Archive for the “Humility” Category

The Parable of the Lost Son, or the Prodigal Son as many call it, has three main characters: The father and his two sons. There are significant lessons that can be found when viewing the story from the perspective of each character. In this first blog we’ll look at the story through the eyes of the prodigal son. First, the story:

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Luke 15:11-32 (NIV)

The story begins with the words “Jesus continued.” This parable follows two other parables that make the same point – there is great rejoicing when a sinner repents.  I blogged about that in Helping Others Find Faith – Bringing Joy to Heaven.

The Parable of the Lost Son provides a visual, earthly picture of that same theme. The lost son is a perfect example of a rebellious, ungrateful, perhaps spoiled young man. He doesn’t want anything to do with hard work. He wants what is “rightfully” his, and he wants to do with it whatever he wants, with no consideration for others or his own future. I’m guessing many of us were in that same mindset to one degree or another at some point in our lives. It is the essence of our sin nature – it’s all about me. I want what I want and I want it now and I don’t want anyone (especially God) telling me what I can and can’t do with it.

So the father gave his son his inheritance and the son set off for a “distant land.” I’m reminded of Jonah who, in his desire to escape God’s will, ran as far away as he could (Jonah 1:3).

After squandering his inheritance, he found himself with no money, no place to live and nothing to eat. Jobs were scarce because the economy had crashed while the son was spending his money.

The Bible Exposition Commentary on the New Testament brings out this important point?

Sin promises freedom, but it only brings slavery (John 8:34); it promises success, but brings failure; it promises life, but “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The boy thought he would “find himself,” but he only lost himself! When God is left out of our lives, enjoyment becomes enslavement.
Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – New Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1

And that’s exactly what the lost son was experiencing. In his desperation, “He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.” (Luke 15:15, NLT) He’d gone from being the son of a man of means to living high on the hog (as they say in the south) to feeding the hogs. What a transition!

In the muck and mire of the hog pen (what a place to find a Jewish boy!), Scripture says the son “came to his senses.” The King James Version translates it as “he came to himself.” The lost son found himself – his true self. You see, we were not made for sin. We were made, created, to bring glory to our creator. We were made to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” according to the Westminster catechism. The lost son returned to the person he was created to be, recognized how far removed he had become from that person, and made a decision to return. He had been to the distant land and wanted to return home.

The definition of repent is “to change one’s mind.” That’s what the prodigal son did. He changed his mind. His selfish attitude became one of humility, as evidenced by his words and actions:

18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.
Luke 15:18-19 (NIV)

The son had no expectation that his father would rejoice upon seeing him again. He had no expectation of a great welcome home party. He had only the humble request that he be allowed to work as a hired hand. He came to his senses and repented. He changed what he was doing and returned to his father. And there was great rejoicing.

Just as there is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to his or her heavenly Father.

Notice, though, that there would have been no party if the son hadn’t changed his behavior as well as his thinking. If he had simply acknowledged in the hog pen that his dad was right but he was still going to live his own life. True repentance requires a change in behavior as well as thinking. Do we sometimes fall after committing to that change. Yes. But it is in continually returning to the Father that we find our salvation.

What strikes me the most about the change in the son is the great humility required to return to the father and say “I was wrong. I’m not worthy to be your son. Will you hire me as a lowly servant?”

Lord, develop that attitude in my heart in a greater way. “I was wrong. (I am wrong.) I’m not worthy to be your daughter. Will you accept me as your lowly servant?”

Of course, our loving Father says “Yes. Child, come. And let’s celebrate together. Here, let me give you freedom (in the way of complete forgiveness) and then let me give you the Kingdom.”

Wow! What an exchange!

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There is so much in Ephesians 4 that could draw our attention today, and I’ve been reading it and listening to teachings about it and was beginning to despair a bit. So much good stuff, and so little space (and time, I’m afraid) for blogging. That’s when it occurred to me that what I needed to do was sit back and ask God what was most important for today. Yes, all of it is important, but what is on God’s heart for today’s blog? My attention was immediately drawn to verse 3:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:3 (NIV)

Paul urges the Ephesians to “make every effort.” He doesn’t write “consider the benefit of.” He continues in the vein of verse 1 in which he wrote “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Part of living worthy of our calling is to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

It means that we make peace a priority. It’s more important than the person who is right winning. It’s more important than you winning or me winning.

The word translated “make every effort” could also be translated “be diligent”. The word translated “to keep” could also be translated “to preserve”. Be diligent in preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. We are to be aggressively watchful to protect, preserve and maintain the peace. I like the word “preserve” because it has more of a sense of caring for something – nurturing it and protecting it.

Peace needs that kind of care. It doesn’t come naturally. Division and strife come naturally. Peace must be sought after and preserved. Paul explains why in later verses, but first let’s look at the unity we have. Paul continues in his letter:

4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6 (NIV)

We may look different and we may act different, but we are part of one body (the church) and there is one Spirit who is alive in us. We have all been called to one hope – our glorious redemption in Christ with an eternal home in heavenly realms. We worship one Lord, share one faith and one baptism. Yes, we may practice that baptism ritual in different ways, but each baptism represents a dying to our old self and a raising up with Christ having been cleansed of our sin and made alive with Christ. We all serve one God and Father and He is sovereign over all, through all and in all. That’s omnipresence – He is everywhere at all times. That’s unity and when our focus remains on that unity and our spirit is sensitive to the Spirit which lives in us, we are held together with a bond of peace.

Still there’s a need to make every effort. Because while we have unity, we do not have uniformity. God has gifted each of us differently.

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:7-13 (NIV)

Christ has given each of us a measure of grace and a variety of gifts. The problem with this is that in our sinfulness, we tend to see things through our giftings instead of through God’s eyes. If we are gifted in teaching, we think that the church’s resources (for example) ought to be focused on teaching God’s Word to young disciples. If we are gifted in evangelism, however, we think the church’s resources ought to be focused on the lost. Throw apostles and prophets and pastors into the mix and you have a church board meeting that easily turns from keeping the bond of peace to keeping their portion of the budget intact (and growing).

But God has apportioned the gifts for a purpose – “so that the body of Christ may be built up”. All gifts are required for that to happen. If we become so focused on our own gift that we diminish others, we disrupt the unity of the body and we damage the body’s ability (and our own ability) to be built up, become mature and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We are no longer living a life worthy of our calling. Even if we are called as an evangelist, if we diminish the other gifts, we are no longer living a life worthy of our calling because that calling is first and foremost to mirror Christ, to become like him.

We have skipped over verse two so far. Let’s look at it now in two translations:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
Ephesians 4:2 (KJV)

Although we are called to use our gifts, we are also to be humble (lowly) and gentle (meek), patient (longsuffering) and bearing with one another in love. The Bible describes two people as being meek – Jesus and Moses. Our definition of meekness and the historical definition must be radically different. We tend to think of meekness as timidity. Scripture uses the word differently. It has more to do with gentleness than timidity. It is a humility, not a fearfulness or shyness. When Paul encourages us to be meek, he is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

Patience means putting the needs of others before our own needs. It means that my agenda isn’t more important than your agenda. Longsuffering means we don’t expect or require that our priorities or needs be met instantly. We wait patiently. We don’t get angry quickly. We place love as a higher priority and bear with one another. Again, Paul is encouraging us to be more like Christ.

As we mirror the attitudes and behaviors of Christ while using the gifts He has given us, we maintain unity of the body.

Friends, let’s make every effort to reflect Christ to one another.

There is so much more in this chapter. In preparing to write this blog, I found this three-blog series that I wrote about this chapter about a year ago. Click on the links below for more on Ephesians 4:

Worthy. Who Me?

Live Worthy

Live Worthy, Part 2

Let’s live a life worthy of our calling!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

The humble shall see their God at work and be glad;
And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psalm 69:32 (NLT/NKJV)

A seeking heart is not simply a curious heart. Rather, it is a heart that approaches God with purpose and intent. Curiosity is simply a “wondering.” I wonder what’s at the end of this road. I wonder if that dog is friendly. We may begin our pursuit with a wondering – does He exist? Is He real? Will He answer me? God will respond to our wonderings – our curiosity, but only to a point. He will reveal a bit of Himself to the curious. But if we truly want to know God, we must move beyond curiosity to humility and obedience.

Satisfying our curiosity is something we do for entertainment and amusement. While God will provide entertainment and amusement, we don’t seek Him for that. We seek Him because He is worthy of our attention, praise and obedience. Curiosity is me-focused (satisfying myself); it carries a degree of arrogance in it. Seeking God is God-focused. A heart that seeks God recognizes the difference and approaches God in humility.

Let me pause here to say that there is a kind of curiosity that is truly innocent and child-like. That curiosity is filled with awe and it honors God. Curiosity in adults has been tainted by our sin and it places a distance between the one being curious and the thing being sought. It carries inside it a degree of arrogance that places the seeker above the thing being sought. Child-like curiosity is the very opposite. As we mature in Christ, He transforms our curiosity into child-like curiosity. That transformation occurs as our degree of humility grows.

The humble shall see their God at work and be glad;
And you who seek God, your hearts shall live.
Psalm 69:32 (NLT/NKJV)

The humble heart recognizes that He is the Creator and we are the created. It recognizes that we are but dust and He is all glory. It knows that He is King and we are His servants. We may not always act that way, but it is truth. If we want to know God we must seek Him with the proper attitude. He holds the power of life and death. We ought to tremble with both anticipation and fear as we approach Him; not simply with curiosity at what we might find.

As we develop a humble heart, we are being transformed into the image of Christ. Jesus described Himself as being “humble and gentle at heart” (Matthew 11:29). We not only honor God when we seek Him in humility, we become like Him.

An Obedient Heart
A heart that seeks God is a heart that desires – plans – to be obedient to Him. Samuel provides an excellent illustration of this. Samuel’s mother had been barren many years until God gave her a son whom she named Samuel. When Samuel was weaned, she gave him back to God and he grew up in the tabernacle being mentored and discipled by the priest Eli.

2One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had gone to bed. 3The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God.

4Suddenly the LORD called out, “Samuel!”

“Yes?” Samuel replied. “What is it?” 5He got up and ran to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”

“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go back to bed.” So he did.
1 Samuel 3:2-5 (NLT)

This happened two additional times. Each time God called, Samuel immediately “got up and ran to Eli.” Samuel was sleeping when this happened, but when he heard his name called, he immediately inconvenienced himself and ran to be obedient. He didn’t roll over thinking “I’ll deal with it in the morning.” He was immediately obedient. It was in his heart to be so.

A heart that seeks God – one that wants to know Him more and more each day – will have the same disposition. Samuel was new at this – he didn’t know it was the Lord calling him, but his heart was already prepared to be obedient. After this happened two additional times Eli realized that God was calling Samuel’s name. He told Samuel to respond to the Lord when he called again.

And the LORD came and called [a fourth time] as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”

And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
1 Samuel 3:10 (NLT)

Samuel has been quickly obedient to run to Eli each time he heard his name called. He was then obedient to Eli by responding to God when he heard his name called a fourth time. What is interesting about Samuel’s response to God is the word “listening.” It is the Hebrew word shama (pronounced shaw-ma’). It means to listen or hear with an intention to obey. What Samuel really said to God was “Your servant is listening and ready to obey.”

A heart that seeks God is one that has a predisposition to obey. God rewards obedience. No, our salvation is not based on our performance – our salvation, spending eternity with God in heaven, is based on our faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is based on asking His forgiveness for the sins we’ve committed and placing our trust in Jesus who already paid the penalty for those sins. Period. Yet…God rewards our obedience. The Bible is as clear about that point as it is about faith being the sole requirement for salvation.

If you want to know God more, you must be willing to be more obedient. When He calls, run to obey. You will see Him perform things through you and you will get to know Him in a deeper and more wonder-ful way. It will build in you a more humble heart. It will cause you to seek Him more with a heart filled with child-like curiosity – a heart filled with awe and wonder.

God doesn’t speak because He likes the sound of His voice! He speaks to get our attention and to teach us or give us an assignment. The Lord’s voice is precious…don’t waste it!

Fortunately, He is willing to speak to us again if we’ve ignored Him in the past (and we all have at some point or another). Repent of having “deaf ears” and “slow obedience” in the past and ask Him to speak to you again. Then listen closely for His voice and when He speaks, respond as Samuel did “Lord, your servant is shama.”

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Ask God for His Strategy - Then Implement ItFaith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

This series is about moving from discouragement to faith. We’ve discussed three faith building actions that each of us can take to move our journey forward:

Let’s move on to the exciting, two-part fourth action.

Faith Building Action 4 – Ask God for His Strategy – Then Implement It!
Discouragement can come from many sources. Logically, then, Rebuilding our faith might take the shape of any of a number of different strategies. Here are some examples:

Rest – If your discouragement came from overdoing, you need rest. If you’re a fan of the Bourne Trilogy by Robert Ludlum you’ll recognize the quote “Rest is a weapon.” It is a true statement.

Becoming overtired or overworked, opens a door that the enemy loves to run through. Often, havoc comes into our life and in our condition of being overtired, we can’t stand against it and we become discouraged. So if you’ve just finished a season of extraordinary effort for the Kingdom (whether from obeying God or simply taken more than He required upon yourself), a period of rest may be the best strategy to return to full faith strength.

Change – Sometimes discouragement comes simply because we’ve become bored with our routine. God can use such a time to nudge us into starting something new. Faith, by definition, means moving before we see God’s whole plan laid out before us. God’s strategy to rebuild your strength may be to point you in a new direction, giving you opportunities to trust Him. Experiencing the result of that trust builds your faith to trust Him more.

Persevere – There are faith lessons to be learned when we are required to simply persevere – which basically means to gut it out! Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines persevere as “to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.” Perseverance is defined as “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Despite failures, opposition and difficulties, sometimes we’re called simply to persevere.

Paul speaks of persevering in many different ways, but most notably as finishing well.

6As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return.
2 Timothy 4:6-8a (NLT)

Persevere, friends – a crown of righteousness awaits you!

Seek healing in some other way – God’s plan for healing often takes us on a path to deal with past hurts and woundedness and He often uses others to help in our healing. His strategy for you might be to see a Christian counselor or sit under the teaching of a specific minister for a period of time or attend a specific conference. He might have you get involved in a small group outside your church. Or he may take you on a more personal journey to wholeness by having you write a book, create an art series or pursue one or more spiritual discipline more intentionally.

Our God is a creative God and He knows you better than you know yourself. Seek God for His strategy during this time. Once you have a hint at the first step in His strategy, implement it! Don’t wait around until you have the whole plan. Many, many people get stuck in this stage of their healing. All that accomplishes is the prolonging of their discouragement. You won’t fully see God move in your life until you begin to move as He directs.

Let me add that if you have fallen from discouragement into depression, you may not hear God speak. Your emotions are so overshadowing your ability to hear God that you may need to rely on someone else to hear God for you! I am not saying that God is not able to speak to you. I am saying that no matter how loudly God speaks you may not hear Him. If you stubbornly wait until you hear Him, you may hinder your own healing. So when a trusted advisor or friend suggests something that makes no sense to you but is witnessed to by another trusted advisor or friend – do it! (By the way, stubbornly waiting until you hear God is the equivalent of requiring that God speak to you in the way you want Him to. That’s called placing your own wisdom/desires above God’s. That’s called pride. That’s called sin and it’s putting yourself in opposition to God. Don’t go there!)

To stagnate in the place of discouragement as you wait to hear new things from God puts you perilously close to becoming lukewarm. God is not pleased with those who are lukewarm (Revelation 3:16). So don’t get stuck – step out in faith!

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Check Your Motives and Actions

1Faith is the confidence, assurance and substance of things hoped for – things we confidently expect to happen. It is the conviction and evidence of things not yet seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (expanded translation using NLT, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary)

When we face discouragement, one of the areas in which we’re hit is our faith. If our faith was strong, we would have confidence that God’s promises are “yes and amen!” (2 Corinthians 1:20). When our faith sags, we struggle to see our hope and future in Christ. In this series we’re looking at how to build our faith so we can naturally move further and further away from discouragement.

Faith Building Action 3 – Check Your Motives & Actions
After starting to build your strong foundation of faith with praise (Faith Building Action #1) and building your courage by remembering who you are in Christ (Faith Building Action #2), you’re ready for a bit of self-reflection. In this step we’re going to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our own attitudes and motivations to us. Begin your time with the Lord with praise and build your confidence in Him by reminding yourself who you are in Christ, then begin the exercise of looking at the things you do for the Lord.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you answer these two questions:

  • What’ your motivation – are you acting out of duty or love? Of course you love the Lord, but sometimes we take on things that He doesn’t really want us to do and they become drudgery. That drudgery becomes duty and we are no longer serving out of love. Or perhaps we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do but our own heart has grown cold and service has become duty instead of passion and love.
  • Are your actions done in your own strength or God’s?Working in our own strength instead of God’s can be the result of many different circumstances, but here are three common examples:
    • Sometimes we’re faced with serving in a way we’ve served many times before. When that’s the case, it’s easy to rely on our own abilities, personality or strategies – after all, they’ve worked so well in the past. Before we know it, we’ve moved ahead without asking God what His plans and strategies are.
    • We might be faced with a new opportunity that we’re so excited about – perhaps it’s an opportunity we’ve prayed for. We’re full of ideas, energy and enthusiasm. In those times it’s easy to jump right in making plans and motivating others to help us…again moving ahead without asking God what His plans and strategies are.
    • Still other times we find ourselves creating our own opportunities – pushing ahead of God’s timing to accomplish what we believe He’s told us to do. And perhaps He has told us but we are either out of sync with His timing or his approach. When we’re pushing to bring about God’s plans (or our plans for God) we find our selves moving ahead without asking God what His plans and strategies are…or perhaps we’ve asked but haven’t waited long enough to hear His answer.

Be honest with yourself and God as you reflect on these two questions. Don’t be afraid of it. Remember, there is no condemnation in Christ. There is conviction when we’ve sinned – and both of these actions can be sin. But the purpose of conviction is to give us the opportunity to change – to repent – and return wholeheartedly to the Lord. Ask forgiveness if you’ve begun to serve out of duty instead of love and ask God to restore your love for Him. (It’s a prayer He loves to answer.) Ask forgiveness if you’ve served in your own strength instead of God’s and ask Him what your next action should be.

After asking the Holy Spirit to help you check your actions and motivations, encourage yourself by reminding yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. You’re doing it because you love Him – because He has done so much for you. King David put it this way:

1I waited patiently for the LORD to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. 2He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. 3He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the LORD.

4Oh, the joys of those who trust the LORD, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. 5O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.
Psalm 40:1-5 (NLT)

Whitney Houston put it like this in the movie The Preacher’s Wife (and let it be your first taste of Christmas):

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3And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18:3-4 (NIV)

I spent about a year with this verse in the front of my mind. What struck me as I first read it during that year was the phrase “unless you change.” Hmmm. That means I need to be doing something differently. The way I’m to change is to become childlike. Being childless, I don’t have a lot of experience with childlikeness. So I began to observe other people’s children more intentionally.

God spent that year changing me more than I’ve changed during any other year of my adult life. Much of it came from the lessons I learned from this verse. One of the first things I learned from watching children is their proclivity toward being awed by things around them. They live in a world of wonder.

I do not. Unless I change and become like little children…

Here are some of the definitions for the word “wonder” from

a cause of astonishment or admiration…miracle…rapt attention or astonishment at something awesomely mysterious or new to one’s experience

Do you live in a world of astonishment? Do you see miracles everywhere? Do you live in a world that is awesomely mysterious?

Probably not. You probably live in a world that is incredibly practical and pragmatic. Somewhere in our growing up we learn to value qualities that are the antithesis of mysterious. We learn to be cautious, even in our risk-taking. In business we’re to always have an answer for the boss before he or she asks the question. “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

In God, “I don’t know” is part of the wonderful mystery of a God that is bigger than we can fathom.

In much of evangelical Christianity today (both charismatic and noncharismatic flavors of it), we encourage one another to live by faith but expect one another to have a fully-developed plan before we take that first step in faith – and a fully-developed plan by definition requires little of the mystery and miracle of God.

I read a great article recently on called A Cathedral of Astonishment. Here are a few excerpts:

If explanation had been the first response to the Resurrection, something would have been wrong.

And something is wrong!

What’s wrong is that we have precious little astonishment in our modern gospel….

But in our modern sophistication we have replaced astonishment with something a bit tamer. We have made the gospel reasonable, sensible and practical. We explain the gospel in cogent terms such as “the plan of salvation” and “spiritual laws”—as if it is simply the most rational thing in the world.…

Without astonishment we inevitably reduce the gospel to inert “-ology” and “-ism.” Or worse, it becomes a spiritual “product” that we must “market.” This is consumer Christianity, and it is the bane of our age.…

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, and now into the 21st century, American evangelicals have increasingly touted the virtues of the gospel by promoting it as “practical.” This has become something of an article of faith. It is unquestioned and fully assumed that we should make the gospel practical.…

But do we fail to see that this is the secular language of the market and not the sacred language of mystery? This is the language of consumerism, not the language of Christianity. This is the language of business, not the language of faith….

We’ve lost mystery and beauty and the power they have to produce the kind of astonishment that naturally leads to worship. …

We’ve lost a bit of our childlike wonder at the Gospel. In our need to be “adults,” in our need to have all the answers, we unconsciously push away the wonder of God.

Yet I think there’s a deeper issue at work in the loss of our wonder. It is the issue of pride and lack of humility. For us to experience wonder requires a humility that allows us to admit our own inadequacy – our own inability to understand and explain. Both qualities put us at odds with the values embraced by those around us.

Our culture values being in control. In the midst of embracing the mystery and wonder of God we can’t help but recognize that our sphere of control is puny and fleeting.

Our culture values power. Wonder is a childlike quality that renders us powerless. It puts us at the mercy of the object of our wonder.

Embracing the mystery and wonder of God requires that we embrace childlikeness. It’s a small price to pay for a glimpse of the eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God.

Read the article. The author will challenge you to pursue the mystery and beauty of God.

Let your inner child out. He or she will lead you into the awesome presence of God.

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19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

Earthly trousseaus include things like linens and dishes and home accessories – treasures a young woman wants to take into her marriage. Yes, it’s an old fashioned idea and I don’t know anyone who does it anymore – at least not anyone in America – but it symbolizes the young bride’s hope for a beautiful life with her future prince.

Christ tells us not to worry about storing up earthly treasures, but to build up our trousseaus for our marriage to the King of Kings. What treasures would honor our future husband? What treasures should we be storing up in heaven? I read this passage a few months ago and these questions tickled in the back of my mind.

Before I share my thoughts on the question, let me approach it differently. There is a startling verse in Matthew 18:

And [Jesus] said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 18:3 (NIV)

We are to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is so counter-culture to us and we often skip over this verse. Becoming childlike will be the topic of some future blog. For today, I just want us to understand that God values childlikeness. When we receive Christ, we become His children:

12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
1 John 1:12-13 (NIV)

Let me ask you, then, what treasures do parents store? They store the precious attempts by their children to do things that are beyond their ability. The indistinguishable picture gets hung on the refrigerator. The nearly dead flowers that have been clutched too tightly in chubby little hands are placed in a vase in the middle of the table. God is no different from earthly parents. Well, yes, actually, He is quite different. But you get my point – He treasures our attempts to be like Him, even when those attempts fall short. Here are some of the things that build fill up our trousseau in heaven:

  • Every act of mercy
  • Every self-sacrificial act
  • Every act of humility – giving credit to others when you could have put the spotlight on yourself, showing deference to others
  • Every stand against satan, even those in which we get beat up a bit
  • Every act of forgiveness
  • Every act of kindness
  • Every step taken by faith, especially when there was no sight

I have come to believe that these things are greater treasures in God’s eyes than the writing of a tremendous book, leading a great organization or preaching the perfect sermon – all of which receive great acclaim within the Christian community. I’m not saying writing these things aren’t treasured by God – they are, and they will carry forward into eternity. I am saying that God honors what is done in secret and what is done at great personal expense without expecting glory in return.

Lord, help us to embrace the secret, sacrificial acts that bring glory only to You.

There is one other thing that I know builds up our heavenly trousseau. Read these verses from the book of Revelation:

8And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.


3Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Rev 5:8, 8:3-4 (NIV)

Our prayers are so valued by God that they are stored up as incense in golden bowls in heaven. Our prayers for others, for revival, for the lost are sacrificial acts of mercy and humility. They take stands against satan and represent faith that overcomes lack of sight.

This week…pray for opportunities to build up your heavenly trousseau – and then walk through those open doors.

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1In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom—2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
Daniel 9:1-3

Daniel understood the times and knew that it was time for God to move – but he didn’t just sit back and wait for it – he prayed into it. In doing so, he provides an interesting and insightful example for us.

He understood from studying Scripture that the seventy years prophecied by Jeremiah as the length of “the desolation of Jerusalem” was nearly ended. How exciting it must have been when Daniel realized this! From his own description, it’s clear that he hadn’t been counting down the years since his abduction from his homeland and entrance into Nebuchadnezzar’s service. It wasn’t until many, many years later, during the reign of King Darius, that God opened Daniel’s eyes to the Scriptures that pointed to the end of the Jerusalem’s captivity.

Have you ever studied Scripture and suddenly a passage makes sense in a way it never has before? I love it when that happens! In this case, Daniel’s eyes were opened to a message that impacted not just him and his relationship with God, but an entire nation. I would think he’d be tempted to shout it from the rooftops! At the very least I would expect Daniel to be dancing in celebration!

We saw in chapter 1, however, that Daniel was quite humble. He didn’t rush out to boast to everyone what he had learned in Bible study that morning and he didn’t begin to celebrate his impending freedom. Instead, he turned to prayer. Daniel knew that God’s promises are meant to lead us into prayer, not make our prayers unnecessary. We’re not to sit back and wait for blessings to roll in, but rather to contend for them in the spiritual world through prayer. It is prayer that moves the hand of God.

So Daniel turned to prayer, and not only to prayer, but also to confession. Let’s take a look:

4I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
     “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, 5we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
     7“Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame—the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you. 9The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.
Daniel 9: 4-11

You know, I’m guessing that Daniel didn’t personally sin to the extent that it would appear from reading his prayer. Today we would call what Daniel was doing “identificational repentance.” Identificational repentance describes what happens when someone chooses to identify with the sins of their family, city, nation, people group or other organization, and confesses that sin. It often involves not only making confession to God but to offended parties as a way of bringing healing between people groups. For example, a white Christian might identify with the sin of slavery in our country’s history even though they or their ancestors personally had no connection with slavery. Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit we recognize that the sins of some people group we’re associated with have the same roots as sin we see in ourselves – a desire for power, greed, selfishness, or rebellion, for example – and we confess the sin and ask forgiveness. Identificational repentance is powerful because it brings into the open sins that may have been denied and were never dealt with. Those sins are confessed before God and where possible people who were offended by the sin. Such confession brings reconciliation with God and moves toward reconciliation between people groups. Often times it is the first time the offended party has ever been apologized to for wrongs they have experienced. Again, that can be a powerful thing.

Identificational Repentance is what every priest in the Old Testament did – confess the sins of the people before God. Under the New Covenant, Christ has made every believer a part of the “royal priesthood” described in 1 Peter 2:9. When we participate in identificational repentance we take on a priestly role. What an honor! Remember, an important element is that we identify with the sin – we’re not confessing sins “they” did, but identifying with “their” actions and confessing the sin as our own. It’s what Daniel was doing when he prayed “O Lord…we have sinned against you.”

Daniel continued in his prayer, confessing the sins of his people, rehearsing God’s history with the Israelites, and ending in intercession asking God to step in and change history not because they deserve it but because God is merciful:

17“Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, O Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18Give ear, O God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act! For your sake, O my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Daniel 9:17-19

Daniel’s prayer is an outstanding example of humility and intercession. As you pray for your community and state, confess the sins you see, not as sins others have committed, but as a priest representing those who have sinned.


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1In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. 

3Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—4young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. 5The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

6Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

8But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. 9Now God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel, 10but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other young men your age? The king would then have my head because of you.”

11Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12“Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” 14So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

15At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

17To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

18At the end of the time set by the king to bring them in, the chief official presented them to Nebuchadnezzar. 19The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. 20In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.

21And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1

Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the conquering king’s rich food. That seems like a good thing…but notice how he went about it. I was quite taken with it when I read this chapter. Put yourself in Daniel’s place. His nation has been conquered. The priceless things in the temple of the Lord have been taken and placed in temples before other gods. Daniel, his friends and other Israelites were taken to serve the conquering king, King Nebuchadnezzar. They are given new names and are being taught a new language so that they can serve a new king.

Somehow I don’t think I’d be feeling very charitable. I would probably be  struggling not to feel resentful and angry…unless I’d given up the struggle and just settled into the anger and resentment. That’s certainly not God’s way of handling the situation, I’m just saying…

I was so impressed with Daniel’s response.

  • His heart remained pure – he made a commitment to not becoming unclean by eating the choice food the king offered.
  • He remained humble. This is what captured my attention as I read the passage. I was amazed at Daniel’s attitude. Instead of standing up for his religious practices or God’s way of living – “I refuse to defile myself with this pagan’s food” – he humbly asked the guard if he may not eat the food. He didn’t arrogantly stand up to the guard, declaring that his ways were better than the guard’s ways. He didn’t resentfully refuse to eat the food. He didn’t quietly eat the other food leaving the “choice” food on his plate. He “asked the chief official for permission.” That, my friend, is humility – displayed in a place and at a time when humility would not be a natural response.
  • He remained confident in his God and his God’s ways. After not demanding his own way (or the way he believed God wanted), Daniel asked the chief official for a trial – “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  Daniel was so confident in God’s ability to sustain them that he gave the official an opportunity to prove it to himself. Again, the suggestion was delivered with humility, not arrogance. In offering to let the official decide what is the best approach at the end of the trial, Daniel wasn’t saying “You’ll see – our ways are better than your ways.” Rather, he was saying “You can decide which is best.” His attitude was humble, but his heart was confident that God will honor and bless Daniel’s actions.

Notice that it was Daniel’s humility that peacefully opened the door to negotiations that allowed Daniel to eat the foods that he believed honored God, which then led to God’s blessing Daniel and his friends with supernatural favor and wisdom.

I’d like my life to be characterized by an attitude of humility and a heart of confidence. What an excellent picture of living our faith.

The Christmas season is upon us and you and I are likely to find ourselves in gatherings of people with whom we sometimes have difficulty – perhaps a parent or an in-law, a sibling or a competitive cousin. I wonder if practicing Daniel’s humility might help us gain favor with these people and open doors for the Gospel. As you think about upcoming gatherings, think about the conversations that often develop that end in conflict or frustration. Are there ways your behavior might mirror David’s? Are there ways you can practice humility while maintaining a heart that is confident in God’s power to change the situation? I’m praying there are because practicing Daniel’s humility just might be the way to bring those challenging people in your life closer to the Lord. Let’s give it a try!

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Reading 1 Peter 1 yesterday was such a joy! While I would like to include the whole chapter here, that seems a bit crazy – after all, you can just go to your Bible and read it. So let me concentrate on the first two verses and then throw in one of the last ones in the chapter.

To God’s elect, strangers in the world…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
1 Peter 1:1-2a

There is so much meat in those verses! Peter makes it clear that he is writing to “God’s elect” – in other words, believers. He goes on to describe them in ways that apply not only to those first century Christians, but to us today. We are:

  • “Strangers in the world” – The word translated “strangers” means “alien resident” or “pilgrim.” The moment we accept Christ, we are no longer citizens of the world in which we live physically, but we become “alien residents” in that world and citizens of God’s Kingdom. As such, we have a higher authority than our earthly government and a higher purpose than what we see with our eyes. Additionally, as we are conformed more and more into the image of Christ, this world will feel more and more alien to us. We will feel like strangers in a foreign land.
  • “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” – As strangers it’s easy to feel separated and alone. It’s at those times that I love to remember that I have been chosen. My choosing wasn’t an accident, it was according to God’s tremendous and glorious plan for my life. I may feel alone here, but God is always with me. Further, Scripture says he places the lonely in families. He does that by planting us in churches where we can develop relationships that help us know our value to God, grow in godliness, find His purpose for our lives and live out that purpose.
  • “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit” – Lest we begin to believe that it is our own doing that brought us to Christ, Peter reminds us that it was through the sanctifying – cleansing, purifying – work of the Holy Spirit that we came to know Christ. It is through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit that we are conformed to His image. When we are struggling with a sin our prayers are often too focused on the Lord helping our efforts to resist sin. Perhaps a better approach is asking the Holy Spirit to do His cleansing work in our hearts. This prayer is an act of submitting our will to God’s will. Knowing that it is the Holy Spirit who enables and that we are relying on Him brings a humility to our prayers and our attitudes. It honors God and brings grace into our lives.
  • “who have been chosen…for obedience to Jesus Christ” – We have been chosen for a purpose! Now I like to think that means God has a plan for me and my life has purpose – some great purpose even. It does mean that, but the purpose is quite different from what I imagine. I have been chosen for the single purpose of being obedient to Christ. This is both humbling and freeing. God has called me. He has called each of you. He has called you to be obedient to His Word – that is living according to God’s sovereign commands in Scripture. He has also called you to specific tasks that are unique to you. The wonderful thing is that He has called you to be obedient in doing those tasks. The results are up to Him. Success in God’s Kingdom is not defined by the outcome of our efforts, it is defined by our degree of obedience. What freedom that brings! It doesn’t give me freedom to work halfheartedly not caring about the results. No, it brings the freedom to follow God full-heartedly regardless of the results. The results may be thousands of souls won into the Kingdom (think the Apostle Peter) or the result may be years of seemingly futile prophecying and imprisonment (think the prophet Jeremiah).
  • “sprinkling by the blood” – We have also been chosen for salvation – that is, having the blood of Christ sprinkled on our hearts (Hebrews 9) so that our sins are forgiven. Scripture is clear – without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. Christ’s blood was shed for my sin and your sin so that we might live for eternity with Him. Hallelujah! The Jewish Christians who had practiced the sacrificing of lambs and other animals to temporarily cleanse themselves from sin clearly understood from this phrase that Christ’s blood would cleanse them from all sin permanently. The implications are enormous but I today I just want to remind each of us that this means you are forgiven. Don’t hold on to past sins or false guilt for those sins. If you have confessed the sin to God and asked His forgiveness, that false guilt is condemnation from the devil. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” (Romans 8:1)

Whew! What a treasure the first two verses of 1 Peter are! If you’ve read the rest of the chapter, you’ve found that it just keeps getting better. Let me bring us to a verse near the end of the chapter:

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
1 Peter 1:13

Because of all this, “prepare your minds for action!” God doesn’t want us to just sit back and enjoy the tremendous benefits of knowing Him. He wants us to prepare our minds for action! He wants us to get in the game! He has called us for obedience to Christ, so set your mind to it and get moving! “Be self-controlled,” and when you need a little more motivation (and don’t we all need it all the time) “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

We have been called to a glorious hope – it’s described in the verses between 2 and 13 of this chapter (and many other places in Scripture, of course). It uses phrases like “inexpressible and glorious joy” and “living hope” and “inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” But I’ll leave it to you to read more.

In the meantime, friends, know that you are chosen by God Himself for obedience to Christ. Wow!

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