Express Success

The interesting thing about university is that sometimes your greatest learning moments come outside of a classroom setting. One on one with professors, chance encounters with your peers, those are some of the most formative moments you experience. I had one of those moments yesterday. I bumped into a friend and we started talking. We shared our struggles and hopes for the future. He mentioned that many times when we embark on our God-given missions in life, we become side tracked, aspiring to gain the approbation of man and forfeiting the blessing of God. Often our limited view of others cause us to be rabid malcontents who are never satisfied. We desire the trappings of “success” that others in our field have reached, and the recognition that inevitably follows. In short, we desire their anointing.

In Palestine anointing oil was made by crushing olives into a paste using a large milestone, and then putting the crushed paste in between disks and through irresistible pressure extracting precious drops of pure olive oil. All that is left is mangled pulp, but the output is oil. My observation is that those who are truly anointed by the Holy Spirit go through painfully crushing experiences in private that produce public lives coursing with power.

It puts the Shepherds Psalm in perspective:

Psalm 23:5
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Before the table was the valley, before the anointing was the crushing. There are no shortcuts to the table, and there are no express lanes to GOD’s anointing!

What I hate more than Tests

Yesterday I took a Hebrew test so that I could pass out, and not take the class this semester. I missed it by 4 questions. So after studying and memorizing, I fell short. Like most people I dislike tests, and the only thing I dislike more than tests are failing them. Tests need not be a negative experience. It seems to me that the deciding factor between a positive and negative test is the proctor. 

Psalm 11:5 (ESV)

5 The LORD tests the righteous.

God shows his favour toward his people by testing them.  So we are absent potential blessing when we are not tested. I now face a semester of Hebrew (yikes!) For you it might be a depleting bank account and increasing bills, deep wounds and few friends, or shattered dreams and unfulfilled promises. God asks will you hold on? Will you concede to me? Will you let me test you? A rabbi once said “this world is a long corridor before the world to come. We must prepare in the corridor so we may enter into THE hall.”

The apostle James resonates fully with this idea.  James 1:12  Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

Waiting on God.

My wife was so mad to see this on our door this week. I felt her frustration.( I regularly chase the UPS truck around Berrien when I am expecting a package) So my wife fussed, and paced, and lamented the fact she had to wait ONE more day for the package to be re-delivered. We are both woefully impatient when it comes to waiting.

 Psalm 130:5-6: “I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, And in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord More than the watchmen for the morning; Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning,”

The psalmist compares waiting for God with the watchmen on a city who waited through the thick darkness of the night, waiting, expectantly for dawn to come and their watch to be over. Waiting of course involves time, and the passing of it. It can be frustrating, confusing, and irritating. The key to peace in our times of waiting is found in the psalm.

The watchmen wait for the sun to rise each morning, they trust its consistency and power, but the psalmist says he waits even more for the Lord because he knows HE is more reliable than the sun. The psalmist knowledge and trust in God, allowed him to have a confident expectation of God’s arrival in his life. Finally then, waiting on God is akin to waiting for the sun to rise, when the light will consume the darkness. When its warmth will melt the coldness of the night. Whatever you are waiting on God for, know that he will come through.

False Advertising

In African homes all is not as it seems. Recently on twitter #inanafricanhome was trending, and one common experience people shared was the disappointment of the unfulfilled. An example that really hit home was an experience I was familiar with: Sometimes I would crave ice-cream and  go to the freezer and find a tub of Wall’s soft scoop. “Yes! Success”  I would then open the tub, ready to dig into the delicious treat, only to find, soup, or beans!?! Its crushing, lol. When you are a teenager it has been scientifically proven that your body is fuelled exclusively on teeth rotting, diabetes inducing sugar highs. Donuts for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and ice-cream for diner (“,)

So to be deprived of this glucose rush is pretty galling. You expect sweetness but instead find savouriness.

In Exodus 32:17,18 Joshua is coming down the mountain with Moses. Joshua is pumped. They snake their way down the steep decline, Moses’s hands grips the two tablets of stone. As they get closer Joshua hears people shouting. It’s not hymns, it’s not prayer, it’s not testifying. It sounds like a battle. Joshua had been expecting to find a worshiping, committed people. Instead when he opened the top of the Walls Soft Scoop it wasn’t sweet ice-cream, or even savoury soup, it was a hot stinking mess. Moses is mad, God is mad, and it is only Moses intervention and God’s strong love that prevents the children of Israel from being permanently deleted from the archives of world history.

As Christian’s it is our duty as witnesses to fulfil the positive expectations of  Christ-followers, and debunk unbelievers negative misconception of Christians. Unfortunately we are guilty at times of being a Christian by name only. Our content betrays our label, and we are guilty of false advertising and at times gross spiritual misconduct.

 

Failed Errands

Thursday begins the weekend in the seminary (we typically have no scheduled classes on Friday!) Although this is only the first week of Spring Semester, I am already feeling the weight slowly increasing as each class gives out their 15 page syllabi. This semester will only be conquered through prayer. That of course opens up a whole can of worms. Prayer. So potent but so impotent in my life at times and maybe in yours too. I was reading a powerful observation on prayer yesterday which I wanted to share, as it is a powerful prognosis on the failure of many of our prayers:

Charles Spurgeon:

Many prayers fail of their errand because there is no faith in them. Prayers which are filled with doubt are requests for refusal. Imagine that you wrote to a friend and said,

“Dear Friend, I am in great trouble and I, therefore, tell you, and ask for your help because it seems right to do so. But though I thus write, I have no belief that you will send me any help. Indeed, I should be mightily surprised if you did and should speak of it as a great wonder.”

Will you get the help, do you think? I should say your friend would be sensible enough to observe the little confidence which you have in him and he would reply that, as you did not expect anything, he would not astonish you. Your opinion of his generosity is so low that he does not feel called upon to put himself out of the way on your account.

When prayers are of that kind you cannot wonder if we “have not, because we ask amiss.

When God comes DOWN high

Exodus 19

20And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

God comes down…to the top.

In Exodus God has been leading Israel visibly for 3 months. A cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Then in Chapter 19 God tells Moses to let the ragtag group of former slaves know that he is coming to visit them in a spectacular way. So spectacular that they need wash their clothes.

They needed to wash their clothes, all 600,000 men plus women and children. What?! You must be having a laugh mate.  (When we have to do two weeks worth of  laundry it can take two days in between work and school to get it washed and dried!) And the children of Israel are supposed to wash their clothes in the middle of the desert. Where? The Sinai Laundromat? I mean they are in the desert, there weren’t taps under bushes, and we don’t read about an abundance of springs. Just two chapters earlier they had been in the Desert of Sin moaning that they didn’t have enough water to drink. The bible doesn’t explain how they figured out that logistical conundrum, but we can assume they clean up and sanctify, as God comes and visits them.

 Lesson 1 – All his biddings are his enablings COL 331. If God asks the “impossible” he has already made provision for it.

What actually jumped out at me reading the passage was this: In his visitation God is both personal and proximate, and unapproachable and removed. All at once. He comes down but only to the top.  He speaks to Moses, but only as Moses walks up to him. The tension here is beautiful! Think about it. God communicates that he is close but not common. Sometimes we mistake his closeness for commonness, and our view of him becomes careless.  Conversely we can be so over-awed with his majesty that his immediacy is lost sight of.

Lesson 2 – An over emphasis of any attribute of God robs us of a fuller experience with him.

So today, I worship a God who comes down…to the top. A God who wraps his arms around me, and holds the world all at the same time. Shalom!

Zumba

Soooo, yesterday I was at a bible study and after it was done we had a very interesting discussion as we were getting ready to leave. One of the ladies that attended has recently started to take Zumba lessons.

For those who don’t know, Zumba lets you dance your way to fitness (see image.) I jokingly asked the ladies husband if he was taking Zumba lessons on the DL, and he was like “nahh”. Then I said “yeh, no guy should ever take Zumba!” He then turned around and made an interesting social observation about the stereotypical male view of sexuality in the Western context. He said “the things that should be considered “homoerotic” are considered heterosexual, and the things that should be considered heterosexual are considered homoerotic.

Four examples came out of that convo that had me almost ROFL.

1a. Wrestling – men on the floor in tight vests trying to get on top of each and pin each other down. Male Western View  – Manly

1b. Ice Skating – A man on ice with a woman in a miniskirt, lifting and grabbing her to a song. Male Western View – Girly

2a. American Football – Men in tights, jumping on each other, coaches slap grown mens butts. Male Western View – Manly

2b. Zumba – Women dancing in workout clothes with a couple of men in the class. Male Western View – Girly

3a. Weight lifting – Men in gym sweating and looking at each others muscles.Male Western View – Manly

3b. Elliptical – Man on elliptical machine typically surrounded by many women. Male Western View – Girly

I thought it was so ironic/hilarious that the very thing espoused as stellar examples of masculinity by the (stereotypical) Western Male seems to be the total opposite at closer inspection. So for all you guys that are doing Zumba in the privacy of your dorm, apartment, or slinking into Zumba classes under the cover of night, with your wife/g’friend its ok. Really, its fine. Your masculinity does not hinge on it, lol. Do you, Zuuuuuuummmmbbbbbaaaaa!!! (Just to be clear, I am NOT saying that the being with/around women is the mark of masculinity.)

The bible describes men who are in various livelhoods. You have soldiers, poets, shepherds, musicians, fishermen, and theologians. Its a very balanced and well rounded portrayal of men, one that is neither bullish nor flimsy. Like anything else I don’t think we can go wrong if we take God’s perspective and ditch the worlds.

Ditching Your Enemies

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This morning I was reading Exodus 23, and almost choked on my oatmeal when I read :

4 “If you come across your enemy’s ox or ass wandering off, be sure to return it. 5 If you see the ass of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

If I saw someone who was my enemy, who despised me, and made my life miserable, in trouble, I would be very tempted to leave them in their hot stinking mess! While reading the passage I had a vivid image of myself driving past an enemy who had broken down on the road. In my imagination I am more likely to think “yeah, serves you right, you ghastly excuse for a human” than “oh dear brother/sister, let me help you change your tire even though you did or said xyz the other day.” God’s call for us is radical. Radically challenging, and completely against the grain. We aren’t allowed to get away with mererly wishing our enemies well, or loving them in our hearts. He wants us to show physically and tangibly our commitment to their wellbeing. To walk the walk that goes with the talk.

Bottom line. Cover your enemy’s ass.

Three Types of Sneezers

Pre Sneeze

When my wife is about to sneeze her nose wrinkles up, she closes her eyes, and lifts her head up slightly. Where ever I am in the house if I can catch the beginning of the sneeze I run to her and shout “BLESS YOU”. Then she gets mad! LOL. Sometimes if I say “bless you” before she has sneezed it causes her sneeze to get “stuck”. And there is nothing more annoying than when a good sneeze gets stuck, you go through all the drama of the pre-sneeze face, contort your face, get the tissue (or elbow/coat sleeve…lol) ready and then nothing.

Three Types of Sneezers

But ladies and gentleman, I know there is point where no matter how loudly someone tries to put you off that sneeze is still going to come charging out. You might be a

1. silent suppressing “I-like-to-see-white-dots-swimming-infront-of-my-eyes” sneezer,

2. a dainty “I-have-a-box-kleenex-always-ready” squeaky sneezer,

3. guts and glory “I-just-infected-this whole-room-gimme-a-high-five” sneezer.

Whichever you are, there is a Point of No Return.

Words

I think that its the same with words that we speak. We can easily become upset with some one (you know the person who has a zipcode ON your last nerve) and before we realise it the words just charge out of our mouths tackle the person to the ground and beat them to a pulp. Lol. Usually feels great for about 10 seconds until you realise the damage the words caused, and worse you can’t take it back. You can’t recall sneezes, or do a second take on a sneeze, and you can’t do that with words either.

We have to be so careful with our words, and practise the biting our tongue! Unless we have something positive to say, maybe we should zip it! Let us bless each other with our words. Lets encourage, inspire, advice, love, cherish, buildup, because when we do that we will have no regrets!

Our words can be used to build up others self-esteem, self-worth, self-confidence, even their immune system. On the flip side our words can crush people’s spirits, dreams, self-worth, and cause untold damage in their future lives. The bible has plenty of advice to give to us concerning the power of words, but here are a couple of my favourites:

Proverbs 12

18 There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 29

20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Psalm 19

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Proverbs 16

24 Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.

Lessons in Snow

Earlier this week I went to pick up my friend Joshua from the local airport. Before setting out I knew that this would be no ordinary drive. It was snowing, dark, and dangerous. Oh well, it can’t be that bad , I thought. So I set out around 21:30, eta 22:00. As soon as I gingerly came out of Andrews University campus, and turned onto Old US 31 I realised I may have bitten off more than I could chew. The white, slushy, slick snow taunted my little car. I don’t have snow tires, I don’t have rear wheel drive, and I don’t have much experience driving in snow. So there you have it, a perfect recipe for disaster.

Once I got onto the motorway going toward the airport, things started to get hairy. The snow ploughs evidently had come hours earlier because the road was white and not black, all I knew was that there were gaping ditches on either side of me. No lights, no other cars, no tarmac. So I begun to accelerate, 10miles, 15miles, 30miles and then my steering wheel started to take on the characteristics of the snow, ie, slippery and unstable. I don’t think I had even driven 5miles at this point, only another 15miles to go. GREAAAT!

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, the snow begun to slash down across my car. It was not the “winter wonderland, soft, in-the-lane-snow is glistening” type of snow. No sir! This snow had an agenda. My visibility dropped to about 15 meters, and it looked as if an unseen hand was pelting my car with handfuls of uncooked rice. I started to feel the blood drain from my face as I thought about the very real possibility of a crash. I also held my breath. I held my breath because it felt like if I breathed too hard the car might nose dive into a manic spin. I also did what any self respecting man would do at this point… I turned up my music and started to talk my self through the drive. “ok, you can do this, concentrate, don’t hold the wheel too tight, breath, breath, slow down, easy easy on the brakes…” When that n work I just screamed really loudly to easy the tension, lol.

Do you know what I desperately wanted at this point in time? A Truck. A big dirty 18 wheeler, with lights up the wazoo. Ordinarily I am not a fan of these behemoths of the road. They are slow, cumbersome, and take forever when they want to overtake, and mess up my cruise control. But that night, oh how I wished for a glorious 18 wheeler! It would be my cover. I would nestle behind it and it would

1. Shelter my car from the brunt storm – [PROTECTION]

2. Cut a safe path in the snow for me – [SAFETY]

3. Give light on the dark road – [GUIDANCE]

The truck never did come, but by GOD’s grace I made it safely to the airport. These thoughts came to me while I waited for Joshua. Being a community, whether it is a family, a small group, a club can offer you a level of the three things above. The best community that I have experienced though is not in a place but it is a person. During my drive it was the person that kept me, and I learnt an important lesson “Peace is not the absence of affliction, but the presence of God.”  ~Author Unknown

Psalm 121:5-8

Today’s New International Version (TNIV)

 5 The LORD watches over you— [ PROTECTION]
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. [SAFETY]

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.  [GUIDANCE]

For another powerful lesson from the snow, visit my friend Pierre Quinn at his blog, powerful! (Click Here)