s more, it was God’s plan for them to be there.  God told them:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

God is saying, “You are right where I want you.  If you will be the people I have called you to be, I will work through you to bless this place and these people who would otherwise never know me.  This isn’t a mistake, it’s the plan.”

Seven years ago, my health was taken to Babylon.  I developed a rare auto-immune disease that has altered my life dramatically.  Earlier this year, God took my career into Babylon.  The company I worked for closed.  These two things together have set me on a new path to develop a career that can be practiced from a hospital tray table if necessary.  And, here’s the big thing I have learned over the last couple weeks, that’s OK.  I agree, that’s a pretty simple lesson from nearly three weeks in the hospital.  But, the simplicity doesn’t reduce the importance.  Had I learned this lesson earlier, I may have avoided this experience.  And, I hope by sharing this, I may help you avoid a similar experience in your life.

I have realized that, though my health and career have been taken to Babylon, I was trying to get back to Jerusalem.  I wanted my old life style without breathing issues and hospital stays.  I tried to live my old life and do the old things.  For me, success was staying out of the hospital because, in my old life in Jerusalem, I never went to the hospital.  My life in Babylon will probably include more hospital stays.

It’s the same on the job front.  In Jerusalem, I had a regular job.  I knew going in what I would make each week, about how many hours I would work and what I would be doing from day to day.  In Babylon, I have my own business.  I can do what I love to do from my office, a coffee shop, and a hospital tray table.  It’s been a long time since I have enjoyed what I do as much as I enjoy it now.

My new circumstances have allowed me to meet people I would otherwise never have met.  I learn from them, encourage them, and pray for their success and prosperity. Because, I know if they prosper, I prosper.  I have always considered myself a man of faith, but I had built a life in Jerusalem where faith in everyday things wasn’t necessary.  I had my health, no reason to rely on God for health.  I had a job, no worries about daily bread.  Faith could be less practical and more intellectual. There was no adventure, just following the plan.

I don’t know what other decisions I will need to make in the weeks ahead.  But, the big decision has been made; I am going to live in Babylon.  God will use me to build the prosperity of the new community where I live.  This life will be as good as my life in Jerusalem, and in many ways, better.

UPDATE:  I was released from the Cleveland Clinic on January 5th.  God has blessed my law practice with continued growth.  April was my best month ever and May was well ahead of last year.  This summer, I am looking forward to meeting new clients and building my base.  I addition to the business growth, I have had the opportunity to coach and mentor several men in their faith and career.  I love working from home.  My health has been generally good.  April was a hard month fighting Cincinnati allergies and a light flare-up.

How can you pray for me?  Thank God for sending me on this journey and how He is using me along the way.  Pray for connections for me to share my vision for integrating law and faith with people who would like to work with a Christian attorney.  Pray for our family that this summer will be a time of rest and renewal.

I still miss Jerusalem sometimes.  But, the feelings come less often as I grow to love life in Babylon.

 

Press On!

David

God’s will: The enchanted path

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Acts 23:11 (NIV)

 

Now, that’s what I am talking about.  For all the time we spend searching and struggling to understand what God wants us to do, wouldn’t it be nice if He just stood by our side and told us?

In this case, God’s short statement to Paul came after he had traveled to Jerusalem following his third trip around the Mediterranean preaching and starting churches.  Upon reaching the city, he was accused of teaching things that were offensive to the Jews and a riot started.  He was “rescued” by a Roman Centurion and held in the Roman barracks.  The situation was looking bleak for Paul and then, this word from God.  The destination of Paul’s next missionary journey was to be Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire.

We talked last week about my journey in understanding the idea that God has a “will” or purpose for our life.  I have learned over time that God’s perfect will for me, and everyone, is for us to be transformed, changed from the inside by the renewing of our mind.  Still, at times, I believe God will call us to do something specific.  He may call us to take a job, marry someone, talk to someone, go someplace, or any number of other things.  The call or leading may be a sense that it is the right thing to do or, as in Paul’s case, it may be more direct.

As I grew in my understanding of God’s will, I went through a period that may be familiar to you.  It was the idea that God’s will is an enchanted path.  If I could know God’s will for my life, the career I would choose for example, I should expect my life to be free of trouble in that area.  More than that, I should expect to be blessed in everything I do in that area.  I would make the right decisions, earn more money than I knew how to spend and progress up the ladder of success.  We see a version of this thinking in what is called the “Prosperity Gospel.”  The people who preach the Prosperity Gospel claim that if you have enough faith and you are following God’s will, you can expect to be healthy, wealthy, and wise.  The backside is that, if you are not healthy, wealth, and wise, you must not have enough faith or be following God’s will for your life.

Here I was struggling with a career decision and life’s other daily problems and dilemmas and it seemed I had missed God’s will for me.  I prayed and sought and nothing; no angels, no word from God.  A friend had asked me to teach his small group.  The topic?  You guessed, “God’s will.”  I was coming up with nothing and in reading through the Book of Acts, I came to this part of the Paul’s story.  Paul got the kind of message I was looking for.  There was a problem though.  I knew the rest of the story.

If we applied the Prosperity Gospel or the enchanted path view of God’s will, we would expect Paul to be immediately lifted from the Roman Barracks to a luxury hotel.  He would get a hot bath, gourmet meal, and a trip to Rome aboard the first century equivalent of a private jet.  After all, Paul was certainly a man of faith and he knew God’s will for is life.  This should have been simple.

In the remaining five chapters of the Book of Acts, Paul does travel to Rome to testify about God.  Here are some of the highlights of the trip.  The day after Paul’s vision, a group of about 40 men take a vow not to eat until they kill Paul.  The centurion learns of the plot and takes Paul, escorted by over 200 Roman troops to Caesarea.  (Wait, I thought Paul was going to Rome.  Keep reading.)  Paul spends over two years in prison in Caesarea because the current regional governor didn’t know what to do with him.  Obviously, God had not given the governor the same message he gave Paul.  The next governor decided that Paul should be sent to Rome, as a prisoner, to explain his situation to the Emperor.  He made the decision after considering sending Paul back to Jerusalem for trial and certain death.

Paul’s trip to Rome was full of “adventure.”  The captain’s attempt to save time led him to travel after the safe season for sailing on the Mediterranean.  As a result, the ship was caught in a storm that blew them off course for two weeks.  Just when they thought they would die at sea, they approached the island of Malta, where they ran aground, and the ship was destroyed.  The other Roman soldiers wanted to kill Paul and the other prisoners, so they wouldn’t escape, but the Centurion stopped them.  Then, when Paul made it to Malta, he was bitten by a snake and the people there expected him to die.  After spending the winter on Malta, Paul finally arrived in Rome as a prisoner.  The book ends with Paul preaching the gospel in Rome, under guard, from a Roman prison.

There was no enchanted path for Paul.  I don’t know what the adherents of the Prosperity Gospel would have said, except that Paul clearly had too little faith and he had missed God’s will for his life.  Yet, there was no question that God told Paul he would testify about Him in Rome, and, after three years and constant trouble, Paul was finally there.

The lesson for me and the lesson I shared with my friend’s small group?  God does call or lead us in specific ways.  It is fair and right to identify those leadings and callings as God’s will for our life.  But, we need to always remember that God’s perfect will for our life is to be transformed into His likeness.  Changed from the inside out to be completely different people.  To accomplish that kind of change, God uses a “vigorous” training program that includes hardships, pain and suffering.  People who have discovered this have expressed it in many ways.  Some have said, “Who God will use mightily, He first crushes.”  C. S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain . . .”  I put aside my notion of the enchanted path.

Are you experiencing trouble in your life that is causing you to wonder if you have missed God’s will for you?  Remember that God’s perfect will is your transformation and you can pursue transformation regardless of your circumstances.  Also, remember that God uses the difficult times like a refiner’s fire to purify you and drive off the stuff that gets in the way of your transformation.  Continue to seek God and trust that He will be true to lead you to that for which He chose you in the beginning.

 

Press On!

David

 

What is God’s will for my life?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2 (NIV)

I don’t remember when I first discovered this promise in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  I do remember, as a new believer, thinking it was a remarkable discovery.  I had encountered this idea that God had a will for my life.  But, I didn’t have a clue how to know what it was and  I couldn’t figure out why God would hide it from me.  Then I found this verse.

As I thought about this verse, I envisioned the process of finding God’s will like a video game.  I would set out on a spiritual quest to conquer each level of the transformation process until I had finally won all the levels and, at the end, I would earn a key that would open the treasure chest where God’s will would be revealed to me.

So, I set out.  The levels weren’t as clearly marked as I had thought and I think I repeated some levels.  OK, I’m sure I repeated a lot of levels.  It felt like I was changing, being transformed.  But, it didn’t have any clearer picture about what God wanted me to do with my life.  The promise seemed clear; if I am transformed then I will be able to test and approve God’s will for me.  Was there really no golden key at the top level?  I was getting discouraged and afraid I was running out of time.  I needed to hurry up and find God’s will so I could do it and not waste my time doing something that might not be his will.

As I went through this process, I also began learning the truth I shared a few weeks ago that God cares more about who I am than what I do.  That realization caused a big disconnect for me.  My psychology professor would have called it a cognitive dissonance.  My idea of God’s will, the thing I was looking for, was based doing.  In my head, God’s perfect will for me meant doing what God wanted me to do.

I was reading about the anointing of Saul as the first king of Israel in the Old Testament when the clouds began to clear:

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance? 2 When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel’s tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, ‘The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, “What shall I do about my son?”’ “Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine.  They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.  “After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying.  The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.  Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 1 Samuel 10:1-7 (NIV)

The last two verses, which I have underlined, caused me to stop.  Samuel told Saul that he would experience a series of events at the end of which he would be a changed into a different person.  That sounded to me like he would be what Paul calls “transformed” in Romans 12:1.  Samuel then said, once these things had happened, in other words, once Saul had been transformed, he could do whatever his “hand finds to do” because God was with him.  If Saul would start with being the doing would take care of itself.  I thought to myself, what if I had misread the directions?  Could it be that God’s will was not about doing but about being?

If that were true, Romans 12:2 wasn’t talking about “God’s will” in the sense of something to do.  Paul is saying that God’s perfect will is for us to focus on who we are by being transformed.  If we are transformed, we will be doing God’s perfect will for us and that gives us the opportunity to see how good it is.

But, like I said last time, there is still a sense of God’s will that involves doing.  Because that is true, I wanted some level of confidence that what I was doing, or going to go, was God’s will for me.  Again, the insight came from the Old Testament, this time Psalm 37:4:

Take delight in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalms 37:4 (NIV)

 

I had always read this verse as a promise about stuff.  If I delighted in God, he would give me the stuff I wanted.  But, what if I turned it just a little and looked at it from the perspective of being.  If I take delight in the Lord (am transformed), He will lead me to desire the things He wants for me.  It’s not about me getting the stuff I want, but about me wanting the stuff that God has for me.

 

I had found the key to knowing God’s will.  It wasn’t where I expected it to be and it didn’t look the way I expected it to look.  Funny how that happens.

 

Now, I believe that there are situations where God has a specific will for us.  He may call us to a career, a marriage, a ministry or something else.  That leading or calling to do is part of the concept of God’s will.  But, as we will see next week, the “doing” part of God’s will may sometimes come with complications.

 

Are you seeking God’s will for your life?  Instead of asking what God wants you to do in some specific situation, ask if you are being who God wants you to be right now.  If you are being transformed into the person God has called you to be, trust that He will lead you to do the things He wants you to do.

 

Press On!

David

Do

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

Now, wait a minute.  The Last time, you said, “God cares more about who I am than what I do.”  “This verse if from Jesus’ parable of separating the sheep from the goats, and it sounds like God is deciding who gets into heaven based on what they did.”  You’re right, this verse is from Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats.  Let’s talk about the king’s decision.

Here is the parable:

Matthew 25:31-46 (NIV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

In the parable, Jesus is talking about the time when he will decide who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.  The parable seems to say that he will make his decision based on what a person has done, or their “works” and not based on who they are, like we talked about last week.  There is another interpretation that I think fits the parable and is consistent with the pursuit of transformation over conformation.

Let’s start by looking at the group who Jesus says the righteous helped and the condemned ignored.  They are the poor and marginalized.  Jesus calls them “the least.”  You know who they are, you see them outside your normal circle.  We feel uncomfortable when we are around these folks.  Nonetheless, Jesus implies that it is important for us to feed them, invite them in, clothe them, care for their physical needs, and visit them in jail.  The righteous did these things and the condemned didn’t.  The big question is, why?  Why did the righteous help and the condemned not?

The answer to this question lies in rephrasing the question they asked in response to the King’s extravagant grace or extreme punishment.  Both groups seem to respond to Jesus in the same way by asking “when” they got it right or when they got it wrong.  I think if we expand their question a little, we find the key to unlocking this parable.  The righteous are saying to Jesus, “We helped a lot of people and we don’t remember all their names and faces.  But, you would have stood out to us.  How did we miss you?”  The condemned are saying, “We didn’t help that group of people, because, frankly, they aren’t very important, and they make us uncomfortable.  But you are important, and we like you.  If we would have seen you in the crowd we would have helped you.  How did we miss you?”

The filter for sorting the sheep from the goats, the righteous from the condemned is the motive and not the actions, or like we talked last time, being conformed or transformed.  The righteous are those people who are being transformed by God into new people.  They are being changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit and that transformation results in action.  I am sincere in saying that God cares more about who you are than about what you do.  That doesn’t mean you will stop doing.  You will do things for a different reason.  Not to impress God or others, but because you can’t help yourself.  The more you are transformed, the more you will find yourself drawn to the marginalized, the weak, the poor, those who can’t pay you back.  What’s even better, you will enjoy it.  You will find joy in helping, serving, caring, and giving.  What’s even better, you will find Jesus in the group.  When you least expect it, he will be there saying “thank you.”  He will smile at you through a child’s face, hug you through a homeless person, shake your hand from a hospital bed or prison cell.

The sheep “did” because they were compelled from the inside.  Jesus didn’t reward their doing. He reminded them that what they did is evidence of their righteous and He rewarded their righteousness.  Likewise, the condemned were not punished for failing to do.  Jesus reminded them that their failure to act is evidence of a deeper issue, they are not transformed and that too is reflected in their actions.  The key to the parable is that we can recognize the transformed by what they do and the transformed get into heaven.

Want to know more about this process of transformation?  Start with this post.

Press On!

David

Be

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

The longer I am a believer, the more I find how simple and difficult this walk of faith is.  This verse from the prophet Micah is a great example.

God is calling his people Israel to account for their actions. He tells them all he has done for them and yet they have not followed him. The people respond by asking God if a list of outwardly impressive actions would be enough to show their sincerity. Their suggestions get progressively more extravagant, beginning with the sacrifices God has given them in the law, to a great magnitude of the sacrifices,to an extreme that God has never required:

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Micah 6:6-7 (NIV)

Micah’s response to their question cuts through the noise and exaggeration. To paraphrase, he says, “You are making this too hard. God isn’t calling you to do stuff that will impress him.  Just do what God has already told you to do: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.”

I understand what the people were saying. Somewhere along the way, I also developed the idea that the best way to show God I love Him and want to follow Him is by doing stuff for Him. As a modern believer, my list is different from the list of responses the people offered. I don’t sacrifice animals or make other offerings like that as part of my worship.  I do other things: I go to church, I serve, I give, I lead, I follow . . .  You get the point and you probably have a similar list.

The things on my list are good things, but I began to see they said nothing about who I am.  I could go to church, serve, give, lead, follow and much more all from an impure heart and bad motives, trying to impress God or others.  And, I found that if I was good at it, I could appear to others to be someone I was not.  This is when God began to show me one of the simple yet difficult truths I refer to in the opening sentence, God cares more about who I am than about what I do.

Why is this so hard?  Because, it is much easier to “do” than to “be.” Back to today’s verse. God is not asking me to impress Him with what I do. Instead, he wants me to be just, to be merciful and to be humble. I can’t be those things on my own.  It is contrary to my human nature and contrary to what our culture expects and rewards.  To be just and merciful and humble, I must begin by allowing God to change who I am.

Paul talks about this process of transformation in Romans 12:1-2. He says there are two options, we can be conformed to the world or we can be transformed by God. Conforming is what happens when we press up against something for a long time.  You have seen it when you lean against a surface with a pattern on it.  After a while, you take on that pattern. The same thing happens when we lean against the cultural patterns around us.  After a while, we begin to look like our culture.  Now, if our culture is good, the patterns will be good. But, if our culture is bad, the patterns will be bad.  The problem is that patterns imposed from the outside are only skin deep and don’t have any effect on what is inside us. The other option is transformation. When we are transformed, we are changed from the inside out.  Our hearts are made new and the newness spreads to the surface. We begin to look and act differently.  Unlike conformation, transformation lasts.  We no longer change when we lean against the culture.  Instead, we change the culture.

Conformation is doing things intended to impress God and the people around us.  Transformation is being who God wants us to be and allowing Him to change us, so we can change our world.  To be transformed, pursue the inner disciplines that bring you closer in your relationship to God.  Pray daily. Read the Bible to get to know God better and to understand His will and purpose for us. Ask God to change you on the inside so that you will have a greater impact on the outside.  You will see and feel the transformation. You will begin to do things, but from a different motive and the things you do will have a different result. You will experience the power of being the person God has made you to be.

 

Press On!

David

Blessed

Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Luke 6:22 (NIV)

Tell me the first word that you think of when I say, “poor, hungry, weeping, excluded, insulted, and rejected.”  Did anyone say “blessed?”  If you did, it is because you have been through this exercise before. This is another example of how radically different Jesus’ teaching was compared to his contemporaries and how different it remains today.  To understand his message, we need to start with relearning some things.

The world in Jesus’ time was not so different from ours when people thought about what it meant to be “blessed” by God. They believed “bless” meant “good stuff.”  If someone had good stuff, good things, a pleasant existence, they were blessed by God.  If not, they must have done something wrong and God passed them by when He came around with the stuff wagon.  There are many times that the disciples expressed that feeling to Jesus, and his response was, essentially, “Guys, that’s not how it works.”

It’s easy for us to get our eye on the “wrong ball” when we talk about spiritual things.  We live in a physical world and we are “tuned” to respond to physical things.  Our tendency to focus on the physical world is a problem, though, if the physical world makes us forget that the spiritual world is the real and eternal world.  Jesus’s message is that the physical world and its rules and laws won’t last forever.  In fact, believers are already citizens of the eternal world and we need to begin learning the new language and customs apply there.

There is stuff in heaven, or in the new world, but the stuff there is different.  In the spiritual world, we understand that all the stuff belongs to God, because He made it.  Even though all the stuff belongs to God, he shares it freely with us, because he also made us and loves us.  More important than the stuff though, it that, in heaven, we are always in God’s presence.  We know Him and experience Him directly.  We always know and experience His favor.

Let’s take this context and go back to today’s verse.

Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.”

Jesus is telling his disciples, including us, that when we experience poverty, hunger, sorrow, exclusion and rejection because we believe in him, we will also experience God’s presence in a different way.  Jesus promises that, as the world rejects us, heaven embraces us.

How does this look for modern believers here in America? Most of us are not suffering hunger, sorrow, exclusion or rejection because of the gospel, at least not in the sense that we see in other parts of the world where believers are persecuted for their faith.  Here, we may experience a subtler exclusion or rejection because of our faith.  The principle still applies.  As we seek the spiritual world, we will experience losses in the physical world. We will also experience God’s blessing and know His presence.  Watch for it this week.

 

Press On!

David

Wait

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Acts 1:8 (NIV)

The prophets predicted the coming of God’s Messiah hundreds of years before Jesus was born – and the people waited.  Jesus was born in a small town in Israel.  His coming was heralded by angels, wise men from far away, and more prophesies about him when he was presented at the temple.  His parents wondered what all this meant – and they waited.  Jesus began his ministry about 30 years later.  He called 12 men to follow him and a larger crowd also gathered around.  He told them that he was the Messiah and had come to fulfill the prophesies from long ago.  His followers watched as Jesus’ life unfolded in a way that was far different than they understood the Messiah’s life would be – and they waited.  Jesus was crucified and buried.  The disciples thought everything was lost.  They gathered together for comfort and safety – and they waited.

After three days, their world was changed when they learned that Jesus was alive, raised from the dead.  He spent 40 days with them.  I believe this is the time when he explained his teaching.  He “connected the dots” and filled in the gaps.  He finished the process of preparing them to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.  He promised them great power to accomplish their mission.  But, there was something they needed to do first – wait.

Take a couple minutes and read the first chapter of the Book of Acts.  You will see that before Jesus made the promise in verse 8, he said, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:4-5 (NIV)

I hate waiting.  It’s not that I am an amazing man of action or a type A personality.  I just get this sense that time is running out and I don’t have forever to wait around for God to do something.  I hear myself saying, “God, I want to do whatever you want me to do, but we need to hurry up.”  Maybe you can relate.  You believe that God has called you to something great, something new, something wonderful.  But, it has been a while and you are still waiting.  I’d like to share a few things I have learned about waiting, as a reminder to myself and an encouragement to you.

Jesus spent three years telling his followers about the new kingdom he had come to establish.  During the time following the resurrection, I think he explained that he was not talking about a political kingdom, like the ones they knew, but a spiritual kingdom.  It would eventually take in every nation on earth and would transform the lives of those who entered.  The scale was so much greater than they could have imagined.  But, before anything would happen, they needed to wait.  Why? There were spiritual and practical reasons.  Spiritually, they needed time to reflect and pray.  Luke (the author of the Book of Acts) tells us that after Jesus has instructed the disciples and ascended into heaven, the disciples went back to Jerusalem where they joined together and prayed. They would have spent about 10 days in a concerted time of prayer.  God used that time to lead them to do some things to get ready for the next phase they were about to enter, like selecting the person who would replace Judas as a disciple.  Practically, the right time had not come.  The disciples could have gone back to Jerusalem and started preaching right away, but two things would have been missing, the power and the people.

It all came together on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, when Jews from all over the world were gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of the Harvest.  The Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, as Jesus told them He would, and the disciples launched what would become the Christian church.  Peter, who less than two months before could do nothing right, preached his first sermon and over 3,000 people responded to follow Jesus.  From there, the message Jesus had taught would spread from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, to the rest of the world, just has Jesus had promised.

In hindsight, I’m sure the disciples saw the waiting was critical.  The Holy Spirit added power to their message by allowing them to speak in languages they had never learned to people who had come from all over the world.  Those people would now go back to where they had come from and carry with them the message of Jesus. Had the disciples not waited, the impact would have been lost and their mission may have lasted only days and not millennia.

Back to us, the people who are waiting today. What can we learn from this?  I have learned that there may be, and usually is, a time a waiting between a calling or vision and its fulfillment.  I get a flash of insight into where God is leading me.  It gives me hope for the future but fades to a time of waiting.  I have also learned that waiting is not idle, wasted time.  It is a time of preparation, a time to pray and plan, a time to get in place the pieces I will need to accomplish what God has called me to do.  I gather together with other disciples and share what I have believe is going to happen and ask them to pray with me and for me.  And, I wait for God to move.  Often, the outcome is different and bigger than I had imagined.  The vision grows into a reality that, had I known what was coming, would have been too intimidating to begin.

Are you in a time of waiting?  You’re not alone.  Don’t give up and don’t be disappointed.  Remember, this is a time of preparation, not idleness.  Take the time to pray and share your vision with others you trust.  Ask them to pray with you and for you.  Write down your insights.  Get ready for God to move.

In closing, I think of Noah.  Perhaps the most famous of all “waiters.”  God told him that He would flood the world and, to be saved along with his family, he needed to build a huge wooden ship.  Noah built the ship while waiting for the flood.  He must have been ridiculed by everyone around him.  Even his family had to question his sanity.  God was finally shown to be true to his promise and Noah was ready because his time of waiting was also a time of preparation.

I’m waiting for God to move, you’re waiting for God to move.  Welcome to the club.  Hand me another plank and a nail and keep watching the sky, there is a storm on the horizon.

 

Press On!

David

Jesus on effective leadership

Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  Mark 10:43-44 (NIV)

Brothers James and John were two of Jesus’ 12 disciples.  They were two of Jesus’ three most intimate friends, Peter, James and John.  Despite the close relationship they shared with Jesus, they had missed an important lesson about what it meant to be great in the kingdom Jesus had come to establish.

Mark 10:35-45 (NIV) 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Like everyone else who heard Jesus, the disciples believed that Jesus was going to be a king of Israel in the same way that David had been a king of Israel.  They knew that the former kings of Israel had key advisors who held places of high honor and great power.  Most likely James and John reasoned that, since Jesus held them in such high regard, it only made sense for Jesus to select them as his top two advisors.  They were just asking him to make it official.

When the other disciples heard about the brother’s request, they became indignant.  Maybe because they were all thinking about asking Jesus the same question and the brothers beat them to it.  Jesus used the situation to explain, once again, that we can’t use the things we know in our physical realm to understand the heavenly realm.  Doing so will lead us to the wrong conclusion, whether we are talking about what it means to be born again, what it means that Jesus is God’s son, or, in this case, what it means to be great in the kingdom of heaven.

The brothers and, judging by their reaction, the rest of the disciples were thinking of Jesus’ kingdom in earthly terms.  Which made sense, because that was the only model they had.  In an earthly kingdom, the important people were given seats of honor and great authority.  When an important person told someone to do something, they did it.  When an important person asked for something, they got it.  After all, what was the point of being great if you didn’t get the benefits that went with it?

Jesus’ teaching about greatness was as radical as the idea of being born twice.  In heaven, your greatness isn’t measured by who serves you, but by who you serve, not by what you have, but by what you give.  To be great in the kingdom of heaven, serve everyone.  To have it all in the kingdom of heaven, give it all away.  Jesus finishes the lesson with the ultimate example, himself.  As the creator of the universe, he deserved to be served by everyone, yet he took the form of a person and served everyone by dying for their sins; he deserved everything we have to give, yet he gave everything he had for us.

The disciples may not have learned Jesus’ lesson that day, but they did learn it.  They led the way in servanthood and sacrifice.  James was arrested and executed by Herod about 10 years after Jesus’ resurrection. John was persecuted, tortured and died in exile on the island of Patmos.  All the apostles were martyred for their faith.

Today, in America, following Jesus probably won’t include the same consequences experienced by the disciples.  But, Jesus’ call to servant leadership and sacrificial giving has not changed.  Look around this week and find the people you can lead through serving and situations where you can gain by giving.  You may not need to look further than your own family.

Press On!

David

The problem we are all trying to solve – What kind of father would do that?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)

This is one of the best-known verses in the Bible.  Many of you memorized it in Sunday school. The rest of you have seen on a sign in the end zone of a pro football game.  The verse is John’s summary following the meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus I wrote about two weeks ago.  If you didn’t read that post, you can take a minute and read it now along with John 3:1 – 21.

When I was young, this verse seemed like a wonderful thing: God sent his son to die for our sins and that is why we can go to heaven when we die.  As I got older, and learned more about Jesus’ life on earth, the verse began to trouble me.  Jesus had a spectacular birth with angels and a light show.  He even had important visitors drop by to see him with some very nice gifts.  When we catch up with Jesus again, he is around 30 years old and living in a small town in a remote part of Israel.  As the story unfolds, we learn that God has given him a big job, which involves choosing and leading a team of people who have little or no experience in mission work, teaching a message that is rejected and ridiculed by the religious leaders, and he knows the conclusion to his fruitless labor will be death in the most terrible way possible.  As a young man, I remember asking myself “What kind of father would do that to his son?”  (We watched NBC’s broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar last week and I saw the same depressing story set to song.  The entire musical seems to ask why God would cause so much pain in the life of such a nice guy.)  For a long time, I didn’t get the good news of the gospel because I couldn’t get past thinking how unfair God had been to Jesus.

The reason the gospel message sounded wrong to me is that no father, at least not a loving father like God is supposed to be, would put is beloved son through what Jesus had to suffer.  So, what was I missing?  My problem was the same as Nicodemus, I was trying to interpret the spiritual world by applying what I knew of the physical world and it didn’t work.  I wrote two weeks ago about the metaphor Jesus used with Nicodemus.  He described the process of being reconciled to God and entering eternal life as being “born again.”  That didn’t make sense to Nicodemus because, in our world, people aren’t born twice.  In this verse, John uses another word model, or metaphor, when he describes Jesus as “God’s one and only son.”  John is talking about a spiritual reality that we have come to call the trinity, which is the understanding that, in the spiritual world, it is possible for God to be one God yet in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  That is a difficult concept.  It is like telling a single-celled creature that there are other creatures with tens of trillions of cells, yet the multi-celled creatures are still one creature.

We learn from the gospels that when God took human form, he took on human limitations.  Jesus got hungry and tired.  He felt pain and sorrow.  Most importantly, Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was changed for the time he was on earth.  Jesus knew that part of his sacrifice for our sins would require losing his close relationship with God the Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus begged God to take the cup from him, I don’t think Jesus was afraid of the physical pain he was about to suffer.  I think Jesus was anticipating his separation from God the Father, which was something he had never experienced.

Back to today’s verse.  If we read this verse through a spiritual lens and not through a physical lens, we get a completely different meaning.  John isn’t saying that God sent his poor son to solve the problem of human sin by dying on a cross.  John is saying that God himself did something for us that no one else could do.  God, in the person of Jesus, accepted the limitations and indignities of becoming a human, loved the people he created even though they had rejected him and, finally, experienced physical death in the worst way humans could devise.

When I approach this from a spiritual rather than a physical perspective, the question changes.  I no longer ask, “What kind of father would sacrifice his son to save the people who rejected him?”  Now I ask, “What kind of God would voluntarily give up his position in heaven to take on a human body and suffer rejection and death at the hands of the people he created to make a way for them to spend eternity with him?”  He did it because he loves us more deeply than I can imagine.

I have tried over the last 5 weeks to explain the Christian’s answer to the problem of death.  Physical death does not make a Christian’s life meaningless because a Christian’s physical death is not the end of the story.  God himself offered a sacrifice that no man could offer to pay the price for sin.  I love the way that profound mystery is expressed in the song How Deep the Father’s Love for Us performed by Phillips Craig and Dean.  If you have a few minutes, follow the link and listen to the words.

Press On!

David