An Ephesus Question: What Comes First in Your Relationship with God?

One thing more than anything is essential.

All Christians long to live pleasing to Jesus Christ. That’s why if Jesus told us He had a criticism for us, many of us would pull out our checklist and grab a pencil.

An Ephesus Question: What Comes First in Our Relationship with God?

(Photo: Ephesus theater and the Arcadian Way. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

We’d make our way down the list and ask the Lord:

  • “Should I go on a mission trip?”
  • “Do you want me to pray more?”
  • “Maybe memorize the book of Romans?”
  • “You just name it, Lord, and I’ll do it!”

I have discovered that the weak points in our relationship with God never start with failing in the big things. For example, we would never consider waffling in our morality or our theology. It always comes when we ignore a more basic element.

The church in Ephesus did it. But we don’t have to.

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Traditions, Truth, and Praying with Your Eyes Open

The Western Wall challenges us to ask why we do what we do.

Some people find it hard to identify with the Jews who rock before Jerusalem’s Western Wall. When I first saw them, the prayers seemed odd. Then I thought about my traditions. Are they any less bizarre?

The Western Wall challenges us to ask why we do what we do.

(Photo: Men praying at the Western Wall. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Oddness just comes in different flavors. They’re called “traditions.” For example:

  • Jews pray with their heads covered; we take our hats off.
  • Their prayers are public and often loud; ours are private and quiet.
  • They rock back and forth and pray from a book; we bow our heads, close our eyes, and utter unrehearsed words.

It’s easy in the familiarity of our own traditions to shake our fingers at the oddities of others. Jews pray while rocking, Muslims kneel with their bottoms in the air, and Christians bow our heads and close our eyes.

But blend any tradition—bowing, standing, prostrating, rocking, kneeling, or jumping—with no personal relationship with the true God, and it’s pointless.

How can we make sure we don’t confuse truth with tradition?

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When You’re Waiting on God in a Weary Land

How your place of confusion can become a place of refuge.

Sometimes waiting on God feels like you’re dying of thirst. That’s what David thought as he wandered in the Judean wilderness, running from a problem he couldn’t solve.

Waiting on God in a Weary Land

(Photo: The Wilderness of Judea. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Chased by the jealous King Saul, David took refuge in the Wilderness of Judea and prayed, “My flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

This barren land is a picture of our own challenge with waiting on God.

It also pictures the place of refuge God provides for us while we wait.

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What Did it Mean to Be Unclean?

How an Old Testament Ritual Offers Hope to Today’s Problem

Thumbing through our Old Testament, we often come across references to people or objects being “unclean.” What in the world does that mean?

What Did it Mean to Be Unclean

(Photo by Photodune)

From our perspective, when we come across something unclean we toss it in the dishwasher, clothes washer, or garbage can. And if a person is unclean, they simply step in the tub and scrub away the grime.

Problem solved.

We hear “unclean” and we think of something as contaminated, tainted, or unhygienic. But in the Old Testament, “unclean” had a different meaning—one that affected one’s walk with God.

What did it mean to be unclean in the Old Testament? (And why we should care about it today?)

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A Lesson from Anathoth: Why Our Best Efforts Don’t Hold Water

Jeremiah reminds us we never outgrow God

It’s tough to work hard at something, only to see your efforts eventually leak out through life’s cracks. Sometimes, however, that frustration can turn into a surprising blessing.

A Lesson from Anathoth- Why Our Best Efforts Don’t Hold Water

(Photo: Anathoth looking east toward the wilderness. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Standing in his hometown of Anathoth on a wet, wintry day, the Prophet Jeremiah could look east and see grain fields lush with life. But just beyond those fields stretched the bleak and barren Judean wilderness—a land not sown with seed.

The Lord used a similar image when He told the Israelites how they had started out as a devoted people: “following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown” (Jer. 2:2), but then had turned from His ways.

The lesson Jeremiah wrote about from these simple elements is one we must never forget.

But too often, we do. Here’s how we can remember it.

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Tel Dan—Worshipping at the Altar of Convenience

In the end, we'll find God far more satisfying.

The spiritual life often asks a lot of us. But Tel Dan offered an alternative. Shady walkways. Cool breezes. Abundant streams. Luxuriant foliage. Tel Dan had everything you could ever want. Except God.

Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan

(Photo: Headwaters of Jordan River at Tel Dan. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

In natural beauty, Tel Dan has few rivals in Israel. For the ancients, it had everything necessary for abundant living.

While the Hebrews in the south worshipped in Jerusalem, the natural beauty of Tel Dan in northern Israel offered an irresistible alternative. It was picturesque. It was convenient. It was invigorating.

And it was a complete compromise of God’s will.

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Jesus Shows How to See Yourself through 3 Amazing Truths

The Lord’s Words on the Temple Mount Urge Us to Keep it Real

As Jesus made His way toward Jerusalem for His final Passover, He repeated a principle to His disciples several times. The repetition for them ought to echo in our own minds as well.

Jesus Shows How to See Yourself through 3 Amazing Truths

(Photo: Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

What did Jesus say? Very simply:

The last shall be first, and the first last. —Matt. 19:30; 20:16, 27

The principle rubs against our grain because we want equity with others, and we feel justifiably peeved when someone gets something for nothing or when they elbow their way to greatness ahead of us (20:1-16-24).

Jesus redefined greatness as servanthood—first as last—and used Himself as an example who came to give His life for others (vv. 25-28).

His words continued in Jerusalem.

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Why the Best Days Often Start in the Evening

3 Tips for beginning tomorrow morning tonight.

For most of us, our day begins when we wake up. According to our clocks and calendars, however, a new day begins at midnight. But when God created the world, He had something else in mind.

Why the Best Days Often Start in the Evening

(Photo: Sunrise over Jerusalem. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

God actually created the new day to begin at evening—not at morning. Remember?

And there was evening and there was morning, one day. —Genesis 1:5

Odd, isn’t it, to begin the “day” with evening activities like family time, dinner, and—of all things—sleep? This mindset feels totally foreign to westerners, but many Jews still abide by it today.

Honestly, I have no idea why God did this. But I have discovered beginning the day in the evening has its productivity benefits.

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David’s Mind Hack Can Get You Through an Ordinary Day

His one objective in the Elah Valley helps the rest fall into place.

The ordinary days of life far outnumber the extraordinary ones. That imbalance can get discouraging. But as we look at the lives in the Bible, we see the same pattern. Thankfully, they were normal like us.

David's Mind Hack Can Get You Through an Ordinary Day

(Photo: Elah Valley, where David fought Goliath. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Like us, the biblical lives show years of routine interrupted by occasion moments of excitement. But if we look, we see God at work in the ordinary day just as much as in the extraordinary.

David’s fight with Goliath in the Elah Valley is the perfect example.

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15 Habits That Can Totally Transform Your Spiritual Life

Habits work off God's hardwiring for success.

You make decisions each day. Make the same decisions often enough and they becomes habits—powerful, God-given gifts to help you walk with God and stay healthy.

15 Habits That Will Totally Transform Your Spiritual Life

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

Imagine if you had to relearn to tie your shoes, drive a car, or find your way to work each day. God designed our brains to search for and create patterns of efficiency—to move into “autopilot” so that our conscious brain can focus on other choices.

In Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, he notes a researcher from Duke University discovered that more than 40 percent of the actions we do each day aren’t decisions—but habits.

All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits. —William James

I have discovered 15 habits that have transformed my spiritual life. They can do the same for you.

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