I Don’t Want to Be Me!

I came home from an evening meeting at church last night expecting to be greeted by my 3 kids as I walked in the door.  I was crying-mangreeted by two instead who were delighted to tell me that their big brother had been sent to bed early for being rude to mommy.  Earlier in the day I had conversed with this same young man about his habits of talking back, “getting smart”, and rudeness, so I was disappointed to learn that my “preaching” had gone unheeded.  I poked my head into his room just to see if he was still awake and found him sobbing on his bed… I’m a sucker for the tears.
I sat down on the edge of the bed and he quickly scooted over and put his head on my lap.  Through his tears he began to speak and I began to prepare my speech about why he deserved to be sent to his room and that his mother was only doing what was necessary to help him learn.  But his words were not the complaint I expected.  “I don’t want to be me!” he wailed.  “I want to be a good boy but I can’t- I can’t do it!”  My heart melted… not because it was incredibly adorable- not because it was heartbreaking… but because I knew exactly where he was.

Haven’t we all sat weeping on the edge of a bed somewhere at some point and cried out “I don’t want to be me-  I want to be a good boy or girl but I can’t!” Sure we have.  We’re not lamenting that we want someone else’s life we’re just frustrated that we can’t live the life we have GOOD! We long to live righteous and pure- to live free from the habits and addictions of sin, but try as we might with all the strength we can muster we find no power to break the chains of sin that hold us.

In Romans 7 the Apostle Paul cries out “O Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death!” It’s an interesting image he uses, this “body of death”.  Some scholars have suggested that this language is a reference to an ancient Roman punishment for murder; that the murderer should be chained to the corpse of his victim until the bacteria and decay of the rotting carcass ultimately killed the killer as well. Paul saw himself as chained to the rotting corpse of his own sinfulness it was killing him and he guttural cry of his soul says “Who can set me free from this revolting sentence of death?”

Then suddenly a NEW cry escapes from the apostle’s lips, but it was no cry of despair or misery: it was a shout of victory and joy! Paul answers his own frustrated heart and says “Thanks be to God, through Jesus I am set free!” The New Living Translation says it like this:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
(Romans 7:24–25, NLT)

In Jesus Christ we are set free! All of us from the time of our birth are under a “body of death” sentence- condemned to drag around the corpse of the sinful flesh and bound under sin to carry out IT’S desires.  We are not capable of escaping it’s hold- we are not capable in ourselves to do what is right- to do what we know we ought to do- to live righteously as we long to.  We cannot be the someone else free from sin that we want to be… not on our own, anyway.  But thanks be to God, Jesus has broken to power of sin in your life.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit that he has given to us we CAN live free from sin- we CAN live righteously as we desire- we CAN see spiritual fruit growing in our lives.

But as I told my sobbing son last night, our freedom is not found in fighting harder to do what we ought, but rather it is found in surrender to His Spirit.  In Him we have power to live in freedom.  In Him and Him alone.  Won’t you pray today:

“Lord Jesus I thank you for delivering me from the guilt and the condemnation of sin.  I thank you for the cleansing of my conscience and a right standing before God.  I thank you for power to overcome sin in my life that has held me for years.  I present myself to you, Jesus, to be used as Your instrument of righteousness, and I ask YOU to help me walk today according to your Spirit and not according to what the sinful flesh in me desires. Amen”

Starbucks Coffee Cups & Family

Back iHappy-Family-Coffee-Art-Wallpapern 1998 I made a horrible life decision… actually I’d been making horrible decisions for over 20 years by that point, but this one horrible life decision was made more memorable due to the fact that it got me 7 years in the state pen.  Very few peop

le who had been part of my life prior to this point remained a part of my life after this, and even worse, some who I had once been close with now became my greatest detractors.  Not that they didn’t have legitimate ammunition to hurt me with, it was just surprising that they chose to hurt me after we’d been so close.

But there were two groups of people who did stick by me in this time: my earthly family, and my new church family.  My earthly family; my mom and dad; my sisters and their husbands- these were the ones who stuck by me closer than a brother.  Not that I hadn’t given them ammunition to lob at me- not that my dumb decisions didn’t affect them- not that I had been so good to them that they were just returning the favor… quite the opposite, in fact.  I had been a lousy son and brother.  But my family stuck beside me.  They defended me.  They refused to disassociate themselves from me because we were from the same blood and they loved me.  This is what family does, right?

Now, let’s flash forward into 2015 to just a few days ago when Joshua Feuerstein declares holy war on Starbucks and their minimalist design holiday coffee cups.  Does he have a point? I don’t know.  Am I going to drink Starbucks this year? No- but full disclosure, I wasn’t going to drink it anyway.  I am a Sheetz coffee kind of guy and I brew Eight O’Clock coffee cups in my Keurig.  I’ve seen some other stuff from Josh and I’ve agreed with him at times and at others thought maybe he’d gone farther with something than I might have… but I digress because Josh isn’t really my point… the reaction to Josh is what I’m concerned about today.

I’m not surprised at all that the world would be bothered by Josh or that they would turn and attack him in response- I mean, come on! Josh has attacked an icon of the liberal pantheon- we have to expect that he’ll be crucified by the world for this.

What has surprised me, though, is the way so many of the family have not only disagreed with Josh but gone out of their way to openly and sarcastically criticize Josh in an attempt to distance themselves from him.  Other Christian brothers and sisters are openly and publicly attacking what they see as a horrible faith decision on his part and holding him up to their friends and holding him up to the world and saying: “See here! See this guy and his bad decision? I am a Christian but I’m not one of THESE Christians!”

And it’s not just Josh; it’s Kim Davis; it’s Kirk Cameron; it’s The Duggars.  Day after day I see my spiritual family taking to social media and crucifying other members of my family; holding up some of their bad decisions and their unpleasant pasts and their cherry-picked sound bites and telling the rest of the world: “Look here guys- I love Jesus- but it’s His family I don’t like.  I’m not like THEM.”  And what are we trying to accomplish by this? Some say they’re trying to win credibility with their culture; trying to get the world to see our faith in a more genuine light.” And it’s possible that this is part of the motivation… but is openly mocking and sarcastically criticizing someone covered by the same Savior’s blood as you, is this really the way we’re called to do this? Would we really do this if we really believed we were family with Josh and Kim and Kirk?

Maybe what we want more than credibility is acceptance.  We want the world to accept us.  We don’t want to experience shame.  Some of us go to bed at night telling ourselves that if ISIS has us down there on that sandy beach with a knife to our throats we’d give our lives to be associated with Jesus.  Then we wake up in the morning and post mocking and sarcastic memes about Josh Feuerstein’s Starbucks campaign on Facebook because while we believe we’d die for Christ we don’t want to suffer even the least bit of shame by admitting we might be associated with some other members of Christ’s family.  Aren’t we even the least bit afraid to attack and wage war against God’s church or any member of it?  James says in his epistle that even the demons shudder when they think about the power of Almighty God.  And while the fear those demons have doesn’t stop them from attacking the church they do so knowing full well it puts them in conflict with the Eternal God. But somehow pride blinds us believers from understanding this same truth… and I would say to us that we should be more careful.

This trend of believers attacking other believers and publically distancing themselves from them- it has to stop.  The world sees this and even if your stand wins you the respect and love of the world what have you really won? Friendship with the world is enmity toward God.  The light in this world is at war with the darkness and it’s a war we can win only through the power of God.  Be careful friends, that you don’t mistake the battle lines and end up fighting on 2 fronts; to do so threatens us all.

Do I agree with Josh about what Starbucks is doing? I don’t really know… but is it an important enough issue to make me deny him as family and lob my grenades at HIM instead of the real enemy? No.  Family sticks with family.  If you love Jesus you have to love his family, too- warts and all.

If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
(Galatians 5:15–16, NASB95)

My Tight-fitting Bicycle Shorts

Cold CyclistHave you ever wondered why cyclists wear those super tight spandex shorts when they ride? I used to wonder that myself until I took up the hobby and my first 10 mile ride taught me why the immodest lycra sportswear is a necessity. It serves 2 purposes, really.  First, the tight fitting clothing forms to the body and prevents chaffing.  Secondly, the tautness of the shorts also serves to keep the built-in padding securely in all the right places cushioning the rider during long hours in the saddle.

But why am I explaining all this to you? Well, it’s because over the last 2 days in my shorts and on my bike I have learned something profound that goes beyond the realm of cycling, and I want to share it with you.  But first let me tell you about my ride yesterday.

My day yesterday needed to start an hour earlier than it normally would so all my morning activities had to be moved up by an hour.  When my alarm went off shortly before 6 I jumped up and hurriedly got dressed for my normal 13 mile bike ride.  As I set out, very early on I began having problems “in the saddle”… the padding in my shorts was shifting around; I was all over the seat and found it hard to ride for very long without having to shift my weight.  This isn’t normal and I began to go over in my head the various reasons why this might be happening.  First I blamed my wife; she had washed my shorts over the weekend and I thought maybe she had shrunk them… but I decided that wasn’t it because in these shorts tighter is better.  Then I wondered if my weight loss was to blame- that would make my shorts feel baggier… but they fit just fine 2 days ago so that couldn’t be it either.  Finely I blamed my bicycle seat; it must need adjusting- maybe it moved- maybe I needed to put something on the seat to keep my smooth shorts from sliding all over the place.  By the time I got home I was too tired to theorize about it anymore and I parked my bike in the driveway.  As I went up the stairs and pulled off my shirt to head for the shower a black string dangling from my waist caught my eye- I couldn’t believe it! In my rush to get my day started I had forgotten to securely tie my cycling shorts!  I figured that must have been the problem but as the day went on I began to wonder if not tying my shorts could really have been the cause.  So this morning I get up to ride and right away I tied up my shorts good and tight- like cut off circulation to my lower body tight! You know what? Five minutes into the ride I knew that the problem had been solved… and immediately the Lord began to speak to my heart.

As I pedaled along I began to realize that the string in my cycling shorts is an excellent example of the Belt of Truth that we have been given in the armor of God.  For many years now I have given priority to spending time in the Word of God, reading each morning and taking that time to gird myself up with the truth of scrscripture-of-the-dayipture.  But from time to time life gets in the way of my devotion and sometimes for a few days or even for a week or two my daily time in the Word gets neglected.  I was talking with a friend at the pool last week about those times and his experience reflects my own.  In those times when I’m not taking time to daily tighten that belt of truth things start getting slippery for me in life.  Just like loose shorts left me with a loose and uncomfortable connection to my bike saddle a slackness in the belt of truth leaves me with a loose and slippery connection to One who is my foundation.  And the problem is that in those times that I don’t always recognize immediately that a loose belt is the problem- and just like with the cycling shorts incident I start playing the blame game to explain why I feel so insecure and untethered in my connection to the Father.  Sometimes I blame the people around me thinking I’m being negatively influenced or at the very least not fully supported by them.  Other times I assume that maybe I’ve just changed from who I used to be and what I used to need and I need something new to make me feel more secure.  And worst of all, sometimes I blame God Himself thinking that HE must be the one who changed and is for some reason withdrawing from me.  But in the end none of those things are the real reason.  What I am experiencing in those times isn’t as much a connection problem as much as a truth problem; I am not wrapping myself as securely in His truth as should.  Time after time I go through these disconnected and shaky periods in faith and time after time I find that the solution is found in a return to a daily “tightening of the belt” by time spend with His Truth.

I worry that far too many of us are out there every day shifting our weight around in the saddle seeking a better connection and we’re looking everywhere but the right place for a solution.  We’re blaming others, ourselves, and even blaming God for the instability we feel when the true issue is we aren’t daily girding our loins with the Truth of scriptures.  Getting your belt adjusted once a week with the scriptures the pastor uses from the pulpit will never make you secure in the saddle.  The stability and connection you seek will only be found as you yourself lace up daily with the truth of the Bible.  Try it out yourself and you tell me what a difference it will make.

Pinch Me, I’m Dreaming

Psalm 139:17-18

sleeping6 A few weeks ago after a particularly long day my wife and I dropped into our bed exhausted and I immediately fell fast asleep.  Sometime later my wife woke me up and I stared at her through foggy eyes trying to figure out what was wrong.  “You were talking,” she said, “you kept saying ‘Hey Steve- Steve!’ over and over you were trying to get some guys attention.” I had no recollection of it but assumed that I must been talking to a friend in my dream.  I got up for a glass of water and came back to bed hoping that I had cleared whatever dream I had been having and would be able to snooze peacefully for the remainder of the night.  As I settled in again my wife turned and kissed me goodnight and said, “If you see anybody you know this time, just wave, ok?” Ever have the kind of dream that seems so real it makes you talk in your sleep or maybe even wave an arm or move your feet like a lazy dog dreaming of running? We’ve all probably experienced that feeling.  Some dreams seem so real it’s hard to separate them from reality the next day.  My wife once sped an entire day mad at me for something I’d done in her dream!  And we’ve all experienced the way too intense stayed-up-late-watching-zombie-movies nightmares, right? The ones where you’re trying to force yourself awake just to end it… you know the dreams I’m talking about.  And maybe the best kind of dreams of all are the ones you’re having at 6 am when the alarm goes off and all you want to do is roll over and go back to sleep and back to that dream.  If you’re anything like me that rarely works out though; the dream is gone.  We’ve all probably wished a time or two that our conscious reality might look more like some nocturnal fantasy we’ve had.  What if the splendor of the dream could remain with us even in daylight? What might that be like? In Psalm 139 King David said that’s what life was like for him.  Look at verses 16, 17, and 18 of the Psalm.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.
(Psalm 139:16–18, ESV)

Two things have captured David’s wonder and have left him awestruck: the presence and the purposes of God. The King has realized that even before he was born, while he was yet an unknown, unnamed embryo in his mother’s womb God knew him and had a plan.  Before David saw the light of even one day on earth, every day he would spend on this terrestrial ball was already recorded in God’s book.  “How wonderful are the thoughts You think toward me and the purposes You have concerning me!” cries the humbled shepherd king, “they are precious to me! It’s like I’m dreaming! How could anything in reality be this good?” he exclaims. It’s like David has found himself in the middle of one of those awesome, don’t-you-dare-wake-me-up kind of dreams.  The psalmist has discovered that the God of creation, the Lord of Hosts, the Inescapable Presence is FOR him and not against him and that He has a purpose to prosper him.  This is all so incredible, so unbelievable, so inconceivable and improbable that David decides that it must all be simply a dream; it must be a delusion or a hoax his own brain is playing on him while he sleeps.  But then look at end of verse 18… David wakes up.  He comes back to himself; he returns from the fogginess of slumber and he discovers something amazing: God’s presence is still with me!  His purposes are still to prosper me; to lay His hands of blessing upon me and give me a hope and a future!  The dream isn’t a dream at all- it’s reality!! David rejoiced to discover that the presence and the purpose of God in his life was real; God was truly with him and He was constantly there directing David’s life so that God’s pleasant purposes might be accomplished in and through His servant. Not that David didn’t know nightmares… both before and after these words of David we find evidence that conscious life for the king was often worse than any unconscious night terror.  The psalmist spoke of vicious enemies, “men of blood” surrounding him.  In the earlier stanzas of the poem he speaks of the even crueler enemy of shame: shame that left him looking for a place to hide from God.  David knew nightmares.  On more than one occasion David LIVED nightmares.  But by faith David swapped the realms of dream and reality.  The evil and the trouble that David lived with while awake he reckoned as merely a mist of fantasy and he reckoned as his true reality that which he had once thought could only be a dream: the truth that God was with David and working even in his nightmarish circumstances to accomplish the precious thoughts that He had toward His child. Friend, we are called to the same thing today.  We must recognize first of all, like David did, that what we once thought could only be true in a dream is in fact more real than we can imagine.  God’s love for us is real- it is true.  He has plans for us- good and pleasant purposes to use us and fill us and change us and bless us.  It’s all true, and we know it’s true because He has already paid the most costly of prices to ensure that His purposes for us will prevail.  So we must first recognize that the dream is real, and second let us like David swap out our realities.  What you see around you now; the trials you face, the enemies that surround you, and the nightmares you often live in; these things are but a momentary mist and will soon fade as quickly as the dream leaves us in the morning.  The trials we face won’t last but the plans and the purposes of God stand forever.  Hold fast, my friends, to the reality of His ever-present love for the night is almost over and we will awake to a new day where we will see Him in glory. Won’t you pray this with me, “Dear Lord, help me to live each new day rejoicing as David did to know that Your loving presence and purposes are with me always.  Help me to remember that the nightmares of this life are but light and momentary afflictions which You are using to achieve in me an eternal weight of glory that far outshines them all! Amen.”

Unmet Expectations

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” [Moses] named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?””

Exodus 17:1-4;7 NASB

Wadi                My wife pointed something out to me a while back.  She noted that when someone asks how long I was in the Navy I never just say “4 years.”  Instead I tell them “3 years, 11 months, and 22 days.”  It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to know that there was something about my experience in the Navy that I didn’t like.  Now, I’m not military bashing; I appreciate our service men and woman and I’m proud to have served.  I just didn’t want to make a career out of the Navy because it wasn’t what I thought it would be like.  All the recruiting posters said “Join the Navy see the world”… and then my boot camp instructor let me in on the secret: the world is 75% water! I saw the world alright! In the end my unmet expectations were too much to overcome and I decided to make my naval career a short one.                Unmet expectations can have a huge impact in our lives, can’t they? The same was true for folks in the Bible as well.  In the book of Exodus, chapter 17 we find this story of the Israelites leaving Egypt heading for the Promised Land.  God was leading the Hebrew hoard “by stages” says the text, which probably means He lead them from watering hole to watering hole through the dry land, providing all they needed.  He was a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day; when the Lord moved the people followed and they soon grew to trust and count on the provision of the Lord.  And then they came to Rephidim.                By all accounts the people expected that there would be water at Rephidim; the name of the place was the first clue.  Rephidim means “resting place” in Hebrew, and out in this kind of land any place called a place of rest would be expected to be a place of water.  Like we might expect to find food at Food Lion and a soft bed at a Holiday Inn they expected water in a resting place.  Beyond that the terrain itself indicated that there would be water at Rephidim.  The oasis was located in what is called today the Refayid Wadi.  A wadi for us Americans is what we might call an arroyo or a wash; a dry river bed that only carries water when there is a heavy rain.  It only rains in a desert once or twice a year and when it does it POURS! The run off flows through the wadi and where there are low places and dips the water will pool, leaving behind an oasis- a resting place: a Rephidim.  And above all of that, the Hebrews had been conditioned by this point to expect to have water wherever the Lord lead them.  But there was no water at Rephidim…                The Israelites did not react very well to the disappointment… their unmet expectations created an immediate and particularly visceral reaction.  So great was their grief that according to the text they began to cry out “Is God with us or not?” Now as outsiders looking in we see all the reasons why that was a crazy thing for them to wonder right?  Had they forgotten about the Red Sea? Did they not see the massive cloud over their heads shading them from the sizzling desert sun?  Some of us might be tempted to look at this and wag our fingers and cluck at these “over dramatic and histrionic Hebrews.”  But perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on them… after all, who among us has never over-reacted in some situation when the bitterness of an unmet expectation has temporarily blinded us?  I know I have.  In my early years of ministry as a pastor it was hard at times when I realized that it wasn’t all I had expected.  I remember wrestling with the Lord at time crying out, “Lord where are you? People don’t respect me like I thought they would! I thought all my plans would work out better than this? I thought you were going to make me successful!”                Maybe you’ve been there, too.  Maybe at some point you’ve said “Lord, I gave you my life and I’m following you- but this sickness is starting to make me wonder if You’re really on my side?”  Or, “Lord, you said you would provide but these bills are piling up? Are you there? Have you forgotten me?” Maybe you’ve watched a relationship crumble or a loved one die and it has left you in a pit of unmet expectations… And if so, then you can relate to what these Israelites were feeling.  And maybe you can even relate to them in how you handled the disappointment.  Unmet expectations can really mess things up in your life.  Cain slew his brother Able in a fit of unmet expectations.  David’s older brother Eliab became a bitter and angry man when God didn’t chosen him as he had expected.  When Jesus didn’t immediately form an army and defeat Rome after His triumphant entry into the city the Jews cried out “Crucify Him!” in a fit of unmet expectations.  Feelings of disappointment can very quickly become serious spiritual problems when not dealt with appropriately.              moses rod In the situation there at Rephidim, Moses was the one who handled things the right way.  While the people busied themselves talking about God and what He hadn’t done, Moses hit his knees and talked TO God.  In verse 4 he asks a great question, perhaps the best question he could have asked: “What shall I do?” he says.  The moment Moses recognized a problem; the very moment the confusion hit, Moses took the issue to God.  Do you think God is so fragile that He can’t handle your questions? Do you think He would rather that you whined and complained, or even worse, pretended everything is ok? God can handle the cries of a confused heart.  David cried out in Psalm 22, “God, why have you forsaken me?” The Father didn’t wilt; David wasn’t immediately smitten with arm-pit lice and boils.  Talking to God in the midst of the disappointment is key.                Next, Moses listened.  He cried out to the Lord and then he listened.  He didn’t take matters into his own hands (Cain!).  He didn’t throw a pity party (Eliab, I’m looking at you!).  He listened for what the Lord would say.  And I know what someone is saying right now, “That’s all good, but God doesn’t talk to me like He did to Moses!” Really? He speaks to me.  In the pages of His word He speaks to me. And that’s not just preacher-talk; this isn’t all some clever pastoral marketing scheme to get you to read your Bible more.  He really does speak to us today through scriptures.  Sometimes while I’m reading them and other time when He brings a passage to my remembrance at just the moment I need it.  He speaks to us.                Finally, we must note the most crucial part of Moses’ plan for handling unmet expectations: He trusted.  Moses prayed, God spoke, and then Moses trusted the plan.  It’s seemed wild: go strike a rock with a stick.  But Moses trusted.  Friends, our God never says “Uh, oh” He never says “Whoops,” He never says, “Huh- didn’t see that coming.”  Nothing throws Him off- nothing surprises Him- nothing can cause Him to get up from the throne and pace the floorboards of heaven wringing His hands with worry. He has said, “I know the plans I have for you.”  Whatever you are going through; whatever disappointment you are facing; whatever empty water hole you’re staring at, you can believe that God knew about it before you did and you can trust that He has a plan to use it to grow you.                So what happened at Rephidim? Did God get some bad intel from his scouts? Did google maps mis-mark the oasis?  No.  He knew there was no water there.  His plan all along was to show His power in the midst of an impossible situation.  And Israel almost missed it, and WOULD have missed it had not Moses been the one to rightly handle the unmet expectation.  What will you do the next time what you expect and what you get don’t line up? Will you talk about God or to God? Will be bitter and let Him make you better? Won’t you pray this with me; “Father, help me in my disappointments both big and small to cry out to You and trust.  Lead me to the water of Your word in every moment of grief, and use these distresses to make me into the child You’ve called me to be. Amen.”

Chasing Donkeys

Ever get that feeling like the majority of your life is spent in frustrating tasks that never seem to stop? If it’s not one thing it’s another… one problem after the next… Have you even wondered Donkeyhow much you could be accomplishing if you didn’t have to deal with those little annoyances? You’re not alone, friend; we’ve all experienced it.  But what if all that running around had a greater purpose? Let me explain…

In the 8th chapter of 1 Samuel the prophet for whom the book is named, Samuel (surprise!) received a council of elders whom demanded that Samuel give the people a king.  While Samuel knew that their motives were askew in this he went to the Lord anyway and he was told that the people would receive the king they desired.  Samuel was told to wait for the man of God’s choosing.  One day as Samuel is getting ready for a day of sacrifice in the town of Ramah the Lord speaks to him and says “At this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be king over my people” (1 Sam 9:16).  Those of us who know the story know that the man God sent to Samuel ended up being Saul, right? What I want you to see here, though is not so much who the man was but how it was that the Lord sent him to Samuel. Two days before to the Lord spoke to Samuel, Saul had a problem on his hands: His father’s donkeys had taken off.  Kish gave the unenviable job of donkey chasing to his son Saul and his servant who then proceeded to crisscross all over the hills of Ephraim looking for those crazy critters.  Could there BE a more frustrating, time-wasting, pain-in-the-neck task than chasing donkeys around the countryside?  While I’ve never done it myself it takes only a little imagination to see that it would be a maddening exercise.  Think of all the profitable and substantial things that Saul could have accomplished with those three days if he’d not been out on this fool’s errand. But here is where we must see something significant; remember what the Lord said to Samuel? He said, “I’m sending you a man.”  How did the paths of Samuel and Saul come to cross? It was while Saul was out looking for those bothersome beasts of burden that he found Samuel instead and through that interaction the lives of both men were forever altered.  The text is silent about whether it was God who caused the equine jailbreak or whether it simply the result of difficult mammals being difficult, but the end result is the same; God used Saul’s donkey chasing to create a divine appointment. Friend, I don’t know what kind of donkey chasing you might currently be engaged in.  I don’t know what kind of time-wasting, energy-sucking, mind-numbing thing you might have to do this week.  But here’s what I do know.  I do know that our God uses just these kinds of things to create fruitful interactions.  Sometimes the Lord causes or allows things in our lives that will force us off the beaten path because He has an appointment for us. Often it’s because he wants to use us to bring light and grace into someone else life, but sadly many of us make ourselves unavailable for use in these times because we’re too busy being bitter about the donkey chasing.  What missed opportunities for the kingdom that have gotten by all of us! Other times, like in the case of Saul and Samuel, the Lord may have something in the interaction for YOU… and we miss those, too, don’t we? Won’t you pray this today: “Lord Jesus, help me to see that You desire to use me and the donkeys I am often forced to chase.  Help to remain available for Your use even in the midst of wearisome and frustrating tasks.  As You did for Samuel, do for me also, and show me clearly those whom you have sent me to meet. Amen.”