Confrontations, Choices, Convictions, Windows & Radar

Passage: Matthew 11:20-30

11:20 Then Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent. 11:21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 11:22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you! 11:23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to Hades! For if the miracles done among you had been done in Sodom, it would have continued to this day. 11:24 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for the region of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you!”

11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and revealed them to little children. 11:26 Yes, Father, for this was your gracious will. 11:27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son decides to reveal him. 11:28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.”

Soul Search Essay
“…Jesus began to criticize openly the cities in which he had done many of his miracles, because they did not repent.” In this quote’s pericope (a fancy word for a chunk of writing), Jesus has been calling cities to account by name, but for what? Jesus is confronting these Israelite cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) for not listening to him to the level needed to act on what was heard and seen. Certainly, the people Jesus is confronting heard him and saw him. The actions they took based on sight and sound were not the right ones though. They let salvation slip by them.  In his charge, Jesus challenges them that infamously evil Gentile cities (such as Sodom and Sidon) would have repented on hearing him and seeing the acts that he has done in Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida. He indicates that the Gentiles in the infamous cities would infact listen to the level needed to act, yet the Israelis in their own cities did not.

Is this a blame transaction as described in the last essay? Is Christ blaming Capernaum, Chorazin and Bethsaida? Certainly, many people unfortunately (and inaccurately) assume or even see God as punitive and judgmental. These harsh beliefs suggest that God has the biggest blame market in existence. Is this true? I argue the answer is “No.” Jesus engaged in confrontation of disregard, of indifference, of inaction.

Yes, confrontation can be (and often is) used in a blame transaction. Human use of blame, however, does not define God or his actions.  Also, confrontation grounded in truth (whether by human or God) is not blame. It is a challenge to the confronted person to become, in that moment, an agent of choice. It gives the confronted the chance to act in those moments as an agent of choice by providing a new or previously disregarded information and perspective.

Confrontations done in truth by God are often acts imposed on a person (a agent potentially capable of change) or they are pronouncements of inescapable judgement (or both in sequence as here). The fact that the choice is imposed by such a powerful being as God makes it at least uncomfortable, if not also shameful, embarrassing, angering, frightening, etc. Discomfort or being deeply unsettled due to truth is not bad.  It is frightening. Confrontation is unpleasant, perhaps fear inducing. Confrontation’s discomfort and disturbance, however, is necessary in salvation choices and after salvation as well.

Jesus’ miracles and statements in these cities were disruptive, shocking, and for many induced discomfort. The discomfort is induced by the wrongness of their lives in comparison to Christ’s words and acts (which is where the shame comes in).

Yes, the miracles created joy for those who benefited, but that was not each miracle’s primary purpose. What Jesus did was for a larger purpose than happiness or comfort or even healing.  Jesus served his Father.  In that service, he injected life into these cities by walking, talking and acting with a radically different agenda focused on very different elements; Kingdom elements that demand consideration.

Verses 11:23-24 make it clear that the citizens of Capernum (at least, but implicitly Chorazin and Bethsaida as well) now face devastating judgement (no salvation) due to ignoring the opportunities Jesus’ miracles and statements provided. In essence, their failure to act was an act.  It was a choice.  Passivity in choose did not protect them.

Rejecting discomfort and disruption caused by Christ injected truth can lead to destruction; even if done passively.

For believers, the destruction is not total (not loss of salvation), but it is very painful to have pieces of our lives destroyed by our refusals, by our inactive acts. God imposed discipleship challenges hold out deeper Kingdom life to you post conversion. The life of discipleship is offered to us in many different ways and in many different venues.  Yes, it can come through blessings.  Can you accept, however, that God will challenge you through hardship? Can you accept that these challenges are absolutely not rejections?  Not abandonments?  Can you recognize that God expects a deep soul within you?

Rejection of these challenging opportunities bring death into your life.  The death may be small – minor damage in a relationship, loss, low level sinful conflict, continuation of a destructive pattern in your life, etc.  Repeated rejection, however, brings sustained sin and many horrors attend sustained sin.   In fact, many wounds that we receive come from the sin of others.  Jesus injecting his life in Capernaum could have decreased the rate of sin against others.  Sin is not purely personal.  It is communal.  Jesus’ challenge to change to cities and his condemnation was of cities.  He gave these 4 communities and opportunity to change their very fabric.  They had to act though.  They also had a window of time that Jesus invested in them.

Many options to change are time and/or situation limited.  Some opportunities end when the confrontation ends.  Why?  Does God end them?  As believers, we do not lose access to Jesus, the Father or the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes though, God lets a challenge to us expire.  Much more often – we end them.  How?

We deny that the confrontation applies to us.  We may do this immediately.  We may do it once the confronter is gone, or perhaps, we deny that we should even be confronted.  Regardless of our preferred avoidance method, too often we cease to consider the confrontation and its implications.

We disregard not only the substance of the challenge, we even avoid the meaning of the fact that we were challenged in the first place.   These recognitions  drop from our mind, from our radar, with little consideration.  We just shut the window the challenge created.

These cities had moments as persons (agents capable of change) when the God of the universe literally walked in front of them, stayed with them, spoke to them and performed miracles for them. True love walked in their midst!  Literally!  Yet, the individuals failed to act.  They did not repent.  Does accepting Christ as savior increase our responsiveness to Christ?  Yes.  We have the Holy Spirit.

Maintaining the responsiveness is the challenge.  Do we listen to the Holy Spirit?  God’s quiet voice as Elijah learned is an important voice to hear.


A Heart of Darkness Charges God

Passage: Job 1:6-12
1:6 Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord—and Satan also arrived among them. 1:7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it.” 1:8 So the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.”

1:9 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? 1:10 Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. 1:11 But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!”

1:12 So the Lord said to Satan, “All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.”

Soul Search Essay
So, does God saying, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil” constitute setting Job up for a fall? (Which would be a moral charge against God that many would make in the heat of deep loss and perhaps after.)  No.  It is not a set up and ironically, it is Satan that testifies to this.

“Is it for nothing that Job fears God? 1:10 Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land.”  Satan makes the charge that Job’s loyalty and love of God is nothing more significant than good business. Satan charges that Job enjoys a sweet deal (perhaps a special deal) in accepting the “good life” and therefore the loss of the good life will end the loyalty and the love (which would be a sham love if it ended for this reason).

So, was what Job had before Satan took action a sweet and special deal?  For that to be true, there would have to be favoritism or a quid pro quo business transaction.  God would have to show preferential treatment toward Job or God would need to owe Job for something Job did.  There are numerous scripture passages that make it clear that God does not play favorites, which eliminates favoritism.

There are passages, however, in the Old Testament that promise blessings for Israel following God’s law and catastrophe for Israel disregarding it.  In these promises through Moses, what is stated are not payments for compliance, but consequences.  The consequences followed the decisions and actions of the nation Israel.  The promises were to a nation not specific individuals.   Did YHWH honor individual decisions?  Yes.  Could individuals enjoy the positive consequences?  Absolutely.  Did this confer a special right to the good life?  Absolutely not.  Grace is not quid pro quo.

So, why would Satan make this charge of a special &/or a sweet deal to a God who does not do this?   Satan knows this is not true. So why use it?  Simple.  It works!  It will not work with YHWH.  It will work with humans.

Millions turn from Yahweh due to his perceived “failures” to prevent painful loss or “failures” to deliver the good, comfortable life we think we have earned.  We cry out, “Why didn’t God stop…!!!”  Also, we cry out, “God should…!”  Millions of non-believers and believers alike turn away from God because whether aware or not, they presume they are owed a good life or at least a reasonably good life. This particular tactic of Satan’s quite simply works and works very well against humans.

Why didn’t it work on Job?

Why? Job understands the nugget of truth in Satan’s charge without even hearing the charge being made (WOW!). What is that truth?

“Have you not made a hedge….” “You have blessed….”  Satan charges Yahweh with extending grace in the form of protection and material, tangible blessings as a means of gaining loyalty.  He goes on to charge that withdrawing the grace would force Job to curse God.  The loyalty would end.  There is the “sweet deal” logic exposed. Satan supposes that Job must, must feel entitled after all of these years (probably decades) of receiving blessing and after blessing.  Business has been phenomenal!!  Family growth has been great!

It did not work, because Job knew that what he had for decades was grace given by God, not human earned obligations nor a sweet deal with God.  Grace does not give entitlement.  Ever.  Job knew this.

God knew what Job believed, what Job knew.  Also, both Job and Yahweh knew the only one entitled to remove the protection and blessing was the giver, the creator of the person and the blessings.  Satan presumed Yahweh bought loyalty, rather than extending grace as the creator.  Yahweh removing the grace was not God’s moral failure.  It was an action he was entitled to take (even in our lives).  God is an agent of choice.  God chooses.

The fact that we fear this kind of power and entitlement in God’s choices does not make it immoral for him to choose anything.  We are only owed what God promises to us (which is a phenomenal amount).  What we presume we are owed does not line up without deep understanding of who God is and what he promised to Christians (vs. Israel). The only immoral choice Yahweh can make is to violate his own character and morality.  He does not do that.

Yahweh’s capacity to choose means that everything in our lives depends on the character of Yahweh.  Everything.  Job understood that everything depended on God and his character despite Job being successful. Job was that rare, rare person that truly was honorable and God-centered despite success!  So, yes, a human can be phenomenally successful and avoid all the traps of success. It is possible to be godly and successful, but that requires tremendous awareness, ferocious intent and deep, deep participation with God.

If you think success has not changed you or that you are also one of these rare people, then have you considered yourself against Job?

He Did Not Charge

Passage: Job 1:20-22
1:21 Then Job got up and tore his robe. He shaved his head, and then he threw himself down with his face to the ground. 1:21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” 1:22 In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety.

Soul Search Essay
He did not charge God with moral impropriety. He (Job) did not “….charge God….”

Job suffered a complete loss of his business. Job suffered the death of every child he had fathered (plus friends and servants). Yet, he did not charge God with moral impropriety. What is the point of saying this? What is the point of recording this so that thousands of years later you might read it here?

A huge reversal of fortune such as Job’s massive losses brings out in humans a profound craving for an object of blame. The pressure in our emotions, our minds and our social fabric ferociously pushes us toward blaming. We become fixated on it for a time (for some it is for all time). Most of the rest of the book of Job is a treatise on how the compulsion to blame plays out in our emotions, in our minds and most especially in our social fabric. What does this passage and this Bible book have to do with the dangers of business success? It is (in a sense) a matter of economics.

Businesses run on two currencies. One is money (as cash and credit). The other is blame. The money economy is positive in that having or possessing money confers power. In a sense, the blame economy is negative; meaning that not holding or not possessing blame is good. Thus it is negative, because the desired state is the absence of owned blame.  (Ownership of blame is externally imposed by a social grouping on the nominal owner or owners.)

The desired state of money is its positive presence (as cash) or at least ready access (as credit) and this clearly ties to business success. Businesses succeed, because they make money. Successful businesses, regardless of what they make, do, sell, or offer must make sufficient money to continue operating. Any business can (and often does) lose money of course. The question is not about the possibility of losing money. The question is about how long money can be lost. How long can you lose money at the current rate and survive? What about blame?

The desired state of blame is to avoid having it.  Avoid ownership at all costs.  How does this tie to success? Within a human organization (family, business, group, club, etc.), blame is like the fire, the wind and the raiders were to Job (see the events in the verses prior to our passage). Blame is a source of destruction. In fact, it is a powerful destroyer. Successful business people usually work very hard to avoid holding or possessing blame. Again, any business person can (and often does) possess blame at some point in a career. The question, however, is not about the possession of blame. The question is similar to the one for money.  How much blame can you absorb?  What direction is the flow of blame going?  Toward you?  For how long and how much in total?  The question in reality is about directing and controlling the flow of blame.

Many people who want to succeed can ask themselves in a blame crisis, “How can I orchestrate my thinking and behavior so that blame easily passes from me to another of my choosing?” OK.  OK.  Yes, I know most people do not think in terms as Machiavellian as this. The thought is more along the lines of “Crap! I could lose my job! This isn’t my fault!” even though objectively it is the person’s fault. These two sets of thoughts are the same.

You see people avoid awareness of how Machiavellian they can become. They prefer to not admit that they think in terms of “How can I make blame pass quickly from me to somewhere else?” (Of course, even the “somewhere else” is simply self delusion. Blame passes to and from agents capable of choice. To say “somewhere else” is to deny the truth of how we choose to pass blame. It is a double falseness. Many of our spiritual issues involve this type “doubleness.”)

So, to help understand this consider that in money and in blame, we have transactions. Things in actual existence actually change hands. This is the foundation of an economy – transactions – things passing from one person to another for the benefit of at least one party in the transaction.

“In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety.”

Humm, so Job did not engage in an economic act. He did not engage in a blame transaction by passing the blame currency (a blame token) to God. That was a dumb business move.  He failed to benefit from choosing a blame transfer transaction.  This left him wide open to becoming the recipient of blame transactions.

Skim through some sections of the rest of Job. Say 4:1 through 8. What is happening so early in this book? Eliphaz is attempting economic management. He is attempting to direct the blame into Job’s possession. There are many verbal blame tokens scattered in the verses.  Why?  For the same reason business people attempt to direct portions of the blame economies in their organizations.

Answers are power.

Having an apparently accurate answer (the blame token) gives the bearer power (even if it is a lie). If you answer the implicit, yet ferocious question of “Who is to blame” and the person you deem the recipient can’t avoid blame delivery, then a transaction has occurred. You are the benefiting party.  Your answer imposed on another is an attempted act of economic power. If the market (the peer group, bosses, etc.) accepts that this other is to blame, then this is one of the most powerful transactions that occurs in business. No money changed hands, yet power flowed. The power was implicit in the creation of the need to blame, not in money.  The power was created by the anxiety of the group.

The power was implicit and present due to the ferocious human need for answers, especially for answers about blame.  Blames’ latent power is ever present.  Anxiety is never far at work when things go wrong.

The book of Job contains a huge series of blame transaction attempts.  Why?  Some of these attempts by Job’s friends are made seemingly on God’s behalf (and without his permission).  Why? There are two reasons that I see.

”Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will return there. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” Reason one, we reject the reality that life is not about us. This statement by Job is an acceptance and affirmation that Job is not owed anything by God and since everything is owned by God as its creator (including Job), there is no basis for blame due to the losses Job has suffered. Therefore, there is no blame market.

Job possessed these elements of his life that he lost, but he did not own them.  With no explicit, factual ownership, the implicit need to blame is weakened.  Job could blame due to the losses and the attendant grief.  Job, however, somehow understood that there is no right to bring a blame market into his life and therefore, he cannot bring a charge of blame against God.  With no market, there is no blame transaction between Job and God (or anyone else). The book of Job could end here. It does not. The compulsion to have an answer (and hence power) forces Job’s friends to create a long lasting market. Indeed, it seems at times to be a bull market that cannot die.  Count the verses in the book spent in the market of blame. The percentage is significant. It is most of the book. The friends attempt blame transactions over and over and over.

Reason two, has to do with the inherent power of the blame market. To direct blame through answers (real or made up) is to have significant power. To use answers not just to direct a single blame transaction, but to actually control a section of the blame economy is to have formidable power.  Being a blame market maker and/or a market controller is heady power. With that power, business rivals can be weakened or eliminated. With that power, your status is free from the effects of your poor choices, opponents efforts or simple bad luck.

That type of power is intertwined in modern American business success.  Whether acknowledged or not, the power to supply blame answers courses through business like a flash flood in a wadi. Wadis are dry riverbebs created by infrequent, but very strong water flows.  Wadis are easily forgotten, until a flash flood comes. With that flood of blame, kingdoms and business fiefdoms are bartered, internecine rivals are slighted or even slain. Their careers and characters are sold in the gushing currency of blame. Their characters and reputations are placed in the market pits clamor and they are sold.

The power of blame management that is inherent in American business’ blame economies is why Job’s statement in 1:21-22 matters. The point of Job’s statement being recorded is that it speaks to the heart of what we too often do in business. It speaks to the darkness in that heart by highlighting the absence of this sin in Job’s choices. The fact Job did not charge God (or anyone else) is phenomenal.  The depth of soul required to accomplish this with the level of provocation Job experienced is mind boggling.

Please never pass this verse again except with deep appreciation of the character Job possessed.

“1:22 In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety.”

How in the world did he do this??

Next we will turn from the question about Job to consider the source of the darkness in the business heart.

Where Is the Love?

Passage: Review James 5:1-6

Soul Search Essay
Despite how hard and confrontational the prior devotions have been, the love of God is absolutely present in James 5:1-6. It is present in giving you both the option and the ability to change. No the passage does not give you a recipe to get better. It kicks your door in (as it did mine; repeatedly). It kicks the door of idolatry in and, within the passage, love is in the awareness carried in through that open door. SIn fact, sometimes someone has to love you enough to kick mental, emotional your door in.

Jesus said that as believers we would know the truth and the truth would set us free. Yes, that truth includes facts about Jesus, Yahweh and the Holy Spirit. It also includes facts about you. Some are very ugly facts specifically about you. Those facts persisted after your salvation and some of them have grown. These facts and the acts tied to them were fully redeemed by Christ’s blood, yet they are still present and destructive in your life. That is the inherent tension within Christian life. The life of the disciple is inherently tense.

Things are done, but not yet done.

The period after salvation is about spiritual maturation. It is about choice. Your salvation came from a choice you made. Maturation also comes from a choice and from choices. The choice is to cease being a baby Christian. The choices are about progressions of intimacy and awareness (there are multiple progression paths involved).

Baby Christians, especially those who have been babies for decades, do a lot of damage. They hurt themselves. They hurt others. They get rejected. They are often confused, lonely and unwilling to give up their chosen destructive solutions. God’s love comes to you in the letter of James via the call to leave babyhood behind. It comes in accepting the tension of the Christian disciples life. It is the call to accept the need for true courage over the lures of false comfort. James is issuing that call, but he is doing it with the knowledge that many prophets have. Many, many believers reject the prophet’s call. Prophets are generally called to fail. Why?

Spiritual maturity comes from willful vulnerability. Again, spiritual maturity comes from willful vulnerability to a majestic, loving and frightening God. Also, the vulnerability needs to occur as life is happening. This is not spiritual retreat vulnerability. This is vulnerability in the real moment. This is vulnerability today, tomorrow, the next day, the day after that one. This vulnerability requires not running away when your mental and emotional doors are kicked in by a loving, holy and outrageously committed God.

Love must include truth. Truth in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and Yahweh always includes love…regardless of whether it feels like love or not. Love is much, much more than a feeling. It is a position. It is a state. It is an emotion. It is a decision and it is decisions.

Our ultimate experience of love hangs on our salvation and Christ’s finished work. It is secure. Our current experience of love, the true love of Christ in this present world, depends on personal courage and personal choices. It depends on willful intimacy that is frightening, yet freeing in ways you may not even have a category for yet.

Courage is required in the Christian life. Courage is a core component of how you intimately participate in God’s plans.

View Reversal

Passage: James 5:6
5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

Soul Search Essay
This essay is even harder. Literally this passage’s translation is “You have condemned, have murdered, he does not resist.”  Wow, laying it on a little thick aren’t you James? Hammering it home in short phrases, guy!  Is this really necessary?

Have you ever been wronged and felt deeply hurt? Hurt in a situation where you could not fight back, because the power differential was so great that to respond invited worse pain or frightening consequences? Didn’t you feel condemned? Murdered even, if the hurt was extremely deep? Why wouldn’t I feel that at your hands? Are the wounds you inflict on me cosmically exempt from my perceiving them as murder? Only if God directed you to carry out the confrontations or actions.

Did he? Changing how we see is based on vulnerable truth. Harming others is about avoiding vulnerability. It is using power ostensibly to protect yourself. Changing how you see is about becoming vulnerable enough to feel what you did to me. It is changing how you see (the method of seeing) to the point you can objectively look through my eyes at what you did. When I did not resist, it is possible that I chose vulnerability over winning. What does that say about you when you look through my eyes?

Where Will My Courage Come From?

Passage: Jeremiah 2:1-3

2:1 The Lord spoke to me. He said: 2:2 “Go and declare in the hearing of the people of Jerusalem: ‘This is what the Lord says: “I have fond memories of you, how devoted you were to me in your early years. I remember how you loved me like a new bride; you followed me through the wilderness, through a land that had never been planted. 2:3 Israel was set apart to the Lord; they were like the first fruits of a harvest to him. All who tried to devour them were punished; disaster came upon them,” says the Lord.

Soul Search Essay
Courage comes from love. Love comes from remembering and choice. In this passage, God is fondly, lovingly recalling his prior relationship with Israel. Through Jeremiah, he is stating clearly to the current Israelites how his love gave the early Israelites courage. He is implicitly asking the current Israelites to share in his loving memories and recognize that his love also conferred real life protection.

Why focus on real life protection? It is in real moment-to-moment life that people abandon God for alternate solutions. Much of the book of Jeremiah is about how Israel during very real stressors and threats chose alternate solutions due to there collective multiple failures of remembering and multiple failures in choices. Yet, Yahweh still loves them. He still loves them. The consequences of the Jeremiah’s peers failure to remember and to base today’s decisions on those memories were very, very real…people died, homes and businesses were destroyed, children died…yet, the love for these Israelites was very, very, very real.  It is as real for you as it was for them.  It is as present in a disaster as it was in prosperity. Yahweh’s love does not change. The source of true courage does not change.

Yahweh lovingly recalls his relationship with you as a believer in Jesus Christ. Yahweh’s loving relationship with Christ directly applies to Yahweh’s loving relationship with you. It is this love that generates the courage to enter, endure and triumph in the inherent, inescapable war between Christ and the prince of this world. As strange as it seems, war requires love.

Look to a modern human example of love in war generating courage.  In the coming weeks, go find a combat veteran from our military, one of the guys that actually fired a rifle at someone in combat. These men and women are all around you after 3 wars in the last 55 years. Ask him or her about the importance of the fellow soldiers or marines to the right and left in those times. If he or she will talk with you (it requires tremendous courage to recall the horrors of combat) watch the face, the hands and the eyes. Men and women in combat run into hell to help their budies. They stay in hell to fight for their buddies. There is a bond forged in combat that is extraordinarily deep.  That bond is what creates these marine’s and soldier’s courage. It is the loving connection to others. Yes, absolutely yes, marines and soldiers love.

You cannot manufacture courage sufficient for war on your own. What you create will be a poor forgery of courage. It will not sustain you. You will most likely then begin blaming when that courage fails. Blaming yourself. Blaming God. Blaming friends and family. Blaming situations. Why? We hate failure. We hate weakness. We hate vulnerability. Yet, these are the flames that forge love into courage. There are reasons that basic training is so brutal. It is a progressive forge, which is building bonds through common, shared failure and trauma. Christians also experience basic training. It is what comes between the milk of early faith and the external focus of mature Christianity.

Your courage to change must come from love.  For your internal battle is in fact a war.

Courage, Christ and the Lands Of Minds & Business

Passage: Joshua 1:1-9

1:1 After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 1:2 “Moses my servant is dead. Get ready! Cross the Jordan River! Lead these people into the land which I am ready to hand over to them. 1:3 I am handing over to you every place you set foot, as I promised Moses. 1:4 Your territory will extend from the wilderness in the south to Lebanon in the north. It will extend all the way to the great River Euphrates in the east (including all of Syria) and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 1:5 No one will be able to resist you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not abandon you or leave you alone. 1:6 Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them. 1:7 Make sure you are very strong and brave! Carefully obey all the law my servant Moses charged you to keep! Do not swerve from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful in all you do. 1:8 This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful. 1:9 I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.”

Soul Search Essay:
Remembering that this thread of essays is for the older believer (not a person new to salvation) is important in following the rationale in these devotions. As new believers, we have new experiences and possibly strong emotions moving us and supporting us. As older believers, things often become more muted or even muddled. What typically drives us as we age as Christians (if we are honest) is more about comfort and familiarity than newness and passion. Or at least that is what happens until a storm arises. Storms come in the forms of crises, traumas, challenges or even new recognition of truth. This devotion is about a new recognition. In essence, to this point in the thread progression, these are a storm bringer essays.

As an American Christian, it is quite likely that no one (no preacher, no teacher that you know) has ever said, “God requires specifically you to be courageous in relating to him.” Perhaps you have heard something about courage in passing, in a sermon as a general statement or on a TV preacher’s show, but has the courage requirement ever been directly applied to you? You may have been told to be brave and evangelize, but has anyone told you that relating…in the privacy of your own mind…to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will require courage?

Most people that I have mentored or counseled do not really want this kind of personal, internal application of the need for courage. If pressed, some will admit avoiding this expectation, because of fear that God will ship them off somewhere, make them be a missionary, or in some other way appreciably alter their external life as a way of altering their internal life. In essence, this is the core of this passage – internal and external life intersecting and the fear of change. Are the fears that I describe realistic? God did send Joshua into danger. There are two answers – “No” and “Yes.”

As humans, as people we tend to import future fiction. At some level, we think “If I (me, myself and I; all three of me) trust God, he will ask me to do the impossible! I mean LOOK at Joshua! AND! That means God is moving me to Borneo as a missionary where I will die of yellow fever!” Is this true?

God is not likely to send you to Borneo and have you die of yellow fever. He could, but then there would be millions of missionaries in Borneo dying of various fevers. After all, the church is filled with baby Christians avoiding Borneo. Anyway, where would all the graves go? So, I don’t think so. He does ask you to the do the impossible though. So yes, your fear of God’s expectations is more than likely correct in terms of being asked, but not in terms of what is specifically asked of you. This scenario that Joshua faced is kind of the classic worst case becoming real that an older, immature Christian fears facing. How could God ask this?! How can this jive with felt in my early Christian life?

You may have been told in your early Christian or even pre-Christian years that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Enough crap (Yes, I said crap) has happened in your life, however, that you are a little suspicious of the “wonderful” part or you have bought into the “God’s love means comfort” mentality. In which case, you are busy trying to manufacture grace and blessing as bricks and mortar to shore up the required comfort in the world around you. Well, is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” a lie? No, it is an incomplete truth. It is a truth that ignores the fact that salvation inherently and unavoidably involves tension and a war.

Joshua is being charged with literally invading a massive geographical area with the offspring of seriously spiritually dysfunctional parents (remember the parents died in the wilderness due to their idolatry and rebellion). What an ideal scenario for Joshua! SIGN ME UP! Piece of cake! Right? I want to be JOSHUA! Oh, maybe not.

Joshua’s life is a picture of Christ’s task in the world. Christ came to start a war. He said so. In fact, the opening scene of his ministry after his baptism is one of direct and personal battle. God’s directives to Joshua are also a picture of your personal battle tasks. There is ground within your soul, your mind, your behavior and your emotions to be invaded and redeemed. Yes, salvation, your salvation is assured, but your sanctification and your legacy involve a war that is intimate and that is personal to you.

After salvation you see, you still have worldly, idolatrous, lingering influences in your soul. You are wholly righteous in God’s eyes. Your salvation is secure. Yet, you are not wholly, completely changed by God. This is the reality every convert faces. Our redemption requires participation.

You see there is this pesky little fact, you have to participate in taking the ground just like Joshua did. You get to do this with an idolatrous you. It is your idolatrous nature that reserves “God free zones” in your soul, in your thinking and in your behavior. Just as Joshua was tasked to clear out the current inhabitants of the Promised Land, you must be present at your own clearing of your strongholds and evil. Ouch!

Frankly, I really, really do not like that. My idea? Send in the Navy Seals! Follow on with the Marines! Tell me when it is over! I’ll show up then! God’s reply? “I will not abandon you or leave you alone. Be strong and brave! You must lead these people in the conquest of this land that I solemnly promised their ancestors I would hand over to them.” Aargh! Oh, if you missed that he says it again, “I repeat, be strong and brave! Don’t be afraid and don’t panic, for I, the Lord your God, am with you in all you do.” Wow! I really have to be present AND participate? Seriously? Yes.

The truth is that the world and you are inherently tainted, shot through, riddled with evil. Salvation therefore means that a war is only avoidable by avoiding maturation. If you stay a baby Christian, you will actually not avoid the war, but you will have lots of inducement to criticize, howl, scream and generally trash what is in you and around you. Remember Joshua’s soldiers’ parents? The were not happy people. They whined, complained and blasphemed. Then, they had lunch. On God’s tab (manna). Then, they did it all over again. Avoiding intimate participation with Christ, Yahweh and the Holy Spirit in removing the strongholds in your life guarantees unresolved pain, bitterness, grief and strife. Oh, it screws up your children too.

The only way out that honors God’s investment in you, that redeems your behavior and thinking is going through the war. There it is. Truth. It really bites you. It hurts. Yes, participation is required. You are not a new believer. You sense there is some or perhaps a lot of truth in what is written here. Pursue that truth. Discard any error on my part as the essay author. Do not give up. The reward for going through the war is great. There is a real promised land in this life. There was in Joshua’s life. There is in yours. It just looks like nothing you have more than likely imagined. You may not even have the categories needed to describe this promised land. Jesus will supply those. Let him in. It will be a hell of a ride.

Deadly Career Choices

Passage: James 5:1-6
5:1 Come now, you rich! Weep and cry aloud over the miseries that are coming on you. 5:2 Your riches have rotted and your clothing has become moth-eaten. 5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5:5 You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. 5:6 You have condemned and murdered the righteous person, although he does not resist you.

Soul Search Essay
Why would the reality of who Jesus Christ is provoke James to such a strong statement as this passage? Why would the life of Jesus that James observed provoke such confrontational words? Why would the death and resurrection of Jesus demand from James these assertions?

Think seriously about these questions.

If you cannot offer a meaningful answer to each question, your grasp of Jesus’ life needs to grow. It needs to grow significantly. Jesus came to radically alter what? Everything. Society. Work. Culture. Career. Perception. Morality. Community. Health. Wealth. He came to radically alter inner human worlds (that place in our mind where we live out our inner thoughts) and even to alter the external physical world. If you cannot answer each question above, then has he radically altered you? You have been saved, but have you thought deeply enough about Christ, his teachings and God’s plans to grow meaningfully? Where does he fit in your business life? Has Christ radically altered you business behavior? Consider the following.

Who is James confronting? Those who are successful in the first century. Those who have succeeded in life, those who have “won.” In their winning, they accumulated wealth. Are you successful? If so, James is forcefully stating that you are in grave danger. In fact, he is holding people just like you up as a powerful, potent warning to others. Why would he do that? Your success, whether in work, money (the scenario James used here), the church, or society is the deadliest type of trap that exists. James also strongly points out that these traps are the milk of evil.

How can this be true? Success is proof of God’s love! No. Success apart from your intimate participation in God’s plans is not proof of his love. Without his intimate participation, your success is proof of something else. It proves serious time and attention have been given to advancement within this corrupt world, given to climbing Satan’s ladder (Satan rules the current human world), given to acquiring more of Satan’s tools. You have given serious time and attention that did not go to God’s plans, to his grace or to his love. (FOOTNOTE: Success as part of God’s intimate interaction with you is not part of Satan’s ladder and you are not acquiring Satan’s property and tools. Before you quickly claim this fits you, recognize that deep introspection is required. Have you done intimately participated with God? Really?) What does this indicate? Idolatry.

Idolatry is the reliance on anything other than God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit for your safety, sustenance, security and life path. The intimate participation of God means that he participates in your path decisions due to your daily invitation to involve him in them. Success apart from his involvement, however, very easily breeds, incubates, and sustains evil while trapping you in this evil. It does this not because of arrogance, but insulation. Success shields you from dependence on God. You issue no invitations. This insulation and shielding is the natural terrain of idolatry. So, success makes it easy to avoid painful truth (truth about who you actually are) and in avoiding that truth, you pursue evil.

I am reasonably sure most people do not consider themselves evil nor do they think they are pursuing evil. To recognize the evil within us requires spiritual maturity. It requires brutal, deep honesty. People pursuing advancement in this corrupt world on their own terms tend to lack these qualities.

To avoid idolatry and evil while experiencing success is exceptionally difficult and exceptionally rare. It can be done, but it requires a deep level of intimacy with God and a profound vulnerability to him. Most successful people avoid even casual vulnerability. Profound vulnerability is way, way off the radar. Successful people seek to overcome vulnerability, not embrace it. To be told not only to embrace, but actively explore it? They do not just avoid vulnerability. They run from it.

Often safety and security needs are core drivers in the pursuit of success. Yes, pleasure plays a role, but there are usually powerful negative drivers as well. Success often comes from driveness to succeed. This driveness is usually primarily avoidance of something. There is some pain, longing or need that colors many pieces of the successful life at a deep level. That ache has to be soothed and success seems to provide the answer. Unfortunately, it is a trap and not a solution. Equally unfortunate is that the avoidance of vulnerability requires the avoidance of personal awareness. So, avoiding evil while pursuing success in the worldly, anti-Christ system known as a career or society in modern America is impossible without God’s direction and intimate participation. Without God’s direction, evil will advance.

Again, without the direction and intimate participation of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ and Yahweh in any career, business, investment, social climb, etc., you will foster and advance evil within your soul, evil in your family, evil in your community and evil within your business. You will be seduced by success through your pursuit of it, whether you reach what you define as success or not. Powerfully unpleasant words.

Why would I say this? Read the sentence again, “You will be seduced by success through your pursuit of it, whether you reach what you define as success or not.” What is the critical phrase? It is “…what you defined as success….” Where is the intimacy of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit or of Yahweh in that phrase? Where is intimate participation in Yahweh’s plan?

Too often, it is absent.

Jesus Christ demands that you become a career Christian. It is not a suggestion. It is a demand. (If you believe I am incorrect, read the Gospels. Refute me from them.) Your career is in Christ and Christ alone. Christ requires us to be career Christians. Without the “my career is Christ” mindset, you will assume James’ statements do not apply to you. You will fail to recognize how much faith you put in money, status, control, power, and other worldly solutions. You will remain numb to your idolatry; unaware, yet actively idolatrous. This is why you cannot deeply answer my questions in this devotion.

Intimacy with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit continually alters who you are. This is a definitive statement. It is absolutely not saying, “Intimacy with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can occasionally alter who you are.” It does alter you. It alters you continually. Spiritual growth is consistent, ongoing God directed change. You can only avoid the altering by avoiding the intimacy. In avoiding intimacy, you are the plaything of evil. In fact, you are a participant in evil by actively advancing it. This a very ugly truth. The truth is that evil is very ugly. I pray you will read the following devotions and consider how to escape.

Awareness & Expectations

Passage: James 5:3-4
5:3 Your gold and silver have rusted and their rust will be a witness against you. It will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure! 5:4 Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.

Soul Search Essay
The prior essays have been very hard. They challenged your assumptions about your work, your career, your goals and the things you trust. Many Christians fear deeply a couple of things – personal awareness and God’s expectations.

We fear awareness, because we know or at least sense at some deep level that we are seriously idolatrous. We know that while we have accepted Jesus as our savior, there are areas where we do not, do not trust him. Often, if we are successful, the numbness of success blocks our recognition of our personal idolatry. It pushes the awareness away. There is, however, often still some sense of the things we do not want to entrust to him; areas we do not feel safe with Jesus accessing. These are things, unfortunately, that we do not want to be aware of ourselves except on very, very rare occasions. We like the absence of awareness.

In fact, we aggressively avoid this awareness, because we know these things do not meet God’s expectations and are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. To allow ourselves to be conscious of them would be to know and admit our double mindedness, which would be very painful; perhaps even debilitatingly painful depending on the depth of our double mindedness. So, we carry on in life; avoiding a Christ career, avoiding God’s expectations and building elements into our lives that are beyond ironic. We act as if this is our life and our time. It is not.

“It is in the last days that you have hoarded treasure!”. “…the last days….” Why does James focus on that? The last days are days when the opportunity to add to the Kingdom of God still exists. Hope is still possible. Love can still be extended to others. With the summation of the last days that opportunity will end. Those who have not joined the kingdom will be lost.

Now is the time to be actively engaged in a Christ career, because the opportunity to expand the kingdom is uniquely now. Now is the time to accept that Christianity is a participatory faith. Now is the time to accept that participation is daily, hourly and continuous. Now is the time to accept that life is not about you. It is about Jesus and you. It is about Jesus’ plan…not your agenda. Life is also about us plus you. Christianity is a community faith; not a lone wolf effort.  Can you see what I am describing?  Now is the time to change how you see…not just what you look at.

How do silver and gold, careers, status, power, prestige, etc. “…witness against you?” E witness is in the meaning we give them. They are meaningful in a destructive way. They became evil means within your life. Evil enters through the eye, because it is what you focus on that consumes you. Your career, work, money, or social status cannot save or free you. They cannot save those around you. They consume you and others through your focus, through how you choose to see, what you see and how you act on that sight. They consume. They do not give. They are solutions that are not answers. Why? Because they are very destructive solutions.

“…and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.” Whose ears have been reached? Yahweh’s. Does this matter in the age of grace? Yes, it does. This letter was written in the era of grace to people living in grace. This is not the Old Testament.

Even if the book of James were in the Old Testament, all, all of the law and the prophets were summed up in loving God and loving others. These two paths of love must extend into every facet of life. Love must invade your business, must invade your society, must invade your family and more. It must radically alter the things within your sphere of influence. If you have succeeded in the worldly, anti-Christ systems of business and society, if you have done this without Jesus’ intimate participation, you do not see your workplace or relationships as a Christ-careered person would. Do you? Are you that rare exception in the church that senses and follows the Holy Spirit faithfully and consistently in the corridors of business? Praise be to Christ if you are! If not….

“It will consume your flesh like fire.” When you do come to understand the years of your idolatry, it will burn you like a fire. You will know that you have been a fool. You will know that this foolishness burned others through how you deprived them of time, attention, investment, and care. You will experience some of their pain. The foolishness burned you as well. Am I talking of purgatory in the age of grace? No. I am talking about awareness. I am talking about Christ-like eyes cast on your full life of actions, intentions and motivations with you unable to turn away. I am talking about unvarnished awareness.

I sat with a dying man when he chose a different way to see. It took his impending death to rip away the millions he had earned and for him to see the mockery that had been his life. It was hard to watch the pain in his eyes as he wrestled with what he had instilled in his children. He was horrified. He saw differently and finally knew that the evil tendrils sunk deep in his life had been what he passed on to his now adult children. He finally could see it in his life and theirs lives. He finally had the eyes of Christ and knew the grief of Christ. Yet, it was so late in his life and he was so mechanical of a Christian that he could not warn those children. He had the opportunity given by unvarnished awareness. His embarrassment and shame sadly overcame his love. He only told me; not his children. Do not follow this man. Do not.

Endure the pain of removing the tendrils now. End the accumulation of new evil. End, please, the passing on of evil. Become a Christ-careered person. Stop wasting love and grace. Invest in a career in Christ! There is no path forward to do this other than through the fire. Removal of evil is painful and embarrassing. Do it.

Christ came to knit us together into a radically different community. He came to enable us to be a radically different business person. He came to make life truly, truly meaningful. He came to bring true joy. Accept the meaningful life. Begin the removal of the idols. Participate with the Holy Spirit. Endure the pain and be transformed. Move toward true joy. Take something new into the corridors of business. Take love to those that share these corridors with you. Take the Kingdom into your business.


Passage Colossians 2:6-8
2:6 Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 2:7 rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 2:8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

Soul Search Essay
I have worked in a variety of work environments and businesses – for-profit, non-profit, entrepeneurial, established businesses, family businesses, etc. I have read many business and management books. Only a very few of these books are based in scripture. Fewer secular business environments actually reflected Christ like influence. Many of the environments I worked in were populated with a scattering of Christians (I live in the Bible Belt), but from what I could tell the race to influence mentioned in the prior devotional essay was being lost by these believers. Most did not seem to know a race was even happening.

In any new social environment there is a race between you and the environment on who will influence whom more. Yes, your entry into the environment, your shared thoughts, your actions, etc. are having an impact, but are you not also adjusting your thinking and actions based on the responses to you from the environment? You are. This means you are changing, even if you do not realize it. OK, maybe you are in management and you may be a strong leader making an observable impact. Even you, however, are not unchanged by others in that environment. You do not have sufficient power to impose your will with no impact on you by other’s behaviors, even if you are the CEO. Also, your observable impact may be more in line with human tradition than Christ.

Consider your work history. How often were the relationships you have now and those you have had at work been infused with Christ-based input coming to you (again to you, not from you)? What where all the influences that you experienced? Were there Christ-based influences impacting you that were both pervasive throughout this history and defining of these environments (See footnote)? Why in the world would I ask these questions of someone in a secular business environment? Do I not understand the trends in America today? The removal of Christianity from many American forums. Do I as an author have no clue about this distancing in American businesses, whether small, medium or large? This distancing is precisely the trigger for this essay.

Since most Christians work in secular business systems led and staffed by non-Christians, these believers are at least strongly influenced and sometimes strongly controlled by evil. Whoa! Am I saying all business is evil? No. I am saying all businesses (unfortunately even ministries) have many, many deep tendrils of evil running through them.

To believe that Satan ignores or is excluded from business culture and philosophy is foolish. It is laughable. We live in an unavoidably fallen world. Falleness dominates the world. Why? Satan is the current ruler of this world and his goals are spiritual. Satan is committed to lying his way to the destruction of anything Christ-based and/or Christ-connected. Anything. One of his most effective tools at insinuating his lies into your life is your work within a business. Why?

Business offers power, money and status. These are powerful ways “…to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” The modern American business is founded on human traditions. If you disagree with me, take a serious look at your workplace. Really look hard. How many things in that environment influence you to “…continue to live your lives in [Christ], rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness?” Many? Maybe a few, but do you work in an environment that actively supports your spiritual development? Or does it offer other solutions? For the vast majority of the answer is “No, it does not support my spiritual development.” Yet, work and business definitely offer solutions. Do you recognize the solutions you are being offered? The solutions are too often destructive and therefore are tremendous threats to you.

So, what is the greatest threat to your being “…rooted and built up in him…?” Success.  Success itself.  Continue in the essays to understand why I say this.

FOOTNOTE: Notice that I did not ask you if you worked in a Christian ministry. This devotion essay has nothing to do with working exclusively in a church or ministry. Most Christians do not work in ministry delivery businesses. I am addressing Christians in the secular business world, which is where most Christians work.