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“Dear God, Why did Joshua keep saying ‘servant of the Lord your God’ when he was referring to Moses when the people already knew that?”

We’ve tried various ways to encourage our kids to read their Bible daily but it always ends up to be dreaded routine. My desire is that they will discover the Bible to be exciting dialogue with an awesome God – not rules and regulations that threaten their enjoyment of this gift of life.

Over the past year my nearly ten year old son as become absorbed in a book series called A Series of Unfortunate Events. The stories are filled with conflict, mystery, and sadness. Lemony Snicket is a great author but he can’t match the real life series of unfortunate events found in the Old Testament.

So, I encouraged…uh suggested…ok, I told my son to read the book of Joshua and write something in his journal each time he reads – a question, thoughts that intrigued him, anything that came to mind while reading. The question beginning this blog is from him.

The thing I love most about studying the Bible with kids is their questions. So why did Joshua keep referring to Moses as “servant of the Lord your God” when the Israelites already knew that about Moses? My simple response, “I don’t know.” But let’s think about that question.

We have had some outstanding leaders in our contemporary Christian culture – people like Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. Most of us see these individuals as exceptional people who have done far greater things than we could ever do. But the truth is they are simply servants of the Lord your God. Well, that is if Yahweh of the Old Testament is your God.

When I asked my son if he knew what “lord” meant, he responded with the common reference to Lord as a ruler in a kingdom. I suggested he think of Lord as in landlord – one who owns property that someone else uses for a period of time.

Look around you: Everything you see is God’s – the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. Deuteronomy 10:14

Perhaps Joshua was simply reminding the Israelites not to worship Moses for his accomplishments – or fault him for his “self-moments” that kept him from entering the promised land. The same should hold true for us today. Mother Teresa and Billy Graham are examples of outstanding leadership not because of what they accomplished but because they show us how to be servants of the Almighty God.

God gave me a dream of speaking but even if I don’t step foot in the promised speaking arena, I want my kids to remember me as a servant of the Lord their God.

How about you? Are you focused more on accomplishing the tasks in which your Lord has allowed you to participate or being his servant each step along the way? It’s a question I have to ask myself every day.

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“In the broadest sense, a weed is any plant growing where it is not wanted.”
http://www.wildflowers-and-weeds.com/weeds.htm#what

First let me clarify, I am not a gardener. I vaguely recall putting together a leaf collection for biology class but I think I must have cheated or the teacher labeled my leaves for me. I don’t remember anything from that class – expect the smell of dissecting an earthworm.

However, I love to walk. One of the nicest things about the Columbus Ohio area is the bike and walking paths. They are everywhere – through neighborhoods, along major roads and in the most impressive metropolitan park system I’ve seen.

My daughter and I recently took a walk through one of the “garden” Metro Parks. It is a great place for someone like me that loves to see nature but hasn’t a clue as to the name of any tree or plant. My eight year old daughter made sure we read every label along the path. So by the end of our walk, I was beginning to recognize some of the flowers.

All those plants were beautiful growing wild in the park. And, there were so many fascinating varieties; I didn’t view anything as a weed. That’s not so when I stroll the sidewalks in the neighborhood. I quickly notice who cares what’s growing in their yard and who doesn’t.

A similar thing happens with our ministry activities. Fall, winter, and spring are like a walk through the park. There is lots of variety both in activity and in those who attend. It’s great. We view it as a beautiful picture of a healthy ministry. Then summer comes and it’s more like walking through the neighborhood.

Regardless of the attendance and connection opportunities you have this summer, take time to stroll through your days and notice who cares about what. Be careful not to judge based on the desired appearance of your lawn.

This may be the best time to see who shares your passion for a specific ministry. Or it could be God’s class time for you. Watch for those lone sprouts who seem to be growing wild. They may need your attention. Not to be destroyed but to help them find where they will flourish and be viewed not as a weed but as a beautiful wildflower.

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Sovereignty of God

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:1-2

My little Oxford dictionary defines “thwarted” as frustrated, failed, stopped, baffled, blocked, or stymied. If I hadn’t looked up the word, I would have interpreted that scripture as “God’s plans cannot be stopped.” But the definition revealed more to me.

I can be pretty determined at times. And some of those determined times require perseverance which generally comes with frustration. James 1 says the perseverance is a good thing because it helps us to become mature and complete. In other words, each trial in our life can move us closer to the way God intends us to be.

With that thought in mind, I am amazed as I study God’s sovereignty this week: the way he IS.

Sometimes, it is easy for me to say God is big and in control. That’s a fact. But how big is he? How in control is he? This is what blows my mind.

God is so big and so in control that he doesn’t even get frustrated when others mess with his plans. He knows, without a doubt, that he is in control of everything.

What has you baffled today? Persevere my friend, God is in control. His plan will not fail.

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The biggest leap in leadership for me was learning to trust God with my failures. Becoming a Christ follower or even accepting a leadership position does not make us perfect. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Scripture is full of references to the expectation that we are to continue to grow[1], mature[2], be built together[3], and to work out our salvation[4]. My experience tells me that we seldom have growth spurts when we attempt to grow alone or behind a mask of perfectionism.

Here’s a few things I’ve learned from being willing to risk failure.

  • I see God’s power made perfect in my weakness
  • I learn to recognize God’s voice – sometimes because it wasn’t him speaking
  • Others see their value in the team effort
  • I’m not stressed over the end results or others perceptions of a project
  • I generally learn a lot more from failure than I do from success
  • People offer feedback on what they don’t like a lot easier than what they do like and feedback is very helpful in getting to know people
  • Failure keeps me humble

All of these things help me to stay focused on God’s sovereignty. When I recognize how much greater he is and how dependent I am on him, that is when I learn to trust him to pick me up and help me to stand again. Each time I trust him, I grow in my ability to trust him with bigger things.

I’d like to walk on water someday. And I think I might be getting closer to that experience with him.

Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Philippians 3:16


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Prayer – What is It?

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you may have heard that God always answers prayer. Some may tell you “his response is yes, no, wait or sometimes he has a better idea that is completely different.”

I’ve never really liked that statement. It’s vague and makes my relationship with God sound like a computer calculation.

Input: data à Data processed by God à Output: answer.

If we don’t like the result, we either input new data or we begin troubleshooting the computers processing procedure until we either give up or get the output we want.

The material and experience of Moms in Touch International is teaching me a lot about prayer. Fern Nichols in Igniting a Passion to Pray discusses Spirit-directed prayer in this way:

“The Holy Spirit within us moves in our hearts, initiates our requests, and shows us how we should pray. Therefore, the focus is on God and not on the approval of others.”

Her intent with this comment is to help women feel more comfortable with praying aloud in small groups. However, I see something even bigger in her statement for even those who are comfortable with praying aloud in groups.

Prayer does not begin with data entry. It begins with listening to the Holy Spirit.

Two questions that make a difference in my prayer life:

  1. Do I listen before I speak?
  2. Are my words a response to what I’ve heard or just data entry submitted to God?

I am convinced that when we pray according to the Spirit rather than the flesh, God’s answer is always a strong and unchangeable “yes.”

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Mind Control

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6

What’s on your mind today? How often do you think about your own death or how often do you avoid thinking of it?

My dear friend, if the thought of death frightens you, let me invite you to set your mind on the Spirit. You see, all the things of the flesh will one day come to an end. So if your mind is set on the things of this physical world and its current pleasures, you cannot enjoy true life and peace which comes only from being united with Christ.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. Romans 8:5

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What was the price?
I’ve heard all my life that Jesus paid the price for our sins. It has often been indicated that the price was death on the cross or at least that’s how it comes across. But was Jesus’ physical death the punishment?

Fact: Unless your name is Elijah, there is nearly a 100% chance that you will die a physical death. (ok, I don’t know what happens exactly with those who are alive when Christ returns but there’ll be some physical change.)

Another piece of Sunday school info I learned at some point was that Jesus went to Hell sometime between breathing his last breath on the cross and his resurrection “on the third day.” Oh, and don’t forget that Hell is almost always taught in mainstream Christian churches as a horrible place of punishment. That’s important here. Of course, we are also taught that heaven has streets paved with gold. Honestly, that never impressed me as a kid and still doesn’t today.

Putting those bits of church chatter together, I’ve assumed that when Jesus died on the cross he went to a place of fire and experienced all the gruesome stuff we are taught to picture with the ugly guy in a red suit, weird ears and a funny looking pitch fork. Then, presto, Jesus returned from that terrible place and walked on the earth for 40 days. Interestingly, some people didn’t recognize him – I still don’t understand that one. But after 2,000 years of witnesses descriptions, some people still don’t recognize him.

Now here’s my most recent revelation on this topic – the punishment Jesus took on our behalf had absolutely nothing to do with physical pain.

Look around you. Everything you experience with the five physical senses is created by God and for God. Everything God created is good – right? Says so in scripture (1Ti 4:4)

Is Hell good?
Whatever Hell is, I think everyone agrees that it is most likely not a place that would have a five star AAA rating.

Look at the cross. When did the most dramatic things happen – you know, like the earthquake and total darkness in the middle of the day? Read it in Matthew 27:45-56. It was in the mysterious darkness that Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” That’s huge. Don’t ever forget that Jesus said that to God the Father.

Then what happened when Jesus “gave up his spirit” – died? Oh, go read it. It’s too exciting for me to tell you all of it. Look at Matthew 27:51-53. The curtain in the temple tore in two, yes, but there was more. A door was opened and some holy people came out.

Know what I think? They came out because Jesus walked in – into Hell. The forsaken place where the presence of God is totally void.

Light – good; Darkness – not good
Genesis 1 tells us that darkness was over the surface of the deep in the beginning. Then God spoke light into being. This is not the sun. That comes later. God saw the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness. Yes, it goes on to distinguish day from night but this light was not the sun, moon, and stars. The wording implies to me that this darkness was not good. Nor was it created. It just was. It was there in the beginning and God added light – his own source of light.

When Jesus was hanging on the cross, it wasn’t night time but there was darkness. Have you experienced that kind of darkness? Does that give you a clue as to what it means to feel forsaken?

I’ve always wanted to say “no way, Jesus wasn’t forsaken by God. That’s impossible.” But I now believe he was. That was the punishment. That was the price he paid. Jesus left the presence of God so that we would never be forsaken (abandoned); so that he could always be with us even until the end of time. (Matthew 28:20) Now remember, Jesus was in very nature God (Philippians 2:6). Is it possible that at this point, Jesus gave up even the nature of God? Is it possible that Jesus, the Son of God, in his purest sense is the light that appeared in Genesis 1:3? Not human, yet placed into existence from the spoken word of God the Father (as we know him).

Without God’s source of light in us, we are darkness – nothingness, formless, meaningless, chaos. In other words, without God you just exist. That’s it. While you are here on earth you enjoy all the good physical pleasures God has created. But when this physical life is over, you just exist forever and ever and ever in nothingness. No rest by moonlight. No warmth by the sun. No coolness of a breeze. You have an awareness but with nothing to be aware of except maybe memories of what you had. Wouldn’t that be Hell to you?

Have you heard that Jesus set the captives free?
That’s exactly what he did when he died. He left the presence of God to set the holy people free from Hell – those who had died a physical death before his own physical death. He broke the bond between sin and death by taking the power of God – the spoken word of God – into that darkness. Wow! That’s exciting even as I type it! Those who recognized the light responded to him, uh, it. Those who didn’t recognize him, I imagine, turned away in fear and remained in their chosen state of nothingness.

Side note: If Jesus was in human form at this point, I don’t imagine any of those existing beings would have turned away in fear, they would have all jumped on the opportunity to get out of Hell free. As the spoken word of God rather than the compassionate human being, this Light would not have recognized those who blended into the darkness.

Then Christ returned from Hell. Wow! Let’s hear a little excitement out there. He would never need to ever go back there. Why? Because now he was returning to his place in the full presence of God where he would then send the Light in the form of the Holy Spirit to anyone who chooses to open the door to their physical life. Freeing them from the penalty of sin – that penalty being separation from the life-giving God who is always good.

A Living Sacrifice
In my last post I asked, “Did Jesus expect me to follow him in death?” Yes, I believe he did. But not physical death as we understand it. Although it is very physical. Anyone can sacrifice life for death if they believe in something strong enough – even if it isn’t truth. Real sacrifice that is pleasing and acceptable is sacrificing control of your physical life without looking to be rewarded for what you’ve done.

Who gave the Lord something which the Lord must pay back? Everything is from him and by him and for him. Glory belongs to him forever! Amen! Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you. Romans 11:35 – 12:1 God’s Word

The only way to be a living sacrifice is to invite the life-giving Spirit of God into the darkness of your nothingness. Jesus took light into the darkness of death. Will you open the door of your life? Will you let him separate the darkness and fill you with that which is good?

Follow the Light
It’s simple really. Hold your hands out, palms up. Oh, come on just do it. This is your spiritual act of worship in the physical existence you have been given.

Now speak these words out loud – yes, out loud. Speaking to God is powerful:

Holy God, you are giver of life. I have attempted to create life in myself. Forgive me for playing God with all that you have provided in me. Please separate the darkness from me. Come into my physical life with your light. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Ps 139:23-24)

Stop and listen. You’ve just asked God to point out something to you. Let him do that.
With each thing revealed, ask his forgiveness. Don’t worry, he is gracious and merciful, he won’t point out everything at once. As you grow in relationship with him, he will continually show you the next step on the path of everlasting life. That’s why daily time with God is so important.

Profess out loud: Thank you Jesus. You were forsaken so that I may never be forsaken. Be the Leader of my life. I’ll be the follower. Not by my power, not by my might but by your Holy Spirit alive in me.

Now go tell a Christian friend what you’ve done. And celebrate your new life in Christ. For you have just offered to be a living sacrifice. If you have no one else to tell, email me, please! I’d love to celebrate with you. I’ve been praying for you already.

If you know someone that might benefit from reading this, edit it to your delight and pass it on as your own. (I don’t always give that copyright permission. But with this post you have it.)

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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