No vacancy

Luke 2:6-7  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 

Imagine you are on a road trip. You have driven all day and it is now late in the evening.  You find yourself exhausted and in the middle of nowhere.  After persevering at the wheel beyond what you thought was capable, you arrive at a small town.  There is one gas station, one small store, and one motel.  You are too tired to get excited, but a feeling of relief comes over you when you pull up to the little motel.  You rub your eyes, get out of the car, and walk to the front entrance.  Then you see it: the sign.  It says “no vacancy.”  Noooooooooo!

I wonder if this is how Joseph and Mary felt that night.  They had traveled a long distance when they arrived at Bethlehem.  The donkey ride practically sent Mary into labor and she was ready for a nice warm place to welcome her baby into the world.  But the motel had the “no vacancy” sign up.  There was no room for her.  There was no room for her baby.  There was no room for Jesus.

I wonder what it’s like for Jesus to tirelessly pursue humanity only to find the “no vacancy” sign hanging on their hearts?  It must be frustrating.  It must be difficult to stand at the door and knock only to be shown the sign… especially because it isn’t due to lack of rooms.  The problem is that there are too many other occupants.  They have greed staying the night, along with his friends idolatry and materialism.  Lust is staying on the second floor next door to bitterness.  Room after room is full and there is no room for Jesus.

What is the state of your heart?  Have you made room for him today?  Will you tell bitterness it is time to go so that Jesus can bring his friend forgiveness in to stay in that room?  Will you kick lust out so love can move in?    Ask him today where you have put up the “no vacancy” sign and invite him to come in to stay.

It is up to me

Luke 1:16-17 16 Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

What a life calling John the Baptist had!  Well, his name was actually just John… he wasn’t born a Baptist.  He would walk straight into his calling, however, without reservation.  He was called to a world that was running in its own direction.  He was called to a people who had a view of God that was messed up.  He was called to fathers who had lost hope in their children and children who had lost hope in their fathers.  His job: to get people ready to accept Jesus.  He was even equipped for it by the power of the Holy Spirit at conception.  This was his destiny and he fully embraced it.

As a follower of Christ, it is my destiny also.  I am called to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.  I must work to change their minds about who they think God is.  It is my job to demonstrate that God is love and not just judgment.  It is up to me to turn the hearts of fathers to their children.  It is up to me to be different than the world expects.  It is up to me to be more like Christ.  Yes, it is up to me.

It is up to you, too. 

It’s going to cost you

2 Samuel 24:21-24  21 Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” “To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.” 22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23 O king, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 24 But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them.

Nothing in life worth anything is free, is it?  That free service you signed up for has a catch.  That free food tastes like, um, not food.  That free trial program just billed $19.95 to your credit card.  Check the fine print, people.  Free has an ulterior motive.  But we like free – it is enticing and it is easy.  Free doesn’t cause us any pain; it doesn’t cost.  Relationships aren’t free either.  Sacrifice, compromise, and time are all a part of relationships.  You have to give something of yourself to have a great relationship.  That isn’t a bad thing, it just costs you something.

“I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”  This reminds me of the story Jesus told about the widow who gave her last coin to the Lord.  He compared her to those with great wealth who gave more in quantity.  But they gave out of their excess; it didn’t cost them all that much.  For the widow, it cost her everything.   And David understood this heart approach to God.  He was at a place of repentance and he wanted to get right with God.  He knew that if someone just provided all the stuff for his sacrifice, it would be too easy.  He needed to feel the pain of loss.  He wanted to let God know how truly sorry he was.  So he insisted on paying something.

As much as I don’t like saying it, walking with God is going to cost me something.  It is going to require my time as I sacrifice to make time with Him.  It is going to cost money as I commit not only to responding to Him in obedience by tithing, but by being His very hands and feet and giving to the poor and needy.  It will certainly come out of my lack, for I have no overflow… neither of time or money.  It will cost me my flesh, too.  It will cause me to give up my selfishness and pursue His thoughts about my day.  It will require that I put Him first and me last.  But it’s all worth it.  Like David, I don’t want God to just get what is left over in my life; I want to give Him my best.  Even if it costs me my comfort.

Did I do that?

2 Samuel 23:2 “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.”

Remember Steve Urkel?  The poor kid sure blew it a lot.  His famous line was, “did I do that?”  He broke stuff and said stuff that he probably wished he could do over.  Sometimes I wish I could have a do-over… especially in my conversations.  At times, I wish I would have been more compassionate or more bold or more gracious.  This darn tongue of mine seems to have a mind of its own!  I’m not going to beat myself over it, but I want to do something about it.  At the end of David’s life, he said these words: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.”  Can I say that?

Let me tell you what happens when a question like that is posed.  The first thing we do is think about our failures.  I’m sure David failed.  He certainly said some things that weren’t the Lord’s word speaking through him.  He may have said some things that misrepresented God.  Even if he didn’t, he surely he said things like, “I have to go to the bathroom.”  What I am getting at is that we should be be striving to have the Word of the Lord on our tongue at all times but not to overspiritualize it. We should be striving to have the Spirit of the Lord speak through us, without getting caught in the perfection trap.

It isn’t about performance anyway; it’s about pursuit.  If we would just pursue Him with our whole lives we would find His words on our tongue.  He asks us to give Him our thoughts, our sins, our dreams, and our plans.  In exchange He gives us His thoughts, His righteousness, His dreams, and His plans.  That’s what I want!  I want all that He has to offer.  I want to say of my life that the Spirit of the Lord spoke through me – not just every once in a while, I want to be defined by that.  When others hear me speak, I want God’s heart to come out, not mine.  When others see my actions, I want them to see the hands and feet of Jesus.  It will require effort, but it can’t happen through my effort alone.  It will happen as I pursue Him, surrender my life, and allow His Spirit to live in me and through me.  Bring it on today, Lord.  I want all of YOU!

Baywatch Jesus

2 Samuel 22:17-18    “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.  He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. 

Ever feel like what you are up against is just too strong? Maybe it is an obstacle, or a work situation, or even a temptation.  At times you feel powerless to do anything about it.  You give in, give out, and give up.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  You serve a God who is so much stronger than the storm you are facing.

In 2 Samuel 22, David paints us a picture of what God does when we call to Him for help.  Imagine swimming out in the ocean, when you find yourself out farther than you want to be.  The current starts pulling on you and you realize you are no longer in control.  You fight to swim to shore, but the waves keep pulling you out.  You begin to panic and start to lose energy.  The ocean is just too strong.  You cry out for help at the top of your weary lungs hoping against all odds that someone will hear you and come to your aid.  Out of nowhere, a hand reaches out to you.   It carries you against the current and through the crashing waves and brings you to dry land.  When you look up, you see him: your rescuer… maybe he’s even wearing red shorts.  It’s like Baywatch Jesus.

I love this picture (not the red shorts part), because David so aptly shows us the picture of a rescuing God.  When we are about to be swallowed up, He reaches down and pulls us out.  When the enemy comes pressing in, Jesus steps in.  When the hardships of life feel like they are too strong, we have a savior who is stronger!  Like David, I praise Him today.  Like David, I turn to Him in my time of need.  When I feel weak, I cry out for help and He is there.  When temptation comes, I don’t have to drown – I can call on my Baywatch Jesus to pull me out.

One big happy family

2 Samuel 21:1  During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”  

Warning: There are 2 big takeaways today.  Yes, in this one little verse there are two profound truths we can discover.  So bear with me as I tackle them both.

Up first: I wonder what took David so long to ask God what was going on.  Do you ever do this?  Israel had some serious lack for three straight years when David finally decides to ask God what is going on.  I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself.  I remember one year as I was planning a summer outreach, the other leaders and I would regularly meet to plan out the details.  We would talk for two hours and accomplish nothing.  Then one of us would say, “maybe we should stop and ask God what we are to do.”  It was a giant, NO DUH!  So we prayed and God showed us the plan.   Why are we humans like this?  We struggle on our own for far too long before we ask God for His help.  If we would just ask God why there is a famine in the land sooner, maybe we wouldn’t have to endure it for three years.

The second part of this verse gives us a good dose of Godly truth as well.  Let me paint a picture for you.  Let’s say that in the church there were two types of Christians: those who grew up in Christian homes and those who did not.  We will call these two groups the “lifers” and the “latecomers.”   Now what if the lifers decided that they were superior to the latecomers.  They had been saved longer and didn’t really care for inexperienced Christians.  (Boy, I hope this doesn’t really happen anywhere!)  So the lifers decide to form their own little subgroup that only lifers are welcome to.  The latecomers don’t belong and considered second-class citizens.  What are your thoughts on that?

That would be a shame, wouldn’t it?  That would defeat the purpose of the church; it would be contrary to the heart of God.  But Saul committed a similar crime – he killed Gibeonites.  Who are the Gibeonites, you ask?  They are a people group who the Israelites made a treaty with in the book of Joshua.  They weren’t born the people of God, but they were brought into the nation of Israel and were given the privilege of serving the Lord.  They essentially became one big happy family.  You see, once God adopts someone in – He doesn’t plan on kicking them back out.  Once He promises protection, He doesn’t throw them to the wolves.  Saul violated God’s heart by killing those who seemed less important to God.  He misread God’s heart and passed judgement that wasn’t his to pass.  Let’s not do the same.

You can run, but you can’t hide

2 Samuel 20:20-22 20 “Far be it from me!” Joab replied, “Far be it from me to swallow up or destroy! 21 That is not the case. A man named Sheba son of Bicri, from the hill country of Ephraim, has lifted up his hand against the king, against David. Hand over this one man, and I’ll withdraw from the city.” The woman said to Joab, “His head will be thrown to you from the wall.” 22 Then the woman went to all the people with her wise advice, and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bicri and threw it to Joab. So he sounded the trumpet, and his men dispersed from the city, each returning to his home. And Joab went back to the king in Jerusalem.

Remember when you were a kid and you played hide n seek?  I do.  Sometimes you could find a really good hiding space.  I can still remember some of the best places to hide in my parent’s house.  But there were some pretty lousy hiding spots too.  These were mostly taken by rookie hide n seekers.  Doesn’t everyone know to look under the kitchen table?  It’s just obvious.

Enough about hide n seek; let’s talk about Sheba.  He chose a pretty lousy hiding spot, too.  He tried messing with the king and then ran away and hid in a village.  But a woman of that village was loyal to the king and had his head cut off.  This is the problem with hiding from justice; it just doesn’t work.  There is no good hiding spot, because God happens to be able to see and know all things.  Hiding from Him is quite ineffective.

I wonder what would have happened if Sheba had asked to repent to the king?  I wonder if the outcome would have been different if he embraced surrender, repentance, and service.  What if he would have committed to serving the king for the rest of his life?  We have the same opportunity.  Because we are guilty, justice will find us… and it will affect us both in this life and the life to come.  But we don’t have to run away.  Instead, we can embrace surrender to the King.  Instead, we can let repentance be the cry of our heart.  And we can choose to serve the King with our whole lives.  This is the path to freedom.  It is the path of humbly running to the King rather than foolishly thinking we can run away and hide.

Pull your head out

2 Samuel 19:1-7  1 Joab was told, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2 And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. 4 The king covered his face and cried aloud, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. 6 You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. 7 Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come upon you from your youth till now.”

Joab is a pretty smart guy, isn’t he?  He just gets leadership, which is probably why he was put in charge of the whole army of Israel in the first place.  Today we pick up in 2 Samuel 19 where David’s son, Absalom has just been killed.  Now I can understand that David was sad about his son.  The problem is that his son just tried to steal the throne from him.  He drove his father out of the land, slept with his sort-of-wives, and lifted himself up.  But David’s men lured Absalom into a battle, in which he lost by just a hair.  Literally, his hair led to his death.

So David is understandably sad about this death.  But I can’t really get on board with him here.  Neither could Joab.  You see, David’s soldiers had just risked their own lives to restore the throne to their king.  They fought long and hard and they won.  Now their king is crying about it.  What a confusing message that must  have sent to them.  “Didn’t you want us to win, David?”   What was needed in this moment wasn’t sorrow; it was praise for those who fought.

I am so glad that Joab pulled David’s head out of the sand.  I imagine David could have carried this weight of sorrow around with him for the rest of his reign, but he had someone to tell him to knock it off.  Don’t we all need friends like that?  We get stuck in the bottomless pit of self and we need someone to pull our head out of the sand sometimes.  We need someone to tell us to get over it. I am thankful that I have people in my life that love me enough to calm me down and get me over it.  They show me what is important and what isn’t.  It doesn’t always feel good to hear it, but it certainly brings life.

Time for a haircut

2 Samuel 18:9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s head got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

“Young man, you need a haircut!”  Ever hear you mom say that to you?  I wonder if Absalom’s mom ever told him the same thing, because short hair really would have been advantageous to him in this moment.  Here he is, in the midst of battle, and his hair gets caught in some tree branches.  That’s unfortunate.

The whole scenario is a little Jerry Springer if you ask me.  Absalom was the king’s son who took over the throne from his dad.  Then he slept with all his dad’s concubines.  That’s just getting a little weird.  And now, here he is –riding a… wait for it… mule.  What in the world is the new king of Israel doing riding a mule?  Is that the best he could come up with?

So there he is, left hanging by his hair while his mule keeps going.  He’s just hanging there by his hair.  I can hardly imagine how painful that must have been, yet alone picture his struggle to get loose.  I wonder if he was trying to cut his hair with his sword when Joab approached.  I wonder what was going through his mind when Joab stabbed him to death.

He was just hanging out there, completely vulnerable.  That’s what happens when we choose to follow our own selfish plans, rather than the Lord’s.  You see, Absalom wasn’t anointed by God to be king.  David was.  Absalom set his own course and determined his own future.  In the end, it left him hanging out there and resulted in his death.  Whose plans will you follow today?  Choose the Lord’s and walk in His protection!

Are you that insecure?

2 Samuel 17:23 When Ahithophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb.

Wow, that dude is insecure.  It was just one decision, Ahithophel.  Just one.  Here’s the scenario: Absalom had just taken over Israel… forcefully from his father.  Even though David was the anointed king over Israel, Absalom decided he should be the one to sit on the throne.  So he called his officials together and asked, “what should I do now?”

Ahithophel came up with a simply battle strategy to hunt down David and kill him.  But Hushai came up with one the king liked better.  And off they went to battle, all except Ahithophel.  He went home and hung himself.  What drives a man to be that insecure?  I mean, this guy was really insecure.  His job wasn’t to run the kingdom, it was just to give input.  So when your input isn’t accepted, get over it.  That’s the nature of the job.  You don’t have to go hang yourself just because you had one bad day.

We can get this attitude in our heart as well.  We have one bad day and decide we should throw in the towel.  One person tells us they don’t like what we did or said and we feel like our life is falling apart.  Are we really that insecure?  Security doesn’t come from others.  It doesn’t come from what they think about us or our ideas or our personality.  It comes from above.  Our identity is rooted in who Christ says that we are.  If we dig our roots down deep into Him, we will find that feedback, criticism, and rejection from others won’t really seem like that big of a deal after all.