Sunday, February 28, 2010

Forget About Your Stuff

When the news reached Pharaoh's palace that Joseph's brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Tell your brothers, 'Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.' You are also directed to tell them, 'Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.'" (Genesis 45:16-20, NIV)





If you were living in a place totally wrecked by some disaster and word came to you that there were vans and SUV's on their way to gather your entire family group and take them to a place that was in far better shape, what would be your response? To make it even more challenging, say outside of the external difficulty, you still had a fair amount of material possessions around you and, given the time and effort, you could conceivably pack them up and make arrangements to ship them to the new place as well. But at the end of the notice about the transportation, it says "Pack light and don't worry about your stuff. We've got everything you need right here." Would your approach change? Would you be able to just abandon all your things, pack only for the trip, and start over in the new place?


As I write this entry, news has come in of a massive earthquake in Chile. The airport in Santiago is, apparently, in very bad shape. No doubt this will hinder relief efforts greatly as the world tries to descend on the country and begin working through the aftermath of the tragedy. How much like God is it that I started my annual "listen through the Bible" this week and went through Genesis? You see, there was an extended famine in the entire known world, and only Egypt (under the leadership of Joseph) had made provisions in the years leading up to it. Then again, I'm guessing you know the story as well as I do.


What you may not recognize, is the response of Pharaoh when he hears the news of Joseph's reunion with his brothers. Until I heard it read again this week, I had never considered this little part of the story as a reflection of God's call in our much larger story. Joseph, as a reflection of our Savior, has revealed himself to his brothers and shown his forgiveness. He has been put in a position to provide, and provide he will. Pharaoh rejoices at this homecoming and sends word that he will provide transportation for the entire family from Canaan to Goshen post-haste. Oh, and one more thing he offers … they are given an unlimited, pre-paid credit line at all the stores in Egypt. They don't need to worry about packing all their stuff; they just need to load up the wagons and head south.


How much like God this little picture and act are. God has told us Jesus is preparing a place for us and we don't need to worry about or bring anything. We just need to get in the wagons and go! There is no need to pack up all our things and make provision to transport them to our new home even if we could. God has it all set out for us and we don't need to bring so much as our favorite pillow or a change of linens.


And yet, my natural tendency is to accumulate stuff and try to keep track of it. That includes somehow thinking I need to either bring stuff with me into the Kingdom or at the very least send it ahead. I readily admit in my head that God has made total provision, but I somehow keep it from transferring to my heart and living that way all the time. The words of even the pagan Pharaoh provide me with a reminder of what is really in store.


As I travel the Crooked Path, I need to constantly remember the call of the One who is leading and guiding me. He wants me to travel light. And He backs that up with a guarantee of complete provision for the journey and even more when I get to the Final Destination. Excuse me while I go lighten the load I'm carrying a bit.



  1. Are you traveling heavy or light? Have you taken a good look at the stuff you are carrying around lately?
  2. Can you hear the voice of God in what Pharaoh said to Joseph and his family? Does the promise of complete provision excite you, or do you have difficulty grasping it?
  3. Are you ready to embrace the freedom that can come from not worrying about your stuff and the circumstances around you? If you really lived that way, how would your outlook on life change?


NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Encouraging My Inner Child

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, "My child, don't make light of the Lord's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child." As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn't discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn't we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God's discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it's painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. (Hebrews 12:5-13, NLT)




As he stood up there to give his sermon that Sunday, he let us know that there would be an object lesson of sorts. He proceeded to reach behind one of the benches on the platform and produce a pair of stuffed bears ... all ready for Valentine's Day which was only a week away. He illustrated his point further by reading the verse inside a Valentine's card ... one coming from the cat to you (and I'm not making this up). The theme was "encouragement" and our youth pastor, Dan, was showing us how the world normally views the subject, if not the act of encouraging each other.


Then he reached down again and brought up about a four-foot length of a two-by-four. I laughed (as did so many others), but the point was clear. God doesn't always offer His encouragement in the form of cute cards or fluffy animals. On the contrary, He offers His greatest encouragement in the form of discipline. We may want a pretty, clean picture to view, but our salvation is anything but clean and pretty to look at.


So, back to the passage from Hebrews. What we have as chapter twelve, follows that undeniably uplifting record of those who stood strong for the Faith - those who have gone before us, proving we can endure because we serve the same God as they did. We are His children, plain and simple. And, if we are His children, we can expect to be corrected and disciplined by Him. Knowing that He is the perfect Father, we can rest assured that any discipline He does choose to bring comes from a heart of love, not anger ... from the heart of our Abba. So rather than losing heart in the midst of the discipline, we can take heart in knowing God's work is always perfect for us.


Our issue, more often than not, is because we view things incorrectly ... out of focus, if you will. We miss the point of the discipline at its heart. It is always about God and what He is doing. Through the encouragement of the discipline, I can have a better opportunity to know the God of the universe as the one and only Perfect Father - and my own Father at that! He isn't mad at us (as we seem to believe), but rather He is showing us the great extent of His love for us. And if that isn't a source of encouragement, perhaps we just don't want to be encouraged after all.


As I travel the Crooked Path every day, I can take God's encouragement in His discipline as the chance to commit more to Christ. After all, he committed to me to the point of dying and I should never underestimate that level of love. In embracing my relationship with my Heavenly Father, especially during the acts of discipline, I can (as verse twelve reminds me) "take a new grip with my tired hands and strengthen my weak knees." I'm not walking this way alone ... the One who walks with me is ever present to encourage me. His plans are far better than anything could possibly imagine.



  1. When was the last time you clearly felt God's encouragement through discipline? Were you able to accept it, or did you find yourself just wishing it was over (or had never happened)?
  2. Have you felt God's love lately as that of the Perfect Father? Has your own relationship or remembrance of your earthly father helped this or hindered it?
  3. Are you ready to look past your own perception of what is happening in your life and trust God's heart? Can you imagine the freedom and encouragement if you do?


NLTScripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Gospel According to Fear

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. (Colossians 1:15-23, ESV)





What if God really is as radically forgiving as the Bible claims He is?  What if the pure, unadulterated redemptive work of the Gospel of Christ was the only thing we ever needed and will ever need?  What if forgiveness really is that deep and everything I try to do on a daily basis to live up to some mythical standard and appease an "angry" God is just a large load of religious rhetoric?  "Of course it's that way!" you scoff in response.  But if that is so, why do we continue to live out a Gospel of fear and minimize the enduring importance of Christ's incredible provision of His life for ours as enough?  I'd venture to say it is because we're afraid it wasn't enough and now God expects something more from us.


My friend Dan called me a few weeks ago and asked "Why do so many Christians ignore the Gospel?" Ordinarily, I might find this question as absurd as the series of questions I opened this entry with. We don't ignore the Gospel. We are saved by the Gospel (for crying out loud)! But my response was quite different. I headed to my room (with him on the phone) and read the passage I had read that morning from one of Jerry Bridges' works. The essence was, that we embrace the Gospel as the "point of entry" and then proceed to rely on our own actions and works to explain what Bridges called "good days and bad days" in our Christian life.


This idea percolated for a while until I decided to write this post. It happens to be that this coming Wednesday is the start of Lent, wherein millions will give up something they normally consider enjoyable until Easter as a reminder to themselves of what the season means. This morning, my pastor hit the entire concept home with me while preaching from Matthew 16. Sam noted that Jesus' calling to give it all up ("deny self" in verse 24) was an invitation to radical selflessness. He has revealed to His disciples what will be happening over the coming days and they are confused. In their twisted view, the Messiah was to be a conquering hero. For Him to willingly go to His own death was absurd! And yet, that is the heart of the Gospel ... God in the person of Jesus doing something selfless for us so we could attain His glory.


I need to return to the Gospel every day of my life and recognize that all my efforts, noble as they may be, are worthless ("filthy rags" Paul called them). So while abstaining for the Season of Lent or any other reason may make me feel good, if I mistakenly add some level of spiritual achievement or piety to it, I am as guilty of being selfish as one who has never embraced the Gospel.


And no, this doesn't mean right actions, heart, and mind are not important. It just means that I should never let them out of their proper place. God isn't sitting there waiting to judge me on my actions ... the judgment for them has been entered into the record long ago. I deserve eternal separation. But because of the Gospel, I have an Advocate who paid the price in full and the is absolutely nothing else I can add to it. So, in my joyful response, I may live out a life that pleases Him, but I cannot (no I WILL NOT) think for one minute that what I do puts me any closer to God than the Gospel already did.


As I travel along this Crooked Path, may my heart's prayer change (as my pastor said) from the selfish reflection "Lord, make me who I should be" to "Lord, make me the person You want me to be." And in doing so, may I be so enraptured with who God is and what His Gospel has provided, that I let it define who I am. I can then throw off the gospel of fear and know God has already accepted me, flawed man that I am.



  1. Do you struggle at times, believing what God provided is enough for now and every day to come?
  2. Have you been caught up in the lie that you somehow have to work things out or God is waiting to punish you (not discipline, but punish)?
  3. Are you ready to declare that attitude as selfish, throw it out, and turn to the radical selflessness that ask God to make you who He wants you to be? Can you imagine the freedom from fear in doing just that?


Sunday, February 7, 2010

In His Grip

Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." (John 10:25-29, NKJV)





Many images capture the essence of the thought. A young child clings to her mother's hand in a crowded shopping center. A father reaching down the rocks to grab the hand of his son as they ascend to the summit. Even Frodo and Sam in the belly of Mount Doom as one the hero pulled back from the edge of the flaming abyss. The firm, saving grip of someone stronger, on firmer ground, and in a position to help and protect. Add to that the image I get of a precious object being placed in one hand, held firmly, and then another hand – one even larger – envelopes both the object and the former hand.


The leader of the men's ministry at my church regularly signs his e-mail with the phrase "In His grip". It dawned on me this week, as we had another event approaching, that the passage in John portrays this in such a plain, protective manner. I've quoted that verse multiple times, but I don't think I made such a connection before with this line of thinking. God has me "in His grip" and has no intention of letting go of me. In His love for me, He sent Jesus to die in my place, rise again, and place me in His own hand. Then God the Father wrapped His massive hand around all that and holds it all.


So, why do I tend to feel uncomfortable rather than safe? Why do I try to wriggle out of His grip and go it on my own? And why, after all He did to get me there, do I feel like I'm not really worth hanging on to anyway? At the core is my internal conflict with self-sufficiency and self-doubt.


I like to feel like I'm going it on my own. I want to feel like I contribute something to my salvation, or at least to its continued relevance in my life. The Pharisee in me rises up and believes himself to be important enough to make his own decisions. God's redemption was a great start, but now He expects me to take over and do it myself. Sure I'll need his protection from time to time, but that's only as a kind of "back-up" for making sure I can do it on my own. As a result, I don't feel comfortable "in His grip" like I should.


Or, when my thoughts of great inferiority rear their ugly heads, I know God can't possibly want to keep me in His hands. Oh, I'll sing the old camp bus song along with the best of them, but I don't feel like I belong. There is an uncomfortable intimacy in those hands and my acute awareness of my own sinful life makes me feel ashamed. As a result, I don't feel comfortable "in His grip" like I should.


The great paradox here (at least for me) is that God wants me to be bold and act for Him. He has chosen to make me His emissary on earth … to share His love for a lost and dying world. He also wants me to be very aware of my sin and how it did disqualify me from being in his presence. In constantly recognizing that, I remember that I have a great Advocate in Jesus who took care of that part for me because I couldn't do it on my own. And in being a bold bearer of His Gospel and a blessed recipient of that same Gospel, He is all the while holding me "in His grip" for my own safety, comfort, and my very life. And He does this all based on His own choice and out of His own sense of love for me. He already knows us more completely than we know ourselves … and He still desires the most intimate contact with us.


As I travel down the Crooked Path, I can feel confident and secure knowing that the God of the Universe has reached down across time and space to hold my hand. The path may get difficult, and I will need that Hand to keep me safe. The path will get weary, and I need that Hand to comfort and sustain me. The path is most definitely crooked, and I can rest in the assurance that God's hand will guide me through every twist and turn. Like the son reaching up to the father while ascending the slope, my Father has me "in His grip" and that is a most comforting thought indeed. So the next time Dean signs off his e-mail with that phrase, I can smile broadly and feel very loved and very secure.



  1. When was the last time you really felt like you were "in His grip"? Was it a source of comfort or discomfort?
  2. Do you feel like you want to wriggle your way out of the Father's hand so you can "do something" or otherwise make your mark?
  3. When you think about being held by God, do you get a distinct sense of unworthiness? Do you struggle against a feeling that you don't belong there?


NKJV - Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.