Getting Away

In the middle of tomorrow’s daily reading for the Eastridge Community Church reading plan, Luke 5, there’s an interesting, yet simple, statement about Jesus. It’s not entirely apropos of the episode being related at the time, though I guess it is loosely. Verse 16 says:

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? It ought to be, but it isn’t so simple. For me it’s easy to pray sitting in a chair, in my truck, or while I’m doing other things, or if it’s a particularly fervent prayer, on my knees or face down on the floor or bed. It’s an entirely different thing to literally go out of my way to achieve total, un-distracted aloneness with God. Continue reading Getting Away

Gomer (or, The Ultimate Object Lesson)

Right now at Eastridge we’re reading the book of Hosea, one of the most interesting stories in the Old Testament. Basically, the story goes like this: God asked His prophet, Hosea, to become the ultimate object lesson. He told Hosea to marry Gomer, a prostitute, remain faithful to her, and raise a family with her. The idea behind this clearly difficult life for Hosea is that he was to represent the faithful God, while Gomer stood in for the unfaithful people of Israel. In spite of Gomer’s straying, Hosea remained faithful, and Hosea brought the Lord’s words to Israel. Continue reading Gomer (or, The Ultimate Object Lesson)

Comfort

As I write this, it’s the second week in November, but it’s a beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. I’m sitting outside, in a T-shirt and shorts, with a can of Dr. Pepper in the cup holder of my chair. I’m about as comfortable as I can be.

I like to be comfortable. Who doesn’t? We like our conveniences…the things that make life easier for us. We like our chairs with as much cushion as we can get on them…we like them to recline or rock…we like to have the remote right next to us so we don’t have to reach or get up. We like to be able to have something to drink and a snack next to us. We want our music and our TV shows and our phones at our fingertips. We want our GPS so we don’t have to think about where we’re going or how we’re going to get there. We like our air conditioning, our heat, our fans, or warm showers. We want our food hot and our drinks cold…and we want it all NOW! Face it…we’re all spoiled by our comfort.

Continue reading Comfort

Almost Doesn’t Count

In the Eastridge reading plan, we’re going through 2 Kings right now. It’s a crazy book, filled with fascinating and often violent episodes showing how the Israelites either followed or turned their backs on God, usually the latter.

In Chapter 10, we read about Jehu, King of Israel and his efforts to undo the damage done by the previous kings and their promotion of vile, despicable false gods. Dramatically and decisively, Jehu destroys the family of King Ahab, including the uber-wicked former Queen Jezebel, who meets a particularly nasty end.

Jehu goes on to wipe out the prophets of Baal, massacring them in one fell swoop at a staged “assembly for Baal.”

At this point Jehu was probably feeling pretty triumphant, having done quite a bit to eliminate the false gods and bad influences from Israel. But there’s always a catch; Jehu neglected two things in truly turning his people back to God.

However, he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit—the worship of the golden calves at Bethel and Dan.

Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit.

2 Kings 10:29, 31 (NIV)

We tend to do the same thing in our lives, don’t we? We go just about all the way toward complete surrender to God, enough to make us feel good about ourselves, but we don’t get all the way there. Sometimes we leave sin unchecked in our lives, or we don’t do quite everything God is commanding us to do. We go almost all the way to surrender but not quite there.

Almost doesn’t count. We have to be willing to totally surrender ourselves. If we don’t, we miss out on the fullness of what God has for us.

I don’t have this all figured out in my life by a long shot…but something about getting this down in written form helps me. I hope it helps you too…

Desist!

Right now, in the Eastridge daily reading plan, we’re reading through Psalms alongside the other books of the Bible in the reading plan. This past Monday’s reading included Psalm 46. I’ve always liked this Psalm; it’s a beautiful, lyrical expression of praise. The first part of verse 10 is possibly one of the most familiar sentences in the Psalms; in the NIV, it reads:

Be still, and know that I am God…

I’ve been reading the Psalms in the Complete Jewish Bible in addition to the NIV. That same sentence reads quite differently in the CJB:

Desist, and learn that I am God…

That’s a really different reading of the same concept, isn’t it? The phrase be still in the extremely familiar NIV translation of that verse, at least to me, suggests slowing down a little, an almost gradual deceleration of activity. The CJB translation uses desist, which sounds totally different. I decided to look up the word desist to see what nuances its meaning has, and, according to the dictionary, it basically just means to stop, although to me it really sounds like a pretty harsh command. Because I’ve heard it on Law & Order and shows like that, I asked a local judge about the legal definition of the term, and in legal uses, desist implies that one cease a particular action immediately.

Maybe that’s just what it takes for us to truly experience God speaking to us. Instead of us just being still or slowing down, maybe we have to stop completely. Maybe we have to even drop some of the things that aren’t necessarily bad but that weigh us down and hold us back from following Christ with all we have.

Unfailing Love

Here at Eastridge, we’re reading through the Psalms alongside other books in our daily reading plan. I’ve read through the Psalms I don’t know how many times before, and one phrase stand out every time I see it in the Psalms: “unfailing love.” The phrase appears 32 times in the Bible in the New International Version according to YouVersion; 26 of those instances are in the Psalms.

Here are some examples:

The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

Psalm 33:5

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

Psalm 13:5

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Psalm 32:10

How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.

Psalm 36:7

I’ve loved that phrase for years, because it encapsulates God’s love in the best way I’ve ever heard it. Unfailing love is something I am always grateful for. I let people down from time to time, no matter how much I love them, and even the people who love me the most disappoint me sometimes. But God’s love never fails. (That’s the whole point of my favorite worship song…hear and see it here…)

Isn’t it a humbling, encouraging thing to know that the love we need the most is the perfect, complete love that never lets us down? Isn’t it wonderful to know that God loves us with an unfailing love?

Promises, Promises

It’s a cliché on television, in the movies, and in real life: the whole concept of bargaining with God to get one’s way. How many times have we seen it, or even done it ourselves? “God, if you do this for me, I’ll do that for You,” or “I’ll stop doing such-and-such.” It’s a technique as old as time, and how often does it really work? How often do people keep the promises they’ve made to God?

In Judges 11, we read the story of Jephthah, who, in the midst of fighting a battle against the Ammonites, makes the proverbial bargain. He vows to sacrifice the first thing he sees coming out of the door of his house as an offering to God as long as God provides an Israelite victory. Of course, the Lord delivers the Ammonites into the hands of the Israelites, so it’s up to Jephthah to hold up his end of the bargain. Whom does he see coming out the door first, but his daughter, his only child. His daughter tells him it’s OK, as long as he gives her two months to spend with her friends before he sacrifices her.

The Bible doesn’t say explicitly if Jephthah kills his daughter (just that “he did to her as he vowed”), but we can only assume that Jephthah held up his end of the deal. I can’t help but wonder how much he regretted his rash decision. I also can’t help but wonder how many of us, when we bargain with God, truly keep our promises. Now, I don’t know anyone who has made such a drastic vow, but I wonder how many people have truly given up smoking, or cursing, or gave more money to the church or a charity as a result of a promise he or she made to God to get his or her way.

It all comes down to trusting God enough to allow Him to do what’s best for us, even if it means not getting our way. I try not to put myself in the same position as Jephthah, but sometimes I’m too obsessed with what I want instead of what’s best. How different would it be if my obedience to and trust in God matched up with my faith? How different would it be for all of us if we stopped trying to make promises to God and just left our lives in His hands?

Perseverance Equals Strength

I’m continually in awe of the nuggets of truth I uncover when I read Proverbs. One verse in particular struck me this week; Proverbs 24:10 (NIV) reads, “If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!”

As I’ve mulled over that verse, I’ve thought of plenty of examples that demonstrate the great strength of those who persevere. Job didn’t waver in the face of great tragedy, not to mention the prompting by his friends to give up. The early church in Acts held firm despite widespread persecution, and many people had faith that Jesus would heal them even in the most dire of circumstances.

For a non-Biblical example, I’m reading a book about the history of American conservatism, and the author spent an entire chapter on the growth and coalescence of the conservative movement in the 1960s and 70s that led to Reagan’s elections. The various conservative factions banded together in a difficult era to promote a fairly unified vision and achieve success.

In the last year and ten months, I’ve seen my share of troubling times, both in the church and in my personal life. I’m grateful that God has given me the strength to persevere and not falter.

In what ways can you see God’s strength helping you stand firm? In what ways could you use more of His help?

Correct Me If I’m Wrong, But…

OK, who among us loves to be corrected? Who just gets excited about receiving constructive criticism? Neither do I. In fact, I’d go as far as to say I hate it sometimes…most of the time. It’s most definitely not easy to accept rebuke or correction. If I’m not careful, my tendency is to bow up, get defensive, or just dismiss the criticism altogether. I may not do any of those things externally, but the attitude is often there.

I’ll go ahead and say it right here: accepting correction is probably one of the biggest things I need to work on in my life. Maybe that’s why certain verses sprinkled all over Proverbs have jumped out at my this time through in the daily reading plan.

“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.”  (17:10)

“He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise.” (15:31)

“A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.” (13:1)

“He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” (10:17, all scriptures NIV)

…and those are just a few of the examples. It’s a natural tendency to think that the one who are wise are the ones who have it all together, but right here in the Word is states that we’re wise when we take constructive, beneficial correction and apply it to our lives! As a fragile, failing human being, it’s actually refreshing to think that the path to wisdom lies in the corrective actions that take place after my failures. Here’s hoping that I (and all of you) can take the necessary steps to become wiser when these opportunities arise.

Let The Wise Listen…

This week, ECC’s reading plan moves from Acts to Proverbs. I love Proverbs, with the bite-sized quick hits of wisdom; it’s like the crawl at the bottom of the screen on Fox News. (I’m avoiding the Twitter analogy…too derivative…) Proverbs is full of simple, straightforward wisdom that we can all use.

In today’s reading in Chapter 1, a particular verse stuck out at me…actually, the first half of verse 5: “…let the wise listen and add to their learning…”

So here’s the thing…if I’m to be completely honest, I don’t claim to be wise, yet in my more “human” moments, I often tend to rely on my experience and knowledge as a believer. The truth is, I have a lot to learn. We all do. The best part is that we have God’s Word and the wise counsel of other Christians.

I’m looking forward to reading Proverbs again. I’m sure I’ll continue to share what I’m learning and what resonates with me as we go; I’d love to hear what you’re getting out of the readings too. Please share…