When we Rest

Have you ever seen a kid that is fighting sleep so hard that it is funny? My wife might say that she has seen me do that. A typical weeknight for us consists of her studying her medical schoolbooks while I watch YouTube videos on the couch. Almost nightly she wakes me up on the couch to tell me to go to bed, and almost nightly I reply, “I wasn’t asleep.”

Rest is necessary and important physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We know that’s true. We know we need rest… but like that kid we often fight it.

Why do we resist rest?

When athletes are training for competition, one of the most important aspects of training that must be remembered is this; rest is what actually builds muscle and improves our performance. The training breaks them down and leaves them weak. That is why the rest is so important. While this is true in the realm of athletics, it seems that it is also true in God’s eyes.

The fourth commandment given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai reads as follows in Exodus 20:8,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

The Lord continues saying in verses 9-11,

Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The Lord rested… so why do we resist rest. There are a couple of things that happen when we rest. Let’s think together.


  • When we Rest, We Trust

The fourth commandment directs us to observe the Sabbath, to rest one day a week. The nation of Israel regularly got themselves into trouble because they refused to honor the Sabbath. It was an issue for them the same as it most likely is for many of us!

The first use of the term Sabbath in the Old Testament is in Exodus when God was instructing the Israelites about rules for gathering manna. Six days they were to collect manna, but the day before Sabbath they were told to gather twice as much. When they took in too much manna on other days it rotted, but the day before Sabbath it remained perfectly edible.

But… did they follow God’s clear instructions? Exodus 16:27-30 says,

On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.

Some of the people didn’t believe God. They didn’t believe he had given them Sabbath, that he would provide for them, or that he would allow them to truly rest.

I wonder if that’s our biggest problem with rest… we simply don’t believe God.

Rest is an opportunity for us as believers to exercise our trust in God for our daily lives and needs as it was for the Israelites in the desert. The Israelites risked being hungry for a day if God didn’t come through on His word, but they put themselves in a situation in which they would see God’s faithfulness, provision, and the truth of his Word at work.

So, when we resist rest we must ask ourselves: Do I trust God to meet my needs, or do I feel like I had better work a little more to make sure my needs are met? To be honest, sometimes I claim the former but live the latter.

By resting we trust God to provide for our material and physical needs like the Israelites did in the wilderness, but while writing this I am reminded that my most desperate need is for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and no matter how frantically I work, I will never achieve that by my own effort. Work alone cannot earn grace! But thankfully, I don’t have to, work for those things. Jesus took care of them for me through his death and resurrection. In faith, I can rest in the truth that I am forgiven and reconciled. If Jesus Christ willingly died for me, why would he not also meet my daily needs?

God does not say, “Wait until all your enemies have been destroyed, until every problem in your life has been resolved, then you can rest.” Instead He says in Psalm 110:1-2,

Rest first until I make all your enemies your footstool.

Joseph Prince wrote,

What do you see when it comes to healing for a condition in your sick body or breakthroughs for your financial challenges? Do you see lack and say, “Let me get out of this situation first. Let me hear the doctors’ reports say that everything is clear, and then I can rest”?

We find it hard to rest because our human nature is inclined toward worry and restlessness. The devil loves to see human nature reign in the church and to have you believe that you can only rest when things go well or when you see your breakthroughs. Stop saying, “When my child finishes primary school, I will stop worrying and rest.” You know what? After primary school, there is secondary school. Then, after your child completes secondary school, you will say, “I think when my child finishes university, then I will rest.” And you will never rest!

God wants us to find rest in the midst of the storm. And when you rest in Him, things will go well. This doesn’t mean that there is no storm… but, it does mean that He will see us through the storm (Psalm 46).


  • When we Rest, He Works 

What happens when we become make a concentrated effort to rest? Let’s look at this secret hidden in the story of how Jesus healed a man who had been suffering from an infirmity for 38 years.

John 5:8–9 says,

Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take
up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

Why did Jesus ask the man to take up his bed? Why not just ask him to stand up and walk? I think the question Jesus asks paints a picture of what Christ is saying to each of us. That command Jesus gave to take up the bed paints a picture for us of a command to rest in Him and to allow Him to do the work. For this man the work Jesus accomplished was a work of healing. What work are you needing Jesus to accomplish? So, in this story what Jesus was actually saying to the man was, “Rise, take up your rest and walk!”

Notice that the day this story occurs day was the Sabbath, the day of rest. Therefore, what God is saying is that when you rest, He works! Isn’t this amazing?

On the day that man rests, God is able to work!

Matthew 11:28 says,

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

We’re not used to handing control over to anyone else. We want to do it our way, on our timing. We don’t trust other people to do things exactly the way we want them, and we have a hard time trusting God too.

But can you think of anyone more competent than God? Can’t the all-powerful being who created the universe and who keeps it running take care of your problems?

When you rest in God, you don’t tell him what to do or how to do it. You take a break from your troubles and allow Him to work!


Remember that your time of rest is also a time to remember and to thank God for all that He has done for you. It’s not simply a time to stop doing all things… it is a time to stop your busywork and to focus on Christ.

I encourage each of you, and myself, to try and slow down and take the time to rest. We are all so rushed and so busy.  God commands us to rest because He loves us and He knows what’s best for us! What might happen if we put a little trust in Him?  Let’s be encouraged to show a little faith and find out.

May God give us the strength to rest!

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Our Focus

Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.

The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,

Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.

But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.

But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.


  • Christ is our mediator before the Throne.

I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!

John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

1 Timothy 2:5 says,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!

  • All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.

We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!

Hosea 6:2: says,

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.

On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!

The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.

Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!

  • Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.

The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.

Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?


The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!

 

The Value of Presentation

 


From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!


When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.

On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,

Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.

As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.

But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!

I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!

As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!

For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.

The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”

What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.

But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.

What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.

The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.

I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 says,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.

The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.

But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!

Our sincerity can be found in our response.

I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.

In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.

James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.

So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.

Psalm 96:7-9 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

With Identity comes Blessing: The Story of Jacob

 

The story of Jacob is one that we should all be familiar with from Scripture. A younger brother who rises up to rule over his older brother. Inspiring right! Well… not exactly.

What do we know about Jacob?

Deep-seated family hostilities characterized Jacob’s life. He was a determined man; some would consider him to be ruthless. He was definitely a con artist, a liar, and a manipulator. I find it interesting that we see stories that paint this picture of the man we know as Jacob, but his name also tells a lot about him. In ancient times a name often carried a meaning or purpose for your life. If Jacob’s name was his purpose then he surely accomplished it… the name Jacob not only means “deceiver,” but more literally it means “heel grabber.”

From birth Jacob exhibiting greed and a desire to take what wasn’t rightfully his.

Genesis 25:19-28 paints this picture,

These are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham fathered Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife. And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Now is we follow along in Genesis we see how Jacob is cunning and manipulative beginning early in his life. You’d have to be to trick your older brother out of his birthright in trade for a bowl of soup! But… in my opinion there comes a point in Genesis 27 where Jacob is at the crossroads. He can dive all in and live up to his name or he can attempt to straighten his life out. Let’s read what happens. Genesis 27:1-35 says,

When Isaac was old and his eyes were so weak that he could no longer see, he called for Esau his older son and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he answered. Isaac said, “I am now an old man and don’t know the day of my death. Now then, get your equipment—your quiver and bow—and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me. Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.” Now Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to his son Esau. When Esau left for the open country to hunt game and bring it back, Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, ‘Bring me some game and prepare me some tasty food to eat, so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’ Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.” Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” His mother said to him, “My son, let the curse fall on me. Just do what I say; go and get them for me.” So he went and got them and brought them to his mother, and she prepared some tasty food, just the way his father liked it. Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. Then she handed to her son Jacob the tasty food and the bread she had made. He went to his father and said, “My father.” “Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?” Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?” “The Lord your God gave me success,” he replied. Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.” Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “I am,” he replied. Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.” Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.” So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed. May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness— an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.” After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.” Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!” When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

Jacob went all in. A life of deceit…. of misinformed identity is what he chose. Now obviously Esau didn’t take the news of the theft well. Genesis 27:41 says,

Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

As we continue through this story of Jacob, a story of lost identity and reconciliation, let’s find some application together.


  • Your sin will always catch up with you.

Following this threat on his life Jacob had to flee his own family because of his sinfulness. He had to begin a life on the run in order to try to “outrun” his sin. But… we know that you can’t outrun sin and your decisions will always catch up to you in one way or another.

In Genesis 27:43 Rebekah sends Jacob away to save his life. That passage says,

Now then, my son, do what I say: Flee at once to my brother Laban in Harran.

Jacob’s life was built on a foundation of deceit. He made a “dog eat dog” world for himself. Jacob most definitely lived by the motto: “every man for themselves.” That motto comes back to bite him when he himself is deceived or “conned.” Genesis 29:18-30 says,

Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her. And Laban gave his servant Zilpah to his daughter as her attendant. When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?” Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.” And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

So Jacob had the tables turned and it cost him 14 years of his life! But… if he hadn’t learned his lesson enough he decided to attempt his con artist scheme yet again in order to gain wealth.

Genesis 30:41-43 says,

Whenever the stronger females were in heat, Jacob would place the branches in the troughs in front of the animals so they would mate near the branches, but if the animals were weak, he would not place them there. So the weak animals went to Laban and the strong ones to Jacob. In this way the man grew exceedingly prosperous and came to own large flocks, and female and male servants, and camels and donkeys.

So because of his own scheming, Jacob successfully turned a few weeks into twenty years, and when Laban his uncle found out he had been cheated he decided himself to kill Jacob. So… Jacob found himself fleeing for his life from his father-in-law and God had to intervene to prevent Laban from killing him.

How many times has God had to intervene on our behalf? How has God been working “behind the scenes” of your life… your plans?

  • You never win a fight with God

On his way back home, Jacob realized that he had to travel through Esau’s land. God spoke to Jacob again and promised to be with him (31:3). He followed this promise up by sending some angels to reassure Jacob of his protection (32:1-2).

But Jacob was still scheming rather than trusting. He sent some of his servants to bribe Esau with schmoozing and the hope of gifts (32:3-5). But they returned with news that sent chills down Jacob’s spine–Esau was coming to see him with 400 men! The gig was up. He had hit rock bottom and the time of reckoning was upon him. Have you ever been there?

For the first recorded time, Jacob prayed to God for protection (32:9-12).

But… then he hatched an elaborate and self-protective plan to buy Esau off. Genesis 32:13-20 says,

He spent the night there, and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants, “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the herds.” He instructed the one in the lead: “When my brother Esau meets you and asks, ‘Who do you belong to, and where are you going, and who owns all these animals in front of you?’ then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” He also instructed the second, the third and all the others who followed the herds: “You are to say the same thing to Esau when you meet him. And be sure to say, ‘Your servant Jacob is coming behind us.’” For he thought, “I will pacify him with these gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”

How many times have we hit rock bottom and cried out to God only to have the enemy whisper in our ears afterwards and convince us that “we can handle it on our own” or, “God can’t help you… that prayer wasn’t real?” It happens often! Alone that night before he had to face Esau, Jacob had an encounter with God that was the defining moment of his life . . .

Genesis 32:22-31 says,

The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

God initiated a wrestling match, and how did Jacob respond?

Jacob responded by fighting back all night long (32:24). Why would Jacob fight with God? God was fighting with Jacob for his own future… to save his life! I believe that this is a picture of Jacob’s relationship with God the whole time. It wasn’t primarily Esau or Laban that Jacob was resisting and trying to get around… it was God himself. God had a will for Jacob’s life and made promises to him pertaining to that will, but Jacob had been stubbornly resisting God’s leadership at every step.

How do we resist God? How do we respond when God wrestles with us?

My favorite part of this scripture is where after wrestling all night, God dislocated Jacob’s hip with a single touch We see that in Genesis 32:25,

When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 

When reading this I ask myself… Why the hip? I have come to this conclusion,

God doesn’t want to kill or destroy you… he only wants to change the way you walk forever.

You see, with a bummed hip Jacob can only hang on to God. Man, this is a picture of our proper relationship with God! If you have ever had a limp you understand how hard it is to blend into a crowd. You will always stand out! God wants to change the way we walk forever so everyone can see who has touched us!

A single touch from God can leave a lasting mark!

Now that Jacob is in a dependent posture, God blesses him and renames him to cleanse him from his old ways (“deceiver”) and give him a new identity to live up to (“one who strives effectively with God”).

  • God is always willing to bless His children.

Often when reading this story we get so caught up in the wrestling match that Jacob brought upon himself and miss the fact that God had always been willing to bless Jacob. He had only been waiting for Jacob to ask with a trusting, dependent heart. Jacob thought he could do it without God… he sought out his own blessing and that only led to pain and suffering.

You see, God will not bless a deceitful heart indefinitely. Genesis 32:26-30 says,

Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

In this passage God changes Jacob’s identity and renames him. Jacob had spent his entire life creating his own identity but the true blessing didn’t come until Jacob accepted his identity before God. On God’s terms.

Like many of us Jacob spent his life trying to evade God, and make it on his own terms… his own way, with his own plan. Jacob wrestled with God all night. It was an exhausting struggle that left him crippled. It was only after he came to grips with God and ceased his struggling, realizing that he could not go on without Him, that he received God’s blessing.

So… what happens next? Jacob learned the lesson, and God blessed/ delivered him. The next morning, he dropped his elaborate and self-protective plan with Esau and instead passed ahead of everyone to meet him directly trusting God’s promise to protect him. Genesis 33:3-4 says,

He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

Jacob discovered that Esau had forgiven him, and he went on to supply godly leadership for his family.

  • God loves you enough to “step out on the mat.”

God works through suffering and adversity to teach us our need to depend on him. Our primary problem is one of deeply-rooted self-sufficiency, and often God works to “break” this through adversity.

Often (like Jacob), he just lets us reap the consequences of our poor choices:

  • Alienation due to deception
  • Broken relationships due to sin
  • Lost jobs due to irresponsibility or lack of respect for authority

Sometimes, he intervenes with specific discipline:

  • Wrestling matches/ physical adversity
  • Sickness
  • Career disappointments
  • Discipline through others

In the end, He loves you enough to “take you to the mat” and fight for your life, your purpose, and your identity.

  • God isn’t just the God of your successes… but He is also the God of your failures.

To know Jacob’s life is to know a life of struggles. Most of which he brought upon himself. It’s in Jacob’s story we can easily recognize our own elements of struggle: fears/ worries, darkness, loneliness, vulnerabilities, empty feelings of powerlessness, exhaustion and relentless pain.

But guess what… we aren’t alone! Even the apostle Paul experienced similar discouragements and fears! 2 Corinthians 7:5 says,

For when we came into Macedonia, we had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.

But, in truth, God does not want to leave us with our trials, our fears, our battles in life. It is through Him that we can receive the power of conversion and transformation, the gift of not only surrender, but freedom, and the gifts of endurance, faith and courage. In the end, Jacob does what we all must do. He confronts his failures, his weaknesses, his sins, all the things that are hurting him… and faces God.

What we learn from this remarkable incident in the life of Jacob is that our lives are never meant to be easy. This is especially true when we take it upon ourselves to wrestle with God and His will for our lives. We also learn that as Christians, despite our trials and tribulations, our strivings in this life are never devoid of God’s presence, and His blessing inevitably follows the struggle, which can sometimes be messy and chaotic. Real growth experiences always involve struggle and pain.

As this blog comes to an end, I want to make this last point very clear: God isn’t ashamed of our past, our fears, or our failures.

Exodus 3:1-6 says,

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

We saw in Genesis that God had renamed Jacob and given him a new identity. So… why does He here in Exodus refer to him by his “old” sinful name?

Because God isn’t just the God of the “good” us… instead He is the God of both or victories and defeats… our successes and failures.


So, how are we resisting?

It is important to remember that conversion is not only saying “I’ll take the free gift you offer me through Christ”-but also saying “I am willing to bow to you and submit to your leadership.”

 

 

Where does our Creativity come From?

So last week we looked at why we as Believers should create. We looked throughout Scripture and pulled specific passages providing us with information about creativity and our purpose in having and utilizing it for God’s glory.

But… what we failed to discuss is where our creativity comes from.

When God created the world, he created man and woman in his own image. God was the first creator. He told His human creation to be fruitful and multiply and to rule over all that he had created. God also allowed Adam to name the animals. These acts, though often overlooked, are some of the first recorded creative acts of mankind.

We all know what takes place in Genesis 3… but even though both Adam and Eve fell from the perfection in which they had been created we find that mankind’s creativity continued on.

You may be asking… “Tanner, how can you know this?”

My answer to that is historically man had to advance. In the early chapters of Genesis we see the rise of agriculture, the building of cities, the forging of tools and even the beginning of music.

In the middle of the genealogies in Genesis 4 we come across a man named Jubal. Genesis 4:21 says,

Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.

Even after the fall man began to put into practice the creative gifts that God had given him to fulfill his task of ruling over creation. And so God, the creator, is the source of all creativity. And in creating man in His own image, God gave man gifts of creativity also.

Let’s discuss some important principles for us to consider while thinking about God’s gift of creativity.


  • God chooses the recipient.

We know that creativity comes from God. Most people attribute the works of the Holy Spirit with happenings in the New Testament… but a shock to most is that the first person to receive the Spirit of God was a “creative” in the Old Testament. We see this specifically in Exodus 31:1-5 where it says,

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

This passage in Exodus takes place immediately after the giving of the Ten Commandments. Moses has ascended to the top of Mount Sinai where God has just given him detailed instructions concerning the tabernacle. And then in our passage God tells Moses how the building of the tabernacle is to be accomplished. Through a creative… that He has given the Spirit to in order to create exactly what God had commanded.

In the beginning of that passage we see that God chooses the recipients of His gifts… including the gift of creativity or artistry. God said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel…

We can’t make it happen on our own. God chooses each specific gift and ability that each of us has been blessed with.

I like the continuation of that story in Exodus 40 when the “creatives” have finished the Lord’s work. Exodus 40:24-28 says,

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.

The Spirit of God was so thick in and on the tabernacle that Moses couldn’t even get in! Now that is thick! Miraculous things happen when we respect and utilize the Lord’s gifts and selections. Let us use the gifts of God for His glory!

  • There are a variety of gifts.

Another important thing for us to consider and remember is that God gives a wide variety of creative gifts. We even see in the above passages about Bezalel, found in Exodus, a variety of gifts mentioned.

Exodus 31:4-5 says,

To make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.

Bezalel wasn’t just given one gift. Instead God gave Bezalel a wide variety of gifts to accomplish His purposes at that time.

Romans 12:6-8 tells us that we will have gifts that “differ” and goes on to mention some gifts. That passage says,

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

So… it is important to note that even though we are specifically talking about creative gifts in this blog everything pointed out applies to other gifts of the Spirit as well! I would argue though that all that we do involves some level of creative ability, from the simple setting of a table for dinner to inventing the wheel or writing the next CCLI top hit for the church. Even simple problem solving requires some level of creativity!

So when you think about creativity, don’t just think about the arts! God gives a wide variety of creative gifts, and He has given creative gifts to you, too. And there is a reason God gave you the specific gifts that make you who you are. No single gift is greater than another and we are called to use the ones we have been given for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Kingdom.

  • Every gift has a purpose.

Why did God give Bezalel his specific skills? God had a specific purpose in mind for them. Now… I am sure that he used those skills for many other things as well, but the primary purpose is portrayed in Exodus.

God gave Bezalel all the particular skills that he needed in order to build the tabernacle, and not just to build it, but to build it according to God’s exact specifications!

God gives creative gifts for a purpose.

Christianity is all about being human, God’s creation, to the glory of God the Creator. And so that means taking all that God has created in this world, all of human culture, and all of our creativity and returning it to God in praise. 1 Timothy 4:4 Paul says,

Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

Ephesians 2:10 says,

We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Just as Bezalel’s gifts had a purpose God has also prepared specific works for each of us to do. Not only did He set us aside for these works… but he also created us with the specific gifts necessary to do those good works.

God’s gifts have a purpose, and God has a purpose for the creative gifts he has given you.

Complaining: It’s what we like to do!

It’s easy to complain. Most of us are complainers…

Most of us probably don’t view ourselves as complainers… but that is part of the problem! We all want our voice to be heard. In fact I would say that part of this complaining epidemic spawns from the mindset that for some reason we deserve to have our voice heard.

Our nation is full of complainers. Our churches are full of complainers.

Many of us do well to make it to our cars in the parking lot before we have to voice a complaint or opinion about something on Sundays! How many of us have a running list?

What does your list look like?

Maybe like this: The music is too repetitious or doesn’t fit our preference, the sound system was too loud or soft, the pastor was long-winded or harsh, the baby that cried the whole service, maybe an annoying Brother or Sister in Christ?

I am guilty of this! Let’s ask ourselves… on Mondays do we remember anything about out Sunday service except our perceived negatives? Most of us if honest would have to say that we are masters in the art of complaining.

Why are we so quick to disregard the numerous positives about church, other believers, leadership, etc… in order to jump on the one or two negative aspects and complain?

Most of the time I think we would rather complain than actually work towards a solution to the problem.

You know what they call this? An armchair quarterback! Sporting events are full of armchair quarterbacks. An armchair quarterback is a person who offers advice or an opinion on something in which they have no expertise or involvement.

Is that us? Is this what we have become? Is the call of Christ on our lives merely just to complain? I think not.

It’s not that we really have it so rough, but rather that we don’t always have it our way.

I am convicted when I read verses like Philippians 2:14-15,

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

We should be ashamed of ourselves.

I have done my share of complaining over the years, and you probably have too.

James 5:9 says,

Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.

Criticizing and complaining is not a spiritual gift.

What other reasoning do we need to rid the spirit of complaint from our churches and ourselves? Judgment will be passed onto us for passing judgment on others! Below we will discuss some of the side-effects of our continuous complaints in hopes to bring to light how we are only making things harder for ourselves as commissioners of the Gospel.


  • Tears apart community.

Complaining is easy to do! It is easy to listen to! Complaining is a universal language! It is something we can all relate to!

The first major issue with complaint amongst believers is the fact that it damages and destroys relationships and the unity we all share in Christ. Ultimately, complaining damages relationships.

Colossians 3:12-14 says,

And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against another, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Complaining encourages dissatisfaction, needlessly tears people down, and creates an unappreciative or unnecessary judgmental spirit within us.

Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-5,

Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye?

Let’s not be so quick to find the faults in every situation! God is still sitting on His throne even when the pastor aimlessly babbles for 15 minutes at the beginning of a service, or the worship leader doesn’t play that song that we like so much!

  • Draws our focus away from God’s goodness and promises.

How many times are we quick to forget all that we have been given by God? It’s funny how quickly the many blessings and provisions the Lord has blessed with us are forgotten with the perception of a single negative.

That is what our complaining does… it makes us quick to forget or to take for granted the goodness and blessings of God.

I immediately think about a time in Scripture when complaining and negativity shrouded out the goodness and promises of God. In Numbers the people of Israel are heading toward the Promised Land after they have been freed from the bondage of the Egyptians at the hand of Pharaoh in Exodus.

God has already provided greatly, and He tells them they will receive what they have been promised. But… when the Israelites hear that people in the last city that remains between them and their land are the size of giants, the people begin to grumble and complain and immediately forget God’s promise.

We see this in Number 14:1-4 when it says,

Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

Despite God’s plan, promise, and His numerous provisions for them they allowed their complaining to lead them to appoint a new leader to go back against God. The Israelites allowed their negativity to outshine Christ!

How often do we fall victim to this mentality? How often do we allow our complaints, rants, negativity, and “soap-boxes” to become our leaders?

We see in the following passages in Numbers how God reacted to His people when this attitude arose.

Numbers 14:26-35 says,

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”

Geez! These are often the passages that we like to overlook or attribute to an Old Testament God in comparison to our perceived New Testament Christ. I hate to break it to you… but God doesn’t change. He is the same today as He was in the days of Moses and the Exodus.

God didn’t appreciate the complaints. What I find interesting is that the people weren’t necessarily complaining intentionally against God Himself, but rather their complaints seemed to be directed towards their situation. But in reality, God has ordained or days and a complaint against a situation is in actuality a complaint against God Himself.

Let’s think about it… what do we complain about?

What is our wilderness? What is our giant that we must face?

God has a calling for our life and sometimes that may mean experiencing things that we don’t understand or enjoy. We mustn’t “cheapen” the experience by complaining. Instead we must trust.

The promises and provisions of God that we see are only the tip of the iceberg! God has sheltered us and provided for us numerous times without our knowing it!

  • Consumes valuable time!

Complaining takes a lot of time and energy when we really think about it!

We should take a second to step back and ask ourselves: What good does my complaining do?

I’ve heard it said that, “As Christians, we are called to be the problem solvers, not the problem proclaimers.”

Sure, there are always going to be situations that frankly just stink. We live in a fallen world and we are a fallen creation. But, in the end, is any situation that we are going to face bigger than God? Obviously not. So we do we think our complaining is going to accomplish anything at all? It is a waste of time!

I immediately think of people in the customer service field. Anybody that has worked in this field is going to immediately understand or relate to this example. How about when a person experiences a problem with a product and calls the appropriate services to troubleshoot the problem and instead of taking the advice of the expert they would rather complain about the issue at hand instead of listening and working alongside someone else to resolve the issue and make it better.

It can be so frustrating! And ultimately, the problem just takes that much longer to be resolved because someone needs to “vent” or voice their frustration in an unhelpful way.

We’re supposed to be the troubleshooters. Not the pessimist that is totally comfortable sitting in the midst of a problem or situation without ever attempting to make anything better.

As believers we are supposed to be the encouragers, the motivators, and the accomplishers.

However, I do believe it is important to clarify that we shouldn’t confuse our decision to not complain with a lack of authenticity. As believers we shouldn’t be scared to admit that our lives aren’t perfect! When it comes to our witness, we don’t want to seem so fake and falsely cheerful that we’re no longer relatable. There ought to be room for anger and disappointment within the church handled or vented in a Biblical way. Ephesians 4:29 says,

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

What I love about this verse is how it point out that even when we are let down we are still called to build up and speak grace to people around us. This points us in a God-honoring direction… it acknowledges the bad stuff, where we fall short, but it places emphasis on the positives and works to create an environment of improvement.

The Christian faith isn’t about putting on a fake smile or pretending everything is skippy. Instead, Scripture asks us to surrender our frustrations to a redemptive God.

When things don’t go like they should and we are at our wits end and frustrated beyond belief, we could post a rant on Facebook and complain to our friends, or we can ask God how He might use this shortcoming or situation to shape us and glorify Himself.


Are you a complaining Christian? Do you have such a critical spirit toward others that you hardly realize that you complain against your fellow Christians? Would those who know you best say you are infected with a complaining spirit?

We mustn’t allow complaint to become our way a way of thinking.

You never know… maybe revival would come to the church if we stopped complaining against each other and worked together in unity to further the Gospel and troubleshoot problems!