Category Archives: Make Every Effort

When God’s Heart Sings

The Lord takes his place in court;

he rises to judge the people.

The Lord enters into judgment

against the elders and leaders of his people:

“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;

the plunder from the poor is in your houses.

What do you mean by crushing my people

and grinding the faces of the poor?”  (Isa 3:13-15)

In life coaching, we talk about finding and doing the things that make your “heart sing.”  These are the things we’re wired to do, and when we do them, we feel alive and on purpose.  For me, this includes being in nature, discovering insights in the Bible, singing spiritual songs, coming up with ideas, dancing, engaging in the arts.

But I started thinking this week, “What makes God’s heart sing?”

Surely his heart sings as he watches the amazing and everchanging dance of his creation on earth.  As Genesis says, “And God saw that it was good.”

But I think his heart also sings when people are devoted to him and they subsequently flourish, and become all they were designed to be.

Sadly, this is not often the case.

We’re going to come to Isaiah 5 later, but  I want to refer to it now because it lets us know so well what God’s heart is.  God says, “I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard.”  He goes on to describe Judah as a field that he planted with careful work and great anticipation, and then asks, “When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?”  The passage concludes, “And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.”

So that’s why God is angry and promises judgement in Isaiah 3.  The individuals who comprise his dream are harming one another.  His beloved planting is bearing bitter fruit instead of flourishing.

Will there ever be a happy song for God’s heart?  In Zehpaniah 3, God promises,

“Then I will purify the lips of the peoples,

that all of them may call on the name of the Lord 

and serve him shoulder to shoulder. . . .

 I will remove from you your arrogant boasters. . .

But I will leave within you the meek and humble. 

The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord . . .

The Lord your God is with you,

the Mighty Warrior who saves

He will take great delight in you;

in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

but will rejoice over you with singing.

Isn’t this incredible?

There are two things we can learn from this passage.

First, that God intended to purify his people so they would become what they were created to be.  I believe that Christians today are these purified people.  I love this description in Ephesians, 5:26b- 27  “just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”  What a picture of tender adoration!  Surely, when we are purified through Christ and live holy lives, God’s heart is singing!

Second, that humility is so key.  God’s plan is set in motion when we are humble and trusting. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you.” I Peter 5:6

So I want to remember, and keep this as my goal — to be pure and holy, to be humble.

Surely I want to be the fulfillment of all God’s dreams.  I want to know that I make his heart sing.  I want to think of him smiling as he looks at me.

And know that as I fulfill all I am designed to be, I can fulfill God’s dreams as well.

They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.  Isa 60:21

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.  John 15:8

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Eph 2:10

But I must also face that I too often fall short.  So I remember this picture of God taking his place in court.

Some of the judgment will take place at the last day.  But we also experience a judgment in the form of consequences for our actions every day.

Two nights ago, my neighbor died.  She had a heart attack.  There were five emergency vehicles parked on the street, with lights flashing, as it poured down rain and the EMTs worked to save her life.

And I thought about how I have lived across the street from this woman for nine years, and never built much of a relationship with her.

Sure, she kept to herself.  The time or two I did talk to her she didn’t seem interested in pursuing a friendship.

But now I regret that I didn’t reach out a little more.  If there is anyone I should love as myself, it is my neighbor.  But I let the selfishness and preoccupation of my heart win out.  And the consequence is that I didn’t build a connection that I could have.  God’s love wasn’t spread.  I didn’t really give his field a chance to be developed.

I have a new chance today to live better.

May I seek to make God smile.

May I become a part of his song.

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Filed under Beauty of God, Delighting in God, Isaiah, Make Every Effort, Synchonicity

Getting Past the Point of Holding Back

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.  But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 3:8-11

I love this passage.  Of course, it isn’t good to think that we might be robbing the Almighty God.

But I love the promise that if we give to God, he is going to pour out blessings on us.  This isn’t a prosperity gospel thing.  To me, it’s just a spiritual law.  If we put God first with any part of our life, we will have a return:

  • For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  Luke 9:24
  • Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work  II Cor 9:6-8
  • “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:29-30
  • But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Matt 6:33

Yet it is so hard to bring the “whole tithe” into the storehouse.  For me, it’s not the money that’s as hard to give.  It’s time. It’s doing the challenging things for God, like sharing my faith.  It’s pouring myself out to new friends.

Because I want to hold back in these things.  I want to preserve my resources.  I never know how much energy I am going to have, or how good I will feel.

So I’m hesitant to give.

I did a study on what it means to “bring the whole tithe in to the storehouse.

First of all, the Jews were commanded to give the Lord a tenth of what they brought in at harvest: “You must set aside a tithe of your crops–one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”  Deut 14

This tithe would be used to support those who were formally serving the Lord: “The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.  For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.”  Numbers 10:38-39

Tithes were also to be taken up to support the poor:  “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the LORD your God will bless you in all your work.”  Deut 14:28-29.

So the Jews were supposed to take the very food that was to sustain them out of their larder, and give it to sustain others.  This had to be difficult.  I picture someone looking at the piles of grain, and jars of wine and oil they’ve worked hard to gather, and then taking some of the bags and jars and intentionally setting them aside, knowing they won’t have them if there is a year of drought.

It truly was a faith thing. They were giving away their hedge for the future.  They had to believe that if they gave some of their sustenance away, God was going to take care of them and “bless them in all their work.

And it’s the same with all of us.  We have to believe that when we give to God, he take care of us in our time of drought; that when we pour ourselves out for him, he will replenish us.

Here is one part of the spiritual principle of giving that I think is very important to understand:  God doesn’t necessarily give us a direct return for our service, but there is a return.  It isn’t like giving to a bank, where you earn a set interest rate.  It isn’t like planting a seed in the ground, where you know a plant will result.  It’s more ambiguous.  The Jews couldn’t say, “I tithed, so tomorrow it will rain.”  They just had to believe that God would reward this tithe in some form or fashion so their needs would be met.

And this encourages me.  Because when it comes to serving the Lord, I WANT to see a direct return.  I want to feel like, “Okay, I shared my faith with those people, now they should become Christians.”  And of course this often doesn’t happen.

But what does happen is that God blesses my efforts with an indirect return.   Out of the blue, someone calls and says they want to come to church.  All of a sudden there are people who want to start studying the Bible. We can know that our work will not be in vain.

Here is my conclusion:   If we don’t hold back, God won’t hold back! 

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:38

Since I’ve been studying this, I have been trying to share my faith more.  Earlier this week I was passing the time with a bellhop at the Auburn Hotel while I was waiting for the desk clerk.  We got to talking about church, and at some point, I was uncharacteristically candid with him about what distinguishes our church.  “We try to make Jesus Lord, but for some reason people don’t want that.”  He sympathized, but I guess he wasn’t at a point of wanting it either.

Later, I talked to a grocery check out clerk who thought it was awesome that I was buying things to cook dinner for house church, and wanted to hear all about it.  Yet when I invited her to join, she just smiled.

That evening at house church, we all filled up on spaghetti.  Then we sat in a circle and sang, “10,000 Reasons” by Matt Redman: “Praise the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name.  Sing like never before…”

It was one of those perfect moments.  We were full and satisfied.  I looked around and saw people I love singing from their hearts to God.  We were all enjoying the antics of the adorable children in our midst.  We were a spiritual family.  There was a glow and warmth in the room.

And I thought, “This is the feast I invited people to attend.  But they didn’t realize what they could have.”

I think that’s what God was trying to say.  He was telling the Jews, “”I’m inviting you to a feast!  Don’t you realize what you could have, if you’ll just give what I ask?”

God is still saying that to us today.  He wants to “graciously give us all things.”  (Romans 8:32)  He will do “immeasurably more.”  (Eph 3:20)  We just have to get past the point of holding back, past our fears, past our need to control, past the emotional baggage from the past.  Instead, let us joyfully pour ourselves out for him with the faith that there will be a return.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Col 3:24

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Filed under Faith, Make Every Effort, Malachi, Perseverance, Uncategorized

Peace in the Striving to Give Our Best

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.  Mal 1:6-9

What does it mean to give our best to God?  This passage paints a very emphatic picture of the importance of giving our first fruits, and how it is seriously wrong it is to offer less than our best to God.

My problem is that passages like these can be a guilt trap for me, a snare of legalism. I can start thinking that I need to be giving more to God. And it is true. We really do need to make every effort to enter through the narrow door.  We need to work as if working for the Lord.

But we can’t get on the performance roller coaster, and feel up or down, or that we’re doing well or poorly, because of how we are giving to the Lord at that particular time.

So how can we be motivated to be excellent, and still find peace? How do we find contentment if we are constantly striving to do better?

Maybe one way is to simply accept our lot as servants.

So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’  Luke 17:10

There’s something beautiful and fulfilling about pouring ourselves out for the one we love. As the hymn says, “His service is our sweetest delight.”

Another way is to just focus on loving God. If I direct my thoughts and heart to loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, a wonderful feeling washes over me, and I cease my unrest.

But what I want to talk about most here is the peace that God supplies.  To address this subject, I want to remind everyone that God’s heart for  his people is one of “hesed:” which means “covenant loyalties.” In the Old Testament, we can see how the Lord stuck with His people over and over again, acting on their account, having patience with them, meting out consequences for their stubborn waywardness, but then bringing them back to Him once again.

So Malachi reflects one of God’s last prophetic expression of hesed.  He is basically saying, “I’ve been committed to you, but have you been committed to me?”  After a history of rescuing them, God has now  brought his people out of Babylonian captivity, back to Jerusalem. They should be overflowing with thanks, ready to serve Him wholeheartedly.  But instead, they bring Him diseased offerings.

Doesn’t this sound like all of us? God has done so very much for us.  But we can’t seem to reciprocate in kind.

This quote by Douglas Coupland really resonates with me: “Now—here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God – that I am sick and no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”

I relate to this quote because I also reach the point where I can’t do the things I want to do.

It’s such an irony. We must give our best to God, our first fruits. Yet we are like the Israelites, who continually sink back into blind selfishness and only give a pittance.

And then we need God to help us give.

I want to share a story from this past weekend. Ken and I went down to visit an old high school friend who was having a hard time and needed some encouragement.  Many years ago, Ken baptized this friend, but after a short time, the friend left the Lord. We hoped to be able to rekindle some spark of this friend’s faith.

I wanted so much to be a light for this friend, to show Christ by my life.  But instead I felt like a rusty sputtering machine, like all my gears weren’t working, and my spirituality just wasn’t flowing.

We had this awesome church in mind where we wanted to take our friend Sunday morning.  But it didn’t work out for us to go there, and we had to settle for taking him some place else.  And on Sunday morning, as I was feeling uneasy about the way things were going, I felt in the Spirit that it would be great for our friend to hear the story of the Prodigal Son, and I prayed  that the sermon message would be on the Prodigal Son.

Lo and behold, the message WAS on the Prodigal Son!  It gave Ken and I a great springboard to share with our friend, and talk to him about his faith.

You see, the point of all this is that when our offering to the Lord seems paltry, God steps in and makes up the rest.  He makes it clear to us that He is bigger than our efforts, and we can trust His working.

The Malachi passage above would be feel hopeless to me, except for one little verse, “Now plead with the Lord to be gracious to us.”  In our insufficiency, we can always petition for the sufficiency of His grace.

So in conclusion, we really DO need to strive to give God our best.  The prophet Malachi makes it very clear.  Every day we must renew the determination in our heart to be excellent. We must remind ourselves that He has been lovingly committed to us, and reciprocate.

But we must also remember that every day we will fall short.

And because God loves us dearly and fiercely, He’s not letting go of us when fall short. Instead, He expands His goodness to cover our lack.

We find peace in the realization that God fills in the gaps between our inadequacies.

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.  II Cor 8:12

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Filed under Grace, Make Every Effort, Malachi, Peace, Relationship with God, Uncategorized

The Jesus We Need to Make It Through

As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”

Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.”    Mark 13:306

As I read this, it really hit me that people need to see the REAL Jesus, not a deceptive one.  And I began to realize I haven’t always been reflecting the real Jesus to my friends.

Because I want to make Jesus easy for my friends.

When my friends are having a hard time, I want to empathize with them, and tell them it’s okay. I don’t want to be seen as self-righteous or closed minded by telling them they have to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is.


After all, I haven’t walked a mile in their footsteps, I don’t know what they’re going through.  Would I be able to do better if I were in their shoes?

So I’m soft and I let them settle.


And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong.  I really don’t have the wisdom to understand what they’re going through, or what their journey should look like.

The thing is, though, that I may be withholding from them the thing that could help them most – the real Jesus.  Yes, I tell them about the Jesus who is loving and compassionate, and this is vital.  Without these qualities in Jesus, we could never make it.  We need his understanding and loving mercies so desperately.

But we also need the hard-nosed Jesus.  We need the Jesus who set his face towards Jerusalem and gutted it through to his death.  We need the Jesus who pushed through in the garden and kept praying until he had the heart to do the right thing.  We need the Jesus who willingly took the way of suffering.

Because we’re all going to suffer, and if our only goal is to end that suffering, we’re going to miss the point.  It’s in pushing through the suffering that we are able to grow, overcome and be our best.  If we just settle for where we are because it’s too hard and painful try to do better, we’ll never become the best version of ourselves.  We cheat ourselves of the joy of victory, the joy of being our best selves.

I’ve got to reflect the beneficent Jesus, but I also have to call people to follow the Jesus who never did what he wanted, but always sought to please the Father (John 8:29), the Jesus whose sweat was like drops of blood as he prayed to be able to do the right thing, (Luke 22:44) the Jesus who gave his ALL.

Unless I show my friends this Jesus, and call them to imitate him, I am leaving out the one thing that can help them through their trials: the Jesus who found a way to be righteous when it was hard. THIS is their lifeline! Because there IS a way through. There’s a better place ahead, if they’ll just keep fighting.

If you read the whole chapter of Mark 13, you see that Jesus was sending a clear message to his listeners:  struggles and hard times were coming.  This is a message people have never wanted to hear.

Case in point, we all love Jeremiah 29:11, and how God has plans to give us a hope and a future. But right before that in 29:8 He said, “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have.”

The Israelites were going to have to go through seventy years of captivity before they got to the place where God was going to bless them.  And they didn’t want to hear about that.  They wanted to listen to false prophets who would tell them it wasn’t going to happen.

We all gather around us teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear (II Tim 4:3), that we’re going to be free from struggles.

itching ears

Is this how the early disciples encouraged one another? By telling them that life doesn’t have to be hard?

Acts 14 says of Paul and Barnabas, “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,they said.

Paul and Barnabas built up the churches by telling them that they would be in for a hard time.

What was the real Jesus Paul preached? Here is a part of his sermon in Acts 13:

Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have (Jesus) executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people. Acts 13:28-31

Paul preached the Jesus who suffered, died and came back to life.

THIS is the Jesus we imitate in our lives, and encourage our friends to imitate.  We get beaten down by life, but we rise again!  We live out the gospel over, and over again, as we go through hardships.

Let’s not be deceived, like the writer of Ps 73 almost was:

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

We can’t think the be all and end all is the cessation of struggles.  But we can have the mindset, and help others to have the mindset, that there WILL be challenges and we CAN get through them, just as Christ did.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17

For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. II Cor 1:5

So going back to the beginning, maybe instead of being self righteous and telling my friends to do the right thing no matter how tough it is, or being soft and letting them settle, I should tell them that I’ll cheer for them and be with them every step of the way as they fight through!

It’s just like the illustration we had Sunday in our lesson.  Mitchell, who was preaching, had someone from the audience, Nate, go up front and do push ups.

nate pushups

Nate thought he could only do 40 push ups, but when he had people cheering him on, he did 73!  Check out the following link below if you want to see it in action: Video

WE CAN DO IT, with encouragement from one another, and the real Jesus is our inspiration!  He gave his ALL!  And as we strive to give our all, we will realize more and more the abundant life God intends for us to have.

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Filed under Battle Against Evil, Discipleship, Make Every Effort, Mark, Perseverance

A Friend a Day #2 — The Target


This past weekend felt like a bust, so when Monday came, I was revved up to get out there and try to meet people.

I started at the dry cleaners.  I will say that if I didn’t have a challenge going on, I probably wouldn’t talk much to the person who stands there and gives me my clothes.  But this time I started chatting with the young woman as we conducted business, exchanging comments about the weather.  I mentioned that I had never seen her before, and she said she often works at one of their other locations.  I asked her which location she liked better, and so on.

The good part was, when I invited her to church, she said she was looking for a church in the area!  Now I want to find more things that need dry cleaning so we can work on our friendship!

So I could have been done for the day with sharing, but I wanted more.  Later in the day I went to Publix for milk and eggs.  This was harder.  As I wandered the aisles, I kept finding things I wanted to buy.  I found a nice little plant for only $2.99 that would go perfectly in the monogrammed glass container someone gave me for Christmas.  “Oh, and I need almond butter,” I told myself, going to that aisle and sighing over the poor selection.

Then I shook myself out of my shopping reverie and tried to start conversations.  Everyone was on their cell phones as they pushed their carts.  Finally there was a sweet looking older woman in the cleaning section.  “Oh, I love this sponge thingie,” I said to her as she looked at a dishwashing wand.  “Me too,” she said, and we talked for a moment before she moved on.  “How much are those bags?” I asked another person in the clearance section.  We discussed how we bought the green shopping bags, and then always forgot and left them in the car.  But I couldn’t think of what else to say, and didn’t have the courage to bring up church, so I moved on.

After awhile, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I went to check out.  But even my efforts to share with the clerk were foiled.  The manager came over and bagged my groceries and handed them to me.  I choked.

I was glad that I had tried.  I was also glad that I had spread good cheer, in a sense.  The sweet older woman smiled at me a couple of times as we passed one another in the aisles.

Then in the evening I got with my friend Carol for our discipling time.  Usually we meet at my house, but we decided to go out and have coffee.  We had a great time visiting with the short haired barrista wearing a ball cap.  She told us how she used to manage a mice restaurant in town, but they closed, and she actually made pretty good money working full time at the coffee shop.  She went with us to the jars of loose teas, and we smelled them, and talked about what our favorite ones were.

We gave her an invitation to church.  “Oh, someone else gave me the very same invitation,”  She told us.  “I remember him telling me I made him the best mocha.”

I laughed.  “That would be my husband,” I said.  “He loves mochas.”

It was encouraging.  I don’t know if the barrista will come, but she was interested.  And Carol and I enjoyed the opportunity to share together.

You know, in my last blog, I mentioned how I want to be sharper.  It later occurred to me that in order to be more focused, I have to have something to focus towards.  Sure, I’m going to feel aimless, unless I am aiming at something!

I need to articulate what specifically my objectives are for in the new year.  And I can come up with all kinds of goals, but what is God’s objective for the coming year?  It came to me that it’s simple — God wants people to know Him, I mean really KNOW Him.

That’s my objective too.  And it helps just to define that.  I know more what direction to take.

Mike did a super sermon on Sunday about giving our best to God, not our scraps.  It’s not up yet, but check our web site in the future for it.  The text was Malachi 3:10 —

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

This reminded me of going to Europe and seeing the churches.  They were incredible.


Such time and artistic talent went into them.  I felt like they reflected what people thought of God — that they should creates something astoundingly beautiful.  They didn’t just slap together a building in a few days.  They gave their best.  They painstakingly constructed a homage to who God is.

Our lives should be the same way.  If we just give bits and pieces to God, we’re not showing the world how amazing and holy He is. If we live in an excellent way, we declare that God is excellent.

And the more we know God, the more we see how excellent He is.

To know God is to exalt Him, and magnify Him, to want to bow down before him an abject humility, to want to pour ourselves out for Him.  The more we know Him the more we consecrate our lives.

Ken and I have have been listening to Doug Jacoby’s new lessons on Romans.    They are so great!  In them Doug talks about how in Romans 1:19 it says that anyone can know of God: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

And then it says in Romans 1:18 that there are many who suppress the truth.

Let us not suppress the truth, but find ways of speaking it, so that we may increase vital knowledge of God.  For everyone can recognize that there is a God, but few really know Him.  Let us pray to this end.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  Eph 1:17

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.  Jer 9:23-24

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One More Rep!!

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Gal 6:9

A couple people have read that verse to me lately.  And it’s good, I have a case of the end-of-the-year fatigue, the kind where I wonder what all my effort was for.

I need to keep on doing the right things, the things I believe so fervently in.   I can’t give up!

My illustration for this is the exercise class I’ve started: Pure Barre.  People ask me if I like it.  I tell them I don’t like it at all when I’m doing it.  It’s like taking one muscle group and torturing it as much as you can, and then move to the next muscle group.

These women doing Pure Barre look happy.  I do NOT look like this when I exercise!

These women doing Pure Barre look happy. I do NOT look like this when I exercise!

But after I’m done, I like it.  I feel good, and I’m glad I stuck it out.  Even if I only stuck it out because no one else in the class was quitting, so I didn’t want to quit either!

And this is the perfect illustration because so many times during Pure Barre I want to quit.  It starts burning.  My muscle starts to shake.  I just want to stop.  (By the way, getting your muscles to shake is the goal of the class.  Bizarre.)

One thing that has really helped me lately is I Corinthians 10:13.  I did a study of it yesterday, looking at the Greek words.  I’ll put the whole verse below, and then break it down.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not allow you be tempted beyond your ability. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can be able to endure it.

Overtaken: “of that which when taken is not let go; metaphorically, of affections or evils seizing on a man.”

So temptation feels like something has hold of you that you cannot get rid of.  It can be an overwhelming FEELING, a strong emotion that takes over.  It seems hopeless.  You feel powerless and trapped.

This is certainly true for me.  I can be swept away, held hostage by such powerful feelings, I can’t even remember how to fight them.  My first reaction is to hunker down against the onslaught, to seek relief somehow.

But God is faithful:  God will NOT let us drown in our temptation.  He cares about our miserable plight.  I love how Ps 19 words it –

The ropes of death had become tangled around me. The torrents of destruction had overwhelmed me. . . I cried to my God for help. He heard my voice from his temple . . . Then the earth shook and quaked. . . because he was angry. He reached down from high above and took hold of me. He pulled me out of the raging water.

Allow: to permit.  The big point here is that the chaos of temptation isn’t being unleashed on us, God allows it.  He controls the force of the temptation, and how much reaches us.  Even through it feels overwhelming, God really does not want to give us more than we can bear.

(Beyond your) Ability: the Greek “dunomai,” which has the same root word as dynamite, the word for strength and power.  Thus, we’re not just talking about the facility to deal with temptation, we’re talking about the strength and power to address it.  God makes sure that the temptation isn’t more than our portion of strength.  This also implies that we DO have strength.  There are things we absolutely CAN do, even though we feel like we can’t.

That is why the Pure Barre has been a great illustration for me. As my muscles scream, I think I can’t do the isometric reps any more.  It seems too painful.  But then I find that I can!

Provide : create, fashion.  God doesn’t show us a way out that is already there.  He, the Creator, actually creates a way out for us.  How cool is that?

Way out:   escape, result; “the (successful) way out” which also goes on to what is new (desirable).  In other words, it isn’t just getting away from the temptation, it is moving towards being in a better place.  We aren’t just running from Satan, we are growing, becoming more holy, maturing through discipline, just as we were designed to do.  It is the same word as is used in this passage:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Heb 13:7

Able: This is the same word, “dunomai,” that was used earlier.  God isn’t helping us to escape the temptation.  God provides a way for us to have the strength and ability to deal with temptation!!!

Endure it: to bear by being under (a thing placed on one’s shoulders).  So it is the sense that we can shoulder the heavy weight of the temptation.  Just like I found my body is capable of exercising more than I thought, we can carry the heavy overwhelming emotions more than we thought, we can endure those tough situations more than we thought.

But again, it’s not making the situation go away, it’s not running away from the situation.

It’s the ability to do one more grueling rep, and then another one.

The strength to share with one more person, serve one more time, think one more positive thing, instead of succumbing to fatigue and discouragement.

The fortitude to pray when we’d rather retreat; to pray and pray until we get some relief, just as Jesus did.

It is so much better to think we can endure something, that we are strong enough, than to feel that we have to run away and escape.  When I exercise, if I push through, there is such a sense of accomplishment.  I did it!  What do you know, I am strong!

God wants the same for us.  He wants us to be victorious. He wants us to know that with him, we can do anything.  Nothing is impossible!  Good things are coming, if we’ll just keep doing the reps.  And as we keep doing the reps, even though it seems impossible to go on, each day, through each trial, He’ll CREATE a way so we can do one more, and then one more again.

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Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em?

How much should we actively love those who don’t reciprocate?

My modus operandi has been to continually expend myself to show love to others, no matter what they do. Isn’t this what Christians do?

Much of my motivation comes from a desire to make each person know that they are important.  No one else might reach out to them, or be faithful to them, but I will.  Maybe this motivation comes from wanting to treat others the way I wish I would have been treated over the years.

And certainly Jesus considers each one of us as important, so important that he died for us.  In spite of our sins.  In spite of us being responsible for his death.

Jesus saves the lost sheep

Jesus saves the lost sheep

But lately I’ve been challenged to reevaluate how I spend my time and attention —  challenged to not keep giving to those who don’t really respond.  And I’ve struggled with this.  Is this Christ’s example?  Aren’t we all weak at times?  Wasn’t I once where they were?

When I researched this, a contrary view hit me right in the face.  The Bible clearly says there are times that we DON’T keep reaching out.

  • Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 2 Thes 3:6
  • I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.   Rom 16:7
  • I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. . . But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.   I Cor 5:9, 11
  • Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer. 2 Thes 3:14
  • . . . having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. 2 Tim 3:5
  • If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.  2 John 1:10

I know, I know.  That’s all a bit harsh.  These verses don’t apply to most of my situations.  But they do remind me that God doesn’t mean for me to always keep giving to people, no matter what.

It’s true that I must love others, even my enemies.  I must wash their feet, serve them, be willing to die for them.

But I am not to throw my pearls before swine.

Jesus didn’t run repeatedly after people.  He did reach out to them.  He did tell them the truth that would help them.  He did heal  them.

Follow Jesus

But he also told them, “Come, follow me.”  He expected them to show some initiative.

There is such an emphasis in the Bible on being a seeker.  One of the first verses we study with people is Jeremiah 29:13:  “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  I was reading II Chronicles today, and it says in 15:15, “They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the Lord gave them rest on every side.”

Christianity is unique in that God pursues man.  But God also wants man to put some effort into pursuing Him.

The writer of Hebrews told people they needed to grow up and start eating solid spiritual food:  “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”  Heb 5:12

feeding toddler

Maybe I am babying people too much.  Maybe I am doing them a disservice by allowing them to just be receivers, instead of expecting them to step up and take ownership.  I am not helping them to mature.

And I am not helping them to have the joy they could have.  When they don’t do things for themselves, they don’t see the value in it.  They are not recognizing their great treasure.  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21)

So my conclusion at this point is that I will LOVE EVERYONE.  My hand will always be out to them.  But I will also. . .

  1. Look for those who are seeking God.  God is working on certain individuals.  “For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.”  (I Thes 1:4-5)  
  2. Expect people to take the initiative.  Both seekers and disciples need to take ownership of their spiritual growth, and not sit back and be given to all the time.

Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.  I Thes 5:14

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Points from I Thes. 1

I Thessalonians is thought to be the first gospel letter that Paul wrote.  When he converted the Thessalonians, he was not able to stay there long.  He was forced to leave.  He was very concerned about the disciples he left behind.  He finally sent Timothy to check on them, and Timothy bought back the awesome news that the Thessalonians were doing very well.

We are so spoiled with many forms of communication to people far away.  Paul didn’t have that.  After hearing from Timothy, he wanted to relay important information to the Thessalonians, and this letter was his only shot.  Nothing would be wasted.  Each sentence was calculated to have import.  We can learn much from the wording and content.

Here are some of the things we learn.  For Paul:

God was the Father, and Jesus was Lord.  “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:1)  This is a great model for us on how we should regard God and Jesus.

The disciples were his treasure, and he prayed and thanked God for them constantlyWe always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.”  (1:2)  Can I say the same of my loved ones in the Lord?

The gospel changed character and actions. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:3)  According to my research, the people Paul was writing to were probably Greek Gentiles who had a cultural background that viewed labor as repulsive.  Yet what Paul remembers is their work.  They must have seen Paul’s example, heard the message, and started to apply themselves to tasks.  Since he mentions that their labor was prompted by love, they probably started taking care of one another more.  They may have started making more money so they could give to needy individuals locally, and in other churches.

Also, they developed perseverance.   They didn’t give up, even though they went through struggles.  Their character changed from being lazy, self focused and wishy-washy, to hard working and long suffering.

Everything he did was in tandem with the work of the Holy Spirit. “We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.”  (1:4-5) 

In the same way, as we go around preaching, we watch to see how God will work.  We watch to see the Spirit move hearts.  We look to see whom God has chosen. We realize that deep conviction is only going to come through the Spirit.

The gospel and the Spirit produce a supernatural joy.   ” . . .you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” 1:6  

There was no way that the Thessalonians should have been joyful.  Yet they were.  This joy could only have come from a source outside of themselves.  Paul knew, when he saw their happy faces and lifted spirits, that it could only be the work of the Spirit.

In the same way, if someone responds to the scriptures, let us give credit where credit is due.  It is the work of the Spirit in the hearts of those we study with.

He was speaking the very words of God, even though he didn’t have the gospel in written form as we do. “You accepted what we said as the very word of God—which, of course, it is. And this word continues to work in you who believe.” 2:13

Do I treat my ministry the same way?  Do I share the very word of God with others, feeling a sense of reverence and import as I do so?

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Indecision Brought Me Here

Here is the question.  Why would God not make himself more obvious?  Why is he not more visible?

After I watched “The Passion” again last week, I thought of something that might be the answer — that God is looking for those who will put effort into their lives, not just take the easy way.  I thought of this because when I saw Christ’s life, the amazing way he gave and sacrificed, I saw how much I still am shallow and comfort oriented, in spite of all my good intentions and efforts.

Ken and I were discussing classical music and how there isn’t a large audience at classical concerts in Columbus.  Ken said, “People just have so many things that they can do now — phones, game systems.  Listening to classical music involves more effort to listen, so people don’t want to do that.”  People don’t want to put in the extra effort.  I am not saying there is anything wrong with people who don’t listen to classical music, I am merely observing that people want to take the easy way.

The iconic dancer Martha Graham once said, “The only sin is mediocrity.”

Jesus said the most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  (Mark 12:30) 

God expects us to give all we’ve got.  There is no honor in living a shallow, self-centered life. God is looking for those who will look outside of themselves and see that there is more to life, that there is a higher power, and there are others who are our brothers.

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”  (Romans 1:19-22)

It is easy to go about life completely engrossed in our own affairs.  It takes an intentionality to realize or remember that there is a God, and that what we have comes from him.  It should be natural to think of this, but we are so fond of thinking of ourselves.

I was talking to someone yesterday who grew up as an atheist, and has been coming to faith.  She said that she sways between one philosophy and another.  Christianity sounds good one day, and then she reads a secular book and follows what it says.  I told her she has to decide what is true and best, and then decide to live according to that.  The rest of her life will depend on what she decides.

But most of us don’t put the thought in to decide.  We’re too busy putting out fires.  Or we are busy earning a living and raising a family, and then we don’t want to think, we want to have fun.

I wrote a musical about the book of Ruth, and in this musical Naomi sings a song about  her life when she lived in Moab.   Here is one verse of what she sings:

I let myself procrastinate

My mind was so unclear

Lost in the distractions

Day by day, year by year

Never stopping to consider

Didn’t let my conscience steer

It was too late when I realized

Indecision brought me here.

Who will live with intentionality?  How many of us will get outside of our egocentric constructs and see what is true and best, and make a decision to live according to this?

“My meaning simply is, that whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do well; that whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself to completely; that in great aims and in small, I have always been thoroughly in earnest.”  Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” ( Luke 13:24)

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