That First Step

FootstepsThe Israelites faced a problem at harvest time each year.  They worked hard to cultivate their fields and bring in the crops, but as soon as the barns were full, the Midianites would show up and take everything.  So God spoke to a man named Gideon.  But there was one problem.  Gideon wasn’t a strong, confident man.  He was fearful.  He was weak.

Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14)

Important things start with a first step.

God’s command wasn’t all that Gideon was going to need.  Before he actually went out and conquered the Midianites, he would need many reassurances.  Along the way, he came to realize that he had actually been talking to God’s Angel.  He would find that he wasn’t going to go alone, but God promised to go with him.  He would have more reassurances as he set out his “fleece”.  He would be filled with the Spirit.  He would have an army with him, even if it was a small one.  He would have a great victory over the Midianites.  But it all started with a step.  A first step.

Has God been nudging you to do something?  Have you felt that tug on your heart?  The thing itself might seem overwhelming to you.  You may not feel adequate for the job.  That’s the story of Gideon, except that Gideon didn’t stay in the place of excuses and inadequacies.  Gideon took that first step, even though he was afraid.  He said “yes”. So can you.

The Proof is in …

PuddingCaleb and his pal Joshua were two of the twelve spies who were sent into the land of Canaan to bring back a report on the “Promised Land”.  Most of the spies couldn’t get past the problems that they saw ahead of the Israelites.  The “Promised Land” might have been a prosperous land, but it also contained the descendants of Anak.  The Anakim were giants, and the majority of the spies didn’t think it was possible to conquer them.  When Caleb was given a chance to speak, he tried to encourage his nation, saying, “Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:9)

Some people are awfully good with their words.  They can inspire and challenge us by the way they craft the eloquent syllables that flow from their lips.  But God wants us to be more than just “wordy” people.  He wants us to be people of action.  Forty years after his courageous statement, Caleb gets a chance to demonstrate the reality of his faith in God.  At his request, Caleb was given the area of Hebron for his inheritance, a land occupied by those same giants.  Joshua recorded:  Caleb drove out the three sons of Anak from there: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak. (Joshua 15:14)

The proof is in the pudding.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of faith in Jesus Christ, they need to see lives that actually live it.

The Real Deal

GenuineHere’s a little secret.  As Christians, we blow it from time to time.  We do stupid things.  And then to make things worse, we sometimes try to cover up our mistakes because we don’t want to face the embarrassment of people knowing that we’re flawed.  Yet, sometimes the act of covering up our sin is almost worse than the actual sin itself.  Pretending to be something you are not is the very definition of being a hypocrite.

A fellow named Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, thought they would join the ranks of the “benevolent” ones in the church.  It seemed that whenever people gave significant gifts to the church, people paid extra attention to them.  So they sold a piece of property, tucked some of the proceeds of their sale in a bank account, while giving the rest to the church.  That’s not the problem.  The problem was that they pretended like they were giving everything they owned to the church.  Peter confronted them:  “While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4)

The world likes to complain that the church is filled with hypocrites, and to be honest, sometimes it’s truer than we want to admit.  We do great damage to God’s work in the world when we pretend to be something we’re not.  But we also do great damage to ourselves.  God wants us to be people who are genuine.  It’s hard for Him to work in our lives when we can’t even be honest about who we are.  Don’t be afraid to be real.

Paid in full

Paid in fullAn actor will sometimes ask the director, “What’s my motivation?”  I’d like to ask you, “Why do you do what you do?”

Some people don’t take the time to examine their motives when they make certain life choices.  A major incentive for some is the desire to please someone important.  Even after dad has long passed away, we may still be trying to please him because it seems we could never do enough to earn his approval.

Some people have transferred that same type of motivation into the realm of their relationship with God.  After all, isn’t He the ultimate Father?  Can we ever do enough to please Him?

Let me take you back 2,000 years, to a scene where a small crowd has gathered outside of Jerusalem to watch the Romans crucify three criminals.  The man in the center has been beaten a little more than the other two and is wearing something that looks like a crown of thorns. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)

When Jesus uttered “it is finished”, it was something akin to closing a banking transaction.  It meant that the debt had been paid.  It meant that justice was satisfied.

Beloved, you no longer need to strive to make God like you. He already does.  Your debt has been paid in full.  God is the one who made sure it was paid.  Trust Him.  Love Him.  Follow Him.

Pop Quiz

Test“Why am I going through this?”  Have you ever been in the middle of difficult time and asked yourself this question?  I know that I’ve been asked that question by many people who come to me, looking for answers.  The answer to that question is not a “one size fits all” answer.  There can be many reasons.  Let’s explore one of those reasons.

Moses said to the Israelites just before they were to cross into the Promised Land, “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

Sometimes God’s “quizzes” are meant to reveal what’s in my heart.  I don’t think that God “tests” me because He doesn’t know what’s in my heart.  He knows my heart better than I do.  I think God wants me to see for myself what’s in my heart.  How serious am I about following the Lord?  Am I a “fair weather” Christian?  Some people only follow God when things turn out the way they want them to.  Others only show up at church when a crisis hits, and after the storm, they drift away.  God wants me to stubbornly follow Him all the time.

Are you going through a difficult time right now?  Stop and think for a minute, “What am I learning about myself through this?”  “Am I clinging tight to God?” How’s your pop quiz going?

What do you want?

BethesdaYou’ll have to forgive me if I unnecessarily offend you.  It’s not my intention.  There are lots of reasons why people are “sick”.  Too often people’s troubles are trivialized by people who don’t understand a person’s situation.  I just want to make you think.

Jesus met a man who had been an invalid for 38 years.  His way of dealing with his “illness” was to lie next to a magical pool of water and hope that someone would put him into the water at just the right moment. “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”” (John 5:6)

We don’t know all the specifics about this fellow’s paralysis, but Jesus does ask him a very penetrating question.  “Do you want to be made well?”

I think there are times when we’ve just settled into the idea that we’re sick, and that’s the way it’s going to stay.  Yes, sometimes God allows us to have our “thorn in the flesh” to keep us humble.  Sometimes our difficulties are the things that help us to deepen and mature in our faith.  Sometimes we need to be honest with ourselves and face the fact that we don’t want our “healing” enough to do our part and actually change.  After healing the man, Jesus told him he needed to stop sinning (John 5:14).

Are there things that have kept you paralyzed?  Have you given up on what it takes to change?  Do you want to be made well?


RememberSome people like to tie a string on their finger to remind themselves of something.  Some put it on their “to do list”, others ask their smart phone to remind them.  In Moses day, it was about putting “tassels” on their garments.  “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes” (Numbers 15:39 NIV).

Wearing a garment with tassels was to remind you that you needed to remember God’s ways and follow after them, instead of following the “lusts” of your heart.  Every sin starts in me.  I can’t blame it on someone else.  I can’t blame it on the “thing” that tempts me.  I can only blame myself.  James tells us that each of us is tempted because of the lusts that are in our own heart (James 1:14).  Lusts lead to sin, and sin leads to death.

The lesson of the tassels is to remember to deal with the heart.  How do I cultivate my heart? I find it helpful to read the Bible every day.  Each time I read through the Bible, I’m either learning new stuff, or remembering old stuff that I’ve forgotten.  I give myself the opportunity to deal with my heart.  I also find that it is important to pray about those things for which I am particularly vulnerable.  Every day I ask God for certain things that I know I need in order to cultivate my heart correctly.  What’s important for you to remember?  Remember to deal with your heart.

God’s smile

Heart SmileWhen you love someone for who they are and not for what they will do for you, you tend to make an effort to find out the kinds of things that put a smile on their face. If your wife likes chocolates, you probably bought her a box for Valentine’s Day. If your husband likes football, I would imagine that you’ve either learned to love it too, or you have at least learned to sit with him a bit as he groans (or cheers) over each play.  So let me ask you a question: Have you ever wondered what puts a smile on God’s face?

Jesus told a story. “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4–7)

Jesus liked to hang around “sinners”, not because He enjoyed their sin, but in hopes of encouraging them to “repent”.  The Greek word for “repent” means literally “a change of mind”. Jesus came to change my mind about God and my behavior.  When one of us “repents”, there is great joy in heaven, and you can bet that God is smiling.  Do you care for the things that God cares for?


HealthyIn one of his more interesting duties, an Old Testament priest looked more like a doctor than a pastor.  And if the priest sees that the scab has indeed spread on the skin, then the priest shall pronounce him unclean. It is leprosy. (Leviticus 13:8)

A priest had the responsibility of learning to diagnose certain diseases.  Even though the priest couldn’t heal the person, he could recognize a problem and isolate the person to keep the disease from spreading to others.  Since the Bible says that we are now all priests (Rev. 1:6), perhaps we all have some level of responsibility towards understanding our own health.

Some people make the mistake of thinking that they don’t need doctors and they can handle everything with prayer.  I think prayer is always important, but if you also ignore going to your doctor, you’re just being stupid.  Your physical body is a gift from God.  God expects you to take care of it.  It’s like the car that takes you down the road on your journey of life.  If you take care of the car, you’ll get further on your journey.  I’ll bet you don’t handle your car repairs with just prayer.  Others make the mistake of thinking that it doesn’t matter at all how we treat our physical body because it’s only a person’s soul that’s important.  The soul is indeed important.  It’s the passenger in the car.  Just be sure you keep the car running well so the passenger can go as far as possible.

Be wise with your body.  Stay healthy my friends.

Spring Training

Spring TrainingSpring Training is now under way.  Ball players from 30 teams around the country are arriving at their training facilities in Arizona and Florida to work on their skills and get ready for the upcoming baseball season.  In a way, the work of John the Baptist was a little like “spring training”, except he wasn’t preparing people for baseball, he was preparing people to meet the Lord.

John’s father, Zecharias, was given a prophecy detailing how John would turn people to God.  John’s job would be “…to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just…” (Luke 1:17)

It seems to me that the health of society is tied to the health of families.  I know there is no such thing as a “perfect family”, but the stronger the family is, the healthier we all are.  Often it’s the mom that holds the family together, but John’s job was to help turn the fathers towards their children.  Kids need dads who care.  How will a child trust their heavenly Father when their earthly father isn’t there?

John’s other goal was to challenge those who are “disobedient”.  There is “wisdom” involved in being right with God, in being counted as “just” before Him.  A “just” person is a forgiven person.  A “just” person also does the right thing.  God wants us to be “wise” enough to realize things need to change.

Are you ready for the “big game”?  Are you ready to meet God?

This is a collection of Rich's "Pastor to Person" articles for Calvary Chapel of Fullerton

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