I often get stuck thinking about what I cannot do. I think everyone has those moments and I get there more often than I would like to admit. I was reading and praying this morning and I had a few minutes of asking God to intercede for me and I got stuck listing why I was not able to do the work(s) He has called me to do. After a few minutes of listing all the weaknesses, faults, bad circumstances, and impossibilities, I was confronted with this question, “So What, Josh?”
If you have walked with Jesus for any period of time, you realize how the Holy Sprit answers our questions with questions. It was a line drawn in the sand, if I believe God asked me to do something should I do it, despite the impossibilities? The Christianese answer is, “Yes, your obedience has your next blessing!” While it is true, we often misinterpret blessing.
I was about 3 years into ministry and I was a youth pastor at a location in California. With the advice of wise Christian leaders and answers to prayer, I felt God told me to resign and go. I had so many questions and too few answers to make an educated decision. I kept hearing how my jump of faith would find me caught in the arms of Jesus with great blessing at the end. So, I jumped! I resigned my ministry position, moved in to my parents house with my wife and our one daughter, and began to look for work, ministry, opportunity, just about anything.
Three months later and with offers like being paid for ministry with fresh fish in Alaska, I could not get a real job to save my life. I felt helpless, hopeless and despair began to hit me. Why? Well, I had a notion that Jesus catching me, blessing me and seeing me through meant money in the bank account, fulfillment in my career or popularity and opportunity. Can those things happen and will they? You bet, but Jesus catching us in our faith jumps means more than the material. It was at my lowest point where I could not see much light ahead, that I write this in my journal.
“God, why is it that you see to my destruction and humiliation? I know I deserve nothing, but I am desperate and have nowhere else to turn!”
Like a lament psalm I got real before the Almighty God, and I then wrote this down a paragraph later:
“Josh, Your blessing, fortune and progress is solely based on the calling I have for you. You are so busy seeing what you cannot do or accomplish that you are missing the table I have set before you.”
This was 2002, and the crux of the story is that my mom was dying of cancer and I thought she was coming out of it. I finally settled down stopped searching endlessly and spent time with my mom, I repaired relationship with her and created memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I was in the valley of despair, and fearing all evil, until I woke up that day and I was introduced to the table set before my enemies (Psalm23). My marriage was rocky, credit was broken, my finances demolished, my gifting/calling was hibernating, and my closest friends silent. Oh, but that table! Once I recognized who set it up, who put it all together, I focused on the mission at hand, my mom, my marriage and my family.
Soon after that I was back in ministry and repairing the temporal things, but having a restored and shame free perspective to being in the waiting room. Perhaps you are in the waiting room, you are looking for the blessing and missing the table set before you. All you hear is, “You Can’t Do That!” and I pray that you can answer, “I sure can’t, but He can!”
1 Corinthians 5:6-8
Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Paul was correcting the Church at Corinth about sexual immorality and one situation he heard of, a man with his father’s wife. Paul instructs the church to discipline this man by removing him from the church so that he had a chance to be saved from his sin.
Then Paul gives a verse that believers quote and memorize, “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” However, we may be inclined to read over the “Your boasting is not good” that comes before this. What is Paul’s deal here? The church is probably growing; it is an exciting place to gather on Sunday, what is the deal? Paul is correcting the whole church leadership about one guy who decided to commit to what was not even allowed in the secular world around them.
I am not going to start writing about excommunication, but I would assume this person was part of the leadership, the boasting of the church in Corinth. Better yet, this correction was a message to the church to not concentrate on boasting of themselves, but all the more to be humble, because we can miss it. They had a lot of fleshy, lifestyle stuff to work out in their midst, and Paul was pushing for that to be their focus. Encouraging the people of the church is great, but boasting is a different thing entirely.
Now that I got that out of the way, I want to focus more on the leaven aspect. Here we get the leaven illustration, and this is not a sprinkle of yeast. This is a fermented piece of dough that gets rolled into the next batch of bread because it was left from some earlier batch. This was a standard aspect of bread making in those days, and no one would have been corrected for making bread this way. Paul is making a clear distinction between the world and the Kingdom of God here and I believe this was specifically targeting leaders in the church.
Should the Kingdom of God be sprinkled with the leaven of the world?
It is a tough question because we live in a culture that mixes secular with Christian living so seamlessly. We can easily get into discussions about whether something is a clear and cut sin and leave it there, but should we be having another conversation. Are believers living lives that invite anointing and favor? I can be straight and say Christian leaders should be living lives of purity, free from bondage of any kind.
Do our activities or choices have a little leaven in them? While our choice, in and of itself, may not have overt sin involved, did we make that choice because of the leaven left over from a sinful choice we made prior or those around us? We find the original law in Leviticus 18:1-5 and the reason for this and other laws of its kind was the heart of God, that His people would be different from those who were not His people. The heart of New Testament grace is still the same, are we different from those who do not walk as Christians? Sure, all things are permissible that are not overtly sin, but it is not always good for you or the Kingdom. (1 Cor. 10:30) Overt sin is rarely something that just happens at the moment; it is the product of the creeping in of leaven (tainted life) that slowly eradicates our discernment.
What separates us from the world around us is most precious, and it is the main tool that God uses, outside of His Word, to chase after the hurting and broken. The short answer is that no leaven, as Paul describes it, will be mixed into the Kingdom of God in the finality of it all. God loves us so much, He extends so much grace to us, but let’s pursue the things that are most advantageous to us as followers of Jesus.
Any thoughts to add? Want to hear what you think on the subject.
I was reading this morning from Nahum, and something caught my attention. Our influence will be a matter of great responsibility.
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
and peoples with her charms.
Behold, I am against you,
declares the Lord of hosts,
and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
and kingdoms at your shame.
Ninevah was under judgment, and sexual immorality was what was pointed out. Ninevah was receiving a judgment from God because they were not only involved in sexual immorality (whorings), but they influenced a large part of the Near East with their immorality. It was their influence and how they used it that brought such judgment from God. We should know that with influence comes great responsibility. When we ask God for influence, we ask Him to give us the burden of judgment that can come with it. The yoke is easy and the burden light when we carry it with Jesus. Without Jesus, the burden is too big, and our pride will bring destruction eventually.
I am not huge title guy, so, if someone wants to call me pastor, great. I believe that my being a pastor is displayed in the life I give to others and I do not need a title to do that. Why do I mention this? We are human, and it is easy for us to strive for recognition, title, and affirmation not realizing the weight of it all. God does not judge us based on our title, He judges us based on our actual influence.
Everyone to whom much was given, of him, much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. – Luke 12:48b
Influence is not given, it is earned. One cannot claim ignorance when confronted with their own influence, and so we are responsible. Influence grows, titles stay the same. Nations, empires, and communities have seen destruction due to their respective influence. So what? Why does this matter to me?
You and I are people of influence, and how much influence may vary, but the responsibility is like in kind. Perhaps your influence is your children and family, or you lead in a corporate environment. It does not matter; we need to take inventory and observe how our influence is impacting others. God takes influence very seriously as we see in Nahum, but Jesus gave us this to chew on:
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. – Matthew 18:5-6
As a believer, it is a privilege to lead and have influence. It is when I take inventory of the influence I have, that I see my weaknesses, strengths and the hand of God in my life. It is a joy to see what God has done and will do. We are all influencers and may we all take it with joy and gratitude for the opportunity to show others a Christ-like life.
This morning, I had a reckoning moment with God. Even better, God had one with me. I was reading from 1 Samuel 25:12-27 as part of my reading plan and I actually thought it was simple and boring and that I would just get more out of my New Testament reading… I was wrong. I just got back from a wonderful vacation and with Easter and so many things coming down for us at once, I was overcome with an anxiety I was not comfortable with. I immediately went to prayer and I was reminded to pray for my best friend who is in a physical struggle that I can only understand at the surface. God prompted me to re-read 1 Samuel 25:12-27 and so I did just that.
When Abigail saw David, she hurried and got down from the donkey and fell before David on her face and bowed to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt. Please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 Let not my lord regard this worthless fellow, Nabal, for as his name is, so is he. Nabal[c] is his name, and folly is with him. But I your servant did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent. 26 Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, because the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from saving with your own hand, now then let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be as Nabal. 27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord.
- God is in control
Even when we think something is too hard or if we are the victims of some kind of evil, we must come to grips with the truth that God is in control. God is not surprised with your issue and this may create larger questions and issues for you regarding God, but this is the truth.
- You must get on your face (humility) before you can be free
Abigail came to the king (David) and interceded for her foolish husband. She and everyone in her family and property were spared, the king thanked her in the process, and later God took care of Nabal instead of human intervention.
- Interceding for others includes those that hurt you
This was my toughest hurdle, technically, I am still mid-jump over this one. I had the tendency to walk around praying and shouting for God to save others from the same hurt and to shut down the one who hurt me. I thought I had forgiven when I simply overlooked the pain in my own power. God showed me clearly that I would know when I was healed… when I could come to the King of Kings, much like Abigail, and offer a gift and beg for the very life of the one who hurt me. God was showing me that for years, but for some reason the phone was connected this time, I heard the message clearly.
- Your healing comes at the expense of you
Let me explain, I have to give up my right to be right. I have to give up my need to have a reason for why something happened to me. When I can be joyful simply because God is walking and talking with me, my freedom is at hand. It is good to claim the promises of God and to come to His throne boldly, but may we never misinterpret this boldness. Our boldest moments come when we are empty of our own agendas and we simply bless God and others. Abigail had every right to let David kill as planned, technically she could have asked for shelter and protection, but instead she honored the king with her humility and wisdom.
Victory comes with humility, wisdom and love, but you are not the one who brings it. God brings your victory and when we usher in our own victories, we soon learn that they are short-lived and become bondage in our spiritual lives. True spiritual victory never binds, it frees.
I was asked why certain posts had Daily Reading on them. These posts are based on my own personal time each morning, although it may be from days passed.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21
This verse begins a heated debate that did not even exist 20 years ago in the mainstream Christian church. While I will carefully break down why homosexuality is a sin at another time, it is important to realize that all sin against God has a beginning. Futile thinking has a monopoly on secular society and I fear that we, the church, have become futile in our efforts to bring light to the darkness. Again, another topic for another day. This morning, I intend to simply provoke us to honor God and thank God and the importance of this position in our lives.
The Apostle Paul tells us the slippery slope possible when we do not honor God or thank him. Paul is not referring to a single individual here, but like any study, what applies to a group can often be boiled down to individuals. First, let’s break down thanks and honor. Honor is not a thing you do first thing in the morning and then go about your day; rather, it is a daily commitment to live your life in a way that reflects the love of Jesus. Honor is a loaded word and I think a quick biblical study will show how we truly honor God.
What Does It Mean To Honor God?
Verb: δοξάζω (daxazō) – to praise or glorify
It always means “to have or to give a share in”. 1 Plain and simple, to honor God is that He has or has been given a share in your life. This is not just words we express or a confession, but an active lifestyle that God would be honored by. So while it seems that Paul may be saying the futile thinking came because they did not thank God each morning and then honor him when we scored a touchdown by pointing up, it is deeper than that. It really describes the relationship aspect, and this small word study should then be attributed to our other relationships that call for honor (parents, spouse, children, leaders, etc.)
Daily Challenge: Wake up every morning, thanking God and setting a course for honoring (give it to Him, sharing with Him in it) Him throughout your day.
1 Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 253.
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish – Romans 1:14
In Christian circles, we use the word “call” often and just like the word love, grace, mercy, worship, and Christian, these words can start to lose their power in the English vernacular. The Apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in Rome and telling them how he desired to visit them. He then defined what we refer to as a “call” as an obligation.
Challenge yourself to substitute the word “obligation” for “call” each time. It will have a significant impact on your life and the choices you make. We may even be slow to designate our calls and ask God to confirm all the more. The word obligation is much less ethereal. It means something of a formal contract, an action required by promise or vow. The original Greek describes an obligated as “debtor.”
When God calls us to something specific, it becomes an obligation. Much like when we consider debt, we still have the choice to pay the debt or avoid it, but it is a debt just the same. This can be difficult to process when we think of the grace of Christ, but the grace and mercy have more to do with relationship than occupation. You see, Paul experienced the full grace of Jesus, and now he is under obligation to reach the Gentiles so they can experience the same. The call of God is by no means a grace-filled journey, your relationship with Jesus is. The call can be rough; it can tax us beyond what we can handle, and this is because we cannot do it on our own. The obligation is a partnership between Jesus and you, where Jesus carries the heaviest weight, making our burdens light.
I was reading from John 9:1-6 last week and something hit me about Jesus, his work ethic. I have read numerous books, articles and opinions on the work week and the knowledge input are coming out of my ears on how to strategize my day (by the way, I will add to that overload at some point). Notice in verse 4 he says
We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. – John 9:4 ESV
Jesus was speaking to his disciples openly about the coming of the crucifixion and that his earthly ministry was here and it was time to work while He was still on the earth. He then mentions that the night is coming when no one can work. Jesus set a deadline for the work. While I would love to reflect on life balance and how Jesus even knew the limitations of time while on earth, there is something even tinier here we could miss. The blind man was a setup!
Jesus told his disciples that this man born blind was not so because of sin, his parents or anything except the will of God to show the power of God. Here is verse 3:
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. – John 9:3 ESV
Boom! I almost read over it as I have done for years, pull it out for a cool sermon that God is in control and even suffering can be for the glory of God, have an altar call and move on. Then I got stuck on work aspect. You and I are called to work the harvest, and that is not just salvation of the lost, which is really good.
So you walk into work one day and your boss tells you to walk around the building and take inventory and everything with a green sticker is yours to take home and do with as you please. There is the one person who will hunt down every green sticker making sure they get what is theirs to take. Then there is the person who walks around and convinces themselves that boss is selfish and there is no green stickers and does very little of anything. Then there is the one person who comes in, prioritizes the inventory task and is sure to be detailed enough to check for green stickers as the job is accomplished. Who is the good employee? I would venture to say the third one is.
When we are confronted with the opportunity to God’s work, we have the choice to 1. seek the opportunities that bless us the most right now 2. take on an attitude of false humility and do little work at all 3. Do as Jesus asked of us and get blessed along the way.
The blind man was a setup, a freebie of sorts for the disciples to see the power of God. Our job is people, not a passion! The disciples would have easily overlooked the blind man since he was that way from birth and the impossible was overshadowed by their belief that the blind man did something wrong. I do that all the time; we do that. Jesus is not asking us to go out into the world and find out who is worthy of freedom, just offer it to all. God has setups (opportunities) for us not to use our power but to see God’s power to free others. May you be encouraged to set the captives free!
Bible Text: Matt. 27:57-66
So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard – vs 66
The old expression that says, “when it rains, it pours” is often a part of the Christian life. It is often in the darkest hour, where we think nothing else could go worse than it is, that something does go worse. In our reading today, the scene was set to seal the fate of Jesus, to keep him buried and out of view. When we are in our trials, the enemy of our very soul desires to have you see Jesus in this manner. Buried, dead and unable to come to us, we start to make decisions that are in our own power. Desperation and despair are the twins of agony that simulate the defeat of a Christian just before a huge victory.
The disciples were suffering from the shock of losing their teacher, master, and friend. What is your first reaction after a shocking or debilitating defeat or failure? The life of a Christian is a journey and the failures we experience are not always in our own power, and we have a merciful, loving God who knows our weaknesses. Some Christians live by a mantra of “God will never give us more than we can handle”, but this verse in 1 Corinthians 10:3 does not say that at all. This verse simply talks about temptation and nothing else. Yes, God will give us more than we can handle all the time. If we were only given what we can handle we would have no need for what was about to happen in that sealed tomb.
We must be dependent on the Holy Spirit daily. It is too easy to put our guard down in times of blessing, and then muster up our faith when trial hits. Unfortunately, this pattern is exhausting and will cause Christians to burnout, or worse yet, to walk away defeated. Your circumstances may be bleak, your situation at the darkest, but the tomb is about to be empty.
The Real Truth: God will give you MORE than You can handle.
Bible Text: Matt 27:45-56
“And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” vs 50
Would you be the proud owner of a vehicle that would never start for you; rather, it would only start for one of your other family members. You turn the key and nothing, but as soon as another person comes and turns it, the car starts? You would sell the vehicle and move on to a vehicle that would do exactly what you want it to do. Jesus was on the cross, in obvious pain and suffering, and He just cried out to God the Father asking why He was forsaken. A very dark place to be for the Son of God, but there is about to be a serious victory in the hours and days ahead. A verse we may skip over or just see it as it is physically, “yielded up His spirit”, is actually one of the most powerful moments of devotion. Jesus remained in complete authority, even into His physical death. He yielded His spirit, he laid it down. Your yielding to God, hands authority to God, but there is a powerful aspect of this yielding.
Right after Jesus died a list of events take place. His yielding of His spirit caused the ground to shake, the temple system to be torn from the seams, actual dead bodies were coming out of tombs and burial plots to walk the streets. What?! You may be going through a tough time in life, you are a giver, a committed Christian and you are just waiting for your blessing and favor. There is always a part of you to yield to God daily. It’s funny how we can justify how we have walked or call on the Scriptures and approach God’s throne with boldness, but that boldness is part of a whole relationship. Our relationship with Jesus is not some magic lamp that we can rub and make wishes, it requires authentic relationship. The Apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 5:25 that if we live in the Spirit, let us ALSO walk in the spirit. He makes a distinction on purpose. Jesus not only lived in the Spirit, He walked in the Spirit. He was in unity with God, so much so, that He went to the death in full authority.
I love how Jesus has laid this out for us by example. It is this simple, will I yield right now? Not planning for tomorrow, or recalling our times of yielding from yesterday, but choosing to yield in the pain and confusion of the “right now”. Just like the car illustration, when we choose to delay our yielding, we become like the car who will not start for the owner. Jesus will never own those who submit to themselves alone or some other influence. Thankfully, Jesus is not a frustrated car owner, ready to sell us off. He offers opportunity each day, and yesterday’s stubbornness can become today’s yielding.
The Real Truth: My yielding to God will shake the very ground of my life and those around me.
Bible Text: Matt. 27:32-44 (ESV)
He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ vs. 43
In this passage, we read about the crucifixion of Jesus, so common to the Christian mind, but against all common sense. In our modern day, it is easy to “Monday morning quarterback” the entire story of those who killed Jesus that day. Like the Apostle Peter, we may tell ourselves that we would have never done that to Jesus. The scene is quite disturbing and yet there is one solid truth in this whole story, Jesus chose this moment. We need not pity Jesus as some weak lamb led to slaughter, no, the Lion of Judah chose to lay it all down. When we truly trust God, we choose, not just the moments of blessing and victory, but we choose the moments of failure and trial.
I was talking with one of my daughters and she shared how she wants to be a missionary to India one day. I immediately was both proud and fearful. I challenged her with this, “Kiddo, you know that you could be killed for your faith and mission if you go to India?” Her response was deafening, “I know, but Dad, what other purpose do I have but to choose what He tells me to do.” Will you choose what he tells you to do? We have the privilege of knowing the ending to each Bible story, and we can make shortsighted statements about how we would react or respond in those moments, but in context, we know nothing of our reactions.
The challenge for each believer is to choose God in our daily decisions, so that when the more profound challenges come, we can discern what the right choice is, instead of fear or clouded judgment. The best part about our journey with Jesus is that you could be Simon, who carried the cross for Christ, the robbers who mocked him, the soldiers and religious leaders who killed him; you have a choice today. Yesterday you may have mocked Him, doubted His love, made a bad decision, destroyed a relationship, sabotaged a career, but He loves you. So today, you can take that one step to choosing Jesus.
The Real Truth: Jesus chose obedience to the moment of His death because He chose You!