One of my favorite Old Testament scriptures is found in the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, verse 14. If you've read my book, "The Reasonable Person" you know that I advocate reading the entire chapter, in order to really understand the scripture. I think it's risk to come to a conclusion based upon a single scripture taken out of contest.
This scripture is the exception. It says simply: "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
Certainly, the context of this verse is fascinating. Moses has led the nation of Israel out of Egypt, and out of slavery to the Pharaoah. The Pharoah and his army is in deadly pursuit of the Israelites. Imagine seeing the legions of Pharoah's army: the dust cloud created by chariot after chariot and horses, heavily armed soldiers on foot. You, on the other hand, are unarmed, hungry, worn out from a lifetime of slavery. A gut-wrenching sense of panic overwhelms you. You can almost feel the sharp edge of the Egyptian sword bearing down on your neck.
God tells you to be still.
It's is exactly the opposite of what every fiber, every cell in your body are telling you to do. Your legs tremble involuntarily, poised to run to your inevitable death.
He tells you that He will fight for you.
This requires a kind of faith that you know you don't have, a super-human faith. You think: "How could anyone just be still when the Egyptian army is moments away from slaughtering me and everyone around me?"
It is clearly hopeless.
What follows is arguably the greatest miracle described in the Old Testament. You've probably heard it called "the parting of the Red Sea." Moses stretches out his hand and the Israelites cross over the sea bed. He does it again, and the sea consumes the entire Pharoah army- every single one of them.
Are you in the middle of something today that seems hopeless? Perhaps its the loss of a job or your home, or your spouse. Or, maybe life has simply beaten you down. You are like the Israelite slaves, beaten and worn out from servitude to a life that doesn't really care what happens to you. It's a life that has taken from you and replaced it with an unbearable emptiness.
He will fight for you.
But you have to let Him do it. And here's another thing. Often, He knows better than we do, what is best for us. This means that our prayers, at least for the moment, remain unanswered. The truth, however, is that even as you read this, He is in the process of answering your prayers. It may not always look exactly like you thought it would look, but He will answer them. And with the passage of time, you look back and realize that He did fight for you. He did it better than anything you could have imagined.
I've seen it happen time and time again in my own life. Certainly, there are times when I pray for something and the prayer is answered exactly. But more often than not, I pray for something that I realize later (based upon the way He answered that prayer), that I was so near-sighted by the situation before me that I didn't really even know what to pray for.
But He did.
So, sometimes it's best to simply be still. Let Him handle it.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that if you do, He will.Scripture is from the New International Version, copyright 1973, 1978,
1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights
reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
An old joke defines a "split second" as the time it takes for the light to turn green and the angry driver behind you to honk.
Let me offer another definition for the term. A split second is that flash of time when you have a choice between right and wrong.
Someone offends you. In a split second, you can decide to fight back, or you can decide to let it go. Someone needs a helping hand. In a split second, you decide whether or not to help. A co-worker complains about another co-worker. In a split second you decide to participate, piling on criticism. Or, you decide to stay out of it, or perhaps even defend the person. And the classic: a driver in front of you, on her cell phone, oblivious, cuts within three feet of your front bumper, no signal, no nothing. You decide to become enraged and use the universal hand gesture for bad drivers. Or, you decide to let it roll off.
We've convinced ourselves that we "have a temper." We believe that we are addicted to alcohol, drugs, lust, spending or anger. We can't help it. It's simply the way we are.
The truth is that we have the power to choose. Every day, we make hundreds of decisions. There may only be a split second between the time the options are presented and the decision is made. But it's made.
We can choose for good, or we can choose for evil. We can choose for God, or we can choose for ouselves. We can follow His instruction and His will for us. Or we can ignore them. But from the moment of our birth, He gave us the power to choose. You might think that it's impossible to choose good every time; after all we are only human. That's why we have the example of Jesus. He was a man, but chose God's will every time.
So, the next time you are faced with a decision in traffic, at work, at home or anywhere else, remember that you do have a choice. It may seem that you only have a split second to make a decision, but that is illusory. In reality, you can stop, evaluate and then decide.
Decide for good.
Once, when we were in the midst of what seemed like an endless routine of feeding, diaper changing and the rest of the relentless baby care routine, I complained to my father-in-law. He was visiting for a few days and I complained that the whole routine was exhausting. Between these obligations and my work obligations, I felt like I was about at the end of my rope.
He looked at me for a minute, and said: "Count your blessings." "Great," I thought, "a Christian cliche. That and $2.00 will get me a latte."
My father-in-law (as he usually is) was right. When you are down, depressed or simply at the end of your rope, count your blessings. Think of all the good things that have happened to you in your life. Name them, one by one. Count them. Then, think of the Source of those good things. Thank Him for them.
When things look the bleakest, remember that He has delivered you before and He will deliver you again. He has provided for you. And no matter what happens, he has always made things right. Why would He stop doing that now?
Learn to count your blessings when you are down. It will recalibrate your thinking. It will put things into perspective. You'll realize that whatever it is that you are going through is temporary, and for a reason.
God can do anything. He can and will make it right. You don't have to do anything, other than trust Him.
If you are like me, when you count your blessings in earnest you will quickly lose count. God has so abundantly blessed me that I simply can't count all of them.
In one way, Jesus didn't spend a lot of time giving advice to people. His focus was simple- loving God and loving man. But He was pretty adamant about worrying. His instruction is clear- don't worry (take a read through Matthew 6 and Luke 12).
And yet, we do it. Most of us do it every day. For me, it's a control thing. For that matter, not worrying seems almost neglectful. After all, if there's a problem, then someone needs to be doing something about it. Or, at least that's how I rationalize it. Sure, Jesus told me not to. But (and again, rationalizing) He's just giving me kindly advice because He cares about me.
There's another way to think about it. Jesus said don't do it. Don't worry. He went to great lengths to explain why worry is pointless. Therefore, when I worry I'm doing something He told me not to do. That's sin. Given that there aren't a lot of things (at least recorded in the gospels) that He doesn't want me to do, his instruction not to worry takes on added importance.
When it's all over and I meet Him, I want Him to say, "Well done." By definition, this means I've lived my life doing the things that He wants me to do. And it means not doing the things he doesn't want me to do. LIke not worrying.
I would do well to remember it the next I begin to worry. And simply stop doing it. I'll feel better. And it's what He wants me to do.
My dad died at 57 of a heart attack. I turned 57 this year. I suppose this could indeed be my last year on earth. Or perhaps I might have another 30 left.
It's a sobering thought. Sooner or later, we'll all depart this life. If we don't believe in an afterlife, it's just depressing. The clock is ticking and we are all running out of time. However, if we believe that there is something after this life, it gets more complicated. We have to figure out what "afterlife" means- is there a heaven? If so, what, if anything, do we have to do to get there? And finally, if there is a heaven, is there also hell?
In my book, "The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic, and Faith," I discuss the reasoning process I went through to decide that heaven and hell are real. I also discuss the impossibility of earning one's way into heaven.
I'll go out on a limb here, but logic aside, I think that most people believe the same thing. This belief is the basis for most of the world's religions. It just feels right. If humankind did not believe in an afterlife, then it would quickly devolve into a dog-eat-dog mentality- each of us taking for ourselves without considering others. Our history has certainly had plenty of examples of this; however, these people are sociopathic anomalies and not the norm.
But that's not the purpose of this blog post.
Instead, I would like to speak to Christians about eternal judgment.
It's not something most of us think about. After all, we are forgiven, thanks to Jesus. We've received a free one-way ticket to heaven. However, "forgiven" is not the same thing as "exempt from prosecution." The bible tells us repeatedly that there everyone will be judged. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul explains it eloquently- Christians do what we do because one day, we will all be judged by Christ for our actions.
He's not going to send us to hell. But if we've acted badly during our earthly lives, I would imagine He will not be too happy about it. This is why, even though we are heaven-bound, we continue to fight the good fight, just as Paul did.
When I look at eternity and compare it to the few years I have left on this earth, the decision should be easy. I should decide to act the way that Jesus taught me to act. But I don't.
It's sort of like dealing with a small child's fears. You can explain that her fears our groundless. Unless she makes a decision to overcome the fear, she will remain controlled by it. Eventually, over time, she will come to realize that you were right.
In the grand scheme of eternity, anything that can happen to you on earth during this life, is completely unimportant. At the same time, the decisions you make- how you act; how you treat others, are all "evidence" in terms of your eternal judgment.
When you face your Maker in heavenly court, what do you want the evidence to show? That you acted selfishly, fearfully, greedily, dishonestly . . . evilly? Or, do you want the evidence to show that you acted as He would have had you act? Certainly, for many of us, like me, the evidence has substantially accumulated. This could either discourage you or inspire you.
I'm going to choose to let it inspire me. For whatever remaining years, or minutes, I have left, I'm going to live as best as I can, in the way that He intended for me to live. When He evaluates my record, He will see plenty of mistakes. But I'm sure He will also consider the extenuating circumstances- I simply didn't always know what I was doing.
But today, going forward, I do. And I want Him to look at this portion of the record and say, "Well done."
Let's face it. Visitors to your church are a pain. They upset the dynamics of your routine. They don't know the drill. Someone has to explain it to them- where the kid's classes are, etc. They didn't bring a Bible and when the plate is passed, they just look at it vacantly and pass it on.
Visitors just slow things down and get in the way. Precious time that could be spent with our friends is wasted on people who probably visit once or twice, only to be never heard from again.
We grew up going to church with our families; they didn't. We went to college; they didn't. We're good Christians . . . it's obvious, isn't it? All you have to do is look at that glow in our smiles. As to these visitors, well, it's just as obvious that their lives have been . . . let's just leave it at "less than optimized."
We can save everyone a lot of time and trouble if we nip this in the bud at the outset. The bottom line is that the best way to deal with church visitors is to make them feel as unwelcome as possible. The following are some tips to help you do just that:
1. Ignore them. This is the easiest and perhaps the most important tool in our arsenal. Don't make eye contact. Instead, stick closely with your friends. Eventually, they'll go away.
2. Hire church staff who will ignore them. Church staff are paid to care for the needs of the flock, after all. We aren't paying them to take care of outsiders.
3. Create as much bureacracy as possible. Make sure that your senior pastor understands his/her role as a sort of CEO. He or she has built this church into what it is today. They can't be bothered with the mundane spiritual needs of visitors or newbies, or spiritually needy people.
Granted, gospel accounts tell us that Jesus made himself available to pretty much anyone who had a need. But then again, Jesus didn't have email, a website, a blog or a sermon to write every week.
4. If you have smaller group activities, make sure that it is impossible for visitors to participate. The best way to do this is to have an annual enrollment period and make sure that you do not, under any circumstances, provide any information to visitors as to these groups. You don't want to give them any ideas.
For that matter, make sure that the bureacracy that you create makes it impossible for visitors to particpate in anything. We certainly don't want them to get any ideas that they can pitch in- teach a class, say a prayer, help with the collection plate, etc. If they participate, they might actually feel like they are part of your group; like they have some ownership in it. It will make them feel almost as if they belong. And this is a real problem.
5. Never, ever, admit anything. The happier and more perfect your lives seem, the more that these visitors will realize that they don't fit in. If you ever admit sin or troubles, they might somehow identify with you and decide to stick around.
6. Always ask yourself: "What wouldn't Jesus do?" Then do it. If they actually see Jesus in your church, you'll never be able to get rid of them.
We can all save everyone a lot of wasted time and energy if we simply lay the cards out on the table. We've worked way too hard to build our church into what it is today. The last thing we need is someone coming in that might cause us to change the way we think, or the things we do.
And after all, challenging the religious status quo causes nothing but trouble for everyone.
"The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic, and Faith" came out last week (it's on Amazon
). I was thrilled and excited to see it in print. It was a seven-year project and there were many days where I wondered whether it would actually come to fruition.
Somehow, I kept plodding along. There were days when I wrote; there were days when I edited. The editing phase, ironically enough, is the phase where one is most likely to walk away from the project. This is because the writer is faced with the stark reality of his talent, skill and ability. In other words, the writer/ editor has to read his own work, critique it, and if possible, remedy any of its shortcomings.
When I edited, the negative self-talk (actually, I believe that this "self-talk" often originates from a much darker place) would typically go something like: "Who do you think you are? What makes you think that anyone would want to read what you've written?" On some days, my self-response might go something like this: "You know, you have a point." I know this seems like a weird exchange, but suspect that many of you have had similar experiences.
In any event, on other days, my self-response was different. Simply, I believed I had a job to do and a Boss to do it for. Something deep within me said that I needed to finish the project. And every now and again, something would happen, something would resonate for me, that would subtly signal me that I was on the right track. It might be a snippent of scripture that a preacher used in a sermon, that happened to be the same scripture I had wrestled with the day before, while writing. Or, it might be something less metaphysical- an issue at work or at home, that illustrated perfectly a point I had dissected in the book.
So, my fingers kept moving on the keyboard, slowly plodding toward the finish line.
Now that the book is finished, I have an even broader perspective on the project. I read a couple of chapters in it this morning and was absolutely struck by something. The truth is, I didn't write this book. Sure, my fingers did the typing. My brain processed the inputs. But the net result suggests an Author with skills well beyond anything this author brings to the table.
To be clear, I'm not saying that God wrote the book. I did. But throughout the process of writing it, I did my humanly best to hear Him and apply it to the keyboard. It is likely that in some cases, I didn't really hear what He had to say. Or, perhaps I misinterpreted Him. That's the human condition. I want to do what I want. And much of the time I do it. Occasionally, I allow Him to get through. I do what He wants, not what I want. But often, I do what I want.So, if you find something good in the book, it's probably because I happened to be listening closely to Him that day. If you find something bad in the book, then it is likely that I was doing more talking than listening.
We've all got bosses- work bosses, kid bosses, spouse bosses, and all of the rest of it. The real question is who is going to be your boss this day, at this moment. Are you going to serve Him? Or are you going to serve you?
If you've never read the story of Joseph, the dreamer, it is a fantastic lesson for all of us on how God works in our lives. Joseph was the son of Jacob, who was the son of Isaac. Isaac, as you may remember, was nearly sacrificed by his father Abraham, at God's direction. Ultimately, God provided the sacrifice, and blessed Abraham beyond comprehension.
Joseph is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Later, he is wrongly accused of rape and imprisoned. Throughout all of it, Joseph remains faithful to God.
My prayer for today:
Help me to be like Joseph. No matter what life throws at me, let me remain true and faithful to you. Help me to be Jesus. Let me love others, no matter who they are or what they do. Give me a forgiving heart. Show me a need in someone today and give me the resources to fill it. Change my criticism of others into love for them. And most of all, I thank you for all of it- my life, my incredible blessings and my eternal assurance. You have given me beyond all imagination. I pray that you will use me to show others this day, through the example of my life, your incredible grace and mercy, provided by the sacrifice of your Son.
For the purpose of this discussion, let's set aside for a moment the argument about whether or not the Bible is literally accurate. Instead, let's assume that some biblical stories are metaphor. I know it sounds heretical, and I don't personally believe it, but for this discussion, let's assume that some of the stories are metaphorical life lessons. I just don't want you to get distracted from the point of this post. We can debate later about biblical accuracy.
We humans are funny creatures.
Adam and Eve had it all. They had everything that they needed. God, the supreme Creator of the universe, created them and provided for them as only their Creator could. He knew what they needed. He knew what was best for them. And until the serpent came along, they thought they had everything that they wanted.
But Satan came along and planted a little seed of doubt. "Surely God didn't mean that you couldn't eat fruit from that tree, did He? That makes no sense. Why would God create a tree for you, if He didn't want you to eat from it? You know what? I'll bet He's worried that you will become as powerful as He is. Yeah, that's it. He doesn't care if you eat the fruit- He just doesn't want you to have what He has."
And blah, blah, blah.
A number of generations later, God has freed the nation of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Formerly slaves and at the very bottom rung of the hierarchy, now, they were free. God had delivered them from Pharoah and his army. God parted the Red Sea, allowed Israel to cross, and closed it back up on top of the Egyptian army. They didn't even have to worry that Pharoah would come after them. God had taken care of them.
As part of their Exodus to the Promised Land, God provided them with a heavenly food, called "manna" to eat. Manna doesn't exist today, but based upon the biblical description, it appears to be a flour or meal of sort, from which cakes were made. It may not have been prime rib, but it was what they needed to survive. God had instructed them not to store any of it. Instead He would provide for them on a daily basis.
It wasn't enough. Eventually, the Israelites complained to their leader Moses. They were sick of manna. But some of them decided that they would save it, just in case. "What if God skips a day with the manna? How will I feed my family? What if He doesn't give me enough? I should save some up, just in case. Sure, He said for us not to do it. But He couldn't have really meant it. Who does He think He is anyway, God?"
And blah, blah, blah.
We might read these stories and say, "I would never do that. If God told me to do something, of course I would obey Him." We might look at the Israelites as prideful and foolish. After all, how smart is it to disobey God?
Here's the point. We all do exactly the same thing. We do what the nation of Israel did, time and time again. God provides exactly what we need, but it isn't enough. We have to take matters into our own hands, just in case He doesn't.
God wants one thing from us. He wants us to have faith in Him. If we have faith in Him, the rest of it- obedience, resisting temptation, loving others, dealing with all the bad stuff- anger, lust, gluttony, you name it; it will all take care of itself.
I do it every day. Actually, I'm kidding myself. I do it every hour. Maybe even that is an exaggeration. I fall out of faith and turn to myself to deal with something, about every ten seconds.
The hardest thing to do, but the most important thing we can do is to remain in a faith relationship with God. We have faith in His plan. His plan required His Son to be sacrificed for the sins of all mankind. We have faith that Jesus paid the price, for every single sin I have committed and ever will. That faith frees us up to have faith in God for every single step that we take, from that point forward. If our sins are forgiven, and our eternal salvation is assured, then the rest of our lives are simple window dressing by comparison. Sure, we want to live as He wants us to live while were here on Earth for 70 or 80 years (assuming that we die of natural causes). But in the grand scheme of things, our eternal life with Him, makes this life pretty unimportant, by comparison.
So we respond in gratitude to Him. We live as He wants us to live. We read His word and pray to Him, to try and discern how He wants us to live. And we try to do it every single second of every single day.
Anything else is like Adam and Eve. Or, it's like the wandering nation of Israel, grumbling about manna.
And blah, blah, blah.
What if Heaven was like a hospital? The hospital is filled will all kinds of sick people. Some of the patients are seriously ill. These people have cancer. The hospital does all that it can to treat them. Doctors administer chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In some cases, radical surgery is necessary. Organs are removed in order to give these victims a chance at life. But nothing seems to be working. The cancer simply and relentlessly keeps coming back.
Eventually, the patients grow weary of the exhausting and debilitating treatments. They begin to give up hope. For them, life ibecomes a constant state of dread, sadness and worry.
But one day, something miraculous happens. On that day, every single patient is cured of cancer. Through testing, the doctors confirm it. Each one of the doomed people is now somehow and inexplicably cancer-free.
Imagine how these formerly terminal patients would feel. They have been given new lives. Hopelessness is replaced with an incredible sense of joy and wonder. Now think about their problems. They probably still have mortgages and car payments. People still cut them off in traffic and conversations. There lives are, in a way, exactly the same as they were before their illness. They still have problems, worry and fears.
But something has changed. Their problems just don't seem the same as they did before, in comparison with what they were facing when they were sick. They find themselves willing to forgive others more readily. In a way, they won a lottery of sorts and everything else pales in comparision. They didn't do anything to earn their healing. It was a miraculous free gift.
What if you were suddenly given a similar gift? But instead of being a gift of life, it was a gift of eternal life. What if Someone gave you a free ticket to an eternal life of happiness, comfort and peace in an almost indescribably wonderful setting?
Chances are, the things of this life would concern you less. You would probably realize that, relatively speaking, you would have only a few years left here on Earth. You would most likely begin to anticipate your afterlife. When people cut you off in traffic, or in the middle of a sentence, you wouldn't mind as much. You would probably put it all into an eternal perspective. Knowing that your eternal destiny was assured, you wouldn't sweat the small stuff, or much of anything else for that matter.
One other thing: if this happened to you, you probably wouldn't be able to contain yourself. You would feel compelled to share this almost too good to be true news with others. You'd want them to take advantage of this free gift..