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I Threw My Whole Stick into the Fire

It was the last night of my first summer camp–a week like nothing I had ever experienced. 6 nights sleeping in a tee-pee. We were the 
Diggers, part of the Shoshone tribe. Our meals came on a chuck wagon. It seemed odd that we weren’t taking the cook captive or scalping him. I guess we already had a treaty. Every night ended with all the tribes together at a huge bonfire. Every night we had a competition with the girl tribes. “Way down yonder, not so very far off. A bluejay died of the whooping cough. Well he whooped so hard with the whooping cough, he whooped his head and his tail right off. Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a whole lot worse.” The girls on the other side of the hill always won. But this night was different. No whooping cough. No John Jacob Jingleheimer Smith. Just one simple, life-changing question… “Will you do whatever God wants you to do with you life?”
I thought long and hard about that question. I thought… as long as it means playing for Coach Wooden as his “right-handed Lynne Shackelford.” Pettey from the baseline… swish! I thought… as long as it meant scoring the winning touchdown by running right over my friend Mike so he would finally shut up about the Trojans being better than the Bruins. I thought… as long as I could still go body-surfing at Huntington Beach. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the question had no “as long as” clause. The question was “whatever God wants you to do?”
Our “chief”–full headdress and all–said, “If you want to dedicate your life to God, pick up one of these sticks from the wood pile, break it in half, then throw half into the fire and keep the other half to remind you of your decision tonight.” I jumped to my feet and grabbed a small stick from the pile. I waited in line for my turn. When the boy in front of me had broken his stick and thrown half of it into the fire, I knew all eyes were on me. I grabbed my little stick with both hands and with all my 9-year-old strength tried to break it; but it wouldn’t break! The stick was too short. I started to panic. I gave it a mighty blow across my knee–the snap on my cut-off J.C. Penney jeans popped open. I was sure everyone was watching and giggling as I held my pants up with one hand and held my stick that wouldn’t break in the other. It felt like every eye was glued on me as I stood there, frozen in the firelight–so I took a deep breath and I threw my whole stick into the fire.
I guess God would have to remind me of this night and this choice, since I had nothing left in my hand. And deep inside, a quiet voice–a voice I would hear again from time to time–whispered, “Don’t worry, I will remind you–I will remind you that you freely gave it all.”
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. (Romans 12:1, NLT)

A Fresh Commitment

Scripture- Deuteronomy 30:20 I also call on you to love the Lord your God, to obey him and be loyal to him, for he gives you life and enables you to live continually in the land the Lord promised to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Observations- Moses called a new generation in Israel to a fresh commitment. He was preparing them to enter the land he had promised to Abraham’s descendants forever. This was to be a fresh commitment of the heart–a personal love for a personal God. 2nd, this was a fresh commitment of action–obedience to the will and the way of God. And this was a fresh commitment of the will–a spirit of loyalty rather than grudging compliance. Moses reminded this new generation that God is worthy of this fresh commitment because he is the source and sustainer of life; and he is faithful to all his covenants.
Application- God wants my commitment to stay fresh. Just as God’s compassion is new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23), so is my commitment to take up my cross and follow him (Luke 9:23). My fresh commitment is built on my response of love to a personal God who loves me personally. He is not removed and far off; God is present and active in my life. My fresh commitment is visible in acts of obedience. Jesus told his disciples that obedience was evidence of their love; and so it is for me. Yet obedience must be done in the right spirit. Obedience must not be done with a spirit of resentment or grudging compliance. God is not a bully I surrender to; he is a righteous king who deserves my loyalty. My fresh commitment is a commitment of my heart, my actions, and my will–a commitment of love, obedience, and loyalty. My Lord and God deserves a fresh commitment each and every day.
Prayer- Abba, you are the giver and sustainer of life. You are faithful to all your covenants; so you deserve my fresh commitment of love, obedience, and loyalty. I love you Lord. I surrender to your will for my life wherever it may lead me. I pledge my loyalty to you my King. May my love, obedience, and loyalty never grow stale. As your compassion is fresh every morning; may my commitment remain fresh for you.

The Temptation of Abundance

Scripture- Deuteronomy 8:17-18 Be careful not to say, “My own ability and skill have gotten me this wealth.” You must remember the Lord your God, for he is the one who gives ability to get wealth; if you do this he will confirm his covenant that he made by oath to your ancestors, even as he has to this day.
Observations- Moses was preparing the next generation of Israel to enter the Promised Land by reviewing the law and by reminding them of God’s blessing. This generation had been raised in the wilderness and had seen God’s protection and provision in the scarcity of the desert. They were about to enter a land that was abundant with natural wealth–a land that had already been tamed and built up by others. Moses warned them of the temptation to take credit for the abundance they were about to enjoy. Protection and provision in the scarcity of the wilderness was more clearly seen as coming from God. The temptation of abundance was to grow complacent, or worse yet, to take the credit.
Application- Wilderness times–times of scarcity and survival–cause me to depend on God. I am quick to cry out for help and tend to see God’s protection and provision more clearly. Wilderness times also tend to produce a more thankful heart. Times of abundance can be a very dangerous place. When I have all the health and wealth I need, it is tempting to become complacent and self-sufficient. It is also tempting to forget where the blessings come from. It is amazing to see how quick I am to cry out and even blame God when things get difficult. I think I give God much more blame than he deserves. I also think I give him much less credit than he deserves. I need to listen to Moses’ warning about taking credit for the blessings of my life. I also need to give God glory for his protection, his provision, and his presence whether I am living through a “wilderness” time or a time of abundance.
Prayer- Abba, you deserve glory for every blessing in my life–for family, for food and shelter, for providing for needs and luxuries, for health and for healing–these all come from your hand. Even the ability to work for a living–for opportunities, for jobs, for talent and experience–these too are gifts from your hand Abba. Every good and perfect gift truly does come from you. Whether I am in the wilderness or in the land of abundance; you deserve my praise and my devotion.

Reminders as You Come and Go with God

Scripture- Deuteronomy 6:9 Inscribe them (God’s commands) on the door frames of your houses and gates.
Observations- In Deuteronomy 6 Moses was re-stating the law of God to a new generation of Israel–the generation that was about to enter the land promised to them through Abraham. Moses reminded them that living God’s way was the pathway to blessing in this new land. Moses gave them the Shema–the summary of the law calling for complete love for God as individuals and as a community. They were to be devoted to God in mind, soul, and strength. Then Moses gave them practical ways to be reminded on a daily basis to focus their lives in devotion to God. One of those practical ways was to inscribe this summary on the door frames of their houses and gates so every time they opened and closed them as they went about their daily lives–as they went out to work, to trade, to socialize–they were to do so in complete devotion to God. And as they came home as husbands and wives, as parents and children; their entire beings were to be devoted to God.
Application- I have placed reminders in my life of my devotion to God and to living His way. There are pictures with sayings like “Follow the Son,” “love is all you need,” “the best things in life aren’t things,” and “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;” placed by the doors I go in and out of every day–the doors to my home and my office. They are there to remind me to go about my roles as a husband, father, and servant-leader from a place of devotion to God. I have pictures in my office of lighthouses and of the chapel in Yosemite Valley to remind me of the mission of I have given my life to in obedience to God’s calling. My computer has screen savers of lightning strikes to remind me of God’s presence in the current storm I am facing. One of my daughters gave me two little boxes to put a copy of the Shema in and then mount by the door frame of my home and my office. I will mount them this week to remind me as I come and go that God is the focus of my devotion. These visual reminders are there so I will never forget who really matters–so I will never forget that my love for God is the foundation of my life. These visual reminders prompt me to come and go loving God with all that I am.
Prayer- Abba, you alone deserve my devotion. Devotion to family, to friends, and to my life’s mission all flow from my devotion to you. As I come and go this day, help me to be keenly in tune to hear your voice and sense your presence.

A Well-Positioned Light

Scripture- Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.
Observations- When Jesus said, “In the same way…” he was referring back to what he had just said about positioning the light. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. A light on a stand lights up the whole house. With the word “let” Jesus tells us that we are involved in the positioning of our light before people. Our light shows up in our actions in the world. Our actions should point the attention to God not to ourselves. The goal is God’s glory, not our own.
Application- A couple of questions call for an answer on my part. First, how can I best position myself so that my light is useful and of benefit to others? I must not hide away like some kind of recluse. I must find ways to be out in the community rather than fortressed in my home or my church. It is my actions more than my words that position my light. How I treat others–the kind of husband and father I am– the kindness I show in a world that is often unkind–these are the kinds of things that position my light. Second, how can I make sure that my light points to God? I must always remember that God is the one who lights up my life. I have no light to shine apart from God’s new life in me. He lights the candle–I shine it whenever and wherever I can. If people try to credit me for the light, I must be quick to reflect that honor to God. He alone deserves all glory, honor, and praise.
Prayer- Abba, as you open doors of opportunity–as you create positions of influence where my light can shine–I want to shine bright and clear and strong. Remove the barriers that cover my light. Please position me right where you want me each and every day. May you always receive the glory, honor, and praise for the light you have lit in my life.

The Gifts of Forgetfulness and Fruitfulness

Scripture- Genesis 41:51-52  51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, “Certainly God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” 52 He named the second child Ephraim, saying, “Certainly God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”
Observations- God caused Pharaoh to move Joseph from prison to the place of second in command in all of Egypt because God gave Joseph the ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Pharaoh also provided a wife for Joseph and God blessed them with 2 sons. The first son Joseph named Manasseh which means, “he who brings about forgetfulness.” Through the birth of his firstborn, God helped Joseph forget his past trials and the betrayals of his own brothers. Joseph named his second son Ephraim which means, “to bear fruit.” Joseph’s second son was used by God to remind Joseph of the fruitfulness of his life even in a challenging circumstances and in a location apart from his family and familiar surroundings.
Application- Far too often I struggle in my walk of faith because I can’t let go of past hurts or because I am not content with my present circumstances. Too much focus on the “rear-view mirror” is a dangerous way to move through life. Bitterness over past disappointments can affect how I perceive the present and can rob me of my joy. Second-guessing decisions or fantasizing different outcomes is fruitless thinking and keeps me frozen in the past. Discontent over present circumstances robs God of His place in my life as the giver of every good gift. Am I looking to passing circumstances for satisfaction in life; or am I looking to God for all I could ever need or want? Joy is not found in the past. Joy is destroyed by discontent. Joy is found with eyes facing forward, enjoying God’s presence as I walk with him with the confident hope of my eternal home.
Prayer- Abba, help me keep my eyes facing forward. I am tired of living with my mind filled with regret. Thank you for forgiving my past transgressions and failures. I place the hurts and betrayals in your hands. I will not be consumed by regret and disappointment. I know that right here, right now I have everything I need. My hope is not here. It is certainly not in the past. My hope is in heaven which means my hope is in an eternity filled with your presence. Abba, help me live in the moment with my eyes focused forward.

Notice, Feel, Speak

Scripture- Luke 7:13 When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 
Observations- Jesus and his disciples happened upon a funeral procession heading out of the village. A widow was burying her only son. A large crowd was there to comfort her. What Jesus noticed was the tears of a mother. The mother’s tears moved Jesus to compassion. His concern was not for the one who had died, but the one left behind who had just suffered another loss. He told her not to weep and then he brought her son back to life.
Application- I wonder if Jesus was thinking of the loss his own mother would soon experience when he would be crucified? Mary was a widow. She had other children, yet Jesus would ask John to care for her. It seems like there was some disfunction there–probably because Jesus’ brothers weren’t believing yet. Whatever his thought process, Jesus observed someone who was really hurting and he felt compassion–her loss touched his heart. At the risk of being intrusive, he spoke words of comfort to this hurting woman. He noticed. He felt. He spoke. I may not be able to raise someone from the dead, but I can notice, I can feel, and I can speak words of comfort.
Prayer- Abba, help me notice when people are hurting. Help me enter into their pain. Please give me words of comfort and the courage to reach out. Thank you for the people in my life who notice, feel, and speak.