What's in it for me?

We live in an age of me-first consumerism.

The attitude of most of us is this: I guess I'll try that for awhile, see if I like it. If it doesn't zing me, I'm gone. A job. A spouse. A neighborhood. A church.

Gotta have that newest technology. We stand in line all night for tickets so we can be first. We love two-for-one, something for nothing, and trading spouses.

Unfortunately, the church seems to be moving in the same direction, using the same appeal. "Come on in and get your donuts and coffee. Hang around and chat til you absolutely HAVE to go into the sanctuary. Load up on food, find a comfy seat, and observe the show."

So you settle in and begin the assessment: Worship band's a little loud today...Guy in front of me is too fat to see around...Sermon didn't tell me anything I didn't know...It's a little too hot/cold/dark/bright. Forget the offering, I didn't get my money's worth today. But, I might be back next week--if I don't have something else going on.

Week after week it goes on. No commitment. No responsibility. It's all about ME.

And the church is often caught up in encouraging that self-worship with subtle messages like, "Church isn't so bad, try ours! Look how entertaining our services are. We don't ask ANYTHING of you, neither does God. He's just glad you're here. Good for you for showing up. We just hope you'll 'get something' out of the service."

REALLY? I'd love to find that verse in scripture. What I find instead are rebukes from Jesus himself as he quoted Isaiah the prophet: "‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce..." (Matt. 15: 8-9)

Sometimes we focus so hard on the truth that salvation is free, Jesus paid it all, by grace are we saved, that our theology becomes lopsided. We focus on God's responsibility to man and ignore man's responsibility to God. If that was all there was to it, the Bible would be a pamphlet.

God is not one more avenue of consumption. He requires His people to strive for holiness, like He is holy. We do Him no favors by our token religious activities. He is not interested in our half-hearted attempts to appease Him. 

We begin our journey out of consumer-Christianity when we finally realize: It's not about ME.


And Then It Got Worse

 You're pumped!

You've heard from God!

The vision has come and you see your destiny. 
You're called. 
You're chosen. 
God is with you and you're ready to go.

Moses knew that feeling. God had found him hiding in the desert, called to him from the bush that didn't burn up, and turned his shepherd's staff into the Rod of God. And if the miracles weren't enough, God even gave him an assistant. No excuses, Moses. Get to it!

So he did. At the end of Exodus 4, he had gone back to Egypt, gathered the elders of his people, told them what was going on, and they caught the excitement. They were getting out of here! God was gonna do something awesome. They cheered, partied, and worshiped like it was 1999. If this had been a movie, the music would have swelled and the camera would have pulled back into a beautiful sunset.

Brimming with power, authority, and confidence, Moses and Aaron strode into Pharaoh's courtroom and demanded that he knock off the nonsense. I can imagine Moses' sly nod to his brother as he twirled the holy staff. Watch this! 

The next thing they knew, they were outside the slammed doors of the palace with the sound of a loud "NO!"  still ringing in their ears. Had they just been thrown out? What was that about? What about...What about all those promises from God?

Have you been there?

You're in good company. If you've followed God for any length of time, you will have noticed that He rarely does things the way we think He will. You cannot second-guess God. His plans are far beyond the scope of our plans, so it's pointless to try to figure them out ahead of time. 

Imagine the dilemma as Moses went back to the eager Israelites to confess that not only had Pharaoh not let them go, but everything was about to get worse. The king was going to increase their labor as a punishment for Moses' impertinence. 

I feel sorry for Moses. How shattering to think you know what God's gonna do and then He doesn't. But God's plan had far greater significance than that generation of Israelites could ever fathom. God is not always as concerned as we are about our tiny piece of the puzzle. He sees the big picture and His plans always work toward accomplishing it.

What if Moses had succeeded the first round? What if one request had Pharaoh quivering and he agreed to let them go without a fight? We would have never had the parting of the Red Sea, the 10 plagues, the plundering of the Egyptians, or the Passover. Already, God was setting the stage for the culmination of his final Passover 1500 years later.

What might God be doing in your situation? All you can see is your corner of the picture. Could it be that God's answer has eternal significance? Could it be that when you set out to obey Him and everything got worse, there is a good reason for it? What if Moses had given up after the first go-round with the Meanie-on-the-throne? What if he had decided he had misunderstood the Burning Bush and gone back to sheep-herding? The ramifications are too disastrous to consider.

What if some day we all say that you?


Those Extra Two Years

The story of Joseph in the Old Testament has always fascinated me. What a guy! First he was beat up by all those awful brothers, then sold as a slave, and finally tossed into a dungeon for something he didn't do.Yet, we see no record of his pouting, growing bitter, or giving up on life.

Then, just when he thinks it's about over (One of the king's men is sooo grateful for Joseph's help, he's gonna be sure to remind the king to release his good buddy Joseph. Yeah, right!) the door slams shut again and he sits in the dark for another two years.

I've wondered about those two years. What was the point? Hadn't the guy suffered enough? Wasn't that pouring salt on the wound? Why would God do that to the poor guy?

In a way, the extra two years are the worst of it. What's worse than having your hopes raised only to see them dashed to pieces again?

Imagine him pacing every day before the locked door, rubbing his palms. He just knew that today was the day! Any minute the guards would open that door and...

Day after day, pacing, hoping, praying...It had to be the Lord's will to get him out of this place, didn't it? If he just had enough faith, those prison doors would swing open...

And then--nothing happened.
Hope deflated like last summer's pool toy. Time dragged on and God seemed very far away. Had God forgotten him? How tempting to grow angry and bitter. He had every right.
But still he did not give up on himself or on God. He went right back to doing what he'd been doing, which was his very best with such a good attitude that everyone noticed. He didn't understand why he was still there, but he left the understanding up to God and simply trusted.

Are you in the middle of a seemingly pointless "two years"? You thought you knew where you were going, what God was gonna do in your life. You thought you could see the plan shining before you like a superhighway, and then--wham! The door slammed shut.
The medical report came back. The job prospect fell through. The friend you thought would support you turned fickle. Your family disintegrated before your eyes. Life fell apart around your ears and you wondered where you went wrong.

You paced and you hoped and called it faith. But in reality, you were just hoping REALLY hard that what you wanted to happen was about to happen. That's not faith. That's just hoping-really-hard.

The kind of faith God is looking for is not faith in a situation or an event. We don't show him great faith by assuming that what we want is going to happen. The kind of faith that pleases God is a faith in Him. The kind Joseph had.
Only that kind of faith let him endure another two long years in an Egyptian prison when he should have been let out long ago. He had the strength to take it with dignity because he wasn't putting his faith in man's memory, in a king's sense of justice, or in what should have happened. He simply trusted his God.

Thousands of years later, we get to see the whole picture. We can see why God left him there longer. He ended up saving all of Egypt, as well as his own people. But he didn't know that when he was scrubbing prison walls. He didn't know that when his prayers seemed to go nowhere.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is when Joseph tells those shame-faced brothers, "What you intended for evil, God meant for good."

One thing I'm learning lately is that I may never understand the detours, the roadblocks, the outright wrong turns my life sometimes takes. But as long as my faith is fixed on God alone, not on what I think he plans to do, then everything in my life works together to create good.

Everything. Even those extra two years.

Can't Live Without It

What is the one thing in your life that you absolutely cannot do without?

Eliminate oxygen, food, and water; those are givens. But what's next? What instantly comes to mind? You don't have to think about it for long, because just the thought of living without it brings a surge of panic.

It might be a relationship: spouse, child, or friend. It could be an occupation, hobby, or pastime that brings more fulfillment than anything else. What is it for you?

If you're trying to second-guess the "right" answer, you may have said your faith is most important. Lots of people say that--whether Muslim, Buddhist, or Christian. You can have passionate faith in just about anything and it can make you feel really good for awhile. But quite often, it is just not enough.

Faith is based upon my ability to maintain it, and many times my faith is just not enough when life slams me up side of the head. My faith is shakeable, tenuous at times, and utterly unreliable. My faith is often based on my perception of God at the moment.

What I am discovering that I cannot live one moment without is the tangible presence of God.

Isn't that the same thing?


2 Peter 1 lists eight steps required to deepen our relationship with God. It begins with "Add to your faith, virtue..."

In other words, faith is the only the first step in knowing God. Unfortunately, most Christians stop at this first step. We get comfortable there and decide to stay.

Faith is good. Without it, we cannot please God or come into his presence. However, it's like preferring baby food to Olive Garden if you refuse to move on to the next step: virtue.

Virtue means "the pursuit of moral excellence." It's the step that makes the remaining steps possible. That doesn't mean you must be perfect, but it does mean you make a decision to turn over complete control of yourself to God: your life, your thoughts, and your future. 100% control. All of His ideas and none of yours. His will--not yours. His agenda--not yours.

And most of us throw on the brakes!

We'll give him 90% and feel pretty virtuous about that. But everything?

If you want to live the purpose for which God designed you, you can't skip steps. If you do, it may be months, even years, but somewhere down the road, you will realize your faith isn't working for you. This is why many people end up disillusioned and sometimes abandon their faith in a frantic effort to find something that "works."

So why do so many well-meaning people get stuck on Step Number One and spend the rest of their lives questioning whether they've bought into the right answer?

The primary reason is fear. We suspect that if we were to dedicate every inch of ourselves to God, he would require us to do something awful. Something we hate. Something that would strip us of our identity and condemn us to a miserable existence. So we hold on to that one thin strip of control--just in case. We'll go only so far with God, but no further. We want the final say in any life decisions. If we agree with them, fine. If not, we have the veto power. Our prayers in reality sound like this: "Show me your will, God (so I can decide if I want to do it)."

In refusing to offer ourselves as "living sacrifice," we also condemn ourselves to remain at arm's length from a God who longs to cuddle us as little children. We deny ourselves the experience of living enveloped in the tangible presence of God.

You may have faith. Your faith may be very important to you. But is it enough? When the storms hit, when life falls apart around your ears, when the idea of some distant Heaven seems remote compared to this life's agony, is your faith enough?

Once you have actually experienced the tangible presence of God, you won't want to live a minute without it. It's the appetizer before Heaven, whetting your desire for more, and leaving you disgusted with any subsitutes. It's what David meant when he wrote "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Ps. 42:2)

If you haven't added to your faith virtue, you don't know what you're missing.


What a Waste

Heart pounding, she pushed away from the shadowed doorway and approached the men at the table. Although many sets of male eyes watched her draw near, her eyes were captured in the gaze of the only one who mattered. Voices dropped away and silence blanketed the room as she knelt before this one who had changed her world.

With shaking hands, she caressed the elegant bottle, its graceful neck that her girlfriends admired, the ornate designs that indicated the value of the oil within. She shut her eyes and with a vicious snap, she broke the thin neck of the vial. Fragrance filled the room.

With a smooth movement, she lifted the vial and poured it over the smooth hair of her King. As rivelets ran down his sideburns, her tears coursed down her face. Voices at once rose in protest.

"What's she doing!"
"Hey, that's crazy! That's expensive oil!"
"What in the world...Lady, you're nuts!"

Lips pursed together, she tipped the vial until there was nothing left. The last drop landed on his oil-soaked head and she fell at his feet, weeping. It was all she had, but it would never be enough.

His hand touched her shoulder and gently squeezed. She heard through her weeping the sound of that voice that had called the planets into orbit. "Leave her alone! She knows what she's doing. I'm telling you guys, what she has done will be remembered forever."

So what had she done?

If we're honest with ourselves, we stumble over that story too. It's been estimated that the cost of that alabaster jar of ointment was up to a year's salary. A single woman had very little means of support in those days. And she had just thrown it all away on a man who would be dead before the week was up.

Doesn't your common sense kick and and say, "That really wasn't very smart. Nice, yeah. Spiritual, sure. But not smart"?

We live like that, too. Sure, we're Christians. Sure we tithe, go to church, serve in the nursery, teach VBS, even give to missions. But we live smart. We don't waste ourselves on eternal things if it might cost us earthly things that are more important.

It has been suggested that the pungent nature of that costly oil would have still hung on Jesus' skin as he was being crucified. As he was whipped, slapped, and laid out on rough crossbeams, was it her gift that kept him going? Was it the scent of one woman's sacrifice that helped him make his own? When his best friends had deserted him, his best buddy denied their acquaintance, and his own Father had turned away, Mary's gift was his only companion. The aroma of her love that had been "wasted" on him would still have floated about his head. Maybe that's why he predicted that what she had done would forever be entwined with his death and resurrection. Because for him, that aroma would be forever entwined with it in his memory. His real best friend turned out to be a woman.

So what are you wasting on Jesus?Is your gift to him comfortable for you? 

Sure you are regular at church--unless the big game is on. 
Sure you give--unless bills are a little tight. 
Sure you read your Bible--if you have to.  
Sure you live righteously--if it doesn't clash with what you really desire.
Sure you witness to others--if the mood is right and you're not embarrassed.
Sure you pray--to ask God for what you want.
Sure you pour your oil on him--a few drops.

It is significant that the Bible records that she broke the vial to pour it. Most of us would have taken out the stopper and dropped a couple drops on his head, feeling quite spiritual about it. But when she broke it, there was no going back.

Have you allowed Jesus to break you so that there is no going back? Or do you live with one foot in the world--just in case? When we break our lives over his head, we are all in. And that's really what scriptural Christianity is all about. 

What is your alabaster vial?


How's the Wine?

Don't you feel for this little guy?

He is having something he doesn't need clipped from his life and he is not happy about it.

Ever feel like that? Ever think life would be wonderful if only...
  • If only I hadn't lost my job...

  • If only my child had not died...

  • If only my husband had not had an affair...

  • If only that medical test could be changed...

We see change as the enemy and fight it with all we have. But what if we could see it the way God does?

I found this interesting Scripture (courtesy of Lies Women Believe, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss) that I'd never noticed before: Jer.48:11says,

Moab has been at rest from youth,
like wine left on its dregs,
not poured from one jar to another—she has not gone into exile.
So she tastes as she did,
and her aroma is unchanged.

The country of Moab had lived in security and comfort for so long that sin was taking over. They had not faced the fire of suffering and were proving themselves unfit for God's service. He is reminding us that too much ease makes us soft, weak, and fruitless.

The wine-making process of Jeremiah's day required that new wine be poured continually from one vessel to another, week after week, as the dregs settled to the bottom. After undergoing this purifying process long enough, nothing remained in the jar but pure, sweet wine. Without this constant turmoil in the jar, the wine would be sour and full of dross--unfit for drinking.

Ever feel that your life is continually poured from one jar to another? Family changes, divorces, moves, job losses, health concerns, wayward children, cankerous in-laws....The world seems to continually pour us from one jar to another until there is nothing left of us.

That's the whole point.

God accepts us as we are, but he loves us too much to let us stay that way. He brings tailor-made suffering into our lives to clear the dregs of selfishness, fleshly desire, and sin strongholds.

Notice how disgusted God is that the people of Moab had not grown up. There was no spiritual fruit, no real success, no eternal benefit coming from this place at all. They stayed the way they were: fat and complacent, stuck in one self-centered spot, sucking up all the blessings God provided without a thought for Him.

Take another look at your situation. God promises that "joy comes in the morning" for those who seek him. Your suffering is only for a season. As you are poured from one jar to another, God is removing the impurities from your life so that the final product is pure and sweet, fit for His use.