Grateful Power

thanksgiving

John 6:23 Some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord gave thanks.

Edmund Burke said “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” I admit I hated history in school. I remember studying the major US conflicts and that’s about it.  And concerning those, I recall general geography, allies and foes, and overall outcomes. No specifics. Most sadly, I’m really foggy on why they started. I agree with Edmund Burke, but I would tailor it a bit: “Those who don’t understand the cause of major historical atrocities are doomed to repeat them.” Certainly a detailed memory of battle names, places, generals and dates is not what saves us from repeating the same thing. It’s understanding the cause, its genesis.

Keep in mind, some history is good to repeat. And understanding the causes of healthy history is no less important. I think the apostle John understood that.

After all, who would describe the feeding of the five-thousand like he did in verse 23? Consider it!  If I wrote this verse, I surely would have recorded “Some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread when the Lord fed thousands” or “when the Lord performed the miracle of multiplication.” But never would I have thought to only write “when the Lord gave thanks.”

John seems less interested in what happened than how it happened.

I’m glad he was. We can read and hear about miracles every day and though it may boost our faith that God is mighty and merciful, it does little to instruct us. I’d like a miracle. And sometimes we need a miracle. There may not be a formula for the miraculous work of God’s Spirit today, but John eludes to a pattern or at least a good place to start.

Thanksgiving.

When it’s not enough, we tend to want. When it’s less than hoped for, sadness prevails. When it’s inconsequential, we toss it aside. But “not enough,” “less than” and “inconsequential” were all that the boy had in his basket that day. Jesus took it, gave thanks, and distributed it (v 11). And it was enough. John caught it. The start of it all, the genesis of that miracle was thanksgiving.

We are often confronted with “impossibilities” in life. You may have a mountain to move today and nothing but a John Deere to do it with. You can focus on the mountain or you can give thanks for the tractor. Let’s see what happens. Maybe history will repeat itself.

Love-Hate Relationship

love hate relationship

2 Samuel 13:15 After this, Amnon hated Tamar with such intensity that the hatred he hated her with was greater than the love he had loved her with. “Get out of here! ” he said.

About two years ago, I remember being cautioned by a good friend and pastor. I was having lunch with him and was sharing my excitement at the possibility of buying a piece of property on a beautiful river with a house and four cabins. I’m pretty sure his warning was elicited when I said “It’s what my wife has always wanted.” Almost sternly, he responded “I don’t subscribe to the notion that life is better by living in a ‘dreamy’ place.”

At one time or another, haven’t we all said it? “I would love to live there.” Or maybe for that thing, “I would love to have that.” Some would say it’s just a misuse of the word “love”. On one hand, I agree. It’s not love, but rather a desire to experience. Amnon wanted to experience Tamar. On the other, from an accounting perspective, the desire to experience can be so strong as to demand an emotional and soulful investment equating to that of love.  If love could be defined as the extent to which one’s heart is spent on something or someone, then maybe we understand how Amnon “loved” Tamar, but then raped her.

You can only spend your heart on so much. It’s like an emotional bank account. Where are you investing your heart, your mind, your soul, your emotions?

A small expenditure of emotional interest in a person may cause you to ask for his or her phone number. A moderate mental and emotional investment may cause you to creep the person’s Facebook then look up her number in whitepages.com and leave her a message…twice. Infatuation with someone or something represents a soulful and emotional expenditure that equates to love but is actually a desire to experience and a desire so strong that it causes people to act in the most reprehensible ways. (Adultery, rape, jealous murder)

Love is like a major investment being withdrawn from the account of your heart. And when a desire to experience something masquerades as love, we’ll spend much more of our heart, soul and emotional reserve on it, leading to all sorts of desperate acts to attain it. It could be unsustainable debt, lying, cheating or stealing to have it… to experience it. But if we have overspent, overinvested our souls to get it, then once we have it… we hate it.

Consider addiction. The desire to experience the euphoria or what might otherwise be called a “numbed reality” is an experience for which the addict will go to great lengths. That person will hurt family members, steal from strangers, betray friends all because “I’d love to have a drink right now.” Once the experience has come and ended, they hate that for which they had confessed love and often end up yelling like Amnon at that for which they had longed, “Get out of here!”

It’s a love-hate relationship.

I’ve read some psychology blurbs about love-hate relationships. Don’t bother. God’s got it right here, revealing it to us in this story of a man who invested his soul to experience something. And just like the addict and any of us who succumb to this devilish draw, it’s not the act that we hate and maybe not even the after-effects, but rather the realization of what desperation we went through, and what we spent to get it. That’s what makes us hate it.

Wherever your heart is invested, there will you also invest your treasure. So whatever worldly thing it is, don’t spend your soul like you love it or you’ll hate it when you get it.

The Value in Potential

value

Luke 22:24 Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest.

It’s the last supper they’ll have with Jesus and an argument breaks out about who’s the greatest. But it’s not how the conversation started. Just before this, Jesus had fueled a small internal investigation when He revealed that one of them at dinner that night would betray Him.  Verse 22 then reads “So they began to argue among themselves which of them it could be who was going to do this thing.”

How did the conversation devolve so quickly from an investigation of wrong-doing to a debate over greatness? At one moment the question is, “Who is doing wrong?” and the next it’s “Who has greater value?”

This shift of focus from criminality to greatness reveals a common human tendency: many believe human value is dependent on human action, that what we do determines worth, that the extent to which we do right or do wrong determines the extent of a person’s value.

But is value based upon what we’ve done or upon potential?

The fallacy that value is dependent upon past action is so prevalent that the poor, the convict, the sexual deviant, the addict, the aborting mother all often act out of society’s projected value, that which they esteem to be true. Many of us believe our life-value changes like credit card debt. Every lie, every theft, every immoral action is like the swipe of the card. More and more debt adds up and then the bill comes in with a big bold title on the front of it: Hopeless. “My value is so low I’ll never amount to anything. What should I do?” Swipe the card some more, right? It doesn’t matter anyway. The hope of ever being valued is lost.

But value isn’t dependent on human doing. Rather, it’s a function of potential.

Consider an acre of land in the small poor town of Galena, Missouri. Maybe I could sell it to you for a thousand dollars.  But what if I took that same piece of land with all its grass and dirt and moved it to the corner of 20th and Rangeline in Joplin? I might be able to sell it for a million dollars. How could the same piece of land be valued a 1000 times greater simply because I moved it?

Potential.

I suppose if there’s potential for a person to get out of their moral debt, they’d be of more value. What if they had the potential to break even and begin to gain, acting virtuously in their community? Might be of even more value. What if the potential for that individual was to become a great moral leader in our nation like another Billy Graham? Even more value. What if the potential existed for a person to be righteous just like Jesus, to actually become the righteousness of God?

Therein lies the point. It is that potential that exists in every person every day – Value that’s off the chart.  It’s a hard pill to swallow that the guy eating his last meal on death row is of no less value than Billy Graham at his last meal.  Yet, their potential is the same.

May God help us to realize we are not valued by our past but by our potential to be filled with the completeness of Christ. And then let’s act like it.

Means to an end

means to an end

2 Samuel 12:15b  The LORD struck the baby that Uriah’s wife had borne to David, and he became ill.

Since we opened our doors in 2000, the ministry has fed tens of thousands of people. I’m always excited about donations of food coming into the ministry. And with the advent of social media over the last several years, we’ve been able to reach out to more than a thousand people at a time with a need for meat, cheese, etc. Unfailingly, at least a few times a year, I have someone who approaches me with a big heart and a voice full of excitement expressing a will to spend food stamps to help stock our food pantry. We need food. The poor get hungry. And in the end, I’d like to feed them. We’re even called to do that. But that end doesn’t justify those means.

God gives us forethought, the ability to plan, to vision cast our lives. Hope itself is all about seeing in our mind’s eye what cannot yet be seen in the physical. Most of us have a hope for our future.  That could mean a college education, a house on a lake, or publishing a book. I have a hope for abundant ministry provision and a well-stocked food pantry.  But the end of our hope doesn’t justify any means to reach it.

In fact, the means define the end. How you get to where you think God wants you is to assemble the essence of that end along the way.  It’s like two winter jackets that look alike but one comes from LL Bean, the other from Walmart. What’s the difference? What went into the making. It’s the process, the how, the means that define the end as blessed or not blessed.

God doesn’t want you to have a particular thing, or be with a particular person or be in a particular place more than He wants you to be blessed. To have the car, the girl and the chateau on the lake may or may not be blessed. If the means to reach those ends have not been assembled with God along the way, then you end up with a motor vehicle accident, venereal disease and a house fire.

The end? David was to end up with a son. That was the end and it was another step in the coming of Christ. But notice God doesn’t call the child David’s, rather “the baby that Uriah’s wife had born to David.” God calls the child something other than the end prophesied in 2 Samuel 7:12 “I will raise up after you your descendent who will come from your body…” You and I may see what God wants for us down the road. You may have a bead on the desire of your heart, that thing He’s planted in you that drives you into the future. Whatever you call that vision, you also call it blessed. But if you attain in some way outside of God’s will, He’ll call it something else.

Unshakeable Character

Unshakeable Character

2 Samuel 12:3 “but the poor man had nothing except one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up, living with him and his children. It shared his meager food and drank from his cup; it slept in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.”

I recently watched a video in which the hidden camera taped an actor who appealed to various people for some act of compassion. He was ignored, snubbed and rejected time and time again. In the end, the compassion for which the man sought was finally delivered by the most unlikely; a homeless guy.

Are poverty and character related at all?

The fact that poverty and crime seem statistically connected may be more a matter that tax evasion, illegal hiring practices, corporate collusion and insider trading are simply not caught or reported as much among the unethical-rich.

We all have a choice.

Regardless of wealth, the decision to sin is to some extent fueled by the likelihood of evading detection. Many would define integrity “doing what is right when no one is looking” or “doing what is right when one can evade detection by authority.” Yet, the decision to sin under those circumstances (when no one is looking) is not without worldly risk. You might be found out.

But consider this situation: What if the “authority” said very plainly, “I’ll overlook it?” (This corruption is surely not uncommon between law enforcement and business.) How the worldly risk of sin is lessened when the authority has promised to ignore it! What character is required to still yet resist that temptation?!

But consider even this one greater challenge to character. What if the authority actually bid you to do it? What if the king told you to go and do that which you knew you were not to do but longed to do? Who could resist?

Uriah.

Uriah was literally encouraged (if not commanded) by the king to go home for the night, to relax and to be with his wife even though he knew he was to remain consecrated for battle. Put yourself there. What would you do?

2 Samuel 11:9 says “But Uriah slept at the door of the palace with all his master’s servants; he did not go down to his house.”

We all have a choice. David did. And so did Uriah. Uriah’s lack of power, prestige, influence and fame had no effect on his character. Never would such a poor, meager, unknown and unrecognized man ever think to be recorded in the most published book in the world. But his decision that day set an example for us all, an example of character with remarkable fortitude.

May it also be of you and me.

 

Restless Wander

restless wander

2 Samuel 11:2     One evening David got up from his bed and strolled around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing — a very beautiful woman.

“I have a nervous energy today but I’m not sure what to do with it.”

“I wish I could rest, but I can’t seem to lay still.”

“I don’t have any direction today but I feel like there’s something I should be doing.”

Restlessness. We’ve all experienced it. This passage might help us understand why.

David was in bed for the night but apparently couldn’t get to sleep. Why? What was the recipe for his restlessness? Take a look at verse 1: “In the spring when kings march out to war, David sent Joab…” He what? Yes, the king sent someone else. It was a time for David to be with his troops, to be encouraging his soldiers, to be fighting for Israel.  But he sent Joab. I can almost hear the words of God spoken to Cain just before he killed Abel:

“If you do no do what is right, sin is crouching at the door.”

David was not doing what was right. And yes, as one reads on, sin was certainly crouching at David’s door. He was not where he was supposed to be. He was not on track with God’s plan for that season. And so it is with us too that when we are not where God wants us, we feel a little off kilter. It’s that sensation of “something’s just not right.”
From time to time we all fall out of His perfect plan for us in a particular season of life. The important question to answer is, “What should I do?”
Although the passage doesn’t answer that directly, it sure infers what NOT to do.
Wander.
David combined the two things that may very well be the cocktail for much sin today. He was outside of God’s will and then he wandered. He began his restless and aimless stroll on the rooftop of his palace.
Not being where God wants you is like lathering yourself with a cologne called “Susceptibility.” And then to air it out through aimless wandering (whether it be through the internet, bars, shopping, etc.) is to become a very real target.
Restless Wandering is a Gas Match mix. I love my wife’s bumper sticker: “Not all who wander are lost.” True. But if your restless in your spirit today, don’t wander in your flesh. If you lack direction today, pray for it. And don’t leave your knees until you find it.