Unbound

How do you typically approach problems? Do you tend to ignore them until they become unmanageable, or do you immediately dive in and attempt to resolve them? For many of us, our approach falls somewhere in the middle.

When faced with a problem, we often try to draw upon past experiences and find a solution in a way that is familiar to us. At times, we may even distance ourselves from the problem, thinking that it is someone else’s responsibility to address. In other instances, we may look to someone else to take charge and solve the problem for us.

In the story of Lazarus, we see how his illness and subsequent death had left his siblings and Jesus’ disciples feeling helpless and powerless to do anything about the situation. However, Jesus arrives and invites them all to participate in something greater that God is working out in their midst. This serves as a powerful reminder that even when faced with seemingly insurmountable problems, there is always a way to be a part of the solution.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” 8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover.” 13 Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus has died, 15 and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

17 Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother. 20 So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” 29 And when she heard it, she rose quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary rise quickly and go out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?”

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

45 Many of the Jews, therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him.

John 11:1-45 (ESV)

As Jesus converses with his disciples, they hang on to His every word. While this is a powerful example of the need to heed Jesus’ teachings, the disciples’ minds often lead them to jump to conclusions. Like many of us, the center of their first thoughts is on self-preservation: What might happen if we do this? Is it safe? These are the same thoughts that often consume us.

The disciples, like us, then make assumptions about what Jesus meant. When we rush to conclusions, we fail to surrender to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and instead rely solely on our own understanding. Although Jesus often speaks in parables and veiled messages, it is crucial that we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us as we interpret the scriptures. This involves breaking free from our preconceived notions and allowing God to reveal something new to us.

When faced with the death of a loved one, the toll on our emotions can be overwhelming. Similar situations can also arise that cause us to act out of our emotions rather than reason. In the case of Lazarus’ sister Martha, she approached Jesus in a state of emotional distress. Her feelings ranged from sadness and anger to disappointment, resentment, and confusion. In this emotional state, she accused Jesus, finding some relief in doing so.

However, Jesus invites us to bring our emotions to Him, even in grief. Mary and Martha were able to bring their true selves to Jesus in their mourning, and He did not rebuke them but instead offered them hope. We may have many emotions that we need to surrender to God to be freed from their hold on us. It requires us to love God and offer our emotions to Him, and in return, God offers us hope because He loves us.

Our physical condition often limits us from doing things for the glory of God. We tend to complain about various physical ailments and disabilities, but as demonstrated by Jesus, God’s glory can still shine through even in death. Instead of focusing on what we cannot do, God wants us to concentrate on how we can bring Him glory through our abilities.

When Martha hesitated to open Lazarus’ grave due to the potential stench, Jesus reminded her that physical limitations do not hinder God’s glory. Although not everyone can run a marathon, we are not called to dwell on that. Rather, we are urged to use our physical abilities to glorify God however we can. What we can do is what God calls us to do. So, let us not be hindered by our physical limitations but focus on using what we have to bring glory to God.

Physically, emotionally, and intellectually, we are most commonly bound to do what we have been doing. However, Christ calls us out of the tombs we built by holding ourselves down because we cannot rise above and beyond our previous limitations. We have been given the power of the Holy Spirit to empower us to rise above the various things in our life that hold us to embrace the status quo. This frees us from being hostage to solutions without power, but to plug into the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. Jesus invites us to strip off the linens and burial shroud, to move forward as God’s living church, bringing hope and peace to our communities and world.

Open Doors To Mercy

From time to time, we all find ourselves in places and with people that make us uneasy and feel like we are out of place. As Jesus ministered to the people, He encountered many who felt this way, and those that did have social belonging, Jesus challenged. In John 3, Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had full standing within the community, and Jesus makes him question his previous understandings and put Nicodemus unease. Therefore, someone that had always belonged suddenly had to question their belonging.

How many of us have walked into a room and questioned whether we belonged in that place? We might feel as if the people all know each other, or they all dress differently than us, or we might not have the qualifications to be present in this group. Churches and other organizations must muster feelings of belonging to help retain people. However, the belonging must be authentic, just as Jesus shows to people throughout the Gospels.

The transition to John 4 shows Jesus traveling into Samaria, where the observant Jews would not want to speak with any locals because history has dictated the separation of these two related peoples. We allow history and propaganda to be a rationale for separating and breaking down the idea that we or others belong. If we hold tight to Jesus, we belong; if we hold tight to Jesus, we will recognize that others also belong, no matter their background. 

Jesus opens belonging to a Samaritan woman and all of us as He speaks to her at Jacob’s well. Jesus opens the door to mercy to this woman and shares freedom from our sin and everlasting life.

So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” 43 After the two days he departed for Galilee. 44 (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.) 45 So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast. 

John 4:5-42 (ESV)

Many of us come from backgrounds that don’t fit perfectly into the image of an ideal Christian. There are things we have said or done that, in the eyes of God, would preclude us from joining the Kingdom of God. We are sinners and do not deserve any of the blessings of God. Our sin should prevent us from the glory of God, and standing next to Jesus in even our best behavior, we would look as if we do not belong, and thus because of our sin, we deserve death. Due to our sin, we identify with the woman in Samaria. Her sin and her nationality would have kept her away from Jesus. She did not belong, and we do not belong.

In Jesus’ exhausted state, He offers the woman mercy and grace. He approaches the woman and speaks with her in His first act of mercy. She was astonished and shocked because for years, she had been treated as subhuman due to the place she was born and then her sinful lifestyle, but Jesus addressed her humanity. The woman did not know how to respond, but Jesus reveals His divinity to her regardless of societal position. Similarly, Jesus showed us grace and mercy by coming to save us while we were still caught in the trappings of sin. The woman doesn’t immediately understand Jesus’ requests or statements, but Jesus doesn’t retract the benefit due to her misunderstanding. He offers her mercy and invites her into the Kingdom. Mercy opens the door to the Kingdom of God to us.

Just as the door to the Kingdom of God was opened to us through the mercy of Jesus, we need to be merciful with the people that surround us, even those that have harmed us in the past. We are not called to be gatekeepers but rather to help people find their way to the mercy seat of God. Jesus reminds the disciples that they have a task even in their lack of understanding. They are called to bring people before God, sharing with the world the Gospel message. A harvest is waiting, even though they did not plant the crops. God calls His people to answer the message by sharing merciful Grace with everyone, even those that have rejected them. We are both the harvest and the harvesters, and God desires to use us to spread the Gospel to all. Mercy is the invitation, and we must be willing to share mercy indiscriminately.

Jesus providing a merciful offering of grace to the people of Samaria led to a transformation in the community. People that were once shut off from access to God in Jerusalem find freedom and favor in Jesus as they receive life everlasting. We were once shut off from life with God because of sin. However, Jesus’ death and resurrection opened access to the Gospel and transformed life in God’s Kingdom. Those who have received mercy must now share that same mercy with those around us, even if it doesn’t seem like they belong. Through Christ, we now belong and have access to a new life in the Holy Spirit.

Becoming Brand New

Naturally, when we enter any new season, we seek to improve. We put on new routines and habits to improve our health, financial standing, and spiritual walk or faith. Several people will enter our purview and offer us some fad diet, new financial scheme, or even some new spiritual way to engage with God, but through the instruction of Jesus, the only way we truly become new is to give ourselves over to the radical transformation we are offered in following Christ Jesus.

Lent offers many of the same opportunities that the new year promises, but we must be aware that this is not just a time to start something new for the sake of starting something new. Rather we are called to reflect sincerely on what we have in our lives that draw us near to Christ and what things pull us away. Just as God made the Sabbath for humanity, God also gives us Lent to reflect on becoming a new creation and put ourselves in a position to serve God more fully.

We now reflect on the transformation Jesus offers Nicodemus and, in turn, the promise God makes for humanity by sending Jesus to the world. 

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:1-17(ESV)

Nicodemus saw the ministry of Jesus, and based on the face value, he knew that Jesus was more than just a good teacher, but that he had something different than the other teachers. Even today, we see teachers and leaders that show or promise great things, and we have a strange appeal to them. We often find ourselves looking at these teachers like Nicodemus looks at Jesus. However, when Jesus opens His mouth in response to Nicodemus, we see the difference between Jesus and someone just telling us something that sounds good because Nicodemus is befuddled by Jesus and needs further clarification.

Literalism and preconceptions often tie us down to our current understandings, or they cause us to throw everything out and fall into a lie. While Nicodemus certainly did not think Jesus was saying that one needs to come out of a literal womb a second time, he did need help guiding him to the fact that we all need to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains and does not rebuke. If we have trouble understanding, don’t settle for a literal understanding that doesn’t make sense, but rather we must go before God and ask for guidance.

As we seek guidance from the Lord, we must allow ourselves to be made new: mind, body, and soul. Some preconceptions need to be let go. As we encounter Jesus, we must be willing to let go of everything that we once thought and cherished for the sake of the kingdom of God. When we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us inside and out, we come face-to-face with our need to embrace our need for God in all areas of our life and not just superficially call out to God.

It was here that Nicodemus still struggled to hear what Jesus was proclaiming. He still wanted to hold onto the teachings, but Jesus said you need to be made fully new and let go of everything you held onto. Jesus tells him that he needs to give up everything and follow him and that if he chooses to continue in his old ways, it would be worse for him if he had never encountered Jesus and His teaching. Often the teaching we grew up on is ultimately the hardest thing to give up.

Jesus, throughout His ministry, asks people to give up everything and follow Him. This is the only way we can truly embrace the transformation of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus struggled to let go of teaching, and the rich young ruler struggled to give up possessions. What do we struggle to give up? During the season of Lent, we often embrace giving up for a season, but Jesus asks us to give up everything to follow Him. However, Jesus gave up everything for our salvation.

God sent Jesus to save us, not condemn us. This requires a change of our mindset and a transformation of our hearts. God’s mission for us is to become new and transformed by the Holy Spirit. We are called to share this good news with the world and invite them to a relationship with the Holy One, the Creator of the Universe, because God loves us and His creation. May we not tarry to partake in this transformation, but may we be a people that are transformed and continually transforming into the new creation God calls us toward.

This Choice Is Simple

A Reflection on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

In creating humanity, God wanted to give people choices. In doing so, the freedom to choose our path has been fraught, with people often choosing the path that leads to brokenness and chaos. The choices made guide humanity toward or away from the good that God intends for us. Whether we embrace opportunities to share in the blessings or avoid challenges, our choices lead us on our path.

If you chose one job over another, living in one area, or joining in versus sitting on the sidelines, these all have led you to where you are today. History is full of people who made choices that were often hard to make. Choices have repercussions. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat in Montgomery, Alabama, set off a chain reaction toward a civil rights movement in the United States. A choice helped change the course of history.

God changed the Israelite’s history through Moses’ arrival in Egypt. No longer caught in the trap of enslavement, they were now free to make more choices. It didn’t take long for them to use their new freedom to complain about how good it was in Egypt or for them to create idols for them to worship. The Israelites show us that freedom to choose will often lead us to unhealthy choices. This tendency to make bad choices leads to the confrontation we see in the passage of Deuteronomy found below.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (ESV)

The people were doing their own thing, complaining about the process, and God reminded them of their ability to choose instead of scolding or punishing them. This generous response from God reminded the people of their most incredible power, the power to choose. God gives them a choice because He desires them to have the freedom to engage with Him in a relationship, not enslavement or bondage. However, there are consequences for rebellion and benefits for obedience. At this point, God lays a pro and con chart for them.

At a cursory glance, God’s list for the people doesn’t appear to be a choice, as one choice leads to “life and good” while the opposing decision is “death and evil.” From this point of view, God sounds like a parent saying to their child, “because I said so,” or the threat of a bully, “do this or else.” However, in the context of God releasing the people from bondage in Egypt and watching them wander around in the wilderness, we see God tenderly warning the people that how they behave is dangerous and detrimental and will ultimately lead to their destruction. God is like the father of the prodigal son, giving him what he asked for but going the extra step and reminding the son that their behavior will lead to despair. Ultimately, God cared for the people of Israel, not only those fleeing from Egypt but the generations that followed, and implored them to give up their evil ways and turn back to God.

Our sin keeps us away from God, and temptation surrounds us and opportunities to choose evil over good and death over life. God knows this and sent us a lifeboat when Jesus came to Earth. The Gospels present a picture of where the choices made by Israel had led them. A foreign nation conquered them; their faith became a tool of the powerful to oppress the weak; the people divided themselves into opposing groups. The result of sin is horror and death, just like the warnings stated; therefore, the people needed a Savior, and Jesus fulfilled this need. Jesus calls us to forgo sin and follow Him because in Jesus comes victory over evil and death, and obedience to Jesus is good and life-giving. While sin still knocks at our door, Jesus offers us a simple choice; give your burdens, your sin, and your heart to Him, and life, goodness, and blessing will follow.

That is the grace of God; choosing God is simple because of Jesus. There are no special rules you need to follow, no special process to find the right way to follow God. Choose to love God and love God’s creation, all people, not just the ones you like. God makes things simple for us because Jesus did the heavy lifting.

Instead of Anger or Fear, We Respond With Prayer

We survived another election. Our newspapers, social media sites, and televisions displayed messages based on our greatest fears in the lead-up to the election. Election advertising relies heavily upon frightening us into voting one way or another. We are familiar with the screen that turns black and white and displays something that we should really be afraid of happening. The sight of boarded-up buildings prepares our minds for violence and invokes fear in our hearts. With division, we turn to fear, and these are divided and frightening times.

With all elections, there are winners and losers. You may be pleased with the results, you may be displeased with the results, or you may be in a wait-and-see position with what might still happen. Still, no matter how you feel about the victors or the victors-to-be, your trust must be firmly planted in the Lord, and not in our worldly leaders, because only God can bring us peace and deliver us from our fears.

The Fear In Jerusalem

Turning to Isaiah and how they responded to their circumstances, they had a rationale for their fright. The enemy was literally at the gates of Jerusalem, and Isaiah is telling us about a threatening letter sent from the Assyrian leader to Hezekiah, Judah’s king. This letter taunted Hezekiah and reminded him of the Assyrians’ great military successes, and resistance was futile. They can either comply or face destruction. Sennacherib, Assyria’s king, even went as far as telling the people of Judah that the gods of the surrounding nations could not put down the assaults of their nation. In the eyes of this Assyrian king, faith was futile and powerless to stand up to their great military might.

Isaiah 37:14-20 (NIV)

14Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the Lord and spread it out before the Lord. 15And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 

16“Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. 18“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. 20Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

Hezekiah’s Response To Sennacherib

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Our Response to Fear

Naturally, we may want to lash out or get angry at the ways of the world, but without first relenting to being the person that God wants us to be in all situations, then we mistake the dangers of the world as being equal to or greater than God. This is how fear encourages us to act. However, when things look menacing or attempting to bring you to a place where you are just going to yield to fear, our first reaction must be to look to God and pray. As Hezekiah’s response guides us, lay everything out before God, and allow God to instruct us on our behavior, let God calm our hearts, and let God bring peace in response to the turmoil. 

1. All news: good, bad, or indifferent; must be presented to God in prayer.

Sennacherib sends his message to Hezekiah, that Judah must bend to his will or else Jerusalem will suffer the consequences. Specifically, Sennacherib claims that their God will not save them, but that Jerusalem will fall just like all the other nations that have been conquered around them. This is a direct challenge to God’s power and integrity. Hezekiah spreads this letter out as if before God to read as he bows in prayer. The action symbolizes his need for God’s guidance and his willingness to do God’s will. In contrast with his first prayer of fear, the king now bows in the presence of God with a trust that gives us a model for prayer.

Hezekiah’s example reminds us that when we encounter any news, instead of being overly jubilant or worried, we must take all news before the Lord in prayer. We are taught by his example that, when pressured, God calls us to cast our burdens upon Him. Any other response will be less than effective and any other methods of relief will be fruitless. God doesn’t require our prayers, nor tears, nor complaints to know what we need; for he “knows our wants and needs before we ask anything from him.” (Matt. 6:8.) By laying out our burdens before God, we acknowledge that God knows what we need and we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and give us what we need at this time.

In our divided state right now, there is a lot of trepidation and fear about what will happen in our country and the world based on our election results. Worry and fear will drive us to react in unpredictable ways; it will trigger fight or flight mechanisms in our brains. God, instead of reacting to the situation with our own response, asks us to lay them down before Him and let go of the fear and allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts. Instead of grumbling at the state of the world, we respond with thanksgiving in our hearts that God has given us this opportunity to serve His Kingdom at this point in history. The world has been filled with good leaders and bad leaders, but none of them has taken control away from the Lord.

2. Recognize that God is greater than anything we encounter.

As Hezekiah begins this prayer, he proclaims God’s greatness and details the character of the one to whom he prays. Instead of starting his prayer with his problems, Hezekiah acknowledges that God is greater than his current circumstance and places his confidence in God instead of merely whining at God. His prayer begins with worship. Hezekiah proclaims the following: God Almighty, Lord over all Israel, the enthroned King over all the Earth, and the Creator of All. With this opening to prayer, Hezekiah acknowledges that God can change this based on God’s character. From that point, Hezekiah can then turn his prayer to acknowledging that this God can hear and see the predicament in which Israel finds itself. That the threats of Assyria threaten and insult Israel, which is a direct affront to God. Hezekiah’s heart and mind become affixed upon worship and not simple pleading for aid, which serves as a guide to how we ought to pray; not with simple pleading, but with worship filled hearts.

When we start our prayers with worship, we set our minds upon the one to whom we pray instead of focusing upon ourselves and our problems. Oftentimes we look to our concerns, and the enormity of God could swallow them up. Christians for ages have been praying The Lord’s Prayer, and it too starts with, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name…” This prayer also starts with the focus upon God. There is nothing that we encounter in this life that is greater than God. Disease, violence, war, pestilence, poverty, and strife all plague our world, but God is greater than all those problems. Even if we look at our current mood, no matter how any election results may lead us to dismay or rejoicing, God is still greater than any leader in any country, including the United States. Therefore, as we pray, we need to remember to whom we pray and that God will hear our prayers, and God will see us; therefore, we must place our trust and hope solely upon the Almighty God.

3. Acknowledge the circumstances and ask God to guide our thoughts and behavior.

Hezekiah did not turn a blind eye to the dangers posed by the Assyrians; instead, he gave them over to God. You look at the path of destruction that Assyria had followed, and there is reason to hear the words of Sennacherib and be afraid. However, as he prays out the path of destruction, the words out of his mouth turn their path of destruction showed that the Assyrians had conquered gods made by man and not the one true God. When looking at the circumstances of attackers at their gates, breathing threats against him, Hezekiah is turning to God that cannot be defeated by this force, no matter the results of any battle. However, Hezekiah asks for God’s aid, not for the people’s sake, but for the sake of God’s mission in the world.

There are people and things in our world that are scary and have damaged lives, and when we encounter them, we cannot ignore them or diminish the dangers. How many people have died from cancer? How many people have succumbed to COVID? How many people have died from the results of any of the world’s wars? The world is a dangerous place, and many things are sending their letters of threats to our lives. Hezekiah’s prayer shows us that instead of ignoring the dangers, we must acknowledge them and put them before God in our prayers. It isn’t because God doesn’t understand that there is danger, but rather God wants us to trust that He will take care of all of these concerns. Acknowledgment of the danger, allows our hearts to let God’s voice speak to the source of our fear, and redirect our minds to the power of God in our world. 

Our response to the election could lead us toward fear or rallying behind the topics we support, but as we read Isaiah, we are shown that Hezekiah gives a great example of how we are to pray about our nation and our world. We must lay out the results before God and pray. God knows more than we know about the result of our elections, but we need to let go of our feelings and allow God to instruct our hearts. As we lay down the results before God, we then acknowledge that God is the true King of the world and that we are called to pray that our leaders acknowledge God’s power to heal the pain in our world. We then acknowledge that no matter the threats our world faces, God is in control and has the power to bring grace into our circumstances. There are good leaders, and there are bad leaders, but God is always in control, and we need to humble ourselves to ask God to guide us no matter what.

Called From The People To The People

For many years, we have been attending church without realizing that our calling goes beyond just attending church, but instead, to be the church. Being the church requires us to recognize who we are, recognize our sin, and recognize that our humanity is an asset as we approach our community with the Gospel.

As we look through the first five chapters of Isaiah, we see that God admonishes Israel for not being any different than the world around them, and, unfortunately, this will lead to consequences. Judah will fall into the hands of its oppressors, and invaders will cast the people into exile. When we speak with people, we mustn’t do so thinking we’re better than the world. We are equals with the world, we are sinful, we are guilty, and it is Jesus Christ that came and took away our guilt; therefore, our salvation does not come from self-righteousness but the righteousness of Christ.

Isaiah, like us, was among the people he sought to reach with God’s message. He brought the message of hope in the face of the disruption, and a promise that God’s message will withstand any challenge in the presence of exile and an earthly conquering force. Turning to Isaiah, chapter six, the prophet describes the experience of God calling him to his prophetic ministry and how God uses this fallible human to share an infallible truth to the world. In this chapter, God calls us to focus our eyes upon whom the King of Kings calls and how that calling establishes us as the perfect instrument to play the message of God’s grace for the world.

Isaiah 6:1-13

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; 

the whole earth is full of his glory.” 

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” 

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” 

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” 

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 

9 He said, “Go and tell this people: 

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; 

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 

10 Make the heart of this people calloused; 

make their ears dull 

and close their eyes.  

Otherwise they might see with their eyes, 

hear with their ears, 

understand with their hearts, 

and turn and be healed.” 

11 Then I said, “For how long, Lord?” 

And he answered: 

“Until the cities lie ruined 

and without inhabitant, 

until the houses are left deserted 

and the fields ruined and ravaged, 

12 until the Lord has sent everyone far away 

and the land is utterly forsaken. 

13 And though a tenth remains in the land, 

it will again be laid waste. 

But as the terebinth and oak 

leave stumps when they are cut down, 

so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

While it may seem odd that Isaiah puts this personal narrative in the sixth chapter, Isaiah is ensuring that the emphasis is on the prophecy, or message from God, not on the prophet or messenger. The passage opens up by describing when Isaiah received the call from God, at King Uzziah’s death, the earthly King of Judah. Isaiah has to deal with an image of the King of Kings filling the temple. In this place, the heavenly beings are praising the triune God, and their praises shook and filled the temple. When in the presence of the Almighty God, Isaiah recognizes his wanting. Every sin, every slight, every way he is not worthy in God’s presence, becomes abundantly clear. With clarity, Isaiah confesses not only his sin, but the sin of the people, and they all are desperately in need of God’s cleansing. The cleansing begins with Isaiah’s mouth, to prepare him to deliver and speak God’s Word to the people. 

After making Isaiah clean, the Triune God gives the call to speak God’s message to the people, which Isaiah answers in the affirmative. However, this chapter doesn’t end here; instead, it goes on to speak judgment against a people that have heard about what God wanted from them, but instead, they ignored God’s message, and because of this, Judah will be ravaged and left in ruins. However, this is not the final judgment, and Judah can find solace in the fact that after this judgment, God will have a portion that will stand up and be a Holy seed for the Lord. The remnant exemplifies God’s promise that they are not forsaken and left to remain in ruins, but rather He will restore His Kingdom, even out of the stumps.

There is no King except for God!

The death of a king, time for a transition of power, is the perfect setting for this encounter with the Holy Triune God. Isaiah enters the temple and sees God sitting on the throne. This vision immediately points to the King of Kings and a reminder that the Hebrew people rejected God as their King and asked God to give them an earthly king. There is an opportunity for Israel to repent from the rejection of God, because this image of God is unmistakably much greater than any human King, and the heavenly beings recognize that the triune God is Holy Holy Holy, unlike any other being.

The temptation to become a king is dangerous. Satan knew this and offered Jesus kingdoms in exchange for worship. However, Jesus called his followers to submit their worship only to God; by doing this, we do not put anything in front of God, and instead, we allow God alone on the throne.

The danger to us is worshipping our creation, but this worship is incongruent with worshipping God. The power the world offers is intriguing; it provides us comfort, importance, and glory. Nothing we worship could compare to the Almighty God, as they could not cause the heavenly beings to hide their face and feet and bow down, proclaiming the Holiness of God. Therefore, we must actively set everything aside to give our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength to the Almighty, and crown Him the KING over us.

God chooses us because God is Holy, not because we are perfect.

The holiness of God guided Isaiah toward understanding and confessing his sin and confessing that he is a product of Judah’s iniquity. Nothing Isaiah could have done would make him worthy of God’s call, and his recognition of his corruption allowed God to provide holiness and purity to Isaiah. Cleansing of Isaiah’s mouth prepares his mouth for sharing God’s message with the people.

Similarly, when calling his disciples, he recognized that they were not perfect, made abundantly clear as we hear their stories throughout the New Testament. Thus when Christ calls to His disciples, He acknowledges and knows that there is nothing they can do to make themselves holy, but they needed God to intervene, and Christ makes the disciples holy through His death and resurrection. Even at Pentecost, Jesus fulfills His promise through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ’s followers, God calls us to serve, while flawed, broken, and full of sin. God demonstrates His holiness by using imperfect vessels and making them perfect for His mission in the world. However, the first things we need to do are confess that alone we are not worthy and that we need Christ’s salvation to save us. Once we submit to the cleansing of God, then we are ready to echo Isaiah and respond to God with our preparation to serve the Kingdom of God. 

We share the Gospel, but the Gospel is not always easy to share.

The message Isaiah brought to Judah was not going just to be a blessing, but instead, it tells the people that even when they were looking right at God, they were not going to recognize him. It didn’t matter how clear the message was going to be; sin hardened the people’s hearts against the mission of God. The people needed cleansing, and God would clean them up, but the cleansing required the destruction of their norms. Isaiah found this a difficult message to deliver and asked God to clarify. However, the grace is found through God’s remnant, as the ultimate salvation will come from the surviving stumps.

Jesus comes from the remnant and springs forth to guide the church toward a ministry. However, the disciples did not understand that ultimately God’s Gospel required the death of Christ. Christ spoke this Gospel message through parables, and the message had to be broken down into stories to connect to the lives of the people so that they may see the Gospel more clearly. 

It is hard to share the Gospel because the Gospel’s values are often contrary to the values we find around us. The quest for power, self-preservation, and self-aggrandizement is contrary to the message of the Gospel. Therefore, asking our neighbors to change is not easy; asking the world to submit to a power outside the world is challenging; however, Christ calls the world to become obedient and worship the Almighty God. Many will object to this call, but God still calls us to deliver His message.

When we acknowledge that God is greater than all the things we have given a voice in our lives, then we are called to respond with confession and submission to God’s mission in the world. We cannot make ourselves good enough, but God makes us clean, so He can use us to carry out His call in our lives. However, that will is not easy, but we must share even when the world rejects the message.

Through Christ’s death, we are made Holy, but we must frequently submit to the call. We must understand that we come from the world, and there are many things we do that reflect that we are a product of our worlds. We are human; therefore, we are not immune to the problems that the world has to deal with, which makes us the perfect witness to God’s saving grace.

The church must make ourselves aware that we have made idols out of our traditions. It is hard to give up old traditions because these are the things we have done and seen God move through these traditions; therefore, we cling to that experience. However, when the tradition gets worshipped above the Almighty, we shut down the outward ministry and turn the church inward, contrary to God’s mission for the world.

As people from the world, God wants to use us to bring His Word into the world. We must remember that God’s ministry is not ours and that we must humble ourselves to what God desires of us. Ministry begins with worship and giving entirely of ourselves to whatever God desires, because often God’s desires may not always align with what we want. Therefore, when our actions align with Christ, we humbly share the Gospel with the world.

Jesus Didn’t Leave Us Alone

A Reflection on John 14:15-21

One of the scary parts of more than a month of staying at home is the feeling of isolation we often feel. There is a disconnect from our loved ones, our friends, our family, our co-workers, and our churches. This disconnect is dangerous as it leads us away from the connection that we have with one another, and leads to situations where many of us feel as if we are going to crack, and break apart. We become weary of not being able to have the social connection and are more prone to think less about others, and rely more on fulfilling our selfish desires.

The lack of physical connection opens up the door for the opportunity to only think about how this affects us personally, and we begin to feel alone. Even for the person that doesn’t enjoy much interpersonal interaction, still is feeling the loneliness that this brings upon us. As a world we have a mental health crisis on our hands as depression, anxiety, and other issues are on the rise. For a long time this has led us to further isolate ourselves, which amplifies and perpetuates the problem. As a church, we must be part of the solution, and not further exacerbate the problem, in a world that is isolating for the purpose of health, we must be aware and respond to the “side effects” of self-isolating, by ensuring that those isolated physically, are not isolated socially or spiritually.

The disciples had the same issue as they approached ministry after Christ had ascended to heaven. We saw how they responded after Jesus died, they went and “self-isolated”, as an act of fear of what comes next. Then Jesus came back to them, gave them assurance that what He had said before was true, and yet, they still needed further assurance. Jesus, during His time with the disciples taught them that they would not be alone, but rather Christ would ask the Father to provide the Spirit, the Spirit is a gift, a gift that we are never truly alone, and by the power of the Spirit we are the blessing to the world, and an embodiment of God’s promise that no one needs to be alone, even in quarantine.

Jesus instructs His disciples in John 14 about the promise that they need not be alone because the Holy Spirit is coming.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” 

John 14:15-21 (NIV)

If you love me…

Jesus opens with these four words, not because they didn’t love Him, but rather He is appealing to them on the basis of love. Out of their love for Christ, they would listen to Him, and follow Him, and fulfill the command that He has over their lives. To help with fulfilling the charge to go out into the world Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of truth is present to ensure we are not alone.

Following God begins with love, first, God’s love for His people, and then our responding with love for God. From this love we act according to our faith, we follow God’s precepts, we act as God’s children, living upright lives, feeding the hungry, comforting the hurting, and living out God’s message for the world. Living in this manner may put us in situations where we feel powerless and alone, but God reminds us that we are not alone, we have the Spirit, and the closer our walk is to the Spirit, the closer we are to fulfilling God’s commands.

The world will not accept us, selfish thinking is contrary to the way of the Spirit. This is the ultimate irony, selfishness leads to isolation, but yet the world clamours to selfish thinking because they feel isolated. The Holy Spirit offers us all a different perspective, one that leads us to think of others, one that listens first and acts out of an understanding gained through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. This ultimately leads us away from isolation, into a deeper understanding that God is always with us, and will always work on us, in us, and for us.

While this does not make us immune from negative results, because there is evil in the world that is resistant to God’s purpose. There is evil that presents us from acting out of our own reading of the Bible, there exists a selfishness deep inside that allows us to act out of our impulses rather than what God desires of us. There are lies that we end up believing that ultimately we see humanity as our enemy and fight our neighbors driving us into isolated thinking, instead of having compassion and earnestly caring for one another, we look at each other with animosity. This type of thinking breeds, and infects society, this is the type of thinking that leads to people hoarding supplies, the type of thinking that leadings to people arguing and belittling one another on the street corners and social media, the type of thinking that leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. 

Selfishness and isolation have a chemical and biological effect on us, and we must work hard to prevent this type of thinking. Jesus promises His disciples that they will never be alone, that He will come back to them, but even those that were closest to Him did not understand that, because when things did not happen the way they anticipated, they scattered and isolated themselves. We must do better than that, because our health is at risk. We threaten the very bodies, in which the Holy Spirit inhabits, and leads us toward the Father, and toward the Son. We cannot rebel against God, but rather we must rebel against the forces of selfishness, greed, and isolation that lead us inward instead of outward.

Outward thinking leads us away from protecting our idols, our institutions, our sense of what is mine, and prompts us to follow God wherever God may lead us. We find it difficult that we cannot go and celebrate a birthday, or come to a building and worship together, or even get our hair done, but God prompts us to think more about what we can do, and more about what we should do. Our needs are going to be met, we do not need to worry about that, we need to listen to where God is leading us right now.

We have an opportunity and an advantage to think about church outside the building, which is what a living church is, a living church is a prayer chain, a living church is giving to people in need, a living church is showing it’s love and appreciation for God by going out from the comfort of our church building and giving to our world. When we do this we listen to the message that God has given to us and we go out and break the chains of isolation, and bring God’s grace to a world plagued by selfish thinking. 

When we switch our thinking, we begin to realize that God is our Father, a good Father that seeks to show us His love through the teaching of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit breaks the chains of suffering, breaks the chains of isolation, and breaks the chains that we are alone in trying to carry out God’s mission in the world. The Holy Spirit breaks down the idea that we are in this world as orphans, but rather guides us into the understanding that we are members of the family of God. As brothers and sisters, and children, we must listen to how God wants us to act, and the Bible reminds us that these actions must be out of love and compassion, and away from self-centered action that does not think of others.

Standing with the Accused

The world is full of less than perfect people trying to figure out how to best cope with the imperfections in the world all around. When we all approach situations we have to make serious decisions about whether or not go one way or another. Some decisions made are right, some are wrong, and still others are ambiguous. The world is full of people doing wrong or regrettable things. At the same time there is a crowd waiting to pounce, waiting to tear the people apart that don’t have the power to hurt them back.

We live in a world where the powerful do wrong, and then when caught in the act they shrug it off because very often the people that accuse have no power over them, and no ability to enact change in their lives. When this happens we cry and yell about the injustice of the act and that something needs to happen to upend the power structures. In politics, this often turns into the imbalance of the power structures that lead to divisiveness that our political systems thrive upon these days. Power makes you think you can get away with anything, and if that power is not checked you become more bold in doing wrong things. Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and any number of tech companies have all been caught in the same traps, that people will follow you and use your product, no matter what you do, because the followers or users feel powerless against the powerful companies doing things that are detrimental with their data, with their privacy, and with their loyalty. In this environment, we feel about power and wrong-doing, when we find wrong-doing that we can affect change upon we pounce.

Unfortunately, this leads to the mob mentality that wants to burn the house down of those caught in the act. You have no power to do anything to me, therefore I will destroy you. This has happened too many times in our society, especially in the social media age. One person gets accused of something, and then their social media accounts get published on the internet, and sometime worse their physical addresses get broadcast, and then the physical safety of the person standing accused is put in danger. The mob justifies the actions based on the accused gave up their freedom when they did wrong, but this justification is truly toothless. Rather, it is just an excuse to get release and try to establish justice in a world that is often devoid of justice, but this justice is not truly justice. Justice is essentially life giving, but the actions of the mob are truly destructive.

Jesus, in John 8, shows us a better way. Here a woman is caught in the act of adultery and the mob is seeking to destroy her and make her pay the price for her misgivings. However, Jesus doesn’t simply allow the mob carry out their intended action, but rather he makes them contemplate and asks if they have no sin then carry on, but if not then drop the stones. He doesn’t do this to point out their sin, but rather to stand in between the woman and the angry mob. Obviously, the only reason they pulled this woman out was that she could do nothing to defend herself, where was the man? Adultery takes at least two, but the man probably had too much power, too much voice to bring out into the light, therefore the justice they wanted to carry out was incomplete and destructive.

Unfortunately, we have a lot of people in our world that are willing to pull the woman out for public scorn, but unwilling to stand up to the mob. Jesus calls us to stand with the woman, and to stand with the accused, even if they have done something wrong, even if they are guilty. There is no chance for reformation, and no chance for shalom if the person is destroyed and stoned and broken, and Jesus came to bring shalom not shame, He came to bring love, and not blame, and we are all invited to join in the Kingdom of God to defend the defenseless.

One last aspect of this is that we encourage those to go and sin no more, and it is vital that we do this. We need to do whatever we can, in order to help them carry this out, but if the mob wins, they do nothing but carry with them the Scarlett Letter and are not granted grace, but surrounded by scorn and ridicule that leads them to feel and know that it doesn’t matter if they turn their lives around, they will always be that of which they are accused. We want to defeat and enjoy the grace that God gives us, and share it with everyone, especially the accused.

Making Resolutions…

Today I turn another year older, and every year I get older, and older, and older. I apologize to my parents, because I am sure that statement really makes them feel older, but really, I remember when my parents were my age and I thought they were old at that time. So I guess that my kids probably think that I am really old. Although I woke up this morning, and did not think of myself as old, as I got up and ran 8 miles, something I definitely would not have done ten years ago. Although, I probably needed it more ten years ago than I needed it today. However, I think that today as I turn thirty-five I am an adult, not old, but an adult, and I am viewed by the world as an adult, and my wife has been reminding me that I am middle aged now.

This prompts the question, what now? Something I regularly do on my birthday is set goals for the following year. Most people make New Year’s resolutions, but since my birthday is only a few days into the New Year, I get a few days to prepare myself for “the new and improved” version of myself. As I read an article about “How Life Won’t Begin At Your Next Milestone” on Relevant I brought this practice under scrutiny. While this didn’t directly address the making of resolutions, it does point out that we aren’t supposed to wait to make good changes in our lives, because by waiting until this milestone or that milestone to really live, or grow up, we often miss the life happening all around us.

I have certainly been guilty of looking forward without looking at now. Tomorrow things will be better, right? Why wait until tomorrow to make the change you need in your life today? When I first joined a gym it was a January, and I stuck to regularly going to the gym for less than three months after that. However, when I first became intentional about getting myself in better shape, it was an August, and as I stated in a previous post I have made that life change permanent as of this moment.  So why wait?
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I used to think that I have given myself the leg up by postponing my resolution timetable by eleven days, because most people fail at their resolutions within the first month, but in reality I have just procrastinated an extra eleven days at working to become the man God desires me to be. Don’t get me wrong, there is great value at taking inventory of our life and looking at the things that we need to do more of, or less than, and things we need to quit, or start, but once we take that inventory, we should start right away. Don’t put off until tomorrow, the things that God is calling you to do today.

There is hope in this for all of us. Some of us have already lapsed in our resolutions we have made for the New Year, and most of will fail at some point, but the good news is that it doesn’t mean we have to give up and wait for another year to make that resolution again, we have the power and the call to make that change RIGHT NOW. Maybe this post comes too early in the year for many, as there are a good number of resolutions being held onto, but come back to this in a month, or two, or more, and remember that failure is only a temporary setback, and that change happens one step at a time.

This process of making ourselves into the people God desires us to be is the process of sanctification. While we have been redeemed by a magical, mysterious, miraculous, and magnificent event with Christ, our sanctification takes our whole lives to achieve. So do not be distraught by missed resolutions, but rather pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and continue along the path toward the Lord’s sanctifying grace. One thing though… Don’t wait, do it today. Embrace God’s grace in your life now, and make the change today.

3:46:00

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This past summer I ran my fastest marathon in three hours, forty-six minutes, and no seconds. Although this time is not terribly fast by the standards of marathon running, although it was much faster than I could imagine I could run a marathon even a year ago. In Jr. High and in High School I was an athlete, but when in college, I realized I didn’t want to pursue athletics any longer, for many reasons that are not important, I quickly lost the athlete within. I covered him up with sloth, with gluttony, with self-destructive habits, and just letting myself go.

In early 2009, I realized that these habits were going to lead to my ultimate demise. I wasn’t going to be around when my son was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to be able to participate and play with him as he got older. At nearly 350 lbs I was on track toward a shortened life span, and maybe not seeing my son grow up. I decided to begin an exercise regiment. This wasn’t huge, I walked slowly on a treadmill for an hour three times a week, and I jumped in a pool and swam once a week. I also learned portion control, one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, no more “Taco Bell Fourth Meal”. In the midst of this first step, I began losing weight, within six months 50 pounds, and 80 lbs were off by Christmas 2009. There was no magic diet, I ate less, and I exercised more.

Have you noticed the pattern? Have you realized my error? I, I, I, I, I, and I. I am taking the credit for all this hard work. Certainly, I did the work, but it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that I was prompted, I merely answered the call. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was transformed, not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically. I was broken, and I needed fixing. God took hold of me, and shook me.

This shook me straight into a crazy thought, I should run a marathon! I set my sights on the next LA Marathon. My sister encouraged me to run at least a half-marathon before that, so we ran in the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. I completed that race in just over two hours, and was able to set a goal for the marathon of five hours. I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and felt as if I was ready to take on 26.2 miles. That was 2011, and a legendary rain filled LA Marathon struck. Shortly into the race, my focus shifted from my goal of five hours to finishing the race. Every joint hurt, my legs were tight, and I started counting down the miles or fractions thereof. All the hard work led to pain, and I was barely able to keep my legs going. After 5 hours and 17 minutes, I crossed the finish line, bruised, battered, and barely walking. (As a thank you, the LA Marathon team gave us the opportunity to walk an additional mile so that we could get our gear.)

I accomplished something, I finished the ridiculous distance, and I was not beaten by the weather. I was proud that I accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people have accomplished, but my feat was not impressive. I was still far from what I could be, and far from what I was before the stench of sloth covered over body. I kept running more and more and my next race was a two hour half marathon later in the year. After that race my daughter was born and the training took a brief hiatus, but when I restarted I set my sights on another marathon, this one the 2012 Santa Clarita Marathon. I followed a strict training regiment and figured I would improve upon the five hour marathon and set my goal to run it in four and a half hours. However, half way into the race I realized that I was in much better shape and was most likely going to beat the goal I set for myself, and I was on pace to run a four hour marathon. I eventually finished the race in just over four hours as I slowed down at mile 24, but this was a huge win for my psyche.

First I worked hard to lose weight, then I worked hard to get myself into better shape, however it was all worthless compared to the riches I have in Christ. However, the way that I have worked on losing weight, and running faster only serve to show that I am constantly being refined and made better by the work of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. So I sit here tonight, having accomplished running a marathon in three hours and forty-six minutes, and having lost more than 150 pounds, but God is still working on me. Not to lose more weight, and maybe not to even run any faster, but God is working to refine me, and make me more into the man that God desires, a man after God’s own heart.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

God isn’t finished with us. I have a marker and a path I have followed, and although I took the steps toward where I am today, God is the one that worked on me, and has brought me on this path toward holiness and sanctification. I pray that as I continue in this path toward a deeper relationship with God, that I can be faithful to God’s call. Praise be to God.