August 29, 2008

The Great Settlers

Joshua, after years of living with the frustrating regret that no one other than Caleb saw the land for the taking, arrives at the Promised Land again. He sends in spies - subversive, quiet, no one knows they're going spies - to once again survey the land and the people living there. The story of Rahab the prostitute follows, which is an amazing story in and of itself. But eventually the spies return to Joshua with their report.

"The Lord will certainly give us the whole land...." Period. End of story. "Hey Joshua, we saw the land, the people, the terrain, the vegetation, the weapons, the palace, the guards, the houses, the walls...and God's going to give us ALL of it!" So early the next morning they start to get ready. And the rest is history.

As I read this yesterday and again this morning I kept going back to "...the whole land...." These men had this supreme confidence that God was going to give it ALL to them. They had this assurance that not one thing they needed would be absent from their new home. And the thing that seriously frustrates me is that I don't see myself truly living with that attitude most of the time.

My mentality I often have is that God will most certainly give me ALMOST everything I need. WHY? Because I still keep processing, examining & evaluating my life based on what I WANT. And because of this I begin thinking (feeling) that God most certainly will NOT give me everything I need. Does this sound familiar? Haven't we had this conversation before? This NEED/WANT issue is one that seems to bring much turmoil to my life as a follower of Christ. Why can't I get a handle on this? I mean, look in the closet. Tear open the drawers. You can't miss all the incriminating evidence that I have a "WANT" problem. I don't think God will "supply all my needs according to His riches" because I don't have a clue what it means to live out of need. And quite frankly, His riches don't appeal to a heart lusting after one more thing this world can grant me for some momentary temporary satisfaction. Ouch. This is starting to sting. A lot.

I want to be the spy that starts to annoy the crap out of everyone, returning to camp with the report that "there are giants over there, there are armed guards, and there is the seriously scary unknown...but there is also every single thing that we NEED. It's all there. We can take'em. Let's go!" Yes, I want to be so determined and confident and assured and convinced that it's unsettling and reckless. Are you annoyed yet?

One of my favorite songs is called What You Want by Caedmons Call. In the song Derek Webb sings, "You're softer than a cannon blast. But Your affects much longer last. I want You just like a hole in my head. But I need You like a meal and a bed. You say, 'Come on...I'm not what you're after'. But I know You're not just anyone...anyone..." This is me. So often. I want God like a want a gaping hole in my head. And yet I know I need Him more than air and water and shelter and new running shoes and gratification and applause. 

"God will most certainly give us the whole land...." Will we take it? Or will sit there...across the banks of the Jordan...just staring at it...knowing that it's there, but settling for wilderness? Settling. Settling again. Settling some more. We're the Great Settlers, aren't we!

"Purify yourselves...for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you." Let's not miss out on the "great wonders". Let's cross the river and get a little crazy!

August 26, 2008


If for some reason I ever move to a foreign country and I am in desperate need of a job and this leads me to aforementioned country's unemployment office, I wonder...I wonder, will someone there who's maybe had a bad day or maybe just inherently doesn't like Americans think, "I know. I'll give him a Customer Service job in telecommunications! That'll show him!" Is this what goes on? Is this what is happening here in the land of the free and the home of the brave? I'm no Dick Tracy, but I think I'm on to something.

I just got off the phone with Travelocity's Customer Service line - where I was on hold for over an hour last week - and I literally could not understand one word this nice man said to me. And isn't that the point really? They're always nice, courteous, polite, helpful people...just trying to do their job. But their job is totally dependent on being able to communicate. In ENGLISH! Someone needs to let our immigrating friends know that some wise guy at the unemployment office is getting a good laugh at everyone's expense.

So maybe we don't have an immigration problem. Maybe we have an unemployment office problem. And maybe some of the unemployment office workers need to be deported to Shanghai or Cairo or Brussels where they can work the 1-800-WEHELPU line answering calls from the natives. Maybe that's the solution to this whole thing.

And then again, maybe not. But it would sure be worth a good laugh.

August 21, 2008

Orange Juice or Death!

My daughter loves chocolate. There is nothing and no one to blame for this except me. In fact, I am quite sure that it can be scientifically and genetically proven that she was pre-wired to crave natures creamy love potion and that every ounce of that wiring came from my DNA. But my daughter's hunger for Hershey's magic is completely overshadowed by my son's unquenchable thirst for the liquid refreshment we all know as orange juice.

Here it is, 5:15 a.m., and I'm awakened by the hot breath of my son looming over my head and loudly whispering to my left ear, "Daddy...I need some orange juice...right now!" I attempt to tell him, "Son, it's still night night time. Either lay down in Daddy's bed or go back to your own bed." And then the Oscars begin. The manufactured tears start rolling off the warehouse floor. And I know that I will be getting my sorry sack out of the comfort of my bed to retrieve the orange juice.

5:24 a.m., I lay back down in bed. Maybe I can salvage another 45 minutes of shuteye. Then I begin hearing the noise. The dreaded "juice cup noise from hell" that any parent knows that sounds like some sort of unstoppable suction force coming from where your child's mouth is sucking the life out of this 10 oz. container. I will not be going back to sleep.

As for me, I love Diet Cherry Pepsi. There are some days I may even drink 3 or 4. Crazy, I know! I used to be concerned that my friend Jarrod was going to wind up an old man in a nursing home with a Diet Coke I.V. in his arm (not that it still couldn't happen!). But this is nothing compared to my little man's determination that orange juice is not just the only thing that will satisfy his thirst, but that it is somehow helping keep him alive. When he goes to sleep each night - of course requesting more orange juice - he is only allowed water. He takes it (with silent protest) and I am convinced that he goes to sleep thinking, "I will awaken myself before the dawn...and I will banish this cursed water from my cup...only to have my parental slaves fetch me the only drink worthy of filling my golden goblet. ORANGE JUICE!" Yes, I am absolutely certain that is what he is thinking.

OK, so where's the big "spiritual lesson"? I know, you're going to tell us, "I want to thirst for Jesus the way Nathan longs for orange juice". Right? Well, while that would be a valid thing to long for, that's not really what's eating me at 5:50 in the morning. What hits me in the face is that we all have these things that we so desperately desire - things that we're convinced we NEED - that, quite frankly, we don't really need at all. We WANT. And every time we actually get what we WANT we become more convinced that we NEED it. This brings us to a place where we'll stop at nothing to get it and, even worse, we start to think we're entitled to it. Orange Juice or death!

What's possibly even worse about winding up in this wasteland is that we are blinded to what we're doing to those around us in our quest to satisfy our longing. My son has no idea what 5:15 a.m. means to me! And being honest, he doesn't really care! He just knows that he desperately needs orange juice, and if he doesn't get it not only will his entire existence be threatened, but the entire world could be in danger of coming to an abrupt halt.

If there was a pediatric rehab for juice addiction I would heavily consider sending my almost 4 year old crazy man for a visit. But it would certainly be a waste of time. Not only would he fall "off the wagon" as soon as he got out, he would hijack and seize control of the wagon and drive it straight to the grocery store for some orange juice. And lucky for him the stores are open before 6 a.m.!

August 17, 2008

I'm a Lean Mean Codeine Machine

Thank you Loritab.

Thank you for easing the pain a little - for making the apparent dagger in my lower back feel more like a bee sting than a harpoon injury.

Thank you for turning my normal 7 hours of sleep into 2 hours of eyes-wide-open tossing and turning followed by 6 hours of comatose drooling.

And thank you for holding back the drowsiness and euphoria these last 2 days until right before I was ready to preach this morning. I was really hoping that preaching about the Second Coming of Christ could be made more adventurous from not being able to feel my legs. 

Thank you Loritab. You're a good friend.

August 14, 2008

Playing With Fire

The stories in the Book of Numbers are rich. Many of them are missed because we often don't take the time to drudge through books of the Bible like Numbers. There's just so many darn, well, you know...numbers! But in Numbers 24-25 we have a lot to learn from Israel's ignorance and disobedience.

Balaam has prophesied that God will "crush the foreheads" of the Moabites. He lays out in no uncertain terms that these nations that have defied Him, that have come against His people, and that are in rebellion against Him will be "conquered and destroyed". This should be a pretty clear warning to Israel to steer clear of these people. If they've angered God enough that He's going to "crush their foreheads" and "crack their skulls" this should be a pretty good indicator that God's people shouldn't fraternize and socialize with them. You would think.

In Numbers 25 we find Israel "camped at Acacia...". And where would Acacia be located? Right smack in the middle of the Moabites. And what happens? The men start being seduced by the Moabite women and soon enough Israel is "joining in the worship of Baal...." And the story gets worse before it gets better.

In our series "Fireproof", this leads us to the point: God calls us to get as far away from the fire as we can. When we see sin & temptation strolling down the road toward us we are called to get as far away from it as possible, not setting up camp right in the middle of it's path. Paul reminds us of this in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 as he says, "If you think you're standing strong, be careful (watch out), for you too may fall in the same sin." We are NOT fireproof.

So, are you seeing how close you can get to the fire without getting burned? Are you "camped at Acacia"? Are you playing with fire? Or are you running the other way? Be careful - if you set up camp - you may find yourself "joining in" the very thing God was trying to lead you away from. And if you go there, you'll probably get burned.

August 6, 2008

My Perspective on Perspective

Let me begin by removing the most obvious & pointed spiritual answer to the question, "What is the meaning of life?". Of course, it's Jesus. Period. If you don't know that or haven't discovered it yet, call me and we'll talk. Acknowledging that, I think you can have a conversation about hundreds of other little events, awakenings, and epiphanies in life that reveal hidden truths and wisdom that bring even more beauty to the ultimate truth. 

So it is there that I begin on this glorious 36th birthday. I think I'm realizing that much of the point of this life is a constant change in perspective. It's learning that someone else always has another viewpoint or way of looking at something or feeling about it. It's discovering that your own viewpoint & perspective are going to constantly be changing...your whole life! Just when you think you feel a certain way about something or that you've got it all figured out, BOOM. Something happens and it's as though you're in someone else's shoes. And usually, their shoes don't fit you.

What brings me here is that as I woke up this morning - not remembering it was my date of birth until I was going to the bathroom - I was hovering above myself, eavesdropping on my own ridiculous thoughts. I wasn't thinking, "Man, I sure feel older" or "Wow, does my back ache". I was stuck on, "I wonder how my Mom feels today?" Uhhhh, yeah. What? Why am I being awakened this morning with this? Is this some kind of weird, middle age transition I haven't read about? This is a new one for me. And then it hit me...........

Perspective. It's all about perspective. You see, I no longer have birthdays as Brian, the man whose life revolves around himself. I am now Brian, Libby and Nathan's Dad. The Libby that just turned "6" for cryin out loud. I know that every time she has a birthday, mine's coming. Everything that happens in my life now goes through this filter. Every birthday my kids have make me feel way older than my own birthdays. My aging and mortality are one thing, but my kids? No way. They have to stay this age. In 6 months my daughter is halfway to "teenager"! Excuse me while I take some Excedrin.

So YES, I woke up this morning and immediately pondered, "How does my Mom feel about all this? Her firstborn getting older? Probably remembering today what SHE was doing at age 36. Is she remembering that her hair was the same color as mine at that age? Has she been waxing nostalgic all morning, looking at pictures of my long lost childhood? she wouldn' know...forget. My own mother...FORGET my birthday!? No way."

No. My Mom didn't forget my birthday. But last December she had a birthday. It was the big "60". So, understanding all this changing perspective stuff, it could be that she woke up today, remembered that it was my birthday, and thought, "36. He's still a baby! He thinks he's a big man, knows everything. But I know different. Big whiner!"

Because you see, it's all about perspective. And if you just give it a little bit of time, like mine, yours will change. And your best way to prepare for this? Just start thinking of perspective like underwear: If yours doesn't change pretty soon, it's going to start stinking and will probably stick to you. And when that happens, it won't matter how old you are.

August 4, 2008

The Story of Phineas the Spartan-like Zealot

Lately I have thought long and hard about what I perceive to be an overemphasis on God's grace (if that's possible) that has allowed us to sort of leave the demands for our obedience in our lives resting on a shelf. As I read Numbers 25 this morning these thoughts were further reinforced.

Almost immediately after Balaam prophecies that God will "crush the foreheads of Moab's people", many of the Israelites are being deceived and seduced by the Moabites. Verse 3 is so pointed and revealing: "Before long Israel was joining in...."
This statement is painfully revealing in regards to how easy our hearts are led astray to wander from the narrow road. We are easily seduced.

But returning to the point, you have to notice that this so outrages the heart of God - He is so jealous for His own glory - that He is ready to destroy the entire nation (in broad daylight, mind you). BAM! Just like that. And then something strange happens. An Israelite named Phineas sees another Israelite man coming into the camp with a Midianite woman - basically meaning that he took her to his tent to have some relations. He knowingly and openly disregarded God's law. And what happens? Phineas sees this and is so outraged that he grabs a spear, runs into the man's tent, and stabs him so hard with it that it goes all the way through the man and into the Midianite woman. BAM! Just like that. Like a scene straight out of 300!

What's so eye-opening about this is that it "turned God's anger away...". Get this: God saw that Phineas was so zealous for His glory and His name that it turned away His wrath. In other words, this Spartan-like act brought a settling to the heart of God. This is serious business. This is a God who is fixed and focused on His glory - and attentive to the hearts of those who become consumed with everything that this means. And it all begins with those of us who claim to be His children taking seriously what He has asked of us. The evidence is in the obedience.

I don't know that the Holy Spirit will be moving or convicting us to ram anyone through the chest with a spear anytime soon, but maybe we should take the glory of God a little more seriously. What do you think?