#$^%!

I admit it.  I curse God all the time.  It’s a problem I’ve had all my life. 

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I’m proud of.  But let’s be honest: you have the same problem I do.

Now, before you start defending yourself, saying things like, “I NEVER take God’s Name in vain!” take a minute to read on.  You may change your mind. The famous “thou shalt not…” that we are talking about is found in Exodus 20:7: You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

Yeah, I know.  This means using God’s Name as a curse word, right?  Not really.  Of course doing that is wrong, but that’s not what this verse is talking about.  It’s much bigger than that.

The Hebrew word for “take” in this verse is “nasa” and it means “to lift up; bear; carry; support; sustain; endure.”  It’s a picture of someone picking up something and carrying it with them wherever they are going.

So how do you carry a name? 

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How to Become a Slave without Really Trying

How to Become a Slave without Really Trying

One second they were living the good life; the next they were feeling the lash on their backs. 

That’s the way I’ve always read the opening of the book of Exodus.  A new pharaoh comes along, doesn’t like the Hebrew people, so he makes them slaves.

But I’m not so sure it happened that way.  I can’t imagine that two million people would just say, “Oh well, it was good while it lasted.  I guess it’s time to pay the piper.”  That doesn’t make sense to me.

I wonder if it was a deliberate, meticulously thought out process on the part of the Egyptians.  I can see Pharaoh and his advisors sitting in the palace discussing the “problem of the Hebrews.”  They were growing in number.  They were a mighty people.  What if one day, they decided they’d had enough of being a second class group in Egypt?   What if they decided to rebel?  You don’t avoid revolution by declaring your enemy slaves overnight.  It had to happen slowly.

So Pharaoh summons the leader of the Hebrews.  He explains that the Egyptians feel that their generosity has been taken for granted.  It’s time for the Hebrews to carry more of the load.  Would the people be willing to work for them?  In exchange for dwelling in Goshen – one of the most fertile areas in the land – would they help with the building process?  That’s not asking too much, is it?

So the Hebrew leader returns and discusses this with the people.  They have a great life in Egypt.  Don’t screw up a good thing.  After all, the Pharaoh is right.  They’ve been grazing their flocks and living off of the goodness of the Egyptians for years now.  All they’re asking for is a little help.

And so it starts.  Just like the proverbial “frog in the pot,” the water begins getting warmer and warmer.  More work hours.  More requirements.  More expectations.  More penalties for falling short.  And without even realizing it was happening, the Hebrews are slaves.

I’m sure this is how it worked, because I’ve seen it this way in my own life.

I’ve seen myself get comfortable.  I enjoy the life that I’m living.  I enjoy my stuff.  I’ve become accustomed to a certain lifestyle.  So what if I need to start doing things that aren’t the best for me and my family in order to maintain it?  It’s only a few more hours at work.  It’s only a small purchase on credit.  It’s only missing church one Sunday.  That’s not asking too much, is it?

As the water gets warmer and warmer, I don’t even notice it.  Then, seemingly overnight, I’m a slave.  I’ve become so obsessed with trying to maintain my life that I’ve completely lost it.  I have no freedom.  And I didn’t even see it coming.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. – Matthew 16:25 NIV

I can count more times than I want to admit when I’ve seen this happen.  The tighter I hold onto what I think makes me happy, the more I lose what really does:  intimacy with God; my relationship with my wife and kids; the ministry God has called me to.

Maybe things would be different if I were just willing to leave Egypt?  I may not have the good life, but I would be free.

Anyone want to come with me?

A Lesson from the Waldo Canyon Fire

A Lesson from the Waldo Canyon Fire

347 homes destroyed.  32,000 people evacuated.  18,000 acres burned.  2 deaths.  10 missing.  So far.

I’ve lived in Colorado Springs most of my life.  We’ve had terrible snowstorms.  Floods aren’t uncommon.  There have even been tornados.  But I’ve never watched the foothills of Colorado blazing like I did last Tuesday night.

Around three o’clock in the afternoon, I was driving from Denver down I-25 into Colorado Springs.  The wildfire that began on Saturday afternoon appeared to be coming under the control of the fire fighters.  They were beginning to get containment.  No structures had been burned.  Good things were happening.

City and county officials began their regular 4:00pm conference with smiles on their faces.  They seemed relieved.  And then, as they were sharing the good news, everything changed.  65MPH winds began blowing from the west, and all Hell broke loose.  The officials were taken completely off guard.  And a fire that had, up to that point, consumed around 1,500 acres and 0 structures, suddenly destroyed an additional 15,000 acres and 347 homes in the course of about 4 hours.

Life can be the same way.

We go through our days knowing that fires are burning.  It could be troubles in our marriage; a child that seems to be distant; problems at work; hidden temptations.  But we act like we’ve got these fires under control.  Sure, there’s danger there – but we can handle it.

And then everything changes.  The winds blow on the fire that we have convinced ourselves poses very little danger, and just like in Waldo Canyon, suddenly all Hell breaks loose.  And while words can’t describe the type of physical damage that the Waldo Canyon Fire has done, the damage done by these personal fires in our lives is much more devastating.  Houses can be rebuilt.  Rebuilding lives is much more difficult.

So what do we do when these personal fires destroy our lives? 

First, we must regroup and return to the fight.  The firefighters in Colorado Springs were completely caught off guard, and were forced to retreat behind both their primary and secondary lines of defense.  But they didn’t just quit.  They regrouped and went back into the fire.  We can’t give up.  We must keep fighting.

Second, we can’t fight alone.  We need others to come along side us when these fires break out in our lives.  It amazes me how – with 32,000+ people being evacuated – only around 400 have taken refuge in shelters.  The rest have been able to stay with friends and family in the community who have yet to be affected by the fire.  The Red Cross and other relief agencies have actually had to turn away donations.  The outpouring of help from the community has been overwhelming.  We need people like that in our lives.  People we can turn to for refuge.

Third, we have to remember that as bad as these fires in our lives appear, things may not be as horrible as they seem.  While we’re retreating from these fires, simply hoping to survive, God may be performing a miracle.  One example is seen in my church.  Nearly forty families were evacuated during the chaos on Tuesday afternoon.  Many of these families could see houses in their own neighborhoods burning as they fled.  Several were informed that all of the houses on their own street were turned to ashes.  But last night, every one of these families from my church found out that their homes were spared.  In the case of my pastor, he was told specifically on Tuesday evening that his home was completely burned, only to find out that while the houses on both the right and left of his were destroyed, his home was untouched.  In fact, he was told that even the daisies he had planted in the front garden were unharmed.  We never know what type of miracle can come out of the fire.

Finally, it takes time to recover.  Officials have predicted that the Waldo Canyon Fire won’t become completely contained until sometime in late July.  It will be years before the houses and businesses destroyed will be completely rebuilt.  The damage is done.  And just like this, rebuilding our lives will take time.  But God is gracious.  And while the road ahead won’t be easy, with humility and the grace of God, we can see restoration.  But that restoration starts with putting the fire out.  Don’t give up.

Get back in there and fight that fire.

AP Photo/Gaylon Wampler

Magic Michelle

A Great Christian Movie!

Guys, there is a new movie coming out soon that I cannot wait to see!  It’s called Magic Michelle.  Here’s the synopsis:

When your life is a fantasy, how do you deal with reality?

As a female stripper, Magic Michelle has everything she could ever want: parties that last all night, hot guys and superfluous money. She takes a younger performer under her wing, teaching her the ropes on how to be the best. As she keeps at the top of the game in the clubs, Michelle struggles with trying to develop a relationship with a guy she really likes. Will she have to choose between her dream world and real life?

This movie looks so great!  And what’s even better is that a bunch of guys in my church are going to go see it with me!  We’re so pumped that we get to go see some of the hottest women in Hollywood strut around the big screen basically (and hopefully completely) naked.  At first I was a little bit worried about talking about going to see this movie.  I was afraid that some of these judgmental Christians I worship God with every Sunday would think that it was wrong.  But then I started seeing all these guys posting status updates on Facebook, all of them saying they were going.  And not just your everyday church members either, but Sunday School teachers, youth group workers, men’s ministry leaders.  I’m so glad that we’ve been able to move past the judgmental stuff in church.  Who cares that as men, we’ve been struggling with lust and have seen pornography destroy millions of men.  I’m stronger than that (I think).

Now, I’m not saying that the teenage guys in our churches need to see it.  I mean, it is rated R.  They’re obviously not mature enough to control themselves at this point of their lives.  But I’m sure I am.  Those of us going are all adults.  There’s nothing to worry about.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking.  Jesus talked about lust as a bad thing.  But I’m not “lusting” really.  I’m just going with a bunch of my friends to watch a few hot women dance around on stage naked.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  What could be the harm?  Of course, I’d never let my wife go to see anything like this.  I mean, we all know that women can’t handle that sort of thing.  But it’s clearly different with men.

If you want to go with me, just plaster it all over Facebook like everybody else.  It’s time those that don’t know Jesus discover that we’re really not any different from them anyway.

OK, I’ve got to go.  I need to get back to reading 50 Shades of Grey

See you at the movie!

How to Tight-Rope Walk Niagara Falls

There really wasn’t anything else on TV.  The NBA finals were taking the night off, and I can’t stand watching baseball on TV.  So I decided I wanted to see what all the hype about the guy trying to tight-rope walk across Niagara Falls was all about.  Boy, am I glad I did.

If you didn’t see it, you should have.  Imagine seeing a guy walk on a wire the length of six football fields over the world’s most impressive waterfall, while the wire is swaying back and forth a foot or two at a time.  Nik Wallenda is being pelted by wind and mist and, at times, he can’t even see the wire.

Oh, and did I mention that his great-grandfather died walking a wire on national TV?

That’s right.  Karl Wallenda was attempting to cross between two towers of the ten-story Colorado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico when the high winds and some faulty guide ropes caused the wire to swing violently, resulting in Karl falling over 120 feet to his death.  He was the fifth Wallenda to die performing such a stunt.

I’ve got to tell you, I wondered if I was about to witness the sixth.  It was hard to watch at times.  I was ready to turn it off or change the channel when something unexpected caught my attention.

From the TV, I heard, “Thank you, Jesus.”

Nik was mic’d up as he performed this insane feat.  And the whole time he was walking across the falls, he was praying.  But he wasn’t asking God to keep him safe, or to stop the wind and the mist, or for the wire to be stilled.  He was thanking God for letting him have this amazing opportunity.  He thanked God for letting him be the first person in history to see the falls from that vantage point.

He thanked God for everything going on around him.

I promise you I’m never going to tight-rope walk anything.  Asking me to climb onto my roof is about where it stops for me.  Still–most of the time–I feel like I’m trying to walk across Niagara Falls without a net.  But I’m not like Nik.  Not even close.  Oh, I pray all the time.  I’m constantly talking to God.  But I tend to whine and complain and ask Him to take away my problems.  For me, the storm isn’t something to thank God for; it’s something to complain to Him about.

We shouldn’t be surprised when life is hard; Jesus promised us it would be.

In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world. – John 16:33b

So how do we navigate across this perilous chasm?

Maybe we should be more like Nik.  You see, Nik was in this position by choice.  He wanted to be right there, standing 200 feet above death.  He wanted to show the world that it could be done.  He never doubted that he would make it across.  So he spent the entire time praising God for every step of the journey.  He trusted that God was going to get him through, so why not enjoy and thank him for every second of it?

I wonder what my life would be like if I did the same thing.  Rather than asking God to take away my problems, what if I simply trusted that He would get me through.  What if I thanked God for giving me a perspective on life that no other human being who ever lived has seen?  What if I saw the struggles and challenges of life, as a gift from God?

Thanks, Nik.  You’ve taught me how to cross Niagara Falls without a net.

Photo credit: Getty Images

The Voice of God at Taco Bell

When I think of someone who hears “the voice of God,” I usually get the image of Charlton Heston in his red robe standing at the top of Mt. Sinai; blow-dried and feathered gray hair and all, hearing this powerful booming voice calling out from fire and thick darkness, and a lot of “thou shalts” and “shalt nots.”  Or I think about the baptism of Jesus, and the skies ripping open and hearing, “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The voice of God is supposed to be unmistakable.  It’s not something that can be missed, right?

Here’s the problem: I’ve never heard God speak that way.

But, of course, that doesn’t mean He’s silent.  We know that He speaks to us through His Word.  But recently I’ve learned that if I’m listening for it, I have the unbelievable ability to literally hear the voice of God.  Seriously.  I’m not kidding.

Ok, let me explain.

The ancient Jewish sages taught that the Scriptures are the very words of God.  Nothing shocking there; Christians believe the same thing.  The difference is that the Jewish sages also taught that when we hear someone else speaking the words of the Bible, that their voice literally becomes “God’s voice.”  It means that God’s voice doesn’t sound like James Earl Jones.  It sounds like your wife.  It sounds like your pastor.  It sounds like your best friend.

Now that’s both good and bad news.  The good news is that we can hear God’s voice multiple times per day.  The bad news is that these sounds are so common to us, that we can easily miss it.  I almost missed hearing God’s voice just a few days ago.

God’s been doing some amazing things in my life; opening up doors of ministry and working in my life in powerful ways.  And as should be expected, the Enemy isn’t sitting back and ignoring it.  He’s on the attack.  So I’ve been put into a position where either God comes through, or I’m toast.  Think Red Sea and pharaoh’s chariots.

So I’m sitting at Taco Bell with my wife and two sons, eating some tacos (or at least that’s what they keep trying to tell me they are), thinking about what a terrible situation I’m in and how hard life is.  I’ve got my nose stuck in my iPhone and I’m trying to force down another taco, doing my best to ignore everyone around me – including my family.  We’ve got about ten minutes to finish eating before we have to get the boys to Vacation Bible School, and they still don’t have their memory verse down as well as I would like.  So Christy is working with the boys on the verse, while I’m stewing.  They keep trying over and over again to get through the verse without help.  Finally, I get frustrated enough that I decide it’s time that I step up and make sure they learn it.  And I hear my six year old say:

Numbers 11:23  – The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short?  You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

I didn’t know that the voice of God sounded like my six year old son.  It does.

At that very moment, without fanfare or lightning or fire or thick darkness, God ripped open the Heavens and shouted out exactly what I needed to hear.  And just to be sure I heard it clearly He said it again, this time sounding like my eleven year old.  And I almost missed it.

And that got me wondering; how many times has God spoken the exact right words at the exact right time, and I missed it?  Maybe because I was distracted and not paying attention or because I didn’t like the sound of the voice He was speaking through.

He’s going to speak to us today.  All we have to do is listen for it.

Even at Taco Bell.

Photo credit: deremer.com

Asking for Directions

What are you using to guide your life?

My wife and kids came with me on a business trip this week.  I had plenty of free-time between meetings, so we thought we could integrate a “mini-vacation” into the trip.  Everything was going great, until my GPS betrayed me.Is newer always better?

The GPS is supposed to be man’s technological best friend.  It means never having to stop and ask for directions.  It eliminates the millennium-old argument between husbands and wives that inevitably ends in the wife saying, “You should have stopped to ask for directions.”

At least that’s what I thought before Monday afternoon.

My first two meetings were in Moab, Utah – the home of Arches National Park.  If you’ve ever been to the park, or seen pictures of it, you know how breathtaking the vistas and arches are.  So after my meetings were completed, we made our way into the park and hiked for a while and “oohed” and “awed” over the amazing views.  And after a couple of hours, it was time for us to hit the road to Salt Lake City for my Tuesday appointments.

My wife had the park map.  I had a GPS.  I don’t need no stinkin’ map.  So when the GPS told me to head north to get out of the park, also cutting off several miles of driving before we hit I-70, I told her we would trust the GPS.  And thus began our two hour adventure.

Let’s just say that the journey involved washboard gravel trails, broken-down mini-vans with stranded Asian tourists, and cows.  Lots of cows.  I mean several hundred that were taking their sweet little time walking down the very center of what was technically considered a road. (Have you ever had a stare down with an angry mother cow, protecting her calf?)  What should have taken a few minutes, took hours.  Sure, we had some laughs and made some memories (along with a video that will unfortunately last until I can get a hold of my wife’s iPhone to delete it), but that’s not the point.

I thought I could trust my GPS. 

How many of our lives feel like this?  Here we are, going down the road thinking we’ve got it all figured out, only to find that we’re off on some abandoned trail, scratching our head, wondering how we got in this mess, and more importantly, how do we get out of it?  I’ve felt this way more often than I want to admit.

My problem in Moab was assuming that my GPS was more accurate than my wife’s map, simply because it was advanced technology.  Surely “newer” has to mean “better.”  And my problems in life usually come down to the same thing: trying to follow the latest spiritual fad that promises to lead to fulfillment, and success, and happiness.  But these new ideas seldom pay off.  They usually just leave us scratching our heads.  Sometimes, what we really need is an old fashioned map.

That “map” is the Scriptures.  The Hebrew word for this is “Torah.”  It means, “Instructions”.  It’s an old school, “take a minute to stop what you’re doing, read it and figure out the path” map to eternal life.  It’s not fancy.  It isn’t really all that complicated.  But in the end, it’s the only way we have to truly navigate through the insanity we call life.

The Lord said through the prophet, Jeremiah: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…” (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV).  Jesus called this ancient path His “yoke,” and taught that, while it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, following Him would be simple (Matthew 11:30).  And He summarized it in two commands: love God, and love others (Matthew 22:36-40).

I love my new technology.  As I write this, I’ve got my iPad on my left side, my iPhone on my right, and my laptop exactly where it’s designed to be.  I have dozens of hi-tech tools available that promise to help me become a better man of God.  I have a Bible memory system loaded on my phone that pops up a message every hour reminding me to memorize the verse of the day; an app that allows me to download teachings from the greatest pastors in the world; and a widget that makes it easier for me to quickly find the Bible verse I’m looking for.  And just like my GPS, these things are useful tools.  But there are times in life where those tools become a bigger hindrance than help.

What I need is to simplify; to unplug, get away with my Bible, and spend some time reading the map.  I may find that I’m way off course.  But only then can I stop scratching my head, and start figuring out how to get out of my mess.

Now, could somebody please help me get out of Moab?