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The cities of refuge have to be one of the most intriguing things to me in the Old Testament. God commanded his people as they were establishing themselves in the promised land by tribe to each have a city of refuge outside the parameters of the city.
These cities were to be a place for people who had killed another to escape. It was not a place to go be innocent and free of guilt. It was a place of protection. Why protect the murderer? These places were for them to escape those who avenge the victims. It was God’s justice. Wait, what?
God knows our revenge is always more emblazened and severe. God protects from unequal severity of revenge. The murderer, though in refuge, remains under judgement for his wrong. That is until the acting priest dies. (ps, another interesting reality is that the cities of refuge were always maintained by the priestly tribe. The mission of the cities of refuge should be the mission of pastors, ministers, and followers of Jesus.) Like us, they were under judgement until our High Priest died to free us from under the burden of judgement.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a ministry to my neighborhood (Oak Park/Tahoe Park). The ministry is called, City of Refuge Sacramento. While it is not a hiding place for murders, it is a place to reach into a community to which high crime and poverty is attributed. It is a ministry which attempts to infiltrate in community to make efforts toward this freedom out from under the burden of the judgement.
The founder of an organization rescuing girls from human trafficking was asked in an interview if he was really making a difference. When for every girl rescued traffickers are still ensnaring more girls. The founder replied that he was unqualified to answer that question. The radio host, irritated, did not understand how the founder of organization like this could be unqualified to answer that question. The founder replied, you will have to ask one of the girls we have rescued if we are making a difference.
I will spare you the starfish illustration most of you have heard too many times while still giving you the reminder my heart has needed recently.
Do not allow the weight of difference needed in the world to paralyze you from making a difference somewhere for someone today.
Upon reflecting on any regrets he had, Billy Graham said, “Every day I was absent from my family is gone forever.”
While we realize physical absence certainly has an affect, I am thinking today of the realities of emotional absence. As a pastor and leader, you are expected to be on-call and at the ready at all times. You are to be fully available for everyone at all times, and we too often justify this as “the life of ministry”.
Pastors, ministry leaders, those days you are absent (both physically and emotionally) are gone forever. [TWEET THAT]
Look at the ministry you have and realize that everything you do can be done or shared by someone else. Only you can be husband to your wife (or wife to your husband). Only you can be mom or dad to your kids.
I am trying to challenge myself to lose less and less days forever.
I need constant reminders of God’s upside-down kingdom. Even I, a selfish man, oddly enjoy being reminded of God’s kingdom, which strengthens the stumbler and breaks down the warrior. There is still a weaker side of me, which is relieved to know a God who lifts the poor and needy from the ash heap and hurls them into TBN-like chairs of gold like princes. Being reminded of that kind of kingdom with God’s kind of justice makes me want to be needy. Because God sends poverty and wealth . He humbles and exalts. But he exalts the poor and humbles and breaks the wealthy and self-righteous.
God’s kingdom lifts up the poor and breaks down the wealthy and self-righteous. I can only pray that God may break me down where needed, that I may be poor and lifted up some day.
1 Samuel 2:4-5, 7, 9
“The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with
Those who were full hire themselves out for
but those who were hungry hunger no more.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
It is not by strength that one prevails.
In Matthew 20, Jesus asks some blind men, “What do you want me to do for you?” Why would Jesus ask them this? I mean one, we know that Jesus is all-knowing. He knows what they need. But two, come on, anybody walking by would know what these men need. They’re freaking blind! It is obvious that these men want and need their sight. EVEN I CAN SEE THAT! (see what I did there)
Of course a study and reflection of the passage lets us see Jesus want to be asked. He wants to be desired. We can study forever the reasons Jesus would actually ask what these men want him to do. Jesus did that all the time.
The challenge is trying to see myself in this passage. As a disciple, what would I have done? Would I have seen the need? Yes it is blatant and obvious, but would I have really seen the need? I mean really?
I am a Christian who desires to serve, to have compassion and serve, but will I notice the needs around me? I mean they are blatant…just as blatant as two blind men, but I don’t serve the needs around me. I don’t even serve the blatant needs. Should I be asking, “What is it you want me to do for you?” I don’t know. I mean there are blatant obvious needs around me, but OBVIOUSLY I don’t see them.
Is it that I do not really see them? I do not have my eyes and ears open to actually see those needs around me. I have to be attentive to the needs around me. They are not always so blatant as a blind man asking for sight (lucky Jesus). Sometimes it is nearly a need for respect and compassion…someone to listen…heck…someone to smile. Am I really so clueless to miss an opportunity to smile for someone who may really need it? Probably!
Now if I miss THAT, how many other chances will I miss? I need to be more attentive. After being attentive I have to be willing to be interrupted. What is the point in being attentive to people’s needs around me if I’m not willing to STOP!
I have to open my eyes, my ears, my heart to see and notice the obvious needs around me, and then free myself to be interrupted and STOPPED for those needs around me.
I love the Church but most congregations aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. But hey, I guess I’ll never find that perfect church. It seems that every church I go to…I’m there. Bunch of sinners! Hmph! It seems every time I go to church, I’m just another one of the sinners….. Wait! Thats fantastic! I really do love the church. I really do love most congregations…bunch of sinners! GREAT!
“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” -Galatians 5:17
There is a common reflection and understanding in our culture that if something feels or seems natural, it must be right.
A few problems arise here. First, some things only feel natural when they are not, in fact, natural. Some of these things might be unnatural and we want to believe they are. So we disregard what really might be true. Other things we have to realize disorders for what they really are. Our brains and hearts can be very deceptive.
On another hand, just because something may be natural does not make it okay or even best for us. I crave a lot of things that are not good for me, but my cravings are natural reactions in me for pleasurable things.
But finally, there is the understanding that our flesh, which is our natural state, is at war within us against the Spirit. Living my life lead by the Spirit is going to oppose all the natural cravings within me. When compared to the pursuit of the Holy Spirit life, we come realize why and how everything else is so much LESSER.
Those natural things inside us oppose the Spirit within us, and moment by moment we choose which to do. Those cravings are more powerful than we give credit. When we disregard how powerful those cravings are, we will likely begin following them naturally, and in so doing, have already begun opposing the Spirit within us. Those are the moments we get discouraged and wonder why or how we have come to do things we do not want to do.
Our cravings are strong, and they may even be natural, but they oppose the Spirit in us. We have to want the Spirit more than what feels natural.
* yes that is a donut burger up there