"Then Jesus entered and walked through Jericho. There was a man there, his name Zacchaeus, the head tax man and quite rich. He wanted desperately to see Jesus..." - Luke 19:1-4 from The Message
Have you ever caught yourself dreaming about making more money or getting the big promotion? Why do we sometimes do that - think about what we would do if we suddenly became rich or super successful? It's because we realize there is more out there - and mistakenly think that what we want will be found through more money or prestige or professional advancement or some stuff we don't yet have. If we just had X then everything would be so much better. Sure, if you can't pay your rent or mortgage, yes, a bit more would be nice. But that's not where we usually are coming from, is it? Usually its all about the "one more thing" perspective that says "If I just get that one more thing, then I'm good".
The shock comes when you talk to someone who has that "one more thing" that you want and often they have realized it still doesn't satisfy! In Luke 19, you read about Zacchaeus who was at the top of his field in his town, very wealthy and yet he desperately wants to see Jesus. Is Jesus just his next "one more thing" experience? No - Jesus is the end of that quest - He actually IS that one more that delivers on the promise.
The Way. The Truth. The Life. Whatever you find yourself searching for beyond Jesus today, it is a false promise. Learn contentment with Christ. That little man named Zach realized where MORE is truly found when he sought on Jesus. He was satisfied - you can be too. Choose to stay focused on Jesus and what he offers - the rest is just marketing and madness, promising everything but ultimately delivering little.
SPARK - to turn over your engine.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time. - Luke 15:20-24 from The Message
Okay, so is God not listening to us sometimes? This version (The Message) seems to say so. Another version (The English Standard Version) puts it this way:
21And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22But the father said to his servants...
Same idea - the guilt stricken son is unloading his shame filled soul, and the Father doesn't even respond - He's too busy planning a celebration for His son who has come home!
Simple SPARK for today - whenever you feel the need to tell God what a lousy loser you are, how pathetic, how unworthy, how... oh just stop. He's probably not even listening. He LOVES you and is just glad you are home with Him safe and sound. Yes, own your wrongs. No, don't waste your time wallowing in guilt - Jesus has paid for it, and your Father isn't at all interested in beating you down - you are home with Him and He's wanting to celebrate redemption with you right now. Leave the guilt. Embrace your Father's love!
Spark. Big roaring fire to warm your heart.
"No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s." - Exodus 20:17
Most everything you see today will try to convince you that you need some different stuff, new stuff, better stuff. Your neighbor's got that new car - you've seen the commercials where the people next door are be utter than you because they've got the brand new 2018 Ford/Chevy/Dodge/Honda/Toyota/Hyundai/whatever and you... you've got that old thing. Yours was cool yesterday. Now you need the new thing that they have. Your life is not complete without it. Sure. Trust them. They know and you are missing out.
Only you are not - not at all - because God Himself says not to go there. Contentment is the key to fulfillment, not getting the latest greatest whatever they advertisers want to sell you. Don't set your heart on anything that is your neighbors. Jesus filled it out further by saying
God will get you what you need today. Trust Him and His goodness toward you. Most of us are pretty good at believing God wants good for others but we might have a hard time accepting that for ourselves when times are tough. Take it to heart right now - you believe He is going to care for others, believe that for yourself too. There's no need to focus on what the person next to you has - God will provide what is best for you. Focus on Him and let Him take care of you. Be thankful. Be content. Keep trusting. He is your hope and Source of joy - not the stuff.
Spark. Useful for warming, cooking, propelling you forward.
Moses said to the people, “Always remember this day. This is the day when you came out of Egypt from a house of slavery. - Exodus 13:3
Always remember the day. Remember the day God set you free. Remember the day when you said "YES" to Christ. Remember what life was like for you before Jesus. Always remember.
Why does Moses have to remind them not to forget? Its because we so easily DO forget. We get on with our lives, things improve and if we are not paying attention, we forget. We forget who we were before Jesus. We forget how we were before Jesus. We forget where we were before Jesus.
Today, take a second and remember what a difference He has made and is making in you. Always remember.
Spark. Remember the first time you felt the warmth of the Flame.
"And the people trusted and listened believingly that God was concerned with what was going on with the Israelites and knew all about their affliction. They bowed low and they worshiped."
- Exodus 4:31 from The Message
Do you know that God knows? Do you trust that He knows where you are, what you are going through that He cares and is about to do something about your situation?
Do you trust and read the Bible listening to God's Word "believingly" (what an adverb!) as you hear His voice? In other words, do the words on the page find a heart of faith, ready to receive His truth and expecting something good to come out of hearing His Word? Jesus gave us a picture of God's Word being like seed scattered on the hearts of those who hear it. Some hearts are like ground that is hard packed from being walked all over. The seed doesn't get in and then the Enemy comes and steals it away. Others hearts are full of cares, concerns and competing priorities that act like weeds to choke out God's Word. Still others let His Word in but they are shallow and the moment hard times or challenges come, they give up and quit.
Notice what happened in Exodus 4 - for a brief and shining moment they believed, understood, gained comfort from it and it moved them to worship. They didn't stay this way (read the rest of Exodus - what a bunch of boneheads! ... and we can be like them too - but that's for another day). But God came through for them - and He will you. Hear His promises. Believe His compassion for you. Humble yourself today and worship the One who IS going to come through on your behalf.
Spark... Big toasty bonfire available if you'll just tend the flame.
So Joseph bought up all the farms in Egypt for Pharaoh. Every Egyptian sold his land—the famine was that bad. That’s how Pharaoh ended up owning all the land and the people ended up slaves; Joseph reduced the people to slavery from one end of Egypt to the other. - Genesis 47:20-21
We remember the story of Moses and the Exodus starting with how the Hebrews were so oppressed as slaves in the land of Egypt. What we forget is that one of their great patriarchs, Joseph, was the original one who got them into slavery in the first place. Sounds harsh but it was initially part of a very good thing - God was using Joseph's leadership to save the entire region during a time of extreme famine. But the people ended up slaves (including the Egyptians, by the way) which was a bad thing. Of course a couple generations later it ends a very bad thing as the Egyptians are again free and busy treating their Hebrew slaves harshly with God's people crying out to the Lord in their suffering. But then that story ends up in a very good way with Moses and the people leaving with great wealth as God leads them out in a glorious victory! Whew, my head hurts... its enough to make yo emotionally motion sick!
It helps to know this because you may be facing something tough today. It might be an unforeseen outcome of something that initially looked good... and now is looking to be heading in a bad direction... and maybe God is yet going to turn it to something amazing. Hold on, trust the Lord with all your heart. He hasn't lost sight of you. He hasn't dropped the ball. Sometimes God's plan for His people involves some unexpected twists and turns, some drama before the great good arrives.
Patience. Trust Him with your story.
A Spark to warm your soul during dark times.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob ("Schemer"), but Israel ("Prince with God"), because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.
- Genesis 32:28-31
We have this repeated context in the Bible - God changing someone's name. It happened to Abraham, Sarah, Peter, etc. We understand how this is a sign of blessing and great significance. We also know that seeing God is huge thing: Moses said to the Lord "show me your face". Philip said to Jesus "Show us the Father and that will be enough for us..." Well Jacob gets both and one other thing - a limp. The context is Jacob conniving to try and make sure his brother (that he tricked out of a big blessing) doesn't KILL him. Jacob is busy putting this big scheme to butter him up by sending him all these gifts - you can find the story in the earlier verses of Genesis 32. So let's summarize:
Okay - so let's talk about you. You are probably like Jacob if you are reading this. You want to be draw closer to God. You want to be blessed. You want to find your identity in Him rather than who the world - or even you, yourself - think you are. You might have a history of unfinished business in your life partly due to things that you maybe are not so proud of? If so, then you are like Jacob - a good candidate for some serious progress with God!
But you may find that it requires the same things Jacob had to go through - it can cost you. He wrestled with God. Maybe its you wrestling with God's Word over how you view things, how He sees them, and how He's asking for an adjustment on your part. Maybe it's wrestling with obeying God. Maybe it's all about fighting through your doubts and fears. You are going to have to be tenacious and hold on like Jacob. The wrestling means you will walk differently afterward - sure, walk in God's path, in His new sense of who you are, in His blessings - and it may hurt, just like Jacob's limp. I wonder what a dislocated hip feels like. I've had a dislocated shoulder and it is no fun at all. I wonder how long Jacob limped... the Bible doesn't say. How long will I be tender after I encounter God?
The point is this: Today if you want God's blessings and plan for you - you may have to reach for it, brace for a shock as you wrestle through encountering the truth of God, and be prepared for Him putting you in your place a bit in the process. The progress you'll make is worth it - just don't expect for an encounter with Him to be a completely comfy thing - making progress may involve some pain. The pain is worth the progress - but it is still pain - and it may remain. It's worth it.
Spark. Find some gas to dump on it.
"Ishmael lived 137 years. When he breathed his last and died he was buried with his family. His children settled down all the way from Havilah near Egypt eastward to Shur in the direction of Assyria. The Ishmaelites didn’t get along with any of their kin." - Genesis 25:17-18
Short thought but "The Ishmaelites didn’t get along with any of their kin." Its right there in the Bible - even the family of the "Father of the Faith" (Abraham) had family issues. Don't get bummed today if you are having trouble getting along with your family or loved ones. Sometimes it's just the nature of human relationships in that we struggle to understand, or want our own way, or simply get wires crossed in communication or maybe just are having a bad day and get an attitude. We can be bears sometimes. It's okay. And of course, some people just like to argue... a lot.
Got someone in your life that you can't seem to make headway with? You are normal. We're all in that boat. So what do we do about it? I have no idea ;~)
No, seriously - just keep doing your best: work on communication, empathy, grace, forgiveness, patience, self control and self awareness (yes, it could be YOU) and take a breath. Even the original family of faith had ornery issues to deal with. It's okay. It's a human thing.
Spark. Just a spark.
" 'After all these things, this word of God came to Abram in a vision: 'Don’t be afraid, Abram. I’m your shield. Your reward will be grand!' Abram said, 'God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?' Abram continued, 'See, you’ve given me no children..." - Genesis 15:1-3
I recall that I was appalled. I had just finished being part of a conversation where a nationally known faith leader had commented that "Legacy is everything - I mean all that really matters is what they say about you after you're gone, right?" It wasn't said as a joke. Heads nodded all around and then I disagreed... and was met by the sound of crickets chirping. Too many think what we leave behind is about us, about being remembered, honored, leaving our "mark", significance. It is... only if we are foolish. That's not how Jesus does things.
Abram - later to be renamed Abraham - is the template for what real authentic God-pleasing-faith looks like. He hears God promise him blessings and stuns by immediately turning the focus from himself to what he was going to pass on and who was going to get it. We can feel a bit bad for this "Eliezer" guy ( he worked for Abe) as Abram was not too thrilled to see it all potentially go to him. The point was that Abe wanted his life and the fruit of it to count for someone he loved. That's the holy application of "legacy" over and above the worldly idea of "what the say about us when we are gone". We work hard so we can leave value for those we love. Blessings are meant to be passed on, not viewed as status or self centered achievements.
You're probably working hard today. Maybe it's sweat-breaking or nerve-racking or mind-numbing - whatever - You are working and you hope its all for something. Remember: the only valuable "something" is something that blesses those you love. It's about doing it for Him, or them. It's not about your ego. Resist the world's foolish focus. Do the right things for the right reason.
"Elihu continued speaking: “Let me go on, and I will show you the truth. For I have not finished defending God! I will present profound arguments for the righteousness of my Creator. I am telling you nothing but the truth, for I am a man of great knowledge. " - Job 36:1-4
I like things neat and tidy, maybe you do too. The Book of Job is neither of these. In the final passages, God reveals that the three companions of Job " have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has." (42:7) which tells us that somehow, in all of Job's intense passion he stayed accurate and that his three friends in all their seemingly logical deductions were wrong. God's statement means that we read Job's accounts with awe and fear understanding that though Job's words are jolting, God says he's accurate. His friends statements, we dare not lean on and quote and agree with because the Almighty Himself says "THEY HAVE NOT SPOKEN ACCURATELY ABOUT ME". What part, God? I want to know where they were wrong! I want to know what was right! You mean You record all they said just to say it's got errors in what they were thinking but You are not going to tell me where? WHY?
The answer is God wants us to wrestle with our need to trust and we'll not always be able to figure it all out. It's a shock: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don't lean on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5-7). That offend us. That is true nonetheless. Job was somehow accurate. His friends somehow weren't. Good to know, but did you notice? The hotshot kid Elihu, who proclaims himself "a man of great knowledge" is left out of the equation. In some ways, his speech will line up with what the Lord soon says in the final chapters (all of the "Where were you... do you know how?") but in other ways, he's seemingly self righteous and arrogant. He directly accuses Job of sin which we know for sure was not accurate. So what do we do with that?
Sometimes, in the hardest of times, things just won't line up in a nice tidy way that makes sense. Job's story proves God allows suffering even in the lives of those with which He is deeply pleased. It proves God may allow Hell more access to what we have than our beliefs would... um, believe. We can engage in theological reasoning to say why that can never happen to us - and that's precisely what Job's three friends were doing which God pointed out as inaccurate and frustrating for Him.
The point is WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO GET USED TO TRUSTING GOD. Its the nature of the faith God commends in the Bible. It may look like a mess. It all works and makes sense if you get far enough out to take it all in clearly, to see the whole thing in perspective ... only problem is God alone has that seat.
Trust Him. What looks blurred and messy from your point of view is clear and make sense to Him. He does love you. He does have your ultimate best at work. He's not going to mess you up even though the journey might feel messed up with gray areas and question marks.
Spark. Big toasty fire.