How I Try To Manipulate God (or, You Should Be A Mentor)

How I Try To Manipulate God (or, You Should Be A Mentor)

One of my hobbies is trying to manipulate God.

I don't think it's a particularly healthy hobby, and it's certainly not a productive one, but what can I say? I'm really self centered, and like a car with a "pull" to one side or the other, I often find myself drifting over the line into this silly behavior when I'm not fully engaged in living an emotionally and relationally healthier life which Jesus calls me to.

My goal in the deals I offer God is to make what I'm offering so helpful, so useful to God, that God would have to be crazy to say no. And since we know God isn't crazy, it basically a full proof plan. 

To steal from the Godfather, I make God an offer he can't refuse.

How to Evangelize Without Guilt or Threats

How to Evangelize Without Guilt or Threats


When you see that word, what do you think?

Do you picture a guy with a bullhorn?

Do you picture yourself telling the lady sitting next to you on the plane about how she's heading for hell?

Is it the 'Jesus sales pitch' you learned in Sunday school complete with visual examples, like your keyring?

I gotta tell you, I don't get excited by any of those situations. Let me explain why: I love genuine relationships and chances to build community with people. But when somebody has an ulterior motive, it ruins the chance for relationship.

If you start telling me about how you think I'd be a great sales rep for your multilevel marketing business, we're probably done talking. I don't think you're interested in me, I think you're interested in what you can get out of me.

But on the flip side, I take Jesus seriously, and he talks about making disciples throughout the world. So how can I spread the Good News of Jesus without coming across as a disingenuous huckster?

How To Deal with Imperfect People

How To Deal with Imperfect People

"You're scum"

That's what religious leaders in Jesus' day called the people who were at a party with him one evening.

It was hard for me to realize that I was more like those religious leaders than I was like Jesus, and I knew I needed a big change in my life.

Why Isn't My Life Easier When I Follow Jesus?

Labor_8Why isn't life easier? I follow Jesus. I try to be kind to others, I read my bible regularly, I give to my church and charity, yet I often feel like life is a boxing match where I'm in the 12th round against a heavy weight.

Doesn't God...I don't know...kind of...owe me? At least a little?

I mean listen, I know Jesus went to the cross for me and I can never pay him back for that. I get that and I'm so grateful. But shouldn't I get to avoid some of the issues other people deal with because I'm on board with what God asks me to do?

Have you ever thought something like this?  Even if I say that God doesn't owe me one, I often act like it when something less than perfect happens in my life.

I know that Jesus said in this world we will have troubles, but shouldn't that just be stuff like, occasionally somebody tells me I'm dumb for believing in Jesus? Something manageable, something that doesn't really hurt.

I've been a pastor at a mid-sized church for the last 3 years and we've had tons of people dealing with illness and financial problems and addictions and everything else you can name. We've lost several people to cancer in my time. I've had to do a funeral for a 2 day old baby.

That's just the difficulties I hear about. I also have challenges in my own life that just make life hard. My wife and I are still dealing with the financial fallout from the failure of a business we believe God told us to buy several years ago. Having a child with special needs is a never ending battle in numerous ways.

My wife and I occasionally talk about whether we'll ever get to a point where life isn't just so dang hard.

Shouldn't we get off better than the rest of society because we're working to be obedient to Jesus? Shouldn't the abundant life Jesus talks about in John 10:10 be a little more cushy?

I've prayed about this as I really explored the depth of my self centeredness (it was ugly) and I feel like there's 2 reasons why this completely selfish disposition of mine is off base:

First, God is looking for faith.

Listen, if everybody who decided to follow Jesus got a Cadillac, lost 30 pounds and found their dream job, who wouldn't follow Jesus? And how would it be possible for anyone to be a genuine disciple of the man who told us to pick up our cross and follow him?

I don't know about you, but when everything is going well, I actually have the hardest time getting closer to Jesus.

I feel like he occasionally allows my life you involve some chaos so help me remain engaged in discipleship - the process of getting closer to him.

The abundant life Jesus is referring to involves so much more than money and possessions. It's about a life of more meaning. It may not always show up on a bank statement.

Are we willing to trust God to bless us, even when it's not in the manner we would request?

Or, are we only in this thing for what we can get out of it? The scriptures repeatedly affirm that we are called to patiently have faith in the face of doubt or unfulfillment. (James 1:12, Revelation 2:10, Matthew 25:1-13)

Will we trust that God will fulfill his promises to us when all the evidence we see points to the contrary? The word for that is 'faith'.

Second, there is an enemy at work

In Matthew 13:24-30, there's a story called 'The Parable of the Tares'. You can read the whole thing for yourself, but the summary is that Jesus tells of a farmer (representing God) that plants his fields with good seed.

In the night, an enemy plants weeds among the crops.

By the time the farm workers figured it out, they couldn't do anything about it. Pulling up the weeds would damage the crops, so the farmer tells them to let the weeds grow. At harvest time, they will separate the weeds from the crops.

In Strength To Love, Martin Luther King Jr. breaks down this story.

King notes that Jesus never disputes the reality of evil. He does not say that the weeds were an illusion or a state of mind. He says that the weeds - evil - is real.

The other thing Jesus tells us is that God is going to deal with evil once and for all at the time of the harvest.

In the meantime, Jesus calls the satan 'the ruler of this world' (John 12:31).

The kingdom of God is here, and it is yet to fully arrive. We can not expect a world which is not paradise to treat us as though it were.


When I keep these truths in mind - that God is looking for faith and that there is an enemy at work, it helps me approach life more prepared.

There's a big difference to preparing for a beach trip versus preparing to run a Tough Mudder.

God has promised abundant life and he's going to deliver it. It's a promise that I believe in, so I'm willing to put everything I've got into putting myself in a position to receive it.

Spiritual Superstars

When I was in little league baseball as a child, there were certain kids who were far and away the best players in the league. Usually, they were bigger, stronger and faster than the vast majority of the rest of us. It was easy to look up to these players, and to envy their prowess. But something funny happened. By the time I was Captain of the Varsity team in High School, playing American Legion ball (a step up from Varsity) and being recruited by colleges, none of those guys were around anymore. Many of them didn’t play, and those that did were simply ordinary.

What happened was that, while they had physically developed a little faster and gained an edge, the rest of us caught up. They didn’t have to work hard to succeed as kids, it came naturally because of their advantage. The rest of us had to work hard to find ways to compete with them. By the time we caught up physically, we now had more tools in our repertoire to go along with the physical abilities. They didn’t develop those tricks and tactics, so they no longer held any advantage.

I read a book called Seal Team Six a while back that talked about this issue. The guy who wrote the book mentions the fact that many of the All American football players who enter training drop out the fastest. They’re not used to having a situation where their superior physical talent can’t get them through. But the guys who are used to having to scrap and fight to keep up have what it really takes: a never say die attitude.

I like to run adventure races like the Tough Mudder. The only way you finish a race like that is to have the attitude of “Screw this race, I’m gonna finish if it kills me.” I know they’re going to throw really tough obstacles at me over and over and over again. My approach is to get by each one when I come to it, no matter what.

I do these races to find my limits, and then push beyond them. To become something greater than I am.

When you see people who are your same age that seem to have it all together while you’re struggling not to fall apart, don’t get down on yourself. Realize that you’re getting stronger. You’re learning how to handle adversity. You’re gaining wisdom and perspective that will help you in future situations.

There’s no need to be angry at people who seem to have it easy. God knows what is coming toward each of us in this life, and he knows when and how to prepare each of us.

The goal God has given us isn’t to look better than everybody else, to look like we have it all together. The goal is to fight the good fight, to run the good race. To keep the faith, and receive the reward that he will give us when all has been said and done.

Don’t try to be a Spiritual Superstar. Be a Spiritual Tough Mudder.

Theology: Knowing God

I think that studying God, theology, the bible, etc, is like studying the moon.  If you buy the biggest telescope you can find and put it on maximum zoom, you’re going to learn a lot about the part of the moon you can see. You can also move the telescope around a see zoomed in pictures in different areas. But there’s two things to keep in mind:

1. You’re not going to be able to scan the entire surface of the moon with that telescope (or if you do, it’ll be so fast you won’t really see anything)

2. Even if you did see the entire surface of the moon that way, you’d still have a lot to learn about the moon.

See, if we just focus on one area, we’re going to miss a lot. At some point, you need to step away from the telescope and look at the whole sky. To see how beautiful the moon is, suspended in the black with stars around it. To see how the moon affects the tides here on Earth.

Don’t miss the beauty in the midst of the study.

I could focus my telescope on one particular crater and learn everything there is to know about that crater. Then, when people talk about the moon, I could talk for hours about that one crater. And people would be interested for about 5 minutes, then they would want me to shut up. There’s more to the moon than the one crater I know all about.

We can get so fixated on one point that we miss out on what’s really happening.

Alot of evangelical theology is based on the message that people who don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell, and they need to be saved. So we hand out tracts and talk through bullhorns and try to force people to come to church with us where we use an altar call to try and get them to say they believe.

I’m not saying that people aren’t going to hell. And I’m certainly not suggesting that it’s a minor deal.  But God is bigger and greater and grander than ‘the being who sends people to hell.’

God created this world, where we find joy and sorrow; heights and depths; pain and pleasure. More than that, he became one of us. The infinite, in one man. He who holds the galaxies in the palm of his hand, using feet to walk from one town to the next.

People who are so locked into their own theology that they think they are the only one who really ‘gets’ God scare me. A lot.  Because I have totally been like that in my life. And I was so blinded by my ‘right answers’ to let God be who he is. I turned the bible into a book of answers and doctrine instead of what it is: The story of a God and the flawed people he loves.

In Christianity, we say that we don’t have a religion, but rather a relationship. Then we put so much structure and so many requirements on that relationship that it becomes a religion.

I have a feeling that there is a great deal of truth in this world that we refuse to acknowledge because we didn’t think of it.

I believe that everyone is looking for God, whether they know it or not. And I believe that God has left signposts that point to him in the most unlikely places. Signposts that reveal truth about him. People who are paying attention will pick up on these truths, and believe in them.

Nature speaks of a great creator.

Intimacy speaks of a need to be completed by somebody or something.

Dreams point to the existence of something greater just below the surface.

Mercy and compassion reveal that there is something within us that works against the primal urges we’re told that we consist of.

Art reveals a need to see more than just what our eyes can perceive.

I once thought that God needed me. That he needed me to tell people about what he is really like because I had so much insight. He couldn’t sideline me, because I was too clever and smart.

Now, I realize that I’m about as useful as asking an ant to explain a supercomputer. A know-it-all is about the last thing God needs representing him.

I don’t understand God. I can’t explain why he does the things he does most of the time. If I zoom in, I can probably start to explain small parts of him better, but I’d rather step back and see the vastness, the grandeur, the beauty of who he is. And I’m content to be amazed and surprised by what I can’t contain.

Is It Wrong to Doubt God?

Over the course of the last year, I have had a hard time trying to figure out what God’s plan for me is. Honestly, it’s been disheartening. Because the more I’ve tried to hear God’s input on this topic, the silence has only grown more deafening.

It’s frustrating. I have started to wonder why God doesn’t seem to care. In my head, I know God cares. But in my heart, I feel like David, when he said “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1)

Or again when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” (Psalm 22:1-2)

Like Job, who said “Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (Job 3:23)

I used to push away doubts about whether God sees, whether he cares. Now, I’m embracing them. Not because I believe God is unseeing or uncaring, but because I believe it is part of the divine plan, that we are to wrestle with doubt…to struggle with it.

Jesus himself in the garden of Gethsemane is begging God to give him a way out of the impending events. On the cross itself, he echos the words David sang about being forsaken of God. (See Matthew 26-27)

Why do we believe doubt is faithlessness?

I understand that we can point to scriptures that say things like “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” (Luke 17:6)

And “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)

With these scriptures, we make Jesus into an angry, scowling savior who can’t stand anyone who he so much as catches a whiff of doubt coming from. When Peter walks on water and then begins to sink, maybe Jesus is actually smiling when he says ”You of little faith…why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31) After all, Peter had just WALKED ON WATER. When’s the last time you did that?

Maybe after calming the storm on the lake, when he says to the disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40), Jesus isn’t saying that faith and doubt are unable to co-exist. Maybe he’s saying to have faithdespite your doubt and fear. In addition to it.

One of my personal heroes in the bible is the man who came to Jesus and asked him to cast a demon out of his son. The man asked Jesus to help “if he could”. Jesus responds by putting this back to the man: “If you can?…Everything is possible for him who believes.”

The man’s response? “Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

This guy clearly doubts. Anybody can see that. He’s grasping at any straws he can to help his son.  But Jesus sees that along with doubt, he also is determined to believe. To have faith that his son can be made well.  Jesus then makes his son well.

I know God is good. I know he cares. I know he has a plan for me. But sometimes I doubt it. Sometimes I ask God to help me ‘if he can’.

Rather than try to hide my doubt from him, I try to be honest. I don’t keep it locked in some dark closet that nobody can ever know about, pretending it doesn’t exist. I let it out. Because I do believe, and I need help with my unbelief.

Birthday Charity

On the evening of December 23rd, I went out with the Salvation Army to inner city Baltimore in order to hand out hot meals to homeless and/or needy persons. Being only a little more than a day before Christmas, I figured there would be a larger number of people in line for meals that usual. Since people buy presents for kids at this time of year, I assumed that some people who are normally able to make ends meet would need a little help feeding themselves and their family.

When we drove out to the locations, we discovered that there was a large number of people who were in need, but we also discovered that there were many other people and groups passing out food. At one homeless shelter, we passed off several boxes of prepared meals, to find several pizzas being delivered for free as we drove off.

In honor of the Christmas season, it seems giving and charity was abounding. The driver of the truck I was on had a slightly different view. He said, “Oh yeah. Tomorrow if you come out here, there will be food just lying around. But come back a week from Monday and you won’t see any of that.”

It struck me just how tragic this all is. When we actually care and decide to do something about the issues which surround us, we can really do something about it. The problem is, we don’t care enough.

I understand that just handing out food for free all the time isn’t some kind of perfect solution. My point is that when we commit to being generous and charitable, we can really make a difference. Should it happen only once a year? Of course, I say no.

So how can we make sure that we all give the effort to meet the needs in our communities, but not at just one time?  Here’s my idea: we start a new idea that to celebrate your birthday, you do charity work.

That means each day will be covered throughout the year. And it only asks each person to do it one day out of 365. You can’t be much more reasonable than that.

Additionally, it takes an event that we normally direct toward ourselves: getting presents, eating cake, having a party; and we do something to remind ourselves that we’re supposed to be living a life of sacrifice, not just indulgence.

I’m not saying birthday cake and birthday parties are bad or evil. Just that maybe it’s a good time to dedicate ourselves to doing the work of God’s kingdom for another year.

So the next time you have a birthday, call a local charity and ask how you can volunteer on that day. If the million or so people who have a birthday in the United States each day took that chance to show their thanks to God for another year by blessing others, what couldn’t we accomplish!?

Just a thought.

Human Flaws and the Perfect Saviour

I always love reading about Peter. I just read Luke 5:8, where, after Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and they pull in a huge haul, Peter falls at Jesus’ feet and shouts, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Peter thought he was the kind of dude that God didn’t love. He was a sinner.  He wasn’t some fancy pants religious guy. Peter did his own thing.

He probably figured that as long as he showed God the proper respect (going to synagogue sometimes, respecting the rabbis, not breaking the ‘big’ commandments, etc) and stayed out of his way, God was content to let him do his thing.

But suddenly, Peter realizes that God’s chosen one is sitting in his very boat.

This was bad. This was really, really bad. All his life, he’s tried to keep himself out of God’s crosshairs. As long as he wasn’t too bad, God didn’t have a reason to single him out for punishment, right?

So when Peter realizes that God has come near, his only reasonable solution is to beg him to leave. Simon isn’t worried about what he could miss out on…he’s worried about what God might do to him.

But what Peter doesn’t realize, at least not right away, is that God isn’t interested in all the people who are acting religious, who are only acting holy, who have the best attendance at synagogue, who have the fanciest looking robes.

Jesus is looking for people who are genuine and real. People who are broken and need to be fixed. People who will respond to the love he gives. And that’s Peter to a tee.

So the first words out of Jesus’ mouth are “Don’t be afraid.” I can’t see him saying that without a smile on his face. He knows all about Peter, and loves him none the less. Then Jesus says that he’s got a plan for Peter: “from now on, you will catch men.”

Despite his gruff, rugged exterior and brash, loud-mouth ways, Peter was looking for something bigger than himself to believe in and to pour his life into. It’s why Peter won’t leave Jesus after the hard sermon in John (see 6:68).

It’s Peter who boldly declares that Jesus is the Messiah when everybody else is debating (Matthew 16:16).

It’s Peter who pledges to die with Jesus, if need be (Matthew 26:33). Peter falters the first time, but he bounced back. Eventually, according to Christian tradition, Peter did die for his faith.

Peter is willing to tell Jesus what he thinks and how he feels. He’s open and honest and raw. Half the time, he’s wrong or mistaken, but Jesus doesn’t send him away or punish him for saying what he thinks and how he feels.

In the church, we seem to want people to be restrained and to suppress how they really feel. Say nice things and smile at all times. I hate that. It’s some kind of creepy, fake gospel that I want nothing to do with.

When I read the Psalms and Job and the Gospels, I see real people who love a real God and have real problems in a real world.

You want shiny happy people all the time? Join a cult.

I follow a real saviour. One who was willing to get his hands dirty and bloody in order to pull me out of the mud pit I was stuck in. I thank God that he’s transforming me, and the transformation isn’t to a boring wallflower.

I want my life to bring attention to how wonderful he is, and the only way I know how to do that is by being genuine.

Two Kingdoms

I believe that there are two kingdoms. The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of his enemy.

I believe these kingdoms are at war on the earth today.

The Kingdom of God has already secured the ultimate victory, but his enemy is unwilling to lay down his arms and peacefully surrender. He wants to cause as much damage as he can before he is destroyed permanently.

The kingdom of his enemy does not require any oaths or commitments. Everyone is by default a citizen of this kingdom from birth.

The Kingdom of God requires one to commit their life to the service of the King and renounce their citizenship to the kingdom of the enemy. It requires one to lay down his or her plans, desires and purposes and instead work only at the command of the King.

It does not require effort to advance the kingdom of God’s enemy, because disunity and confusion advance his purposes. Everyone may set their own agenda: money, power, comfort, religiosity, sex; these are all common individual purposes in the kingdom of the enemy.

It is also the reason that the enemy’s kingdom will not stand. It has no unified purpose other than to consume all that it comes in contact with. It is at war with itself all the time.

As as the Kingdom of God unifies behind the King - not behind a particular denomination or doctrine - he leads us in a great campaign of sabotage against the enemy.  He sent his son to lead our campaign: “the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8)

Our purpose is two fold: to press back the advancing lines of the kingdom of the enemy from his attempts to rule over the people of this earth, and to rebuild what his army has destroyed. He uses a slash and burn campaign, destroying anything he cannot have.

We share the secret that anyone in the kingdom of the enemy is free to defect. The miserable existence they lead now under the oppression and infighting of the enemy can be left behind.  The Kingdom of God is exclusive in so far as it is only for those who will stand with the King.

I serve at and for the pleasure of the King. And by my life or my death, I will advance his kingdom on this battleground called earth.

I don’t do this in my own strength, but in his. For unlike the kingdom of the enemy, who only takes from his denizens, our great King actually puts his life into us. He doesn’t make us hired soldiers. He makes us sons and daughters. He adopts us.

I stand with the King.


Remember the blind guy that Jesus heals, then the disciples ask whether he was blind from his own sin or his parents sin?  Then Jesus says it was neither of those things, but rather that “this happened so the power of God could be seen in him”? Then Jesus heals him. (John 9) And remember Job? How God allows the devil to do anything short of killing him to see whether Job will stay faithful to God in adversity? But instead Job insists that God is righteous and just, despite all that happens to him. Then God blesses Job with twice as much as he had before.

What if the challenges you face are in fact an opportunity for you to give God glory by having faith and trust in him even when there’s no evidence to support your actions? And God wants people to see you trusting in him when it seems stupid to do so, so that when he blesses you, everyone will say that God did it.

Maybe the challenges and trials in your life aren’t about you, but they’re about God. They’re about an opportunity for you to show that God is greater than the troubles we encounter on this earth.

The two men I talked about up top showed faith and trust in God and God honored them. Those events became scripture and have encouraged every believer who ever read them. Maybe God wants to make your life a living testimony to those around you. They may not read the bible, but in your life perhaps they can see it in action.

God deserves our devotion because of who he is. Period. Not because of what he does, but simply by being the God who made the universe and everything in it.  Worship God when logic says not to and see God respond and glorify his name in your life.

Faith and Politics

I started reading ‘Bringing Up Girls’ by James Dobson yesterday, but I stopped after the first few chapters because I was getting annoyed with it. He keeps inserting political opinions into the text. That’s right, in a book about raising daughters, he wants me to hear all about his political leanings. Why do we do that in Christianity? Politicize our faith?

I used to think it was important for Christians to be involved in politics.

Then I became adamantly anti-political party and anti-politician.

I’ve now arrived at the place where the politics of this planet do not matter to me.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t matter to Jesus, either.

The people following him wanted to make him a king, but he wouldn’t let them.  About the multitudes who were starting to follow him, the bible says, “but Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.” (John 2:24-25)

That’s why, when he was entering Jerusalem and everyone is cheering and giving him a regal entrance, Jesus ends up crying for the city. (Luke 19:41) He knew that days later some of the same people shouting ‘Hosanna’ would be shouting ‘Crucify Him!’ (Luke 23:21)

When he had a great crowd, instead of fomenting a political movement, he gave the ‘eat my flesh, drink my blood’ talk and many left him. (John 6:22-66)

When Pilate questioned Jesus about his rule, Jesus said “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)

Jesus didn’t come to win a seat on the Sanhedrin and enact new legislation. Heck, he didn’t even care about unseating the oppressive Roman government which was occupying Israel.  He commends the faith of a centurion (Matthew 8:10), and even advocates paying taxes to this government oppressing his people!! (Luke 20:25)

I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote or do your civic duty.  I’m just saying I don’t think political activism is what we are called to.  In Galatians 5, where Paul lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit, he talks about the fact that those fruit can never be outlawed.  He’s basically saying that the genuine Christian life is above and beyond earthly rules and regulations.

Some may disagree with me here, and I’m okay with that. I just think when Christians get into the political game, they cannot accomplish what they are called to accomplish.  Getting abortion outlawed won’t change the underlying problems that cause a girl to get pregnant in the first place, and won’t help her be a good mother to her child afterwards.

If the law could save, we wouldn’t have needed Jesus.

We’re called to bring heaven to earth and the way to do that is not through politics and laws.

Okay, I’m done with this soapbox now, if anybody needs to borrow it…


Solomon is one of my favorite characters in the scriptures. 1 Kings 3:12 indicates that he’s probably the wisest man who ever lived (with the exception of Jesus - Luke 11:31).

He wrote deeply and extensively of the very nature of all things. Proverbs, Song of Solomon and (probably) Ecclesiastes were written by him.

And yet, he screwed up.

That’s right. Wisest guy who ever lived, who was divinely given an unequaled amount of discernment, acted stupidly.

It gives me so much peace to know that. I’m no where near as smart as Solomon, but even still, when I do something dumb I’m relieved to know maybe he could have done it, too.

He totally could have locked his keys in the car. Or dropped his phone. Or forgot to return that Redbox DVD before 9pm.

Here’s what Solomon really did: he married a bunch of women that God said not to marry. Those women, over a thousand of them (!!!), led him to worship the idols of their homelands.

Yep. Solomon. Smartest dude ever. Starts worshiping fake gods. For those keeping score, that’s commandment #1. Probably a bad one to break.

So fulfilling God’s will doesn’t mean you have to be the smartest person in the room.

It means being obedient to him.

We learn so much through Solomon’s insights. Yet even with all his insight to the nature of everything, he still deceived himself.

He told himself that he could have all those wives even though God said not to and he would be fine. He was wrong.

It’s the garden of Eden all over again. God says ‘don’t’, but we find a way to believe he probably didn’t really mean it.

I am all for education, all for refining and improving on your brain - a wonderful gift from the Lord. But, like all else, it must remain in its proper place: obedience and service to God.

In the end, Solomon loved women and power more than faithful obedience to the Lord.

His wisdom and intelligence, as great as they were, still weren’t as great as God’s. Solomon decided to make his own path and in the end, it led him to lose the inheritance given to his father, David.

That’s why I like Solomon. He gives me hope. He shows me that even if I became the highest version of myself that could ever exist, I still wouldn’t have any hope without God actively helping me.

That even at my best, I’ll never be able to do it on my own.

I embrace this failure, this short-coming of mine. And that’s the place where I accept Jesus.

God's Timing

“During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”” (2 Samuel 21:1 ) I found this story to be fascinating. First, because it gives some insight to God’s frequently unusual timing (at least from our perspective).

God deals with things when he wants to. Sometimes it’s immediate (as with Joshua and the Israelites at Ai). But sometimes it’s later, even much later.

So God wanted to deal with this thing Saul did. But it’s long after Saul is dead and buried that God brings it up.

We don’t know when in David’s reign this famine occured. It seems quite possible that it was a decade or more after David was first crowned King of Judah.

I don’t have a clue why God waiting so long before dealing with this issue that he clearly found to be of critical importance. And perhaps that’s the point of this story. There is no way we can know why God does what he does, when he does it.

He brings things up when he chooses to, and we must simply be ready to deal with what he sends our way. We make our plans, but he directs our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

The second thing I wonder about this situation is this: Did David only ask God’s input after 3 years had gone by? Or did he ask sooner and have to wait for years for an answer?

From the text, it seems that David delayed asking God until 3 years had gone by.

It makes me wonder if there are situations in my life that God wants to bring about healing or deliverance, but I’m busy trying to endure them.

I had some minor health problem that I had been living with, but recently realized I didn’t have to. So I prayed for healing and God did it. I had some of those situations going on for years.

All the while God was just waiting for me to ask.

In the end, God’s timing is going to remain a mystery to me. My job is to ask and trust. And perhaps most importantly, to listen. Because if I can’t know God’s timing, at least perhaps I can know his purpose

The House Analogy

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis uses an analogy about being a Disciple of Jesus that I have found to be very meaningful lately.

Lewis says that our lives are like a house. Before we invite Jesus into our house, it is a filthy mess. A mess that we really aren’t able to do anything about. The plumbing and electricity don’t work properly, it’s dank and moldy, the whole thing is in a state of disrepair.

But when we invite Jesus in, he starts fixing the things that are broken. He starts cleaning up the place. We are ecstatic! This place that used to be so miserable and depressing is now becoming beautiful and joyful! We are so happy and thankful as Jesus makes the house livable.

Then, once he has finished repairing and cleaning up, we’re ready to enjoy living in the house with Jesus.

And that’s when he pulls out a sledge hammer and starts knocking down a wall. Then he rips the wallpaper off. Next he destroys the deck and starts pouring more foundation in its place so he can work on a new extension.

The thing is, God isn’t a housekeeper. He’s an architect. He’s not here to maintain the little house we’re in. He’s here to create the house he has in mind. And where the new house and the old house are not compatible, the old house has to go.

Early this year, God showed up in my life in a fresh and powerful way. He fixed several things that had worn down and broken. He cleaned the layer of dirt and dust that had covered everything, and I expected that with a clean house, it was time to start fulfilling my purpose.

But instead, he started renovations. I can’t get the party started while all this construction is going on. So I’ve had to wait, because demolition and construction takes time.

It’s easy to be excited when God is cleaning things up and making everything beautiful. It’s harder to keep your eyes on the goal when all the work he’s doing seems to be making a bigger mess.  But that’s what it takes for upgrades to occur.

So please, pardon my dust while God is working on me. Soon, I’ll be ready to fulfill the purpose that I’m being designed for by the ultimate builder.

Saul vs. David

I think I figured out today why Saul ended up being rejected by God while David has an inheritance that will never end, thanks to his lineage leading up to the Messiah. In 1 Samuel 15, the prophet Samuel tells Saul to go to the Amalekites and destroy everything. People, livestock, “everything that belongs to them”.

I know, stuff like this is hard to hear. How could God order babies to be killed? He’s God and we’re not. Just accept that his reasons are good enough for him, so they’ll be good enough for us when we learn them. But back to Saul.

So Saul leads the army there and kills the people, but spares the king and the best of the livestock and “everything that was good.” So they only killed and destroyed what they didn’t want.

When Samuel returns to the camp, Saul speaks first: “God Bless you, Samuel! I did what God said!”

Samuel, not being an idiot, asks Saul why there’s livestock all around.

Saul is quick thinking: “Oh, um, we kept the good stuff. You know, to give it to God! We’re going to sacrifice it to him!”

Samuel has had enough. He tells Saul how he’s going to be rejected as king by God for his disobedience. Now check out Saul’s response:

“But I did obey the LORD…I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal. (v. 20-21)

He’s trying to justify his actions. “I did obey, and in the places where I didn’t obey, it was for a totally good reason!”

Samuel, in his reprimand, says the following: “To obey is better than sacrifice”

Saul then fesses up: ”I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them.”

It’s like Samuel was dealing with a child. He throws out excuse after excuse after excuse. In his admission, he even blames ‘the people’. Saul never accepts that it was his fault.

Now, let’s check out David.

The prophet Nathan comes to confront David about his affair with Bathsheba and killing husband Uriah. After telling David the story about the man with one lamb being wronged by the man with flocks of livestock, Nathan lowers the boom on David, telling him “You are the man!”

And here’s David’s response: “I have sinned against the LORD.”

That’s it. No ‘The devil made me do it.’ No ‘But I married her, so it’s all okay now!’ He makes no excuses. He doesn’t argue.

After Nathan leaves, David goes straight home, lays on the ground and fasts and prays for days.

And that’s when David wrote this:

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;

you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart,

O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:13-17)

David got it. That it was about obeying God and being open before him. That God isn’t out for stuff we can give him or ceremonies we can put on for him. He wants us. Our whole heart and soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Saul didn’t get that. He thought if he gave God enough of the leftovers he would gladly take them. David knew that if he wasn’t putting God first, before everything else, it was meaningless.

In my life, I don’t want to go my own way, then argue that it was all really for God, so he should totally be happy with it. I want to give him my all and go from there.

I want to be like David, whose kingdom and ministry will never end because he made his kingdom and ministry the kingdom and ministry of God himself.

Taking My Cue From Winnie the Pooh

My family watched the new Winnie the Pooh movie on DVD not long ago. Afterwards, my wife and I started talking about how each character is a different kind of crazy:

Pooh is a compulsive eater.

Tigger is ADHD.

Eeyore is clinically depressed.

Piglet has an anxiety disorder.

Rabbit is OCD.

At first, we were like “Why are the characters so insane? Is this even good for our kids?” But we quickly realized this: if all the characters were ‘normal’, it would be the most boring movie of all time.

A bunch of people sitting around chatting amicably about topics they hold in common. Forget the fact my kids wouldn’t sit through that, I’d be demanding a refund for wasting my life.

I think in Christianity, sometimes we’re trying to do exactly that: make everyone into the image of Christianity that seems right to us. How in the heck is God going to tell the story he has with such boring characters?

I used to go to a church where we had some people who I considered to be certifiably insane. But you know what? I remember those people. I remember the wacky stuff they did occasionally. I can’t tell you one story about a guy who I noticed that showed up each week, sat quietly through service and then left. There were hundreds (maybe thousands) of men and women who did that.

But the guy who once brought a huge long sword to the Saturday night worship meeting to wave it instead of a flag? I remember him. The guy who showed up one Sunday morning drunk, let his dog loose in the sanctuary and started yelling his dog was Jesus? Yep, I remember that guy.

I’m not saying we should be crazy for the sake of craziness, or that showing up for church drunk is a good idea.

I am saying that stories are only worth telling if they are compelling. Adventures and challenges make life worth living. That’s why ‘accepting Jesus’ isn’t the end of your life. It’s a beginning. With new challenges and adventures.

We all have some area(s) of our life where we’re a little different. Don’t hide it! Jesus talked about cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin, not because of your uniqueness.

The bible doesn’t call us to conform, it calls us to be transformed (Romans 12:2). In other words, break out!

We should not seek to be a bowl of popcorn kernels, each one the same as the next, but rather a bowl of popped popcorn: each one different from the others. There are some similarities, sure, but not identical. Some people like the half popped kernels, some like the ones that have a compressed dome shape, some prefer the ones that exploded the largest.

God is telling a story, and it isn’t a story about how he made everyone act and think the same way.

God is working in my life to bring forward the version of me that he wants to exist. He’s working in your life to bring forth the version of you that he wants. And the fact that we’ll be totally different isn’t a good thing…it’s a great thing.

So be unique, be different, be you. Because the only characters in the story I’m going to remember will be the unique ones.

False Promises

You know, it’s funny. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be his disciples he didn’t say “Come follow me, and it’ll be a cake walk.” (see Matthew 4:19)

But I act like that’s what he said.

I also don’t think he said “Things are going to go really, really smoothly because I’ve overcome the world.” (see John 16:33)

But again, that seems to be my expectation.

I don’t know why I act like my life is supposed to be easy. It’s not. Even the best of us has struggled trying to figure out what God’s will is.

When Peter had the vision of the sheet descending from Heaven, he was like ‘what the heck are you talking about God? I’m not eating any of that stuff!’ (Acts 10)

When Paul wanted to go into Asia, the Holy Spirit blocked him (Acts 16:6) Not to mention when he asked three times for God to remove the thorn in his flesh and God said ‘stop asking’ (2 Corinthians 12:6-8)

Jesus himself didn’t want to have to endure the agony of the cross. (Matthew 26:39)

What marks the difference in their lives is simple: obedience. They obeyed God because God is worthy of our obedience. Not because it’s fun. Not necessarily because they understood it, but because our job is to do the will of God.

We must not make up false promises. Or accept them. Any person who essentially turns faith in God into a way to make money, live in luxury and/or avoid any sense of discomfort in our lives must be rejected in the same way Jesus rejected Peters effort to avoid a life of sacrifice: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Matthew 16:23)

Instead of deciding what will make me happy and then demanding or expecting God to give me that, I will learn to take joy from obeying him.

This, I believe, is the dying to myself I am called to by the scriptures. So that I may be made alive in Christ.

In the life he gives, not the life I try to ‘get out of him’.


Forgiveness is one heck of a concept. Somebody does something against you that is wrong, and you make the choice not to hold it against them.

Peter has this on his mind when he approaches Jesus in Matthew 18:21 and says “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

Have I mentioned how much I love Peter?

He’s basically saying ‘I hate to forgive, but I’ll do it the minimum number of times I’m required to do it to keep you happy, Jesus’.

You can just imagine if you did something wrong to Peter, he’d say ‘I forgive you’, then he would pull out a sheet of paper with your name on it and put a big, red “X” in one of the seven boxes under your name. Then he’d look you in the eye with a rock hard stare.

Jesus’ response is ‘seventy times seven’. Now, Jesus isn’t saying 490 times is the limit. He’s using a figure of speech that is equivalent to us saying ‘infinity plus one!’  In other words: don’t stop forgiving.

Now here’s a big question that people have: do I have to forgive somebody who hasn’t apologized/repented?

If you were abused as a kid / had a car stolen and you never found the thief / been lied to by a salesperson that you couldn’t contact, should you forgive them? Or even somebody you know and see all the time - what if they don’t ask for your forgiveness?

I had a professor who was adamant that, biblically speaking, we are under no obligation to offer forgiveness unless we have been asked for it. We are free to offer it, much like Jesus did, but don’t have to.

For a long time I agreed with him. I was willing to forgive instantly if asked to do so, but if you didn’t ask for forgiveness, I didn’t extend it. I felt it would be like casting pearls before swine.

But I’ve realized something lately. Failing to forgive can be harmful to you. Until you let go of your offense, I’m not sure God can heal the wound it caused.

It’s like being stabbed with a knife, then saying ‘I won’t pull this knife out unless you ask me to.’ That’s dumb. Pull it out and let the healing process start.

The important thing about forgiveness is this: until forgiveness is sought, none can be received.

If you forgive somebody who hasn’t asked for it, they won’t accept it. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are beginning to heal. It’s not like you’ve let them off the hook and they’ll just take advantage of your forgiveness to make themselves feel better.

If somebody doesn’t think they need forgiveness, they won’t take it.

Think about Jesus. He offers forgiveness at the cross (Luke 23:34). Is everybody immediately off the hook? No. Not until they repent. Look at Peters’ speech at Pentecost. Telling the people in Jerusalem that they killed the Messiah. And what happens? Their hearts are pierced (Acts 2:37) and they ask what they can do. Peter tells them to repent and turn to God. Why? Because forgiveness has been offered. All they have to do is accept it.

Now listen, the important thing about offering forgiveness is to learn whether it has been accepted before restoring that person to the place where they previously were. If you gave somebody your credit card and they ran it up without your permission, you need to make sure they have really repented before you think about giving it to them. One good test is that if they truly have repented, they’ll start working to pay you back.

If your husband/boyfriend beats you or your kid(s), saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t good enough to let him back in your house.

There will be proof to go along with genuine repentance. The Bible calls this ‘fruit in keeping with repentance.’ (Matthew 3:8) In other words, prove by the way you live that you really have changed.

I tell my daughter all the time to show me she’s sorry with her actions, not just her words. If she says she’s sorry for not listening, but then doesn’t listen to me again 5 minutes later, I have to doubt the sincerity of her apology in the first place. (Now, she’s a child, so she’s learning. I don’t hammer her over this…usually. It’s a gentle teaching process.)

Some may say that this is essentially saying ‘forgive, but don’t forget’. I don’t see it that way. I see it as ‘forgive immediately, restore slowly’.

Forgiving isn’t easy. I’d say it’s one of the hardest things we do in life. Maybe that’s why Jesus made it a little easier by putting a line about it in The Lord’s Prayer: “…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us…” (Matthew 6:12)

Jesus is saying here, ‘even if you don’t want to forgive somebody, do it for yourself’. Unforgiveness in your life will affect you much more than it will affect the person who you’re holding it against.

And in the end, it will make you unforgivable, too.