Friday, December 30, 2011

Time for a Fresh Start...

Christmas is over...it's time to take the tree down, put the lights away, find a new home for those gifts, and settle in for the winter. So what's to look forward to, you ask? Lots. It's time for a fresh start. I love the new year because it feels like a chance for a "do over" or a "mulligan" as it were. It's a time to set new goals, dream new dreams, and re-evaluate. One of the things I'm most thankful for is that God is full of grace for His children.

22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Many years ago I worked through a process laying a "Life-Plan." It's simply a plan I created to help make sure I'm prioritizing things correctly and living the life I feel God has called me to live. I came up with about 7 areas I wanted to be intentional about, and at the very top of the list was my relationship with Christ. How am I doing? Not as good as I'd like. My "vine-time" has suffered as life got increasingly busy this past year. So not surprisingly, most (if not all) of my "resoluting" this year will be centered around growing my relationship with Christ. It's not complicated, but it will take discipline.

Growth doesn't just happen.

My wife has a garden and I've noticed something...growth doesn't just happen. First the soil must be turned over and prepared. Then seeds must be planted. And seeds only grow with sunlight and water. Too much of one without enough of the other means poor growth and the harvest ends up being wasteful.

If I want my relationship with Christ to grow this year, I have to prepare the soil (my heart), plant the seed (His Word), and make sure it gets sunlight (prayer) and water (deeds). My goal is simple...intentional growth.

How about you? What's your "resolution" for year 2012?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Anticipation...

This time of year there is so much build up, so much anticipation, for Christmas. You can sense it everywhere you go. The music, the lights, the gatherings, it's a time of year that is anticipated for weeks, even months.

I often wonder about the anticipation felt during the days leading up to the first Christmas. I have a feeling that most of earth and its inhabitants didn't really grasp the situation. I wonder if even Mary and Joseph fully understood who they were about to bring into the world. All of history prior to Christ's birth, points to His birth...the promised Messiah, the Light, the Prince of Peace, the Righteous One was coming.

And then there's the anticipation in heaven. I usually ponder and think about Christmas from my perspective or earth's perspective; but think about it from heaven's perspective. Did all the angels and heavenly creatures know what was about to happen? I think they did. And if they did know, they certainly understood just who Jesus was/is. Jesus was there at the beginning...He has always existed. He is the one they worship. He is the one that all things were created through and created for. And here He is, Jesus, the one and only Son of God, about to willfully enter into human flesh...and once He was conceived in Mary's womb, there would be no going back. What were the angels thinking?

They did there best to let us know...the heavenly host that came to the shepherds point-blank told them exactly what had just happened. They announced the birth of the Messiah, the Son of God. And yet for them, the whole event must have seemed so under-whelming. The entire planet should have stopped to gather and worship...but instead, only a handful of shepherd's showed up.

What's the point? I wonder if in the midst of Christmas, knowing what we know now, I wonder if we too don't miss the birth of Christ at Christmas. I know I do. The busyness, shopping, preparations, gifts, lights, trees, food, all of it...none of it bad. But it makes it all too easy to forget that Christmas is about Jesus. After all, it's His birthday we are celebrating.

This weekend, make sure you take time to honor, worship, celebrate, and maybe even sing to Him.

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Perfect Gift

In my family a few years ago we started doing our Christmas Gift Giving in a slightly different way. We used to buy gifts for everyone, but that got too expensive. Then we started drawing names and making lists, but some complained that you always knew what you were getting and what if you found the perfect gift for someone who wasn't on your list? So what do we do now? We call it "miscellaneous gifts." You buy whatever you want, bring it, wrap it, put a clue on it, and then we draw numbers for the opening order and away we go!

Personally, it makes it very hard to shop. It's much easier to shop when you know who you're buying for; but when you're supposed to find some "random" or misc. gift that a majority of people in your family might like, it makes it a real challenge. You might find something that 1 person would like, but nobody else. Each year that goes by makes it harder as well; as we've kind of exhausted the flashlights, pocket knives and gadgets category (for the guys).

But what if you could find the perfect gift for someone? What if you were able to know exactly what someone really wanted...maybe they didn't even know they wanted it, but then they open the gift and they are overcome that someone would know them so well as to find the perfect present, one they had never thought of but now that they see it wonder how they could ever survive without it?

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Hmmm...the perfect gift, indeed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Where's Your Allegiance?

A few weeks ago I was out walking with my wife when I observed a funny thing. It was a teenage boy whom I will call a "confused sports fan." He was wearing a Boston Red Sox shirt, a St Louis Cardinals hat, and a Seattle Sounders scarf...all at the same time. This struck me as quite humorous for obvious reasons...my immediate question was "who are you following?"

It seems that many people are, like this boy, confused. We are quick to follow the latest fad, or allow pop culture to dictate to us our morality, and we often don't really understand why we believe what we believe, leaving us vulnerable to a world that doesn't exactly embrace absolute truth. We often end up looking like that boy; picking and choosing from different belief systems or religions, which often leads to a sort of hypocrisy. Our words say one thing, while our actions say something else.

I wonder when people see me, what they see? Do they see someone sold out to Christ; one team, one uniform, one hat/shirt/scarf...do they see someone who's words and actions "alibi" each other? Or do people see in me something like that boy, not quite sure who I'm following or what I stand for?

The key to the whole thing lies in building a passionate and committed relationship with Christ. Build your life around the catalysts that lead you to this relationship; Bible, Prayer, Community, Service, and Worship...and allow God to lead you closer to Him.

"For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Friday, December 9, 2011

It Bears Repeating

This past Sunday Pastor Jeff preached on contentment; a challenging message that bears repeating (if you missed it, click here to download or listen online).

One of the key verses in the whole Bible on contentment is found in Philippians; "I can do everything through Him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:13). What things? What can I do? Can I really do anything and everything?

Pastor Jeff reminded us that this verse was not a blank promise that God will enable us to do whatever we want; rather, it is Paul's reminder that because of God's power in our lives, we have the ability to be content in any and every situation; (remember that Paul wrote this letter in prison).

Pastor Jeff closed by challenging us with the "three G's" as the secret to contentment.

Godliness: We can only be content as we develop and grow in our relationship with Christ. Time in His Word, time in Prayer, time in Worship, Community and Service - all of these are catalysts to help us grow in godliness...remembering that "godliness with contentment is great gain." (1 Timothy 6:6)

Gratitude: We have also been reminded throughout Philippians (especially chapter 4), that thankfulness and gratitude are a safeguard for our heart and a key component of contentment.

Giving: Giving then becomes the application of our contentment. As we grow in godliness, living life with gratitude, the outcome should be a life marked by being a great giver.

How are you doing on the three G's?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Are you "All In?"

This past Monday I was able to attend Sting's "Back to Bass" concert in Seattle. It was a great show with great musicians singing some great music. Now to be clear, I don't think Sting is a believer or follower of Christ; but one thing he said caused me to stop and consider my relationship with Jesus, and my relationships with others.

It was in the context of him bragging on his wife. He talked about how much she completed him, filled in all his gaps, and how their love for each other had endured. He then mentioned something you don't hear often when couples speak of love; he said that "she also has the power to completely ruin me." In other words, he has so fully given his heart and himself to his wife, Trudy, that she now has a power that could utterly leave him wrecked.

The point is simple; he has moved "all in" in this relationship. And that's the thing about relationships; if you hold back, you risk less, but you also have less rewards. It seems that many relationships today are just that; risk management, almost like (as Sting put it), that people get married with an "emotional pre-nup" not willing to risk certain parts of their heart of life.

Question; are you "all in" in your relationship with Christ, to the point that He could utterly ruin you? Have you risked all your emotions, all your heart and longings? Or are you holding back, simply "managing" your relationship with Him? And for us married types, how about our relationships with our spouses? Are we "all in" or have we bought into the "emotional pre-nup?"

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Lesson in Humility

So True...
I'm on a 2-year Bible reading plan and let me just confess that I am happy to be out of Ezekiel and into Daniel. Daniel is an incredible man (so is Ezekiel), and his book is full of stories, mysteries, and unbelievable events (Fiery Furnace? Lions Den?). Early on in the this book we see that Daniel has a gift of interpreting dreams. Specifically, when nobody else in the land can help the king out, Daniel steps in. That's where we find him in chapter 2. Nebuchadnezzar has just had an alarming dream and he doesn't know what it means. After consulting everyone he can find and still not knowing the meaning, he finds Daniel, who says this to him.

"As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind." (Daniel 2:29-30)

Today, let us consider Daniel's humility. Here he is asked to do something that nobody else could do, and God gives him the ability to do it (interpret a dream). Does he gloat about it? Step up and say something like "unlike all your so-called 'wise men' who weren't able to help you, I and I alone have the correct interpretation. What will you give me if I interpret it for you?" Maybe he jumps on Twitter or Facebook to tell the world that he alone has the answer? No! In fact, he rather does the opposite, making it clear that he is no wiser than anyone else, but just happens to have received the understanding from God.

Humility has been defined many ways, by many men and women. In this instance, Daniel's humility is simply this; seeing himself in his proper place. What I mean is this; Daniel is humble because he demonstrates the ability to properly see who he is (and is not). He remembers that he is not God, he is not the source of wisdom, he is not a creator, he does not give dreams or interpret them. And what he is; he is only a man, he is a receiver and messenger of God's wisdom (not his), he is obedient (in sharing the dream with Nebuchadnezzar).

Pride, so often, is not remembering who we are. We get prideful when we forget that we are nothing...that everything we are and everything we do is by God's grace and power. Remember these words from Jesus? "Apart from me you can do nothing." Daniel knows...and we would do well to remember as well. The point?

At a recent leadership conference I was able to attend I heard an incredible message given on the topic of humility. The findings traced the power of humility all the way back to, guess who, Jesus. One of his opening statements was simply this; "Humility makes the great, greater." We would all benefit from remembering who we are, and worshipping God in all humility.

Monday, October 24, 2011

No Worries Mate

Warnings ranged from
"severe pain" to "death"

I love Australia...well, at least what I know of it. I've been there one time back in 2008, spending 2 weeks  in Cairns, which is in the state of Queensland (Northeast Australia). Among other things, Queensland is home to 9 of the 10 deadliest snakes in the world, not to mention the infamous jellies. In fact the one beach we visited had 3 signs warning of the 10 types of deadly jellies, plus sharks, plus crocodiles. It's ironic, then, that one of the most common phrases uttered in Australia is "no worries mate." A good friend of mine who is from Australia utters these words constantly. No matter the task, danger or obstacle, his response was always "no worries mate."

I wonder if we can't learn something here...

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life." (Matt 6:25-27)
Want to go swimming?

To be a Christian is to live by faith. There is no way around it. But for those of us who have a bent towards worry, how can we overcome that? Is it as simple as telling yourself to stop worrying? Hmmm. 

I believe the root of worry is a desire for control. We tend to worry about things we can't control. We worry about the choices our kids make, we worry about our investments, we worry about what others think about us, we worry about many things...things we can't control. 

And if we can't control them then our worrying won't help.

There is another way, though. There is a way to exert some control over the things we can't control. How? Prayer. It's simple, really. God CAN control them, and in fact He is sovereign. What if we replaced all the time we worry about things we can't control and instead prayed about those things; and in that way, we brought some semblance of control? Prayer moves the hand of God to action. Prayer binds our heart with His. Prayer is about connecting with the Lord of the universe. And if we could master the life of never-ending conversation, prayer, with God, then truly we can say with all honesty, "No worries mate."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Power of a Song: Awakeningl

"Awake, my soul!" (Psalm 57:8)

Do you ever have those moments where something that seemed so familiar, all of a sudden becomes new again? Maybe something that was always there, but now seems different. You're driving home and you notice a tree changing colors that you've never noticed before. You're out and about and see a building, or restaurant, and you ask your wife "is that new?" and she says, "no, honey, it's always been there." And you think, "how could I have missed it?

As believers, this type of thing should happen to us often. You're reading your Bible and come across a passage that seemed so familiar, but takes on a whole new meaning. It's God's Spirit speaking to you.

This just happened to me this week; a song that I'd heard a thousand times, but usually as background music, struck me in a new and powerful way. Ironically, it's called "awakening." Why did this song impact me so much this week? I'm not sure...

Maybe because like Keith Green wrote so many years ago, I often feel like I'm "asleep in the light."
Maybe because I long for more...to know that I'm making a difference in eternity.
Maybe because I spoil for a battle, but wonder if I could overcome my fears should that battle ever materialize.
Maybe because I know I was made for more then what I'm experiencing right now.
Maybe because I hear God's voice constantly beckoning me closer, into a more intimate relationship with Him.
Maybe because I feel like there is a challenge awaiting me, and I long to enter it and be proved worthy, and yet so often my own fears hold me back.

And then I sing this song and for a few brief moments I feel my soul rise up and I am convinced that in God's strength I can do what He calls me to do. The song transforms me...no, that's not quite right. God transforms me as I listen, sing, and worship. And in that moment, this simple lyric becomes my most earnest prayer.

"God, awaken my soul, awaken me..."

Take a moment and watch/listen;

Friday, October 14, 2011

What God Desires

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27)

"As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead." (James 2:26)


"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?" (Isaiah 58:6)


"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

A song that has haunted and motivated me for the past couple of years. Take a moment to be challenged.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Heaven

"If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this..." "Aim at heaven, and you'll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth, and you'll get neither." (C.S. Lewis)

How much time do you spend thinking about heaven? How much time do you spend dreaming about heaven? I mean really thinking about what heaven will be like. Do you know what it will be like? When I even ask those questions, what comes to your mind? A surge of adrenalin, of anticipation, or a "yawn"? Do you "hope" that heaven is going to be exciting, or do you "know" that it is?

If you're like many Christians you've been duped, tricked, fooled. I believe that one of satan's greatest weapons to cripple Christians, making us so ineffective, is somehow getting us to buy into the lie that heaven will be boring. I mean after all, what in the world will be do for an eternity? We'll have fun for awhile, but then we'll get bored. Or worse yet, all we're going to do is sing all day long. Isn't that what worship is, after all? Singing?

I'm doing something I rarely do in this blog...I'm recommending a book. The book is titled "Heaven,"  written by Randy Alcorn. I believe that every Christian should read this book. It's not a perfect book, and he gets a little repetitive, and I wish it was shorter; but still, it will get you excited about heaven all over again.

Heaven, will be awesome. Imagine the best vacation you've ever had and multiply it times a thousand. Heaven will be full of fulfillment, security, love. Heaven will have adventure, rest, discovery, and wandering. In heaven we'll see loved ones, family, friends, and those whose lives we impacted without ever knowing. Heaven will be more beautiful then the most glorious sunset you've ever seen. In heaven we'll have time to be the person that God had designed us to be. The part of you that you've been hiding.

Heaven is not some abstract place up in the clouds. Heaven is not boring. Heaven is not repetitive.

Heaven is a reunion with your Creator. Heaven is face to face with Jesus. Heaven is Eden. Heaven is renewal. Heaven is earth as it was meant to be; more colorful, more vivid, more beautiful. No death or decay, but life. Heaven is man with no sin. God will one day soon come and set things right. He will renew the earth (not destroy it). Think of the happiest moment of your life, and that is a taste of heaven.

Heaven is Home. The Home you were always meant to have. Heaven should grip your heart and occupy your mind. And once you get a glimpse, you'll do everything you can to help everyone you know get into heaven with you.

Is heaven in you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Risk

"He was stepping into a moment where God would have to come through if it was going to achieve its ultimate end."
(Erwin McManus, Chasing Daylight)

"Most of us never experience the power of God in our lives because we never attempt anything that would require it."
(Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind Fresh Fire)

Risk. When is the last time you attempted something so bold that if God didn't show up, it would utterly fail? I'm reading the book by McManus and this morning, I picked up where I had left off and made it through exactly one paragraph until I came upon that quote up above. It stopped me. McManus is referring to Jonathan and his armor bearer who single-handedly killed 20 fully armed men. This wasn't a sneak attack, they didn't have sniper guns, they had swords. And they whole approach was in full view of the enemy who in fact knew they were coming up. And still, in an area of about 1/2 an acre the two of them killed 20 men. Not scared 20 men, not wounded 20 men, but killed them. The story is amazing (read it here).

God used Jonathan (and his armor bearer) as a catalyst to inspire the rest of the army who went on to rout the Philistines on this day. Saul, the king and leader of the army, was doing nothing...hanging out under a pomegranate tree.

So here's the question(s) that haunt me;
- Am I more like Saul (hanging out under the tree waiting for something to happen), or Jonathan (leading with boldness, risking all and trusting God to win the victory for me)?
- When's the last time I attempted something so bold that its success depended on God intervening?

McManus makes a great point for those of us who, like me, long to have boldness but seem stuck in lives of safety and risk management. His point? Faith to do the big things starts with obedience in the little things. So if you long to have bigger faith, then I'd encourage you to do two things;

  1. Do the little things God asks of you this day. Listen for His voice, and act...with boldness. It might be as simple as having a conversation with someone not like you, or giving a cup of water in His name. Obedience in the little things will be rewarded by God asking you to take increasingly bigger risks for Him.
  2. Pray for boldness, and pray for opportunities to strengthen and increase your faith.
Can you imagine what God could do with a world full of "Jonathan's"? Men and women willing to risk it all, totally dependent on God?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What is Worship?

Worship is all that we are, responding to all that God has revealed Himself to be, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Or, to put it even more simply,
"Worship is responding to God's revelation."

Worship was initiated by God. He gives us breath and life so that we might glorify Him. He gives us a share in His glory, so that we can return it and make much of Him. He gives us songs to sing so that we can sing them back to Him.

He reveals Himself to us through creation, through His Son, through His Spirit, through His grace, through His actions, through His Word, through His voice and whispers, through the cross, through His covenant, through each other (who are made in His image), through music and song, through laughter and tears, through the stars and the moon, through a sunset or sunrise, through a hurricane or earthquake, through miracles, through those who persevere under intense trials, through simple faith. God reveals Himself to us. We respond and that is worship.

Worship is singing, but not only
Worship is praying, but not only
Worship is serving in His name, but not only
Worship is lifting hands or dancing, but not only
Worship is drawing and painting, but not only

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." (Mark 12:30).

The greatest commandment, the one greater than all others, is to worship God.

How? In all ways. When? At all times.

Heart - worship Him with passion and emotion
Mind - worship Him with knowledge and understanding
Soul - worship Him with conviction
Strength - worship Him with actions and service

So then, the great question should never be "how was worship?" The question should be "are you worshipping?" Or better yet, "is my worship an appropriate response to all that God has revealed?" Or are you holding back? God has held nothing back from us...let us worship Him, holding nothing back from Him.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11

9/11 - Two words that will forever hold significance for those who lived through the events of Sept 11, 2001. On that date the world changed forever. All of us have memories from that morning; where we were, what we were doing, how we got the news. Many of us seem to know someone who was there, or close by. As the images of that morning flashed across newsrooms we all sat horrified, seeing the death of so many.

My thoughts at this time turn to so many things...here are three.

1) Life is fragile.  Life is much more fragile than any of us ever want to think. For everyone who woke up that morning and went to work in the two towers, they never could have imagined what would await them...for many, the last hours of their life on earth. Or consider those who were on the airplanes; maybe on a business trip or vacation, or on their way to see family. They never imagined their planes would be hijacked and rammed into buildings. Life is fragile and apart from God granting us every breath we take, we would cease to exist. As James says, "You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

The point? Make today count...this moment, sieze it for God's purposes and His glory. Whether in little things like loving your wife and children, or big things such as sharing your faith, feeding the poor, caring for the needy; in all things, make today count.

"Live as if Christ died yesterday, rose today, and is coming back tomorrow." (Theodore Epp)

2) Broaden your perspective. The events of 9/11 were tragic and historic as thousands of people lost their lives. The best estimate is 2977 people lost their lives, plus another 19 dead hijackers. This is tragic. However, let us remember that 25,000 people die every day due to hunger. Every 3 seconds, someone dies because of hunger related causes. I have often asked myself why my heart doesn't break for that as much as it does for the deaths of 9/11? Probably because it's just too big; it's a statistic that doesn't touch my life. And yet it breaks God's heart. And that's only hunger related deaths. We are insulated in the United States, and blessed...many fear for their lives daily.

The point? As the song says, "[God], Break my heart for what breaks yours." And do something. All of us, especially in America, have resources at our disposal to do something to alleviate suffering, hunger, and injustice. Let's get in the game. Let it never be said of me, "he thought it was just too overwhelming so he didn't do anything." Much better to be said "even though it is overwhelming, he made a difference for a few."

3) Pray. The day Sept. 11, 2001 should have been a wake up call for many of us. It should cause us to pray for at least three things;
- Pray for Revival: As much as many people turned to God during this crisis, how many more turned back to themselves once the tragedy had passed. We need to pray for God to awaken the church...as it is the church that is God's strategy to save the world. 
- Pray for our Leaders: "As the leaders go, so goes the people." We need to continually hold our leaders before the Almighty God.
- Pray for our enemies. Yes, as much as we might not want to do this, it is God's heart for us that we pray for our enemies. 

And yes, let us take time today to remember. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

"I'm standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts fot eh blue ocean. She's an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other. And then I hear someone at my side saying, 'There, she's gone.'

Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, 'There, she's gone,' there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, 'Here she comes!'

And that is dying."

(Heaven, by Randy Alcorn, p. 462)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Puritan Prayer: "God the All"

This past Sunday I had our congregation pray through a puritan prayer, "God the All." I wish I prayed prayers like this. Below is what I had us pray; not the full prayer, but most of it (although I confess I changed the Thee's and Thou's to You's).

There is no comfort in anything apart from enjoying You 
     and being engaged in Your service; 
You are all in all, and all enjoyments are what to me You make them, and no more. 
I am well pleased with Your will, whatever it is, or should be in all respects, 
And if You bid me decide for myself in any affair, I will choose to refer all to You,
     for You are infinitely wise and cannot do amiss, as I am in danger of doing. 
I rejoice to think that all things are at Your disposal, 
     and it delights me to leave them there. 
Then prayer turns wholly into praise, and all I can do is to adore and bless You. 
What shall I give You for all Your benefits? 
     I long to make some return, but have nothing to offer,
     I can of myself do nothing to glorify Your blessed name,
     but I can, through grace, cheerfully surrender soul and body to You.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hope in Pain

I'm reading through a 2-year Bible plan and today, I started the book of Lamentations, most likely written by the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was not the luckiest of prophets. He was the one chosen by God to pronounce God's impending judgement and discipline on His chosen people. Jeremiah was the one who fore-told, and then witnessed the fall of Jerusalem. In his weaker moments, Jeremiah even accused God of "deceiving him" (see chapter 20). And yet the word of God within Jeremiah was something he couldn't keep to himself even if he wanted to...("his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot."). For these reasons and more, Jeremiah is known as the "weeping prophet."

All that to say, Jeremiah was not a happy camper when he wrote the great lament. He "told them so" and they didn't' repent, and so he gets to witness first hand what it's like to receive judgment from the hand of God. And yet, in the midst of all of that, Jeremiah writes these words;

Yet this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
   for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
   therefore I will wait for him.”

The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him,
   to the one who seeks him;
    it is good to wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:21-26)


It is easy to have hope in God in a time of blessing. But how much harder to hold onto hope when it seems all hope is gone? Here is Jeremiah sitting in the midst of his darkest moment, writing words of hope.

This got me thinking; how many of us have that kind of faith, that in the midst of our darkest trials, tests, moments, we can remember and cling to the grace of God? There are times when there is nothing we can do but wait and hope, trusting in the character of God to bring comfort, deliverance, or justice.

If you're in one of those times, do what Jeremiah did; call to mind the truths about who God is. There is none like Him, and His love is great.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grief and Joy

Do you grieve well?

A few days ago a day that I had been dreading for awhile finally arrived. A day that should have been filled with joy at the birth of my niece Aimee, was instead filled with pain as she went home to be with God after 1 1/2 hours with us on earth. Expected? Yes...we all knew this was the likely outcome. Easy? No. During this time, and my years as a pastor, I've observed a number of responses from people who are suffering this type of pain. In this post, I want to address one.

Somewhere, some of us seem to have this idea that if we are true followers of Christ and have enough faith, we will always be thankful, full of joy, optimistic at every turn, never question God, and never feel pain or sorrow. This type of response used to bother me, but more often now it causes me to feel sorry for the individual, because I think they miss out on a much needed time to grieve, question, feel pain, and grow stronger as a result.

"Jesus wept." (John 11:35).

John 11 presents us with an incredible picture of Jesus and how he loved. Jesus had a special relationship with Lazarus; "Lord, the one you love is sick..." (v. 3) and so it would seem to be no surprise that He would weep at his death. And yet, when you read a little closer, you see that Jesus knew from the beginning that Lazarus' death was only temporary.

v. 4: "This sickness will not end in death..."
v. 11: "I am going there to wake him up."
v. 23: "Your brother will rise again..."
v. 25: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies."

And yet...

v. 33: "When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled."
v. 35: "Jesus wept."

Jesus is overcome by the emotion of the moment; the sight of so many suffering so much pain was enough to cause the Son of God to weep. Now let me ask you this; if Jesus, knowing He was going to perform a miracle was overcome with emotion and wept, how much more should you and I feel the freedom to grieve deeply?

The truth is there are many things that break God's heart...and I would guess that God, who identifies Himself as our Father, grieves for us when He sees His children suffering heart-ache. Isn't that what we see in this picture with Jesus? Jesus (God), is overcome by the pain that His children are suffering, and it causes Him to break down and weep Himself.

What's my point? I think I have a couple...
1) When you are overcome with emotion and feel like crying, cry.
2) When you see someone else grieving deeply, don't try to make them feel better...instead, try just sitting in silence and grieve with them. Buy them a cup of coffee, and ask them about their pain.

Friday, August 5, 2011

10 < 613 > 2

This post will be simple, ironically enough.

God gave 10 commandments. The Pharisees and religious leaders of the day turned those 10 commandments into 613 laws. Jesus came along and reduced 613 laws to 2 commandments.

Love God with everything you are...
Love your neighbor.

From 10 to 613 to 2.

How are you doing in life? Are you keeping it simple? It's a battle, I know but I need it...the simple life. The older I get, the more I see how overly-complicated we've made life. It doesn't have to be that way. You know what I think the number 1 reason is for our over-complicated lives? Trying to please others instead of trying to please God. Other people puts tons of expectations on us, and we waste so much time trying to meet their expectations.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Two commands. Love God, and Love People.

Tomorrow morning is a brand new day. When you wake up, first thing, pray this prayer;
"Dear Lord, please help me today to love you with all I have, and to love those I come into contact with today." Then focus on those two things...Love God, Love others.

Amen.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Axioms, Adages and Proverbs (9): Living For ___?

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.” (William James)

I have a long list of quotes or sayings; (axioms, adages and proverbs), things that motivate me and are rooted in truth. Here's another winner...(if you want to see others I've written about, click here). 

Recently I was reading through my facebook news feed and was overcome with how self-centered all of us are (including myself). It was shocking, really, to see that almost every post or comment was about us...me. A new vacation, new car, new house, new toy, new phone, new outfit, new friend, etc. If it wasn't that, it was some comment or gripe or complaint about something we didn't like here. Not issues of justice, really, but pet peeves. Now is this wrong? Of course not...facebook is not evil in itself, and I'm really not writing this to comment on facebook.

My point is this; all of us, without applying some sort of external pressure to force us to do otherwise, will naturally tend to be internally focused. We're born into this world as infants who think the world revolves around us, (and it does, really), and we seem to struggle to shake this worldview for the rest of our lives. We even carry this into our views of God and Jesus where the focus is on how much Jesus loves me.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

Want to live a life that matters? There's only one way...spend it for something that will outlast it. 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

Eternity...this is something that will outlast our earthly lives. Heaven, or Hell, for all mankind...there are only two paths; one wide, one narrow...that is our destiny. Want to build treasures for ourselves, things that will outlast us? Then invest in eternity. What does that look like? Many ways...
- Give freely (time and money)
- Share your faith always (in words and deeds)
- Love deeply
- Confront injustice
- Help the poor and needy, the orphans and widows (because when you do, you are helping Jesus)

Leave fingerprints everywhere you go that point people to Christ.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

You and I are the light...God has set us on a hill to give light the world. How bright are you burning?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The "Vanilla Factor"

What's the most popular flavor of ice cream, do you think? Answer? Vanilla. However, it's not enough to say that vanilla is the most popular; that only tells part of the story. Vanilla is not just the most popular, it's more than three times the popularity of the second place flavor, Chocolate. 29% of respondents say vanilla, compared to Chocolate at 9%. It's not even close. Let's call this the "vanilla factor..."

A few years ago a large and influential American church began to take a hard look at how effective they were at accomplishing their mission of making disciples. "Sure," they said; "we have lots of people coming to church, tithing, our small groups are large, people are serving, but is any of it making a difference?" "Are people more in love with God and each other than they were? Are people moving closer to Christ?"

After surveying themselves, and then thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of people just like you and me, trying to pin down what helped people actually grow closer to Christ, one finding jumped off the page. Bible. Specifically, reading, reflecting, and applying God's Word to your life.

Many things can help us grow, they found; serving, fasting, praying, journaling, being in a small group, attending worship services, Bible studies, tithing, belief in certain key doctrines...all of these are catalysts. However, Bible was the vanilla factor. It wasn't even close. Not just reading God's Word, but reading it, meditating on it, and living it out.

It is the vanilla factor for spiritual growth.

"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12).

So the question, it seems, isn't "how do I grow closer to God?" The question is "are you getting into God's Word often, reflecting on it, applying it, and living it?" What is your plan?

"Your words were found and I ate them,
And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart;
For I have been called by Your name,
O LORD God of hosts." (Jeremiah 15:16)

Friday, July 22, 2011

We Need to Be Found (2 of 2)

First, you must read part 1...this is the second part of two posts. (Click here)

Picking up where we left off, there at least 2 other points I want to make from these parables.

2) We need the shepherd, and we need the flock.

When we wander off, we are lost to ourselves, lost to the flock, and lost to God. The shepherd can leave the 99 by themselves because they have safety in numbers; and yet the 1 who has wandered off is in grave danger. Isolation is never good. I believe it's one of Satan's tricks. I worry about some of my fellow believers who, disillusioned by something in the local church have wandered off to do their own thing. They may not know it, but they are in danger...they've been isolated from the flock. No, the local church is not perfect, (far from it...I mean, we are all sheep), but it's the way God set it up. In the flock we learn to love each other through our imperfections. This was God's plan from the beginning...to live in community with each other and to build His church.

3) There is a party when we are found. 

Check this out...it's amazing! The partying is being done by the shepherd/woman in the parables. They're the ones who found the sheep/coin, they're the ones who can't contain their joy, they're the ones who invite their neighbors and friends to join them, and they're the ones rejoicing. Look at verse 10 again; who's doing the celebrating? The angels are present, but it's almost like they're watching the party. It's God, Jesus, who is celebrating in the presence of the angels. Don't miss this - the essence of this passage is that the shepherd's joy is so great, he cannot celebrate alone, but must gather with his friends.

Second, the party is triggered by repentance. We commonly assume this means repentance unto salvation, but again, that's not what the text says. Whenever anyone repents; that means you and I, Christian, there is joy in the Father's heart. Want to start a party in heaven? Confess your sin to God and repent of it, and you will trigger a party. The word repent has an "ongoing" essence to it. Repentance is not something you do once...it's something we do constantly. It's both a change of mind, and change of action. The bottom line is that God is over-joyed when we repent. One commentator put it this way; "there is nothing here of a reluctant shepherd scolding the sheep..." - only joy. Pure joy.

These parables show us the amazing heart and compassion of our Father. His love is vast and He will stop at nothing to find one of His lost sheep. Have you been found? Are you wandering off?

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Big He is, How Small I am

We're in the midst of a series looking at pride and humility. This week's message will focus on Jesus' humility, and how He demonstrated this humbleness. This got me to thinking about how all of us instinctively place "self" at the center of our lives and erroneously live, at least at the sub-consicence level, believing that it's all about us. Consider for a moment...

  • The Milky Way Galaxy contains between 200 and 400 billion stars. That's 200,000,000,000 stars.
  • The Andromeda Galaxy is one of the closest galaxies to our own Milky Way...it is only 15,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles away.
  • There is an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe. Each galaxy contains between 10 million and 1 trillion stars. That means that a safe estimate gives us 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe...and any one of those stars could have a planet or two (or 9) orbiting around it.
  • To point, there have recently been about 350 planets found in our own milky way galaxy. Now let's just say there's another 200 planets in all those other galaxies out there (1 of the 100 billion). 350 x 100 billion = a very large number! And that's just what we've found so far.
  • How big is the universe? Nobody knows for sure, but estimates put it at about 90 billion light years in diameter. One light year = 6 trillion miles (approximately). Let me say that again. 1 light year = 5,878,625,373,183 miles, and the universe is estimated at 90,000,000,000 light years in diameter.
  • Oh - and we know that the universe is constantly expanding at a rate of approximately 50 miles per second. That means in the next 24 hours, the universe will have expanded about 4.3 million miles.

So let me ask you a question; does it make sense to think we know more about our lives than the God who made this universe? I mean, in comparison to how big, how awesome, how utterly incomprehensible He is, we are nothing. We are a speck. We are like a grain of sand that you blow away. We are a fog that appears in the morning, and by afternoon is long gone.

Now consider this; "For God so loved  ___________ [insert your name here], that He gave His one and only Son..."

This God; awesome, huge, gigantic God, who creates from nothing, chose to create YOU and ME in HIS IMAGE. Stop. Let it sink in. Even though we are but a speck, He knows you.

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13-14)


As I write this, I am overwhelmed with the love of God for us...for me. Every hair on my head is numbered, every day I live has been written down by Him, planned, thought out. Every cell in my body, every gift I have, everything I am is because of Him. I am a product of His creation, His thought, His creativity. Whenever I open my mouth to speak to Him, He hears. Whenever I repent of sin and turn to Him, He rejoices. Whenever I do something in His name, He smiles. He knows me...and He knows you.

"So what can I give, what can I do, but offer this heart Oh God, completely to you."

That is the refrain of a popular worship song we have just taught at our church and the reason I love it so much is because in that one line, it sums up my response. I can't do anything or give anything that would ever be enough, but I can give the 1 thing that God most desires from me; my heart...to Him, completely, totally, surrendered.

He is Worthy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

We Need to Be Found (1 of 2)

Have you ever heard someone say something like this? "_____ just needs to find God." Or maybe you've even said it as part of your testimony? "I was _____, but then I found God." I believe that not only is this theologically incorrect, but this thinking also causes us to miss the heart of Jesus.

Luke 15 contains three amazing parables, stories that Jesus taught that reveal His heart for us. I want to focus on the first two, which you can read here; (pointless to keep reading this post until you click on that link and read the parables).

In the first parable, Jesus is the Shepherd, and we are the sheep. A few observations about sheep...
- They're dumb, stupid, and they stink all the time
- They're constantly dirty and need the shepherd to keep them clean
- They're weak...they can't defend themselves and rely on the shepherd and the herd for protection
- They are helpless...without their shepherd they'd never find food or water

Sound like you and me?
- We think we're smart and in control, which only shows how dumb we are...we have NO control
- We sin constantly, and need forgiveness daily to keep us clean
- We're very weak, insecure, fearful, and constantly succumb to temptation
- We're helpless to save ourselves...our one chance is to live a perfect life and, well that didn't work out so well.

In steps Jesus, the Good Shepherd. What does He do? Hang on.

In the second parable, Jesus represents the woman, and we are the lost coins. One of us gets lost. What does the woman do? She searches high and low, inside and outside, lighting lamps and basically, not resting until she finds her lost coin. And when she finds it? It's a party! Let's stop there and make some observations.

1) JESUS FINDS US. We don't have to figure out how to find Him, He finds us. The sheep doesn't get hopelessly lost trying to figure out how to get back to the flock, the shepherd leaves the flock to find the sheep! When a sheep wanders off, the shepherd would leave the flock and go on a search. He may end up walking miles to find that 1 lost sheep. And what happens when he finally finds the sheep? He scoops up the hungry, scared, wounded sheep, places him on his shoulders, walks him all the way back to the flock. Same thing with the woman; she loses a coin and immediately drops everything until she finds that missing coin.

Notice what Jesus doesn't do...
- He doesn't send someone else to go after the sheep while he hangs out with the 99
- He doesn't "let it go" (I mean, after all, it's only 1 sheep/1 coin...I have many more)
- He doesn't sit tight and wait for that wandering sheep to figure out how to get back to the flock

In the same way, when we wander off, Jesus comes to find us. When we are lost, He finds us. We need to be found. He will go any distance, to any place to find one of His sheep. This should change a little bit how we pray for those who are "lost" - we don't pray that they find us, or find God, we pray that God finds them. They are lost, and they need to be found. And this is good news!

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Dangerous Trap

This past Sunday our Senior Pastor (Jeff Geise) preached on pride vs. humility. To say the least, it was a convicting message. This brought me back to a passage of Scripture that I had read recently, Galatians 6:4. Let's take a look in three versions...

"But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another." (NASB)

"Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else" (NIV)

"Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else." (NLT)


There are a ton of angles and things to talk about when dealing with the issue of pride. If you're like me at all, you probable drift in and out of being prideful and humble. However, let's just take a look at this one verse. (If you want to go deeper, check out Jeff's message here).

The heart of this verse is quite simple; examine, test, and pay attention to your own actions. Don't worry about what others are doing, and don't compare yourselves to others. They have their own struggles, gifts, challenges, etc. You, (and I), should pay attention only to the job we do. If we do this, then we can feel good about the job we've done.

The bottom line? It's what I wrote in my journal after reading that verse. "We should only measure our successes by comparing ourselves to ourselves." In other words...
- Was my motive pure?
- Did I do my best?
- Am I striving in accordance with my potential?
- Did I bring glory to God? 

I can take pride in pleasing God...and I know I please Him when I answer "yes" to those questions. It's when I come to Him, feeling smug about myself because I _______ better than someone else...that's when I'm headed for a downfall."

So let's make a pact this week; focus on your actions, and compare yourself to yourself. Try to do things for God's glory, to the best of your ability, ultimately bringing Him glory and honor. And then rest easy for a job well done.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Holy or Happy?

What if God designed marriage to make us Holy more than to make us Happy?

This quote comes from Gary Thomas and his book, Sacred Marriage. I was recently reminded of this quote earlier this week by a friend of mine. It has stuck with me all week, but in a slightly different way. The question that I've been pondering this week is this;

What if God's purpose for my life is Holiness rather than Happiness?

Somewhere, somehow, a lot of us grow up programmed with a sense of entitlement. Maybe it's the growing up in America where we have so much, with the primary message being "if you work hard enough, you can have it all"...you know, the American Dream and all. Whatever the reason, this sense of entitlement is simply something like this; I deserve to be Happy. Then we become Christians and we carry this over into our faith journey. Somehow we believe that God's greatest desire for our lives is that we be happy. There are huge ramifications if we live life this way;

- It makes God's favor to be something we earn. If I'm not happy, surely I must be doing something wrong.
- It makes us the god of our life. If I am happy, it's only because of what I'm doing right.

When we live life believing that God's greatest wish is for our happiness, then when we are in times of deep trial, testing or pain, we have no way to reconcile the God that loves us with the God that allowed all of this stuff to happen...because, surely He wants me to be happy (or so the thinking goes).

But what if, what if God's greatest wish for you has very little to do with happiness, but instead holiness?

"But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.' " (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Holy in simple terms means "set apart...different." God is holy; He is set apart, He is different, there is none like Him and never will be...He is Holy. And He calls us to be holy; different, set apart. We are to love when the world hates; we are to live in freedom when the world is bound by sin; we are to live in power while the world suffers in weakness; we are to be temples of God...we are to be holy.

Holiness and happiness do not go together. A holy person can and will have times of happiness, but also times of desperation and pain. But it is through the tests, trials, and pain that we learn to trust God and lean on Him. It is through those times that God wrestles the steering wheel from us. It is through the fire that He seeks to make us holy. Someone who trusts little and seeks control of their life isn't living a "holy" (different/set-apart) life. They are living like everyone else. On the contrary, someone who lives with extreme faith in the face of tests, trials and pain is definitely living a holy life...a life "set apart" or "different."

And in the end, if it is true that God wants our Holiness more than our Happiness, well then, that changes everything...everything!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who is God?

Creation offers us a glimpse of who God is...
Have you ever tried to describe God? Do you ever stop to ponder who He is? Do I ever stop long enough when I pray to consider just who God is and who I am approaching in prayer?

I love this song by David Crowder, which perfectly summarizes my feeble attempts to describe God.

I need words, as wide as sky
I need language wide as, this longing inside
And I need a voice, that's bigger than mine
And I need a song to sing you, that I've yet to find

Words are not enough to describe God. Still, we should try. We should try to describe Him. Why? Because when we do, we are forcing our minds to learn about Him, to know Him, to understand Him. Yes, it's impossible to understand God because He is unfathomable. It's impossible, but not pointless. In our pursuit of describing Him, we pursue Him. And in pursuing Him, we learn about Him...what matters to Him, what is close to His heart, and how we can bring pleasure to Him. Consider these words from God Himself;

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)
The promise is we'll find Him...not necessarily understand Him or His ways, but find Him. We find Him when we seek Him. Stop right now, stop what you're doing, and start making a list. Describe God. Who He is. I'll start for you...

- Savior, Friend, Redeemer, Banner, Holy, Near, Sovereign, Loving...

Now keep going with your list. And know that as you pursue God, you will find Him. He loves you, and He loves to see you seek Him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Walk with B

The other day Julie and I took our son on a walk through a forest. There was a nice path to follow and we had lots of fun getting him into the outdoors. I noticed something though, when walking with Brennan. He's all over the place! And my "position" with him constantly changed.

- Sometimes I walked behind him, just "letting him run"
- Sometimes I had to hold his hand and "guide him" in the right direction.
- Sometimes I had to jump in front of him and re-direct him away from something dangerous.
- Sometimes I would run ahead of the path, turn and face him, and try to entice him to come to me.
- Sometimes I had to use more harshness, saying "Brennan, NO!" if he was in a tight spot.
- And, of course, for part of the walk I put him on my shoulders and carried him.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you.

I believe that short walk with Brennan perfectly illustrates our walk with God. We are all over the place, constantly getting distracted from the path that God has for us. And God uses all sorts of ways to help us stay on the narrow path. It is narrow, and the distractions are plentiful. There are a million things that vie for our time and attention, and yet none of them will lead to any sort of lasting peace. Only God.

God will carry us at times, push us from behind, run ahead of us and "woo us" to Him, walk side by side holding our hand, and even run off the trail to rescue us when we go AWOL. And just as I had my eyes on Brennan during the entire walk, God never loses sight of us, (even though we may lose sight of Him). He is always there.

Where are you right now? Are you on the path? Have you veered off? Are you walking with God, ahead of Him, or is He trying to get your attention to come back to Him?


7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.

 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
   and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
   the night will shine like the day,
   for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How to "win"

I'm a sports fan...I admit it. I'm having a fun time keeping tabs on the NBA finals right now, usually catching the 4th quarter of the games. This finals matchup is very interesting because it pits two teams and two players against each other who both desperately need to win to "validate" their place in the game. Lebron James and Dirk Nowitzki are both great players who have never won and NBA title and both have received their fare share of criticism for their apparent failures.

Here's the interesting part, though; every game has been close, going down to the last few minutes. And yet following the game, the focus is ALWAYS on which of the players "failed" to perform good enough to lead his team. You get the distinct feeling that the media is already getting ready to "roast" whoever fails to win the title. The legacy of this finals won't be so much who won, but who lost, and in so doing failed. Apparently, in the world of the NBA, you either win it all, or you fail. The question I keep asking is this; is it possible to "win" while losing? 

Ultimately, the question I'm asking is "how should our success be measured?" I believe it should be measured by this question; what did you do with what God gave you? All the talents, gifts, resources that God has entrusted you; did you use them? For Him?

There are so many places in Scripture we see this principle at work;
- The widow's mite,
- The parable of the talents,
- The parable of the sewer,
- Jesus' words on "watchfulness" in Luke 12 (to whom much is given, much is expected...)
- Even the principle of tithing hints at this, (equal sacrifice...10%)

I think the "gold standard" Scripture verse on this principle is Colossians 3:23-24;

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

There are three big ideas or applications here;
1) It's not so much what you do, but what you do with what you've been given.
2) It's not so much what you do, but the spirit and motive with which you do it.
3) It's not so much what you do, but who you do it for.

Coming full circle; in sports, your success should be measured not by the result (did you win or lose), but by how you performed relative to what you have. Did you play as hard as you can? Did you prepare the best you could? Did you hold nothing back? If so, you "won."

And so it is in God's economy...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Amazing Promise

(Long Beach, WA Coast)
3 You will keep in perfect peace
   him whose mind is steadfast,
   because he trusts in you.
4 Trust in the LORD forever,
   for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)


Peace...isn't this something we all want in these troubled times? It's kind of numbing. Everywhere I look I see the results of sin and a broken world. Death, rape, murder, homes lost, starvation and world hunger, DUI, DWI, senseless loss of life, terrorism, politicians we can't trust, governments that are corrupt...where does it end?

And yet into this mess of a world that we created, God enters. He enters to "pay in full" the punishment we deserve. He enters to show us the face of God. He enters, to bring us...peace. Ultimately it's peace with God that we need, and Jesus so willingly took on God's wrath for us, paving the way to peace with God. But there's another kind of peace we need...

Brennan, my 14-month old son, loves food. He is a great eater, even though he only has 3 teeth. The other day he had his first bits of ice cream including the cone. Well wouldn't you know it but a small piece of cone got caught in his throat. You could see this look of panic come across his face as he tried to cough it up between his crying...finally, Mamma had to turn him over on his stomach and help him dislodge the cone. It worked perfectly, and he quickly coughed it up. However, he was a little traumatized and couldn't stop crying for awhile. Julie had to rock him, shhhh him, sing to him, and tell him it would be ok. And it was.

And in that moment I saw God in her...and this is the kind of peace we need. When our world seems out of control and we are on the verge of being swallowed, God enters. He is there, he is always there, even when we don't think He is. As our Pastor put it on Sunday, "He always sees us, even if we don't see Him." He comes to us in our time of need and "rejoices over us with singing" (read The Main Thing if you missed it).

Our job is very clear (but not easy). Trust. Trust God. Trust Him. Trust His love, His plans, His sovereignty, His provision and purpose for you. Trust Him. Let go of your independence, and run to Him. And in turn, He will keep you in perfect peace...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Careful now...

Checkbox Christianity, "Elder brother syndrome," it's all the same. It goes something like this...

- God owes me because I _____.
- If I just ______ than God will ______.
- If I just pray enough, read my Bible enough, serve enough, do enough good things, love enough people, than God will bless me.

Sure, few of us, if any, would intellectually agree with any of that. However, deep down I wonder how often we fall into a pattern of Christianity that essentially boils down to works based salvation. The problem with that? It's all about us. Our works, our deeds, our being good enough. And the problem with that? We're rubbish. All the good we could ever do will never overcome our sin. Where am I going with this? Read the following passage;

7 “You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous." (Nehemiah 9:7-8). 

The key words I want to focus on are the last four words; "because you are righteous." God didn't keep his promise with Abraham because of what Abraham did; he kept his promise because God is righteous. And remember when God made that covenant? He had to swear by Himself because nobody and nothing else was higher or worthy of Him to swear by. Anything God might possibly swear by other than Himself would be meaningless since HE CREATED it all in the first place (see Hebrews 6:13).

Remember also the book of Job? To be sure, Job received much misery that was probably un-deserved...but here's the problem. Who's to say what's un-deserved? Whenever we feel wronged, we tend to get defensive and justify ourselves for why we don't deserve it. In fact, Elihu, the only friend of Job who spoke truth to Him pointed this very thing out. He was angry at Job for justifying Himself rather than God. Put it another way, Job was essentially saying, "Hey, I checked off all the boxes and lived right...why is all this happening to me?"

It's so easy to do...self-justification, self-pity, self, self, self. How about this for deserving; an innocent man brutally murdered while the guilty ones got off totally un-punished? If we read that headline in a newspaper, we'd be outraged; and yet, isn't that exactly what Christ as done for YOU and ME?

What's the point, you ask? God's love is vast, and He loves to bless us. However, at the end of the day we must come to the place where we lay down our check-boxes as a pathway to God's favor, and instead pursue Him. Let me say it again; we must come to the place where toss out any notion that anything we do can cause God to owe us something, and replace that with the notion that God's love alone should motivate us to relentlessly and passionately pursue Him. In the end, God's promises to us are not dependent on us, but on Him. And that, my friend, is very good news.

"...know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and nob by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." (Galatians 2:16)

soli deo gloria
To God alone be the glory

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