Leaning On His Staff

"By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff." ~ Hebrews 11:21

This "leaning on the top of his staff" communicates quite a bit to us. Jacob had to lean on a staff because of an encounter he had with the Lord earlier in his life.

All through his life Jacob had developed a reputation for being self-sufficient. He was a con-man, he got what he wanted, and he could take care of himself. But the time came when he had to face his brother Esau, the man he conned the blessing and the birthright out of. Genesis 32 relays the story.

As Esau and his entourage approached Jacob, Jacob became "greatly afraid and distressed." (v. 7). As such, Jacob begins to pray and ask the Lord for help. Interestingly enough, Jacob addresses Him as the God of his fathers, Abraham and Isaac, which indicates to us that he had no close relationship to the Lord. God was just some distant Being to him. But now Jacob found himself in an impossible situation.

He prayed, but then he attempted to get himself out of trouble with Esau by sending him droves of gifts. Jacob turned to his own abilities and material resources to get himself out of this tight spot. And that night, Jacob wrestled with God.

I believe the wrestling with God all night was meant to be a picture to Jacob: 'You know, you've been self-sufficient all your life. I've been trying to get your attention, to get you to turn to Me and trust in Me. And all you've done is struggle and fight against it.' And then He touched his hip socket, basically making him lame. He wasn't going to be able to run from this situation; he was going to have to face Esau his brother and trust that the Lord would bring him through it.

Interestingly enough, that night he crossed over the ford of Jabbok. The word "Jabbok" means "emptying" in the original language. Jacob would be emptied that night of his self-sufficiency, and the next day he would get a crash-course in God-sufficiency.

In today's society, being self-sufficient is seen as a strength. But in God's economy, being self-sufficient can be a detriment. Consider these verses:

"Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." ~ 2 Corinthians 3:5,6

"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. " ~ John 15:5

Thus says the Lord:
"Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited." ~ Jeremiah 17:5,6

It's important for us to remain humbly dependent on the Lord. When self-sufficiency creeps in, arrogance and pride can come with it. We should be careful to guard ourselves from this. May God also make us "lame," so that we can worship Him, leaning, as it were, on the tops of our staffs.




Talents and Calling

These two verses came to mind today:

"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' "But his lord answered and said to him, 'You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.'" ~ Matthew 25:24-28

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." ~ Joshua 1:9

The first portion of text speaks of fear. The servant said he was fearful of the lord...but the lord called him wicked and lazy. I would say that if we really fear our Lord with a holy reverence, we would not be like this guy. We would take the "talent" that God has given us and use it to further His kingdom.

The second verse speaks of being strong and courageous. As God spoke to Joshua, He wanted to be very clear with him that his leadership position over Israel (to go in and possess the promised land) and the authority that came with it originated with God Himself. I recently engraved this verse for a pastor in Mexico in Spanish, and I recognized one of the words: "ordenado." This looks a lot like our English word, "ordained." In other words, it was God Himself, the God of the universe, that had ordained Joshua for this work. There is no one on Earth and no one in the heavenlies that can speak against this ordination. As such, Joshua was commanded to be very courageous. 'Step up and step into your calling. I, the Lord, have ordained you. Do not be fearful, for I am with you.'

Now I'm not saying we should be presumptuous and say, "The Lord called me to do this or that." No, oftentimes in order to figure out our calling we need to do a lot of waiting and praying. I remember a minister who relayed his story to our class (it was in Bible college). When he was at his lowest, thinking God could never use him again in ministry, he got a very clear call in the form of an offer to lead a Bible study. He wept over the opportunity. In his brokenness he realized his call, and he knew that answering this call would satisfy something deep down. He would be answering the call to 'step up and step into' his calling. It would be the only thing that would satisfy him. He would find out what it means to lay his life down for his Lord, only to truly find it. At least that's how I interpreted the tears.




"Follow Me, and I will make you..."

It's been awhile since I've felt "inspired" to write (this coming from a right-brained high school math teacher), but today I was reminded of a certain portion of scripture:

Then Jesus said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." They immediately left their nets and followed Him. ~ Mark 1:17-18

I love this sentence, 'You follow Me, and I will make you....' The first part of that sentence is the call for Simon and Andrew (and ultimately all of us) to follow Him. I find it interesting that at the time Jesus said this, Simon and Andrew were at their jobs; they were performing their livelihoods, the very thing that gave them their identity, as it says in verse 16 that they were "fishermen."

In other words, the call for these guys was to leave their natural work and engage in work that would have eternal impact. Jesus says in the remainder of that sentence, "I will make you fishers of men." Now I believe that this "fishers of men" was a specific call for these guys; they would be part of the twelve, which obviously no one else will be. But I believe Jesus says this to all of us, in one way or another: 'Follow Me, and I will make you..." and you can fill in the blank. (That filling in the blank part is an extremely personal thing--it's the intersection of our personal relationship with the Lord and finding our spot in the body) We have to realize that this work to which He calls us is where we find our true identity, our true calling. It's only when we engage ourselves in this work, the work that has eternal weight, that we will truly be satisfied. As we have been studying on Sundays at church, it is when we say to the Lord, "Yes, I'm open" that we find out what it means to truly live. Consider how these verses fit into this idea:

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." ~ Romans 12:1,2

"And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...." ~ Ephesians 4:11,12

"And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability" ~ Matthew 25:15

1 Corinthians 12 - The whole chapter!

Some things to consider:

1.) Are you willing to completely lay down your agenda, your dreams, your desires to follow the Lord?

2.) What is it that God is calling you to do in His body? God has a spot for everyone on the team, a position for everyone to play. What's your position?

3.) Are you listening closely enough to hear what God is telling you? Often I find myself getting answers to prayers in very unusual ways. If you're not listening closely, you might miss it. Case in point: I remember praying for something and getting it, only to realize a week later that I had gotten it. Duh.




And You He Made Alive

Ephesians 2:1-5a

"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...."

In our small group we are studying Ephesians together. I've been looking at chapter 2, and I'm intrigued by this beginning phrase, "And you He made alive...." I love that phrase, because in context, he is talking about once being dead in sins and now being made alive in Christ, apart from works. This is that deliverance from sin and sin's result--death. Paul makes reference to the grace of God, that beautiful "you screwed up your life with a bunch of sin and because I love you so much and sent my Son to die for you I'm going to fix it--I'm going to completely erase all your sin and all the baggage and condemnation that comes with it even though you're wholly unable in and of yourself to do anything about it" grace. This grace of God is awesome....

But I'm pondering the depth of that statement: and you He made alive. What exactly does it mean for us to be alive? There's got to be more than just being delivered from sin and death. There must be more depth to the phrase and you He made alive.

I'm sure the question has many answers, but here's a verse that comes to mind as I think about it:

"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." ~ Jn. 10:10b.

Another verse that comes to mind is this:

"For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." ~ Mk. 8:35

Here are my observations:

1.) To really live is to know, love, and serve Christ. Just as Adam was just a bag of dirt when he was first made, and only made a living being when God breathed the breath of life into Him, we also are just bags of dirt until Christ comes to live in our hearts by His Spirit (His Pneuma, His Breath, as it were). We are made alive by Christ, and it is then and only then that we can truly live. Those of us who are going through life without Christ are only going through the empty motions of life...there is no abundance, no purpose, no true life without Him. We are dirt-bags, quite literally, with no purpose at all in this life.

As an aside, I would also say this: if we are going through this life ignoring what Christ wants us to do with our lives, that's a lifeless place to be as well.

2.) It is Him who makes us alive. It has nothing to do with our self-efforts. As we abide in Him, His life flows through us. Remember our verse from Ephesians? 'You once walked according to the course of this world...and really screwed up your own life and acted like a moron, committing a bunch of sins...' And then it says, "But God...." It was God who stepped in and, aside from our shortcomings, made us alive. Yeah, He breathed life into us dirt-bags and made us to know what it means to truly live. This is grace.

I'm sure there's more to being made alive by Christ...but it's sometimes hard to use human language to describe the work of God.


New Website

My father in law Lowell and I have an engraving business. We have just launched our new webiste. You can check it out here.


Love's Impact

Hebrews 6:9-12

-“Do not become sluggish”

-These people had works

-Labor of love-they ministered to the saints and were continuing in that

I am becoming more and more convinced that the absolute best way to have an impact for the kingdom is through love. (On the one hand, I see this as a very profound conclusion coming to fruition in my life. On the other hand, it’s a conclusion that is simpler than 2+2=4. Duh!)

A number of years ago I heard the teaching that if you’re “filled” with the Holy Spirit, the evidence of that filling is speaking in tongues. I also heard a teaching that countered that idea: if you’re filled with the Holy Spirit, the first and foremost evidence of that filling is love…and not just any love. That is that supernatural love that happens to spill out of an overflowing heart. I believe that speaking in tongues, prophecy, words of wisdom and knowledge and any other ministry you could possibly think of are just that: ministries. But the fuel for that ministry, the predecessor of that ministry is love. In other words, love is the trunk and all ministry efforts are the branches.

I’m reminded of that verse in John 7:38: “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Some of the current methods we use for impacting the kingdom or evangelizing or whatever include cheap gimmicks, well-intentioned programs, and arguing. Many times we come across as obnoxious, self-righteous, and irrelevant. Now I’m all for just about any effort to try to reach people for Christ, but none of these things will amount to anything unless love is the motivator. People respond to being loved. Do you have someone in your life that is annoying to everyone else around you? Try just being loving and nice and carrying on a conversation with them. If your heart is overflowing with the love of Christ, it’s going to spill out “on” to others. Do you have people in your life that come from seriously crappy home situations? Try making friends with them just so you can lavish God’s beautiful, gracious love on them. Smile. Put your arm around them. Listen to them like what they’re saying is the most important thing to be hearing in the whole universe. Look them in the eye and accept them. Love them!

I’m also learning that in order to have a heart overflowing with God’s love, oftentimes you have to be “emptied.” What I mean by that is sometimes we are so full of ourselves there’s no room for God to work in our lives. Sometimes our lives get stressful, forcing us to turn to God for help. As we go through times that are tough (and sometimes it’s just tough in a spiritual way), we look to God for help. It’s in those times that we realize ourselves to be just “earthen vessels,” able to be filled by God to love others:

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed—always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7-11