The Long Winding Road

Have you ever wondered where God was taking you? Or you knew where God was taking you but didn’t understand why it was taking so long?

Deuteronomy 1:2-3 give us a quick glimpse into what it means to follow God:

Normally it takes only eleven days to travel from Mount Sinai to Kadesh-barnea, going by way of Mount Seir. But forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the Lord had commanded him to say.

For you math lovers out there, that means it took the Israelites 1327.3 times longer to get to the East side of the Jordan River than it should have. That’s like taking 22 hours to complete the 1 minute walk to your next door neighbors house. The Israelites didn’t love this. In fact, there are a few times recorded in the Bible where the Israelites start grumbling about wandering in the wilderness instead of being in Egypt where life was good. God was taking forever, and they would rather return to slavery than keep waiting!

But here is the thing about God: He is much less concerned with getting you somewhere than he is with making you into something. He wanted the Israelites to learn to be His people. That was much more important than getting immediately into the promised land. He wanted to make sure they understood who He was (God, not god) and what he required of His people (holiness through obedience and sacrifice) and it took a LONG time for them to learn.

Don’t rush God. If you feel like you are wandering around in the desert of your life right now, find contentment that God is working in you to make you into His image. Don’t try and push ahead of God, that will get you beat up and knocked around. Look for where he is leading you next. It’s ok if you’ve been there before. When trips take a 1000 times longer than they are supposed to, sometimes you cover the same ground a few times. Remember God loves you, has a plan for your life, and will not forget about you.

Wander.
Listen.
Learn.
Follow God in the desert.
He will lead you out of it when the time is right.

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Jesus is Bigger than the Giants

Do you have some trouble because of following Jesus? Do you have enemies that need conquering? Do you see giants on the horizon that strike you with fear? If you choose to follow God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, then life will not always be easy. Jesus even told us as much in John 16:33 when he said, “in this world you will have trouble.”
The great news is that the verse finishes with Jesus saying, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
I remember these words when I read the story of the 12 spies who go into the promised land to scout out the Israelite’s enemies in Numbers 13-14. Moses sends the 12 spies and when they return they all report that it is a land flowing with milk and honey that would be a great place to call home. But 10 of the spies report that there are numerous enemies including some giants that would probably defeat the Israelites should they choose to try to take the land.
But the spies Joshua and Caleb said something different. They called people to remember all that God had done while leading them out of Egypt. They called people to put their faith in a God who continually showed that He was their God and they were His people.
The people chose to live in fear and the punishment was that no adult except Joshua and Caleb ever saw the promised land. They wandered the desert for 40 years and experienced the consequence that came with their lack of faith.
We are faced with the same choice when Satan and his spiritual forces are attacking. We can cower in fear and run away to stop the attack and stay safe or we can move forward while remembering the story of God includes Him as the victor and King. Yes, it be hard. Yes, there will be times that it is scary. Yes, there will be moments when you don’t see your next step clearly. This is necessary where faith is concerned. But God will give you his peace and will be with you every step you take.
Take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. The forces of darkness cannot stand against Him!

The Voice of the Impostor

I have had trouble feeling inspired lately to write. So I haven’t. I’ve slept in. I’ve read. I’ve found other things to do. And that is what it is. For me, here is the problem with not writing:

I have been listening to the voice.

I’m not talking about the Voice, God. I’m talking about the other one. The liar. The impostor. The voice that keeps telling me I’m not good enough and never will be. And I grab hold of that thought and hold on for dear life. That thought, though crushing, is safe. It keeps me from risk and hurt and really trying.

I am tired of safe and risk-free.
I am tired of trying to be good enough.
I am tired of listening to the voice.

The reality is that I don’t have to be “good enough” at writing or youth pastoring or fathering or husbanding or whatever else. “Good enough” says I have to reach some magical number or mark before I am ok. God says something different.

He says He has loved me with an everlasting love.
He says that before I was formed He knew me.
He says that He loves me so much He would give His son for me.
He says that I am His and He is mine.
He says that I am loved so much that I am His adopted son and full heir to His kingdom.

He says nothing about me being good enough. He knows I’m not. That’s why Jesus died for me. Because I am not good enough to make it on my own. I need God.

We each hear the voice that lies to us and tells us we are not good enough.We have to quit listening to it and listen to the God who loves us, know us, and wants to do beautiful things in and through us.

You are loved.
You are enough just as you are.
Tell the voice of the imposter to go away.

Where in your life do you need to quit listening to the voice?

The God of We Over Me

As I have read through Genesis and Exodus in the last couple of weeks I have been struck by a generational look at the work of God. God makes a promise to Abraham and it is generations until that promise is fulfilled. The time in between includes famine, brothers selling each other, slavery, and war. It reminds me that God is the God of all humanity for all time.
Sometimes I get a little caught up thinking God is telling my story. That is why He exists. The truth is the opposite. I exist to tell God’s story and participate in it. 
When I approach God selfishly, I want everything from God right now and in the exact way I want it. It makes me unwilling to wait on Him with expectation for Him to act in His time. The problem is that God’s time is so vastly different from our time. God is not telling a short story or 2-minute YouTube video. He is telling the grand epic redemption story of all things.
THAT TAKES TIME!
It took the 80 years for Moses to grow up and lead the people out of Egypt. It took 40 years of wandering in the desert. It took hundreds of years for the people to enter the promised land and become a people set apart by God. Abraham didn’t see the promise fulfilled. Neither did Isaac or Joseph or Moses. But it didn’t change that God was faithful in his time. The promise was never about what God would do during one person’s life but rather what he was doing among His people over time.
My mom recently told me this story about my grandfather, Harve Schmucker. He thought God wanted him to disciple a group of 12 men. So he started praying for God to bring him those 12 men. He prayed for the first year without having a single man show up. He prayed a second year, same results. After 5 years of praying, still no one. 10 years of praying, same result. In year 20 of praying, something finally happened. God sent twelve men. They were twenty years old. So my grandpa had been praying for them since their birth. Wow! 20 years is a long time to wait on God. But wait my grandpa did and God answered my grandfather’s prayer in His own time.
More and more I realize that God is calling His people to faithfulness even when we don’t understand how and why He is or seemingly isn’t moving. You are not the point of the story. But the main character loves you and will use you to do great things for His kingdom. Seek God and His call on your life and then wait with expectation that He will move for His kingdom and His glory in His time.

A God Who is There

Let me set the scene:
The Israelites have been in Egypt for 350 years. They came there to escape a great famine and were well taken care of and given great land. Unfortunately, they eventually became slaves to the Egyptians. The Israelites spent their days making bricks to build Egyptian cities. At the time of Moses’ birth, the Pharaoh ordered that every baby Israelite boy that was born should be killed to keep the Israelites from multiplying and becoming too big. Their existence was fairly miserable. Here is what Exodus 2:23-25 says happened at this point in history: 

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

God had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Israelites felt like he was forgetting his promises. He was leaving them to be slaves! Let’s look at three important things we see about how God responds to their grumbling and groaning.

1. God Heard
The time between this verse and the Israelites gaining freedom is 80 years! God heard, but he didn’t act immediately. A perceived lack of action from God does not mean he has not heard you. He may be waiting for a Moses to grow up to lead you. But God does hear you when you call out to him. You have to wait expecting God to act on your behalf. Just remember it might not happen as quickly as you would like.

2. God Remembered
God does not forget his promises to us. And he has made a lot of promises to us in the Bible. My friend Dave has been listing the promises of God that he sees on his twitter. He is at 122 and counting. Spend some time reading some of God’s promises and know that He remembers His promises and will see them through. Also know that remembering His promise is not the same as Him being compelled to act immediately. God will work when he works. Remember the 80 years from #1. 

3. God Looked
Sometimes as a parent, it’s easy to hear your kids but not see them. You watch out for them by listening, but you try to accomplish something else while they play. Your attention is divided. When you move from listening to watching, your full attention moves towards your kids. You don’t turn and look when you hear crying, you get up and run before they cry because you see them start to fall. God doesn’t just hear you and remember his promises, he sees you. He is paying attention because he created you and loves you. 
God may not always act in the way and timeframe we want, but it is a wonder that the Creator of all things hears, remembers and sees us. Rest securely in those truths today.

Dealing with Doubt

I grew up believing any doubts I had about God meant I wasn’t a Christian.
The problem with this way of thinking was that I actually had doubts about God. When doubt would fill my heart and mind, I dealt with it by pushing it down and trying to ignore it. Eventually the doubt caught up with me and when it did, it did what all hunters do when they pursue and catch their prey. It devoured me. 
I spent almost three years completely unsure of whether or not God was real and if he really cared about me. I mostly kept this to myself. I didn’t want others Christians to know because I was embarrassed and I hadn’t ever figured out what to do when I struggled with doubt. Now, years later, I think I have an answer for doubt. It is not a cure, but it is a place to start when doubt creeps or rushes in. It comes from looking the man whose name is synonymous with doubt, the disciple Thomas.
Here is Thomas’ story of doubt from John 20:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas missed the first time Jesus appeared to the rest of the disciples. He was probably in line at a super hard to find food truck that made great fish tacos. Whatever the case, he missed it. 

When the other disciples told him he missed it, you know what he didn’t do in his doubt?

He didn’t leave.
He didn’t go ask the local buddhists what they thought.
He didn’t sit at home and watch whatever it is they watched back then. Mud drying? 

The powerful thing Thomas did in the face of his doubt was staying in the most likely place for Jesus to show up again. In doubt we are called to faithfulness. Can you imagine what that week in between was like for Thomas? His faithfulness did not pay off immediately. The rest of the disciples would have been celebrating and remembering the words of Jesus as he predicted his resurrection. Thomas sat and waited, not sure he could believe what they said to him. But he stayed around the rest of the disciples and a very long week later, Jesus showed up to erase his doubt.

Very often when we doubt, we go out looking for answers. We watch tv, listen to the radio, ask co-workers, or try to ignore it while only being able to hear the words of those who don’t believe. The lesson of Thomas is to stay plugged into the people and places where God is likely to show up. He will show up. 

Find people that pray and sit with them. Find people that serve others and serve with them. Go tell a pastor/elder/someone you admire about doubt. If they can’t handle you having doubts, go find someone that can. Listen for stories of God at work, watch for lives that are changed. Ask people their stories of God at work.

But don’t run away. Have courage, be like Thomas, and draw near to where God is most likely to be found.

Following Jesus in the Age of Terrorism

I woke up this morning to see that the probable terrorists in the Boston bombings murdered one more person last night in an attempt to escape. One has so far been successful in eluding authorities, the other was apparently killed.
And today, people will celebrate the man’s death, that he “got what he deserved.” Today, followers of Jesus have to choose to follow Jesus instead of the culture.

Jesus says(from Matthew 5):

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.“You are the light of the world.<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(R)”> A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(S)”> In the same way, let your light shine before others,<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(T)”> that they may see your good deeds<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(U)”> and glorify<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(V)”> your Father in heaven.”“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(AX)”> But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(AZ)”> of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?<sup class="crossreference" style="font-weight: bold; vertical-align: top;" value="(BB)”> Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”

To follow Jesus today means to pray for the remaining suspect. Not for his escape. Pray for his capture, but that it be peaceful. Pray for God to show mercy and break through to this man’s sinful and lost soul. It also means to pray for all who participate in acts of terror and murder in the name of religion. 
To follow Jesus today means to speak of a God who loves people and desires that all would turn toward him.
To follow Jesus today means to not participate in bloodlust. I have read this morning comments wishing and hoping that we would reinstate public hangings for the remaining suspect. If you struggle with the need to see the terrorist in pain, ask God to take away your desire for revenge. 
To follow Jesus today means to find those who would be your enemies and love them. Buy them coffee, give them a compliment, help them without expectation of anything in return. The Bible doesn’t say this will immediately change them, but it is commanded and Romans 13 says that giving a thirsty enemy a drink can lead them to repentance. 

There are lots of other ways to follow Jesus today. Let’s show the rest of our country and the world that Jesus is our only hope and we will follow him.

“Give me Christ or else I die.”

Lessons from a 7 Year Old on How to Pray

Two nights ago Shiloh and I were relaying a few details about the Boston Marathon bombs to the twins so they can hear about it from us and ask us questions rather than from their friends about what happened. As we finish talking, Kennedy looks at us and immediately say, “We should be praying for them!” And so, she led us in a prayer for those in Boston who were hurt or scared. She prayed for their healing and that people would get out of the hospital and that they would get to know Jesus.

She did not pray for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
She did not pray for the liberals or conservatives to realize why it was their fault.
She did not pray for next year’s marathon.
She did pray for the people who were hurt and scared.

And she reminded me that in a world of 24 hour news and commentary, sometimes we can forget what really matters. We can forget people who are scared and hurting, lost and lonely, confused and in need of the grace, peace and love of Christ. So I joined with her in prayer and have continued her prayer since Monday night. Thank you God for 7 year olds who remember you and turn to you quickly.

May we be a people who never forget that God, not our government, is our savior. He is all we need.

Brennan Manning- Love and Grace

One of my favorite authors, Brennan Manning, passed away on Friday. He was a man who seemed to know God’s love and grace in immense ways. I learned a lot from his books over the last 13 or 14 years. His words forced me to consider a God actually loved me so much that he sent Jesus. Not in some theoretical way, but in the mess of my own life I found that God loved me deeply and wanted me to be near to him.
The 2nd chapter of “Abba’s Child” about the imposter was literally life changing. I could own the lies that I was trying to tell myself and others and let them get lost while I got to know Jesus. I didn’t have to be anything other than his beloved. I also learned much about what it means to listen to God and how to pray from Mannings writings.
I tried to pull some quotes from his books last night to share, but I have underlined so much of them that my list quickly started to become it’s own book. So I will share two:

“John (the disciple) did not believe that Jesus was the most important thing; he believed that Jesus was the only thing.”
“Jesus loves us as we are and not as we should be because none of us is as we should be.”

Look and Pray

I have been posting a lot of prayers during my sabbatical because of the time it gives me to pray. I am enjoying the large amounts of time to be still and wait for the Lord immensely. This morning I came across Colossians 4:2, which tells us something of how to pray:

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

This verse tells us three things about prayer:

  1. Be devoted to it
  2. Be alert and ready
  3. Be thankful

As I sit in the early morning hours and read these words, my tired eyes are drawn to number 2. What does it mean to be alert and ready? The original greek word (gregoreuo) means to keep awake, refrain from sleep and so to remain alert, watchful and ready to meet danger or emergency. It means to be quick to perceive and act; being on the lookout.

We have to be ready prayer at all times! I think this seems easy until I think about how often I am drawn to prayer during the day. A hint, it’s not real often some days. If I’m devoted to prayer and being watchful, most of my day should be drawing me to prayer.

Why is be watchful for opportunities to pray important? It is holy work. It is the work of setting your mind on the things of heaven and then praying that it may be on earth as it is in heaven. I think this can look many different ways. A few suggestions:

  • When someone needs prayer, pray with them right then rather than later by yourself. If you are alert, you will be ready and see the opportunity.
  • Set aside regular times each day to stop and pray. At the church we stop each day at 10am and 2pm for 10-15 minutes of prayer. Making it a regular habit helps me be alert.
  • Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. It will help you know when there is danger or emergency that you are to be meeting head on with prayer.
Right now I find myself in the midst of that third one, cultivating a deep inner prayer life and connection to the Holy Spirit. It seems slippery. For me, it is no easy thing to listen to and feel connected with the Holy Spirit. I think it takes work to learn. So I am working. And praying.

How can I pray for you today?