As the deer pants for the water, 
my soul pants for you, O Lord. 
(Ps. 42:1-3)
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To be honest, for many years I did not understood that verse. It sounds spiritual to read it in a churchy voice and makes a great song, but c'mon... 

How many people can say that line characterizes their daily lives?

We sure don't act like it. We pant after a bigger salary, nicer car, honors, awards, sports trophies, and glamor careers...but God? Who pants after God?

The image the Psalmist paints is of an exhausted animal who's run as far as he can go, escaping danger on every side, and now all he can think about is water. You could offer him a barn full of oats and a prairie full of fresh grass and he wouldn't give it a second look. He's no longer even worried about the presence of danger.

Why? Because need makes him single-minded. Desperation drives him to the one thing that can sustain him--water. Everything else has paled in comparison. Life has been stripped down to the bare essentials--life-giving water.

The image above can never be understood until you've been that desperate. When, like the deer, your life has been stripped down to the only thing that matters. The glitz of the world holds no fascination whatsoever and all your soul longs for is life-giving water. When you're dying inside from disappointment that life wasn't what you thought. When the future just holds more of the past. When your soul cries out that unless there is water around the next bend, you're not gonna make it.

Most of the world lives there, panting and desperate, never knowing how close the water really is, often choosing to believe the water they crave is nothing but a mirage. They turn their heads to search in vain for another source, but everything else only fills their souls with more dust.

The secret to panting after God is allowing Him to get close enough to give you a single taste. 

Like a water droplet on the tongue of a thirsty man, a glimpse of the beauty and glory of Almighty God leaves your soul panting for more. It's when you finally allow Him to strip your heart of all its lofty ideas and topple your idols that you can finally see Him.

And like that frantic deer, you begin to seek more. And more. And it's only then that you'll find Him and drink deeply of His life-giving water. 

He promises you will.


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It's a Jonah Day





 


Ever have 
a "Jonah Day?"












  • You gave that extra effort and it was thrown back in your face. 
  • You did your best and someone else got the credit.
  • No one appreciated you, clapped you on the back, or even said thank you.
  • You got overlooked, overworked, and taken advantage of.

And the ones who did it are just fine. They skated away on the wings of glory and you were left in the dust.

Then the mean thoughts start:

"It's not right that they be forgiven for what they did."
"God is just too long-suffering with people like that."
"How can they call themselves Christians?"
"After all I've done for them, and that's how they treat me?"

 
Grumpy and pouting under your vine, you watch with furrowed brows as the ones you're growling at seem to prosper.


It's a Jonah Day.

The story of Jonah is one we can all identify with--if we are honest with ourselves. Jonah looked at that city full of sinners and felt like we've all felt at some point--"Why do you love them, Lord?"

I think it is interesting that the story ends abruptly without telling us how Jonah resolved his issues. We can fill in the blanks and make it our story.

What's got you aggravated right now?

Is there someone you are not willing to love?

We are all going to have Jonah Days from time to time, but it's crucial not to let them define you. Our frustration at sin and human error too quickly becomes disgust at the sinner. God never does that. If we're not careful, Jonah Days start to become a Jonah Life.

So sit under your vine for a while. Soon God will remind you that you were once one of them and he didn't give up on you.

Then let the vine shrivel up and get back to what He's called you to do.
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I've just finished the last post on Jesus' twelve disciples and have created a special blog for it. 
If you missed the series, you can find it here: 
The Twelve Disciples.

Read each sketch to see which of the disciples is most like you.


The Outsider

(Part Thirteen in the Disciples Series. Click the Disciples link on the sidebar to begin at the introduction called Different Strokes.)

Matthias sat on the ledge overlooking the city and rested his chin in his hands. The lot had fallen to him. Who would have guessed?

He hadn't even wanted it. Who was he to fill Judas' place? Would he be forever linked with that traitor? "Oh, this is Matthias. He took Judas' place. You know, the one who betrayed the Lord?"

His stomach tightened as he remembered that night. It now seemed as though it had happened in another lifetime. He'd never really felt like one of them, but now he was. Who was he to carry on this glorious work the Lord had started? The whole thing had taken him by surprise and he had yet to get over it.

He let his mind drift back to that last day. Jesus had stood before them, talking like he had so many times. He had been preparing them for something, but as usual, they didn't understand until later.

He had warned them not to leave Jerusalem yet. He said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Then He began to rise into the air. Calm, unruffled, as though he did this kind of thing every day. The look on his face would echo in their memories until they saw him again.

He had literally glowed with joy. His eyes held a touch of regret at leaving them, but anticipation at seeing his Father.

Matthias had stood with the others, yet felt as though he was a mile away. He had kept himself at a distance. Behind them. Who was he to carry on as though he had always been with them? Would they accept him? They had their stories, their inside jokes, that special language of those who belonged together. Would he always be on the outside?

Into his mind came the final words of Jesus: "...when the Holy Spirit comes upon you..."

Something stirred inside his chest. What had Jesus meant? Why were they to wait here? What difference would it make?

He jumped off the ledge and dusted the back of his robe. They were waiting now, in that upper room. All of them, hiding really. Praying and hoping that everything they had staked their lives on would happen as Jesus said it would.

Jesus had never been wrong before. He wouldn't be wrong now. Maybe that would make the difference. Maybe this Holy Spirit he spoke of would draw even late-comers like Matthias into the inner circle. Maybe it would take the Holy Spirit before he felt like he belonged.

We've all been where Matthias was.

The one outside the crowd who didn't quite fit in. That awkward, apologetic feeling that makes you wonder if it's you or if it's them. The Johnny-come-lately. That nervous grimace when everyone else seems to get it but you. They all know each other, all the old stories, inside jokes. You have a right to be there, but emotionally you're not sure.

Matthias was right. It is the Holy Spirit who makes the difference. When the Holy Spirit came upon the believers in Acts chapter 1, they were "all in one accord." There were no longer insiders or outsiders. They were all brothers and sisters in Christ, unified in the Spirit.

Unity is the Holy Spirit's work. He is the great equalizer. In Him there are no superstars and no losers. There are no have's nor have-not's. Many times we try to accomplish God's work by man's methods. The results are usually man-made.

That's why Jesus said "Wait. Don't try to do My work in your own strength."

Are you trying to look like everybody else, hoping you appear "Christian" enough?

When you are filled with the Holy Spirit, it no longer matters what others think of you. You care very little how popular, how admired, or how comfortable you feel. The power they received from "on high" swept away the pettiness and man-made labels they had for each other. From then on, it was all about God.

Do you identify with Matthias?
Maybe you need the Holy Spirit too?


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Betrayal by Default


Where does betrayal start?

Very few traitors start out that way. No one wakes up in the morning, honest and joyful, and says to himself, "I think I'll betray my friends, my country, my wife today."

The name Judas has become synonymous with betrayal, but it wasn't always so. Who was Judas Iscariot before that fateful night?

Evil incarnate? Satan in the flesh? Worthless scum?


Probably not. He was a man. A disillusioned, angry, frustrated man who made a very poor choice. When Jesus did not turn out to be who Judas thought he was, he felt betrayed himself. He had a totally different perspective on the whole "kingdom" thing, and that turned out to be his downfall. He had been chosen, just like the rest of them. He had heard the sermons, puzzled over the parables, and watched the miracles...and he waited. Hoped and waited. And it was all going downhill as far as he was concerned.

When the heart gets set on having its own way and refuses to adapt to reality, mental illness takes over. Continually choosing sinful responses creates a pattern in the human heart that takes on a life of its own. That night of betrayal was not the first time Judas had entertained traitorous thoughts toward his Master. They had begun as disappointment, festered into resentment, and culminated in the greatest act of evil in human history.

We like to distance ourselves from such an act, but have you found yourself somewhere in that downward spiral? Someone has hurt or disappointed you. Things did not go as you dreamed they would, and you feel such a let-down. Reality has clashed with your beautiful dream and you refuse to tolerate it.
  • Your spouse has not met your needs lately...
  • Your boss won't notice a few bucks missing from the account...
  • The payoff for a few hours' work is just too good to pass up...
And betrayal begins.

What about spiritually? Things didn't go as you assumed they would and you feel God has let you down. You had once declared undying allegiance to Christ, but life didn't go as you thought it would. Where's all that peace, love, and joy stuff they are talking about?

So you quit going to church, let your Bible accumulate dust, and started dabbling in the world's mud pie. You've shut God out of your life because you can't understand him. You don't like where His will is taking you. You don't admit it to yourself, but you've chosen to be your own god.

Are you a Judas without realizing it?

It's easy to see where he went wrong, but what about you? At least he got 30 pieces of silver for his soul.

What are you gaining?
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Calling All Zealots

He was the picture of unwavering enthusiasm for the cause--whatever cause happened to be in his sights at the moment. In childhood, it may have been wrestling or his latest bug collection. Then he discovered the Torah, and passion for the Lord God Almighty consumed him. White-hot rage at those who oppressed Israel coursed through his veins and he was determined to do something about it. Or die trying.

Then he met the Messiah. The One about whom all those prophecies had been written. His zeal transferred allegiance. His nickname, Simon the Zealot, remained. Jesus did not strip him of his identity; he transformed it into something of eternal significance. He became like King David in his passion for the things of God. "Zeal for Thy house consumes me." (Ps. 69:9)

Can that be said of you?

Would "zeal" describe your attitude toward the things of God? Or is your relationship with Christ a ho-hum affair? Have you become lackadaisical about your faith? Taking eternal life for granted?

The opposite is just as harmful. Have you become so rigid and legalistic in following the "letter of the law" that you have forgotten how delicious it feels to swim in Grace? Have you forgotten or never known what joyous abandon to the will of God is like?

Zeal--unwavering passion for the things of God--should describe every believer. If it does not describe you, maybe you should take another long look at Jesus' eleventh apostle. Though he is never mentioned alone in connection with any of the famous events of Scripture, the name Jesus let him keep tells us a lot about him. He was probably first to line up, first to charge forward with the new plan, and first to rally the morale of the troops. Everyone who knew him knew what he stood for.

Wouldn't you like for Jesus to call you The Zealot?
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Leave Your Religion Behind

(Part Ten in the Disciples Series. Click the Disciples link on the sidebar to begin at the introduction called Different Strokes.)

Thaddaeus ran a palm across the smooth, folded, fabric and pressed it deeper into the box. With a sigh, he closed the lid. There. It was done. It was over. He had made his choice. There would be a great price to pay, but it no longer mattered.

His mother appeared in the doorway, wiping her eyes. "Oh, my son, my son! How you have disgraced this family! Your father can hardly hold his head up in the temple. All your studies, all your connections...our reputation...How can you just throw it all away to run off with that renegade Nazarene?" She threw her apron over her head and burst into sobs.

Thaddaeus felt his lips tightened as he stood. His simple robe fell around his ankles and he caught his reflection in the looking glass. Thaddaeus, the exaulted Pharisee, was now Thaddaeus, the common peasant.

"Mother--"

"Don't 'mother' me! All my dreams--gone. My son, a noble Pharisee, God's elect. Was that too much to ask? How can you turn your back on Yahweh? You, a keeper of the law since you were born. All for nothing! Chasing that...that...carpenter!" More sobs.

Thaddaeus shook his head and squeezed past her heaving shape. He planted a kiss on the top of her head and grabbed his money belt. This new robe, made of cheap cloth, felt light and airy compared to the ornate robe he was used to wearing.

How proud he had been when he was accepted as a Pharisee in good standing. He had held himself with that aloof stance that characterized a good law-keeper. He had enjoyed the envious stares of the rabble and the public admiration he earned everywhere he went. How he had loved being religious!

He stepped outside into the cool Galilean morning and took a deep breath. This morning marked an ending and a beginning. He was no longer Judas Thaddaeus, of the court of the Pharisees. From now on, he would be simply Judas Thaddaeus, follower of Christ.

Coming to Christ means we leave religion behind.

That's a tough concept for a lot of people to accept. It certainly was for the Pharisees. They were used to rules, rules, and more rules. As long as there were rules, they had a standard by which to measure their own performance. And as long as they looked good to everyone else, they assumed they looked good to God.

That fantasy was shattered when Jesus of Nazareth walked into town. He did not come to do away with holiness, but to define it correctly. Religion can never please God. He hates the pomp, the men-pleasing, and the self-gratification sought by the outwardly religious.

Coming to Christ means
we abandon our best efforts to impress God.


We acknowledge that nothing we do will ever come close to it. We take off our arrogant outward show of religiosity and put on the humble character of Christ, following him wherever he takes us.

Are you still wearing your Pharisaical robes? Do you still entertain the hope that all your good deeds will earn you God's favor? Or do you claim to follow Christ while clinging to your favorite set of man-made rules?

Become like Thaddaeus. Set it aside and open your heart to the Son of God who promises to exchange all that arrogance for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

You will never miss those ornate robes when you wear the light, airy gift of God's presence.



Less Than What?

(Part Nine in the Disciples Series. Click the Disciples link on the sidebar to begin at the introduction called Different Strokes.)

James shuffled into the eating area and checked the cushions once more. Should be suitable. Matthew had sent a runner ahead to give him warning. Just a little. Not enough time to prepare adequately.

He rubbed sweaty palms down his robe and glanced at the open doorway again. Empty.

It still didn't make sense. Why would a famous rabbi want to have dinner with them, the sons of Alpheus? His brother, a tax collector; and him, a useless cripple living on the charity of his wealthy brother. Yeah, he cooked for him, but that was no job for a man. A man should be a merchant. A farmer. A fisherman. Even a tax collector. But Matthew had beat him to it. One tax collector in the family was enough.

As it was, both sons of Alpheus had unwelcome titles: Matthew the tax collector and James the Less.

He dragged his stiff leg behind him as he went to the doorway to peer down the dusty street. A small mob moved as a unit toward the frame house on the corner.

James ducked inside and pressed his back against the wall. He could feel his heart hammering against the planks. What could he say to a rabbi? He was used to the Pharisees and various other pompous leaders who liked to hang out with Matthew and criticize everyone in town. His weak, emaciated body had become invisible to them years ago. And he had learned to tune out their sarcasm and arrogance. Why shouldn't they be arrogant? They had it all; Yahweh's right-hand men.

A shadow fell across the front stoop. Matthew breezed through the doorway without noticing his brother plastered against the wall. Behind him, a stranger in white stepped over the threshold and stopped. He gave a three-quarter turn and looked directly at James, as though he had known where to find him.

His smile lit up the room. "James, good to see you. Join us. I am looking for those who long to be fishers of men." He smiled again and held out his hand. A strong, muscular hand bronzed by years in the sun.

James held out his thin sweaty one and felt it gripped by a power that radiated through his being. His heart calmed and he found himself gazing back at this Rabbi with a confidence that was not his.

With a cautious smile, he pushed away from the wall and led the group across the room to the basin of water reserved for guests to wash their feet. As he turned to offer a seat to the Rabbi, he realized it was the first time in years he had not limped.

He gaped at his stiff leg. It looked the same. Still throbbed a bit. Still thin and boney.

Had he imagined it? Had he stopped limping?

Or had he simply stopped caring?

We all have handicaps.
For some, the greatest handicap is simply the refusal to admit it.

For others, the handicap becomes an excuse.
"I can't" becomes the first response to every challenge.

Are you laboring beneath a label you don't want, seeing yourself as insignificant and unable to become what you see others becoming?

Jesus doesn't see you that way. He's is looking for those who want to become fishers of men. Your resume makes no difference to him.

When you invest yourself in the things that have eternal significance, your handicaps may still be there. But you stop caring. They no longer define you.

The moment he met Jesus, James the Less became James the Apostle.

Have you met Jesus? He wants to rename you.

The One who designed you, is the only One who can define you.



He Is Risen!

No man-made religion has an empty tomb!




Counted Worthy

(Part Eight in the Disciples Series. Click the Disciples link on the sidebar to begin at the introduction called Different Strokes.)

Matthew Levi finished the column he was adding and sat back. His eyes still studied the numbers. Seemed hardly possible, but he could almost afford that delicious little grape arbor he'd been eying since last summer.

He forced a smile. Where was the satisfaction he'd assumed he would feel once he'd achieved his financial goals?

"Hey, Levi. Take a look at this little bounty." Simeon bar Judah opened his money bag and proudly displayed the day's take. "Sure you don't wanna go in with me and the boys on our little scheme to squeeze a few more denarii out of the simpletons in our district?" Simeon's lips smiled but his eyes were hard. Tax collecting did that to you.

Matthew shook his head. "No thanks. I've told you. I'm doing this for the money, but I'm doing it honestly. It's just a job. I won't take advantage of my brothers."

Simeon snorted. "Brothers! Ha! Might as well get what you can from them. You've got the same reputation we do. Those brothers you're protecting think you're dirty anyway. Go ahead and enjoy yourself."

Acid pooled in Matthew's stomach and his fists clenched beneath his tax collector's booth. How'd he get here? Where had it all gone wrong? He'd only meant to make a quick profit and then get out. He never meant to be branded forever as a publican and an outcast. But he would always be known as Matthewthetaxcollector.

A shadow fell over his table. Startled, he forgot to adopt his usual expression of stern disdain. A tall man, a rabbi, studied him quizzically. Matthew knew without asking that his man was not here to pay his required tax.

"Matthew, follow me." The Rabbi's voice was low and gentle, but the words pelted Matthew like a public stoning.

He leaped to his feet, knocking his chair backward. His heart gave an odd lurch. "How do you know me?"

The man only smiled. He looked away for a moment and Matthew saw over his shoulder a small group of men watching the exchange. He wrinkled his nose. Fishermen, obviously, from the smell. From their expressions, it was clear some of them did not approve of this discussion.

But there was something about them. Something about this stranger. He studied the face of the tall man and a tremor started somewhere inside. This was the One they were all talking about, wasn't it? The Rabbi from Nazareth. A rabbi wanted him? Matthew, the tax collector?

Now a larger group had formed around them, questions on every face. He knew what they were thinking.

"I...well..." He glanced only once at the pile of money under his table. It may just as well have been a pile of rocks. He no longer wanted it.

"Yes. Yes, I'll come. But first, you come home with me, you and...and all your men there. Let me prepare a great feast for you!"

The Rabbi nodded and smiled again. "That would be wonderful. I hear you have an excellent cook."

Matthew kicked the chair out of the way without looking at it. As he walked around the table, he had the sense that he was walking out of prison. He felt himself growing taller with every step.

He beckoned to the Rabbi and strode toward the street, head held high. The Rabbi fell into step with him and the ragtag band of men followed at a distance.

"Hey, Levi!" Simeon's shout came from behind him.

Matthew kept walking.

"Levi! Get back here! You're still on duty!"

For the first time today--the first time in months--Matthew Levi smiled.

Where did Jesus find you?

He calls his followers from every corner, every occupation, every lifestyle. Jesus does not care where you've been or what you've done. He cares about who you are and where you are going?

Matthew, also called Levi, felt himself trapped in an unforgiving career, labeled "unfit" by those whose respect he deeply wanted. Only the transforming power of Jesus could change a despised tax collector into an apostle, writer of the first book of the New Testament.

What label do you wear?
Janie the teen mom? Robin the divorcee? Steven the preacher who fell?

Have you labeled yourself "unfit"?

There is no such person in God's opinion. He chose Matthew because he was a tax collector, not in spite of it. Jesus was making a public statement, as he explained to the outraged Pharisees later. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

If you are a sinner, then He's talking about you.

If Matthew could leave it all behind and become a new person, so can you. He never looked back at that tax collector's booth. When Jesus changes you, you stay changed.

What are you waiting for? He just called your name...
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