And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

I hear this verse quoted on a regular basis.  Sometimes it is used to encourage those battling tough times.  It is often said to motivate people to pursue righteousness.  However, every time I hear it, I can’t help but to think about how selfish it sounds.

It comes across as a promise, a guarantee, a reward.  It’s like we are saying “If you want things to go your way, love God.  Then your life will be awesome.”

If the Bible teaches us anything, it is that following God is uncomfortable, difficult, and downright dangerous.  You are supposed to die to yourself, take up your cross, and sacrifice every desire of the flesh to do what is right in His eyes.

So how does that mesh with this frequently quoted scripture?  Am I saying that this is a false promise?  Absolutely not.

If you love God with all your mind, body, soul, and strength, and you respond to His call to fulfill your purpose, what would you consider to be “good?”  If you die to yourself, what kinds of things will you want to happen?  If you spend every moment trying to produce fruit, what will your results look like?

When most people quote Romans 8:28, they seem to imply that the “good” we will receive will be worldly rewards.  We use it to encourage folks looking for employment or money.  We share it bring comfort to those in pain.  But are those things really the “good” that this verse promises?  It may sound callus, but I don’t think it is.

If I am completely sold out for Christ and doing everything in my power for Him, I can’t imagine that I would be concerned with whether or not I get a promotion.  I won’t spend any time thinking about my feelings being hurt or my pride taking a hit. 

If I am living for God, my “good” will become more and more like His good.  I will want His will to be done and His love to prevail, no matter what impact it has on my life.  Selflessness means that my “good” is based on His plan and my plan no longer matters.

I hope I can someday get to that point.  What about you?  What is your “good”?

 
One day in our Sunday school class, we challenged our students to name the Ten Commandments without looking them up.  It was a challenging task.  Even with the help of the adults, it took us a few minutes to recall all ten of them.  Luckily, thanks to what the kids are calling the internet, we can look them up whenever we want.  All we have to do is search for Exodus chapter 20.

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:2-17 NIV)

As you may remember, however, there came a time when Moses got mad and broke the tablets on which these commands were written.  So he went back up on the mountain, and God made him another copy.  And what was in that edition?  Check out this excerpt from chapter 34.

Then the Lord said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.  Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.  Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.   Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.  And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.

“Do not make any idols.

“Celebrate the Festival of Unleavened Bread. For seven days eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv, for in that month you came out of Egypt.

“The first offspring of every womb belongs to me, including all the firstborn males of your livestock, whether from herd or flock.  Redeem the firstborn donkey with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, break its neck. Redeem all your firstborn sons.

“No one is to appear before me empty-handed.

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

"Celebrate the Festival of Weeks with the firstfruits of the wheat harvest, and the Festival of Ingathering at the turn of the year.  Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign Lord, the God of Israel.  I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God.

“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with anything containing yeast, and do not let any of the sacrifice from the Passover Festival remain until morning.

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.

“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.:  Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 34:10-28 NIV)

So…what are the Ten Commandments again?

Obviously, the rest of the Old Testament supports the list found in chapter 20.  And that list definitely makes more sense if God is giving us a set of ten fundamental rules.  But this is interesting, right? 

Are there any other head-scratchers in the Bible that you have stumbled upon?

 
How smart are you?  Come on, give yourself a little credit.  Modesty is a fantastic trait, but I think we all believe that we are pretty intelligent.  At least, I know I am.  (Insert laugh track here.)

Regardless of how intelligent you think you are, I think we can all agree that it is always a good idea to be surrounded by smart people.  If you are looking for advice, or fresh ideas, or just help with a project, it’s great to have people around you that can support and contribute to your productivity.

As legend has it, and by legend I mean the Bible, Solomon was the wisest man that has ever lived.  God gave him wisdom because that is what he asked for.  Yet, the Bible also tells us that Solomon surrounded himself with trusted advisors.  He had people that he trusted to give solid advice and input.  Even the smartest guy alive sought wise counsel.  You’d have to think this was an all-star team of advisors, right?

After Solomon passed away, his “cabinet” stayed around to help the new king, Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.  Talk about a setup for success.  That’s like being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1995.  There is very little you can do to screw things up.  However, Rehaboam found a way.

When confronted with his first issue about the labor requirements of the people of Israel, Rehaboam tried to figure out whether to make the burden lighter on the workers, or to push them harder.  He sought counsel from Solomon’s advisors, and also asked his friends for help.  After three days of deliberation, he opted to listen to his contemporaries and make life harder on the labor force.

And to this day the northern tribes of Israel have refused to be ruled by a descendant of David.  (2 Chronicles 10:19 NLT)

Rehaboam’s inability to listen to wise counsel led to great dissention, and ultimately destruction, of the Israel that David built.

I know that you and I not necessarily rulers of nations, but our decisions do affect people.  Our choices have an impact on the lives of others.  That impact has both immediate and eternal implications, and should be taken very seriously.

Thankfully, we have the opportunity to surround ourselves with Godly, wise, prayerful individuals.  We can choose to take advice from those that have more experience, can see the bigger picture, or have a stronger leading from the Holy Spirit.  We have a chance to be smarter than we are by simply allowing others to play a role in our decision making.

We all play our own parts, and serve in individual roles in the body of Christ.  But let’s make sure that we utilize the other parts as well. 

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  (1 Corinthians 12:26-27 NLT)

 
It’s odd to feel speechless with so many thoughts running through your head.  Please keep in mind that this was written on Friday, the day of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  I admit that I have become unfortunately numb to these kinds of things.  They are always painful, always tragic.  But the frequency of these events have somehow taken a bit of the sting away.

It may be the fact that my son will be in an elementary school next year, but this one stings a lot.  I cannot even look at the pictures of the families of the victims.  I feel sorrow.  I feel grief.  But most of all, I feel angry.

I feel anger on behalf of the victims.  I feel anger for their families.  Yet, as I look for a place to direct my anger, I keep coming back to…me.

No, I am not blaming myself for this event.  I am not saying that I have helped shift our culture to a place where these things happen.  But what have I done to change it?  What have I done to influence the culture in another direction?

I spend about 1/4 of my time at work.  I spend about 1/3 on sleep.  That’s about 7/12 of my week.  That leaves almost half of my time that I should be using to change the world by introducing people to my God.  It is my job to show people who Jesus is. 

But if I really spent half of my time doing that, don’t you think I might even make a small impact on the world?  Perhaps I could love somebody enough to influence them to raise their children in church, and twenty years down the road a situation like this may be adverted.  That 30 hours of adoption training standing between me and taking in an orphan may not look so bad when I think about how it may impact his/her future actions.

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27 NLT)

Maybe I am just rambling or maybe there is a point here, I honestly don’t know.  I do know that I should be doing more.  More to love strangers.  More to take care of God’s people.  More to spread the gospel.  More to be like Christ.

In the meantime, though, I am going to go and hug my children.  I am going to pray for everyone involved and affected by the situation in Connecticut.  And I am going to invite God to yell at me for not doing more.  Feel free to join me in all of these efforts.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV)

 
Everything you read about the holiday season is that it should be a joyful time, full of love, rainbows, and puppies.  You aren’t supposed to be sad or upset during this time, or you’ll ruin the fun for everyone.  (Note:  By holiday season, I mean the span of time that contains Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Don’t get all judgey on me.)

I hope I am not the first person to tell you that this is not true.  The pressure to be happy during this season is false and sometimes it can make your circumstances more painful.  Perhaps this is your first Thanksgiving without a loved one that passed away.  Maybe this will be your first Christmas without getting to see family that moved away. 

There is a chance that you may not feel at all like celebrating this holiday season, and that is okay.  It may be that, instead of looking to share joy with everyone, you’d just like a hint of peace.  But how do you find peace when things seem so hard?  Paul gives us a pretty clear explanation on how to begin the process here in his letter to the Colossians.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17 NIV)

We often think of peace as a passive act, or even the lack of an action at all.  That makes it easy for us to read this passage and totally miss the power of peace that Paul is talking about.  He says that the peace of Christ should rule our hearts.  He doesn’t say that peace should camp out in our hearts or occasionally visit our souls, but it should take control of and command our every word and action.

Fortunately, he also gives insight on how to give way to peace so that it may stand a chance in our hearts that have a tendency to be selfish and full of worry.  In order to allow the peace of Jesus Christ to rule our hearts, we must continually soak in His word and His spirit.  Verse 16 says that we should let His word dwell in us richly, as we teach, spend time in discussion and fellowship, and sing songs of praise.  If we truly put our hearts into these things, and do them solely for the glory of God, then our hearts will be open to the peace that comes with knowing that God is in control.

As soon as we allow the Lord to take the lead in every aspect of our lives, we will spend much more time giving thanks to Him and will spend much less time dwelling on our pain.  Who ever thought that letting go of controlling your own life would be such a peaceful thing?  The Apostle Paul did.  Let’s follow his lead as we go throughout this holiday season.
 
There are names throughout history that are synonymous with leadership.  As you look deeper into their stories, you quickly see that every great leader in history had a fantastic supporting cast.  Jesus had His disciples.  Every great monarch had loyal counsel and every great American president has had a strong cabinet.  Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson.  And Gladys Knight had the Pips.

Even in the Bible, we see that the leaders God put in charge had great people behind them.  Let’s take a look at David.  He had Joab, a valiant warrior, as the commander of his army.  He also had what the Bible refers to as David’s Mighty Men.  Some passages refer to three specific individuals in this group, while others reference a group of 30+ individuals.  Regardless, this group is given a great deal of credit for David’s military success.

What made these Mighty Men so special?  What role did they play in God’s plan for David to rule over His people?

Scripture is clear that these men were fierce warriors.  They were willing to take the battle into places where others would not have the courage to go.  They were prepared to fight those that their comrades wouldn’t dare go near.  They were fearless in their efforts to spread David’s kingdom.

There is no doubt that they got the job done.  David’s kingdom was very blessed by God, and the efforts of these Mighty Men were great contributors to that.  So how can we be Mighty Men today?  How can we fulfill our roles in the body of Christ and be the perfect supporting cast to continue Jesus’ ministry?  As it turns out, our task is that not much different than theirs.

To be Mighty Men today, we must be prayer warriors.  We must be willing to take the gospel into places where others would not have the courage to go.  We must be prepared to love those that our comrades wouldn’t dare go near.  We must be fearless in our efforts to spread God’s Kingdom.

What this world needs is a few Mighty Men (and Women) that are prepared to follow Christ fearlessly and selflessly.  Are you up to the challenge?

 
Thank God for smart phones.  You see, I have a short term memory on par with that of…something with a very short term memory.  This has probably caused 75% of the disagreements in my marriage, as I immediately forget almost anything I hear unless I make it a priority to remember.  I regularly ignore favors, chores, and errands simply because I don’t remember them.

But thanks to modern technology, I have apps on my phone that allow me to create a “to-do list.”  And not only can I keep a list, but I can set it up to remind me at a particular time that I need to do or remember something.  As long as I am diligent about putting these reminders in my phone, I am sure to minimize my detrimental forgetfulness.

In that way, I guess my phone is kind of like a rainbow.  Everyone always says that God gave us rainbows to remind us of His promise that He will never flood the earth again.  We look at it as a symbol of our relationship with Him, and of His covenant with us.  We love rainbows, so let’s take a look at what the Bible says about them.

Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come.  I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth.  When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds, and I will remember my covenant with you and with all living creatures. Never again will the floodwaters destroy all life.  When I see the rainbow in the clouds, I will remember the eternal covenant between God and every living creature on earth.” (Genesis 9:12-16 NLT)

Awww…isn’t that sweet?  Wait…hold on.  That isn’t the way that I remember the story being told to me as a kid.  While the rainbow is, indeed, a sign of God’s promise not to flood the earth again, it seems like it is not necessarily meant as a reminder for us.  According to the passage, rainbows serve as a reminder to God not to destroy us.  Apparently God needs to be reminded not to kill us.  I think that makes me appreciate rainbows even more.

I find it amazing and disturbing that the stories we tell from of the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, have been so distorted from the original text.  This is only a small example, but there are so many passages throughout scripture that we misquote, misinterpret, or completely ignore due to what we have been told by other Christians.  While we should trust each other and share our spiritual experiences with one another, these constant Biblical misunderstandings make it so important that we question each other and ultimately get our information straight from the source.

So the next time you catch yourself gazing at a beautiful rainbow, thanking God for His grace, take a moment to reflect on the Biblical origin of the rainbow.  Then pray that God sees it.

 
I am a pretty sarcastic person.  I find it to be a very worthwhile humor venture, and I have gotten to the point where it is a natural part of my daily banter.  However, I have been trying to dial it back lately, especially after I realized that other peoples’ opinions of me are important.  And just when I feel that I am getting a grip on my sarcastic tendencies, I run into sarcasm in the one place that I never expected…the Bible.

I am currently reading through the book of 2 Kings in my daily quiet time, and there comes a point every day when I am offended by sarcasm.  It comes in different forms of the same phrase, and it started way back in the beginning of 1 Kings.  I laughed the first time I read it, but I am to the point now where I consider skipping over it to avoid frustration.

As you may know, the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings cover the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah.  There are some pretty cool stories of prophets and war in there, as well as the construction of the temple in Jerusalem.  But it all boils down to who was king, for how long, whether or not they obeyed God, and how they died.  And at the end of every king's story comes a variation of the phrase, “As for all the other events of “king so and so ’s” reign, and what he did, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?” (NIV)

I realize that not all translations put the phrase that way.  However, the fact that it is presented as a question and it is asked in that way, I find it to be incredibly sarcastic.  Every time I read it, I feel like the author is mocking me and insulting my intelligence.  It’s like he is saying, “Can’t you read?  It’s over in Chronicles, man.  Geez!”

Of course, I am being a bit facetious in saying that the author was being purposefully sarcastic.  However, that was my actual reaction to the phrase when I first read it (and pretty much every time after that).  I am really looking forward to reading the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles so I can look back at this phrase and say, “Yes, it is in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.  I read about it…in a book.”

Are there any passages of scripture that you find to be troubling or distracting just by the way they are written?

 
Last night, we talked to our youth group about planning for the future.  Of course, the problem with looking to the future is that there are so many uncertainties.  In fact, the next day or even the next hour is not guaranteed.  Only God knows what is going to happen next, and that it is important for us to remember as we look to our own futures. 

That also got me thinking about prophecy.  If we have prophecies about our future, then don’t we know at least a little bit about the future?  Aren’t some things guaranteed?  For example, the movie Back to the Future 2 tells us that there will be flying cars and hover boards available in 2015 in addition to the fact that the Chicago Cubs will be a World Series contender.  That’s all starting to take shape, right?

And what about Biblical prophecies?  First, let’s talk about the ones in the Old Testament.  There are so many that we are able to see come true throughout those passages.  There are also many prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  But if you pay close attention to the stories about Jesus, it does not seem like many people were expecting the Christ to act as He did. 

It seems like they expected a warrior on a white horse coming to rescue them from the Romans.  They were not looking for a Savior that spent most of His time with sinners, teaching and loving on people.  They did not expect to see the Messiah die on a cross.  However, in retrospect, He was the perfect representation of what we all needed (and still need) and He satisfied every last one of the prophecies.

We also have prophecies in the New Testament.  Jesus talked about the coming of the Holy Spirit, which we were able to see come to fruition in the book of Acts.  We are also told that He is coming back.  And in the book of Revelation, we get many stories and details about how creation will transition from its current state to the new heaven and the new earth.

To us, these images often seem far-fetched and are hard for us to grasp.  Some of them, in fact, are fairly terrifying.  There are many, many interpretations of what these prophecies actually mean and how they will play out.  There are novels, movies, and various other representations of what we believe this transition will look like.

However, I can’t help but to think that we are all off-base.  If our first century religious scholars were so far off in what to look for in a Messiah, what makes us think we are any better at figuring out how to predict how the end of times will play out?  I have a feeling that, one day, we will all look around and say, “Oh…wait.  That is what John meant when he wrote the book of Revelation.  It all makes so much sense now.”

So how about this?  Let’s stop trying to decipher code and figure out these metaphorical puzzles.  It will do none of us any good.  After all, Jesus tells us not to worry about these things.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.  (Matthew 6:34 NLT)

So let's all focus on today.  Get out there and love somebody.  I guarantee that it will be the best thing you can do with your time.

 
How do you view your relationship with Christ?  Do you see it as a one on one relationship?  Do you buy into the “all I need is Jesus” philosophy?  Of course everyone has the right to their own opinion, but I would like to contest that in order to thrive in your personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you need to be supported by a strong group of believers. 

Think about it.  Even Jesus surrounded himself with 12 individuals He knew He could count on.  If Jesus needed friends to help His ministry succeed, do you really think you can do it alone?

Of course, church is a fantastic place to get support, advice, encouragement, and help with many issues that you face.  It is vital that you are plugged-in to a church family to help you in your walk with Christ. However, that may not be enough.  Most of us are only at church 2-3 days per week, max. 

Who is there to support you the rest of the time?  Who is there for you at school, at work, or even at home?  You need a group of friends around you that love God and want to not only see you happy, but to see you growing closer to your Savior. 

Your friends can be there any time you need them.  They will be there to hold you accountable during tempting situations.  They will be able to tell when you need support or encouragement.  They should be continually praying for you.  And you should be doing all of these things for them. 

Being encouraged, supported, remembered in prayer, and held accountable are essential to your growth as a Christian.  Yet, Jesus tells us that we should take our friendships even further. 

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13 NLT)

It is obvious that God wants us to be involved in very close and personal friendships that can help us come closer to Him.  Do you have friends that would give their lives for you? Jesus obviously thinks you should.  After all, He set the ultimate example of this by dying on the cross for us…for you. 

Are you that kind of friend?