Three Required Rest Stops

And He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Exodus 33:14 ESV
In our early married life, Debbie and I made a cross country trip with our four young daughters.  I recall looking forward to the many “rest stops” along the highways of America.  They usually were not elaborate or fancy.  Some were cleaner than others.  Yet, each one provided a brief respite from the routine of traveling.
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.” Rest is release, renewal and refreshment.
Philosophical and historical teachers advocate the necessity for “taking a break”. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” Ovid, a first century Roman poet wrote, “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”
I remember the first time I watched “The Ten Commandments”?  Charlton Heston portrayed Moses, the emancipator of Israel.  The nation of Israel suffered under Egypt’s tyrannical and brutal enslavement.  Under Moses’ leadership they escaped by the miraculous and mighty hand of Jehovah.
God was guiding.  God was giving.  God was gracious.
As Moses interacted with God, the Almighty would “speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex 33:11)  This process took time.  When the nation grew impatient and concerned over God’s intent, they allowed their hearts to fail and followed Aaron by making a golden calf to worship.  Their disobedience was declared and their future was fearful.  A Holy God was not pleased.
Moses, as a wise and willing leader petitioned and pleaded with God for His powerful, protecting and prevailing presence.  God answered, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex 33:14)  Real rest is only possible in His presence. The presence of God is powerful with Old Testament faith seekers and New Testament faith finders.  He gives rest.
Rest From Worry.  Paul reminds the 1st century Christ-followers of Philippi, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all He has done.” (‭Phil‬ ‭4‬:‭6‬ NLT)  His ever abiding, ever attentive and ever acknowledged presence allows us the privilege of prayer.  The writer of Hebrews encourages us with unlimited access to the Almighty, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (‭Heb‬ ‭4‬:‭16‬ NLT)
Rest From Weariness.  Jesus speaks refreshing words to those who are weary, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  (‭Matt 11‬:‭28‬ NLT)  It’s easy to fall, fail and be fatigued when we walk in weariness.  Our rest and replenishment are realized in His presence.  Matthew continues Jesus’ thought, “Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (‭Matt 11‬:‭29‬ NLT)
Rest From Wandering.  The ancient nation of Israel would find rest from years of wandering with Jehovah as their Rock.  Resting in the Him gives us a reassuring residence in the Rock of our salvation.  The psalmist writes, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.”  (Ps 18:2 ESV). He is our solidity, safety and security. There is a distinctiveness derived from resting in Him.  Moses asks God, “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex 33:16 ESV)  We are different and unique because of His devotion and undying love.
Christian leader Joyce Meyers writes, “When your soul is resting, your emotions are okay, your mind is okay, and your will is at peace with God, not resisting what He’s doing.”
Is this a day of worry?
Is this a day of weariness?
Is this a day of wandering?
He gives rest from all of these in His presence.
Find Him . . . find rest.

Following . . .

Then Jesus called the crowd, along with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35 NET
“Follow The Leader” was a challenge for me . . . I’m an “8” (Enneagram fans).  In this game, a “head of the line” is chosen, then others line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and others have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game.  Most of the time I wanted to lead . . . a lot of the times, I was out of the game.
Following Jesus means He is leading and I am not.
Jesus gathers a crowd including His disciples and gives them clarity and commission.  If you desire to follow, this is what you need to decide . . .
Deny Self.  We associate denying self with self-denial.  For many, it’s giving something up in order to show our commitment to Christ.  Denying self isn’t about what we do but Who’s we are.  Paul reminds the Christ-followers in Corinth, “You are not your own; you are bought with a price,” (1 Cor 6:19-20 NIV).  Jesus has ownership rights and responsibilities.  Ray Steadman writes, “this is denying self – deny our self-trust, deny our self-sufficiency, deny our feeling that we are able to handle life by ourselves and run everything to suit ourselves.”  Howard Butt, in the article, “The Art Of Being A Big Shot” writes, “It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But, that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man — small, weak, and limited.”
Die To Self.  How do I “take up my cross?”  People think that a cross is a trial, hardship or handicap we have in our lives . . . an annoying relative, a needy friend or some kind of limitation.  We often exclaim, “That’s my cross to bear”.  Jesus had his own hardships and handicaps before the crucifixion.  This cross is something different. The cross identifies with shame and humiliation. Steadman writes, “It was a criminal’s cross on which He was hung. It was a place of degradation, where He was demeaned and debased.”   Our cross is the experience of being humbled, offended, shamed, wounded and hurt.  And, sometimes its undeserved and unwarranted.  As one colleague writes, “Take up your cross, accept it, glory in it, cling to it, because it is something good for you. It will reduce you to the place where you will be ready to receive the gift of the grace of God.”   Paul reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you.  My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NLT)
We want to escape, Jesus says to embrace.
We want to avoid, Jesus says to accept.  
We want to take up our cause, Jesus wants us to take up His cross.
Determine to Follow.  Following means someone else is leading.  Its obedience.  If we agree that life without Christ is marked by disobedience . . . then life with Christ must be marked with obedience.  Be assured . . . it’s not perfection, but purpose.  We decide and determine to live for Him.  This is tough.  Without exception, obeying means denying self and dying to self.  It means doing life God’s way . . . “Love your enemy,” (Matt 5:44). “Pray for those who hurt you,” (Matt 5:44). “Forgive those who offend you,” (Matt 6:14-15).  “Be kind to the ungrateful and the selfish,” (Luke 6:35). “Bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal 6:2). “Freely you have received, freely give,” (Matt 10:8).  This is my “to do list” today.
In the original language, these three thoughts . . . deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me are in a present and continuous tense.  We just don’t decide once, we decide daily.
A disciple is defined as a Christ follower.  He leads . . . and I’m right behind Him.

Old Things and New Things

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
‭‭Isaiah ‭43:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬
The good old days.  Do you remember them?  I do.  And, if I really think hard about them, they really weren’t any better than today . . . just different.
We often have a tendency to “look back” and see life in “snapshots”.  These are isolated images of impacting instances that have made an impression on us.  We end up seeing a single “frame” of our lives instead of the entire “movie”.  In turn, we build a story of our lives on several images, instead of the whole.  We end up living in “what if” as opposed to “what is”.
Robert C. Loveless wrote these well known lyrics, “Ev’ry day with Jesus Is sweeter than the day before.”  Everyday with Him is better, sweeter, more wonderful than the previous day.
The children of Israel were in a difficult time.  Even though they were God’s chosen nation, they continued to live independently from God and indifferent to His word.  The prophet Isaiah delivers a message of healing and hope . . . a message of renewal and resurrection.
Escape The Old Thing.  Isaiah writes, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” (Is 43:18 ESV).  Too often, we become tied to our past and live in it’s success or sorrows.  We may blame our present on our past . . . or bemoan that today is not as good as yesterday.  Isaiah encourages the nation of Israel to get a new perspective by escaping the things that were holding them back.  Paul writes to the Christ-followers in Rome, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)  These were written for our learning, as well as our living.  Our hope is not in what was, but in what is and what will be.  This gives us the endurance and encouragement needed to embrace our eternal perspective.
Embrace The New Thing.  Isaiah continues his encouragement, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” (Is 43:19 ESV)  With a burial of the old, there is a birth of the new.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson captures this thought, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Is 43:18-19 MSG)  Be alert . . . be attentive . . . be anticipating.  God will bring a solution that can not be subdued.  He will provide a way where there has been no way before.  It will be brand new . . . it will be bursting out.  Paul describes this working of God this way, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Eph 3:20 ESV)
The apostle Paul gives us his own perspective of forgetting the past and forging in the present, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14 ESV)
One year has ended . . . and a new one is beginning.  Forget what is behind and reach for what is before.  Let your defining moments be in your potential, not in your past.
Press on to the new thing.

Straightening Our Crooked Mess

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:6 ESV
“There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
This British nursery rhyme relates the story of Scottish General Sir Alexander Leslie. The General signed a Covenant securing religious and political freedom for Scotland with England. The phrase,”They all lived together in a little crooked house” refers to an agreement to which the English and Scots had finally come.  The words reflect a time of peace in the midst of great animosity and conflict.
Each of us deal with “crookedness” in our lives.  The wise King Solomon reminds us that God will make our crooked lives straight when we acknowledge Him in all of our ways.  The “peace that passes all understanding” prevails in our paths.
Acknowledge My Weakness.  Paul tells us the advantage of acknowledging our weaknesses.  He writes to the Christ-followers in Corinth, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10 NIV)
My path of weakness allows me to walk in His power.
Acknowledge His Worthiness.  In another collection of Scripture, Solomon writes, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” (Ecc 1:2 NIV).   Have you ever felt nothing we do has any meaning?  Living in intimate collaboration with God instills a communion and confidence. Begin each day with purpose in Him, and you will enjoy His never-ending, always abiding, ever assuring presence. David confesses, “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies. “ (Ps 18:3 NIV)
My path of worship allows me to walk in His presence.
We all live together as crooked saints, walking crooked paths and living in crooked little houses.  Yet, God promises, “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” (‭Is ‭42‬:‭16‬ KJV)
He defines our testimony by His transformation.
He delights in making our mess His message.
Our God can make the most crooked life straight.

What A Great Christmas Morning

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:6–7 ESV
Have you ever wondered why there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn?  Did the all-knowing, all-seeing God, all-powerful God of the universe forget to make a reservation?
No.  God wasn’t too overwhelmed with details that a room at “the inn” slipped His mind.  It was part of His purpose . . . part of His plan . . . part of His promise.  God strategically designed the delivery of Jesus to the world with great deliberation.
Jesus could have been born into prominence . . . but He was not.  Jesus could have been born into wealth . . . but He was not.  Jesus could have been born into power . . . but He was not.  God’s plan called for Jesus . . . Who was rich, powerful and prominent . . . to enter this world in a barn stall and leave this world in a borrowed tomb.  And, He did it for us.  Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9 ESV)
Jesus came to seek, to save, to serve and to sacrifice.  He asks us to walk with Him on the same path.  Jesus reminds His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 ESV)  He gives us an example to engage and express His love.
He Is Incarnate.  The prophets of old tell of God living among men.  Matthew writes, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (‭Matt‬ ‭1‬:‭23‬ NLT)  John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)  The purposeful incarnation of God profoundly impacts mankind.  Mercy Me sings these lyrics, “My heart sings a brand new song.  The debt is paid, these chains are gone.  Emmanuel, God with us.”
God among us.
He Is Intentional.  Jesus’ purpose is clear, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV)  God is decisive and deliberate.  Luke records Jesus’ reading of the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  (Luke 4:18 ESV)  God’s plan was planned out. John Piper writes, “God rules all things — even motel capacities — for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.”  His love is intentional.
God among us . . . God adoring us.
He Is Inviting.  God not only comes to the party . . . He also gives us an invitation.  Matthew records the request of our Redeemer, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30 ESV)  He approaches us in our grief and accepts us by His grace.  Jesus teaches us, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 ESV).
God among us . . . God adoring us . . . God accepting us.
No.  God wasn’t too busy to make a reservation at the inn.  He was busy making room for us in His family.  We come bruised, battered, busted or broke . . . He is there to seek, save, serve and sacrifice.
He is Emmanuel . . . God with us.
‘Tis the season . . . Merry Christmas!

A Baby Changes Everything . . .

And she will have a son, and you are to name Him, Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭21‬ NLT
The anticipation and adoring of a new baby is amazing.  It doesn’t get old.  It’s new every single time.
Faith Hill’s carol sums up the sentiments of Christmas with the simple lyrics, “A baby changes everything.”  In every family, the addition of a new life brings about change, chaos and confusion . . . and it also brings about compassion, confidence and courage.
The gift of new life teaches us the value of living.
The angel of the Lord promised the birth of a son and proclaimed the coming of a Savior.
His Purpose. God has always planned our atonement, adoption and acceptance.  Paul writes,  “And God purposed that through Him (the Son) all things should be completely reconciled back to Himself, whether on earth or in heaven, as through Him, [the Father] made peace by means of the blood of His cross.” (‭Col‬ ‭1‬:‭20‬ AMP)  In our confusion, He is our calm.  In our hopelessness, He is our hope.  In our lostness, He is our life.  He is our Prince of peace.
His Plan.  Planned before the precepts of time, God’s Son would be sent to save the world.  Matthew reminds us, “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭22-23‬ NLT)  He plans for our eternity and for our every day.  The prophet Jeremiah assures us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (‭Jer‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ ESV)
His Passion.  God’s heart gives us our hope.  His love declares our new life and His love defines what life looks like.  John writes, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (‭1 John‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬ NLT)
His Promise.  The promise of salvation is secured by the Sovereign.  Peter tells us, “And because of His glory and excellence, He has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” (‭2 Pet‬ ‭1‬:‭4‬ NLT)
The babe of the manger . . . purposed and planned . . . shares His passion and secures our promise.  Our lives are touched, transformed and turned around . . . forever.  He redefines everything . . . He changes everything.
“My whole life has turned around
I was lost, but now I’m found
A baby changes everything, yeah
A baby changes everything”
‘Tis the season . . .