“Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees! Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands.” - Psalm 119:5-6
There's a tendency today to help people "improve" by changing the metric. There was a movement in the sport of golf a few years ago, in which the holes were being dramatically enlarged to make it easier for beginners - in fact it was over 4x the normal size: big enough to fit a basketball into! In mountain biking, we are in the midst of the "eBike revolution!" where bikes aren't just powered by your self effort, they receive an "assist" from a built-in electric motor so that hill that always left you wheezin', is simply now breezin'. From "challenge-to-rise-to" to "piece of cake"...
Think those examples through for a second - are you really becoming a better golfer or biker by changing the target or getting a little "assist"? The arguments sound good: "It will attract new people", "There are people who won't feel so overwhelmed", "Why should it be so hard, anyway?" etc. And those same rationalizations can be at work in your spiritual life which is definitely NOT A GAME.
Today, remember to reject the lie that you can change God's decrees, His Word, His expectations for you and somehow improve your life. That's not how reality works, just like people golfing on a course with bucket sized holes or mountain bikers riding mopeds. His expectations are for your benefit and blessing. Don't try to take the easy way out and in the process look foolish and ultimately miss out on authentic full life.
“The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, ‘Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe.’” - Isaiah 8.11-14
Well what can one possibly add to this? There is so much talk about conspiracy theories - seems everybody has one about something or somebody. From thousands of years ago, God’s Word speaks across the ages to say “I’VE GOT THIS. RELAX.”
Today, dont be afraid. The One for you is undeniable stronger than any who may come against you. Don’t think like everybody else does. Think like someone who knows Jesus.
Have you heard the term “functional” Christian? No? Well, how about “functional” alcoholic? That is one more familiar, and chances are you have known one. The point is when someone is using something to function, it is functional, but not foundational. The difference is this: one is a coping mechanism, one is woven into the fabric of its core. So, a functional Christian is someone who, at their core, is using their faith as a coping mechanism.
Deuteronomy 8:3 says “And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Sound familiar? It is the same passage that Jesus is recorded as quoting to the devil when he was being tempted. What does that mean? We may have had a time when we felt brought to God through our circumstance, but that is not where we stay. After Jesus was tempted, he immediately went out for his disciples, and officially began his ministry preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
Now go – move beyond functional, get it in your core and make it foundational. Trust God, read his Word, and let it change you.
“Jehoshaphat was a good king, following the example of his father, Asa. He did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight. During his reign, however, he failed to remove all the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. Jehoshaphat also made peace with the king of Israel. The rest of the events in Jehoshaphat’s reign, the extent of his power, and the wars he waged are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah.” - 1 Kings 22:43-45
The Bible has a long section in the "history books" of Kings and Chronicles where, after detailing some aspects of various kings' rule, they conclude with a statement like "the rest of the events.. are recorded in the Book of the History" etc. The section above is about a "good king" (Jehoshaphat) and mentions his good points, some not so good ones, as well as some clear failings. All of us are a bit like this - we are a mix of highs and lows. The thing for us to focus in on today though is this: What will they write about you someday?
Sure - you may feel like you're not important enough for anyone to even notice but guess what - right now there are people who are jotting down mental notes about you: if you are kind, caring, trustworthy, helpful, hopeful, encouraging. They may also be taking notice of things you are not so proud of.
Here's the thing: the pen is in YOUR hands. To a large extent, you get to determine what gets the most attention about you. Who do you want to be this week? Who do you CHOOSE to be? There are many things beyond your control - but what you can control are your response and your attitude. Choose to give them good to write about.
“I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention. You ignored my advice and rejected the correction I offered. So I will laugh when you are in trouble! I will mock you when disaster overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster engulfs you like a cyclone, and anguish and distress overwhelm you. When they cry for help, I will not answer. Though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me. For they hated knowledge and chose not to fear the LORD. They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them. Therefore, they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way, choking on their own schemes.” - Proverbs 1:24-31
"God hears us when we call" - We sing about this. We hear it in sermons. We read it in the Bible. We know this even though sometimes in the heat of the moment we may have our doubts. However, when you read Proverbs 1, you may go "Whoa, wait a minute! THAT's in the Bible?" Yes. It is. The idea that God would laugh at someone in their time of trouble, that He deliberately would not answer when we call out for Him is shocking!
And yet it's not. Think this through - when a kid takes for granted that "Daddy will cover it - I can go ahead and do what I want" its a case of counting on "premeditated forgiveness" as in:
Read the passage again and notice a couple things:
Today, think it through. Listen when He offers direction and correction. If you push Him away thinking you can call on Him later after you've "done your thing" then as the old saying goes - "You've got another thing coming".
“In addition, the crews of Hiram and Solomon brought gold from Ophir, and they also brought red sandalwood and precious jewels. The king used the sandalwood to make steps for the Temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and to construct lyres and harps for the musicians. Never before had such beautiful things been seen in Judah.” - 2 Chronicles 9:10-11
So here's a thought to start your day: Just because something looks good now doesn't mean it will stay that way. The story of Solomon looks great if you just glance at it:
See that last part is the rub - things looked great... for a bit. They had the very best stuff they ever had as a people (verse 11 says "Never before had such beautiful things been seen in Judah.") We like nice stuff, don't we? The problem is, their illustrious prosperity-generating-ruler was about to lead them down a dark path of idolatry and even government sanctioned worship that would involve child sacrifice (see Leviticus 20:1-5 and 1 Kings 11:1-11).
Today there's a simple two word reminder for this SPARK: WATCH OUT! Watch out that you don't value prosperity and nice things so much that you go down the wrong road without even noticing. Watch out for evaluating opportunities and people by the allure of the good things they can provide when God's things may end up getting left behind. Watch out for the way nice stuff feels very "now" and decline often happens so slowly we don't notice until the damage is done.
Solomon was wise - in fact in Ecclesiastes he makes a point of bragging about how wise he'd become, all while 1 Kings tells us he was rapidly losing his moral compass and leading the nation to ruin. Today, you need to aim for better eyesight than the "wise guy". Don't get blinded by short term "shiny-stuff" - Keep your eyes on God's bigger picture.
SPARK... and let the rest burn.
“If they sin against you—and who has never sinned?—you might become angry with them and let their enemies conquer them and take them captive to a foreign land far away or near. But in that land of exile, they might turn to you in repentance and pray, ‘We have sinned, done evil, and acted wickedly.” - 2 Chronicles 6:36-37
We like encouragements but aren't so excited about warnings, nevertheless here is one for you today. Solomon prayed the words above at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, and did you see what he prophetically said? Read it again, and you will notice that he describes EXACTLY what happened to Israel and Judah a couple hundred years later: they had turned away from God, and He allowed their enemies to conquer them and then take them away in exile. Solomon had a sense of something dangerous in their future... but didn't have sense enough to recognize how his own actions would set it all in motion. A few years after Solomon prayed this remarkable prayer asking God for mercy on future generations, Solomon turned sharply away from God through a series of poor choices which the Lord repeatedly warned him not to make. The wrongs Solomon embraced sowed the seeds of that captivity that would envelop their entire nation. He's asking God to show mercy for something he would actually cause.
Today, thank God for his mercy and great grace ABSOLUTELY. But with your thanks, how about adding a big dose of humility by asking Him to help you listen and obey His voice this week. Only fools believe in "Easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission." Forgiveness involves pain, damage, and the long slow task of rebuilding. It's far better to pay attention on the front and stay on track. If you get a glimpse of what might go wrong spiritually, morally, ethically - then ask God to help you go the right way. His forgiveness is already out there - what we need is for our obedience to be right here.
Father, thank You for being here when we fall - but help us remember that You'd prefer to help us stand in the first place!
Spark - ouch, that's hot.
“There, before the Ark, King Solomon and the entire community of Israel sacrificed so many sheep, goats, and cattle that no one could keep count!” - 1 Kings 8:5
So here's a lesson from history long ago: King Solomon was leading the nation of Israel as they were getting ready to dedicate their awesome new temple. It was an striking scene and so full of grand celebration that they people couldn't even keep track of it all! And in the middle of reading about the massive amounts of sacrifices they were making, my thoughts drift back to the words of the prophet who first mentored Israel's original king. Samuel was speaking to King Saul and told him these words:
““What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” - 1 Samuel 15.22
Solomon's big moment would be forgotten in the wrongs he would later do (check out 1 Kings 11:4-11) and in how much damage he would do to their nation. All this show ended up being meaningless as what he did in the long run overruled what he did in this moment.
I hope that today you will consider that: You are more than a moment - for better or worse. In a moment you can make big promises but its what you do day after day that determines if they come true. Conversely, in a moment you can also fail miserably and think all is lost but if you get up and walk on, there may be hope yet.
You are more than a moment.
I happen to own the best cat in the world. I mean it, there are no other cats like him. However, I grew up with several dogs, and while I don’t consider myself strictly a “dog person”, I truly love them as well. One interesting thing about dogs is their awareness of their own stature, and the sense that they will accommodate their attitude to project a larger presence. Big dogs? Awesome. They know their size and are all good. Small dogs- Yippy dogs? Uggh. Totally ridden with Complex, they know they are too small to take down anything, but they sure will snip at your ankles until you are persuaded to give them what they want. It paints an interesting picture of the effectiveness of the devil. He can’t really affect any eternal outcome; we are sealed in Christ and our salvation is secure. But that certainly doesn’t mean he won’t yip and snip at us, trying to get us to bend to his intentions.
Peter reminds us of just that (1Peter 5:8). “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”
Paul emphasizes that we are not to “give the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27). In theory, we could cast that aside and think, “well, that’s all he can get of us”, but be aware, be alert. He may only be snatching at your feet, but it might make you jump. Or maybe he’s got your heel, and you are turning in circles instead of heading forward on the straight path God intends for you. My point is this: he can’t affect the outcome, but he sure can weigh down your effectiveness.
So, with that said, as you are experiencing your day, know that the devil does yip and snip. See it for what it is, and don’t let him get you at the ankle. Remember who truely hasyou, the One who is holding you, and will never let you go. God’s got us, and rest assured that no amount of snipping changes that.
Psalm 46:7 says “The LORD of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” Then, same chapter, verse 11 echoes it, “The LORD of Armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” So important, he said it twice.
“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance... The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” - 1 Samuel 16.7
Recently I had an odd encounter. After saying "Hi" and inquiring how an acquaintance was doing, their response was "Loving Jesus & changin' the world!" I laughed... and then the awkward silence set in. I heard someone else with a similar story (different person, same outcome) with the reply being "I'm living the dream - LIVING THE DREAM!" Again, it was followed by an awkward silence as, well, what does one say after something so cliche is given as a serious reply?
Sure, short punchy statements have their place (like Love God, Love People, Live Jesus!) but when you try to sound significant by distilling your existence in a single sentence, it just comes off flat. "Living the dream"... what dream? Whose dream? "Loving Jesus and changing the world"... how? For the better - I hope? There's a tendency to try to be this important, significant SOMEBODY by dressing yourself up or trying to sell people on this confident, self-assured image you want to project. For the record, God's not buying it - and probably not many people are either. While it is true that wearing one's insecurities on one's sleeve isn't particularly helpful either, there is definitely truth to the fact that God is looking for sincerity and authenticity. Who are you REALLY? Don't know? Unsure? Actually, most of us are in that same boat. But one thing is for sure: Trying to sell the world on your significance by a single cliche is a waste of time. Chasing people's favor and trying to appear powerful and popular is an empty enterprise.
The way up... is down. Humble yourself. Don't seek greatness. Hunger for holiness. Go after goodness. Cultivate Christlikeness. God looks at the heart. Give your attention to being more genuine and sincere rather than spouting soundbites - to pursuing what God says is worthwhile instead of buying into self-help's latest mantra. It'll payoff a lot more than trying to "live the dream".
Spark. Bonfire. Burn the trash. Keep the good.