Ordinary People

Ordinary

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said, ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’” (2 Samuel 7:18).

Think you have nothing to offer to God and His kingdom?  Do you believe that you’re too young or too old or have no gifts or talents?  Sure you want to do great things for God, but you’re just a mom wiping dirty noses or a regular guy at a regular job or a college student trying to get through finals.  You’re in very good company my friend!

A young woman had nothing to offer God but a loyal heart.  She followed her mother-in-law home and did the most normal thing – she went out to gather grain to feed them both.  But God interceded and Ruth became the great grandmother of God’s anointed King of Israel and part of the lineage of Jesus.

Esther had no influence in the politics of Persia – but she had courage.  Because she stepped up and stepped into the King’s court, the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire were saved.

A young captive in a foreign land, Daniel had nothing of value.  But he did have integrity.  God used him to show His sovereignty and power to two of the greatest rulers in history: Nebuchadnezzar and Darius.

Jesus called twelve men from fishing boats and tax booths and used them to turn the entire world upside down.

Two women did what women throughout the ages have done – raised children and grandchildren.  God used Lois and Eunice to shape young Timothy into the Apostle Paul’s right-hand man and true son in the faith.

You may not be in a position of importance, but you are important to the Kingdom of God.  You may see yourself as small and insignificant or past your prime, and that’s just fine with Him.   He likes to use the least likely people to accomplish the most amazing things. That way He gets all the glory.

If you think you have nothing of value to offer God, you’re wrong.  You have yourself.  That’s all He needs.  He will take you and use you in the most ordinary – and yet extraordinary – ways. He’s got an important task, and you’re just the person He’s been looking for.  Just be available and watch Him work.

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Hiding from God

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.  But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” (Genesis 3:9)
Did God really not know where Adam and Eve were?  Is it possible that the omniscient, omnipresent God who called the universe into existence was clueless to His beloved creation’s whereabouts and actions?  Not a chance.  I believe God was asking Adam, “Do YOU know where you are?”  “Do you realize what you have done?”  They had walked with God every day in the goodness of His creation, but now thought they needed to avoid their Creator.  They hid their bodies from one another and tried to hide themselves from God.  Sound familiar?
When you and I fall to the temptation of the enemy, when we surrender to sin, our first inclination is to hide, to cover ourselves so God can’t see our shame and to avoid Him at all costs.  Do I really think that He is unaware of my actions?  Do you think God doesn’t see you cowering in the bushes?   We can’t hide from Him.  We can’t cover it up.  But that is a gift, not a source of fear.  When David sinned, he tried to dismiss it, but it was futile.   “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:3).  You know that too.  We can try to dodge it and hide it and pretend it didn’t happen, but it’s always there. When he finally came clean with God, confessed his sin with brokenness and sorrow, he found sweet forgiveness.  His spirit was renewed, joy was restored and he now had a testimony of redemption. (See Psalm 51)
Where are you?  What are you trying to hide?  God knows. It’s time to bring your sin out of hiding. God will forgive you.  God will restore your joy and turn your failure into a beautiful testimony.  Come out of the bushes Beloved, your God stands ready with arms open wide.

Advent Day 9 – Christmas Joy

“Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

There is no better combination than children and Christmas.  Their sweet smiles, joyous laughter and excitement are contagious.  A child’s heart is wide open, and his wonder and delight will warm even the coldest Scrooge’s heart.  Children have an enormous capacity for joy, a trait that we tend to lose as we “mature” into adults.  When my son was small, and he would get excited, he would do what I called his “seal clap of joy,” clapping his little hands together in fast repetitions.  It always made me laugh, not just his clapping, but the excitement and delight that bubbled out of him.

Unlike our “dignified” western persona, in the middle-eastern world, emotions were deeply felt and fully expressed.  Grief was given full breadth as grown men and women wailed loudly, beat their breasts and mourned publicly.  Likewise joy was celebrated with loud songs and shouts of delight – even dancing in the streets as neighbors joined in the merriment.  The Bible gives many accounts of great emotional impact – Job in his mourning, David celebrating the return of the Ark to Jerusalem.  In fact, there is still great emotional expression in those cultures today.

So when the angels announced the “good news of great joy” we can envision the shepherds dancing by the fire, singing and laughing with delight, then rushing off to see this Baby “wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger” (v. 12).  This was cause for celebration – the Lord had fulfilled His promise to Israel!

You and I have reason to rejoice and celebrate too, because more than just His promise to one nation, the Lord had fulfilled His promise to all mankind.  Way back in the book of Genesis, after the first humans had fallen to Satan’s ploy, God promised to send a Rescuer who would crush the head of our enemy (Genesis 3:15) and redeem men from captivity to sin and death.  This child in the manger was the fulfillment of that promise.  He is the reason we sing “Joy to the World.”  He is the reason we celebrate – not because of trees and lights and presents – but because of the joy we have in Jesus Christ.

Let this Christmas bring a childlike joy to your heart – a joy that shows on your face and spreads out all around.  Dance, sing, jump, rejoice – let it fill you to the brim and overflow onto everyone around you. There will always be people who don’t appreciate your enthusiasm – there will always be Scrooges and Grinches who will “bah humbug” over your delight.  Be joyful anyway – maybe it will bring a smile to their face as well.

Share some Christmas joy this season, it’s a gift you can give to others that always gives back to you.

Read 2 Samuel 6:12-15

In the Waiting

waiting“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify about me in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

When God calls a person to service, it is not always immediate nor is it a straight path to their place of ministry.  God declared that Abraham would be the roots a great nation, but it took twenty-five years for the child of promise to be born and a couple of generations for the nation to grow.  Young Joseph had a vision from the Lord of himself in a high position, but he got there after several years of treachery, slavery and prison.  Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, but he tended sheep, served in battle and was on the run for many years before actually taking the throne. 

And then there is Paul.  The scene in Acts 23 has Paul under arrest for declaring the name of Jesus.  For years he has been harassed and persecuted for the Gospel, now he is a prisoner, accused by the Romans of inciting riots and by the Jews of blasphemy.  To truly understand Paul’s call, you have to go all the way back to Acts 9:15, when God declared that this man would carry His name before Jews, Gentiles and kings.  At this moment, he is a long way from fulfilling his destiny.  As he sits in his cell, the Lord Jesus comes to him and speaks our key verse to encourage Paul.

Does this mean the apostle will be released and travel directly to Rome to preach in the great halls of the palace?  Not exactly.  Acts tells us that Paul escaped a murderous plot through a midnight run, endured multiple trials under Roman kings, faced a storm at sea, and was shipwrecked and snake bitten along the way.  But Acts 28:14 says, “And so we came to Rome.”  God was faithful to His promise to Paul, and the rest of Acts and church history tells us that Paul did indeed preach the Gospel and declare the name of Jesus in Rome, despite doing so from prison.  But there was a lot of space between the promise and the fulfillment.

I’m going to be bare-bones honest with you – I’m living in that empty “in-between” space right now.  More than ten years ago I heard God’s call to ministry, but in the waiting I’ve nearly lost hope.  I’ve been pursuing seminary to prepare for God’s work.  But as I walk through the aisles of Publix at my job every day, I wonder if I’ll ever get there.  That’s when I return to the stories of Abraham, Joseph, David, and especially Paul.  And that’s when I recall V. Raymond Edman’s words: “Never doubt in the dark what God told you in the light.”  My friend, I don’t know what God has spoken over you, nor how long you’ve waited to see it come to fruition.  But I do know that the God who spoke over your life and mine is faithful.  His word never returns void.  I am praying that you and I will stand firm in the faithful nature of the Lord and believe that what He has declared in the light, will be fulfilled despite the darkness.

“And so we came to . . .”

Why Bethlehem?

christmas_bethlehem“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea . . . “Matthew 2:1

I had a conversation recently with a friend who is moving away.  She is greeting this transition with both anxiety and excitement.  “It’s all going to be so strange in a new town, but who knows what God has in store there?”  I remembered my own move just a year earlier and that same mix of anticipation and trepidation.  Like my friend, I believed God was behind our relocation, that His will for me is here in this place.  I believe God sets things in motion and orchestrates events so that His will is fulfilled.  The Bible is filled with story after story of God’s hand in the events of human history, and in particular in individual lives.  But sometimes the path He chooses is hard and difficult to understand in the moment.

Joseph had a destiny in Egypt that affected his family, the forthcoming nation of Israel and the entire world.  But God took him through pits and prison on the way.  David would be king of Israel, but by way of the sheep fields and running for his life through the wilderness.  I love the accounts of Paul; God had a purpose for him, to “carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel,” (Acts 9:15).  He declared, “you must testify about me in Rome, (Acts 23:11).  And he did indeed make it to Rome to declare the name of Christ Jesus, but he arrived as a prisoner, through a storm and a shipwreck and a snake (Acts 27-28) .

Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem fulfilled a prophecy made hundreds of years before: “Out of you, Bethlehem Ephrathah . . . will come one for me who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2).  How did that happen when His mother was in Nazareth, some 100 miles away?  “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  And everyone when to his own town to register,” (Luke 2:1, 3).

Beloved, a life surrendered into the hands of the Lord God Almighty may have twists and surprises, and yes even doubts and struggles, but you can be assured that He is faithful to fulfill His purpose.  Don’t be afraid of these “strange things that are happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).  It’s just God at work fulfilling His purpose for you. 

In the Desert

Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA

Sunbaked Mud in Desert ca. 1990s Death Valley, California, USA

“The desert and the parched land will be glad: the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1)

I’ve been in a bit of desert lately; work and school and other responsibilities have sapped my mental, physical and spiritual energy and drained my joy.  Yesterday was the first Sunday I’ve been able to attend church in 4 weeks.  I expected to be like a sponge and just soak it all up, but I felt more like a rock that sank to the bottom of the sea.  What is happening and why Lord?  This morning when I came back to Mark chapter 1 (God has kept me here for weeks) I read that after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit led Him out into the desert . . .” (v. 12).  So I began searching for other “deserts” in the Bible and I found that, despite what I expected, most of the desert experiences in Scripture were not times of punishment or even rebellion.  They were encounters with God and seasons of preparation. 

The first mention of a desert was when Hagar was running from Sarah.  There she met God – El Roi – the God who saw her in the desert.  Later she and her son were rescued by a miraculous well of water in the desert, by the God who heard her son’s cries.  David wandered in the desert wilderness for several years before he gained the throne of Israel.  And even though their 30 years of desert wandering was punishment for Israel’s rebellion, it prepared them for the Promised Land.  If we need any more evidence that God works in dry places, don’t forget about the dry bones the Lord brought back to life in Ezekiel.  In the desert, Jesus faced His enemy and came through victorious, and when He left that desert His ministry began.  I’ve decided that this dry season I’m in is preparation; it’s about staying true to God and watching for Him in the desert.  My friend remember that the desert is not your dwelling place – it’s the path God has chosen for you and me on the way to the Promised Land.

Lord, I’m Sorry

repentance“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” Psalm 51:17.

“I’m sorry, but . . .” he began and I realized he wasn’t sorry at all.  Once more he had betrayed my trust and crushed my heart and once more he offered a hollow “apology” that absolved him of the responsibilities of his actions.  There always seemed to be some reason outside of his control that made him do the things he did (or not do the things he said he would do).  But the truth is I’ve made the same kind of apology and I’ll bet you have too.  It’s human nature to want to wriggle out of blame.  It’s as old as the first sin.  Adam blamed Eve – and even blamed God – and Eve blamed the serpent.  Shifting blame is a national pastime.  It doesn’t really change what we’ve done or the harm we’ve caused, it just presses the guilt down a little under a false sense of relief.

Our key verse sits in David’s Psalm of lament after he was confronted with his adulterous sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  David does not try to dodge his wickedness nor sweep away his guilt.  He says, “I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me” (v. 3).   He confesses his sin to God and says that the Lord’s judgement against him is right and justified.  He pleads for mercy and cleansing and God graciously gives it.

Our sin breaks the heart of God and if we love God it will break our hearts as well. But forgiveness is possible when we confess our sin and repent.  And true repentance never has a “but,” it is raw and honest before the One who knows it all anyway.  It’s the only way to find real forgiveness and peace.  Paul reminded the Corinthians that “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10). 

A dear friend once told me, “God doesn’t forgive excuses, He forgives sins.”  Beloved, we must stop trying to excuse our sin away and come to God in true repentance.  No “buts” about it.

 

Dance Like the Whole World is Watching

Dancer“David danced before the Lord with all his might.” 2 Samuel 6:14

Deep within the soul of a little girl beats the heart of a dancer.  When she was very small she would twirl around the room making her skirt billow out wide.  She would dance standing on her father’s shoe-tops and spin and sway as her mother sang along with the radio.  When she wasn’t dancing she skipped—down the halls of the church, across the playground at school, curls bouncing as her feet leapt with the joy in her heart.  She got older and the times for dancing were set aside for studies, still she danced in her bedroom to her favorite songs.  Life grew busier and dancing was reserved for formal halls in ball-gowns and high-heels.  Then came her wedding day and she floated down the aisle of the church and danced with her two favorite men—her Daddy and her new husband.  As they settled in to their new lives, he promised to hold her close in the dance of marriage.

But things do not always turn out like our little girl dreams.  Cinderella was a fairy tale, but this was real life.  Somehow the music faded and the dance was abandoned for work and kids and bills.  Her prince charming turned out to be just a flesh-and-blood man who had no energy for spinning across the room anymore.  Every once in a while the sound of music stirred something in her heart, but dancing seemed a far distant dream.  One morning she woke up and realized she had forgotten all the steps.  Maybe it was better that way, because her dance partner had walked away leaving her a broken woman with no heart for the dance anymore.

Sometimes this life can just knock the breath—and the joy—right out of us.  We start out well, full of dreams and enthusiasm, but real-life struggles and heartaches come along and we find those dreams fading and our excitement waning.  Perhaps you are not a dancer at heart, maybe deep inside you are a teacher or a singer, an artist, or like me—a writer and speaker.   Maybe your dream is not so big, but you have a God-given desire to step into something that would bring God great glory; yet you also have a past that has weighted you down with shame and regret.  You have been places you shouldn’t have, entered into relationships you wish you hadn’t, faced hard things you can’t seem to overcome, or had someone else’s choices leave you broken and hurting.   You think, “I can’t dance (or whatever that desire is in your heart), people know my past and they will not approve.”  My friend that is the very reason you need to tie on your ballet slippers again.

In the story that surrounds our key verse, David is making a second attempt to return the Ark of God to Jerusalem after it had been captured in battle.  His first attempt was a humiliating failure that ended in the death of one of his trusted men, all because David failed to follow the rules about transporting the Ark.  He made a mistake, a very costly one, and for a season, left the Ark at a random home and walked away from it, angry and defeated.  But God burdened his heart that the Ark needed to be in its rightful place, so he learned the right way to get the task done and set out once again to bring the Ark home.  And on this attempt, David actually did something that was quite undignified for a king, “dancing and leaping before the Lord,” and he got called out for it, by his wife no less. She said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would” (v. 20).   David’s answer: “It was before the Lord [that I danced]” (v. 21).  He didn’t care what she thought because God was glorified in David’s dance and his people loved him all the more for it.

Here’s a little secret you may not know: everyone has a past, no one gets through life without stumbles and failures and regrets.  Those people that are watching you are just as wounded and broken and hurting as you are.  They may hide it well, but if you get close enough you will see that no one is as perfect as they seem.  And the truth is, we find it very hard to relate to someone who glides through life unscathed.  I don’t want to know that you did everything right in life—I want to know that you’ve stumbled too, but you got up and got back in the dance.

Why do we think we can’t live for the glory of God when we have made mistakes, that we have to sit down when we’ve stumbled in life?  Everyone out there has made mistakes.  If we all sat out the dance because of the mistakes we’ve made, no one would ever dance again.  And that is all the more reason why we should dance or sing or create – to show the world that Jesus forgives and restores and makes life worth living again.  The walking wounded in your world need to see God take the mess of your life and speak a message of hope.

Beloved, someone else has stumbled over the same rock that brought you down; let them know they can get back up again. Dance before the Lord with all your might. The world doesn’t need to see you dancing out of perfection, they need to see you dancing out of redemption.

Holy Father, with all the failures of my past, You still call me to dance before Your throne.  Please use me to show the world that when we fall, Christ gives us hope and restoration and life.  Start the music God, and let me dance.  Amen.

Just One Little Lie

“David answered the priest and said to him, ‘Indeed women have been kept from us, as usual whenever I set out.  The men’s bodies are holy even on missions that are not holy.  How much more so today!’” 1 Samuel 21:5

 Have you ever told just a little lie?  One little fib that no one will ever discover.  No harm, no foul.  What’s the worst that can happen from one little lie?  I offer you the example of David in Nob.  Please take a few moments and read 1 Samuel 21:1-7.

Allow me to set the scene for you.  David is on the run from King Saul, who because of jealousy, is hunting him down like prey.  He goes to the city of Nob, to the priest, Ahimelech, there in the place of worship.  He is hungry and he knows that the Levites place fresh bread before the Lord as an offering every Sabbath, and the previous week’s bread is then theirs to eat.  He tells the priest that his men, who are camping in another location are hungry and he asks – almost demands – bread.  The priest is uncomfortable with the request, but this is David, the mighty commander of the King’s army.  His victories are the stuff of legend.  So, in an attempt to take some of the sting off of his conscience, he asks David if he and his men have remained pure.  David answers with a resounding yes, they have been sent by the king and theirs is a holy and secret mission.  Of course they have kept themselves pure!  Ahimelech acquiesces and surrenders the consecrated bread to David.

There are two big no-no’s here.  Ahimelech knew that because this bread had been offered to the Lord it is considered holy, and cannot be eaten by anyone except the Levites (think church staff) and must be eaten only in the holy place. (See Leviticus 24:5-9) God did not offer any exceptions.  By not standing on the Levitical law, the priest was wrong.

But David was also wrong, his entire story was a lie.  The Scripture indicates that he was alone, there is no mention of a company of men with him, as he told the priest.  He was not on a secret and holy mission for the king, he was running for his life from the king.  As to his declaration of purity, there is no indication one way or the other, but at this time he is married (to the king’s daughter!)so it is likely he may not be.  But he is far from home and no one knows him here.  What’s the worst that can happen with one little lie?

But someone was there who knew him.  One of the king’s servants, Doeg, was there in the tabernacle, and he witnessed the entire episode.  We don’t know if he realized David was lying, but the implication is that he did, because, knowing the king was hunting David down to kill him, he returned to report that he was in Nob and had gone to the priest there.  Now the little lie that David told morphs into a great tragedy.  1 Samuel 22:9-23 tells the rest of the story.  With Doeg’s report, Saul sends for Ahimelech and his entire family, who were all priests.  The king confronts the priest and accuses him of conspiring with his enemy, David.  Ahimelech pleads his innocence, saying he did not know David was lying.  But Saul ordered the entire company of priests – eighty-five men of God – be put to death.  Because of one little lie.  One man escapes and reports to David the slaughter of the priests, and he realizes he is to blame.  He says “I am responsible for the death of your father’s whole family.” (1 Samuel 22:22).

David learned the high cost of a lie.  Perhaps that is why, very shortly after this incident, he wrote, “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies” (Psalm 34:13). And near the end of his life he prayed, “I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity” (1 Chronicles 29:17). Proverbs 12:22 says “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.”

The God we love and serve is a God of truth. Numbers 23:19 tells us that God cannot lie.  It is completely counter to His perfect nature.  Jesus spoke only truth, and spoke of the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of God who would reveal truth.  Followers of Christ should be known as people of truth.  In every aspect of our lives, we should be seen as people of integrity and honesty.  If I am known to tell lies, even “little white lies” and “innocent fibs,” how will anyone believe me when I tell them about Jesus?  What does a little lie do to my witness?  Here’s another thought: if my child hears me telling lies to others, will he believe me when I tell him “I love you”?

I am making a personal commitment to be a person of honesty and integrity.  I will follow the example of Christ Jesus who spoke the truth, acted in truth and walked in truth.  Will you make that commitment with me?  Let’s start a “truth revolution” together.

Holy Father, I am Your child, and I want to live like my Father and like my “big brother,” Jesus.  Purify my heart and my lips.  Teach me to be a person of integrity in all I say and do.  Amen.

Of Love and Praise

“I love You, O Lord, my strength.” Psalm 18:1

What words do you most enjoy hearing? If you are like me, “I love you.” is at the top of the list. Those three little words are comforting and powerful. They can soothe a crying child, bring light to a young lady’s eyes, and tears to the face of the strongest man.

God also enjoys hearing us express our love to Him. In Psalm 18, David is rejoicing at the defeat of Israel’s enemy, Goliath, and He knows the source of his victory is the Lord.
He offers Him a prayer of praise, and begins with the most important words we can say to God, “I love You, O Lord.” In the Bible, almost all prayers recorded begin with praise. And rightly so, for no one is more worthy of our praise than God. Expressing our love for God is the highest form of praise.

In our busy, fast-paced society, we are continually urged to “get to the point” and not waste time on pleasantries. But prayer is a different kind of communication and praise is an important part of the conversation. Praise should never be thought of as “buttering God up” so He will answer our requests; but should always come from a genuine heart of awe and appreciation for who God is.

David had the right perspective and offered God the adoration of his love. Have you told God you love Him today?

I love You, Lord. You are worthy of all my love and praise. Please help me to tell You every day how much You mean to me. Amen.