God Chooses the Least Likely to Accomplish His Work

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She was the talk of the town, but nobody talked to her. Every square inch of her seductive body was lovely, but she was unloved. It was the price she paid for being the town whore. Her name was Rahab. She was a street-walking hooker living in the town of Jericho. Her home backed up to outside wall of the city. Convenient for men to shimmy down the back wall for a quick escape. Women despised her and shunned her. Men leered at her, joked about and used her.

She didn’t have much going for her. In fact, she had three strikes against her.

  1. She was a Canaanite, not a Jew. Canaanites were hated as a people by virtually every culture and nation that surrounded them.
  2. She was a woman. A Jewish prayer offered daily by rabbis said, “I thank my God that I was not born a woman.” Women were at best second-class citizens.
  3. She was a prostitute using her body to earn a living. And like prostitutes in all cultures, she was marginalized by society.

Living on the fringe of society and in a home, that backed up to the protective city wall, God used her to provide harbor and safety to the two spies. There were to gather military intelligence about Jericho before Joshua led the Hebrews into the Promised Land.

She would be the last person one would expect God to use in a significant way. God chooses to use her. God loves to turn things upside-down. He sometimes selects the most unexpected people to accomplish his work. He specializes in using the rejects of society. The broken and flawed. The down and out.

 

Rahab, while society marginalized her, and women shunned her, and men abused her, God loved her. God looked on her, not as the tramp of Jericho, but as a child in whom he cares and wants to rescue.

There is a wonder about Rahab, about me, and about you. Our identity is not found in our fallen and flawed status. Our past is not our destiny. We may be unlovely, but we are not unloved.

The story of God choosing an outcast like Rahab reminds me of another story. A boy went into a pet shop, looking for a puppy. The store owner showed him a litter in a box. The boy looked at the puppies. He picked each one up, examined it, and put it back into the box.

After several minutes, he walked back to the owner and said, “I picked one out. How much will it cost?”

The man gave him the price, and the boy promised to be back in a few days with the money. “Don’t take too long,” the owner cautioned. “Puppies like these sell quickly.”

The boy turned and smiled knowingly, “I’m not worried,” he said. “Mine will still be here.”

The boy went to work—weeding, washing windows, cleaning yards. He worked hard and saved his money. When he had enough for the puppy, he returned to the store.

He walked up to the counter and laid down a pocketful of wadded bills. The storeowner sorted and counted the cash. After verifying the amount, he smiled at the boy and said, “All right, son, you can go get your puppy.”

The boy reached into the back of the box, pulled out a skinny dog with a limp leg, and started to leave.

The owner stopped him.

“Don’t take that puppy,” he objected. “He’s crippled. He can’t play. He’ll never run with you. He can’t fetch. Get one of the healthy pups.”

“No, thank you, sir,” the boy replied. “This is exactly the kind of dog I’ve been looking for.”

As the boy turned to leave, the store owner started to speak but remained silent. Suddenly he understood. For extending from the bottom of the boy’s trousers was a brace—a brace for his crippled leg.

Why did the boy want the dog? He knew how it felt. And he knew it was special.

What did God know about Rahab, and you and me for that matter? He knows how we feel. He knows that even though we are flawed and fallen, we are usable and worthwhile in his kingdom work. We may be unlovely to society, but God loves us. We are special. We are precious to him. He chooses even the crippled of this world to accomplish his purpose.

I hope you never forget that.

Rahab is just one in a long line of ordinary, crippled folks who allowed God to use them. Scripture has quite a gallery of ordinary people who made themselves available to God. In fact, heaven may have a shrine to honor God’s uncommon use of everyday, unspectacular people. It’s a place you won’t want to miss. Stroll through, see Rahab offering her home as a refuge and her rope as an escape. View the people who assisted Paul to get in the bucket to flee from would-be assassins. See a picture of David in Goliath’s shadow with his sling encircling his head before launching the fatal blow. Take a gander at Samson picking up the jawbone to erase a whole group of discontents. Feel the staff that Moses used to split the sea and smote the rock. Sniff the ointment that Mary used to soothe Jesus’ skin. Touch the parchment that Paul used to write his letters.

Quite a fraternity, isn’t it?

God has always used the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. The common to perform the uncommon. The flawed to fulfill the phenomenal.

Rahab, a prostitute, helped change the world. A nobody that became a somebody. A washed up, discarded refuse that became a supporting cast in Joshua’s story of victory.

 

 

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God Uses Ordinary People–Like You

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For years, American novelist William Faulkner toiled as an unknown, un-respected writer in the rural Mississippi town of Oxford before he gained recognition. When he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, his acclaim grew. Approached later about the literary people and authors he associated with, Faulkner shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know any bookish people. “The people I know are other farmers and horse people and hunters, and we talk about horses and dogs and guns and what to do about this hay crop or this cotton crop, not about literature.”

Faulkner befriended real people. Unpretentious people. Struggling people. People who had their share of problems and frustrations. He chose to surround himself with folks who got down in the dirt of life rather than those who merely talked about it or wrote about it.

God tends to have the same character trait.

God seems most interested in people who are unpretentious, hopeless, with their share of desperation and defeat. Those who are flawed and wounded. Those in whom most of the world has given up on. God seems most interested in people with nowhere to turn, who pray desperate prayers, who holds onto shattered dreams, trapped by wrong choices, estranged from society, often rejected.

God loves to turn things upside-down. He sometimes selects the most unexpected people to work with. He specializes in using the rejects of society. The broken and flawed. The down and out.

Think about it: God seldom makes his first movement through those people whom you and I would be inclined to call the movers and shakers of the world. Some of the most gifted and talented, prominent and prestigious people tend to use their gifts selfishly. God then has to look elsewhere for help. He ends up using people of more modest talents and even questionable reputations.

Consider the fact that God used Abraham, a liar. Moses, a murderer. David, an adulterer. Peter, the denier. Saul, a killer. The list goes on and on. God always seems to work through the most ordinary and unlikely people who are on the very edge of social respectability.

I could be on that list, too. I, also, have a story. I am flawed. I am a sinner. I am a fallen person. I am broken and bent. I am imperfect. A wretch. An outcast. My sinful condition is like a splash of ink in a glass of water; my flawed state permeates my whole being. I, too, live on the ragged edge, the fringe of respectability.

But, I’m loved. God knows my flawed condition. He knows my fallen state, and he loves me anyway. My tattered condition is no longer the most important thing about me. I was not created flawed. I was designed in such a way that God said to me just as he spoke of Adam “very good.”

Wonder exists in me, and you. Our identity is not centered on our fallen and flawed status. Our past is not our destiny. We may be unlovely, but we are not unloved.
This fact, while confusing, is reassuring. It gives me hope. It gives me possibility.

 

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What to Do in a Fire

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One fall afternoon when I was eight or nine years old, my twin brother, Micky, and I began piling up the dried cornstalks from our Daddy’s garden in back of our house. We had a pretty tall stack when Micky said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see those things burn?” I had found a box of matches earlier in the day, so Micky said, “Why don’t you light the pile? Nothing will happen. Mother will never find out.”

I was old enough to know better, but my curiosity got the better of me. So, I lighted those dried leaves and in just a few minutes the pile was consumed by an inferno. Before we could think to douse it with water, it had spread. Now the entire garden was in flames. And the woods behind our house stood in the path of the ever-growing fire.

“Go get the water hose,” I yelled to Micky.

“You started it, you go get the hose,” he shouted back.

We stood wide-eyed in wonder just yards away, mesmerized by the dancing flames that crackled and popped as they were now spreading into the woods. We stood transfixed, nearly oblivious to the searing heat until Mother came rushing from the house, screaming for us to move back to safety.

Soon people from the town were coming to watch. I wanted to get lost for a week. Fortunately, someone had the good sense to call the volunteer fire department, and they put out the fire before burning down the woods.

After the fire was extinguished and the crowd had disbanded my mother asked who had started the fire. I did the brave and noble thing. I said, “Micky did.”

Eventually, I confessed. Later that year Daddy had a man come with his bulldozer and remove the small trees and underbrush from our woods. Daddy said it was because he wanted a bigger garden. I think it was because I almost burned to the ground our little town.

I learned some critical lessons from this experience. One, don’t play with matches. Two, don’t do everything your brother tells you to do. Three, mothers always find out. And, four, fire consumes, spreads, and attracts a whole lot of people.

Solomon’s Fire
I imagine that it was on a beautiful fall day that Solomon and the people of Israel came together to dedicate the temple. They had worked long and hard to build a permanent and magnificent structure to house the Ark of the Covenant. Finally, the day had arrived for the temple dedication. The people gathered, and Solomon prayed. “When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1).

The thought of fire falling from the sky boggles my mind. I know what out of control fire can do to some cornstalks. In my wildest dreams, I cannot imagine what it would be like witnessing God’s igniting the sacrifices on an altar.

God has always used fire as a way of identifying his presence. When the fire fell in the Temple Solomon built, God was stating that this was a holy place. The consuming fire was God’s presence making something holy. Only God can do that.

Our Response
When the fire falls on our lives, be it personally or corporately, all we can do is fall to the ground and worship a holy and living God. We are mesmerized by the sight of his consuming glory and grace. That’s what the people of Israel did. “When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord” (2 Chron. 7:3). Worship is expressing our love to God for who he is, what he’s said, and what he’s doing. In genuine worship the warmth of God’s presence is felt, the cleansing of God’s pardon is offered, the burning of God’s purpose is revealed, and the flame of God’s power is displayed.

Worship is not a weekly pep talk to rally the troops to win the contest. Worship is not the Christian’s alternative to a Saturday night rock concert. Worship occurs when people who have fallen in love with the God of the universe meet him in his consuming glory. Worship is a meeting between God and his people. Worship does not lead to an encounter with God. It is an encounter with God.

As a young boy, I learned that fire consumes, spreads, and attracts a lot of people. May we all learn that the fire of God’s presence has the same effect.

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Are You Running Away from God?

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In the middle of the night a freight train speeds effortlessly along. As the locomotive rounds a turn, a bus transporting convicted criminals straddles the tracks. In one mad, climactic moment the train slams into the bus, pushing it a hundred yards down the steel tracks causing sparks to fly before the wreckage bursts into flames.

Could there be any survivors?

Authorities arrived to find a dazed correctional officer. Minutes later ankle and wrist irons are found—open. The Federal Marshal holds up the irons and announces, “We have a fugitive.”

Thus, begins the silver-screen remake of the 1960s television series The Fugitive. The suspenseful movie about Chicago surgeon Richard Kimball falsely accused and convicted of his wife’s murder.

God Found Jonah.
Jonah, too, was a fugitive. An escapee. A man on the run. As a Hebrew prophet, Jonah’s orders came from on high. He had been obedient before when instructions had come. But now, well, things were different now. This time he had been instructed to preach in Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire. Nineveh was the epitome of everything Jonah hated in the Gentile world; it stood for godless tyranny. Nothing was more repugnant to Jonah than the idea of traveling there to preach repentance.

So, when God said, “Go.” Jonah said, “No.” Jonah ran.

He’s not unlike us. We, too, run. We, also, are fugitives. We run from the haunts of our past, from the horrors of our fears, from the heaviness of our responsibilities, and even from our God. As the hymn writer Robert Robinson observed:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.
Eventually, we’ll learn, as Jonah did, that you can run, but you cannot hide.

God Broke Jonah.
In the movie of Jonah’s life, we view a great city, a great wind, and a great fish, but the background of this picture is scattered with reminders of God’s great grace. Because of God’s grace, the underlying lesson is this: God often breaks us to remake us.

For almost anything right to be made, it first must be broken. A tree is broken, and a house is built. The soil is broken, and a crop is grown. Grain is broken, and bread is baked. People are broken, and caring, compassionate believers are reborn. Often it is out of our brokenness that our greatest influence comes. Often before God uses a man or woman greatly, he first breaks them severely.

When the prophet was overboard and overwhelmed, “the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). For three days and three nights, Jonah endured the harsh womb of God’s grace. Yes, grace. God did provide this great fish to swallow Jonah; he could have let him drown. Then God provided the great fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land. That, too, was grace.

God’s grace sometimes comes in ways we would never expect.

God Changed Jonah.
Grace changed Jonah’s life. Before this experience, several adjectives could have been employed to describe Jonah: stiff-necked, resistant, stubborn, hard-hearted, rebellious. After this exposure, other words could be used to describe this changed man: broken, cleansed, contrite, new, and obedient. Grace has that effect on people.

Grace is the glue that takes the pieces of our broken lives and binds them into something new and beautiful. Grace is the welcome mat that says to the repentant prodigal, “Welcome home.” Grace is the sponge that cleans the blotched record of our sins so that they are remembered no more. Grace is the calling that God grants to a once wayward prophet, energizing him for useful service. Grace is the announcement that there is life after failure and hope for broken, rebellious people.

Jonah learned what we need to learn about God’s grace. As the old hymn writer relates, “Mercy there was great, and grace was free.” Jonah discovered God’s incredible mercy and his unmerited grace. They were free.

The gift of grace to a rebellious and disobedient person is a future after failure and hope after a rebellion. That is the surprise of the Cross and the empty tomb. And that is the surprise of God to Jonah—and to every rebellious child.

We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

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Have You Wrestled with God?

 

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Three months before my daughter was born I made a statement at a party that I soon wished I could take back. In front of twenty-five friends (most of whom had reared children) I calmly remarked, “Having this baby will not change my life.” Momentary silence was followed by an eruption of deep belly laughter. A few people even began rolling on the floor. The smirks and giggles and hounding went on for what seemed an eternity. I wanted to crawl under the sofa.

 

Three months later I discovered the reasons for the laughter. This wonderful and beautiful child, whom I had had a part in conceiving, cried, experienced fits of rage and lacked proper etiquette. Because of her entrance into my world, watching a ballgame or my favorite television show uninterrupted became an impossibility. Discretionary money for golf games and dates with my wife almost disappeared. Going to the mall on a moment’s notice? Out of the question.

 

I had to eat my words, again and again. Having a baby does change one’s life.

 

The reality is, being alive changes one’s life. Change is the only constant in this world. And many of us need it.

 

Jacob

 

One such man was Jacob. He was born a twin, the second out of the womb. Upon entering this world, Jacob was clutching the heel of his brother Esau. From that moment on, he was forever gripping what was rightfully his brother’s. He eventually cheated Esau out of his birthright and then his blessing. 

 

If Jacob were alive today, many corporations would be delighted to employ him. A born competitor, he was determined to win. No matter the cost or the deception. He knew how to ascend the ladder of success. He was in control. No one could stop him from being on the top.

 

But the main event of Jacob’s life changed all of that. It was a wrestling match. It was not Greco-Roman, or Olympic Free Style, or Sumo, or WWF. This tug-of-war was a wrestling match with God. 

 

The story of Jacob surprises us with many twists. But the one that stands out is that our most significant fights are often with God, not the devil. God is the divine intruder in our lives. He sometimes invades our lives not to bring comfort but to wage war. As strange as it may sound, there are times when we fight with God. Please understand that I’m not implying that we don’t have fights with the devil or that spiritual warfare does not occur. The temptation is real. But often it is easier to say no to the devil than it is to say yes to God. 

 

Alone at night, Jacob wrestled with God. And of all the fights that Jacob had experienced in his life, of scheming and climbing and success, his most challenging fight was with the Almighty. 

 

Our Greatest Fight

 

And so, it will be with us. The most terrible bout you and I will face is not saying no to a profitable career but saying yes to a divine prompting. It is not saying no to happiness but saying yes to holiness. It is not saying no to temptation but saying yes to righteousness.  Please understand that God’s desire is not that we be miserable and unhappy; he does want to give us the desires of our hearts. But saying yes to God’s leadership can be the most challenging battle we will face.

 

A Winning Walk

 

I can picture Jacob shuffling toward Esau the morning after the wrestling match. His clothes were torn and dirty; his hair is messed up; he is walking with a limp. 

 

“What happened to you?” Esau asks. 

 

“I’ve been blessed,” Jacob says. (Not the exact picture of a victorious Christian that most often comes to our mind, but a fitting portrait of a man who has allowed God to shape and fashion his life.)

 

“But you are limping.”

 

“Yes. Isn’t it great?”

 

Jacob was a marked man. His limp was not just a sign for him; others would notice the way he walked. They probably concluded that he was a veteran of some battle. And he was. 

 

It was not a loser’s limp. It was the limp of a spiritually mature man who had come face to face with God and been changed.

 

Some people would have walked away from that experience with only a limp and never have changed. They would have named the place “this is where I got hurt,” “place of misfortune.” Jacob, instead, named this piece of real estate, “the place I met God face to face.”

 

What do we call the places where we have wrestled with God? God wants us to see those areas in a new light and put a marker at that point as the place we met God and were changed forever.

 

We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

 

 

 

 

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Did You Get What You Wanted?

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As a preschooler, I was a Roy Rogers enthusiast. I wore a Roy Rogers cowboy hat, a Roy Rogers holster, a Roy Rogers belt. I even had Roy Rogers saddlebags for my bicycle. (I didn’t have a horse, but I had an active imagination.) I was so caught up with Roy Rogers that I was upset with my parents that our last name did not start with an “R.” Since my first name started with an “R” and if my last name started with an “R,” then the double “R’s” on my Roy Rogers paraphernalia could stand for my name as well. In fact, I had all the Roy Rogers’ stuff I wanted except for one item. To be a full-fledged cowboy, I needed Roy Rogers chaps.

When Christmas came around, I sent my letter off to Santa. It was different than my previous messages. They all contained a litany of gifts that I wanted. But not this year. “Dear Santa,” I wrote, “all I want this Christmas is a pair of Roy Rogers chaps. Love, Ricky.”

When I visited with Santa at the Sears store, he asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” I replied, “As my letter indicated, all I want for Christmas is a pair of Roy Rogers chaps.” He assured me that the chaps were in the bag.

When Christmas came, I was confident that the chaps were under the tree. But when I tore off the paper to open my present and stuck my hand in the box, I knew something was wrong. The gift wasn’t soft like chaps; it was hard and cold. I pulled out the item and, to my chagrin, discovered not Roy Rogers chaps but an electric guitar. I began to cry, “Where are my Roy Rogers chaps?”

There are times when the one thing you want is the one thing you never get. I never got Roy Rogers chaps. And I never learned to play the electric guitar.

The Christian life entails hoping and hurting, trying and failing, wanting but not always receiving. There are no guarantees for the fulfillment of our prayers, our dreams, or our goals. Sometimes God says no.

There are those times when God, having heard our appeals, says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” We don’t get the answer we want. Tell me, is God still a good God when he says no?

The Apostle Paul

The apostle Paul wrestled with that question. He knew what no from God sounded like. He testified, “There was given me a thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). But not the removal of the thorn. This thorn in the flesh defined his life.

This affliction is more than a thorn you might get while picking roses; it is a stake on which a man is tortured. This barb is more than the usual annoyances of life—more than a hangnail on the finger, more than a bad day with the kids, more than an unrelenting boss. A thorn is a tragedy, a broken dream, a sickness, an unshakable fear, a disability that dogs you for life. Theologically, thorn refers to some circumstance for which we didn’t ask, which we pray to have removed, by which we are given the grace to keep going, and behave in such a way that the Father will be glorified.

 

Paul did not get the answer he wanted, but the one God knew was best. Paul wrote, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9). Interestingly, these are the only words of the risen Christ found in Paul’s letters. Through them, God gives Paul a wonderful promise: “I’m all you need.” Paul wrote “He said” in the perfect tense, meaning that God said his grace was sufficient and ongoing.

Paul did not get the answer he wanted, but the one God knew was best. Paul wrote, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:9). Interestingly, these are the only words of the risen Christ found in Paul’s letters. Through them, God gives Paul a wonderful promise: “I’m all you need.” Paul wrote “He said” in the perfect tense, meaning that God said his grace was sufficient and ongoing.

God’s gift to Paul was not the thorn; it was his grace. The courage to face tragedy, disappointments, sickness, and heartache.

My Aunt Evelyn

Granted, not everyone may experience a thorn in the flesh. Some may be so fortunate to live without knowing the pain and struggle that others face every day of their lives.

I wish my Aunt Evelyn had bee so favored. For years she taught first grade until crippling arthritis kept her from the classroom. But while this disease took the mobility in her hands and legs, it did not remove the joy from her heart. All the years I knew my aunt I never heard her complain even though I saw her grimace from the pain. Joy filled her spirit that enabled her to live above the discomfort and frustration. She and Uncle Otis took many trips and spent a lot of money to find a cure or at least relieve her pain, but to no avail. She lived the balance of her life with the thorn of arthritis. She never found a cure or relief.

I’ve often wondered why Aunt Evelyn was afflicted with such pain. She was kind, tender, and gracious. But while the healing grace never came to her, sustaining grace did. In spite of her crippled hands and broken body, her vibrant faith and enthralling love for life had a powerful impact on everyone she met. Like the apostle Paul, Aunt Evelyn discovered that God’s grace is indeed sufficient.

Sometimes God says no to us. Sometimes we don’t get the Roy Rogers’ chaps we ask for or the healing that we desire. But in God’s denial, he can still accomplish a great work in and through our lives. The grace that saves us also keeps us.

We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2018: Hope and Future

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It’s interesting when one reads the book of Joshua, chapter two reads like a sidebar. As a chapter, it is unnecessary in telling the story. If you read chapter one then skipped chapter two and picked up with chapter three you wouldn’t miss anything in the progression. So why is chapter two included? What is the purpose of Joshua 2 and the story of Rahab, the prostitute? Was it so we would be grateful for the past? Was it so we could look back with amazement at what God did?

The purpose of Rahab’s story is not to tell us what God did. The purpose of Rahab’s story is to tell us what God does.

This is not a Sunday School story. It’s not a romantic fable. This event is a historic moment in which a real God enlisted the help of a real person to bring real hope and a future to his people.

But that’s not all. The story of Rahab does not end at Joshua 2.

  1. She started a new life. Not only did she survive the battle of Jericho, but Rahab also became a member of the Israelite community. She packed up and moved on with the people of God. She started completely over. The Bible informs us that she later married a Jewish boy name Salmon and raised a family of her own. She gained respect in the community.
  2. She also established a godly lineage. The first chapter of Matthew chronicles the ancestors of Jesus Christ. Guess who’s on that list? Rahab. Her descendants became the kings of Israel and Judah. The Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, was of a former prostitute’s lineage.
  3. She confirmed a legacy of faith. Jewish tradition holds that Rahab was one of the four most beautiful women who ever lived. She’s renowned as a hero of Israel even today. The book of Hebrews lists men and women set apart for their great faith. Look who shows up: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Heb. 11:31 NIV).

How has God used you? In what ways has God tapped you for service? When has God looked past your flaws because he loved you and chose to use you as a part of his unfolding plan? Look closely, and you will see how God has worked giving you a new life and a lingering legacy. God doesn’t want you to forget how he could use a prostitute named Rahab, and he doesn’t want you to forget how he can use you. You have a hope and a future.

May your life in 2018 be filled with extraordinary blessings and unparalleled favor.

Start your days off right in 2018. We often obsess on the life we want as obtaining certain possessions or higher status. But the life we want is much loftier than that. It hinges on undeniable traits, disciplines, and characteristics that define the soul and heart of a person. I write about this life in 21 Days to the Life You’ve Always Imagined. The book contains twenty-one daily readings to help you focus on what matters most for a life that matters. The daily assignments that follow each chapter will help you implement what is lacking in your life to discover and enjoy the life you’ve always imagined. Click here to claim your copy.

 

 

 

 

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The Cradle and the Cross

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A woman was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable. And after hours of hearing both her children asking for everything they saw on those many shelves, she finally made it to the elevator with her two kids.

She felt what so many of us feel during the holiday season time of the year. Overwhelming pressure to go to every party, every housewarming, taste all the holiday food and treats, getting that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, making sure we don’t forget anyone on our card list, and the pressure of making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.

Finally, the elevator doors opened, and there was already a crowd in the car. She pushed her way into the car and dragged her two kids in with her and all the bags of gifts. When the doors closed, she couldn’t take it anymore and stated, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.”

From the back of the car everyone heard a quiet calm voice respond, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him.”

All born will die. Jesus was born to die.

It was the reason for his coming. Without a Good Friday and Easter, Christmas is just another holiday and not a holy day. To appreciate Christmas, we have to understand the relationship between the cradle and the cross. The most accurate picture of Christmas has a crib with the shadow of the cross looming over it. Jesus did not come into the world just to provide beautiful pageantry. He did not come so people could “Ooh and ah” over the precious baby. The essence of the Christmas season is not that Jesus was a baby. That’s important only in so much as it helps us to understand that he entered into the realm of humanity, that ultimately, he might save his people from their sin. The bottom line was that this baby would die, providing salvation for all who would believe.

In fact, his name—Jesus—means Savior. Jesus came to save. To redeem a fallen humanity. To make way for sinful people to approach a holy God. The only way he could accomplish that feat was through his death.

Christmas, therefore, is not just about a baby; it’s about a cross. See Jesus on the cross. Because he was 100% God and 100% man, he reached up with one hand and took hold of the Father, and he reached down with the other, taking hold of sinful humanity, and by his unique nature, he brought us together at the cross.

The whole purpose of his coming into the world was to die. His death fulfilled prophecy accomplishing God’s will, and conquering sin.

I fear at the Christmas season that we get caught up in the pageantry, the lights, the spectacle, the parties, the gift exchanging, the decorations, and all of that, that we forget that the baby would die for the sins of all humanity. Not that we shouldn’t be joyful and celebratory, we should. But, we should also have one eye on Good Friday when Jesus would hang from a rugged Roman cross. Without the cross, the birth is meaningless.

Jesus was born into the world to be our Savior. And, for that to happen, he had to die. Don’t forget that this Christmas.

I wrote a poem that embodies this truth entitled “Born to Die.”

People crowded tiny Bethlehem; it bulged at all sides.
The census brought visitors from far and wide.
“No room, no room,” was the Innkeeper’s cry.
The guest in the stable was born to die.

Touching him, Mary must have known,
By the Holy Spirit, his seed had been sown.
With swaddling clothes in a manger, he lies,
The little baby was born to die.

The wise men visited from afar,
With gifts so precious, led by a star.
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the best money could buy.
But God’s gracious gift was born to die.

The shepherds gazed into the moonlit night.
An angel revealed an unbelievable sight.
Quickly they came, kneeling in the straw so dry,
Caressing the innocent lamb born to die.

Years later the child was nailed to a cross.
Down the splintery beam, his blood trickled like moss.
Onlookers passed uttering but a sigh.
Didn’t they understand? The Savior was born to die.

Nineteen centuries have passed the corridors of time.
Many celebrate Christmas but fail to comprehend the crime.
Merely recognizing his birth is no alibi
For adoring the eternal king born to die.

And, the good news is that Jesus died for you. It is the gift of Christmas. Jesus had you on his mind from the very beginning. Celebrate that. Then, you will understand the real meaning of Christmas.

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Do You Pass the Integrity Test?

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Integrity is to our character what health is to our body, or 20/20 vision is to our eyes. A person of integrity is whole; their life put together. In other words, who that person is when people are watching is the same as who that person is when no one is watching.

A person of integrity is like an oak tree. Strong. Tall. Deeply rooted. Growing upward. Fruitful. And, yes, exposed to life’s storms. In a thunderstorm, which tree is most likely to draw the lightning strike? Lightning, more times than not, strikes the tallest object. Consequently, we can expect that those who stand tallest for God will draw fire.

Daniel
Daniel is one of those biblical characters we usually associate with just one event. For Daniel, it is the lion’s den. But instead, we need to remember him because of the bottom line message of his life: his integrity. It flowed out of every pore of his being. It was the reason he was thrown into the lion’s den in the first place. The story of Daniel communicates that sometimes life throws us a curve ball when we least expect it. Our integrity will determine how we respond.

“So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den” (Dan. 6:16). Daniel was not in the lions’ den because he had done something wrong but because he had done something right. That’s a little bit confusing, isn’t it? We are under the impression that, when we do what is wrong, we will be punished for it and that, when we do what is right, we will be rewarded for it. That makes good sense, but it isn’t always true. Sometimes, when we do things wrong, we are rewarded for it (as far as this world is concerned), and occasionally, when we do what is right, we pay a terrible price for it.

Bob
A few years ago, my friend Bob faced a real dilemma. Bob, part of a management team at work, is responsible for cost and schedule management. “In other words,” he explains, “it’s my job to make sure my company delivers whatever we’re developing to our client on schedule and for the price specified in our contract.” Working with the space-station program, Bob realized a few years into the contract that his company could not deliver on their promise. He went to his superiors.

They told him to massage the figures. “Make it work.”

“But I can’t do that,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right.”

“Either do it, or we will find someone else who will do it.”

Bob wrestled with his decision over the weekend. He was in a real lions’-den predicament. What would he do? On Monday, he faced the threat of losing his job because of doing what was right. As a matter of fact, on Monday he was fired.

Daniel was not the last man to suffer for doing what was right. It cost him to keep his integrity intact. Likewise, Bob suffered. And we will suffer. And it will cost us. Count on it. Integrity always draws fire.

Atticus Finch
One of my favorite movies is To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, an Alabama lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white girl in the early 1930s. Upon taking the case, Finch immediately comes under the abuse and the scorn of the people in the town. The man was innocent, and Atticus Finch capably defended him; but when the jury came in, nobody was surprised that its verdict was guilty.

The lawyer’s two children were at the courthouse. Unable to find seats downstairs, they had gone into the segregated balcony and had sat next to the town’s black preacher. As the judge retired and the spectators filed out of the courtroom, Jean, Atticus’s daughter, was engrossed in watching her father. He stood alone in the room, transferring papers from the table into his briefcase. Then he put on his coat and walked down the middle aisle toward the exit—a beaten man but with soul intact. Jean felt someone touch her shoulder. She turned around and noticed that everyone on the balcony was standing. The black preacher nudged her again and said, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’ by.”

You and Me
One man’s integrity visibly moved those people. Likewise, people may trick us, deceive us, test us, ignore us, and criticize us. But know and understand this: one day they will stand up when we pass by because we faced life’s tests with integrity.

 

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Seven Values of Planning

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Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was thought eccentric because of how extensively he planned his plays before each game. Most coaches would wait to see how the game unfolded, then respond with plays that seemed appropriate. Walsh wanted the game to react to him.

Walsh won a lot of Super Bowls with his “eccentric” proactive approach. He was a coach that looked into the future in advance.

The wisest person of all instructed, “The wise man looks ahead” (Prov. 14:8 LB).

Planning is the process of creating your organizational future before it happens. Like Bill Walsh, it is creating your actions in advance so that your life will respond to you. It is attempting to write history in advance.

Planning gives direction.
It’s like using a highlighter on a roadmap that indicates where you are, where you are going, and how you are going to get there. The roadmap not only provides information for where you are going; it also suggests where you are not going. Planned abandonment—what you must not do—is just as important as planned adventure—what you will do. Churches, organizations, and ministries do not have the time, resources, and personnel to do everything. (God does not expect individuals or groups, including churches, to be all things to all people.) Planning helps one determine the few things that are worth doing, and worth doing well. One of the best benefits of creatively planning is that it allows you to simplify. It enables you to repack your bags, lighten your load, take the essentials for your journey.

Planning helps you to create rather than react.
Planning allows you the opportunity to create your actions in advance so that life will respond to you. At all times in your life, you are either creating or reacting. Each step along your journey you are faced with a choice either to create or to respond. Many people spend their entire days reacting. Like goalies in a hockey game, with pucks flying at you all day, you respond. You react to news, cars in traffic, people, events, challenges, and obstacles. But there’s a better way to live. It involves making choices and following plans. It consists of choosing to create. You create by planning, forecasting, and looking ahead.

Planning saves time.
A favorite quote of mine is: “One hour of planning saves three hours of execution.” Planning provides a time savings return. It provides me with a marvelous return on my investment. I only have twenty-four hours in a day and 365 days in a year. If I don’t use them wisely by looking ahead, I will forever forfeit those gifts.

Planning allows you to build on your strengths.
Effective leaders determine what the organization can do best and then does it. An expanded structure is built on strengths, not on weaknesses. The best resources—time, money, and personnel—is assigned to the opportunities that build on the strengths.

Planning reduces crisis.
Your life has two controlling influences: plans or pressures. When you choose to plan, you take charge and control of your days. If you fail to look ahead, you will spend your days in crisis mode. You will fall into the trap of “panic planning.”

Planning gives energy.
Failing to focus, you dissipate your energy on less important matters, improper agendas, and lost crusades. You become a dabbler, wasting your power on the trivial many. Much activity exists, but little productivity. On the other hand, when your look is focused, concentrated on the vital few, you are renewed, revitalized, and remade.

Planning is a spiritual experience.
Looking ahead cannot be done without the power of prayer. As your eyes engage the plan, allow your heart to join the Heavenly Father. Planning means praying together. It reminds me of the promise of God, “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matt. 18:20 NASB). Without Christ, you can do nothing. Without him, you begin at no beginning, and you work to no end. So join Christ. Find out what he is doing in the world, and go with him.

 

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