Our Lives Are Like Renovated Houses

The family that I work for will be moving into a new home in just a few days.  The house is a place they’ve lived in for about fifteen years.  There has been vision, there has been planning and salvaging for parts and pieces and frustration and excitement and more planning.  I don’t see how the working mom and dad are doing it, frankly.  I just show up and take care of the kids–but it is getting done.
After about four months of a steady stream of contractors, project managers, drywall installers, electricians, plumbers, tile-people, cabinet guy, it’s all starting to come together.  Yes, they are moving back home in a week…and from the outside, aside from the lawn being smashed by the constant traffic of work vans and trucks and a giant dumpster holding pieces of all the old walls, toilets, tile, etc. permanently parked in their driveway, it looks exactly the same.  Standing in the front yard, it looks like absolutely nothing has change, the only difference from the outside is a bumped out back end of the house, which has added two bedrooms and a master bathroom.
I stepped inside the house yesterday for the first time since construction started.

Everyone had already gone home for the day and the lady of the house took me through each room–one by one.  There were dust and plastic and paper–and kitchen appliances yet to be installed. The house was hushed, windows all open, just natural light flowing in and it was a little bit reverent–like, “This is the place that we’ve been hoping and dreaming and working toward for the last two years and this is my dream come true” kind of hushness.  Beneath the paper and plastic and dust were promise and beauty and loveliness and the smell of new.  This is the time of the excited and expectant mother getting the nursery ready, the crib made, clothing hung, painting and arranging are already complete for the arrival of this little life that’s been under construction for the last nine months.
It is with this same beauty and hushness that God transforms our lives: he takes the planning and budgeting, the demolition and the sweat-it-out hard work and the sheer exhaustion of our efforts and does something quietly.
And while our outside doesn’t look a whole lot different–sure we can make a few transformations with P90X madness and weight loss, bump out a few walls or whatever, but the bones are still there, the foundation is still there–our faith is what is still there when we are stripped and hollowed out. The reno process really, really hurts, the day in, day out of scraping and cutting is excruciating and tedious, but man, does He have a plan. 
There will be a steady flow of friends, counselors, mentors, bible teachers who will see you under construction.  They will sit there while you curse and cry and complain and they will pray for you and call you and offer sound advice.  They will push you and be patient with you, and pray for you some more, they will buoy you up with words of encouragement.
And there is rebuilding and growth and newness beginning to sprout up inside. Simply put: beauty and hope and nothing short of God–a faithful God with these amazing blueprints: stuff he’s been planning for us all along. 
Psalm 46: 1-11–God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help here at break of day.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.  “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Have Mercy On Us

A young man has been shot dead and millions of mother’s hearts break with the news and the images and we are angry and we ask why as tears well up and we bow our heads low and ask for some kind of comfort for Micahael Brown’s family, and we ask why again and our hands come up empty, because for them, it’s what was is in their hands and for us, it is what’s left in our hearts, and for this one mother in Missouri, it is now what is missing in her heart, a boy that she held and kissed and read to and fed and probably spanked and hoped, how she hoped that he would grow up to be this man who made an impact, who cared for his children, who loved his wife and would occasionally call back home.  But that was cut short by gunfire, but hate, by anger and by power and rage that was out of control.  What have we done?  What can we do? 
I don’t have a single answer.  I’m sorry.  I wish I did.
But I do know what we can do with our hearts, like the tax collector, we can hang our head low and beat our breast and we can say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
We can, like the blind man, ask, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
We can, like Zacchaeus, put down our pride and our position, do anything to see Jesus and when he sees us back, accept him into our homes, our lives.
We can ask him to change us.  We can ask him to use us.
Heavenly Father, we don’t know how to pray, except to ask for your mercy.  Hoping that this will encompass it all, the prejudice, the hate, the self-righteousness and the pride that resides in our own heart.   Give us strength to keep your greatest commandment.  Amen.
You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me. Luke 18:22

When Your BFF Goes MIA

I just wanted to spend one more day in the book of Daniel to share a couple of final thoughts–for now…

At the end of chapter 2 in the book that bears his name, Daniel is promoted to a high position–as ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed in charge of all its wise men.
And while things seem to end on a positive note, chapter 3 starts with a test:  Nebuchadnezzar is commanding everyone in his kingdom to bow down to a huge image he had made out of gold.
Reading back over the story of the three young Hebrew slaves, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego sacrificing themselves to the flames to stand up for the One True God, the overarching question I come away with is:
Where was Daniel?
You see, these three young men had been led in a mighty and courageous way by their best friend, Daniel, one, who like them, decided to set himself apart, to live differently, to lead a life worthy of the calling that God had placed upon him, but why did he suddenly disappear in chapter 3 of this book? 
Why had God removed this pillar of faith from these three young men’s lives at such a critical moment?
Sometimes, without realizing it, we make our friend’s faith our own, I think especially as teenagers and young adults when all that matters to us is the opinions of our friends, we let that override a true, personal relationship that God desires to have with each one of us.  We see Johnny or Betty or Jill’s victories and claim them as our own and we forget that God has amazing things in store for us as well. 
I love that He is a personal God, don’t you?
 He singles us out, calls us by name and makes all sorts of amazing promises to us, that are just as applicable today as they were for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, promises like this:
Isaiah 43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
You see, there are no promises in the Bible that God will exempt us from these flames, the verse says when–three times.  We are not immune to trial, heartache, struggle, and pressure. 
Why does God allow this? 
1) For His glory to be revealed in an even bigger, truer way.
2) For Him to allow Himself to speak, sometimes our world can get so cluttered, so distracted with our own self-speak that we miss what he is trying to say and what he is trying to do in a specific instance
3) For our trust to grow and grow and grow.  Jeremiah 17:8  They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
4) For our faith to become personal.  Without personal testimony, our faith becomes flabby.  We lack the sincere belief that all things are possible with God unless we’ve experienced it for ourselves. 
Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossibleto please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
God is Mighty, He is Sovereign and He is Good, my prayer for you is that He reveals himself to you in each one of these areas.
Personally, I had to face one of the biggest testings of trust in my own life without family or friends to surround me, the stakes were high, and for about 10 months, I woke up every morning and immediately put my face to the ground, asking God for his help and strength. 
God showed up in my flames and He will show up for you, too.
Have you personally been through an almost overwhelming trial like this without good friends or family to surround you?  When geography or circumstance kept you from physically having someone next to you that you knew could be your strength?  If so, how did God show himself faithful in those times when you felt like an island? 

Further Thoughts on Leadership, A Look at Daniel–Part II of II

Chapter 2 of Daniel opens up with a rather grave situation.  Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world at this time has been having dreams that made his mind troubled and kept him from sleeping.  So he summoned the “wisest” people in his kingdom: the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed.  You see, the king was a pretty smart guy, he knew that whomever could tell him what he had been dreaming could also tell him what it meant, which meant he could see right through the pleadings of his astrologers, “O king, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” Nope, said the king, and he one-ups them, saying that if they cannot tell him what he needs to hear then they will be cut into tiny little pieces and their houses destroyed.  This is when palms get a little more than sweaty and hearts starts racing–they ask once more, “Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will interpret it.”
The king is on to their game, he tells them they are stalling, knowing that they are trying to conspire and cover up their inability to help, so he stands his ground: You tell me what’s going on and I won’t kill you.
The astrologers push back, what you are asking is impossible!  (Nothing is impossible with God.) No king has ever done such a thing! No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.
The king had had enough, he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon and the decree was sent forth to do just that, which meant, too, that they had to go look for Daniel and his friends to deliver the same consequences.
Here’s where Daniel’s leadership techniques once again kick in, because when the commander of the king’s guard came to him,
1) Daniel spoke with wisdom and tact–truly friends, if there was one gift I could have more than anything else, it would be just this, and where did this wisdom and tact come from?  God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
2) At this, Daniel went in to the king and asked for time–there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for time to consider a matter.  Satan wants knee-jerk reactions, he wants anger and he looooves when we try to seek our own methods of making a situation “fair.” Daniel needed time to think and most importantly:
3) To Pray.  And ask his friends to pray–And these weren’t just any old prayers, Daniel 2: 18 says “He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon.
What Happened? 
During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then,
4) Daniel praised the God of heaven when his prayers were answered
After this, Daniel approaches Arioch, whom the king had appointed as executioner and–
5) Pleads on behalf of all the wise men of Babylon and explains to Arioch that he can interpret the dream.  Arioch takes Daniel to the king and the king asks him, are you able to interpret the dream? 
6) Daniel ensures that credit is given where credit is due: v. 28: There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries (Hallelujah!!)  He (he, HE) has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come.  Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these…Daniel proceeds to tell the King his dream.
Daniel continues to the credit giving as he proceeds with the interpretation: vs. 36 “This was the dream, and now we will interpret it to the king. “
After Daniel fully explains both the vision of the multi-faceted statue and it’s demise and how this represents Nebuchadnezzar’s reign and those of the kingdoms that follow, Daniel continues in the same vein, saying, v.45c “The great God has shown the king what will take place in the future.  The dream is true and the interpretation is trustworthy.” 
The king falls prostrate before Daniel, assigning him honor and gives an offering and incense of his behalf.  He finally acknowledges,  “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a realer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.  He placed Daniel in a high position, making him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men…at Daniel’s request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained a the royal court.
As a leader, it is imperative that you never, ever forget two things: #1 the people behind you #2 the God above you.  Daniel could have leveraged his God-given talent of dream interpretation to not only elevate himself, but to conveniently forget the rest of the wise men in the kingdom who were marked for execution.  Daniel was merciful, he was compassionate and he desired to do the right thing.  Secondly, over and over again, Daniel NEVER forgot, nor did he cease to acknowledge before men that the ONE TRUE GOD was responsible for these miraculous feats, again and again, he gave credit to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for talents and abilities that really could only have been sent by an omnipotent Creator. 

Further Thoughts on Leadership, A Look at Daniel–Part I of II

A few posts ago, I touched on some thoughts of biblical leadership, how God prepares us for this role, what he does to equip us, particularly in the context of Moses’ story.  And try as I might to come away from this subject, God’s brought me back to the same place, looking at leadership through the lens of Daniel…

But before I get into the meat (ha!) of this message, let me give just a little bit of background: Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem and besieged it, he carried off  treasure from the temple of God to his god’s temples and basically everyone in this kingdom came under his control.  He ordered his chief officials to find the best of the best among the young people in this new kingdom, those young men who looked good, were smart, had an aptitude for learning and could serve in his kingdom.  They were to be trained for three years and after that, were to enter into the service. Daniel is just a young man, a Jew, under the control of man with a mighty kingdom, and yet he is set apart: 
1) Being a leader oftentimes means starting in the hard places:
For Daniel, this meant literal captivity, sure he had been chosen out for his physical appearance and aptitude, but this would be for a kingdom that valued the opposite of what the Jewish people did.

2) Being a leader starts with resolve:
Once these young people had been set apart for the king’s service, the were to be given the king’s food, but Daniel had something different in mind. Daniel 1:8 “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”

3) Being a leader mean having a plan:
Daniel 1:8b “He asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.”

4) Being a leader means being different:
It really would have been so much easier to go along with orders, just eat the king’s royal, awesome, tasty food, food that he had fed to his other strong youths in training and that were making them thrive…why cause such a stink?
What were the results of Daniel’s character, resolution, plan and courage to stand out?
God showed up.  vs. 15 At the end of the ten days they (Daniel and his friends) looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food.
When man takes away, God gives
vs. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.  To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.  And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
And He gives Big:
vs. 17 In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in the whole kingdom.
Whether you’re a parent, a student, a business executive, or someone who might label themselves as “just clocking in,” you are a leader.  Stand up, stand out and God is going to show up Big.

More on Daniel to come.