A Messy Business

What makes the biggest mess when it swells and bursts?

This substance can lie dormant for long periods, bubbling occasionally, but for the most part, drawing little attention to itself--until it is stirred.

Stirring causes it to inflate instantly and become toxic. It swells and explodes, coating everyone in the vicinity with its grainy slime.

This toxic substance is called pride.
Spiritual pride.

It masquerades in a thousand costumes, rarely looking the same on any two people. But it leaves a distinctive odor that becomes easier to detect the more often you see it.

There is another substance, that when added to the first, creates a reaction like adding vinegar to baking soda: instant explosion. The second substance is Truth.

You can find hidden pride easily by stirring the soul with a little Truth. Truth poured on top of spiritual pride can blast a hole in the wall.

And the explosion is usually shocking because the soul harboring the pride is rarely aware of its presence. Those harboring it have spent a lifetime renaming it, taming it, and justifying it so that when it explodes they do not recognize it.

Instead, they attack the one holding the stir stick.

God hates our pride more than anything else. It was the first sin. Satan invented it and he has been poisoning souls with it since the beginning of Man.

But we love it, don't we?

It feels good, looks pretty, plumps up our often sagging egos, and sets our minds at rest about our own worth.
We can even be prideful about how humble we are, defining humility in a myriad of ways, none of which takes the shine off our mirror.

But let a little personal truth get close to it, and watch out. A word fitly spoken, a negative character trait obvious to everyone but the pride-holder, a soft rebuke...and there it goes! Old Faithful, spewing wrath and self-righteous indignation.

"Why, how dare they!"

"You take that back!"

"How dare you judge me..."

The very mouth that piteously declared its unworthiness to God that morning retorts in self-defense that afternoon. The same lips that cry, "God, I am unfit to be your servant," now cry, "How dare you insinuate that I am not perfect!"

  • What if we took the top off the whole mess by welcoming helpful observations from those we respect?
  • What if, instead of leaping into instant self-protection mode, we actually listened?
  • What if when we asked for an honest opinion, we actually meant it?

Think how much further along we could be in God's School of Character-building if we would actually do our lessons.

Is Your God in a Box?

"Now what do we do with it?"

Ever work hard to get something because you are certain it will make your life better---and it turns around and bites you?

The book of I Samuel recounts the somewhat humorous story of the Philistines capturing the Ark of the Covenant. They thought if they had that box, all their wildest dreams would come true.
They'd heard the legends. Who hadn't? The Philistine Chronicle had run front page headlines for years about those Israelites and their God. All the miracles. All the help. Winning wars when they were way outnumbered...
The Philistines had scratched their heads for years trying to figure out how to get that kind of help, and then--Low and behold!--the Israelites themselves provided the perfect opportunity.
The war wasn't going so hot for the Israelites, so they got the bright idea that what they needed was the Ark in battle with them. Notice, they didn't invite God, only his symbol. They didn't ask God's direction or humble themselves and repent. Nothing like that. All they wanted was a symbol of God. An icon. That would be good enough.
And they lost badly! Not only did they lose the battle, but the Ark was captured by the enterprising Philistines who were doing the happy-dance over their great fortune. Now all that power would be at their disposal!
If God could be contained in a box, then they were right. They would own God and the Arabs would have been fighting over the Promised Land with the Philistines all these years instead of the Israelites.
But now they had the Magic Box! Success was in their front yard. They could see the headlines now: Philistine Victory Assured!
But wherever the Ark of the Covenant came to rest, the whole town broke out in boils. Suddenly, each town couldn't pass it on fast enough. They played Hot Potato with the Ark until the plague had infected the last city and the leaders started screaming at each other. "We don't want it! What do we do with it? Please, somebody...take it back!"
They finally sent it back to Israel on an ox cart and the Israelites were so delighted to see it that they promptly (choose one)

a. bowed down and worshiped God.

b.repented of their sins on the spot.

c. ripped open the sacred Ark and gawked at the contents.

If you guessed other than C, you need to read I Samuel 4-6. Seventy arrogant Israelites took it upon themselves to peek inside, directly contrary to the stated law of God---and God took their lives for their insolent disobedience. Apparently, they'd all gotten it wrong about the Magic Box. The power was not theirs to contain or to use for their own purposes.
Now, the question to you: Where is your God?
In our sophisticated Christianized culture, it's popular to admit that you believe in God. Sounds nice. Sound like you're spiritual and deep. And as long as you don't get specific about Who this God is, most people respect you for it.
But do you ever substitute an icon for the real presence of God?
You can see it when others do it, but what about you?
  • Do you go through your Christianized ritual and call it following God?

  • Do you give a glance at your daily Bible reading, offer a desperate prayer to the ceiling when you're in trouble, show up at church when you're supposed to...and wonder why in spite of your clear devotion, plague infects your life?


After all, the Magic Box is in your possession. So, why isn't it working?


We have whitewashed examples of icon-worship sitting on the street corners of every western city. "I'll go inside this special building, light a candle, talk to the preacher/priest/rabbi, toss an extra bill in the offering plate and maybe I'll get the power of God back in my life."


God cannot be contained in a box, in a church building, or within the stuffy confines of man's ideology. When we try to use Him for our personal gain, as did both the Philistines and the Israelites, it is to our detriment. We're put on this earth for God's glory and pleasure---not the other way around.


So where is your God? Are you trying to keep him confined to only certain days of the week or specific areas of your life? Do you think of him as your personal genie who's not always reliable?


Take a lesson from I Samuel.


God is not mocked. Just ask the moaning, boil-covered Philistines or the widows of the seventy arrogant Israelites. There is no Magic Box. There is no substitute for the awesome presence of the Living God working wonders within a repentant heart.

Would you really want there to be?



Second Hand

The table is set. Dinner smells delicious!

You slide into your chair and a filled plate is set before you.

You stare, then lean closer. "Uhh...what is this?"

Your hostess raises a brow. "What's wrong?"

"Well...it's all...it's chewed already? Is this already chewed up?"

"Yeah. So? I thought you'd like it better like that. Less work for your jaws. I can tell you what it tasted like. You don't have to taste it yourself. Meat's kinda tough. I really had to work that over good. But now you can just swallow it down and be back at work quicker. I know how busy you are. Same difference. Same food. "

You scoot your chair backward, still staring at the pile of pre-chewed food. "No it's not! It's not the same at all. I don't want your opinion on it, or your spit! Never mind. I'll go eat my own food."

Are you wrinkling your nose at the thought?

Imagine if all you ate was someone else's pre-chewed food. All the flavor and texture would be gone. Nothing but chilly puree left for you. Sound appetizing?

What about spiritual food?

Most of us are content to swallow the opinions of others who've actually been with God and been fed by the Holy Spirit. Instead of spending quality time with God Himself, we read self-help books, take copious notes during the sermon, and even listen to pod-casts of our favorite speakers. We gulp second-hand food without ever pulling up to the feast God has prepared for us alone.

And we wonder what's wrong.

Second-hand spirituality is rarely satisfying. We grow anemic and wonder why we never quite caught on to that whole "communion with God" idea.

There is no substitute for one-on-one communication with God through his Word and prayer. Hearing about someone else's relationship with him may be mildly encouraging, but it has little to offer you personally. It would be like hearing a description of your spouse from someone who knew him, rather than actually getting to know him yourself. No comparison.

Look back over the past couple of weeks. Have you been substituting a second-hand God for the real thing? Maybe it's time to change your diet.

Great Idea!

Do you have an attic full of them? A drawer or a basement?

Those projects that seemed like such a good idea at the time. They now sit half-finished, abandoned, dollars and effort wasted. Discouragement was the main outcome.

Good, spiritual-sounding ideas are touted in nearly every church as though taught in some obscure book behind the map of Paul's journeys: "
We're gonna do great things for God! We're gonna start a class, create a committee, host an event, build a building...We're gonna take this town for God!"

The enthused get more enthused and the hesitant feel guilty. After all, who wants to come right out and oppose something "for God?" Can't argue with the genuine motives or the righteous intent. If it has "God" stamped all over it, it must thrill him too. Right?

You would think that, wouldn't you?

But a little episode in I Chronicles 17 jerks us up short and makes us reconsider exactly what it is that God wants.

King David had a great idea. He had his feet up the Lazy-Boy, a glass of Bethlehem water in his hand, and as he glanced around his luxurious mansion, he had a sudden thought: "How can I sit in my awesome house when the Lord doesn't have a permanent house? What was I thinking? I'd better get busy!"

Even Nathan the prophet thought it was a great idea.

I did too, when I read about it.

But God didn't like it.

Verses 3-6 say, "The word of the Lord came to Nathan the prophet and said...'Have I asked you to build me a house?' "

Sometimes what we think are great ideas, are not. God has other ideas, but if we never stop to ask him, how will we know? David learned it was never safe to assume.

God's plan was better:
He wanted to build the house in David.

We get excited about external indications that we are "working for God," when maybe God is not a bit excited about it. We wear ourselves out serving, building, teaching, going, without ever sitting before the Lord, as David did later in the chapter. If he'd done that first, he could have saved himself the disappointment of having his idea nixed by God.

When will we get it through our hearts that God is far more interested in
who we are than in what we can accomplish in his name? He wants to do the work through us, to build his temple inside our lives, live his life through ours. But most of the time, we like our ideas better, because we have something to show for them. We can PROVE we serve God, just look!

Are you trying to build a work for God that he never asked for?

Maybe he'd rather do the building. Why don't you ask him?

The Window Gazer

She pressed her face closer to the window and smiled. It was almost like being there.

The spotless plate glass stretched for an entire city block and when she cupped her hands around her eyes she could see everything inside.

The reception was in full swing: evening gowns, tuxedos, waiters with silver trays. Thin strains of music drifted through the open door and over the sounds of the traffic behind her. Savory aromas coming from the white-covered banquet table tantalized her senses. Except for the fact that her growling stomach couldn't sample the food, it was almost like being there. If she stood here long enough, she might even forget that she wasn't really one of them.

Too many people are living this experience when it comes to knowing God.

They go through the motions, model the Christian behaviors they see in others, listen to the right preachers, say the right things, and convince themselves that they are really children of God.

But something's wrong and they know it.
Deep inside, where they fear to look,
they know it.

They dabble at the edges of Christianity, assuming that what they have is all there is. They look like everyone else, talk like everyone else, and build their lives around church activities. They've completed what they believe are the entrance requirements to the Christian Club: talking to the preacher, praying, being baptized, attending church.

They are vaguely aware that there are some who seem to really "get into it"--an experience they find curiously unappealing--but assume those are the oddball minorities.

But they've never walked through the door.

Mimicking the talk and actions of the Christians you know makes no impression on God. He is well aware of who is inside and who is still on the sidewalk pretending. His invitation extends to every seeker. All are invited to his reception, but you have to come through the door.

Jesus said, "I am the door." (John 10:9)

There is no window. No back door. No crawl space.

We come through that door at the cross where we exchange our old life for his righteous one. We can't come on our own terms. It's the exchange where you get your tuxedo. You won't feel comfortable inside without one.

Are you inside? Or have you spent your life pretending that you were?

God knows the difference, and deep down, so do you.

What are you waiting for? You have your invitation. Step away from the window and walk through the door.

Are You Ready for Fame?

How would you like to be famous for tragedy?

What if your claim to fame was how much catastrophe you had endured? Few of us hope to make the Guinness Book for greatest number of horrific tragedies within a 24-hour period.

But that 's what we think of when we hear the name Job.

It's too bad, really. From all accounts, he was a fantastic guy. Town benefactor and beloved father of a dozen. (The wife was a little on the witchy side, but that just made everyone respect him all the more.)

So what happened?

He caught Satan's attention.

We need to be aware of the three things in Job's life that brought such unwanted attention, because if we follow his example, we are primed for it too.

1. First, he had the favor of God.
God's favor is a lavish feast. He loves to shower it on the ones who love him back. Despite what has been taught by many, God is not an grouchy ogre with morning breath. He is a loving Father, delighted with his children's attempts to love him back. He can't wait to catch them when they fall down, coach them to get better at it, and cheer every attempt. Job's righteous lifestyle had caught God's attention and God poured out blessing on him.

But it also caught Satan's attention and he set out to destroy it.

If you are seeking God's will in everything, following him with all you have, and are experiencing the favor of God, look over your shoulder. Someone else has noticed and will do whatever he can to knock the blessing out of you.

2. Job also had influence.
He was a well-respected leader and others looked to him for advice and example. When we are in positions of influence, Satan sharpens his claws. He knows that by defeating us, he can also take out a plethora of others who look to us as a source of wisdom.

If you are in a place of influence--whether family, church, community or nation--you are a target of your enemy. It should not catch us by surprise when the big ones fall. Satan has spent extra attention setting snares for them because he loves the domino effect. If he can get to Dad, the kids come too. If he can get the pastor, the church splits. He goes for those who have earned a sphere of influence, so if that's you, tighten your armor.

3. Job thought he understood God.
As many of us do, he had settled into a sortof give-and-take with the Almighty that he thought would continue to infinity. We like contracts. We like lists that show us exactly what we can expect for the money.

We do that with God, too. The problem is that God is not into contracts and lists. He is God. Period. He can do whatever He wants to and it's still right. We get ourselves into trouble when we begin to expect that God owes us something because of our list-keeping.

Understanding God is not the same as trusting God. Understanding insists that God explain himself to my satisfaction. Trusting takes him at his word and believes that no matter what my circumstances may look like, God is good and he loves me.

When we set our sights on pleasing God, we can expect to become a target of our enemy. It just goes with the territory. God's protection is sufficient. God's plan is best, but it can take us through some pretty rocky ground where it doesn't appear that God is for us.

If you've lived for God the best you know how and you are going through unprecedented tragedy, take a deep breath and look at Job. You're in good company. God never forgot him for a moment.

He hasn't forgotten you either.

A Letter Home

Dear Father,

I went shopping today.

I used to like shopping. I used to like a lot of things I no longer care about. Adding to my stash of worldly goods just doesn't seem to be a big deal any more. You have provided everything I need. All I want. Well, everything except what I'm about to ask you.

From the Goodwill store to the mall, shopping has become an immersion in worldly sewage that leaves me feeling like I need a shower. It's not the act of shopping. It's the world I must shop in. I don't want to be judgmental, Lord, I know you love them too. But most of the time I feel like I've been dropped in from another planet.
  • The obese lesbians couldn't have been more than 20 years old, standing in front of me in line, buying men's clothing. The harshness in their features made me want to cry.
  • The anorexic, multi-pierced sales clerk couldn't get off her cell phone long enough to answer my question. Apparently loud discussion wither her baby-daddy about last week's partying couldn't wait. I prayed for her. Was that enough?
  • And the music. Oh, Father. I can hardly stand it. The stores aren't selling clothing anymore. They are selling sex. Sensuality. Lust. As if the naked posters aren't enough, the lyrics have to groan out exactly what will happen if you buy these skanky clothes. And the 13-year-olds are lapping it up.
  • The clothing makes me blush and they are still on the hanger. Clothes that a decade ago were worn only for working prostitutes are now being bought by the mothers of preteens. "We want little Julie to be popular!" Why does a latex, sequined mini skirt and matching bra come in a preteen size? Or a teen size, for that matter. What's wrong with people?
  • The security guards roamed everywhere, eying us all like the potential criminals we are. And why not steal? Current morality says if I don't get caught, it isn't wrong. They have to make sure we get caught. It's like a game. May the sneakiest win.
  • The effeminate male who giggled loudly as he teased a clerk by grabbing her breast turned out to be the manager. I guess his sexual preference left her nothing to worry about, but it made me sick. I couldn't get out of that store fast enough.
Which brings me to the point of my letter. This world reeks. I am flat sick of it. The glittery baubles and trinkets hold no interest for me. The hardness of the hearts, the lust for more evil, the never-ending push for deeper depravity makes me physically ill. I want out.

I am so homesick for you and home I can hardly stand it. The only thing that keeps me going sometimes is the knowledge that you understand. Jesus was here. He knows. He felt this way too. Covered in this world's raw sewage, he pressed on until he had done everything you'd sent him to do.

And then, I notice he didn't stick around any longer than he had to.

So that's what I'm asking for. I want to come home. The minute my job is finished, let's go. I don't want to stick around either. Please give me the strength to finish everything you sent me here to do, and then get me out of here. Keep me faithful to my last breath. I refuse to quit before you say, "Time's up," but I won't be sorry when I hear that sound.

Father, I miss you. I want to come home. How much longer?


Your Daughter

Message for 2012

Carrier pigeons.
Pony Express.




We have discovered hundreds of ways to deliver messages. From smoke signals sent across the camp to satellite conference calls sent across the globe, humans know how to communicate. Where did we get that knowledge? Where do we get that urge?

The need to communicate lies intrinsic in each human heart, and it also lies in God's heart. History is filled with his communication to mankind as a whole and to individuals as needed. From the rhythm of the changing seasons to the written scriptures, God is always communicating to those who take the time to listen.

I love it when God gives me a direct and personal message, as he's done for the past few weeks. It finally became clear last night that this is his New Year's Vow to me and it thrills me to know He wanted me to know that.

For the past few weeks, the word "shield" has been woven into scriptures, songs, random wall hangings, etc. Daily devotionals were about it. New songs downloaded had that phrase. The theme just keeps repeating until even
I get it.

"The Lord God is a sun and shield...No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly." Ps. 84:11

"You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head." Ps. 3:3

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him and I am helped..." Ps. 28:7

There it was again last night, in a random Bible search for something else:

"Do not be afraid, I am a shield to you..." Gen. 15:1.

That one finally turned the light on.

"This is for me, isn't it, Lord? This is what you want me to hold on to this year. I don't know yet what I need to be shielded from, and the thought bothers me a bit, but I believe you. I trust you. Nothing can harm me because You will shield me and I am supposed to hang on to this."

God always gives his promises ahead of time so when something hits, we are prepared. He doesn't want us to feel alone or abandoned when life puts on its boxing gloves. He wants us to dwell in His secret place, abide in His shadow, so that His shield can cover us.

A shield is not an offensive weapon. It represents safety in the middle of conflict. When the Apostle Paul warns us in Ephesians 6 to "stand firm," he didn't mean stand there and take it. He meant not to lose our footing while God's shield covers us during enemy attacks.

The presence of a shield does not ensure peace and harmony, but did does promise that no matter what lies ahead in 2012, God has already got it--and me--covered.

Has God sent you a special message for 2012? Ask Him for one. He's a great communicator.