The Fights You Win

coffeeI started my morning reading a passage that I’ve read a hundred times before. It’s the story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17. Such a well-known chapter is easy for anyone to gloss over. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you’ve heard the story of the little guy facing off against a giant. So, when I began reading today I had to challenge myself not to skim the familiar passage, but allow God to speak. And as always, He didn’t disappoint.

There were two parties that stood against the Philistines that day; the army of Israel and David. A massive, trained force and a shepherd boy who’s weapon of choice was a sling and a stone. Any military analyst examining these two would undoubtedly pick Israel’s army as that day’s presumed victor. They had weapons, they had experience, even in a one-on-one battle there had to be one might warrior that could courageously take on Goliath. However, the strength of a great army or their weapons would not be the determining factor that day. There was a key factor that gave a shepherd boy the upper hand, a tactical response that the army of Israel had failed to exercise.

When Israel’s army saw Goliath, they responded with “Surely he has come up to defy Israel.” (1 Sam. 17:25). This response defined who the victor would be in that moment. The army saw the battle as against themselves alone. It was Goliath’s strength against theirs. It was Goliath’s weapons against their weapons. While the army was massive in numbers, they stood on the battlefield alone. They looked around, saw nothing but themselves and so they ran away from the battle.

How many times do we respond in the same way? The problems in our life, the obstacles of our day, the fights we face every morning. We see how big they are and we only see how insignificant our own abilities are and we run. When we are the only ones on the battlefield with only our own abilities to wield, we allow fear and doubt to take the higher ground. Think about Peter, who Christ called out of a boat to walk on water in Matthew 14. He didn’t start sinking until his focus turned to the storm and his faith turned to his own feet. Peter put himself on the battlefield alone with his own abilities and experiences. That’s what happened with the army of Israel. They responded to the battle by seeing only their mere abilities and experiences. The grand army ran from a single man.

David did not respond like the army of Israel and it made all the difference in who won the fight that day. He saw Goliath as not defying Israel alone, but defying “the armies of the living God.” It was all about God for David. He told King Saul it was God who would deliver him that day, not himself and not his weapons. And so, when this shepherd boy stepped out on the battlefield alone, he was not alone, he had the King of the universe fighting beside him.

Imagine that. Imagine if we could have been there that day and seen the stark contrast in armies that confronted Goliath. We would have seen this army of thousands run from a fight as if they were alone. Only to then watch a shepherd boy approach Goliath alone, as if he were a thousand men. David won because he had God fighting beside him. That picture is jaw dropping.

I want the faith that David had when he fought Goliath. When the odds seem to be against me and everything is telling me to run, I want to be able to stand firm in the face of fear, because I am more than confident that the King of kings is fighting by my side. The amazing thing is, there is no reason I can’t. There is no reason you can’t have the same faith and confidence that David did. When we choose to trust in the Lord, even against all odds, then you and I will see Him fight for us. We have no reason to run from the fights we face. The offense may tower over you, but the Lord is bigger. The storms may be terrifying, but our God is greater. The struggles and pain may feel impossible to overcome, but Christ has overcome death that we may have life and life everlasting. For those that believe and place their trust in God, He is not going to disappoint. He will fight by our side every time, in every battle we come against. You can be assured of that no matter what.

I pray that you place your trust in God today, no matter the fights that you face. He will not fail you. Only our own strength and weapons alone will fail us. But the God of all creation, will never fail. He will fight with us, guiding our sling and stone to hit the mark. Victory is His and as His children, victory is ours as well.

The fights you win are the ones where God is fighting right beside you.

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Wandering Words

IMG_7414This past weekend, I had the privilege of standing next to two wonderful friends as they said those life-changing words, “I Do.” Hearts were racing, hands were shaking, and smiles were never bigger. While there were butterflies in the stomach, they never flew into the mouth. Both stood there nervous, but their words were calm and confident. They knew what they were saying, they knew the commitment they were professing, they knew the love they were proclaiming. With two firm, but simple words, the crowd erupted and their lives were changed forever.

Words are powerful. They can build bonds or break them. They can give life or end it. They can be the difference between the best day of your life or the worst. Words are powerful.

I think that’s the reason why Scripture spends so much time warning us about the tongue; its because of the power it wields. Throughout Proverbs the difference between a wise man and a fool is how he uses his tongue. In Colossians and Ephesians, Paul urges the church to fill their speech with grace and encouragement. 1 Peter teaches that those who love life run from evil and deceptive language.

Most notably on the subject of words is James 3. The author paints magnificent images of ships controlled by a tiny rudder and forests blazing due to a small spark. That last image is not hard for many to imagine this summer as several states are battling raging fires. It wouldn’t seem that a spark that could be smaller than a penny can create a fire that devours hundreds of thousands of acres. Yet the residents of the Pacific Northwest know all too well of the destructive power of such a small spark. James equates these images to the force behind such a small object as the tongue. Just as a spark seems tiny and incapable to great destruction, so too we often treat words as too small to create any real damage. But our assumptions could not be any farther from the truth. Words are powerful, they can build up or tare down.

God knew what a powerful tool He placed inside of us. And so, throughout Scripture He teaches and guides us on how to use it. He, most of all knows, the power of words. All God had to do was speak and the universe was created. While we are not God and do not have capability to create galaxies with mere words, the words we choose to use are still powerful. Since God teaches and guides us on how to use such a powerful tool, it would be wise to listen. You wouldn’t allow me to operate a crane next to a skyscraper unless you knew that I had training and knowledge in how to use it. Otherwise it could be very destructive. We ought to heed God’s instruction and guidance on how to use our words otherwise we could be very destructive.

Our human nature wants our words to wander. To treat these intangible objects as vanishing breaths that couldn’t hurt a fly. Words waltz off our tongues without self-regulation. But God’s Word and experience tells us that allowing our words to wander is not the path a wise man or woman takes. He or she that heeds God’s Word knows that while it is easier to allow words to wonder, it tends to destroy. There is a greater power in words, a power to love. The wise man and woman of God seeks to use their words to build life, not destroy it. It is the encouraging conversation that inspires the friend to persevere against all odds in reaching their dreams. It is the loving words from a family member than restores years of broken relationships. It is the kind and compassionate words shared with a stranger than saves a life from destructive ends. The wise man and woman of God use their words to change lives, to see love catch the hearts of many.

There is power in the words on your tongue. It is a power that can be used for devastation or wielded to multiply love. How will you use your words today?

 

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 ESV

Smoke Signals

I woke up this morning to the smell of smoke. It wasn’t the house, it was coming from outside. For the last few days smoke from nearby fires has hovered in the valley. Hundreds of thousands of acres in Oregon continue to burn unceasingly. The smoke plumes into the air, is blown throughout the state and some comes to rest in the Willamette Valley. This morning as I look across the cul-de-sac, the smoke has gotten thick enough that one must question if the fire is really hours away or just blocks down the street. The red sun reminds me that it could be worse. Just a week ago my wife and I were driving near one of the fires a couple hours east of our home. The smoke was so thick that we could barely make out the truck that was three cars in front of us. When the smoke is that bad, you know the fire is worse.

You probably know the saying, ‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.’ This seems like quite the obvious statement and it is. We may not immediately see a fire, but its smoke is a clear sign. Rangers in fire lookout towers watch for rising smoke after a lightning storm because it is the smoke that alerts them to the danger. It is more likely that they will see the smoke before the fire’s flames. Smoke signals that there is a fire.

The campfire smell continues to play with my senses as I sit at the dining table. Taking a sip of coffee, I cannot help but think of other smoke signals in life. We say things or do things that are themselves not the main issue, but a signal that there is a deeper issue at hand. The product points to the problem.

Consider most figures in the Bible. Abraham tried to pass off Sarah as his sister before Pharaoh. His poor actions were the signal of a greater problem of fear and lack of faith. Moses struck a rock for water rather than speaking to it as God had commanded him (Num. 20:8-13). His disobedience was a signal of underlying anger and disbelief. Even King David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah were significant smoke signals that were a product of lust, greed, and jealousy that he harbored in his heart. These problems are all rooted in sin. Sin rarely stays silent. No matter how long we try to keep it hidden, it will eventually manifest itself in some way. Smoke will rise from the fire.

And while we think that the problems of our heart are hidden, they are not from God’s eyes. “For there is nothing hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17). God knows our hearts and He knows the problems within. Some of us see this as a terrible thing as if Jesus is a teacher correcting a test. If He finds our mistakes, then we receive a lower grade. While our sin is against God, I believe that He wants to be more like a doctor for our souls when it comes to sin. He wants us to come into the doctor’s office, tell Him what the problem is and then work with Him to get the proper treatment. He wants to take care of the sin problem. Ultimately, He already has. He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross that we can be forgiven and have eternal life. As we accept His grace and forgiveness, He now invites us to walk with Him and learn how to love Him and others better. We get to bring our sins to Him, so that our walk might not be hindered by their weight (Hebrews 12:1).

A fire, even a small one, when left alone will only grow. If there’s smoke in our lives, its time to recognize the fire that’s causing it. It may even be time to listen to the counsel of others who see the smoke when we cannot. If we seek to love God and love others, then we must come to God with the fires in our lives so that He can put them out. When King David realized the gravity of his sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, he confessed his sin to God, accepted the consequences, and allowed God to heal. Receive His healing and forgiveness today, don’t ignore the smoke and fires any longer.

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

The History Lesson

History has much to teach us about the past and more to teach us about the future.

You have probably heard the phrase, “Those who forget the past, are doomed to repeat it.” It’s a common warning, maybe so common that it is cliché, but that does not make it any less true. A few weeks ago, I met two people who endured WWII as children from inside Germany. The first told a story of her town as it wrestled with tensions and the need for conformity. She remembered as a little girl the day that Hitler paraded through their streets. The sides of the roads were crowded with people waving flags and saluting with a loud “Heil!” In my mind, these were only blurry images from an old documentary, but her words brought them to life as she described her childhood scene. Although the sights and sounds of that day were quite clear, as a child she was not aware of what was really happening until many years later.

Our second acquaintance was also born in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party. His family chose to flee the country and head to Guatemala in hopes of a better life as coffee growers. The war eventually found them. They were rounded up like many other Germans and the family was torn apart. The father was placed in a camp in North America and the mother was forced to return to Germany with her four children. When they arrived, they were marked as deserters for leaving Germany years earlier. No one would give them a job or a place of their own to live. This mother of four was left to fend on her own. They did what they could to survive, living off rations and whatever food they could find. A year later they ran into their father who had been exchanged for an Allied POW and returned to Germany. The story of this man’s family and what they went through was captivating and heartbreaking.

As I listened intently to these two sharing memories of days past, it struck me as both concluded with, “You won’t hear that in school.” My wife, a history teacher, nodded in agreement. Such personal stories and details do not often make it into the classroom. Knowing that my wife is a teacher they continued to talk about the ever growing need for students to learn history. Without history we lose stories, we lose a part of who we are, and we lose the lessons that history can teach us.

I recently finished reading through Joshua and Judges. If you ever flip through the pages of Judges you will find a reoccurring phrase, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD…” The people got themselves stuck in this revolving door of history. They would stray from God and go after idols, as a result another nation would oppress them, they would cry out to God, He would rescue them despite their disobedience, they would obey God for a time and then lust after idols again. When you read the book, you feel like throwing up your hands at Israel yelling “Again? Really? Come on!” It seems so obvious to us that the root of Israel’s suffering is their disobedience and yet they keep putting themselves in the same situation.

Why does this happen? Why did they get stuck in this cycle? I think it’s because Israel forget a pivotal instruction that Moses gave the people.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

The people of Israel failed to pass on the commandments they had been given. Moreover, they failed to pass on the history of their people to their children. They had all these practices that would ensure a recounting of God’s graciousness and love for Israel. How He had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and had given them the Promise Land. Yet Israel lusted after other gods and so those practices either no longer held their weight or were forgotten all together. The recounting of Israel’s history and God’s love was ignored and the children were doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents.

The solution seems so clear as we read the book of Judges and we are prone to criticize Israel for their unfaithfulness. That is, until we hold a mirror up to our own lives. How often do we ignore history, only to find ourselves making mistakes that could have been avoided? How often do we read about the shortcomings of others in the Bible only to ignore the lessons and doom ourselves to repeating them? Are we not prone to following in the footsteps of the Israel of the Old Testament?

As Christians, we need to be reminded of God’s love every now and then. We need to refocus from the business of life onto His love which transcends all life. We need to hear the Gospel over and over again, so that we may not forget His grace that rescued a sinner like you and me through a loving sacrifice like none other. His amazing love moves us to joyful faithfulness and we desire all the more to learn how to love the Father in return. Thankfully we don’t have to blindly figure out how to love Him. He has given us His Word and He has given us the experiences of others. Rather than ignoring these lessons from our history, we must seek them and pass them on. We do not want to destine ourselves or others to a habitual cycle of mistakes. We desire God’s love to be passed on to others, not regret. We must learn from history that we might make a better future, for ourselves and future generations.

How Big is Your God?

Show me your goals and I’ll show you how big your God is.

Why do we run from risk? Why do we consider things risks rather than opportunities? Reflecting on personal experience, I think it’s because we’re afraid. In the times that I have labeled risks and sought to avoid them, it has been because I was afraid of failure, afraid of the unknown, and afraid of what others might think of me. I will honestly admit that I have avoided conversations, confrontations, and setting “too big” of goals in the past, because I was afraid of the risks. Yet as I think about those moments, I am stunned to find how these towering walls of risk that I fearfully avoided were actually built out of weak toothpicks. I created a façade of risk in my own mind that I imagined would have been destructive had I attempted them. But they weren’t the detrimental risks I made them out to be, they were opportunities. More than that, each instance reflected how big I believed God was.

If I have a small God and believe that His reach is only as far as my own, then my goals and risks will reflect that. I will only venture out as far as my comfort zone and only support “safe” goals. If I have a big God, then nothing is outside of His reach. The impossible becomes possible and I begin to believe that impacting the world with the Gospel is obtainable. My view of failure begins to change as well. A small God view only sees failure as a set back and as a sign never to try it again. A big God view sees failure as a lesson to learn from. We can adjust with discernment and strive forward.

I absolutely believe that there is a need for considering risk and that sometimes the answer in pursuing certain ideas will be ‘No’. Jesus even talked about considering the cost for discipleship in Luke 14 because considering the cost is a crucial step before diving into any endeavor. But considering the cost and discerning the risks should not be crippling. If we run away every time risk appears or goals seem “too big”, then we will never know the life that God meant us to live. We will pass by opportunities to experience love and share love. We will miss out on writing some of the greatest and most exciting chapters of our life because we avoided risk. Why do we love good books and movies? Its because they involve some element of risk. There’s a problem that needs a solution and the main character is going to be the hero that will storm in to save the day. Without that element of risk, we become bored. As I’ve said before, when I stand before God someday I want to be able to hand Him the book of my life that He can be excited to read. I don’t want it to be full of missed and avoided opportunities. I want to put God at the edge of His seat.

When He reads my story I also want Him to see that I believed in Him. I want Him to read about how I truly believe that He is who He says He is. That He really is a big God. If I’m going to quote Philippians 4:13, then I’m going to live Philippians 4:13. If God can part waters, move mountains, and save us from the destruction of our own sin, then why would I act as though He can only bless my dinner. He wants to do so much more for us and through us. I need my faith to be stretched at times so that I learn to trust in a big God. Sometimes the goals and opportunities that are outside my comfort zone are the ones that I need to jump on. And when failure comes, I won’t run and I won’t blame. I will learn and push forward. I believe in a big God and so I want my life to reflect that. What do your goals and risks look like? How big is your God?

Dating god

How did you read that title? Maybe you read it as ‘Dating God’ thinking this would be about having a relationship with the King of kings while dating someone. Maybe you read it as ‘Dating a god’ thinking this would be about what it’s like to date an exceptional person. Or maybe you read it as ‘The Dating god’ thinking this would be about the way we treat dating as an idol. This is about none of those and it is about all of those. This is about that crippling mistake we can make in both dating and marriage.

Has anyone ever failed to meet your expectations? You thought they would do something or they even promised to do it, but it never happened. Welcome to an imperfect world filled with imperfect people. Now, expectations can be a good thing. You should expect your employees to fulfill the responsibilities they agreed to by signing their contract. You should expect a certain quality of food and service depending on the price you’re paying at a restaurant. But when it comes to dating and marriage, expectations can take on a different tone. Certainly, its good for my wife to have healthy, biblical expectations of me. She expects me to hold to our wedding vows. She has expectations that I regularly take out the trash and who’s house we go to for Thanksgiving, because we have discussed those expectations. But in dating and marriage it’s the unspoken and unrealistic expectations that get us into trouble.

We can heap too many unspoken and unrealistic expectation on an individual. It wasn’t uncommon in middle school to hear of students writing long lists of what kind of guy or girl they wanted. Someone who was funny, good looking, strong, athletic, smart, etc. What kind of list do you have today? Maybe you haven’t written it out, but you probably have at least a few things that you’d look for. What our lists boil down to is someone who will meet our needs and desires. We can put so much weight into these lists and expectations, that we either don’t stay in a relationship very long or we just avoid such relationships all together. We can convince ourselves that we’ll never find “the one”.

And we never will. We will never find “the one” because the one that will perfectly meet all our expectations does not exist. We have unrealistic expectations on people, and dating in general, that cannot be lived up to. As Timothy Keller puts it in “The Meaning of Marriage”, “People are seeking a low-to-no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you.” This individual does not exist. We cannot make dating or the person we’re dating out to be a god, they will fail our expectations.

As I’ve said before on this blog, when it comes to marriage, two imperfect people coming together doesn’t make either one perfect. Marriage will not fulfill our spiritual needs through a spouse. We do not live “happily ever after.” Our flaws do not vanish. If anything, our flaws our amplified as we realize how selfish our spouse is and they realize how selfish we are. When our expectations are not met, we can become pessimistic toward dating and marriage because we’re too idealistic about what we want. Our gods deceive us into thinking they’re helping us when the reality is they hinder us. We must come to terms with our expectations, we must expose our gods so that we may walk more freely in dating and marriage.

What unrealistic and unspoken expectations do you have in dating and marriage? Do you expect your significant other to have a certain body type or a certain income? Do you expect them to never want to change you? Do you expect them to fulfill your spiritual and emotional needs 100% of the time? Take time to consider your expectations. You might need to let go of these gods and replace them with realistic and biblical expectations. Take time to talk these through with your spouse. You might even need to ask forgiveness for heaping unrealistic and unspoken expectations on them. It’s tough, but our relationship will be that much stronger and happier when we remove gods from dating and marriage.

It will take time, but we can remove those gods and replace them with the God. We can give those expectations up to God and let Him replace them with healthy and biblical ones. God can truly fulfill our needs. He knit us together and thus knows us better than we know ourselves. His love for us will never change. I’m not going to say that He’ll meet our expectations, because an imperfect being’s expectations of a perfect being don’t work. Since He knows us to our core, He’ll give us what we don’t even know that we need. He’ll bring that individual into our lives that will love us and will also challenge us to change so that we are more like Christ tomorrow than we are today. Don’t allow unrealistic and unspoken expectations to be deceiving gods in your relationship. Allow the One God to be your guide and give you holy desires for another.

The Message You Don’t Want to Hear

Who is the church for? I’m not asking about the building. I’m asking about the body of believers that gathers regularly for worship and fellowship. Who is the church for?

Sometimes I don’t think we as Christians even know who the church is for. Sure, we have the Sunday School answer down and quickly shout out ‘Jesus!’ But when it comes to practice, is that really what we believe? If the motives of our heart were projected onto a giant screen for all to see, would Christ clearly be at the heart?

I ask these to be honest and real with you. I am not sure that our heart always agrees with our mouth. While we may say that the church is for Jesus, our actions betray our words, as we actually believe that the church is for us. This is no secret. We show up to a worship service looking for a message or a new program that will benefit us. We are quick to criticize the pastor when we cannot follow the message or did not find it personally relevant. We have few reservations in complaining about the youth program as if they have the ultimate responsibility of spiritually raising up our children. And if the worship music is too loud, too fast, or too different, then we know exactly who to tell.

We may say that church is for Jesus, but we act as if church is solely for us. It’s like the radio. If we don’t like a particular song, we turn the dial until we find something that suits us. As Christians, we regularly do this with church, even to the point of leaving a congregation because it does not meet our desires. Christians ridicule people like Thomas Jefferson who cut out pieces of the Bible that he disagreed with and pasted together his own. That seems ridiculous and maybe even heretical to us. Yet when it comes to cutting up the church and pasting together the pieces that we like, we have no hesitations.

Brothers and sisters, we are shooting ourselves in both feet. When the church solely becomes about us, we subtract from giving Christ glory and we weaken the potential of the body. The church is for Christ. It is to glorify and honor Him. When we treat the church as a place to consume rather than give, we shift the focus of glory from God to ourselves. We also take God’s right to speak into our lives away from Him. We only listen to the sermons that sound interesting or make us feel good. If we get bored or disinterested we can simply leave. As Christians, we need to take a step down and allow for God to teach us what He wants to (Isaiah 48:17). We need to make church about Christ.

When church becomes about us we also weaken the potential of the body. God places us in a church community to build it up through the gifts and talents that He has given us. When we only look to benefit ourselves, we withhold those gifts. We complain about not being filled by the message or not feeling supported by a church, but how are we filling up or supporting others? Are we gossiping about the ministry’s leaders? Are we complaining about the programs? Are we judgingly comparing churches? These actions only weaken the body, they do not build it up.

We point fingers at church leaders and at programs, asking ‘Why aren’t you taking care of me?’ Pastors are amazingly gifted people, but pastors are not perfect and they’re not superheroes. Personally I am neither. They cannot carry that weight we put on them to meet every personality or every need in the church. Nor can the programs. We must play our role, we must step up and be the church. We must be the body that take responsibility to love God and love others as Christ has loved us. If we believe that the church is for Jesus then it will be reflected in how we worship Him and serve others. We will move from a First Church of Me to the Body of Christ.

 

Who is the church for? Our answer is in our actions. What are you going to do?