There is a cloud

On a cold winter night in 1933, a boy was born. It was Christmas Eve. The boy’s parents were poor. Dirt poor. To add to his trials, the boy’s parents were not married when he had been conceived. Soon, siblings followed and they all learned to work on the family farm. But that boy, born on Christmas Eve, had bigger plans for himself.

When the boy got a hold of a catalogue, he would eagerly flip to the menswear section and stare intently at the men dressed in sharp suits. The boy wasn’t destined to keep working on the farm. His imagination was bigger than that. Someday, he would get to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy grew and continued to work on the farm. Circumstances led him to drop out of school before graduation. But he worked. He met a lovely young woman and, after a time of long-distance correspondence, he convinced the girl to marry him. Soon, they welcomed a baby girl into their family. The first of three. They were poor. Dirt poor. But that boy born on Christmas Eve still had bigger plans for himself and his growing family. He still wanted to wear a suit and tie to work every day.

The boy, now a man, had his sights on a certain company, but that company was not hiring. The boy, now a man, didn’t think that should stop him from working for them. So every day, he got up, got dressed and went to work. He earned nothing but the respect of those he helped on the loading docks each day. It wasn’t long before the company decided to start paying the man who wanted to work so badly, he’d do it for nothing. Surely he’d work even harder if he knew he’d be earning a paycheque.

The man born on Christmas Eve worked his way up in the company. Then another company, and then another. By the time he retired, he’d been wearing a suit and tie to work every day for decades. All those days of looking at catalogues daydreaming of the future had finally come to fruition.

In addition to becoming a very influential businessman, the man born on a cold Christmas Eve to poor parents who hadn’t been married when he was conceived, the man who never finished high school, also pastored a church. And then another church and another after that. When the man finally went home to be with Jesus, the building where his own church met was not large enough to contain all of the people whose lives he had touched.

Nothing in the way his life began indicated that a boy born on a farm to poor parents would have had the capacity to affect so many lives in both business and ministry. But that is exactly what my grandfather did. Even when it was no longer fashionable, he still wore a suit and tie to work every day and to preach at church every Sunday.

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.

“There is nothing there,” he said.

Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”

So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.'”

1 Kings 18:43-44 (NIV)

Like a cloud on the horizon the size of a man’s hand, where and how we start has little consequence on how we finish. That small cloud saved a nation from drought and famine. That boy born on Christmas Eve brought countless lives into the kingdom of God through the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and his legacy lives on in every life he touched and every life those lives touch. Even if you are told, there is nothing there, look again. And again. And again. Surely there is a cloud. Maybe you just can’t see it yet.

Read: i Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51

True life

We’re all looking for something or someone. Everyone wants to find purpose or meaning in life. And most people go through their entire lives searching but never finding because they’ve been looking in all the wrong places.

The Sunday after Jesus died by way of crucifixion, the women who had been following him went to the tomb to anoint his body properly for burial. One would assume that the best place to look for someone who had died would be the tomb where their body had been placed, but when they arrived, there was no body to anoint. Just a couple of angels with a message.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Luke 24:5b (NIV)

In the entire account of the empty tomb, this one question stood out to me. In all of our searching for meaning and purpose in life, most often, we look for it among the dead. In John 14:6, Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” If there is life to be found, there is only one place to find it, and it’s not in the world.

The world, as hard as it may try, cannot replace or replicate the life that is found in Christ. Anything that is found outside of Christ can only mimic true life.

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they make take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Timothy 6:18-19 (NIV)

Meaning and purpose cannot be found just anywhere. Paul wrote to Timothy to tell the people to do good, be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. That is where true life begins. It is not a selfish search for ourselves, but a selfless search for Christ.

And if there is any doubt at all:

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.”

John 6:35a (NIV)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

John 6:63 (NIV)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

John 8:12 (NIV)

You may be breathing. Your heart may be beating. But are you alive? Are you truly alive?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26 (NIV)

Life is too short to waste looking for it among the dead. Life, true life, can only be found at the foot of the cross of Jesus.

Read: 1 Kings 10-11, Luke 24:1-35

Keep on

How often do you try something before giving up? Once? Twice? Maybe three times? In a society where instant gratification is the norm, there are a rare few who really keep on in earnest pursuit of anything. I am convinced that is why there are so many who claim to have searched for God and found nothing.

If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me.

Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT)

Earnest isn’t a word we use often. We often follow it with Hemingway or Goes to Camp. (I know the spelling is different, but when we all use autocorrect, who really knows the difference anymore?)

EARNEST: Ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain having a longing desire; warmly engaged or incited.

That sounds like more than a hey God, are you there? Kind of looking.

What are things you really look for in life? Say you lost your wedding band, how hard would you look for it? Under a few couch cushions and then give up? Or would you turn the house upside down? The truth is, we will make time to look for and pursue the things that are important to us.

While these words Jeremiah penned were from God to the enslaved citizens of Jerusalem, Jesus made some similar remarks to his followers.

Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks.

Matthew 7:7-8 (NLT)

When Jesus said, keep on, I don’t think he meant try once or twice. I think he meant keep on until you get what you’re looking for. God isn’t out there playing hide and seek with us always trying to evade capture. He wants us to find Him. But He also wants us to put in the effort to do so.

Daily Bible reading: Jeremiah 29-30, Titus 1

Lay ’em down

Forbes magazine recently called the Needtobreathe the most popular band you’ve never heard of. (If you’ve never heard of them, find their music and listen to all of it.) Today’s reading reminded me of a song from their album The Outsiders, Lay’ Em Down. The bridge goes like this:

We’re all tied to the same old failings
Finding shelter in things we know
We’re all dirty like corrupted small towns
We’ll bring our troubles
Bring our troubles
And lay ’em down

Now you may say, that’s not me, I’m not dirty or corrupted, but in some way or another, we all are. We all fail. We all have troubles. But it doesn’t have to end there.

I took my troubles to the Lord;
I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer.

Psalm 120:1 (NLT)

From hangnails to hangovers to hangups, God wants us to lay all of our troubles at His feet. He’s the God of the great, big stuff, but He’s also the God of the tiny, little things, too. Look at it this way, if He cared enough to make fleas and amoebas, he really does care about the tiny little things. He cared that I had a splinter in my finger that was making work uncomfortable and he cares that you feel alone, without anyone to lean on.

In trouble—every trouble, big or small—we should be looking to God.

I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made the heavens and the earth!

Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT)

Whether you are a saint or a sinner, lost or found, rich or poor, bring your troubles. Come lay ’em down. God wants them so you don’t have to bear them.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 120-123, 1 Corinthians 6

Look!

It’s nice to have people around (if you’re a people person, anyway). It can make you feel important or somehow special to not only have people around, but to have people follow you. Once you get used to having people following you, hanging on your every word, it can be difficult to let that go. But that is exactly what John the Baptist did.

John, Jesus’ cousin, was only a few months older than Jesus. God commissioned him to go ahead of Jesus to proclaim the Messiah, the new King of the Jews, the Son of God. In doing this, John amassed followers—people who believed in his message and allowed John to baptise them in water. These people would follow him around and would help to collect even more followers.

Then Jesus’ time came.

John had a choice to make. He could cling to his followers and continue preparing the way for the Lord or he could do as he did and let go.

The following day, John was again standing with two of his disciples. As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and then declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!”

John 1:35-36 (NLT)

John knew that it wasn’t up to him to keep collecting disciples for himself, but rather to make disciples for Christ. He carried no animosity whatsoever toward his cousin and he willinging allowed his followers to go.

Then John’s two disciples turned and followed Jesus.

John 1:37 (NLT)

Just like that. John lost two followers and Jesus gained two.

Our Commission is the same a John’s—prepare the way for the Son of God and point Him out to any who will listen. But then the difficult part comes, when they’ve met Jesus, we need to let them go. I don’t mean to say that we introduce people to Jesus and then walk away, leaving them to struggle in their newfound faith. New believers need to be taught the Word of God. They need to learn how to be followers of Jesus. But once they have an understanding of the new life they have gained, we don’t get to “keep” them. They are no longer our followers, but Jesus’ followers.

Like John, we need to be able to point and say, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” And then we need to allow those people to follow Christ, not us. It can be difficult sometimes when those people choose a direction we may not have chosen for them. John had probably grown close to Andrew and Peter as they followed him. It is quite possible that they were both followers and friends. Yet, when the time came, he did not hold them back, but pointed at Jesus. Look! John had done his work well because, without question, Andrew and Peter stepped away from John and into step with Jesus.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 16-18, John 1:29-51

Touch and see

Do you ever doubt that Jesus lives in you? Does it ever cross your mind that, maybe, this whole Christianity thing is one great big hoax that has been fooling millions of people for millennia?

Doubt is not the problem. Our response to it is.

And he said to them, “Why are you trouble, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.

Luke 24:38-40 (ESV)

Jesus accepted the doubt of the very men who walked with him. Rather than rebuking them, he gave them proof.

Draw near to God, and he he will draw near to you.

James 4:8a (ESV)

This is one story among countless others. For many of us raised in the church, we may find it difficult to remember a single defining moment in our faith. But for people like the man in the video, God went out of His way to show Himself to a single person who was doubting.

God doesn’t hide from us.

You will search for me. And when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me! I will let you find me,” says the Lord.

Jeremiah 29:13-14a (NCV)

When we have doubts, God wants us to come looking for Him. He wants to show Himself to us. He lets us find Him.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Kings 12-13; Luke 24:36-53