Thirty Verses That Changed My Life

There are 31,102 verses in the English language Bible. Of all those verses there are thirty of them that changed my life in a very deep, foundational way. They were and are life-changing. And the older I get the louder they are speaking to me.

It is important to keep moving forward in our walk with the Lord. As a disciple there is no reverse or park – simply forward. And, each day we should be moving forward into greater intimacy with the Lord as well as pursuing – barreling forward – into the remainder of God’s will for our lives.

One of the Bible characters that encourage me to do just that as well as lending insight into how to do that is Caleb, a friend of Joshua and one of the two spies who came back from the Promised Land with a positive report as to what was there and how Israel would certainly be able to take the land as God had spoken to them to do. The story of Caleb’s life is told in thirty verses in the Bible. But six times in those verses we are given the secret of his forward motion and his risk-filled and risk-taking life as he pursued the plan and purpose of God for his life.

Numbers 14:24a “But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully…”

Numbers 32:11b-12 “… they have not wholly followed me, none except Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua the son of Nun, for they have wholly followed the LORD.”

Deuteronomy 1:36 “… Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!”

Joshua 14:8b-9 “… I wholly followed the LORD my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.

Joshua 14:14 “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Caleb wholly followed … wholly followed … wholly followed …. Wholly followed! But the time he was eighty-five most of his generation had given up hope and died. But Caleb still had a bright fire burning. He still wanted to risk his life on the greatest possible task God could give him.

Maybe, like me, you are in your mid-seventies. Or maybe you are just graduating from college and want to establish yourself in your career and all that comes with that – a car, a house, recognition, authority, power, wealth. Whatever your age and stage of life you are in — fulfillment will only come as you seek God and His Kingdom. Satisfaction will only be found as you discover God’s plan and purpose for your life and then pursue it with your whole heart as Caleb did. Yes, there will be challenges and setbacks … but take each step in faith knowing that God’s plan and purpose for your life is unfolding before you as you walk with Him into your divine destiny. And, keep walking with Him and pursuing your unique, God-given purpose with your whole heart no matter how how old you are or become …

What risk is God leading you to take as you go forward in your walk and journey with Him? His will for you is not earthly comfort but divine courage. Courage in the face of opposition. Courage in the face of cultural change. Courage when confronted with the unknown. Courage in the midst of a pandemic. God will never choose safety for us if it will cost significance. God created us to count, not to be counted.

This is your time to move forward, out of the safe zone and into the faith zone. 

Guard Your Heart

In this last entry for January 2021 and a look at life as we enter February 2021 tomorrow,  I want to chat about “Loving Who? And Why?”

Life (and particularly Covid-19) has a way of eroding our confidence in the goodness of God. After all, where was God when Covid-19 hit and took away someone we loved or someone we knew – a friend or someone we work with? Where is God now almost a year later? So, we could — and maybe should — question and wrestle with this whole concept of the goodness of God. And, in the process take an honest look at why circumstances and situations beyond our control cause our hearts to question God’s love and care. In other words, work through what we really think and believe about suffering and chronic disappointments of every day life. Both of which can cause us to pull away from God. Not so far as to abandon the faith … but still creating emotional distance between us and God, the Father, as we question (doubt) his goodness towards us in particular.

Life is a savage assault, striking at random, poisoning our heart’s assurance that God is good, or at least good towards us. This makes it so hard to find more of God, to receive Him in fresh and wonderful ways into our being and daily life. So it’s here we must seek healing within our intimate relationship with the Living God.

Allow me to explain an essential dynamic to the soul’s relationship with God. More of God comes to us as we love God. The more that we love God, the more we are able to experience Him. Part of this has to do with the nature of God, and part of it has to do with our own human nature.

You understand from your own relationships, your story of life, love, and relationships, that you don’t give your heart away to just anyone. You don’t give access to the deeper places in your soul to just any idle acquaintance — certainly not to someone who is at the same time keeping themselves distant from you. We know from your own experiences that when someone loves us, we are much more ready to make ourselves available and vulnerable to them. What we keep forgetting is that God feels the same way.

2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

Psalm 91:14 NLT “The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.’

John 16:27a NIV “… the Father himself loves you because you have loved me…”

I’m really surprised that the human race expects God to pour Himself and His blessings into their lives when He is not even the slightest priority, let alone a close and dear friend. Would you give the best of your life to people who couldn’t care less whether or not you exist? God’s outpouring of Himself is conditional. I know, I know — we’ve all been told all about the unconditional love of God. Absolutely — his grace is unconditional; His forgiveness sis available to all. However, intimacy with Him, the treasures of His presence, the outpouring of His vibrant being into our thirsty souls — that’s for those who love Him. Even in the best friendship, the act of giving and receiving love ebbs and flows with the willingness of the two involved to make it a priority, to invest themselves. God’s heart is very much like yours in this way, for your heart is made in His image.

Now on our side of the exchange, loving God opens our soul up to the presence of God and the gifts that He has for us. Remember — your soul is the vessel He fills. So, we need, as in any friendship, to position our souls into the place whereby we might receive so much more of God. There’s no practice that facilitates the opening of capacity to perceive Him, and receive Him, like the turning of our hearts and souls toward God in repentance and love. Active loving — love as a verb, not a noun. This is what we’re made for, and the soul knows it, even if it’s long been unused. We know it even through we’ve pulled back in sorrow or disappointment. 

So, we need as we continue into month two of the new year to examine our hearts and open them wide open so that we can receive His love and forgiveness and find a time of refreshing in the presence of the Lord.

I love how our wildflowers track to course of the sun through the sky, slowly turning to face the warm, passing brightness from east to west in such a sweet act of humble adoration. Many flowers fold their petals inward come evening, through the chilly nights at seven thousand feet, then open again with the rising of the sun and turn its direction. “Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,” goes the great “Hymn of Joy,” “opening to the sun above.”

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;

Drive the dark of doubt away.

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day!”

That’s it — we need the clouds of sin and sadness melted away; we need the dark of our doubts driven off like night flees before dawn. We need our heart free of clutter. So that the Giver of immortal gladness might fill us.

Remember: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (proverbs 4;23).

Giants That Kill Our Passion – Part Four

We are looking at the life of David and his fight with the giant Goliath and pulling out some personal observations to help us fight and defeat the giants in our personal lives. Giants that stand in the way of living passionately.

We saw last time…

1> Confront your giant

2> Remain consistent in preparation

3> Consider the cost

There are three more observations that will help us in our battle against giants in our personal lives…

4> Be courageous in battle

King Saul attempted to equip David for battle by outfitting him in his own battle armour. You need to remember that Saul was a big man, at least a head taller than his peers (see 1 Samuel 9:2), but David was just a kid. After trying to walk in the armour, David declined the offer. He didn’t need armour and a big sword when defending his sheep. His strength and protection were in the power of the Spirit. David announced, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37). So he courageously marched into battle with the five small stones and one big God.

There have been times in your life when you have seen God knock your big problems down to size. Reflect upon those victories. Replay them in your heart and mind. Take courage and “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). As someone has said, you plus God equals a majority. No giant can withstand you when you are led an empowered by God’s Spirit. 

5> Be a champion for God

When you step out boldly to confront your giant, you join the ranks of God’s army of champions. David is in that brave band, as is Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samson, Peter, Paul, and countless numbers of heroic warriors in the pages of the Bible. 

But be aware that when you move out as God’s champion, you may be criticized by others, even those closest to you. Some family members and friends may feel threatened as you step out in the Spirit to pursue your passion. When David showed up on the front lines and began inquiring about Goliath, his own family shot him down. His eldest brother said, ““Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle” (1 Samuel 17:28). Instead of lauding David’s courage, his brothers chided him for abandoning the sheep.

Like David, silence your critics with your courage, determination, and trust in God. The Spirit-empowered shepherd boy strode confidently into battle armed with a sling and five stones. The first stone flew and found its mark. Goliath toppled like a felled tree, and Israel enjoyed a great victory and new freedom to be God’s people in their world.

The same God who brought victory to an underdog shepherd boy stands ready to help you conquer your giants and to free you to the passionate life He created you to enjoy. Like David, you have a choice before you: You can remain paralyzed by your pain or problems, going nowhere; or you can face them, overcome them, and follow your passions.

6> Don’t give in to the giant of false humility

There are a few confused saints among us who have taken the notion that Christians should not desire success. Imagine David saying, “Oh, but God wants me to be humble, and I’d look so pompous challenging giants.” I suggest you read these words from Erwin Raphael McManus and take them to heart:

“It is important to note that ambition is not wrong. In fact, the Bible never speaks of ambition itself as negative. Ambition is a God-given motivation. One of the great tragedies among many followers of Christ is the loss in ambition after coming to faith. They have become convinced that any personal ambition is dishonouring to God. I have met some who have gone as far as to only do the opposite of what they desire because they were so persuaded that any passion to achieve had to be rejected and overcome. The simple reasoning is “it can’t be God’s will if I want to do it.” (Erwin Raphael McManus, Uprising — A Revolution of the Soul, page 38)

If you want to do it, and it’s something you know Good wants done, then ambition is just another gift God has given you for the task. Ambition can be a very important element of your passion. So, move forward and don’t be so critical of yourself. Move forward to the glory of God, and you’ll begin the see the giants fall in your life. 

Giants That Kill Our Passion – Part Three

So, let’s look at slaying your giants.

Do you feel small compared to your present-day Goliath? Perhaps you feel  too weak or inadequate to put up a fight. Giants can be intimidating, as King Saul and the army of Israel know. But God has empowered us and equipped us to bring them down. Let’s take several points of instruction from David’s triumph over Goliath, as recorded in 1 Samuel 17.

1> Confront your giant

When Goliath, the jumbo-sized Philistine, taunted Israel and dared them to send someone to fight him, Saul and all the Israelites “were dismayed and greatly afraid” (Verse 11). King Saul had a history of being a mighty warrior. He should have picked up the gauntlet and confronted Goliath in the power of the Lord. Yet Saul, along with the whole army, stood there quaking in his sandals. Do you think God could have used Saul to slay the giant? Absolutely! But since the warrior-king was too fearful to confront Goliath, God had to look for someone else.

The first step to getting past your problem to a passionate life is to confront your giant head-on. Here’s a good place to start: Turn to a fresh journal page and identify in writing the giants you are facing. Write down their names: guilt, envy, fear — whatever they are. Describe them. For example, you may write something like, “I feel guilty for what I’ve done in the past” or, “I harbour resentment toward my spouse for his/her insensitivity toward me” or, “If I give myself fully to God, I’m afraid He might ask me to do something I don’t want to do.” Add specific example of how your giant has terrorized you. The more you get down on paper, the clearer your Goliath will be in your sight. 

2> Remain consistent in preparation

David the shepherd may have been young, small, and inexperienced in military combat; but he was not unprepared for meeting Goliath. For one thing, the boldness and naïveté of youth was on his side. Remember some of the daredevil things we did as kids, when we didn’t know enough to be scared? Those were the days where it seemed easier to ask forgiveness after the fact than to ask permission ahead of time. As Pearl S. Buck has said, “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.” That’s probably where David was.

Long before his dynamic showdown with Goliath in the valley of Elah, David had defended sheep on the hillsides of Bethlehem. He explained to Saul that watching sheep had involved facing the occasional lion or bear; when some predator attacked the sheep, he simply killed it (see verses 34-35). David had learned courage when nobody was around to see it. It was his consistent integrity and commitment that prepared him to meet Goliath when that moment came.

As a giant-slayer, you prepare for battle by practicing consistency in your spiritual disciples, You must spend time faithfully and privately before God, poring over His instruction manual for spiritual battle — the Word of God. You must humble yourself in prayer before your “Commander in Chief,” just as Joshua did prior to the battle of Jericho (see Joshua 5:13-15). Don’t skip any of those routine steps hoping to jump ahead of God’s schedule. God desires to train you in private through consistent personal discipline.

3> Consider the cost

Author Ray Bradbury said, “:Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Taking on a menacing giant involved some risk. After all, this is war. In fighting for what is rightfully yours, you will still be under enemy fire. People have wondered why David carried five stones in his pouch when he needed only one to fell Goliath. Perhaps he would not presume that his first shot would do the trick. He probably expected some kind of battle, slinging stones, dodging Goliath’s big javelin. He was confident about victory, but he may have approached Goliath wondering if he would be wounded in the skirmish. At some point the shepherd boy considered the cost and took the risk.

If you want to achieve great things in your life, you’s better be ready for risk-taking. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered with failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” If you’re a Christian, you know that the “gray twilight” he’s talking about isn’t mysterious or elusive. It’s called lack of faith. We can risk the cost of battle because Jesus promised, “All things are possible to him who believes” (Mark 9:23)

When you go to war against your giants, it probably won’t be easy, and you likely won’t dispense your problem with one shot. You may be in for a long battle. It may get worse before it gets better. You may take a hit or two along the way. But if the skirmish gets you past this giant and on the road to the passionate life you desire, it’s worth the risk. 

Three more observations at slaying your giants from David’s defeat of Goliath tomorrow…

Giants That Kill Our Passion – Part Two

Many different giants block your path to a life of passion for God and His purposes. A life lived passionately. You may find some of them in this “rogues gallery” of giant—sized problems to living a passionate life where you embrace each day fully and engage with all that the day brings your way.

1> Resentment 

Your spouse forgets to pick up your package at the post office, and you sulk about it for hours. A church member sitting near you sings loudly and off key, and you can’t resist scowling at him. A friend hasn’t called you in several days, so you’re not going to call her either. We all get slighted. Ignored, offended, and hurt by other people. Resentment holds these offences like a sponge instead of letting them roll off our back by living in grace and forgiveness.

2> Fear

Everyone is afraid of something. Israel was pinned down in fear of Goliath. What strikes terror in your heart? Flying? Spiders? The threat of nuclear war? The death of your spouse or child? The loss of your job? To whatever extent you are immobilized by your fears, to that extent you will lack the full experience of passion in your life. Theologian Paul Tillich said, “Fear … has a definite object … which can be faced, analyzed, attacked, endured.” If you want to live a life wide open to all the opportunities God has and will offer to you, the giant of fear may be your first enemy.

3> Discouragement

It is difficult to move forward through life at any speed when we have lost courage or confidence. Things don’t go the way we plan, so we get discouraged and give up. We fail at a task or a relationship, so we shrink back from entering into the next one. Discouragement tends to pull in the sails and toss out the anchor. “If it’s going to be like this,” we mutter, “why go on?” The giant of discouragement must be brought down to live passionately. 

4> Loneliness

God created us for intimate relationship with Himself and with others. We feel most alive and passionate when we are enjoying rich fellowship with the Lord, getting along well with family members, and having fun with friends. But we feel lost and cold when there is painful distance or division in our dearest relationships. The giant of loneliness scorns out attempts at living passionately.

5> Worry

British educator W.R. Inge once said, “Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due.” Most people worry about things that will never happen. What a waste of emotional energy! Worry levels a burdensome tax on our joy and passion. It’s difficult to charge into life enthusiastically every day when you are worried about everything that could go wrong. No wonder Paul exhorted us, “Be anxious in nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6)

6> Guilt and shame

Psychologist and educator Lewis Smedes explained, “A person feels guilt because he did something wrong. A person feels shame because he is something wrong … We may feel guilty because we lied to our mother. We may feel shame because we are not the person our mother wanted us to be.” Unresolved guilt and shame are deadly to living a life of passion. 

There are many more Goliaths in the army that lines up to challenge the passionate life. You may struggle against doubt, temptation, jealousy, procrastinations, anger, rejection, bitterness, hopelessness, or another equally debilitating giant of a problem. You may be hindered from a life of passion by old scars and still painful wounds inflicted by these brutes. If you hope to break through to the passion-filled life, you need to meet your Goliath head-on.

Most of us need our soul restored before we can become fully engaged in a life of passion. All the motivational pep talks and spiritual disciplines are hollow for the person who struggles with unresolved pain from the past and unconquered problems in the present. The path to passion for wounded people begins by choosing no longer to be your Goliath’s victim and to take whatever steps God makes available to you to heal the past and help you move confidently into the future He has for you. 

Giants That Kill Our Passion – Part One

From the time he was five, Hudson Taylor was consumed by an intense passion to be a missionary to China. He dedicated every thought and action toward that desire. He learned Mandarin Chinese, studied medicine, corresponded with mission agencies, spent his money in mission training, and above all else, waited for God to send him.

The young man prayed as if it all depended on God and worked as if it all depended on Hudson Taylor. He was convinced that he would never make it unless he learned to depend on God for everything. Toward that end, he put himself under strict daily training. Her studied Latin, Greek, theology, and medicine while keeping up with his ordinary daily responsibilities. He flirted with the edges of financial disaster in order to allow God alone to meet his needs. He lived on a diet of oatmeal and rice and sent the savings to missionaries. Nobody would have questioned Hudson Taylor’s passion.

He set sail for China in 1853, filled with hope and excitement. When he arrived, he found that those who were supposed to meet his ship had either died or fled. Rebels had overrun Shanghai. There was fighting in the streets, hostility toward westerners, and not a friend in sight. His support system had evaporated. So there stood a young Englishman, Hudson Taylor, staring at the face of a giant named China. I can’t promise you that I wouldn’t have climbed right back on the boat and booked homeward passage. 

But then I’m not Hudson Taylor, who not only stayed in China but committed to going further inland with the gospel. There had been missionaries around Shanghai, but no one had ever taken the Word of God to the vast, mysterious provinces of the hidden China. He faced illness, heartbreak, setbacks, hostility from the Chinese and from other missionaries, and — I’m certain — the occasional feeling of being overwhelmed. There were so many millions of unsaved people in China and so few missionaries. How could the lost souls ever be reached?

Taylor simply kept trusting God and facing down the giants. By the time he died, there was a significant and fruit-bearing Christian presence in China. Even the era of communism hasn’t driven our faith out of that country. Hudson Taylor was the superior of that giant too.

When have you felt discouraged or overwhelmed? When have you felt that all your efforts were for naught, that maybe it was useless to go on trying? It’s no fun to feel pint-sized when facing a giant. And that giant can take many forms. It could be one person or a group of people. It could be a problem. The giant could be financial in nature, or it may be something within yourself. 

Anything that distracts from our focus on Christ, detours us from our service for Him, and drains us of our driving passion is a giant that must be slain. In order to live a life of purpose, passion, and meaning in response to God’s call, we must learn to take down the monsters that stand in the way of great accomplishments for God.

Who can show us how to be a giant-killer? My suggestion is that we couldn’t do better than the shepherd boy named David. He was a kid who knew nothing about military strategy, yet he went one-on-one with a grizzled warrior — a card-carrying giant. Goliath stood nine feet tall and had a snarling attitude to match. He had paralyzed Israel’s fighting force with his intimidating presence. He arrogantly mocked the children of Israel and their God. No one dared protest. With Goliath looming over them, this army — and the whole nation of Israel — was dead in the water.

Which giants have blocked your path to a life lived fully, all out for God? Which giant has robbed you of your passion for the Kingdom and the King? You many find them in this brief list of giant-sized problems that believers need to defeat so they can live passionate lives as believers.

Let’s list them and then look at them next time…

      • Resentment
      • Fear
      • Discouragement
      • Loneliness
      • Worry
      • Envy
      • Guilt and shame

And then we will look at how to slay your giant.

A Slower Walk

We are well into the fall season and stores are beginning to put out Christmas decorations and signage … fighting for space with the large Halloween displays that are up in most stores. Interesting to see them side-by-side in some of the larger stores. Not an ideal time to mention slowing life down and living life at a slower pace. 

We are so use to living life in the fast lane that we fail to read the Gospel stories of Jesus, His life and ministry, in the context of the first century. We fail to see all the in-between times when Jesus and His followers were walking from one town to another. When the record states, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee (John 1:43), we project our own pace upon it, not realizing that it took the disciples three days by foot to get there. 

Three days just strolling along, talking, or sharing the silent beauty; the pauses for lunch or a drink from the well; the campfires in the evenings. Even as I write this, it sounds luxurious. Christ does not move immediately from one dramatic story to another; there was down time, transition time between these demands. Time to process what had happened (these are the moments you see the disciples asking questions; “what did you mean by…?”). Time to catch their breath before the next encounter.

That was the pace Jesus felt was reasonable for people engaged in important things and wanting a life with God. Time we would categorize almost as vacation time, for those are the only periods we allow ourselves a stroll, a lingering lunch, a campfire conversation. We highly progressive moderns try to keep up without any of these intervals and transitions. 

The things that we require of ourselves — we go from a tender conversation with our eight-year-old anxious about going to school to an angry phone call with our insurance company as we drive to work, followed by a quick chat with our sister ending a decision about our aging parents’ “memory care unit.” Then it’s straight into a series of business meetings (during which we multitask by trying to bang out some email), firing an employee, interviewing another, making dinner reservations for our spouse’s birthday, fitting in a conversation with our boss because we can’t say no, and showing up late and haggard for dinner.

And we wonder why we have a hard time finding God, receiving more of Him, feeling like we’re overflowing with life.

The EMS technician, who leaves the scene of a terrible accident, races to get to his Bible study group, but wonders afterward why he couldn’t find God there. The school teacher, who come home exhausted from a day herding a riotous classroom, tries to be present to her own child, but can’t seem to find the right gear to do so. The modern pastor, who needs to be a real estate expert on one meeting, a brilliant trauma counsellor in the next, and a caring friend over lunch, only to shift gears into the role of savvy corporate CEO for the meeting that follows.

We are forcing our souls through multiple gear-changes each day, each hour, and after years of this we wonder why we aren’t even sure what to say when a friend genuinely inquires, “How are you?” We don’t really know; we aren’t sure what we feel anymore. We live at one speed: go. All the subtleties of human experience have been forced into one state of being.

Mercy. No soul was meant to live like this. 

What sort of madness have we come to accept as normal when just taking a minute to reflect and rest feels like a luxury? We need time to process as we move from one event to another, one demand to the next. We need time to transition between what we are doing now and what is next being demanded of us. Not a long time – just a brief moment or two. A few minutes to process what you have just been involved in and to prepare for what you are about to focus on. A brief pause that you take to process and reflect; to sense and to learn. And, no one is going to offer this “pause.” It is up to each of us to learn how to slow things down a bit allowing us the needed time to pause and ponder and to sense God in al that we are involved in. To walk at a slower pace allowing us to live life as God intended. 

Faithful or Familiar?

We have been looking at problems and addictions. In particular, addiction to technology. And we saw recently in the story of the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) that we are in need of answering Jesus’ question: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6).

Often we realize that we have a problem – an addiction, a relational issue with someone we care about, a situation at work. Or the one we have focused on a lot recently in these blogs – spending too much time and giving too much attention to technology – your cell phone, tablet, computer, laptop, or the multitude of channels you can watch on cable television and streaming services. And we saw that often we have become so comfortable with the problem that we simply don’t want to change. Or, ‘get well’.

But the question Jesus asks is still valid today: “Do you want to get well?”

About 6 weeks ago I invited a number of believers to supper is my yard … an outdoor chilli and buns supper and coffee conversation. I noticed that one man spent the first 40 minutes staring at his cell phone. He did not engage in the conversation. He was not attentive to what was going on around him. He was not entering into the fellowship. And, throughout the evening he continued to reference his cell phone on a consistent basis. When he left he had literally engaged with only one person. And that person came to him and engaged him in a conversation. If that had not happened the man would have left without exchanging anything of significance with anyone else. It would have been like he was not there – because other than physically, he was not there. I have spoken to him many times about ‘engaging’ and ‘embracing’ but to no avail it seems. He apparently does not want to change.

Maybe you can sense the Spirit of God posing Jesus’ question to you. Do you want to change and get well?

Do you want to get well? Do you really? Do you want to enjoy the blessing of technology without being a slave to it? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to put God first in your life?

Someone once asked, “What do you thing is the greatest hindrance to faith?” Lots of possibilities come to mind. Worry is certainly a hindrance to faith, right? So is doubt. You could also argue that fear really undermines faith. And God has not given his a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT). But as I pondered all these contenders, another one came to mind that is less obvious, but just as dangerous. 

Perhaps the familiar is the greatest enemy to faith.

Instead of believing that God can do anything, many surrender to what they can see. They accept what is instead of what could be. Maybe you’ve become comfortable with your addiction to technology. You’ve learned to rationalize it, to explain it away. You tell yourself it’s really not that big a deal. Maybe everyone you know is a lot like you, so it couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Perhaps the familiar, what you know and accept, is the greatest obstacle to your faith. Faith in what could be. Faith in what God calls you to be.

The invalid at the Pool of Bethesda could have argued, “I’ve never been able to walk. I’ve always been dependent on others. No one will ever help me.” You might have your excuses: “I’ve got to be on my phone 24/7. If I’m not, how will they reach me? I have to stay in touch with what’s going on. I can’t do my job without my phone.”

If the familiar is the greatest obstacle to faith, then it takes faith to step away from the familiar.

Maybe that’s why Jesus asked the invalid, “Do you want to get well?” Maybe that’s why you can sense His Spirit asking you the same question. Do you want to enjoy the benefits of technology without being ensnared by the curses? Do you really want to change? Do you really want to be well?

Because you can’t help someone who needs help.

You can only help someone who wants help.

Do you want to be free?

You have to want it. Really want it.

The healing will not begin until your desire is greater than your disability.

When you finally realizer that you want to be well more than you want to be wired (or whatever your addiction is), then you’ve opened the door for God to work in your life. If you’re tired of surfing, trying to fill the hole in your heart that only Jesus can fill, then it’s time for healing. If you’re sick of being a slave to the latest operating system or to having a Wi-Fi connection at a restaurant, and you’re ready to do something about it, then you’ve taken the first step. 

Addictions are not easy to overcome. It is only when your desire for healing becomes greater than your disability that God can begin to set you free. 

Maybe you are addicted, hooked, and have been struggling to be free for some time. I don’t know how long you’ve been down, but with Christ you’re not out.

Like the man at the Pool of Bethesda it is time to stop making excuses and start getting well. When he looked at the crippled man, “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:8-9 emphasis added). Jesus didn’t heal the man a month later; it happened immediately. In the same way, when you surrender your challenge (addiction) to Jesus, He can do more in that moment than you can ever imagine., You might not feel any different, and the change might not happen all at once, but Jesus’ power will be working in you.

Jesus told the invalid to get up and start walking, That’s a pretty hefty assignment for a guy who most likely had never walked in his life. Jesus told him to do what everyone else would have considered impossible.

Notice that the guy didn’t even ask Jesus to heal him. Jesus just did it because He’s Jesus. When you get close to Jesus, He will do things you don’t even ask Him to do. He’s just that good.

Jesus essentially said, “I don’t want to hear your excuses. I want to see your faith.”

And He is speaking to you right now telling you that you have to let go of the familiar (what you are comfortable with) as it is an enemy of faith and without faith you cannot please God.

So, this blog is longer than most. So let me close by saying…

When you occasionally (or often) unplug from technology, you will find true rest for your soul. When you make pleasant boundaries, you will be making wise choices to keep your eyes, mind, and heart pure. You will not put anything ahead of God. When others are tempted to tear people down, you will break from the crowd and follow God, who has called you to build others up.

As you remove the blanket of excuses and follow God’s leading, you will be healed and delivered; transformed into the image of Christ.

Do you want to get well?

Then let Jesus heal you.

He is more powerful than any struggles you will ever face. 

No Other Gods But God Only!

Speaking to people today it appears that they have numerous – and often many – gods before God Almighty. They worship money and all that it can do for them. The pleasure it can bring. They put technology before God and spend more time posting on Facebook and Instagram than they spend in God’s Word and in His presence. They have a seriously dysfunctional relationship with their followers on Facebook, their phones, and their many social apps. But they don’t care. They know something should change. But they just shrug it off. They think, “I’m fine with it. I like it. This is just my thing. Even if it’s wrong, even if God has something better for me, I don’t care.”

In the Old Testament, Gideon faced a similar problem with the people around him. They willingly bowed to idols and thumbed their noses at God in the process. But God was having none of it. With righteous passion, He told Gideon, “Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it” (Judges 6:25). Notice that God didn’t tell Gideon to help the people manage their idols, to shorten them by a few feet, just keep them under control. No, He commanded Gideon to tear them down. Cut down the poles. Don’t tolerate the idols. Crush them. Destroy them. Smash them. Obliterate them.

If you know your unhealthy obsessions are interfering with your most important relationships — with people or with God — it’s time to act.

Today.

This moment.

Now.

God doesn’t want you to have any gods before Him. Not a single one. God longs for you to know Him, to enjoy His constant presence and goodness, to walk by His Spirit, and to live in His love.

When Jesus saw a rich guy who idolized his money and things, Scripture says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack, He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me’” (Mark 10:21 emphasis added).

Don’t miss Jesus’ motivation here for asking so much of this rich young guy. Jesus didn’t tell the young man to give all his money to Him and to His disciples, or to the building fund for the new temple. Jesus simply loved him. Do you see that? Jesus loved him. And Jesus loves you more than you can imagine. He doesn’t want you to allow yourself to be seduced into settling for something counterfeit. He wants you to embrace His grace, satisfied in your soul, because He is not only all you need but more than you can imagine. 

It’s interesting to me that at least in the Gospel record, Jesus didn’t tell anyone else to sell everything snd give away all their money. This is the only time that Jesus gives such a specific command. Why did He tell this guy and no one else to get rid of everything? It’s not because God doesn’t want us to have money and things; it’s that He doesn’t want money and things to have us. Without question, the things of this world had this rich man’s heart. They consumed him. He’d been seduced. And because Jesus loved him, He wanted him to have something better. So He commanded him to get rid of his idols and follow Him.

If you sense the Spirit of God nudging you (or maybe it’s more like a kick in the cursor), don’t ignore Him. He loves you. If your soul has been seduced into serving a counterfeit god, the one true God wants something better for you.

But gaining the better requires tearing down the idol.

Don’t manage it.

Destroy it. 

What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.