Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Acts 17:1-15

17:2 - "As was his custom." What was Paul's custom? Going into the local Jewish synagogue in any town he visited and sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ. He would go in and break it down for people from the Jewish scriptures...prove that Jesus was the Christ and explain why he had to die. Pretty great custom to have, huh? Paul was unrelenting in his sharing of the Gospel and was constantly looking for ways to use his gifts to share the truth about Jesus. Some of us look at this passage and say, "But there are no synagogues any more...there are no forums where you can go and makes scriptural sound Gospel presentations for non-believers." That may be true, but we need to remember that this was PAUL's custom...it doesn't have to be yours. Paul's example should drive us to ask, "Where is my synagogue?" Where is the customary place in my life where I am reaching out to non-believers? There are options out there for each of us...unique options made available through our own personal gifts and social situations. I am a pee-wee football coach - I have an opportunity to use that position to introduce fellow coaches and parents to Christ. Am I making that my custom? We all have neighbors...do we make it our custom to get to know our neighbors...invite them over...build relationships with them for the sake of the kingdom? Where is your "synagogue"?

That is the verse that really jumped out at me today...how about you? What stood out for you from Acts 17:1-15? I'd love to read your thoughts...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Acts 11:19-30

Look at the end of verse 26. What does it say? It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians. "Christian" is such a powerful term. It means follower of the Christ - Jesus the Messiah...Savior of the World. It means disciple of Christ - one who tries to emulate Jesus in everything he or she does. One of my favorite definitions of Christian is "little Christ." This term describes the Christian struggle for me...always trying to be like Jesus...always coming up short...but never giving up...each day is a gift through which we can take one step closer to being like Jesus.

Christian is not a name to be taken lightly. "Christian" is not a term to be thrown around to describe somebody who simply goes to church...somebody who simply believes in a higher power...somebody who was "born into faith"...somebody who prayed a prayer once. A Christian is someone who does everything they can to walk in the footsteps of Jesus...to live and love and interact with the world as he did. A Christian is someone who is covered in the "dust" of the Rabbi because they have followed so closely at the heels of Jesus. This "dust" is very visible...through service...unconditional love...incredible mercy...sacrificial leadership...uncommon love. When an actual Christian - a true follower of Christ - shows up, the world takes notice. They are often mocked, ignored, thought strange, despised and rejected, but that's what happens when you follow the Christ. Regardless of the reaction, people know there is something different...something strangely powerful about the quiet strength of a true Christian.

Think about the people from Acts chapter 11 who were named the first Christians. What was the name synonymous with 2000 years ago? Let's take a look...verses 19 and 20: Even though the community of believers was scattered by persecution, they remain unwavering in sharing the Good News about Jesus Christ. Nothing could keep them silent about the freedom that comes through the cross. Verse 21: The absolute commitment of the believers in spite of persecution shows the strength of their convictions and leads to many converts. Verse 22: When the leaders in Jerusalem hear about the converts they do not simply applaud and move on, they send mature disciples to mentor and train up new leaders. Verses 23 and 24: The people of Antioch see that Barnabas, the follower of Christ, is gracious, faithful and full of the Holy Spirit and even more people turn to Christ. Verses 24 and 25: Barnabas takes interest in a new convert who was once killed Christ followers (Saul), and mentors him for a year. Verse 26: Barnabas and Saul work together to make disciples in the church and to share the Gospel outside of the church, and their influence spreads exponentially. It was during this time that the followers of Jesus became known as Christians.

Committed. Gracious. Merciful. Driven. Loving. Unwavering. Fearless. Mentors. Disciples. Faithful. Spirit-filled. Evangelistic. Relational. Christ-like. These are the attributes that described a Christian in the 1st century. What does being a Christian look like in the 21st? How does the world describe us? Hypocritical? Judgmental? Cloistered? Fearful? Weak-minded? Uncaring? Not Christ-like? What needs to change? What do you need to do to become more like Christ and less like a mere church-goer?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

I Samuel Chapter 14

The story of Jonathan and his armor bearer is I Samuel chapter 14 is one of my favorite Old Testament stories. Jonathan just cannot stand the fact that the enemies of God are in the Promised Land of God’s people. He is offended by the presence of the Philistines because their strongholds in Israel are a reminder of the Hebrews failure to faithfully follow God. God’s great name is being disrespected by heathens and Jonathan feels compelled to do something about it. He doesn’t want to sit around idly like his dad (lounging under a pomegranate tree), so he grabs his armor bearer and they march over to the nearest Philistine garrison which sits at the top of a cliff. When they get there, this is where you would figure that human self-preservation would kick in. They are looking up at a garrison full of enemy soldiers on top of a cliff. Jonathan and his armor bearer are all alone, outnumbered, and in a bad position. This is a “no win” situation. This is where most of us would say, “Hey, we tried. We came over here and made a show of our displeasure…now we’re gonna go back to the safety of our camp.” That’s what most sane people would do. But Jonathan is a man of faith…he is a man who loves God with every fiber of his being and cannot stand the way God’s chosen people in their chosen land have been corrupted by outside influence. He says to his friend, “Come let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. Perhaps the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few.” They don’t even try to sneak into the Philistine garrison. They show themselves to the enemy. They climb up the cliff hand over hand. They get to the top, probably exhausted from the climb…hands shaking…surrounded by foes…and they unleash a whirlwind of pain on the Philistines. Jonathan and his armor bearer strike down 20 men in hand t hand combat and the entire garrison flees in terror before them.

Interestingly enough, we actually talked about this passage when we were on our mission trip in Haiti a few weeks ago. The trip leader, Mike – the founder of CORELUV Intl., gave our group a challenge one evening based on story from I Samuel 14. I want to share his challenge with you. Go back in your bible and read what Jonathan said to his armor bearer in verse 6 (I also wrote it out in my paragraph above). Does anything stand out to you are particularly strange there (Besides the fact that two men want to take on an army by themselves)? One word really stands out to me – “perhaps.” Jonathan says, “Perhaps the Lord will work for us.” This simple statement is an incredible testament to the faith of Jonathan. He does not know for sure that God is going to bring him victory. He does not know what is going to happen when he gets to the top of that cliff. There is a good chance that he and his armor bearer are going to die, but regardless Jonathan knows that something needs to be done about the evil presence in Israel. No matter how this battle turns out…no matter what the outcome…Jonathan knows that he will stand for the Lord.

I meet people all the time who want to know God’s will for their lives. The answer is pretty simple. Love God. Love people. Make disciples. You do those things; you are definitely staying within God’s will! But that answer isn’t good enough for most – they want to know exactly what they are supposed to be doing. They want to know what it looks like specifically for them to love others…to love God…to serve in this world. They want details. They want dates. They want options. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work like that on this crazy journey we call faith. There are times when God will speak very specifically to us - through prayers, into our minds, through other people, etc. There will most likely be times in your life when what you are supposed to be doing with your life is crystal clear to you. Yet that is not always the case. Sometimes we don’t know what the next step in our journey looks like. Sometimes we are not told exactly how we are supposed to be serving the Lord. There is a beauty to that unknown future. There is this fearful wonder that spreads over us when we have to trust God without having all the answers…we have to move forward in faith without understanding the end game. That is what Jonathan was experiencing at the foot of that cliff. As he looked up at the overwhelming odds, I can imagine a crazy smile spreading across his face as he turns to his good friend and gives the comforting words, “Hey, let’s head on up and fight – maybe God will be with us!” He knew that if God wasn’t in that endeavor, it was doomed…and he still stepped out in faith.

Can you do the same? There are things in this world that are wrong – plain and simple. I was surrounded by wrongness for 11 days last month in Haiti…surrounded by beautiful children who were starving…surrounded by unique and amazing kids who have no families…surrounded by poverty, pain, struggle and helplessness. There are all kinds of things that exist in this world that need to be fought against. There are all kinds of things that should make us angry…that should drive us toward loving action as followers of Christ. Yet so many of us sit in neutral, because we feel like God has not told us specifically to do something. You don’t always get a memo from God on what you are supposed to be doing. Sometimes you just need to act. Sometimes you just need to say, “This is wrong…I am going to do something about it…and PERHAPS God will be with me.” Can you trust God like Jonathan did? Can you step out without knowing where the journey is going to end? Can you step out in faith knowing that you could fail? Knowing that if you fail, you will still trust that God is in control and you will move on to the next mission faithfully? Too many times, we sit back in fear and do not step out in faith and we wonder why God never does amazing things in our lives. It’s time to get upset about the twisted and wrong things that exist in this world. It’s time for us to get our hands dirty and to stand for the honor of God’s name in this world. PERHAPS the Lord will work through us…

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Samuel Chapter 13

Verses 2 - 4: Saul really starts his kingship out on a high note...oh wait, no he doesn't. He actually sets the tone for the rest of his reign of mediocrity. He splits his forces giving Jonathan 1,000 men and keeping 2,000 for himself. Jonathan then takes his 1,000 men and defeats a Philistine garrison at Geba. Saul in all his kingly wisdom then starts blowing his trumpet all over the place and telling everyone that HE has defeated the Philistines...not God...not his son Jonathan - the commander of the skirmish...but HE - HIMSELF - SAUL. From the outset of his rule we see the kind of king that Saul is going to be...he is completely and utterly focused on himself. He is arrogant, he is loud, he is selfish, he is foolish, he is rash...Saul is everything you don't want a leader to be. But he was just so gosh darn tall and god looking...they had to make him king! (Hopefully you understand that was dripping with sarcasm)

This chapter is a picture of the destruction that is wrought when leaders fail...

- (v.5) After Saul announces to the world that HE defeat the Philistines and is a scourge on their lives...they muster their entire army and the Israelites hide in any hole they can find. His arrogant lies draw the attention of the enemy and destroy the backbone of his army.

- (v.9ff) Saul ignores God's command to wait for Samuel to make a sacrifice before they go to war and offers the sacrifice himself (He's not a priest...this is a no-no), and it costs Saul a chance to be the root from which the Messiah would spring. That is a hefty price to pay for impatience. Saul could have been David...could have started the eternal Kingdom of which Jesus is the head - but he blew it!

What does the story of Saul have to do with us? Oh, just about everything! All of us are leaders in some form or fashion. Maybe you are a leader in your company...parents are leaders of their kids...we all have chances to lead by example with our peers - there are endless ways that you can influence and lead others. The question is - where are you leading them? Saul was forced into leadership because he was tall and handsome (Obviously the best leader qualities out there), but when he assumed power it went completely to his head. The Israelite kingship was supposed to work like this...1.) God is the actual "king" or ruler of Israel. 2.) God is in control. 3.) The human king that the Israelites wanted so desperately is really just a figurehead that is supposed to follow the directions of the Lord and lead people towards God. That is the way it was supposed to work, but Saul rejected that system. He rejected God's commands, tried to claim credit for all the victories and lay blame on others for any defeats. He failed as a king. He failed as a leader. Failed as God's appointed representative. If Jesus is the Lord of your life - He is the King...he reigns on the throne of your heart and you are his representative in this world. That means that as leaders, we should be following the commands of Jesus. That means that we should be leading and living from a place of humble service and not arrogant boasting. That means that we do not always try to get all the attention and accolades, because we know that our victories are really the victories of Christ. As men and women who follow Jesus Christ, we are called to go where he directs and lead people towards God. Follow in the footsteps of Jesus...not Saul. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Genesis 22

This is one of those passages that people struggle with. How could a loving God ask Abraham to do something as horrible as sacrificing his only son? Isn't human sacrifice detestable to God? What is going on here? I believe that God is sending a powerful two-part message to Abraham and all of humanity through this intense experience. The first message is one of allegiance - who or what are you committed to? We see clearly that God holds Abraham's allegiance. Without argument, after God tells Abe to go and sacrifice his son, he packs up and leaves to complete the task. He straps his son to the makeshift altar and raises the knife to slaughter him. Abraham totally and completely trusts God. He has seen God move so powerfully, so often in his life that he knows that God is greater even than death. Abraham holds nothing back from God and completely trust that God knows what He is doing. How about you? Where does you allegiance lie? Are you willing to trust God with everything in your life? Do you believe that God is in control of everything...even death? It seems like so many of us refuse to fully trust God. We say we trust God, but we always hold something back. We say we trust God...but when something heartbreaking happens - when we lose a loved one, lose a friend, things don't go "our" way - we blame God. Scripture teaches us that God is faithful...that God is just...that God is working all things for the good of all people. Pledge your allegiance to God above anything else and you will be blessed as Abraham was.

The second message is one of love...God wants to lay the groundwork for us to understand the depth of His love for us. Did you see all the similarities between Isaac's experience and the crucifixion of Jesus. Isaac is Abraham's one and only son (By Sarah anyway). An innocent son is condemned to die. The wood that he would be killed on was laid on his back for Isaac to carry. Abraham says, "God will provide the lamb for a burnt offering (Which He does through Jesus eventually)." The similarities end when Abraham is about to kill his one and only son, because God stops him. All of the readers of this story are relieved because we cannot even fathom the depth of sorrow that would coming from killing your own son. Yet that is exactly what God has done for us. He did not stop the hand of the killers of Jesus. He allowed created human beings to kill their own Creator. He felt the sorrow of losing a son. Felt the separation from a integral part of Himself for the first time in eternity. He knows what it is to suffer. He knows what it is to hurt. He was willing to go through all of that so that He could offer forgiveness to selfish people who did not deserve it. That is love!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Genesis 18:22-33

This passage brings up some really interesting questions. Is Abraham more insightful than God? Is Abraham more gracious and concerned about the righteous than God is? Is Abraham's plan better than God's? This passage has the first biblical recording of a discussion between a man and God, where it seems that the man changes God's mind (There are other occasions where this happens later in the Bible - Ex. Moses convincing God not to destroy the idolatrous Hebrew people). These are always difficult passages for readers to understand, because it seems like a flawed, finite human being corrects the one and only perfect and Holy God. How are we supposed to interpret that? If God can be wrong in this situation...if God doesn't know what's best and gets talked out of a course of action by a provably flawed person...how do we know that God's will is always best?

Well, you have to start from the beginning. You have to start from what you know about God, not from what you think you know about God from this one discussion with Abraham. What do we know about God? We know that God is love - I John 4:8. We know that God is just and without flaw - Deut. 32:4. We know that God is holy - Lev. 19:2. We know that God is perfect - Psalm 18:30. These are things we know about God according to scripture (And these are just some of the countless examples of verses that speak to God's perfect nature). So if we start from this place - a place where we understand that God is perfect, just, holy and loving - we know that Abraham could not have been correcting God. God was not wrong in the judgment He eventually poured out on Sodom. The perfect God of love and justice decided that the most loving and just thing He could do for all of creation was to remove Sodom from the earth. That is the truth...that is a fact!

Then why did God allow Abraham to question Him and even concede a point to Abraham in agreeing to save the town in 10 righteous people were found? Because God is love. He knows that Abraham cannot see the big picture (Just like you and I often cannot). He knows that Abraham is confused by his limited human perspective and cannot understand how this decision by God is actually a reflection of His perfect and loving nature. God knows that death is not the end (Because He is in charge of how the "end" is gonna play out). God knows that the few righteous who might happen to be in Sodom would be justified in eternity. God knows that both the righteous and wicked will all face stand before God at judgement, and has chosen to bring judgement day to them sooner rather than later for the sake of all of humanity. The destruction of Sodom is actually an act of merciful love as God looks at the big picture. Yet because God loves Abraham and understands his lack of knowledge, He postpones the destruction to accommodate Abraham's shortsightedness. This story actually just shows us another perspective on God's love and reminds me that God cares about His people. Take heart in that!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Genesis Chapter 12

12:1-3 - This is the covenant that started it all...the beginning of the Israelite nation - a chosen people, a priest nation, a light to the world...from this foundation would come the Savior of the world - God made flesh - Jesus. Did you notice how the covenant starts out? Go! God calls Abram into action. He calls him into leaving everything that Abram knows...the place where he feels safe...to go out into the wilds...to start a nation when Abram and Sarai have never even been able to have any children. God is going to do all the work...God will be ever faithful...but He demands that Abram move...He demands that he go...He demands that He trust in His Creator. As Christians we are people under a different covenant...we are under a covenant bought by the blood of Jesus Christ - God Himself. He paid the price for our failure. He took away our shame. He made a personal relationship with God possible for us once again. And our end of this covenant is very similar to Abram's...Go! And make disciples. Trust that God's way is better. Offer your bodies as living sacrifices. Abram trusted God and without a word...he went. If we trust in Jesus Christ and the power of his sacrifice...we will go too. We will leave the "safety" and "comfort" of our little self-focused worlds and MOVE. We will act. We will trust. We will love. We will be true disciples of Jesus Christ.

12:10-20 - Thank you Abram...seriously, thank you. I hope this doesn't sound terrible, but from time to time I need confirmation that I am not the only screw up in the world. Just before this, Abram leaves everything he knows to blindly wander into the desert because he trusts God. That is incredible...it is an amazing picture of faith...I want to have faith like that! Yet, a short while later he is heading into Egypt and he decides to forget all about trusting God and take matters into his own hands. He lies and gets his wife to lie...he takes advantage of Pharaoh financially ...his choices lead to his wife being apparently becoming one of Pharaoh's concubines...he royally screws up! Abram, who will become Abraham...the Father of the Jewish nation...the man revered in the Old and New Testaments because of his faith...he had moments where his faith was lacking. And I am sorry for that, but I also need to know that. I need to have the hope that this story brings. God continues to work even through our failure. God continues to love us, even when our actions show that our faith is lacking. I need to be reminded from time to time that God's faithfulness never fails...even when mine does.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Genesis 11:1-9

I preached on Sunday and talked about the humorous nature of Genesis 11:5 - "And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower. which the children of man had built." Why is this funny? Because the people were building a tower to the heavens, right? They were putting themselves on equal ground with God...making themselves "gods" through their hard work. Now I realize that is more heartbreakingly sad than funny...but the hilarious part is how the ancient author describes God's interaction with the tower. He has to go DOWN from the dimension He exists in to get a good look at the tower. This so-called "Tower to the Heavens" is so insignificant...so pathetic...so far below the majesty of God, that He has to come down to get a good look at it. It's funny. Imagine God getting down on His hands and knees like a child looking at ants in the grass and saying, "Oh, that's a cute little tower to the heavens!" LOL!

Why is this important for us to understand? Because we need to take some time to think about the things that we give all our time and effort to. We need to think about the things that worry us...the things that bother us...the things we pour endless amounts of resources into. Do they really matter? Are we making a bigger deal out of them then we need to? Do you worry too much about how you look...what you wear...what you accomplish...what you own...who you know...how much you are liked? Because those things are just tiny little towers when viewed from an eternal perspective. What matters is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. What matters is loving others as much as we love ourselves (And that's saying something isn't it!?). What matters is living our lives as if we actually believe that "Jesus is Lord." If Jesus is Lord, all the things we worship and get caught up in and obsess over and freak out about matter less and less. If Jesus is Lord, than I am not. If Jesus is Lord, than my worth is not tied up in what I accomplish or what other people think of me. If Jesus is Lord, than nothing can destroy my faith...my hope...my love...my freedom. Let go of the tiny towers you are holding onto and cling to the huge God who loves you!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Genesis Chapter 7

A few thoughts on the Noah flood narrative...

7:5 - How would you like that to be said about your life? "And (Your name here) did everything the Lord had commanded of him (or her)." What a legacy...what a way to be known by the people around you! This is such a simple verse...such a simple way to live your life that Noah models for us. God tells Noah that the whole earth is going to be flooded. Tells him to build a huge boat (Do people even know what boats are at this point?). Tells him to pile wild animals on this thing and get ready for the entire earth to flood like a giant washing machine cleaning off all the vile sinfulness that exists. (Genesis 6:5 tells us that every single thought of the people on earth at this point was corrupt - every moment they were thinking only of ways to serve themselves and please themselves.) And how does Noah respond to these insane sounding instructions...he immediately does everything that the Lord commanded him to do. So many times it seems like the things that God is calling us to do are impossible. Bless those who curse you? It seems like the people God is calling us to be are crazy. Love your enemies? But if we have the courage to follow in the footsteps of Noah...the faith to trust that God knows what He is doing...the wisdom to believe that God's way is better - we will see God at work boldly in our lives just like Noah did. I need to stop making excuses for myself and live out the life God is calling me to live. How about you?

That was the challenging part - now on to the fun sidebar discussion...

7:11 - I like the term the English Standard Version of the Bible uses, "The windows of heaven were opened...". I think maybe there were different types of cloud layers at this point in earth's history. Maybe the clouds were insanely low and thick so that the entire earth was like a greenhouse...enabling the people to live hundreds and hundreds of years.You will notice that after the flood, the ages of people start to drastically decline. Maybe God caused the greenhouse clouds to collapse causing the flood and He didn't put them back the way they were? What do you think?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Genesis Chapter 3

Verse 4 - In my sermon this week, I focused on the Tower of Babel and we talked about how the invention of the brick made people believe that they could "be like gods." In Genesis chapter 3, we see that human beings have always been fallen for the same line. Whether it is whispered in our ear by the Deceiver or springing from the selfishness within ourselves...we give into the temptation of wanting to be like God. And the sentiment is understandable - God is awesome! God is perfection. God is holy. We want to be like God because He is everything we are not - there is no weakness within Him...there is no flaw within Him...He is God. But the reality is...the truth is...the thing that we have to get into our thick skulls is...we are not God. We are not gods. We are never going to be gods. We are human beings, and you know what? There are some amazing things about that too. God Himself blessed us by creating mankind in His image. He gave us life. He infused us with His creativity. He made us for community. We are truly blessed...but we are not God. When we stop obsessing over how to become gods...we will be able to find satisfaction in who we really are...children of God who are passionately loved by God.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Romans 12:9-13...part one

For the blog today, I am going to share how I worked through the passage in Lectio Divina style.

Read - I start out by quietly sitting in my office chair and trying to "still" my mind. I like to turn on my fan because the ambient noise drowns out the other office noise around me. I close my eyes and focus on emptying my mind. Today there are thoughts about what I need to do later bouncing around in my head, and I mentally chase them down and get rid of them. "I will deal with you later," I say to each thing that pops into my mind, "This is my time with God." When there are particularly annoying things that keep coming into mind, I start to say the name of "Jesus" over and over...I call on the help of God and ask Him to fill my mind so that nothing else can intrude. Once I get to a place of peace and quiet internally, I slowly read through the passage out loud a few times. It is actually more difficult for me to read out loud and still comprehend the passage, so I also read through it silently a few times. There is one phrase from the passage that I cannot get out of my head. Each time I read through it, "Be devoted to one another in love" jumps off the page at me. I know that God really wants me to hear these words today.

Meditate - Because I will be contemplating this passage all week, instead of meditating on the entire passage, I spend time meditating on the simple phrase that jumped out at me before - "Be devoted to one another in love." I think about this very short verse from every angle that I can. What does it mean to be devoted? It means - committed, faithful, loyal, dedicated. What does it mean to devote yourself to something? It means that you are willing to sacrifice other things so that you can focus on the one thing that you are going to devote yourself to. To devote yourself to another person is to make sacrifices to ensure that the relationships grows in a healthy way. What does "one another" mean? Specifically in this passage I believe it means fellow Christians. Paul is not just saying that we can commit ourselves to our spouses (We should be doing that anyway!) or people who are just like us - we are supposed to be committed to fellow Christians. I spend some time thinking about whether or not I live a life devoted to fellow Christians. I think that I often devote myself to the work of ministry, but not necessarily other Christians. That doesn't sit well with me. What is love? The Greek word for love used in this passage is the world "philadelphia," which means brotherly love. This is a love that Christians should have for one another. This is a love that causes us to live our lives like Christ. This is a servant love. This is a sacrificial love. Love is about commitment and not affection. It is about dedication and not about warm fuzzy feelings. This is a love that says, I am going to put your needs ahead of my own.

Pray - After meditating on the passage, I spend some time in prayer. I pray that God will really drive the message of this passage into my heart and out through my life. I pray that I will be a better and more dedicated friend. I pray for the strength to open up to people outside of my family and to love more deeply. I also spend some time praying for the rest of the day, but I will not list those prayers here.

Contemplate - To close out the Lectio Divina, I once again sit quietly. I ask God to take everything I have read/thought about this morning and give me a direct challenge. I want to become more Christ-like on a daily basis, and to do so I must be in-tune with what God is calling me to be. I need to listen for His voice...focus on the way He is moving and shaping my heart. I ask Him to meet me and to speak to me, and His truth comes through with great clarity...

I have got to be a better friend. I fill my life with so much ministry work...so many extracurricular family activities...so much "veg" time in front of some sort of technological device...that I am not devoted myself to my Christian brothers as I should (I'll leave the devoting to Christian sisters to my wife...it's less awkward that way!). There are so many times when I have been unwilling to make sacrifices in my life, so that I could pour into another person's life. My comfort...my laziness...my whatever...get in the way and keep me from being a Christ-like friend. God is calling me to truly care about what is going on in the lives of my friends. To truly care, I have to spend time with them. To truly care, I have to listen...really listen, not just wait for my turn to talk about my stuff. I have to care more about what is going on in their lives, then what is going on in my life...and that is so hard for me. God is calling me once again to be a living sacrifice. To sacrifice my time, my selfishness, my comfort...so that I can be a true friend.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Romans 12:3-8...Part One

Verse 3...

Why does Paul say that it is because of the grace given to him that he is going to speak to his audience? Well first of all, what is grace? In my mind it is undeserved forgiveness and love. Grace was shown to us by Jesus dying on the cross. He paid the price for our sins...he took away our shame...we did nothing to save ourselves. That is incredible grace. So why does "grace" enable Paul to speak tough words of warning ("Don't think too highly of yourself")? He wants the people reading his letter to know that he is coming from a place of grace...he is addressing them with love not judgment. His warning about not being arrogant is born from love, with the best interest of his audience at heart. Paul is saying, "Hey, I know what it is to be forgiven...I know what it is to be showered in the mercy of God. Because of that, I want you to know that I am speaking to you as one flawed person to another. And as one screw up to another, here is what you need to hear - don't be a self-absorbed idiot. People obsessed with themselves deny their need for God's grace and refuse to use their gifts to serve the kingdom of God." (Brandon paraphrase, obviously) In healthy Christian community, followers of Jesus should be able to speak hard truth to one another in love. They should be able to say tough things from a place of mercy, and they should be able to hear tough things graciously. Is that what your community looks like?

We should be able to look at our own lives with a sober judgment that is born from our faith? What does that mean? What does that look like? Well, first of all, it is a judgement that grows out of faith - so what is faith? Hebrews 11:1 tells us very clearly, "Faith is being sure of what you hope for an certain of what you do not see." Faith is having certainty in God...it is understanding that this world is not our home - this is not our end goal. Faith is understanding what really matters. So how does faith drive sober judgment of ourselves? When you have a foundation of true faith, you can look at your life honestly. Faith helps to remove the defensive pride that often blinds us to the flaws within our own character. Sober judgment that comes from faith makes it so that you don't have to be right...you don't have to be selfish...you can be honest about who you are and where you fit in the workings of the Body of Christ. Why? Because your faith in God has showed you who you are - you are not in a constant competition to be better than everyone else...to prove your worth...because you know what you are worth to God. Faith offers us the freedom to look honestly at ourselves and to see what needs work and to understand how deeply we need God's mercy. When you look at life through the eyes of faith, you can ask other people for help...you can celebrate other peoples' victories...everything is not a competition - you can function in community! It is a beautiful thing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Romans 12:1-2...Day Four

"Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will..."

I got an e-mail from a friend the other day, who had just read through Romans 12:1-2,  asking, "Does this mean that God needs our approval? That doesn't sound right." There is a good reason that doesn't sound right...it isn't right! I think we can all agree that God does not need the approval of mankind. So what is this verse talking about?

Let's review what we have been talking about all week...
- When you experience God's mercy truly, it changes you
- This mercy drives people to lay down their own life to live fully for God
- Living sacrifices refuse to buy into the lies of the world and allow themselves to be shaped by God's love
- When you live like this, you are walking in God's will

But what about all that testing and approving of God's will stuff? Well, when you are walking in God's will...experiencing His will...seeing His will for your life...you WILL approve of it. It is that plain and simple. God does not need your approval. In fact, this verse does not say that we will "give our approval"...it simply says, "You will approve." That is the only response possible when you really experience what it is like to walk in God's will. Approval is the only option because God's will is good...God's will is pleasing...God's will is perfect. Those are the facts about what God's will is, so it is understandable that when human beings come in contact with it they respond with approval. There is no other possible response, because His will is flawless.

God's will is right. We were made to be in God's will...God's will is our home...it is where we belong and we will know when we get there.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Romans 12:1-2...Day Three

"Do not conform."

"But be transformed."

6 very powerful words...6 words that have really been challenging me this week. Here are some of the thoughts that came from my time in contemplation today - I would love to read some of your thoughts on this passage as well...

It all goes back to God's mercy. God's mercy is undeserved...it is amazing...it is awe-inspiring...it is transformational. To think that we loved like the Bible describes by the Creator of all things is overwhelming to say the least.

When we come in contact with that incredible mercy, we cannot help but offer ourselves as living sacrifices. It is the only suitable response. What else can we give...what else can we do before such love and mercy? We offer ourselves. We become living sacrifices. This is not a one time deal, it is a continual process of sacrificing my way for His way - because the incredible depth and value of His way demands it.

Being a living sacrifice means that you do not conform to the world. Why? Because conforming is all about self-worship...not God worship. Conforming is denying who God created you to be by trying to become something that the lies of this world have convinced you will make you happy...will satisfy you...will fulfill your deepest desires. Conforming is the opposite of sacrifice...conforming is selfishness. Conforming is saying, "God you don't know what you are doing. You don't know what is best for my life. Becoming just like everyone else is what I need to be happy." That is conformity and it is a one way ticket to empty brokenness, yet we all find a way of spending time on that train!

Living sacrifices allow themselves to be transformed by the loving mercy of God. They allow God's love to fill them...to show them the truth about who they are. The lies of the world absolutely shatter when they come in contact with the solidity of God's grace. Have you let that grace fill you and shape you and direct you?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Romans 12:1-2...Day Two

"Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God - this is your true and proper worship."

I couldn't get this section of our passage out of my head today. Such meaning and power and truth is carried in these few words...

First, did you notice how the plural of "bodies" becomes a single living sacrifice? What does that mean for us as Christians? For me it is a reminder that we are not alone. So many Christians act as if their faith is simply a matter of their own individual relationship with God. Some of them believe that they do not need community...that they are fine operating as loner Christians who only need God. Guess what? That is not the picture painted in the New Testament. The earliest Christian writers saw Christianity as a communal experience...saw faith as a product of people in community offering their lives to the one true God. We must rely on each other...push one another...love one another...that is how we will be able to most effectively offer ourselves sacrificially to God.

Second, the word "holy" really stands out to me. Holy means to be "set apart." The act of becoming a living sacrifice is about setting ourselves apart...setting ourselves aside for God - to please God. We are called to set ourselves in opposition to a culture and world that is absolutely at war with God. That doesn't mean that we live in Christian compounds and have no contact with the world - that would remove the light that is so desperately needed. What it means is that we are supposed to be a culture within a culture. A holy people in the midst of an unholy world...shining as a beacon of truth and light.

Third, why is sacrificing ourselves so "pleasing" to God? Because, greater love has no one then he/she who would lay their lives down for a friend. Self sacrifice is the ultimate picture of love held up for us by scripture. When we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we are laying down our lives completely for God. We are saying that there is nothing more important than Him...that He is the absolute and total love of our lives...that nothing matters more - not money, not sex, not power, not fulfillment, not achievement - NOTHING! My daily self sacrifice is an act of devotion towards God. When I set myself apart...when I refuse to bow to the temptations of this world...when I deny my own selfish desires to more fully serve God...my life becomes a love song to Him. He deserves so much more, but all I have to give is all that I am. That is how we say, "I love you" to the God who loves us, and that is why it pleases Him.

Finally, this definition of "worship" seems so different then what we usually believe. Worship is not simply about singing songs, dancing for joy, listening to sermons or anything else on the Christian checklist. Dying. Dying is our true and proper worship. Dying to self and living for God on a daily basis...what could possibly be a more meaningful act of worship? What could possibly show our love for God more?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Isaiah 40:27-31

Another famous section of scripture...this has been turned into quite a few songs, but I think the songs often miss out on the point of why these amazing statements were said about God...

You'll notice in verse 27 that the people have been complaining about God. They says, "God, can you see what is going on down here!?" When life is going perfectly, they want to blame God. "This is not the way I want the world to work God. You are not working on my timetable God. Why are you doing this God? When are you gonna consider what I want God?" We have all been here haven't we? We have all had the arrogant audacity to question the Creator of the universe, as if He doesn't know what He is doing.

Well, the famous verses in this passage are God's answer back to the complaints of the people of the world (Through Isaiah of course). This reminds me a lot of God's response to the complaints of Job. God questioned Job - "Where you there when I laid the foundation of the earth? Were you there when I created the great sea creature?" God was basically saying to Job, "What right do you have to question me...I am the maker of everything...I am holding it all together?"Here Isaiah reminds us that God is everlasting...He is infinitely wise...He never takes a break...He doesn't miss anything that happens on the earth...and when you add all of that together with the rest of God's awesomeness, you get a being that knows a lot more about how things should operate on earth than you or me. Right?

Instead of questioning God, we should place our hope and trust in the fact that He knows what He is doing. When life is hard...when things are going terribly...we should take solise in the truth that God is working all things for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose. As we wait on the Lord...as we make the choice to trust in Him...we will be given the strength we need to handle anything this world has to throw at us.

Romans 12:1-2...Day One

After reading through this weeks passage in the Lectio Divina fashion, one phrase was burned into my mind..."God's mercy." As Paul writes, laying out a pattern for Christian living, it all hinges on God's mercy. What is God's mercy? It is God's unrelenting, never-failing love for us. It is the way that God pursues you and me - broken, sinful, screwed up people. He just keeps loving us...He doesn't give up on us...He offers forgiveness that is like nothing we can fully comprehend...He died for us. The Creator God of the universe felt such love for His creation that He was willing to become one of us. Not only was He willing to become one of us, but He was willing to die at the hands of people He had created so that we could receive forgiveness. That is mercy!

Paul lays it all out for us - nice and simple...
- God's mercy drives us to become living sacrifices.
- Living sacrifices are people who do not conform to the ways of this world.
- Living sacrifices are people who are transformed by the love of God and the Way of Jesus.
- And when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, we will be able to see God's will for our lives.
That's Christianity 101 right there!

Today God has burned into my heart the desperate need I have for His mercy. When I contemplate my life...when I think about the things I live for and chase after, I can see the lies of the world creeping in. There are cultural values and lies that go against the heart of God that are leaking into my heart and shaping my life. Can you see them too? The worldly values that you have allowed to come between you and truly faithful living? What are they - think about it? As Christians we must allow the incredible mercy of God to overwhelm our souls...to transform our minds...to fill our hearts. Then we will be able to see the emptiness of the things of the world and the beauty of the will of God for our lives.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Corinthians 1:1-17

1:2 - "Called to be saints together with all those in every place who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is what true Christianity look like. We see ourselves as members of the universal body Christ. This is not a competition...it is not about whose denomination is better...it is not about who can grow the biggest church or who has the coolest pastor...Christianity it about the unified priesthood of believers. Do we operate like this? Do we celebrate the victories of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we pray for them? What needs to change in our interactions with Christians outside of our church?

1:5 - The grace that comes from God should filter down into every aspect of our lives. When God's amazing, undeserved grace gets a hold of us: our actions change...our words change...our minds change...our hearts change. The grace of God enriches and transforms all areas of our lives...the grace of God shapes us to be more like Christ. If this reality is not taking place in your life, then maybe you have not fully embraced the enormity of God's grace.

1:17 - This is really important for Christians to hear and understand. You do not have to b able to speak the perfect words to represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You do not have to be eloquent. You do not have to have a Bible college degree. You don't have to be an ordained minister. You don't need any special training. Christians must simply be ready to allow the power of the cross to speak for itself through their lives. You don't need a special Christiany acronym, you just need to tell your story. Tell about the transformation you have seen in your life and the lives of others...tell about how the cross brought life from death...righteousness from sin. So many Christians fail to preach the good news of Jesus with their lives because they don't think they can...they don't think their ready. But here's where they go wrong - it isn't about them...it isn't about their communication skills or their personality. The cross does it's own talking...God's grace is sufficient...all we have to do is make ourselves available to what God is going to do through our lives - He takes care of the rest.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Psalm 15

15:1 - Who is allowed to rest in the presence of the Lord? How do you know when someone is walking in the midst of God? They have characteristics like these...

- They do what is right
- They have integrity...there is a wholeness to the way they live
- They do not tear others down, they build them up
- They do not do evil to others or hope that evil befalls others
- They honor the faithful and oppose the wicked
- They hold to their word no matter what...no matter the cost
- They do not take advantage of others
- They cannot be bought or corrupted

15:5b - These are the characteristics of men and women who walk in the presence of the Lord...of believers who are filled with the Holy Spirit of God. These characteristics are foundation stones of a life of faith...a life that cannot be rocked...a life that cannot be moved...a life that cannot be shaken. These are the life marks of men and women who are anchored in God. The question is - are they the marks of your life?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2 Samuel 6

I was speaking about this passage today at Northland Christian School and remembered how powerful the example of David was for my own life...

6:9 - After Uzzah dies, David is angry and heartbroken and defeated. This verse tells us that he fears the Lord and he walks away from the ark. I think it is hard for American Christians to read about fearing the Lord and really understand it. We don't want to fear God...that doesn't sound right to us. We want to be filled with God. We want to be blessed by God. We want to have eternal life with God. Fearing God sounds so unrelational...it sounds so medieval. But we really need to understand that fear of God is essential for a true believer. In this chapter, fear of God is what forms the foundation for David's passionate, unashamed worship of God. David finally understands...he finally sees firsthand, that God is OTHER. God is above us. God is power. God is truth. God is righteousness. God IS. When you start to see even small glimpses of the true nature of God...fear is a natural response. It is not the same kind of fear we have for evil things...it is a fear that is centered around ultimate respect...it is a fear grounded in your extreme helplessness and meaninglessness in comparison to God's vastness. It is a beautiful fear that demands, from the depths of your soul, that you worship God with every ounce of devotion you can muster.

6:14 - "David danced with all his might." Do you ever love God like this? Have you ever loved God with this kind of passion? I have seen people celebrate at sporting events and concerts like this...but this depth of worship is rarely offered up to God. It is a shameful fact that we rarely see Christians worship God with abandon, isn't it? David gave everything he had to his dance before the Lord...his dance fueled by loving fear...his dance of pure worship. God is the only thing in the universe worthy of our worship...if fact, we were designed specifically for worshipping God. David was able to worship in this pure form because he had finally connected with His creator in such a way that nothing else mattered. Nothing! He was utterly lost in the act of honoring God...and all other thoughts/worries/concerns/fears were swept from his mind. Do you understand that your life everyday is an act of worship? Do you know that you are a worshipper? What are you worshipping with your life? Can you say what David was able to say that you are worshipping God with all your might?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Philippians 2:14-18

Verses 14 and 15 - Christians set a great example for the rest of the world when we live out our faith on a daily basis through trust and joyful living (Regardless of our circumstances). When we allow bitterness, worry, complaints, whining, etc. to creep into our lives, we look more like the corrupt world and less like Christ. Complaining shows a lack of faith...arguing shows a lack of humility...and these things damage the worlds perception of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Make his name great and you life better by refusing to bitterly complain...by living in the peaceful freedom of God's presence.

Verses 16-18 - Paul (Writing from jail, I might add!), is still absolutely committed to being a light to the world in all that he does and says. Nothing can stop him from living faithfully, because he BELIEVES...he really and truly believes...he is absolutely sold out to the way of Jesus. And he makes it clear that he is even willing to go further...Paul is willing to pour out his life's blood like a drink offering (To die!) for the sake of the Gospel. All that matters to him is the name of Jesus being made great in the world...lives being changes...sinners being redeemed...God's will being done in the world - that is all Paul cares about - how about you? He lived out such a powerful example for us. When I am whining about the little things in my life that are "going wrong," I need to fight for joy...stay committed...humble myself before God...trust Him and live as light.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Psalm 1

Verse 1 - I do a pretty good job of ignoring the counsel of the wicked...though sometimes the lies produced by our selfish, consumeristic culture seep into my heart. I do not generally stand in the way of sinners (Which is not talking about "standing in their way" as in stopping them, but really referring to standing in the midst of sinfulness)...though in all honesty, some of the media I consume is definitely not "holy." Yet, I do struggle regularly with the third area mentioned...it is easy for me to be a cynic...it is easy to be a scoffer...it is easy to mock...it is easy for me to find fault in others while offering no help for transformation. I often sit in the seat of the scoffer, and that is not what godly men and women do. Time for me to get to work!

Verse 2 - I love this verse, but I want us to think about what it means to really live this out. What does it look like...literally...to delight in the instruction of the Lord? What does that look like in my life? What does that look like in your life? Do I delight in the Law of the Lord on a regular basis...on a moment by moment basis each day? Do I find true freedom in the way that Jesus Christ has shown me how to live? (I should!) Does it bring me joy? Do I revel in the beautiful simplicity of his way? In the lack of confusion and the surplus of clarity it brings me? Do I dedicate myself to writing the Law of the Lord onto my soul every day? That is what godly men and women do.

Verse 3 - When you drink deep from the presence and Truth of the Lord, your life will be better. That is a biblical guarantee...that is a promise straight from God Himself. Does it mean that you will be rich and beautiful and have no earthly problems? No. What it means is that you will have the strength and wisdom and compassion and love to face anything that this screwed up world has to throw at you! That what it means. You will be a better person, because you will be connected to the source of true life that you were created to be in relationship with. It is just right and you will know it if you surrender yourself to the Lord.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Psalm 30

30:1 - "You have drawn me up and have not let me foes rejoice over me." The first image that came to my mind upon reading this, was the image of a football player standing triumphant over another...taunting after a big hit...reveling in his humiliation of another. Sometimes we feel this way don't we. We feel that life is crushing us...we feel that others are rejoicing in our struggles...we feel that we are on the ground, defeated and the world is laughing at us. I think most of the time we are the ones who keep ourselves down...I think we accept defeat...I think we give up...we wallow in self pity...we get stuck and imagine that everyone is looking down on us. We must remember the reality of what is going on in the world...God is in control. In our weakness He shows His strength...in our failure, He shows His victorious strength. If we turn to the Lord, we will be pulled up out of our failure. He picks us up...lends us strength...shows us our worth (Which does not depend on what others think of us). There is no true gloating for the enemies of the Lord, because He is ever victorious. We know how the story ends!

30:5 - Ask yourself - "Do I embody the characteristics of the Lord laid out in this verse?" Do you? As I read this verse this morning, I began to ask myself - does my family feel this way about me? Do they see me as someone who's anger is momentary and his love is always there? What do I need to do to live that out? What needs to change? I need to accept the mercy and healing that comes from God on a moment by moment basis. When we dwell in the forgiveness of the Lord, we will better be able to forgive...better be able to treat others with mercy...better be able to love others as God loves us.

30:11-12 - Another question for us to ask ourselves..."Do I give praise to God in everything?" Do I praise the Lord in the good times and the bad times? Honestly, no. Definitely not always. I allow perso0nal failure to drive a wedge between myself and God. I allow distractions to blind me to God's moving in my life. My thankfulness suffers. I long to trust God so deeply that I can be joyful and praise filled regardless of my circumstances. God give me the eyes to see your will in every situation...and the praises to offer you in any circumstance. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Psalm 43

43:1-2 - After reading through those verses, are there any ways that you are feeling like the psalmist right now? Feeling exposed? Undefended? Separated from God? Confused? Lost?  I personally am not going through a season like that right now, but I have experienced feelings like this in the past...I think we all have. Wondering where God is when things are hard...wondering why it seems like the people who reject God are prospering while you struggle...feeling like everything is spinning out of control. Sometimes our first response to difficult times like these is to blame God and pull away from Him...

43:3-4 - Yet the writer of this psalm shows us how to deal with such feelings, and angrily blaming God is not the answer (Shocking, I know!). What is the answer to dealing with darkness and confusion in this world? God's light and truth...asking God to guide you back into His presence. So many of us run from God when we are mad, but what we need to do is cry out to Him. Even when everything is falling apart, the psalmist knows that if he can just enter into God's presence he will find peace and joy. And don't you know that too? As much as we threaten to leave God...as much as we get angry...as much as we ignore Him when we are upset...deep down we know that He is the only place where we are going to find refuge and rest. He has always been the only safe haven fro our souls...we just need to remember that when things are hard.

43:5 - The psalm closes out with a powerful reminder - put your hope in God. God is our hope. God is our salvation. God is the only way out of the darkness and confusion of this life. If you place your trust in Him...He will not let you down.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Philippians 2:12-13

2:12 - What does it mean to work out your salvation? Does that mean that we save ourselves? Does that mean that we earn our way into God's grace through rule following? No! Look at what the passage says, "work out YOUR OWN salvation." You have it already. Salvation that has come through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is your own. You received this salvation not through any actions on your part, but by simply believing in Jesus and what he did for you. Once this salvation has been received there is nothing you can do to earn it...you have it! You own it! And the only possible appreciative response to this free gift of salvation is to live as one who is redeemed...to live as one made righteous. That is what Christians do...we make decisions according to the salvation that we have already been given. Does that make sense? Working out your salvation is simply living to honor God's incredible mercy.

2:13 - Do you ever think about this? God Himself is at work in you! God is guiding you. God is shaping you. God is loving you. The questions is - if He is working in you, what is He leading you towards? He i leading you towards His will. He wants you to be living anchored in His will. When we are operating within the will of God, we are functioning as we were created to function. God's good pleasure is where we want to be. God is good and the things that please God are utterly good. To be living in God's will is to be working for God's pleasure. It is completely right. It is home.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Psalm 65

65:1 - God is worthy of our vows, and that is no small thing. It means that we can trust Him unconditionally. It means that we can and should offer our entire lives to Him. Our existence is fulfilled when we give them to the Lord as living sacrifices...we find out who we are supposed to be when we give ourselves away.

65:2 - ALL flesh will come to God. I love that even in the Old Testament (Writings that are often very Hebrew-centric), we find God's desire that all peoples of the earth would eventually approach Him...He is the God of all and He desires relationship with all. That knowledge should drive us to love unconditionally and welcome those who are different than we are into our community (Where else are the going to interact with the transforming Gospel of Jesus?).

65:3 - This passage says that God atones for our transgressions (our sins), and we know that He poured out the ultimate atoning sacrifice on the cross. Unfortunately, this is such a repeated concept in Christianity that I think it sometimes loses its incredible power. This type of love is revolutionary...this type of love is basically unheard of in humanity...this love is amazing! Our creator God gave His life in our place...died for the sins of His rebellious creation - people who had set themselves as His enemies. That is incredible and awesome!

65:4b - Am I satisfied with the goodness of God's presence? Are you? Are we satisfied with the community found in the Church? I should be, but I constantly find myself chasing after other things - things that I know are not lasting. Why? I allow myself to buy into the lies and the values of this world...I allow myself to ignore the reality of Gods love.

65:7 - Only God can still the waters and the raging storm. Only God can tell a hurricane to "Be quiet" and it responds accordingly. For me, this passage from the OT is yet another picture of Jesus' godliness. He calmed the storm...something only God can do - Jesus is God!

65:12-13 - This reminds of the times I have spent hiking through the continental divided in Colorado. I remember sitting on top of a mountain and just staring in awe at the beauty of God's creation. Those are some of the most powerful times of worship and prayer in my life. The wonder of creation is a testament to God's creativity...His strength...His love!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Philippians 2:4-7

2:4 - What does it mean to look to the interests of others? It means that you put others before yourself. It means that you care as much about what is going on in the lives of other people as you care about the things that are going on in your life. To be able to live like this...to live like this, you have to know the hearts of the people around you. You need to know what they need so that you can serve them in an effective manner. It is vital that you listen...really listen...to know their heart - know where they are coming from. It is vital that we get to know people so that we can serve them in a God honoring fashion.

2:5 - What does it mean to have the mind of Christ? What do you think that looks like? What does it look like for you and me to take on the attitude of Christ? Think about it...think about what that would change about the way that you live your life.

Paul tells us exactly what that looks like int he next two verses...

2:6-7 - Jesus, who was and is God, denied his God-nature when he was on earth and humbled himself before....Himself (I know, it is really hard to comprehend). Jesus , the God/man, humbled himself before God the Father (Another part of Himself). Jesus did not lead through power, authority, glory or majesty. He did not use his infinite knowledge to bend people to his will. He did not use his power to make the multitudes cower before him. He led through humble service. He touched lepers. Treated women with respect. Spent time with children. Hung out with sinners. Washed feet. Allowed himself to be crucified in our place. He turned the world upside down and showed us exactly what it looks like to "look to the interests of others." He did not just die on the cross...he lived the cross-life. Do you? Do you make yourself "nothing" for the sake of others as Jesus did? Do you take up your cross and follow him?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Psalm 14

14:1 - Only fools say there is no God. Look around! Where did it all come from? There has to be a beginning...there has to be an origin story. There has to be something outside of "survival" driving us to create and love and serve and see beauty...there has to be...these things do not exist in a world with no God. We are walking reflections of God's existence (Albeit very dull reflections most of the time). It is foolishness to deny that God is real.

14:2 - Interesting that the word "understanding" here can be replaced by "acting wisely." True understanding is synonymous with right actions to the psalmist. If you truly understand what is going on with existence...if you see the big picture - you will seek God...you will act...you will acknowledging the glaring truth. That is the only true response for understanding. If you have understanding, you definitely do not run and hide behind foolish/arrogant lies and denial.

14:3-5 - This section describes the fallout of doubting God...of running scared from the truth. Doesn't it look familiar? People all around us live like this (We probably live like this from time to time)! Corruption. Non-good. Self-focus. Evil. Taking advantage of others. Fear. Terror. Hiding behind lies. Mocking others. These are the traits of those who deny God's existence.

14:6 - Read the verse. Do you do this? Would you? Would you shame the poor? Would you take advantage? Would you mock the faithful? God is a refuge - a place of safety, rest and peace - for those who trust in Him. God, let me take refuge in You? Every day. Every moment. God let me ignore the doubts that assail me...the tempting lies of the world that seek to corrupt. God make my heart a place of refuge where you dwell.

14:7 - The salvation that the psalmist talks about did come. That salvation lived as a man. Lived out perfection - showed us what true humanity looks like. That salvation died for the sins of the godless...the doubters...the sinful...the corrupt...the oppressors...the HUMAN RACE! And through that death He restored us...restored our relationship with God...showed us truth. Truth that we will celebrate this weekend on Easter. Jesus is alive! God is real! Life has meaning! There is HOPE! 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Philippians 2:1-3

2:1 - What is the encouragement you get from Jesus? Seriously...think about it. How does his life...his teaching...his sacrifice bring you encouragement? Do you receive comfort from the love of God? Have you experienced the affection of God? Seen Him move in your life? Received strength from the Lord? Have you seen God at work in your life and in the lives of those around you? I bet you have...I know I have! And if we are Christians who have received any of those blessings from God, then...

2:2 - ...we need to be unified in heart and mind with other believers. We are not all that different. We like to think that nobody else can understand what we are going through. We like to believe that we have it worse than many other people...that others cannot relate to us. And while it is true that no one has ever lived YOUR exact life...all Christians have shared experiences to call on. Every one of us has been delivered by Christ. Every one of us is a sinner and a screw up who has been redeemed. Every one of us is a broken person who is being remade. Christians share an unbreakable bond with one another and we should live like it. The blessings we receive from God should drive us towards unity. The world should know immediately that we are Christians by the way we love one another and by the way we love the world!

2:3 - Why do we do it? Huh? Why? Why do we constantly try to compare ourselves to others? Try to put other people down so we will look better? Try to be acknowledged as the "best?" Try to show how "important" we are? Why do we do these things...why is every interaction with other people a constant internal comparison game where we rank ourselves along with everyone else in the room? We do this because we forget about who we are in God's eyes. We forget about the encouragement that comes from Jesus. We forget about the value we have as uniquely created sons and daughters of God. We do. We forget He loves us. We forget He has a plan for us. And all that forgetfulness leaves this gaping hole of emptiness within us. A black hole that can only be filled by God, yet we endlessly try to fill that emptiness by trying to make ourselves more valuable to the world.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Psalm 24

Verses 1 and 2 - Everything is God's. It really is that simple. He made it all...He sustains it all. I know that we allow ourselves to believe that we are self-made...that what we have is ours...that our intelligence and hard work provided the things we have, but everything in all of creation is God's. Do you believe that? Do you live like that? Do you honor that truth? What would change about the way that you live your life right now if you actually lived like you believed that everything is God's?

Verses 3 and 4 - Who can approach the majesty of God. David tells us in this psalm. Those who can stand in the presence of God are those who: have clean hands (Meaning they are sinless), have pure hearts, have no deceit of falsehood within them. Those are the ones who can approach God on their own. Unfortunately when I look at that list, it appears that no one can approach God! My hands are not clean. My heart is not always pure. I have allowed falsehood and deceit to corrupt my mind from time to time. What about you? Who then can approach the Lord? Keep reading...

Verses 5 and 6 - When we receive salvation and the blessing of righteousness from God...then we can approach Him. We received this salvation, once for all time, through the death of Jesus on the cross. His death makes my hands clean, because he took away my sin. Has crucifixion makes my heart pure because he offered himself as a pure sacrifice. His sacrifice enables us to enter into the presence of God...in fact, his sacrifice makes it so that we can become vessels for the Spirit of God! Seek His face...seek His way...accept the mercy of Jesus and you will be connected to God.

Verses 7 - 10 - I want to encourage you to open the gates of your heart and your mind. So many times we try to shut God out from shaping out inner selves. God could destroy our walls...our defenses...and force His way in, but that is not the way of love. The great and mighty King waits patiently outside the gates wanting you to let Him in. Open your gates! His is a mighty warrior - let Him destroy the inner demons that torment you. He is the glorious King - allow Him to show you your true value! 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Philippians 1:27-30

We discussed this passage in my "manly group of manliness" today (A group of men I meet with for prayer on study on Wednesdays). We had a great discussion based on these few verses...

v. 27 - This should be the driving force of your life - living in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So often we try to live for other things: success, pride, money, satisfaction, pleasure, honor, etc...but we all know that these things let us down and the pursuit of them actually works to destroy our faith. If the sole focus of our lives is living in a manner worthy of the Gospel, then we will be better workers, husbands, fathers, friends, etc...as a natural result of living to honor God. Imagine what a marriage would be like if the husband and wife did not see themselves as caretakers of a house, or child raisers, or bill payers...but as two people sharing on mind and one spirit and striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel!

v. 28 - Do not fear what the people in the world are going to think of you...all that matters is that you honor God with your life. One of the reasons that people so often react angrily against Christianity is because in living as Christ, we are holding up a mirror to them in which they see the emptiness of their own lives. For some, this makes them want to explore Christianity...for others, it makes them want to reject it outright because they don't like to think about the destruction inherent in their worldly way of living.

v. 29-30 - Paul looks at suffering so differently than we usually do, doesn't he? He says that it has been "granted" to us...given to us, as if speaking of a gift. When we believe in the good news about Jesus, we are proclaiming the Gospel to the world. And when we suffer alongside Christ for our faith...when we suffer in joy and strength...we also proclaim the Gospel to the world. The "gift" of suffering allows Christians to show the world what true, God-given strength looks like. We know that this world is not our home...we know that living in a manner worthy of Christ is what defines our existence...we know that everything will be made right in the end. So we can suffer as Christ suffered and remain steadfast in the faith.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Psalm 99

v. 1-3 - God is set apart and holy. He is OTHER. I love the way the strength and the majesty of our Lord is described in this passage. There are so many times that I allow myself to forget about His true nature. I allow myself to ignore God - IGNORE the ruler and sustainer of all!!! How is that possible? I often treat God like he is my "good buddy." His presence makes the earth tremble! He knowledge is infinite. He is so much more than a good buddy! I even sometimes treat God as if He is my servant, and I expect Him to do what I want Him to do. Every moment of my existence is held together by His will...how could I ever be arrogant enough to think that God needs to get with my program!? He is the sustainer. He is the master. He is the giver of life. Do not forget that! Allow the truth of His nature to drive you towards deeper worship.

v. 4 - The king has been given his place of power so that he might establish justice and bring peace in his kingdom. He is placed in a seat of power, not for his own glorification, but so that the name of the Lord might be glorified through his reign. Far too often, people use the power they have been given to oppress and bring harm. That is the opposite of the way of God...that is a declaration of war against God and the way that He wants power used in His creation. Think about the power that you have and how you use it...as parent, boss, teacher, leader, friend, family member...do you bring glory to the name of God through your use of power? Or do you choose the other?

v. 6-7 - As Christians, we are all a part of the priesthood. The blood of Jesus Christ has given us the freedom to cal on the name of the Lord, just like the ancient priests. Every one of us can call upon Him and can be directly in relationship with Him...such a wondrous gift! We know for certain that when we call on the name of the Lord...we will be answered. I experienced this truth firsthand this week. For months I have been praying about a huge decision a committee I am on at church was trying to make, and I cried out to God asking for clarity and vision. When we got together this Monday to meet and share our thoughts...every single one of us was on the same page. I almost started weeping from the sheer joy of seeing God's answer so clearly before me.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Psalm 84

I prayer through Psalm 84 today, because I was challenged to do so through a class I am taking right now...it was a powerful experience to say the least. I would encourage you to pray your way through it yourself...

Psalm 84
v.1 - Pray about the beauty of be in the presence of the Lord. Pray for the church you are a part of...that your church home would feel like the dwelling place of God.
v.2 - Pray that you would feel as strongly about connecting with God as the psalmist. That you would long for that connection...desperately seek it out. Pray that God meets you in this place.
v.3 - The sparrows would build nests in the cracks of the temple...it was a place of safety for them. Pray that your own church is a place where people feel they can come safely and find acceptance, not judgment.
v.4 - Think about the ways that God has blessed you. Spend some significant time praising Him for the blessings in your life.
v.5-7 - The Israelites had to make a difficult journey to get to the temple. Imagine what it must have been like to finally see it after weeks of brutal travel. Our own lives have many ups and downs, but remember that God is constant...that we know how this story ends. Pray that you will be able to always keep your focus on God and on doing everything you can to become more like Him as you journey towards being forever in His presence.
v.8 - Beg God to hear your prayers...hear your cries and to meet you here. To meet you in the place of your greatest need. To connect with you.
v.9 - This is a verse about praying for the king, so pray for your leaders. Pray for the President. Pray for local leaders. Pray for the pastor of your church. Pray for the roles in which you are a leader.
v.10 - Pray that you will understand the truth of this verse...being in the presence with God...being connected to His will is better than anything else. Pray that you will choose to sacrifice your will...your selfishness...your pride, to do everything you can to live in God's presence.
v.11-12 - Close out your prayer time by praising God for who He is!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Psalm 27

Verse 1 - So many things in this world cause me to worry...cause me to fear. I fear confrontation...I fear the future...I fear what other people think about me...I fear failure...I fear. BUT God is my light...God is my salvation...He loves me...He created me...He gave Himself for me...what is there to fear? Why would anything else matter? Why would any of those meaningless things stop me in my tracks, when that is the reality that I live within. God is my salvation!!! What else matters. Someone doesn't like me? Well, God is my salvation. I don't know what the future holds? Well, God is my salvation! I must let that truth define me and shape the man that I am and the way that I react to the things of this world.

Verse 11 - This verse lays out exactly what I want for my life, and what I think God wants for my life. I want to know the way of the Lord to the very core of my being. I want to walk the level path. I do not want to walk the uneven, wish-washy, frail, broken, fence-sitting, back and forth path of humanity. I have walked it too often before and it has left me broken and guilt ridden. I want to walk the level path - the path that guides me in the way of the Lord. The Lord is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow...I want to be the same way. I want to be the same man when I am alone that I am when I am at church. I want to be a man of godly character at all times. And God, I need your help in doing that.

Verse 13 - Do I really believe this? Do you? Do you believe that God is at work, right here, right now, in the land of the living? Do you believe it? So many Christians see the brokenness of this world and they live for another day. They live for an eternal future with God. That is all well and good, and that is something to look forward to...but do not look forward to it and forsake the way that God is working in the here and now. God is at work. We should be living to join God in the work that He is doing here...in the redemption that He is bringing...in the way that He is bringing heaven to earth, bit by bit, life by life. Do not forget the good that is coming to life, like a fresh green shoot bursting from a midden heap! God is at work!