Listen Without Complaining

It appears that hardwired in every child is an ability to never quite hear what their parents say.  It is almost as if everything that is said to a child must be immediately met with “what?” even if they physically heard what you said.  The struggle to communicate to them and see results is quite intense.

I am sorry, are you talking? 

I have lamented this many times to people and never really thought it applied to me anymore.  Certainly I have grown up, right?  Then I read Numbers 14.  In Numbers 14 Moses is leading the Israelites along after freeing them from Egyptian slavery.  One might think that they would be willing to listen well to God because He has powerfully showed up. He rescued them.

Instead they complain.  They grumble against God.  They wish they were back in Egypt.  They even decide to vote in a leader to take them back!  Basically they look at God and say “yes, I know you are demonstrating your love for us, but I don’t really think you love us.”  They are in one sense hearing and seeing God act out a radical love for them and in the very next breath complaining that they aren’t slaves anymore.

I have been guilty of this.  I have had times when things just weren’t going my way, and even though I saw God minister to me in His grace during those times, I still complained about it.   I still questioned God there.  I guess adults are just older kids.

When Jesus hung on the cross, people around him mocked him and even cast lots for his clothing. In a most dramatic fashion, they did not hear what was being said.   Even though He had shown the kingdom of God to them in the flesh, they just did not listen.  They would rather do things their own way and in doing rejected the only means of freedom.

The challenge is this:  Do not get so caught up in religious tradition that you miss the message of Christ to you.   I pray that as we enter into this coming season leading up to Easter Sunday that we would hear loud and clear the voice of God “I love you.”


Trust the God Who Knows

Let me do it!
Let me do it!

We are short-sighted people.  What I mean is that we tend to forget all of the positive things when one negative thing shows up.  This is not too surprising given the way negativity seems to overcome our lives.  The car starts everyday with no incident and you don’t notice it at all.  But when the car doesn’t start and you are late for work, well let’s just say that car has been cursed.   I was driving back to church one time when the back suspension of my car literally broke in half.  I had driven that car for probably 7 years and it had always been reliable.  It was just that the break down came at a bad time.

God has been faithful to us again and again.  He has been faithful to us in the positive situations and the negative situations.  No one should have known that any better than the Israelites around the time of Moses.  They had been in slavery and God delivered them out of it.  Except they started to question God’s motives in it.

“That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud” – Numbers 14:1

Can you imagine the sound of that?  If the whole community was wailing, it would be quite the sight.

“All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in the desert! Or in this desert!.” – Number 14:2

People who are stuck in their ways do not see things any other way.  If you had been in Egypt all your life, even if you were a slave, that would be the only life you had ever known.  There is comfort to the prison.  But God was actually taking them to a better place if they would only trust Him!

The next verses show a discourse between Moses and God with God replying to Moses “I have forgiven them.”  God is so gracious to us, even in our grumbling.

It would be helpful for us to learn a bit from this because their grumbling did prevent them from entering into the promised land.  Our job is not to know how it all turns out, but to trust in the God who does know.   The path might not always be easy, but consider the alternative to walking with God!  I would rather wait on Him than wait on myself.

Are God’s arms too short?

It is all in His hands
It is all in His hands

It seems there are impossible circumstances and people all around us.  In ministry I find the challenge is to balance out ways to help someone and be realistic about the results.  It is those times when our faith is increased because it is something only God is able to do.

There is a story in Numbers 11 about Moses and Israelites.  Naturally they are being an impossible group of people to lead because they are taking the blessings of God (freedom from slavery, daily food to eat) and complaining that they are not good enough.  Really?  Do you guys even remember what slavery was like?

But it was an impossible scene and God was not pleased with the people.  Moses heard the complaining and he also grew increasingly angry.  God decides he is going to give them meat to eat for a whole month and, as He tells them, “the LORD will give you meat, and you will eat it.”  (I would add “and you will like it”)  Moses, as the rational leader that he is, wonders how God is going to provide so much food for so many people for so much time.   God answers Moses with such graciousness.

“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.” – Numbers 11:23

It seems every day is a new day to question how God is going to take care of a situation.  These are opportunities for Him to get the glory and for us to stand back and praise Him.  I know of lives that are in complete shambles, but we are seeing God’s work in lives in the smallest, yet most profound ways.  I have seen situations where our own family has been wondering how we would pay a bill and God has reminded us that His arm is not too short.

The arm of God is not too short.  It is so wide and powerful that He knows every part of the vast Universe .  His arm is wide enough to climb the tallest mountain,  leap over the oceans, and yet still find each hurting heart right where they are at.  God’s arm proved to be just the right length too as Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, spread His arms on the cross to do the impossible.  He took sinful man and God back together again!

May you be encouraged today in whatever you face.  God’s arm is not too short for whatever you face today.

The Right to Remain Silent

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is God

Despite the inherent right that we have to remain silent, we sure don’t exercise it very often.   The need to talk or at the very least fill the silence with something is overwhelming for most people.  There is a young man who drives around the streets of town with some sort of speaker system in his car commenting on what he sees as he drives around.  It is only funny the first time.  This need to fill the quiet is something I wrestle with as I allow for a moment of silence at the end of a sermon so that people might be able to respond to what God is saying to them.   There are people who want more and there are people who just cannot bear the dead air.  And to be fair, I live in a house with 4 children (3 boys) so there isn’t a whole lot of silence in my home.   If there is we probably want to figure out what is going on.

Even before God it is hard to be silent despite the fact that we can all recite the verse “be still and know that I am God.”  We wonder if being still is something that actually involves moving and talking.  Maybe “still” is a word that when we go back to the original language actually means “be boisterous.” Or perhaps being still is something we do while we sleep?

Silence is an appropriate, often overlooked, response to God’s Holiness.  Silence helps us take time to listen to what God might be saying to us.  Silence puts our heart in a posture to revere God in ways that we can’t when we are rattling off a list of prayer requests or lamenting about something in our lives.

I was reading Leviticus 10 the other day and was completely blown away by the phrase at the end of verse 3. “Aaron remained silent.”  What was that in response to?

Aaron’s sons were doing what boys do- playing with fire.  Except this wasn’t just any fire, it was fire that was to be used for God’s purposes.  It was holy and needed to be looked at that way.  The boys were playing with fire and they should have known better.  The text says that they offered unauthorized fire, which of course means that there was time and place for this fire.  They did not follow the rules and fire came out and consumed them.  I guess their dad never mentioned that if you play with fire you will get burned.  But here is what Moses said to Aaron:

“This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: ‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.” – Leviticus 10:3

Do you see what was at issue here?  It was not about the fire; it was about the holiness of God.  We can approach God so flippantly, but He is to be revered and honored  as Holy.  And so Aaron’s response, to me, was the more genuine response he could have had.  Most people would wail at God for that, but Aaron was just silent!  I mean, what could he say?

Do you need to spend some time in silence before God?  I would encourage you to do that because I know there is real refreshment in that time.   Are you experiencing heartache or struggle?  Be silent before God and worship Him.  There is fresh perspective gained as God is honored in our lives.  It is time to exercise your right to remain silent.

Children: An Eternal Investment

Ready to "lawn" (my kids call it lawning)

Children need your time.  This is getting painfully clear the older my kids get and the longer I work with teenagers.  There are so many youth who are virtually on their own and it is difficult for them to make sense of things.  Children don’t need to be set in a room with a television or put in front of a computer screen. They need actual time with adults because that is the only way they will be able to see what faith actually looks like in real life.  Just because they live in the same house with you doesn’t mean that you are really investing in them.  This is even true of people who don’t have children of their own because it is likely they have influence on people around them.

Children are important, not a nuisance.  I know some people get queasy at the sight of a young child, but children are looking to adults for guidance.  My children look to me for affirmation, direction and for answers to their questions.  They want me to play with them, sit with them and just be there.  I look at my children and wonder what challenges the world will throw at them and if they will be ready for them.   I pray that with intentionality now, they will be better positioned to deal with whatever comes at them.

Do actions really speak louder than words?

They say actions speak louder than words, but I think that is only true if your words match your actions.  It is true that kids will catch on to things by watching.  That often goes both ways, though, as kids might be watching even at times you would rather they didn’t.  If you tell them not to lie and then they catch you in a lie, well that’s awkward isn’t it?

In Deuteronomy 4, Moses is giving the people some instructions to help them stay on track.  He takes extra care to describe to them how they are to teach their children.

“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things you eyes have seen or let them slip for your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Deuteronomy 4:9

Just as they have seen and learned themselves, now they are to pass those things on to their children.  In this case, they have seen the power of God as He came among them.  They have experienced the work of God as they were led away from slavery in Egypt.  These are things they are called to never forget.  The children need to know how God was faithful to them and be encouraged to put Him first in all things.

In other words, Moses is letting the people know that their children are watching, so they need to not walk away from God.  It is important to understand that the children around us will pick up on what is important to us based on how we live.  My sons will imitate me by trying to fix things with their tools, creating office space and even putting hot sauce on their food.  (that one is funny)  My 2-year-old son will repeat the prayer at dinner in his own way.   They will imitate reading their Bibles, even the younger kids who can’t read yet.  This is special to me because is plants seeds of faith in them.  They pick up on what we like by what we say, what we do and how we revere the name of Jesus Christ in our home.  If the next generation is going to know Jesus, it is up to us adults to share Him with them.

What message are you sending?

Cutting with dad

This is important because parents are still the number one influencers of their kids.  That means that if you are a lover of God and a lover of people, kids will notice that.  I know I make every effort to let my kids see how they can serve others at their young age because I know that right now they are learning life long lessons.  It is beneficial for them to know that the church is a place for them, not just for adults.  Everyday my 4-year-old son gets up and asks the same question.  “Is today church day?”  He loves to be at church because that is where his friends are.  When kids are there they need to be ministered to in such a way that they say, “this is my church.”    Too many times adults are quick to dismiss children as noise makers or too rowdy.  That is not the message to send.

The things we do with our time, show what we value.   Will the children around us be able to see the supreme value of Jesus Christ actually lived in life?

In the story of Moses, he warns them to never let anything else come before God in their lives because it is devastating to the people.

“Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Deuteronomony 4:23-24

These people had seen God work among them and they were going to turn away and worship something man-made instead. This is especially dangerous for children who see the adults around them selfishly pursuing wealth or material possession instead of God.  What are you teaching to the children who look up to you?

Is it too late?

The beauty of our God is that He is merciful.  People need to turn back to Him and teach the next generation what it means to truly follow Jesus Christ.

“For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.” Deuteronomy 4:31

“Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.” Deuteronomy 4:40

That is the call for all of us, with or without children.  You have people who are looking up to you right now.  If you follow Jesus Christ, you need to live it loud and clear.  Make it known by not only your words, but your actions that you love Jesus.  I assure you the children are watching and will pay attention when adults around them wake up and get serious about investing in them.  This investment is an eternal investment and needs to be handled with great care.

Do you have anyone who you looked up to as a child? Was there someone who was really helpful in teaching God’s Word to you?  It could be a parent, but it might not be.

May I be excused from your excuses?

Sleeping with his "Bible suitcase"

The everyday life of a youth pastor involves conversations with students at varying places in their spiritual journey.  Some students are loving Jesus and loving their friends, while others hardly acknowledge there is a God, at least not in public.  The challenge is in meeting them where they are and encouraging them to move into a deeper relationship with God, thorough Jesus Christ.

It is not unusual for students to get defensive about where they find themselves spiritually.  They will tell me that they have been really busy with sports and haven’t had time to come to church.  I had one person tell me flat-out that they did not have time for God right now.  Other people will describe in great detail the stresses of their day and how tired they are at the end of the day. Usually this ends with the “therefore, I am not able to read my Bible…but I want to.”  I find this interesting because my approach is not one of confrontation, but as their advocate.  I want to encourage them to see the excellence of Jesus Christ, not feel defeated when they ignore Him. Not knowing the Word does appear to be a problem in general; a problem I am not entirely sure I completely understand.   The excuses just indicate that people do realize that they need to be in the Word, but they just don’t know how to make it happen. Is it an issue of priorities?  Does it have to do with our media driven society?

On a recent retreat I was talking with some students about people of the Bible.  I was shocked with how little they actually knew, and these are church kids! It was a wake up call for me to never assume that they actually know who Moses is, or that Genesis is in the Old Testament.  For many people the only Bible they ever hear is when one of us pastors preach it.

Jesus ran into a similar issue among the Pharisees, the people who should have known the scriptures.  They presented to Jesus a question regarding the resurrection in Matthew 22.  After listening, Jesus said, ” You are in error because you to not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” – Matthew 22:29  Their question was based on a misunderstanding because they didn’t know what the Bible said.

Ephesians 6 takes this into the daily battle for truth as a part of the armor of God, described here as the sword of the Spirit.  This was demonstrated for us in Matthew 4 when the devil tempted Jesus in the desert.  How did Jesus combat the devil’s misuse of Scripture?  He did it by using Scripture and refuting the way the devil used the Word.  Given the nature of the world, there is no excuse for our lack of time in the Word because there is no substitute for it.

This whole discussion is a crucial one because in order to be able to answer questions, we need to know what the Bible teaches, or at least how to find it in there.  In fact, you could say that knowing and obeying God’s Word is crucial to the believer.  Yet, like I said, there are constant excuses to it.   This reminds me of Moses and that call God placed on him in Exodus 4.  Moses had nothing but excuses for God as he was called to go and ask Pharaoh to let the Israelites free from slavery.  He wanted to know if they would believe him, or why God chose him with his speech problem.  God’s answer makes sense of this.

“The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth?  Who makes him deaf or mute?  Who gives him sight or makes him blind?  Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:11

The same answer could go for any number of excuses, even the ones about reading the Bible.  If God has given this to us to know Him and make sense of this world, then it stands to reason that He will also increase our desire for Him and His Word as we spend time in it.   God will teach us, if we open ourselves up to Him. We could each make excuses for everything.  I am too busy, fat, lazy, hungry, uneducated, small, young, old to do what God calls.  Those things don’t matter to God.  What matters is a person willing to come before him and submit themselves to His work. This is why I will continue to encourage students to read their Bibles.  The Word matters!  It matters right now in their lives, just like it matters in your life.  Would you open it up without excuse?

Have you had a time when the Word of God has spoken into a situation?  God’s Word is living and active; this is not just another book.  Don’t believe me, give it a try.  But, please save the excuses.