Archive for the ‘Devotional’ Category

What is Rest? Harder than you’d think!

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Rest.  I’m thinking about it today.  Rest is one of the 10 commandments, and is given in the Bible more than once:

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.” Exodus 34:21

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20)

What is rest?  Have you ever tried resting?  I’m trying today.  It’s hard work, really.

Yes, today I have self-decreed a day off.  Lately I’ve been feeling exhausted.  Not just tired exhausted, but weary exhausted.  So today I didn’t even go to church, opting to rest instead.  I find church un-restful.  Church makes me tired.  In fact, sometimes it makes me so tired I go to sleep during the sermon.  Not to mention, driving to church is against the Jewish rabbinical prohibition of not travelling further than 1/2 a mile on the Sabbath.  Nevermind Sunday isn’t technically the Sabbath, and nevermind the rabbinical rules aren’t in the Bible so I don’t go by them.

When I lived in Israel I was exposed to the Jewish version of the Sabbath.  It starts sunset on Friday and lasts until sunset on Saturday.  The country of Israel grinds to a halt during this time, even today in the 21st century.  Public transportation stops and many stores close.  While the country is mostly secularized, there is still a certain amount of oddities like elevators which automatically open at each floor without the need for pushing the buttons (which would be work).

I remember there was something nostalgic in the greeting exchanged during this time of week.  “Shabbat Shalom,” Israelis would all say to each other, which means “Sabbath Peace.”  Just now looking it up I discovered the word Sabbath itself comes from the Hebrew verb shabat that means, “to cease.”  The idea is we are supposed to “cease” for one day a week.  It has been pointed out that God didn’t set the precedent of “resting” so much as he did of “ceasing,” because of course God doesn’t need to rest.  But… we need to rest.

Like most things in life that appear easy until one tries to do it themselves, resting is one of them.  If I’m restricting myself from work for a day, the big question becomes, “What is work?”  The Jews have struggled with this question since Moses gave the 10 Commandments, and have made up many a rule to define it.  They went overboard, and Jesus on more than one occasion called out their hypocrisy on the matter.  “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Jesus asked rhetorically.  I killed a bunch of ants today, if that counts for anything.  I even sprayed ant poison around my bathroom, which was a double wammy as it was both work and destroying lives (ant lives).

I believe the heart of the matter was revealed when Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)  If the Sabbath was made for man then it wasn’t made for God or anyone else.  The sabbath wasn’t meant to be a burden, it was a gift.  It is given as obligatory common sense for humans.  God is our creator and he wired us up to work better with a day off each week.  Apparently he thought a little downtime was beneficial.

In America we have the weekend of two days off.  Having lived in several cultures where the weekend is only one day off (ahem, here in Haiti) it makes me appreciate the two day weekend.  Yesterday was Saturday, but it was a work day for me.  I was in the bakery at 6:30am, worked on and off throughout the day, and was wrapping things up in the bakery after 8pm. 

So today on my day off, I did do some laundry, which was work, but not too taxing because I just put it in the washing machine… and then hung it up on the line…  Then I’ve written two blog posts which might be work, but hard to say because I find that therapeutic.  I made some chocolate pudding, which was a little work, but at least I got to eat the pudding.  I made supper which involved slicing an onion and opening a can of spam with my knife.  I also watched a movie on my laptop: The Man From Snowy River which wasn’t work, but wasn’t very spiritual either. 

I think the idea of the Sabbath is to sit still and relax.  Decompress.  Think about life.  My problem is I could get used to taking a Sabbath every day.  I have to remember the other half of the commandment, “On six days you shall work.” 

Life is too short to rush through pell mell.  I am trying to live by the Bible, and the Bible clearly tells me to be lazy for one day a week.  Ok, time to publish this post so I can take another nap… zzz…. :-)

This is Eternal Life

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Do you know God? Do I know God? Does knowing Him change us?

Do we listen for his voice? Do we hear it? Does it lead us into righteousness?

‘Cus let me tell you, sometimes we really need to hear from the Lord and it’s nice to be close to him already when we do.

Before this verse, Jesus said, “When [The Holy Spirit] comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.”

Men think sin is good. It isn’t. I’m sitting in the airport and just looked through a bookstand and a #1 New York Times Bestseller caught my eye: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. It’s an autobiography. The author has this to say about himself on the back, “My name is Tucker Max, and I am an *hole. I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions… sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging d*head. But I do contribute to humanity in one very important way: I share my adventures with the world.”

I opened up to a random page and after reading a few paragraphs wanted to barf.  This is New York Times #1 Bestseller material?

For the record, I hate worldliness. I hate sin. I hate compromise. Am I often worldly? Have I often sinned? Have I compromised? Yes. Yes. Yes. But, for the record, I hate it.

At the end of my life I don’t want to be remembered as someone who hugged the line of indulgence, but rather someone who pressed into the Lord. Like Jim Elliot, George Mueller, or King David.

Unfortunately, it’s so hard to spot worldliness, sin, and compromise in myself…

I’m in Curacao writing this on my phone after reading my Bible a bit (hence the thoughts above). There is a man sitting closeby (Haitian?) talking to a stranger about God. He has also been playing hymns on his harmonica for us in this crowded waiting room. The last song he played was To God Be The Glory.

People may think this man is dumb, silly, or obnoxious, but who knows? He may be closer to truth and God than anyone else here, I’m wondering.

Being “odd” for odds sake is no good, but I do think genuine Christ followers are going to look odd too.

Beginner Mistakes

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Everyone makes mistakes.  But beginners make a certain type of mistake:  They make beginner mistakes.

Here in Haiti, one beginner mistake is to start handing out free stuff.  That’s a quick recipe for generating a flash mob.  I remember clearly the day I learned this lesson.  Was visiting an orphanage and started handing out free Frisbees. I was nearly bowled over and attacked.  Being in the center of a desperate mob was no fun.  Never again.  What’s worse is that the one kid I meant to give a Frisbee to didn’t get one, and I think he started crying.

In life, there are many beginner mistakes.  Not asking questions is one of them.  Not listening is another.  Show me someone good at asking questions and listening… and I’ll show you a relational expert (with the caveat that discretion dictates the line between caring and prying).

In regards to being a Christian, perhaps the most common beginner mistake is legalism.  In particular, thinking one is better or holier than another because of an activity or behavior one is doing or, more commonly, not doing. God’s grace for others is much bigger than we originally think.  The real shock after walking with the Lord awhile is how His grace could ever be large enough to cover our own sin.  My sin.

An acquaintance of mine recently told another acquaintance (who happened to be Catholic) she was going to hell because she prayed to Mary.  Praying to Mary isn’t Biblical, but telling someone they’re going to hell because they do so is, in my opinion, a beginner mistake.  Because God is bigger than that, less limited by misinformation than we suspect.  I’m thinking the light of God easily reaches into the lives of people we may otherwise write off.  This very evening I spoke with a Catholic girl who gave valid testimony of God working in her life.  Is her theology correct?  I doubt it.  Is my theology correct on every point either?  I doubt that too.  Is God working in both our lives? I think so.

The more I know, the less I know. My favorite saying is that, “Life is messy.”  Beginners see life in black and white. Beginners go around trying to rationalize (or wishing) the messes away.  But after awhile, it’s better to just embrace them.  It happens slowly, but one day we wake up to catch ourselves thinking, “I bet that Christian guy over there with all the tattoos knows more about God than I do.”

Speaking of knowledge, sometimes I catch myself feeling smug upon realizing I know my Bible better than another Believer.  This too is a beginner mistake. 

It’s not how much we know God’s Word that’s the question, but how much we know God Himself:

"Let not the wise boast of their wisdom… but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth…" (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

Taken a step further, perhaps it’s not even about how much we know God that’s important, but about how much God knows us.  Think of Job.  God knew who Job was:

The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”  (Job 1:8)

As Satan comes before the throne of God with accusations in April of 2013, I wonder if God will respond with, “Have you considered my servant [your name here]?  That servant who is blameless and upright?  Who fears me and shuns evil?”

A sobering question.  I wonder, “Am I even serving God in the first place?  Are my activities for me, or God? Am I where God wants me?  Am I submitting to Him daily?  Is my life committed to Him fully?  Do I fear his displeasure?  Do I shun evil?  Am I committed to not forsaking Him, even if it means going through what Job did?”

This verse encourages me:

"The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him…" (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Guess we all have to make beginner mistakes. But, I for one am ready to move on to intermediate-level mistakes.

Does God Intervene in Daily Life?

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

During the dead-locked Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, Benjamin Franklin had this to say:

"The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth:
‘that God governs in the affairs of men.’  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?"

Whilst hiking up Masada, I got to chatting with some fellow sojourners: a local Israeli girl and her Dad.  It came up I was a Christian, and the girl was immediately intrigued by this, asking me questions.  (the girls’ Dad, who seemed to be an atheist, was annoyed at his daughter for her questions)

One question she asked me was regarding prayer, “When I need help – say I’m looking for a parking spot in my car – I pray to God, but do you pray to Jesus?”

I tried explaining to her I believe in only one God, the Creator God, same as her.  Yet I also believe God incarnated himself into a human: the man Jesus. 

What struck me most about that question though was her mentioning praying for a parking spot.  While that may be an appropriate prayer, it comes across (at face value) as just turning to God like a genie when we need a favor.

But the question arises, DOES God intervene and intercede in every day events? Perhaps even in the example of a parking spot?

I’ve been hitch-hiking around Israel with my Polish friend, and he will refer to “luck” or “chance” as factors in us getting a ride.  I told him I don’t believe in luck. 

“So what do you believe in, Destiny?” 

“No,” I tell him, “Providence.” 

Which, admittedly, I define as a mixture of chance and Godly intervention.  I don’t believe God intervenes every time (though he could), but rather when He wishes.  The rest of the time he lets thing take their natural course.

Does this really happen?  Does God really intervene in the lives of men?  I think so.  Let me share a quick story.

It was Friday after work three weekends ago and I wanted to go to Tel-Aviv to visit a church in Jaffa (that met the next morning on Saturday).

I was planning to leave the Kibbutz by bus after lunch, but while eating lunch someone informed me the last bus to Tel-Aviv was right THEN! 

There WAS a later bus out of Nir-Oz, but it could only take me to Be’er Sheva (wrong way), not Tel Aviv, because bus lines were shutting down for Shabbat on longer distance trips.

Later… back in my room in the volunteer house I had an inner debate over what to do.  Should I try hitch-hiking to Tel-Aviv by myself?  I didn’t want to hitch-hike alone (though others here do it and it seems to work fine).

So I prayed and asked God what I should do.  I remember asking Him, and then suddenly the issue seemed quite clear: “I should go” because it was important I meet other Israeli believers, and God would watch out for me. 

Having made that executive decision, I was getting ready to leave when a fellow volunteer (my British compatriot) walked up and said, “Hey! I hear you’re planning to go to Tel-Aviv and missed the bus – I was going to too, but also missed the bus.  Do you want to hitch-hike together?” 

Aha!  This was a relief – I wouldn’t have to hitch-hike alone.

But the story doesn’t end there…. so the two of us caught the last bus out of Nir Oz and got off a few miles down the road at a nearby hitchhiking junction. 

Walking up to the junction, Danny put his hand up and (I kid you not) the FIRST car pulled over.  I haven’t hitch-hiked a whole lot, but that was the first time I’ve gotten a ride so quickly.  (for comparison, during this past weekend I caught a total of ten rides, each one I had to wait wait from about 10 to 45 minutes)

But back to the story (it’s not over yet).  We asked the Good Samaritan where she was going and guess what she said?  Yep, Tel-Aviv.  How about that? 

(after an hour ride, she actually dropped us off just South of Tel-Aviv as she was going to a suburb, but we were able to catch a taxi in for the last bit without trouble)

What’s also interesting is that this lady told us she usually never picks up hitch-hikers, but since she was in the boonies and right by a Kibbutz, she decided to pick us up figuring we were probably from the Kibbutz and safe.

So that’s the story, and of course it could easily be explained as coincidence, chance, luck, what have you, and maybe it was (I have no way of proving otherwise). 

But personally, I choose to believe some Providence was at work. 

Especially in light of how my time with the folks at the Jaffa assembly was so productive.  It was there I found out about the Christian Retreat happening the next weekend.  And it was at the Christian Retreat I met believers from a nearby church to Nir-Oz (where I was invited to come and even offered free translation services) and also invited to attend a local Bible study in Be’er Sheva (which I’ve done).

Christmas, Birth and Death

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Boxing up all the stuff in my apartment.  The death of one phase, the birth of another. 

Contemplating.

Listening to Christmas music on the radio while working. 

Loved Michael Buble’s rendition of, “All I Want For Christmas.”  I know it’s sappy lovey-dovey, but I like it anyways ‘cus it reminds me the most important things in life are the relationships I have and not the stuff I’m given.

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In between songs a lady called in to answer the question, “What do you want for Christmas?” 

Her answer was this, “That I could have just one more day with my husband.  He recently died of heart illness.  We had been married 41 years.” 

I stopped packing to listen.  Through the static I could hear her get choked up.  She paused and I could tell the radio announcer was caught off guard too. 

She continued, “I never knew how it would feel to be a widow.  Now I do.  No matter what, you’re never prepared for this.” 

I looked down at the box I was putting stuff in and thought about how I was carefully preparing for the next few months of my life in Israel.  By next Saturday everything will (hopefully) be prepared. 

Preparation. 

Our family is big on preparation.  But I was struck with the thought, “Am I prepared to die?  Am I be prepared for the inevitable death of my family members someday?  If I get married, would I ever be ready for her death?”

She went on, “I miss my husband.  If I could have just one wish come true this Christmas… it would be to have another day with the man I loved.”

Death.  It comes to each of us.  Even Jesus experienced death.

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit… the earth shook and the rocks split.” (Matthew 27:50-51)

The sting of a loved ones death was also felt by Jesus:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled…

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

(John 11:33-36)

Christmas time is a season of hope as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, but no doubt also the season of most loneliness. 

A good friend of mine told me a co-worker (whom he had trained) ended her life earlier this week. 

Loneliness. Tragedy.  Where is the light in this dark world?

“…the people living in darkness
       have seen a great light;
   on those living in the land of the shadow of death
       a light has dawned."
(Matthew 4:16)

As I thought about the lady who was now a widow I remembered that for a Christian there is future hope of seeing believing loved ones who have died. About this hope Paul said:

“Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us…”  (2 Cor 1:9-10)

But it seems to me life can be lived superficially with no thought to eternal matters; to life and death; to what is truly important.  It is possible to live for today, for my own gratification.  And frankly it is possible to live as if I will never die.  I do it all the time.

Yet I don’t believe living that type of life of apathy regarding my impending future is best.  There are important things to live for.  As a believer of God’s promises, my citizenship is no longer in this world and I should be living as a stranger, not as one engrossed in its’ wares.

Life is too short to spend on trivialities. Life is serious and not all fun and games. 

“It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.”
(Ecc 7:2)

Listening to this lady’s emotion on the radio touched a nerve, and I indeed took to heart that death is the destiny of every man.

My good friend Chad recently came out of a deep illness.  In allusion to Pilgrim’s Progress I told him he’s been through a dark valley.  He rejoined with, “Well, it sure wasn’t Vanity Fair.”

Yet how often do I find myself caught up in this world, in Vanity Fair? 

I was reading 1 John the other day and hit between the eyes by this statement:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

Jesus’s birth pointed straight towards his death.  Yet I think it is amazing how His death is what secured life for those who believe.

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14-15)

There isn’t much point to this post, other than reminding myself and others to try not getting caught up in the craziness of December and the materialism of this Vanity Fair we live in. Savor the relationships.

“Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25)

I step back and think, “Without the birth of God incarnate there could never have been the death of God incarnate.  And without the death of God incarnate there never could have been the option of life for sinners like me. There never would have been hope.” 

We serve a great God. There is hope.