Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God Was On the Penske Too

In June of 2014, everything my wife and I had accumulated over 12 years of marriage was squeezed into a 21-foot-long Penske truck.  The two of us were sitting on the floor of an empty home no longer our own ... and we were both in tears.  We were moving, but more than that, we were leaving everything we had ever known.  Our family was forged in that small Indiana town.  Our best memories were made in that now empty house.  I began the process of learning how to be a husband, a dad, and a pastor in that place.  Our closest friendships were staying but we were moving.  We were leaving our comfortable, mid-Western life and moving to an unfamiliar one that could not feel any more different.

If I can be honest, at that moment I was feeling very broken and weak.  In the silence of that empty home, every doubt that had whispered to me in the months prior was now screaming at my soul.  I was afraid, but I was trusting that this was where God was leading.  

With that in mind, we prayed, and then started up the Penske.  That difficult "good-bye" allowed us to experience the beautiful "hello" of God's goodness, God's faithfulness, God's mercy, and God's grace. I could not be more grateful. What we ultimately discovered was that God was on that Penske too.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

My Pace Didn't Shatter Any Records but It Did Shatter Something Else

Lessons are learned every day.  I learned one very early this morning and I hope to always remember it. 

I was on a bit of a tight schedule this morning and I wanted to try to squeeze a three-mile run in before the kids woke up.  I felt good about wanting to do that.  I was up early (showing some personal discipline) … I wanted to exercise (showing a desire to be healthy) … I wanted to run hard (showing some grit and determination).  I felt very good about myself and my agenda for the morning. 

But, then my 3-year-old woke up.  He saw that I was getting ready to go for a run and he really wanted to go with me.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever run with a 3-year-old.  Mine loves to go for runs and we’ve done so before. But he also loves to stop and look at anything that grabs his attention along the way.  It’s as “stop and go” as traffic on the beltway.  And, who doesn’t enjoy that?

My wife looked at me with tender eyes that said, “Awwww.  He wants to run with daddy.  How cute.”  My thoughts were not quite the same.  Honestly, I was not happy.  MY time was limited (showing my inflexibility) … I did not want to “waste” time stopping every 200 yards (showing my impatience) … and after a late night of talking with people and an early morning of having people over to the house, I honestly just wanted time by myself (showing my selfishness). 

I initially said, “No, buddy.  Daddy is just going to go by himself today.”  But, then my wife’s eyes that once said, “Awwww” were now saying, “I know you’re frustrated, but you’re not going to have many opportunities to run with your 3-year-old.  Don’t miss this one.” Who does she think she is anyway? :)

So, I begrudgingly laced up my running shoes and my wife put the most adorable running outfit on our son … and off we went.  My son had a smile on his face the entire way, and I soon did as well.  He sprinted.  He zig-zagged.  He laughed.  He stopped.  He examined whatever caught his attention.  We even passed some walkers who cheered for him along the way.  And, it didn’t take long for God to show me that spending this time with my son was the absolute best thing I could have been doing this morning.  I paused, told God I was sorry for being so selfish and was grateful that my agenda was interrupted by this beautiful moment.  Running on my terms may have strengthened my heart physically, but running on God’s terms softened my heart spiritually … and that will always make me a better man.

The whole thing just reminded me that I can get so caught up in my plans and my agenda and what I think I should be doing (or even what others say I should be doing) that I can easily miss an opportunity to do good to the person God places in front of me.  I can get so busy trying to “do” for God (and feel good and even prideful about what I’m doing) that I can easily miss what God simply calls me to do: love Him … love my neighbor … do good to all people … allow my faith to be expressed through love … to see the character of Jesus fully developed in my life … to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every area of my life.

Our running pace sure didn’t shatter any records, but it did shatter some of the hardness in my heart.  For that I am grateful.  I’m sure it will be a lesson I need to learn and re-learn throughout my life but for now I rest in the fact that God had a plan this morning … and it was a whole lot better than mine.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Need God When I'm Weak, but Even More When I'm Strong

I recently had the opportunity to speak on Gideon at Grace Community.  If you haven’t had the chance to watch, you can catch it right here.  The story of Gideon is a powerful reminder of how God loves to choose the least likely to accomplish His purposes. We all have plenty of problems and more than enough inadequacies, but the good news is that, as Christians, we are no longer defined by what we are not, but rather by the grace of God working in our lives through Jesus.  That’s the Good News.  Gideon’s story found in Judges chapters 6 and 7 is beautiful picture of how God’s grace can work in the midst of our weakness.  But, the remaining part of Gideon’s story found in Judges chapter 8 is just as important.  This part of the story reminds us that we need to remember God’s grace just as much, if not more so, when we feel strong.

In Judges 7:2 we read, “The LORD said to Gideon, ‘You have too many warriors with you.  If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.”  God goes to extraordinary lengths to reduce Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to only 300.  And, in the end, a tremendous victory is won without any of those 300 men even killing an enemy soldier.  (Judges 7:21 – 22).  This was so that “none of them could return home singing of what they had done, but only of what the LORD had done as they watched.”  (Keller) 

But, what we see happen is that it does not take long for the praise of men to begin to intoxicate Gideon and for the criticism of men to begin to anger him.  Even though the victory was clearly God’s, in chapter 8 we begin to see that Gideon feels that he should at least be honored and respected because of the victory.   When he feels disrespected and does not get what he wants from his very own people, he comes back at them with a vengeance. (Judges 8:4 – 17)

I recently read a book on being a pastor and there was a statement that has really impacted me:  “You and I must not become pastors who are all too aware of our positions.  We must not give way to protecting and polishing our power and prominence.  We must resist feeling privileged, special, or in a different category.  We must not think of ourselves as deserving or entitled.  We must not demand to be treated differently or put on some ministry pedestal.  We must not minister from above but from alongside.” (Tripp)  If human history has proven anything, it’s proven that mankind is not on a quest for smallness. This is a problem because any attempt to build up our name or our reputation or our status is always an attempt to push God from the center and steal some of His glory.  We either magnify God or magnify ourselves, but we will never do both.  This is so very important to remember in times of victory and strength because “success can easily cause us to forget God’s grace God-given victory can easily be used to confirm the belief that, in fact, we have earned blessing for ourselves, and should receive the praise and glory for that success.” (Keller)

There is actually a point in the story of Gideon where the people of Israel ask him to be their king.  “The Israelites said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us – you, your son and your grandson – because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The Lord will rule over you.’”  (Judges 8:22 – 23) Why would Gideon turn down the opportunity to be king?  I mean, this seems like an amazing opportunity for him to do some good.  Well, around a hundred years earlier God specifically said this through Moses in Deuteronomy 17:14 “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you (the Israelites are already in this land in the book of Judges) and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses.”

It was the people who were choosing Gideon to be king, not God.  And, Gideon rightly discerns their mistake.  But, even though he refuses their request to BE their king, he starts to live like he IS their king.  He collects money from the people (8:24) and prospers because of what the people give (8:26).  And, for some reason, under his rule, the people of Israel actually begin to worship something Gideon made from the gold he was given.  He created an “ephod” (a piece of linen material the high priest wore which contained two stones, the Urim and Thummim, which the high priest used to help discern God’s will.)  But, Gideon makes an ephod out of gold and the people of Israel actually begin worshipping the golden ephod itself.  We’re told the ephod became a trap for Gideon and his entire family (8:27).  Instead of continuing to help the people of Israel turn toward God, under the rule of Gideon it appears as if they actually turn away even more! 

Judges 8:30 tells us that Gideon had 70 sons by many wives (which begs the question “How did he have time for anything else?!)  Even though he refused to BE king, he very much lived like he was and even named a son born to him by a concubine “Abimelech” which means “My father is king!”  And, after Gideon’s death, we read that Abimelech committed horrendous atrocities in order to make himself king (Judges 9). 

Although Gideon’s story reminds us that God’s strength can be very present in the midst of our weakness, it’s also a sobering reminder of how easily pride can creep in to our lives. Or, as one person said, it’s very easy to “constantly confuse being an ambassador with being a king.” (Tripp)

And, this is what pride will do   it will always seek to make life more about me and less about God.  And, I think this is why God tells us in Proverbs 8:13 that He hates pride.   Pride drags us away from God.  It refuses to admit that we need a Savior.  It refuses to admit that we’re small.  It refuses to admit that we have a total and complete dependence upon God.  It refuses to admit that we’re broken.  It refuses to admit that I have issues that I may actually be part of the relational problems in my life it refuses to admit that I have habits I can’t break, and thoughts I don’t want, and emotions I don’t like, and insecurities and fears that I can’t hide regrets and resentments that I can’t let go of.  Pride keeps me in bondage to the worst this life has to offer and will always keep me from the best that God has to offer.

So, we can learn much from what Gideon did well and also from what he appears to have not done so well.  It’s wonderful to be successful at what God has called us to do.  But, never let that success begin to define you.  Instead, allow it to remind you of your daily need for God’s help, not just because of your weakness, but because of your strength as well.  In the words of Lecrae:  “I know I'm safest when I'm in Your will and trust Your word. And I know I'm dangerous when I trust myself, my vision blurred I can play the background and You can take the lead.” 

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