The Fallacy Of Independance

Many of you likely know the story of the prodigal son.  Some of you may even know it’s from the Bible.  It’s the story of a wealthy man who had two sons. The younger son got bored of life under his father’s roof and demanded that he be given his inheritance.

 The son goes off and proceeds to waste all his money on, as the old King James puts it, “riotous living.”  When he had nothing left and had been reduced to eating pig slop he determined to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness hoping that he may be received back as one of the servants.  Of course when he returns the father is overjoyed and will hear none of the son’s talk of becoming a servant.  Instead the Father throws a huge party to celebrate the return of his son.

In telling this story Jesus illustrates a number of things not the least of which is the grace of God.  (There’s a surprising lesson about the older son but that’s for another day.) One of the illustrations is about the nature of rebellion against God.

In my childhood I had always understood the younger son’s sin was in the wild partying.  But the true nature of his rebellion was in saying to his Father, I don’t need you.  I can be my own authority.

A very wise man (my Dad) has pointed out that all rebellion against God starts not with what we do but in the attitude that I can be my own god.  I don’t need to listen to God; I will set my own course and make my own way, and I will be my own highest authority.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit the temptation wasn’t “eat this and you will be greater than God,” it was “this will give you wisdom and you won’t need God.”

So you see a person can be very moral and upstanding, living an exemplary life even doing much good, but foundationally is still a sinner.  Jesus, by contrast, lived his life in absolute submission to the authority of his Father God.  “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…I always do what pleases him.”

Right now in many of you reading this there is a resistance rising up against that thought, “I do nothing on my own.”  That’s the sin nature that we all are born with, and that’s what Jesus died to replace for us.  There can be no friendship with God until you give up control.

God’s Purpose in Gender Roles

You would think that after twenty-six and a half years of marriage I would have gotten this relationship thing down pat and I’d know exactly what to do at exactly the right time and Wendy would respond in exactly the way I expect. The problem with that theory is that we are both growing and changing.  So the adventure continues.

We are, however, getting better and better at working through the changes.  That’s happening, in part, because as I look deeper into scripture I’m coming to a better understanding of the roles God created male and female for. (I think Wendy has always innately had a better grasp of that.)  I see two foundational roles in God’s design and I’ve put these roles in the form of questions.

Before I list those, let me say that the ways in which these roles are expressed are innumerable and will differ from person to person.  These roles do not pigeon hole a man or a woman to say you have to be this or you can’t be that.  By foundational I mean the prime purpose of human beings, relating to God and relating to each other as male and female.  This purpose is true in all of relating, but it’s most clearly expressed in the husband wife relationship.

When our boys tell us about a girl they’ve begun to develop an interest in the question I’ve come to ask is “Does she inspire you to follow and love Jesus more or does she distract you from him?”  In other words does her lifestyle, her conversation, the way in which she expresses interest in you inspire in you a greater passion for Jesus?

If we’d had girls I would ask them this: “Does the way this guy treats you heighten your awareness of how much God loves you, or does it mostly focus on the guy?”  In other words does he draw your attention to God in what he says, his integrity, in how he puts your best interests ahead of his own?

God’s beautiful design is that as each relationship is deepened, male to God and male to female and female to God and female to male, it deepens and strengthens the other.  The better my relationship with God the better I’ll relate to my wife, and the better my relationship with my wife the better I’ll know God.

I would not be the man I am without Wendy daily inspiring me to pursue God more passionately.  Thank you my dear, let the adventure continue…

Date Night With God

“Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”  I would suspect that commandment prompts one of at least three reactions within most of you; guilt because you know you don’t, pride because you think you do, or apathy because it just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal anymore.

What was God’s purpose for establishing the Sabbath? Obviously he didn’t need to rest after creation, yet he chose to rest and then declared that time as blessed and holy.  Why is Sabbath so precious to God?

I saw something I’ve never noticed before, at least not in this way.  In the Deuteronomy 5 account of the Sabbath commandment it ends by instructing them to remember that they “were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”

 I’ve always connected that with the preceding instruction to include servants in the day off. But what if God also wanted to remind them of the 7-day-a-week brick quotas they had to fill as slaves in Egypt.  With that perspective in mind it’s not “I can’t work on the Sabbath”, but rather “You mean I don’t have to work today?”

But why is our resting precious to God?  Notice that God specifically reminds them that it was his power and intervention that brought this freedom.  I think that the point is for this resting to turn their attention to God.  It’s precious, blessed and holy because God created them (us) for intimacy with him, and Sabbath is when that is established and deepened.  Analogy time:

When we bought our house we decided to put in a Jacuzzi tub big enough for two in the basement.  That was one of the best things we did.  Even in a busy household with three teenage boys and their friends, Wendy and I could close the door, fill the tub and have a stay at home date night.  We’d soak our weary selves and share with each other the events of our day, discuss hopes and dreams, and fears and concerns. The intimacy we developed there carried us through the routines and schedules of the rest of week.

Sabbath is “date night” with God.  I’ve realized I haven’t done Sabbath well.  I’m on a journey to discover more deeply what doing it well looks like in my life.  It’s not about “have to’s” and “can’ts” it’s about treasuring what he treasures – intimacy with him.  I can’t encourage you enough to take that journey for yourself.

The Ministering Telemarketer

I usually try to avoid answering phone calls from telemarketers.  With caller-id I can often tell by looking at the number, though sometimes now they route the call through a local prefix to fool me.  If I do answer the next telltale sign is the pause after I say hello while the marketer’s computer connects to his headset.  So if you call me make sure you say hello right away or I may hang up on you.  Even so, sometimes they still get me.

I once answered a call that even displayed an individual’s name and a normal number, and he responded as soon as I answered.  But he said, “Hi, this is Shawn from Most High Siding Company and I’d like to offer you a free quote.”  Normally I’d jump in and quickly end it right there, but two things caught my attention.  First was his voice.  There was a sincerity, even a kindness not at all typical of your average telemarketer.  The other thing was the company name struck me as odd.

The call still didn’t last long.  It turns out Shawn’s the marketer for a small company he formed with a buddy and he was just trying to get referrals.  I assured him I’d mention them if I knew of anyone with hail damaged siding and we hung up after a surprisingly pleasant exchange.

Here’s where it got interesting.  Within 20 seconds the phone rang again with his number.  I picked it up but there was only a pulsing dial-tone indicating we had voice mail. Upon checking the mail I discovered that we had a missed a call earlier in the day from a family going through a serious crisis.  We returned the call and Wendy and I were able to support and pray with this person within an hour of the crisis needing to be faced.

Afterwards I looked at Wendy and said, “If that telemarketer hadn’t called just then we’d have missed this. ‘ Most High Siding’, you don’t suppose…”  I immediately called Shawn and sure enough, he’s a Jesus follower who approaches his business as ministry.  His wife got on the line and all four of us prayed and celebrated God’s faithfulness.

Here’s the takeaway from this: Shawn, in submission to God’s spirit through the normal course of business, conveyed Jesus to me. That’s what I heard in his voice.  And the impact was far greater than he could have known.  Ask yourself this, “Do people leave encounters with me with a greater passion and desire for Jesus?”  That, very simply, is ministry.

If a telemarketer can be a minister, anyone can!

In Your Weakness . . . Pray

How well do you pray? Now there’s a question that’ll make a lot of church people squirm.  It’s likely stating the obvious to say that prayer is important, but for all the books and sermons about prayer I would suggest most of us don’t pray very well.

Now before you get too down on yourself this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Romans 8:26 says flat out that we’re weak and don’t know how to pray.  So the first place to start strengthening your praying is to admit your weakness and that you need help. That help comes from the Holy Spirit as Romans goes on to say.

But how does a person tap into that help?  Two other places, Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20, instruct us to “pray in the Spirit.”  How does a person pray in the Spirit? Perhaps this will help.

Over the years and I’ve had the privilege of helping to work or move cattle at a variety of outfits from grassland ranches to parkland grazing co-ops to mixed farms.  And every place has its own style and technique for handling the cows.  Some places are slow and laid back using very gentle pressure, while other places are intense and rammy.  Some places the cows are talked to in low quiet tones and then at others there’s as much yelling at each other as there is at the herd.

I have my personal preference as to what style is most effective but I discovered that if a guy is going to be of any help he’s got to watch how the boss handles things and adapt to fit in.  You have to pay attention and read how his system works and what the cattle are used to.  Otherwise you end up more in the way and the animals get confused and everybody gets frustrated.  Odds are you won’t be invited back.

Praying in the Spirit is simply paying attention to and responding to the moves and guidance of the Spirit and not putting any confidence in my own nature.  Easier said than done?  Well maybe, but try this: Pray scripture.  The Psalms are an easy place to start, because many of them are prayers, but much of scripture can be prayed.  For example:

Hebrews 12:1-3, Father help me throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and instead run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  Prompt me to fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Keep forefront in my mind him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that I won’t grow weary and lose heart.

Oh Joy, Oh Bliss?

Joy. We see that word a lot this time of year, on Christmas card, in lights or on tree ornaments, even in advertisements. When you think of joy do you think of the cross? Probably not. Our cultural understanding of joy is about happiness, life at its best and the absence of discomfort and suffering. But Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross. It doesn’t really fit with our conception of joy.

A fellow named Skip Moen helps us understand. “Joy is an important Biblical idea but it is not about my inner state of bliss.  In the Bible, joy is a relationship word.  It begins with Exodus 33:19.  Joy is first and foremost a description of God’s relationship to us.  God says that He will be gracious.  That’s the word for “joy” in the Old Testament.  I experience joy when God is gracious.  He’s the One who initiates the experience.  Joy is the result of a relationship of favor brought about by God.”

That’s how joy is different from happiness.  Happiness is dependent on circumstances and therefore fleeting. Joy is dependent on God and therefore unwavering.  And herein lies our challenge.  Our pursuit of happiness or the things that bring momentary happiness can easily get in the way of receiving joy.

Skip comments from his own experience that joy only comes to an empty heart.  In other words when my pursuit of happiness crowds out my passion to above all else know God then there is no place for joy.  When instead I am like Jesus and crave the joy of relationship with God regardless of the cost, joy fills my life even when happiness doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I like being happy. I love all the wonderful things in life and particularly the Christmas season that bring happiness.  But my joy is not dependant on any of that stuff.  For the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross so that I can have the same joy set before me.

So I certainly wish you all a Merry, or Happy Christmas, but far more I pray you know Joy.

The Fingerprints of God

I can’t tell you who first coined the term “fingerprints of God” but the idea is a good one.  The concept is that all around us, in the ordinary, mundane of every day there is evidence of the activity of God at work in our lives if we will pay attention to it.  The problem is too often we‘re oblivious to God.

Recently I was in Red Deer to visit someone in the hospital, and then get some groceries and gas.  My original thought was that after the visit I would get both gas and groceries from Costco since gas was cheapest there, but as I left the hospital  I changed my mind and went to Superstore for groceries instead and then to Costco for gas.

When I got to Costco the parking lot was packed and any open spot already had a couple of cars waiting to get in.  I found a spot but it was about as far from the doors as you could get.  It wasn’t until I was out of the truck and on my trek to the distant doors that it occurred to me I had only come there for gas.  Even though I kicked myself for my absent mindedness I decided I go into the store anyway if for nothing else than the free food samples.

I ended up buying a snow shovel and as I got through the checkout met a friend I hadn’t seen for some time so chatted for a bit.  As we said goodbye I saw the line to get out stretched way back to the eating area.  Apparently there was someone new checking receipts and he was very slow.  I grumbled a bit in my head as the line shuffled towards the door.

On to get gas, and of course I picked the line where the guy in front of me couldn‘t get his card to work.  More grumbling under my breath till I finally reached the pump.

I was finally just seconds from getting out of town when my son texted me saying that he‘d like to connect. He lives in Red Deer and it had been a while so I suggested I take him for supper.  That‘s when it hit me.  If I hadn‘t been absent minded, or met the friend, or had a long line, or picked the wrong pump, I would have been long gone and missed the chance to connect with my son.

Some say coincidence, I see God‘s fingerprints.


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