No Fair

logo_retinaWhen I tell the righteous person that he will surely live, but he trusts in his righteousness and commits iniquity, then none of his righteousness will be remembered, and he will die because of the iniquity he has committed. So when I tell the wicked person, “You will surely die,” but he repents of his sin and does what is just and right— he returns collateral, makes restitution for what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without practicing iniquity—he will certainly live; he will not die. None of the sins he committed will be held against him. He has done what is just and right; he will certainly live. But your people say, “The Lord’s way isn’t fair,” even though it is their own way that isn’t fair. (Ezekiel 33:13-17)

We cannot rest on our accomplishments or convict someone on their faults. Our good deeds and faith don’t carry us through if we abandon them, just as our offenses don’t condemn us if we turn and leave them behind. God wants ongoing, respectful relationship. But we want to be able to determine just what we can and can’t do. We want some control. We want to declare what is fair and what isn’t. And when we begin to understand that following Him isn’t about fairness, we can throw our hands up and declare God is wrong to do things His way, and people are wrong to follow and trust Him, and we’re better off without Him.

No fair!

But God is beyond fair. His standards aren’t like the ones we create, where everything fits into boxes that can’t ebb and flow beyond the boundaries that comfort us the most. We like to declare, “Foul! Wrong! Good! Bad! Right!” But who are we trying to convince?

Maybe we need to be quiet long enough to let God do a little convincing of His own.

Quit Reminding Me

“Be careful. Don’t hit your head.”

My dad repeated the warning at least a half dozen times. He was still recovering for surgery, so he directed, while I got some things ready for winter. One of the tasks was winterizing the dog pens. With each run, I reached in to the get a dog, placed him or her in a temporary dog box, got the pen ready for winter, then put the dog back in the pen. But I wasn’t used to the smaller gates into the pens. Unlike our dog’s pen, I couldn’t just lean in unless I wanted to bash my head.

Which I did the very last time I was putting away a dog. In fact, I bashed it about the time I thought, “I’m really glad my dad cares enough to keep reminding me, but does he think I’m an idiot who can’t remember a warning?”

Well, yes. Apparently, I am.

I reeled back as he asked if I was okay. “I don’t know,” I said. “Am I bleeding?”

I wasn’t, and we both laughed, but I had a knot on my forehead for several days and had small scabs from the imprint the fencing left behind.

We might get irritated when someone repeatedly reminds us of something, whether it’s something we should do or something we shouldn’t. But many times, we actually need those repeated reminders. We lose focus and easily forget.

Are you surrounding yourself with people who hold you to God’s standard, who know it well enough to hold you accountable? Are you consistently filling yourself with reminders by becoming increasingly familiar with God’s Word, not just what you remember, assume, or are told?

There’s always learning to receive and respond to and reminders about that learning.

Remember to get to it today.

Good to Drink

faucetMoses led the Israelites away from the Red Sea into the Desert of Shur. They traveled for three days in the desert but found no water. Then they came to Marah, where there was water, but they could not drink it because it was too bitter. (That is why the place was named Marah.) The people grumbled to Moses and asked, “What will we drink?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When Moses threw the tree into the water, the water became good to drink.  Exodus 15:22-25

God can turn the bitter into good. He can turn useless into useful. He can turn disgraced into gracious. It’s what he does best: God redeems.

God invites us into relationship with him. He continues to work on and in us as we choose him over and over again. As we deepen our trust in him and share more of our lives with him, he molds us into who he created us to be. We’re created in God’s image.

We don’t always have a good attitude about where we are or where we think God is. We get self-centered in our perspective so that we think we’re worse off than we are. We grumble, just as the Israelites grumbled about their living conditions. Keep in mind this was shortly after God helped them miraculously escape Pharaoh’s army. He guided and provided. They grumbled.

We’re not much different. Life isn’t the way we think it should be, and we grumble. Sometimes God lets us grumble for a while. Sometimes he develops us through patience and perseverance. Sometimes he brings someone godly into our lives to help us, like the Israelites and Moses. He cried out to the Lord, and God showed him a way to make the water good.

Who is making your life good right now? Not good by your own standards but good by God’s standards.

Who loves you with God’s love despite your grumblings? Who shows God’s patience and mercy to you through his or her own patience and mercy?

How are you making someone else’s life good? With whom are you being patient despite his or her grumblings? Show God’s mercy. After all, he shows you his mercy, turning bitterness into goodness when you allow him to do so.

Live It. Think about someone who is in your life right now who leads you away from a self-focus and grumblings and points you toward God’s goodness. Call, text, or write a note of appreciation.

Are You Rebellious?

rebelSurely you’ve rebelled a few times in your life. Even the times you weren’t caught count! It’s not just our outward actions that count as rebellion. Attitudes and thoughts can be equally as rebellious and lead to just as much—if not more—trouble. As we try to define rebellion, we can quickly get into trouble. We might narrow it to only mean those things that go against what others tell us we should or shouldn’t do. Can we really count those things as rebellion when we might not even agree with them? What about narrowing the definition even further to include only the things we believe we should or shouldn’t do? Well, haven’t your standards and reasons for behavior changed over time?

You can rationalize the rebellion of your teens years by stating your parents’ rules were ridiculous or declaring, “I was just a normal teenager.” You can rationalize what you did in the past even though you wouldn’t do it now because “I didn’t know better.” Couldn’t you perpetuate that cycle with the stuff you do now that doesn’t seem rebellious but might with the hindsight of a few more years?

We have to commit to a more solid definition of standards in order to accurately define rebellion. God’s truths and his guidelines don’t change. The concept of rebellion is quite simple: going against God’s guidelines is rebellion. That means you have rebelled. That means you will rebel in the future. But it also means you have to know God’s guidelines in order to follow them. God’s guidelines are the same whether you recognize them or not. God doesn’t change. You can make the excuse that you didn’t know, but what’s your excuse for not knowing? Is your excuse another case of rebellion?

Dig into God’s Word…

And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you. Rescue me from my rebellion. Do not let fools mock me. (Psalm 39:7-8, NLT)

But as for me, I am filled with power—with the Spirit of the Lord. I am filled with justice and strength to boldly declare Israel’s sin and rebellion. Listen to me, you leaders of Israel! You hate justice and twist all that is right. (Micah 3:8-9, NLT)

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’” See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Hebrews 3:7-12, NIV)

Live It Out Loud…

Pay attention to your social networking habits today. What is consistent and inconsistent with your faith? What is consistent and inconsistent with God’s will? Depending on the depth and breadth of your faith, you might assess these two categories in different ways, because you might not be familiar with God’s opinion in some areas. Jot a note each time you encounter an area that seems grey, when you’re not sure if you’re consistent or inconsistent with God’s ways. Hint: If you respond, “I don’t think God really cares about that area,” you need to add it to your list. God cares about every detail of your life.

Out of Gas

I was taught to never let my gas tank get lower than the quarter tank mark. My dad preferred to have a half tank “just in case,” but he was adamant about the quarter tank. I’ve lived my life by that standard – until I got a vehicle with a warning system. A light comes on when my fuel is getting low and flashes when I need to get gas within the next several miles.

The light has rarely come on – probably because of my dad’s firm instructions – but I’ve relied on the warning light several times, particularly when gas prices flunctuate. If I know I’ll soon be somewhere with consistently lower gas prices, I’ll intentionally let the fuel level get low so I can pack as much cheap(er) gas in the tank as possible.

That was the situation when my daughter and I went to a nearby city to shop. The indicator light came on, and I pressed my odometer trip setting to begin measuring how many miles I could continue. The light wasn’t flashing yet; I could easily get to our next planned stop, which would be even closer to home. So, I rationalized, the “cheap” gas would take me farther.

But while cruising on the interstate at 65 mph, the van died. I steered it to a safe location and got help…and learned some things in the process.

How close to empty are you willing to go?

Do your actions match your standards, or do you behave in a way that’s inconsistent to the standards you’ve been taught or that you teach others?

Of course, I’m not talking about the fuel level in your vehicle. I’m referring to your spiritual fuel.

How are you spiritually living? Where would your spiritual fuel gauge indicate you are right now? How often do you add fuel? What level of fuel do you consistently maintain?

God doesn’t want you to have “just enough.”

God doesn’t want you to try to stretch what you have just a little bit farther.

God doesn’t want you to add only what you temporarily need.

In fact, God doesn’t want you to determine the level you need or want at all. He wants you to rely on him for what you need. He knows better than you, because he knows what’s ahead. You might think you know, but your indicator lights are likely inaccurate because you don’t have all the information. God wants you to rely on him for what you want, too. He wants to be the one you want. As you trust God to provide, you’ll embrace his will, and because you most want his will – one bit at a time – you yield your will to his.

When I rely on God, my standard for fuel is to always be full. When I rely on God, I’m only relying on his warning lights, which aren’t only to indicate “nearly empty” but also “not quite full.” And I don’t even need to watch the gas price wars to get the best deal! All I need to do is humbly submit to God, relying on him to provide and guide.

I might run out of gas but through no fault of God. When I’m fully relying on him, I know where I’m going and have whatever it takes to get there.

And I prefer the purposeful journey to sitting beside the road.

Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19

How’s Your Community?

“It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed.”

Walt Disney was referring to EPCOT, which stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Disney’s vision was to create an ever-evolving community which would continually use the latest ideas and technologies. It’s not the use of latest and greatest technologies that caught my attention as I watched a television special featuring Walt Disney’s life. It was the idea of a “community of tomorrow that will never be completed.”

I’m won’t argue with the fact that Walt Disney was a visionary genius with creativity and energy of monumental proportions. But the concept of an ever-evolving community isn’t new.

It’s biblical.

The church everywhere in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had a time of peace and became stronger. Respecting the Lord by the way they lived, and being encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the group of believers continued to grow. Acts 9:31

Continued to grow. How is the church doing at the “continued to grow” thing? I’m not talking about numbers. I’m not even talking about the specific church you attend (or don’t attend). We’ve skewed God’s meaning of the church – all believers and followers of Jesus – to our own meaning – a building and the people who are involved in the group within the building.

Oh, I know there’s been a huge push in recent years to break out of the four walls of the church building and reach people outside the walls, getting into the community more and even (gasp!) partnering with other churches. The church where I’m involved is soon beginning a churchwide study of The Hole in Our Gospel in hopes of stirring a passion within people to get outside their comfort zones, listen to how God wants to use their lives to impact others’, and then step out and do faith instead of just talking about it.

The truth is “the church” is made up of individuals. You. Me. Etc. And as a whole, we’re not doing a world-changing job at being “a community of tomorrow that will never be completed” in Jesus’ name.

(1) We can become complacent with the status quo. It doesn’t mean we’re not doing good things. We can be very effective in a program or ministry and celebrate with a longstanding tradition of repeating the same approach for years even after the effectiveness has died. I’m not suggesting change for change sake is the route to take. Some who have chosen the cutting-edge approach find that while they attract a lot of attention, they struggle with commitment. Drawing people in with entertainment and consumer-mentality frequently fosters increased consumer-mentality. Building relationships with people so they become invested and committed can be done, and there are churches who are doing it well, but if there’s not intention behind the process or program – whatever the process or program is – its effectiveness will be minimal and short-lived.

One size doesn’t fit all in ministry. It’s great to learn from others. God gifts us all, and his gifts are shared among his entire church, not just the one you attend. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you need to know what God’s calling your church to accomplish within his big picture and then continually assess – based on God’s standards – whether you’re being effective. You’re not going to complete the entirety of God’s will. That’s God’s job. Your job is to fulfill the purpose he’s planned for you.

(2) We can forget to give God all the credit. We’re involved in ministry in Jesus’ name, right? Has your church or ministry’s name been hoarding some of the credit? Do you personally take some of the credit? Make no excuses. It’s all about glorfying God. All credit-hoarding is going to do is slow down the growth of your relationship with him. God’s still going to get the glory. His creation, his community, his will = his glory.

I encourage you to stay (or get) involved in a community of believers in your area. No matter what your past hurts or negative experiences with the church is, it’s God’s will for you to do life with others. It’s messy, because people are messy (including you!), but God has no intention or desire of you living life in seclusion with him.

Let your challenge to impact and live in the “community of tomorrow that will never be completed” begin with you – not so that you can judge everyone else for how they’re falling short and not so you can judge yourself for falling short or excelling. But you need to evaluate how you’re doing because your passion and service will overflow onto others. People will believe what you say because they see what you do and who you are. 

Let God stir a passion within you to get out of your comfort zone. Listen to how God wants to use life to impact others’. Step out and do faith instead of just talking about it.

What will you put your whole heart into today for God?

Your Guide

guide a: something that provides a person with guiding information; b: a person who directs another’s conduct or course of life; c: a device for steadying or directing the motion of something (merriam-webster.com)

What guides you?

Before you answer too quickly, let me give you a few scenarios.

  1. You hurriedly run into the store to pick up a few things. You need to get in and out as quickly as possible. As you approach the check out lane, you see someone with an overflowing cart getting ready to get into the shortest line – the one you were ready to get into. If you quicken your steps just a bit, you could possibly get there before she does.
  2. The service at the restaurant is horrible. You suspect someone didn’t show up for work, because the servers are doing their best at trying to cover too many tables. But your coffee is regular, not decaf, and your toast is burned. Your server places the check on the table. It’s time to decide on her tip.
  3. You’ve been getting together with a group of women for a short time. It’s a group of women you feel a connection with and can see longterm relationships budding. You listen to them talk about a woman who called to say she’d miss the get-together because of a family issue, and you hear more of the family issue you feel you need to know. You’re fairly certain the woman wouldn’t want these details shared so freely, and you know you wouldn’t want the group talking about you when you weren’t there…but you wonder how they’ll respond if you speak up.

What influences your decisions?

Past experiences? Words of parents, teachers and friends? Expectations of who you are or who you should be? Standards of your faith? Guilt? Convenience?

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others. Philippians 2:3-4

Easier said than done sometimes. We’re inundated with a multitude of messages from many people around us. We’ve been bombarded with messages of our culture for years. Plus the fact that we’ll atrophy into selfishness because that’s just how people are. We have to be deliberate about not letting selfishness and pride guide us, being humble, honoring others, and being interested in the lives of others.

Being deliberate involves careful and thorough consideration as well as an awareness of the consequences. Next time you’re faced with a decision, ask yourself a few questions:

  • How will my decision impact others and my relationships with them?
  • What message am I sending and what values am I reflecting by my decision?
  • What am I basing my decision on, and is that basis credible?

In your lives you must think and act like Christ Jesus. Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit. Philippians 2:5-6