Being a sponge

sponge

If you buy into the whole evolution thing, there isn’t much that divides you and me from sponges.  Seriously.  Personally, I find that offensive but that’s not a topic I’d like to try to tackle in this message.  At least for now 8-).  While our anatomical, physical, and metaphysical attributes are nothing like that of a sponge, I have to say that there are aspects of us that are sponge-like.  By now, you’re probably asking yourself, “where in the world could he possibly be going with this?”  Fair enough.  Perhaps a little insight would shed some light.

The horrors and cataclysm of the recent Hurricane Harvey are well-documented.  I don’t even pretend to understand what the folks in and around the gulf coast of Texas and the surrounding areas are going through.  And I actually say that in a far broader sense than you’re understanding.  That is … clearly the loss of life, property, safety, and security are beyond comprehension, particularly to the simpleminded like me.  But over the past few days, the story of one young lady, Ms. Victoria White, who in the face of the horrific somehow saw the glory of God rocked me.  In an angelic voice as much because of its beauty as its faithfulness, she sang worship to Jesus staring straight in the face of her plight.

I guess that’s what I mean when I say I can’t possibly understand what the folks that have been through Hurricane Harvey are going through … in more ways than one.  I mean, I can’t understand even for a second the loss they’ve gone through.  That’s clear as day.  But moreover … I would say that I also am challenged to understand how someone in a shelter who has clearly gone through inexplicable loss responds in worship the way she did.  You see, the point is she’s a sponge.  That is, we’re all sponges.  My reading this week (Jeremiah 41 – 52, Lamentations 1 – 5, and Ezekiel 1 – 23) will help explain what I mean, and in particular, Jeremiah 44:15 – 19 …

Then all the women present and all the men who knew that their wives had burned incense to idols—a great crowd of all the Judeans living in northern Egypt and southern Egypt—answered Jeremiah, “We will not listen to your messages from the Lord!  We will do whatever we want. We will burn incense and pour out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven just as much as we like—just as we, and our ancestors, and our kings and officials have always done in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For in those days we had plenty to eat, and we were well off and had no troubles!  But ever since we quit burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and stopped worshiping her with liquid offerings, we have been in great trouble and have been dying from war and famine.”  “Besides,” the women added, “do you suppose that we were burning incense and pouring out liquid offerings to the Queen of Heaven, and making cakes marked with her image, without our husbands knowing it and helping us? Of course not!”

Sponges can soak up a lot, and quickly.  When squeezed, however, they release whatever’s soaked up.  Hence, a sponge can only release what has already been soaked up in it.  The Israelites were reaping judgment from God because that’s what they, like sponges, soaked up.  That is, they sought the admiration, approval, power, and protection of worthless idols.  In their devotion to the meaningless, tangible, physical pieces of wood, they left the one true God, the one who had not just created them, but entered a covenant relationship with them, saved them from bondage in Egypt, and who sought only their faith and devotion.

Instead, the Israelites soaked up falsehood.  They soaked up perversion.  They soaked up faithlessness.  They soaked up evil.  And when they, like sponges, were squeezed, when what was soaked up in them was released, it was falsehood, perversion, faithlessness, and evil.  Because that’s what they had soaked up.

That’s true for us today.  When we hit difficulties or challenges in life, when we’re squeezed, what comes out of us?  Is it faithfulness, perseverance, and steadfastness?  Is it God’s word and the truth of it?  Or is it pride, anger, blame, faithlessness, and uncertainty?  Like a sponge, what we put in, what we soak up, is the only thing that can be released when we’re squeezed.

If we soak up God’s word, when we’re squeezed, God’s word will be released.  If we soak up fellowship amongst other brothers and sisters in the Lord, when we’re squeezed, fellowship will be released.  If we soak up faith that God is sovereign, holy, and merciful, when we’re squeezed, faithfulness will be released.  And because those are all rooted in the truth of the all-powerful, unchanging Creator of the universe, when we’re squeezed, what will be released will be of a fresh and calming aroma.

On the other hand, if we soak up selfishness or self-sufficiency, when we’re squeezed, that will be released.  If we soak up pride, when we’re squeezed, that will be released.  And because those are all rooted in the evil of the enemy, who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8), when we’re squeezed, all that will be released will be putrid, dank, and repulsive.

Two weeks ago, the people of Houston and the Gulf Coast of Texas were unaware of their plight, and yet that plight loomed.  In our lives, Hurricane Harveys perhaps of a different sort queue up for an eventual destructive path.  While we rarely contemplate that reality, in some way we all acknowledge the inevitability of those times.  So given that, what are we soaking up?  What are we ensuring is in us so that when, not if, we’re squeezed, what comes out of us will be of the right and good sort?  Are we in God’s word regularly?  Are we communing with Him in prayer routinely?  Are we engaged in a faithful, fruitful community of believers actively?  Are we seeking the Holy Spirit for His help in growing our faith deeply?

If so, when we’re in the shelter from the storms of life, God’s truth and gospel will gush out of us, for His glory, for our good, and the good of those around us.  Just like Ms. Victoria White, Lord bless her!  When she was squeezed, what came out of her was …

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

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GPS

GPS

[Click here for the vlog – or video blog]

I’m not sure why or where it comes from, but I like driving.  That’s not common or even an easy thing to say when you live in California.  Driving for us is often different than for most throughout the US.  On the one hand, because of the lack of transportation infrastructure here, we basically almost have to drive everywhere.  As a result, there are tons and tons of cars here, and our famous traffic is famous for a reason.  And yet, everyone drives fast here.  Like Mario Andretti fast.

So with all that, plus the fact that I commute to work 60 miles each way each day, you would think driving is the last thing I’d want to do.  However … when it came time to move our oldest child into college last week, I was unmovable in my insistence to Helen that we had to road trip our son to college.  After all, I reasoned, it’s tradition.  You road trip your kid to college.  It’s just how it’s done.

In the old days, when you’re heading on a 1,500-mile drive to Texas, you’d break out your multifold map and try to conjure up a route that makes sense.  Fortunately, over the past 20 years or so, the prolific availability of satellite technology has allowed us to shed our maps and Thomas Bros. map books (other than for the various and sundry die-hards … we just got rid of Helen’s Thomas Bros. map book a couple years ago – it was dated around the mid-1990s haha).  The navigation capabilities we have today though, by tapping into the GPS or Global Positioning System, have saved many of us from getting lost, and have helped us to find a real-time route efficiently traversing away from traffic snags.  GPS can accomplish this because 1) it sits with a viewpoint above our view point, 2) it sees what we can’t see, such as hazards and incidents that can slow us down or harm us and that we should avoid, 3) it knows our destination, and 4) it can discern the best way to get us where we are supposed to go.

Through my recent reading, this theme came into mind and was a bit unshakeable.  Through Isaiah 59 – 66, 2 Kings 20 – 25, 2 Chronicles 32 – 36, Nahum 1 – 3, Zephaniah 1 – 3, Jeremiah 1 – 40, Habakkuk 1 – 3, and Psalms 74, 79, it seems to me that the Israelites were suffering from GPS-related issues.  By way of Habakkuk 2:18 – 20,  I’ll explain.

“What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you?  How foolish to trust in your own creation—a god that can’t even talk!  What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols, ‘Wake up and save us!’  To speechless stone images you say, ‘Rise up and teach us!’  Can an idol tell you what to do?  They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside.  But the Lord is in his holy Temple.  Let all the earth be silent before him.”

The prophet Habakkuk is conveying a message from God that God spoke through a number of His messengers at this time.  You see, the Israelites, the very people who were direct recipients of God’s directions, had deviated not just once, but time and time and time again.  That is, they had a GPS – a God Positioning System – that laid out quite specifically the route they should take as a people.  Just like our modern day Global Positioning System for the purpose of navigating us on a travel journey, the Israelites had … and we today have … a God Positioning System to navigate us on the journey of life.

And in a similar way, our GPS … God Positioning System … can save us from getting lost, and help us to find a real-time route efficiently traversing away from snags.  Why?  Well because our God Positioning System 1) sits with a viewpoint above our view point, 2) it sees what we can’t see, such as hazards and incidents that can slow us down or harm us and that we should avoid, 3) it knows our destination, and 4) it can discern the best way to get us where we are supposed to go.

Now be that as it may, but just like our navigation systems today, they’re only as good as the degree to which we place our trust in them and abide by their directions.  I mean, they don’t force us to follow their directions.  We can choose to listen or we can choose to ignore them.  And if we ignore them they’ll switch to “calculating route.”  But in the meantime, we are subject to the consequences.  We might get lost, might find ourselves in dangerous neighborhoods, might extend the time to our destination, we’ll get frustrated and maybe even be afraid.  All because we chose not to rely on the GPS.

The Israelites were suffering this fate at the time of Habakkuk.  They had the direct commandments and loving involvement of their GPS … their God Positioning System.  Not only did they not adhere to the GPS, not only did they choose instead a stagnant paper map, but they actually decided they would just write their own map.  Imagine if you or I decided to go on a long journey across the US and instead of relying on our GPS we chose instead to just create our own map.  Look, no one in their right mind would do that for a road trip … yet the Israelites decided and – let’s face it, you and I routinely decide today – to do the precise life equivalent of that.  We try to write our own maps.  The Israelites, well they suffered incalculable consequences from the instruments of God through the Babylonians and the Assyrians and myriad others.  We place ourselves in no less perilous situations when we ignore our GPS as well.

It’s not surprise that life is often metaphorically compared to a journey.  A road trip, if you will.  Available to you and me is the ultimate GPS – the God Positioning System – to help ensure that our route is optimal.  But just like we have to choose to pay attention to, receive, and adhere to the directions of our navigational GPS, if we want to have the most efficient, safe, fruitful, productive, and enjoyable life journey, we need to pay attention to, receive, and adhere to the directions of our life’s GPS … our God Positioning System.  Because, as the Creator of the universe and everything in it, He alone 1) sits with a viewpoint above our view point, 2) it sees what we can’t see, such as hazards and incidents that can slow us down or harm us and that we should avoid, 3) it knows our destination, and 4) it can discern the best way to get us where we are supposed to go.  All we have to do is follow the directions, by His Word, by His Spirit, and often, through His people.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Rockin’ out

van rock art

Click here for the video blog – aka, vlog.  😎

I love running in Vancouver.  The past couple nights while I’ve been here, I headed out after work down to the sea wall and do a six-mile loop along the water, through apartment complexes situated along the coastline, past park areas that are overloaded during the brief times during the summer when the weather gets particularly warm, and with views the entire time that are take-your-breath-away amazing.

One of the things I noticed the first time I came up here to work a few months ago, were these incredible rock formations along the rocky shoreline.  Rocks that were stacked up upon one another on top of a boulder, balanced so pristinely that they seemed to deny the certainty of the law of gravity.  It was hard to focus on the path I was running on because each of the formations was physics-defying and also unique.  And when I considered that each of those rock formations occurred by random, unaided chance over billions of years, it was nothing short of baffling.  I mean, we all know that given enough time, the right circumstances, and trial and error, rocks will eventually adapt to their environment and the beneficial surroundings that just haphazardly occur will allow rocks to simply settle upon one another in a balanced stack.

Okay, of course I’m being facetious.  I don’t think any reasonable person would look at the rock formations along the sea wall in Vancouver as uncaused.  I think we all would realize that rocks stacked in such an amazing and artistic way are purposely created by someone with vision, intelligence, a plan, and materials well-suited for the job.  No less certainly than when you visit Mt. Rushmore, it’s obvious to any observer that the mountain didn’t just evolve over time to include the faces of presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln.

I’m not trying to be snarky, but I was moved by those rock formations to these reflections especially after reading this week through Isaiah 35 – 58, Psalms 46, 76, 80, and 135, and 2 Kings 18 – 19, and in particular when I sort of camped out on Isaiah 40:12 – 15 and 26 …

Who else has held the oceans in his hand?  Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?  Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?  Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord?  Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him?  Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?  Does he need instruction about what is good?  Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?  No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket.  They are nothing more than dust on the scales.  He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.

 Look up into the heavens.  Who created all the stars?  He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name.  Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.

Looking at those rock formations reminded me how we as people can attribute more power to creation than to the Creator.  We look around the planet we live on and pay homage to things we see.  Don’t get me wrong, when I run down the sea wall in Vancouver, or even when I’m on my long but beautiful commute to work along the California coast each day, I can’t help but marvel in the exquisite beauty of what my eyes get to behold.

That’s sort of the point … that is, God provides more than ample evidence of Who He is and yet some of us can carelessly look past it, and some of us outright deny it … and HIM!  The evidence is in everything we can behold.  Just like the rock art in Vancouver that no reasonable, rationale person would say happened by random chance with no help from an intelligence, isn’t it logical to conclude the same thing about the approximately 100 billion stars just in our Milky Way galaxy, and the 100 billion galaxies in the known universe?  Let’s face it, a star, let alone the 1 x 1024 stars estimated to be in the universe?

Frankly, the evidence is US!  How unique we all are, how complex our bodies are.  And yet there are some of us that would have us believe that WE are an accident.  We occurred out of the same ooze and sludge that everything else on Earth was.  Fortunate circumstances happened to some amoeba-filled mud and over billions of years you and I slithered out.  Oh yeah, somewhere along the way we figured out that we needed legs and grew them … even though legs were never a thing before that time.  Really?

Pastor Chuck Smith used to tell a story trying to describe how a spider would have “evolved” over hundreds of millions of years.  How they would have not yet been an actual spider in the way we know them today.  They would have been a hungry insect, hungry because they weren’t a particularly successful hunter.  So, somewhere along the way spiders – without intelligence, knowledge, design capabilities, or any other help – randomly figured out that they needed to create a web, setting aside for the moment that no such thing had ever existed before.  So somehow a spider figured out over millions of years how to create a substance in its body to secret the stuff to make a web.  Brilliant!  Only problem is, as the spider laid in wait to catch its food with this brilliant yet accidental invention, the food flew into the web and … “BOING!” … it bounced right off.  Hmm.  So, over millions of more years the spider figured out, “Aha!  I know.  I’ll make the web sticky.”  Interestingly, the spider figured out – without intelligence, knowledge, design capabilities, or any other help – how to make the substance in its body that was secreted to make a web sticky.  Brilliant!  Only problem is, as the spider laid in wait with its ingenious, yet accidental improvement, the food flew into the web … and stuck!  Brilliant again.  Unfortunately, however, while the food stuck to the web … so did the spider!  It couldn’t reach its food.  Curses!  But fear not … eventually our spider hero figured out over millions of years – without intelligence, knowledge, design capabilities, or any other help – how to make the substance in its body that was secreted to make a web, and a web that was sticky, not to be sticky to the spider.  Brilliant.  The trouble is … over those millions and millions of years of trial and error, of failure, spiders would have ceased to exist.

So here’s the point.  To me, it makes no logical sense to look at all that is created within and around us … frankly, to look at us … and assume that it happened essentially accidentally.  Rather, it points to a Creator who took the time to fashion it all with pristine design, balance, forethought, intelligence, and – here’s the best part – LOVE.  The God that created all of the universe and the CRAZY amount of stars, planets, and everything within it all, the POWER that was able to speak all of that into existence, also created you and me.  He cared enough in all of His creation not to forget to make you and me.  Why?  LOVE.  He cares about us so much that He didn’t want to live without us.  All that creative power is also available to us to care and provide for our needs, to offer us the best life possible, and crucially, to save us from our sins.  Now that’s brilliant!

When we consider all of creation, we have to wonder … did that all happen essentially by accident over billions of years or did a great Designer craft it.  Maybe you should head to Vancouver sometime and check out the rock art and then give me your answer.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

How do they do it?

spud webb

 

[This week, a new feature … a video version of my blog, or my vlog 😎 ]

I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was one of the most amazing sports moments I think I’ve ever seen.  Anthony “Spud” Webb, with the Atlanta Hawks but originally from Texas, was participating in the annual NBA slam dunk contest, which on its face isn’t a particularly big deal.  That is, until you consider that Spud Webb was 5’7” tall.  One of the smallest players ever to play pro basketball and definitely one of the smallest participants in the slam dunk contest.  Despite his diminutive stature, Spud Webb beat his teammate to win the 1986 NBA slam dunk contest.  Talk about an incredible athlete!  It’s one thing to be 5’7” and play in the NBA, let along to be able to dunk a basketball when he can’t even palm the ball, let alone be able to WIN the slam dunk contest!  It makes you wonder about athletes of that caliber … how do they do it?

Do you ever wonder how people do some of the amazing, crazy, miraculous things they do?  We see some incredible talent, or feats of strength, balance or endurance in our world.  At times it’s almost impossible to believe they can do whatever it is we see them do.  It’s like, “How can they possibly do that?  I could NEVER do that!”  And in most respects it’s probably true.  If I were 5’7” like Spud Webb, I can assure you that I couldn’t dunk a basketball … given that I’m 6’1” and could never do it.

Think about some of the amazing accomplishments we’ve heard or seen people do.  I don’t know how they do it and there’s no way that I could.  That thought rattled around in my brain as I read this past week through Isaiah 5 – 34, Amos 1 – 9, 2 Chronicles 27 – 31, 2 Kings 16 – 18, Hosea 1 – 14, Psalms 48, and Micah 1 – 7.  Specifically, when I read Amos 8:11-13

“The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord.  People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.  Beautiful girls and strong young men will grow faint in that day, thirsting for the Lord’s word.

Reading through the prophecy God laid upon Amos’s heart and through Amos’s words gave me a bit of a shiver.  Essentially, God is saying to Israel, “okay, you don’t want to listen to my words, how about if I just take my words away?”  I can’t imagine how the Israelites could manage to go on for a single moment, let alone a prolonged time, not hearing the word of God or having God residing and presiding over them.  It begged the question … how do (did) they do it?

To me, the same is true about how people can go through the hardships and challenges in life without the Lord in their life.  Honestly, it’s not really all that long ago that I was in those shoes.  Going through the ups and downs of life without hearing – that is, being willing to hear – from God is a dismal, depressing, dark reality.  I guess what’s all the more dismal, dark, and depressing about it is not knowing it.

On the one hand, I used to fool myself into thinking that I was free to do whatever I wanted without having the accountability to anyone else, God included.  Yet on the other hand, there was nothing free about it.  Frankly, I wasn’t free, I was bound.  Bound to choices and a life that had no context, no backdrop, no foundation to rely on in order to feel any protection or safety from the potential ramifications of my choices.  Worse yet, the tough situations in my life – without the knowledge of a benevolent, loving, all-knowing God – were no more than a product of absolute randomness and unfortunate luck.  Horrific.

We have a really dear friend going through a radically challenging diagnosis of brain cancer.  It’s the type that doctors say gives someone a life expectancy of 18 to 24 months.  As we talked about her ordeal and her incredibly positive perspective, strength – and the fact that she’s going to kick her cancer’s butt – we marveled, understandably, at how so many people go through disease, trials, turmoil, tragedy, etc., without God at their helm.  How do they do it?  I wish I could tell you.  I truly don’t know.

Because our friend has been a follower of Christ for so long there’s a “one way or another,” sense she and her husband have about her current season.  That is, they have conviction that one way or another, God is at work.  Whether or not she truly kicks her cancer’s butt, they know that one way or another they can trust God.  Somehow, God has a plan, God is using her diagnosis, God is working in and through them.  This is NOT to say that they are all fine and dandy with this gnarly brain cancer, because that’s not real life.  They have sadness, fear, confusion, anger, and all the other emotions God created us with, and which every one of us as normal humans would experience.  However, they know that they know the God who created not just the universe but everything in it, including people, bodies, brains, cells, DNA, and everything else.  So maybe He will heal her through doctors and treatment, or maybe He will heal her miraculously, or maybe He won’t.  In the face of that harshest of realities, our friends stand tall, nose to nose with their reality, confident that they are where they’re supposed to be, dead center in the bullseye of our loving and sovereign God’s will.  That’s how they do it.

Friends, if you’re going through the tough stuff of life, and you’re trying to do it without a relationship with Jesus, I have to wonder how in the world you can do it.  I honestly do not think it’s possible.  The God I know, follow, and trust gives me assurance that He’ll never leave us, fail us or abandon us (Joshua 1:5).  That God wants you to know the same thing.  He is the Foundation, He is the Context, He is the Reason.  Of and for everything.  Yeah, I realize that means the bad stuff as well as the good stuff, but in all honesty I can’t imagine the bad stuff without Him or the good stuff without Him.  He understands, controls, ordains all that happens to us … and it’s all – whether we understand it or not – a direct result of His unimaginable, unquantifiable, unconstrainable, and unconditional love.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Milestones

milestone_in_design

It finally happened.  I always knew it would – or in fairness might – but even as it got closer, it always seemed somewhat intangible to me.  It happened to a bunch of my friends and it always seemed distant, because at that point it had happened to them, but hadn’t yet happened to me.  I sort of liked that, but I knew it would come about for me at some point.

Of course, I’m talking about turning 50 last week.  The big “5-0” as they say (of course “they” are the ones that haven’t turned it yet).  And as much as it was weird and cathartic, I still recognize that it was a milestone.  There are many milestones we go through in life, obviously, some positive and some not so.  I remember thinking as a kid how I would be 32 when we reached the year 2000 (that was a common thing some of us older folks used to think of in the 1900s – haha).  I remember thinking, “oh my GOSH … I’ll be T-H-I-R-T-Y T-W-O!!!!!  That is sooooo ollllddddd!”  Oh, how I miss being in my 30s.  I was sooooo younnnnnggggggg.  😎

So yes, this past week was a milestone.  As will usually happen, as I was heading into the week and the milestone was staring me straight in the face, it caused me to think and reflect on a number of things.  But I really sort of hunkered down on this notion of milestones.  My reading over the week has been through some pretty rich historical sections of scripture, and that pushed the milestone button in me a bit more as well.

In particular, my reading brought me through 1 Kings 16 – 22, 2 Kings 1 – 15, 2 Chronicles 17 – 26, Obadiah 1 – , Psalms 82 – 83,  Jonah 1 – 4, and Isaiah 1 – 4.  When I read through 1 Kings 19:19-20, I dialed in to the milestone in Elisha’s life it represented.  Here’s what it says …

So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away.  Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!”  Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”

In actual fact, when we talk about milestones, I think this story represents a milestone in each of Elisha’s and Elijah’s lives.  Elijah had served the Lord incredibly faithfully in a difficult time in Israel’s history.  In fact, most of what Elijah did and said on the Lord’s behalf were in themselves milestones, especially as we look back over the accounts of Israel and Judah.  Not only that, but now we read about the appointment of Elisha as a prophet to take the place of Elijah, and as you read further in 1 Kings and into 2 Kings we see God use Elisha in powerful ways.  Also incredible milestones in Elisha’s life.

Clearly we all go through milestones.  But what’s the purpose of milestones?  Regardless of the context, I think there are some generalizable and always beneficial reasons for them.

In general, milestones serve the purpose of showing us where we are in light of where we’re going.  When I think about traveling on the road, something I enjoy doing, a milestone is represented by the mile markers on the road and sign posts along the way.  If I am at mile marker 43 and I know that my next exit is at mile marker 82, that serves to show me that I still have 39 miles to travel.  On the other hand, if I first pass mile marker 43 on the way to mile marker 82, and in a couple miles I pass mile marker 41, I can ascertain that either I’m traveling in the wrong direction or traveling on the wrong road.  That, then, makes the milestone helpful to know where I am in light of where I’m attempting to go.

In a similar sense, when we lead projects in business, oftentimes we break down the overall deliverable for which the project is undertaken into smaller steps, and along the way, milestones.  In the same way, these serve to provide us feedback about where we are in the project in light of where we’re going in terms of trying to complete the project.  That milestone could be rendered in terms of time (a deadline) or in terms of finance (a budget).  But it’s incredibly important to allow the milestones to provide input about progress and direction.

Applying that to life, leadership, and our faith journey, we see that just as God used milestones in Elijah’s and Elisha’s lives, and in the manner in which he used milestones through the history of the kings and judges of Israel, He uses milestones in our lives.  That is, He allows us periodic opportunities to judge where we are (in our walk with Him) in light of where we’re going (hopefully becoming more and more aligned to the likeness of His Son).

Those situations – those milestones – can take the form of situations in our lives that He uses to carry out that Christlikeness He desires for us.  The question isn’t where we were, or where we are, but where God is taking us through those milestone situations.  I can say without hesitation that the journey I’ve been on in the 18 years I’ve been walking with Christ has afforded me multitudes of milestones, and earlier in the journey it was clear that I was not far along.  Clearly I haven’t arrived at whatever destination He’s got intended for me, but I can see the difference in the mile marker I am at now, and the previous mile marker at which I was formerly.  That’s not to toot my own horn – trust me, I don’t deserve to in any way – but it’s to toot His.

God designs our journey, and He alone provides the mile markers along the way.  When we go through struggles and trials, even those of our own making, let’s remember it as simply a milestone, a way that He is allowing us to see where we are in light of where we’re going.  The fact is, we’re all journeying … we’re all going from a starting point to an end.  And while the milestones aren’t always enjoyable, they are always instructive.  They are always important feedback to allow us to figure out if we’re heading in the wrong direction, or if we’re even on the wrong road.  My prayer for all of us this week is that we’ll start to see milestones as the blessing they are.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Consequences, schmonsequences

consequences schmonsequences

By now I’ve more than exposed my love of television, movies, and music, and the manner by which it tends to permeate a variety of ways I look at the world.  Messed up as that might seem, at least for me – and perhaps more common to my generation – those were some of the most significant influences on me growing up.  It’s an understatement of understatements to say that there were some incredibly iconic television shows during my childhood and formative years and certainly preceding them.  None were more influential on me, perhaps than all the Looney Tunes brands.  All the more, Bugs Bunny specifically.  Without question, I can probably recite near-complete seven-minute episodes of the shows, which of course originated as content for previews or intermissions in movie theaters way back in the 1940s.

Anyhow, one particular episode got me both laughing and scratching my (bald) head this past week as I was doing my Bible reading from 1 Kings 7 – 15, 2 Chronicles 8 – 16, Psalms 134, 136, 146 – 150, Proverbs 25 – 31 and Ecclesiastes 1 – 12.

It was in many ways a memorable and classic episode in its own right, 1957’s “Ali Baba Bunny.”  It includes numerous lines and quotes that many of us still recite today in reference to Bugs Bunny, probably not totally realizing they’re from this singular episode.  In this edition, Bugs and Daffy are on their way to Pismo Beach, only to mistakenly arrive somewhere else to Bugs’ chagrin … “I knew I should have taken a left toin at Albuquoyquee.”  They stumble upon the riches of a sheik, guarded by a dolt named Hassan (“Hassan chop!”).  After Bugs and Daffy dispense with Hassan, Daffy takes over the riches and begins to wheel it away (where, we have no idea), only to stumble upon a dusty lamp that he figures can fetch “four bits on the open market.”  As he dusts it off, naturally a genie comes out (because that’s what always happens when you dust off an old lamp) offering Daffy the customary three wishes.  Believing that the genie was there to snatch his newfound wealth, Daffy forces him back into the lamp (no idea how, but hey, this is a cartoon, not real life – as though having a talkative duck and sarcastic Brooklyn-born rabbit needed any clarification).

In response to Daffy’s stingy and disrespectful rebuke, the Genie bursts angrily from the lamp threatening, “Stop!  You have desecrated the spirit of the lamp.  Prepare to face the consequences!”  Daffy’s reply shrunk him to size, literally … “Consequences, schmonsequences, as long as I’m rich.”  And yes, that entire story wraps around a short section of scripture that while brief is incredibly potent and profound.  Proverbs 28:6

Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and rich.

I guess in some sense Daffy was relatively honest, but it’s clear he was willing to do anything to be rich.  And yet, God’s word gives us a warning that carries broad applicability across a variety of heart-related desires even though it speaks specifically about our heart’s condition related to wealth.  The crux of the proverb is effectively that while being rich is not in itself something evil or sinful, the push for wealth, the willingness to pursue wealth at all costs, to run over others, to cheat, to steal, to subordinate our values for wealth, is evil and sinful.  And so it is for anything to which we are willing to say “consequences, schmonsequences.”

The Bible teaches that all things belong to God and that He alone determines wealth, success, and favor (1 Chronicles 29:10-13).  So, setting our sights unwaveringly on a goal of our own determination is inherently putting ourselves in the role of God … and isn’t that the original sin propagated by Adam and Eve in the first place?  And if so, then we have that same tendency, inherited through the millennia and over the generations … the propensity to say, “consequences, schmonsequences, as long as ____________.”  That is, we have the disease, even though the target and effect may differ.

The fact is, there are always consequences.  There are consequences to us of our sinfulness, and there are consequences to those around us (whether or not we are related to, or even know, them).  In Daffy’s case, he was literally shrunk to a fraction of his original size, and forced to concede to a tiny pearl (in a clam, and both large in relation to his now-diminutive stature).  Bugs also suffered consequences in the loss of his friend, the termination of his vacation to Pismo Beach, etc.  Yeah, that part’s a bit of a stretch, but work with me.  😎

Anytime we pursue our gluttonous desires at the expense of “consequences, schmonsequences,” we and others suffer.  We also rob God of what He most desires to do for us … to demonstrate and express His immense love for us.  And in the process, we cheapen His love and His plan, and ironically, we choose in a suboptimal way, deriving for ourselves less than God would bless us with if we would only allow Him.  Consequences, schmonsequences?  Not quite.

My prayer for us this week is that we’ll pray … and ask God to reveal to us whatever it is we would fill in the sentence, “consequences, schmonsequences, as long as ____________.”   Because whatever we fill in that blank, is what we’ve placed above God in preeminence and importance.  It’s what we’ve traded the God and Creator of the universe for, and the lie we’ve allowed the enemy to serve up on a silver platter.  All to fool us into a false sense of security, value, and eternal – not temporal – blessing.

Consequences, schmonsequences?  Not so much.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

No remainders

long division

Long division.  You, like most others, probably just cringed.  Let’s face it, who really liked long division?  Actually … I did.  Haha.  There was something intriguing about it for me.  I was blessed and fortunate … for as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved math.  Any kind of math.  All kinds of math.  Including long division.  BUT, I have to say, one of the things about long division I did NOT like was remainders.  You know, when you go through the process of doing the long division and you get to the end – and stop.  Seriously?  I can say with all sincerity that I can remember getting to the point of long division when we continued to the point of at least solving the long division to some number of decimal places.  At least then you sort of finished the job.  That is what I guess I hated about remainders.

It’s the same reason I get perturbed about ties in sports … like soccer or hockey (don’t even get me started about ties in football).  It just doesn’t make sense.  You play an entire game only to get to the end and stop.  Without finishing the job.  Without determining a winner or loser.  Ties.  Remainders.  Bad.

Reading this week through Proverbs 7 – 24, 1 Kings 5 – 6, and 2 Chronicles 2 – 3 brought this to mind as it relates to God.  In particular, a bit of a mosaic formed around several verses, conveying an encouragement that I hope serves to be one for you too.  Following are some verses from Proverbs 10:25, 10:28, 10:30, 11:8, 11:18-19 that got me thinking …

When the storms of life come, the wicked are whirled away, but the godly have a lasting foundation.

The hopes of the godly result in happiness, the expectations of the wicked come to nothing.

The godly will never be disturbed, but the wicked will be removed from the land.

The godly are rescued from trouble, and it falls on the wicked instead.

Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.

Godly people find life; evil people find death.

When I reflected on these (and other) verses, what I was left with is a reminder that God doesn’t have remainders.  What’s that?  Nothing is ever “left over” with Him.  Nothing goes unused.  He always finishes the work.  We may not know how or when it’s used but it’s always used.  There are at least a couple different implications, I believe.

First, nothing that happens in our lives goes to waste.  That’s one of the things with remainders that always bugged me.  Here you go to all this work and you’re left with this little number that just sort of dangles out there, useless.  Well the great thing with God is that whatever our plight, nothing dangles out there useless.  God uses all of our circumstances, all of our situations, all of our experiences … for a purpose.  For His purpose.  So as we go through whatever it is we go through, we can rest in the assurance that He uses it.  Not just for His purpose, but also for our blessing.  Now, that’s not to say that everything that goes on will seem good or feel good or appear good.  In truth, there are all sorts of things in our lives that are anything but.  I get that, and I’m not trying to minimize the real treachery that any of us have gone through, are going through, or likely will go through some day.  But what I am saying is … there will be no remainders.  God will put every bit of it to use, and somehow, some way, some day, in His economy it will be good (Romans 8:28).  But not necessarily good in the way we might want or expect.

Second, it seems to me that the fact that God doesn’t have remainders means that there is nothing in our lives that is insignificant.  There are no unimportant things to God.  We might think, “Oh, God doesn’t care about this or that,” but I’d have to say I disagree.  It might not be that God cares about it for the reasons we would assume, but He cares about it for some reason, whether apparent or not to us.  I think about “white lies” or the things that “no one will notice,” and while in some respects those are small matters, God may care because of what it says about the caliber of our character, or because of an unseen or unforeseen downstream circumstance that comes about.  Let’s face it, rarely do we as temporal humans have the full perspective on what is or isn’t significant.  I’d argue that it’s all significant.  There are no remainders with God.

So what do we do with this?  In my mind, this brings me a sense of encouragement and hopefulness.  To know that the Creator of the universe and of every single living thing, cares enough about me (and you) to bring to fullness every single situation in our lives truly blows my mind.  God loves us so much that never, ever, ever will He let there be a remainder in our stories.  Never will He not finish the problem solving.  Never will He let the seemingly insignificant number just sit there dangling.  He loves us too much.  Let’s face it, that’s what we see in Jesus.  Never once did Jesus cut a corner.  Never did He leave something undone, unhinged, incomplete.  He went all the way … to a horrific death … so that you and I could go all the way … through eternity with Him and His Father and the Holy Spirit.  It wasn’t just on Calvary’s hill, it was and is and forever will be always.  No remainders.

Know with assurance, then, whatever you may be going through, struggling with, encountering, wondering, searching for, etc., the God of the universe is at work.  He is going the distance to solve the problem – in His way – but going to the very last decimal point with NO remainders.  And He’s doing it for YOU.  I pray (and let’s pray for one another) that you feel that in this very moment.  That you draw comfort and fortitude knowing that there will never be a remainder in our lives because of our great, all-knowing, all-powerful God.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR