Category Archives: PRODIGALS

Ragamuffin

Brennan Manning describes a ragamuffin as one who is dirty, bedraggled, and beat-up. None of us like to think of ourselves this way, but for many of us, it’s a mighty accurate description. Though I may look good on the outside, I’m fighting like crazy on the inside. Even as I produce notable accomplishments for Christ’s kingdom, I find myself struggling for spiritual survival much of the time. Yes–dirty, bedraggled and beat up is a pretty good description, not only of a ragamuffin, but of me.

Of course, this shouldn’t be any surprise. We’re in a war!

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Ephesians 6:12.

This is not a theoretical war–it’s real! It’s not something far off like Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen–it’s in our mind, heart, homes and closest relationships! It affects us every day. To pretend the war doesn’t exist is to sentence your life to ruin or insignificance. To fight the battles in human strength is futile. We must use the weapons and equipment Christ has provided as described in Ephesians 6.

We Christians are quite proficient at presenting ourselves as victors. We aren’t too fond of revealing our real selves, the ongoing struggles, the temptations we fight nor the battles we lose. But remember, even in the losing, in the fray of battle, in the wrong moves, missed opportunities, stupid choices, areas of weakness and remorseful decisions, God loves us and is waiting to make something beautiful in the midst of the mess.

Want to see a GREAT movie that shows it well? Watch Ragamuffin (it’s on Prime)–the true story of Rich Mullins. It’s unsettling, sobering, inspiring, and real.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3-4)

Risks Without God Being In It…

“But they presumed to go up to the heights of the hill country, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed out of the camp. Then the Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Numbers 14:44-45 ESV

It was all so stupid. The obstinate Israelites had exercised their unbelief by choosing to not enter Canaan. When the people heard of God’s judgement (Numbers 14:26-35) — that they would all die in the wilderness over a 40-year period — they decided they would then enter Canaan no matter what.

  • “Obedience” that looks good is not necessarily obedience.
  • Sorrow for sin does not necessarily make us right with God.
  • Our actions will not make us right with God — only our submission and worship will.

As we can see by the above verses, their hearts were still far from God. They went forward with their plan of making things right, but they left God behind. He had already told this nation to go into the wilderness, but now they were heading into Canaan– without God!

We see that the Amalekites and Canaanites “defeated them and pursued them, even to Hormah.” Hormah is inside of Canaan some 60 miles south of where they crossed the Jordan River. It’s amazing, really. The wayward Israelites are so desperate to get what they want (or not get what they deserve) that they take THE risk they convinced everyone not to take only days before. And risk they did. This was a bold, daring, audacious and stupid risk. God was not with them in it. They were chased down and destroyed within the Promised Land. In this, they greatly dishonored God–again.

The Promised Land only holds blessing when we take God with us.

Only brokenness, submission, and authentic worship lived by costly obedience will ever enable us to honor God with our lives.

Lost and Happy

There are many very happy people in the world who do not know Jesus Christ. That’s where the following verse comes in…

“I came not to send peace, but a sword,” Matthew 10:34.

Of this, Oswald Chambers writes:

“Thousands of people are happy without God in this world. If I was happy and moral before Jesus came, why did He come? Because that kind of happiness and peace is on a wrong level; Jesus Christ came to send a sword through every peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself.”

And here’s the challenge we face in a society where abundance can mask need — people must realize that they were made for something more than themselves. They were made for God! Life is not all about happiness and contentment (peace), but instead a purpose and high calling (a sword).

When we get that, we’re not only happy…we’re passionate!

High Expectations Early in Life

“You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die. You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. The only exceptions will be Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.” Numbers 14:29-30

Nothing like a warm-hearted verse to start your day out right! Yes–this is one of those passages in Scripture that fail to give us warm fuzzies, but it does present some powerful biblical truth.

God makes the above statement to the first generation of Israelites right after they refused to cross the Jordan River and inherit the Land. These are the ones who saw God’s mighty hand, powerful plagues, unmatched compassion, and unrelenting providence. Yet, as they stand on the eastern bank of the Jordan, they refuse to believe that God will give them what He swore to give them.

Twenty years old. Interesting.

A quick study of that age in the Old Testament reveals:

  • This is the age when they were considered men — it was time for them to contribute to the social and spiritual life of the nation.
  • This is the age when they became warriors, armed for battle.
  • This is the age when Levites were supposed to start their service in the tabernacle and temple.

In Numbers 14:29, we also realize that this is the age that God holds someone personally accountable for what decisions they make and what they do with their life. Everyone twenty years and older will die in the wilderness because they failed to honor God by stepping out in faith. Only Joshua and Caleb did this. No one else–and they will ALL be held accountable.

God has high expectations for us early in life.

Enough of sowing of “wild oats.” Away with the excesses of young adult-hood. Forget the excuses of inexperience and unrestrained compulsions. God has high expectations for us early in life.

For me, way past the age of twenty, this is a kick in the butt! It shouts at me saying, “Your life matters! Your decisions matter! God is to be honored! Live it now!” If God has high expectations for twenty year olds, He must have even higher ones for fifty-somethings. Yikes!

Don’t get me wrong. God isn’t standing over any of us with a club ready to whack us when we get out of line. Our God is characterized by grace, love, compassion, and understanding. BUT–let’s not take that too far. He expects us to honor Him. He has a right to demand this. The price paid for us is stunning–Jesus Himself as our payment. The same God who inflicted judgement on hard-hearted, faithless, and dishonoring Israelites long ago is the same God who says to us today,  “Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore,'” Ecclesiastes 12:1-2.

God has high expectations for us early in life…and later in life, too.

 

 

Missing Out…

Numbers 14:26-30 tell the sobering account of God’s judgement on the nation of Israel. The people that God had brought out of Egypt were unwilling to enter the promised land. Verse 30 demonstrates God’s complete intention to provide this Promised Land for His people — He “swore to give it to them.” Instead of embracing God’s grace, they complained against His person.

The complaints of the Israelites flowed out of a number of cold hard realities:

  • ingratitude
  • unmet personal agendas
  • faithless living
  • a small view of God
  • an inflated view of themselves — their knowledge, wisdom, and importance
  • an absence of reverence toward God — they were worshipless
  • fear

When I look at this list — this soil of hard hearts — I am convicted to assess the soil of my heart. How I want it to be soft, rich, fertile, pliable, ready to produce what God longs to produce in me. How I want the seeds of His grace to produce a crop of 30, 60, and a hundred fold.

Many years later, Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.” The bitter fruit of complaining revealed the faithlessness of a people God longed to bless. They missed out.

Today, Lord, I embrace your grace. My heart is open. Unleash your grace. Be honored in me.

God’s Uwlam…

Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested. But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, not one of these people will ever enter that land.” Numbers 14:20-22 

The above verse reveals the amazing grace of God.

The Israelite people were unwilling to trust God with their lives by crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. Their faithlessness prohibited them from receiving God’s best plan for their lives. Along with that, of course, the people failed to live up to their great task — to reveal God’s glory to the lost people all around them. In other words, they decided to live their lives according to their own plans rather than God’s design. The result was devastating: God was angry enough to wipe them out. Their relationship with God had changed. Sin does that to us.

Here’s the amazing grace part–God says, “I will pardon them as you (Moses) have requested.” What patience and love God has for His people! As scripture states, “His mercies are new every morning!”

Also notice, however, that something has drastically changed through this encounter. Do you see the word “But?” The Hebrew word here is “uwlam.” It means “in contrast” or “on the contrary.” It means there is a variation or flip-side to the situation. And with that, everything changes forever with the this generation of Israelites. They will never enter the land of Canaan. The sin of unbelief has sentenced these people to wander in a meaningless wilderness for the next forty years. Because of their sin, God’s future plans for them have forever changed. They will never live up to God’s highest plan for their lives.

Also realize this: Their lives can still be meaningful…

  • They can honor and worship God in their wilderness
  • They can obey God commands in the desert
  • They can raise up their children to never fail in the way they had failed (and it seems they did a pretty good job of this!)
  • They can love one another in their painful wilderness

BUT–they will never have an opportunity to live in God’s best plan for their lives. Their sin, though they are forgiven, has forever changed the trajectory of their lives.

It’s sobering. It’s convicting. It’s truth.

I never want God’s UWLAM in my life…

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

God intended the ephod to be a very good thing–to remind the priests of their God-given responsibilities as they entered His presence. Exodus 28 describes the ephod in descriptive detail — everything from the kind of material and stitching that was to be used to what should be in the pocket placed over the heart of the priests. All of this was meant to give the priest every opportunity to accomplish his role in an effective and God-honoring way.

The ephod was worn by the priests especially when they were seeking direction from the Lord. When a difficult decision was to be made, the Urim and Thummin (a black and white stone) were the indicators of a “no” or “yes” from the Lord as they retrieved a divine answer from their garment pocket. This was one of God’s ways of speaking plainly in those days when they didn’t have the benefit of the Holy Spirit’s voice as we do today.

In the aftermath of Gideon’s great victory, he wanted to honor God by making an all-gold ephod. He was “improving” on God’s design. He meant well–this was a symbol of God’s leading in this unforgettable victory. Though meant for good, however, it became an idol. We read in Judges 8:27, “Gideon made it into  an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.” What was intended for good became something really ugly.

There are golden ephods all around us.

  • A home we intended to use for God has become a god of our own making
  • A job in which we wanted to honor God has become an intoxicating source of prestige and power
  • A ministry we’ve invested in has gripped our passions for many wrong reasons
  • A friendship we intended for good has become bands of bondage keeping us from God’s plan for our lives
  • A few material things has “mushroomed” into a lifestyle of consumerism that mocks God

Any golden ephods in your life — those things that were meant to be beautiful, God-honoring, and good? Maybe you’ve tried to improve on God’s plan and it’s become a snare.

It’s time again to claim God’s good and dump the bad and ugly. I dare you…

 

Anxiety & Peace

A lot of things bring us anxiety…

  • packing our lives with activity
  • no intimacy with the Almighty
  • sin
  • worldly rather than wise choices
  • money
  • broken relationships
  • difficult people
  • deadlines
  • children
  • an unsettled soul

One “thing” brings us peace. Jesus. He’s the Prince of Peace. When He arrived in Bethlehem on the night of His birth, the angels proclaimed, “On earth, peace to men with who God is well pleased.”

No matter how far we’ve slipped into a world of anxiety, no matter how far we have drifted from God, peace is ours for the asking. There’s something about that name. Jesus.

Invite and attend “Peace is Here” tomorrow at Edinbrook, 9:30 and 11:00. Let’s pray for God-things to happen.

Reviewing Repentance

Repent is an old-fashioned word that is not generally used in our world today. This biblical term is packed with meaning, however. Repentance is essential in order for any human being to be right with God.

So when John the Baptist proclaimed the coming Messiah, his message was simple, “Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

When Jesus began preaching, scripture encapsulates His message in one phrase, “Repent! for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Fascinating…

To repent means “to turn around”, but even more than this…”to change one’s mind.”

Repentance is more than just doing the right thing…it’s being desperately convicted to change. The mind transformation precedes the action that follows – both are essential – WE CHANGE OUR ACTIONS FOR ALL THE RIGHT REASONS.

There three primary components to repentance:

  • Conviction—where sin is admitted. We get to the place where we must change. We actually become more compelled to change than to stay the same.
  • Contrition—where sin is abhorred. To the degree that you love God you will hate sin. These two dynamics are directly proportional.
  • Conversion—where sin is abandoned.  Isaiah 55:7 explains this quite well:

Let the wicked forsake his way
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
And let him return to the LORD,
And He will have compassion on him,
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.

Repentance must become a lifestyle for even the Christ-follower. It is through ongoing conviction, contrition, and conversion that we experience the righteousness of Christ in us.

The Court of the Gentiles

The Court of the Gentiles was an area out side of the temple in Jerusalem where people from any nation or ethnic heritage could seek God’s face. This was an expression of God’s grace. He was availing Himself to everybody.

When Jesus cleansed the temple (Mark 11) of the sellers and money-changers, He was clearing out the Court of the Gentiles. This place for seekers was overrun by Israelites making their own worship “easier.” How nice for God’s people coming to the temple to not worry about preparing before they arrived — no doves to bring, no sheep to prepare, no grain offering to carry. For a price, one could purchase the items for their offerings right there in the Court of the Gentiles.

All of this chaos, however, preempted any worship or prayer by the non-Israelite people among them. The noise, shouting, exchange of money, bleating of sheep and chooing of doves eliminated any kind of opportunity for silence or meditation. The insensitivity of God’s people drove away any chance for Gentiles to find God.

I’m grateful that Edinbrook Church has cleansed the “Court of the Gentiles” in recent years. We have made it possible for lost people to find God. We want this! We pray for this! We are seeing it happen regularly.

  • After one of our worship services this past Sunday, an Edinbrook couple introduced me to another couple they had brought to church with them. They were homeless and had met “on the street.” Being invited to attend church together, the homeless pair were picked up and escorted to our worship service. They were encouraged, loved, prayed for, and inspired. They genuinely enjoyed their experience and each left Edinbrook with a new Bible in hand, something they did not even own before their arrival. They plan to return with a little help from their friends. They experienced the “Court of the Gentiles” on Sunday.
  • A young man at Edinbrook has been “hanging out” with a young lady — 20 years old or so. She has never been to a church service in her entire life. She attended for the first time three weeks ago and has been coming each Sunday since. And–she really likes church! She is experiencing the “Court of the Gentiles” at Edinbrook.

We have made it possible, through the Spirit’s leading, to have the most authentic worship ever at Edinbrook. In sync with this, we are also providing an atmosphere and experience where lost people can find God. Jesus’ disgust toward religious leaders who are oblivious to seekers is clearly expressed with His temple tantrum in the court. In contrast to this, God’s great favor is lavished upon those who cleanse and prepare the court for the lost to find God.

I am humbled and grateful for what God has done and continues to do among us. May He continue to “add to our number day by day those who are being saved.”