Fixing your eyes 04/30/15
Our generation has been taught that the "heart goes where the heart goes." We are to believe we are at the mercy of whatever whim comes along. This assumes we have little or no self-discipline and are not in control of our choices whether for good or for bad.
The book of Hebrews teaches us otherwise. It says "fix your eyes on Jesus." This give us the answer to the big questions - "How do I live my life? What is the focus, the motivation, of my very being?"
Yes, there are many distractions today that can get us off target. I will leave the long list up to you, but how do we stay focused? What are we living for?
The Hebrew writer simply says "fixing our eyes on Jesus" or "looking to Jesus." I like the Amplified Bible that says, "looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus." I believe that captures the meaning.
The truth is there is one beautiful person that can command our respect, our full attention, yes even our worship. Look to Him! After all, He is the one who gave everything so that we can run the race with integrity and character. He tells us, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" and "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Why? Because He is the place to look.
Plus, He is the One who infuses us with His life, His Spirit, so that we don't lose our way in a sea of meaninglessness.
May we fix our eyes on Him, our true source and our destination!
We will not be disappointed.
God comes to us in the way we need Him most - as Father. He comes not as friend or grandfather or even a CEO type, but as a loving Father.
Jesus called God His Father! In His public and private prayers Jesus addressed God as His Father. This claim infuriated the religious leaders, but it was true.
Jesus also directed us to call Him Father. He taught us to pray this way! "Our Father who art in heaven…"
There are so many implications in a relationship with God as our heavenly Father. The Scriptures teach us that He rewards, disciplines, hears our prayers and provides for us.
He also lavishes His love and grace on us and gives us good gifts. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. Yes, we are known and loved.
As our Father, He is merciful and faithful.
More than anyone, God knew what humanity needed most. And what we needed most was a good Father who loves us and challenges us to become mature children bearing the image He has placed in us. He does have a plan and pattern for us. And He will watch over us to complete what He has started.
God comes to us as a Father because God knows us better than we know ourselves. He comes to us in the very way we need Him most. He doesn't come in the way we might prefer, but in the way we need.
So we can have confidence in this relationship. We have access to His presence at any time (Hebrews 4:16). And when we come into the presence of the Lord of the universe, we are free to address Him as "our Father."
"Love is patient, love is kind…" wrote Paul in his classic on how to relate to others. This chapter is read at weddings and fits nicely into books of poetry but it is also a very useful tool and practical guide for how we are relating to others. In fact Jesus says 'loving others' is the second great commandment, so this is very important to our Lord.
Read 1 Corinthians 13 and ask yourself, "How am I doing?"
We can get into the bad habit of categorizing people, putting labels on them. That marginalizes them and keeps us from really seeing them. That label becomes who they are! In our mind they are stuck in time. We miss seeing their growth and development. We miss out on what God is doing in them. We most certainly will not see opportunities to minister to them.
What is worse is that our views can, and will, seep out and affect others. It is unfortunate that Biblical fellowship, which is meant to be growth-oriented, can end up being destructive. May God help us to look past the labels and see people like He sees them. When two or three are gathered together it should not be detrimental, but uplifting and encouraging.
Jesus wants us to love others well. What does that mean? Be honest, yes. Speak the truth in love? Yes!
It also means to take a look at this famous passage and ask ourselves how we are doing.
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
May His church excel at loving, and then they will know we are His disciples!
You may have the same questions I have. How do I make my life count? How do I justify my existence? Is it college degrees or money or some notable accomplishment? What can I possibly do to prove to myself that I count, that I am valuable?
Society has not helped us here. Many believe that we just happened, we evolved. To believe that gives us little chance to make life really significant, since it's all accidental.
The truth is we were designed by a loving creator. Our beginning mattered. That gives us a reason to believe and have hope. It is true we were born into a broken world, but Jesus is redeeming it back to himself and that redemption includes us! Once again He shows us we matter to Him.
The cross of Calvary took place as an actual event in history. Jesus dying for us makes a huge statement of how important we are to Him. It is simply amazing that God would give so much to rescue us.
By trusting in God for our salvation, God not only forgives, He also imputes His righteousness to us. Not only is Jesus our salvation, He is also our righteousness!
This is the ultimate validation - the most important voice in the universe declaring, "I love you, I enjoy you and I am committed to you." The prophet Zephaniah says He sings over us.
I realize there are many other voices vying for our attention, but it is His voice that is supreme in the universe. It is His voice that ultimately matters. And He says to His children, "You matter to me."
So when our enemies' voices are screaming in our ears to get us off balance, listen to the Father.
His love, His Word, His work will get us home. He designed us for eternity because we matter.
He validates us. He is the one who makes us count.
What a Savior! What a plan!
I remember a line from yesteryear, "Wait a little longer please, Jesus, just a few more days to get our loved ones in!"
Jesus has been patiently waiting. After His victory over death, hell and the grave why hasn't He come back and displayed to the entire world who He is. Why wait so long?
I want Him to return. I want to see loved ones again. I want to get on with the cosmic Godly party! But I am finding out that by His waiting I am getting to know Him better. I am coming to the realization that He and He alone is my provider and the One who nourishes my soul. This is the time for me to work, to fulfill Jesus' mission of going into the world and preaching the gospel. What a privilege!
But one of these days He will return. While on the isle of Patmos John described seeing Him.
When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades."
We are awaiting the greatest reunion celebration and time of worship that has ever taken place. We will even be outfitted with new bodies to be able to handle all the changes.
John states it like this, "Dear friends, we are already God's children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him…"
All this has been provided by a victorious, living and returning Christ. The one with the keys…
So we are waiting with a purpose. Until then!
Hope over Death 03/26/15
I believe in a sovereign God. I trust Him and believe in His kingdom. It is a kingdom that is here and yet not fully complete, as it certainly will be one day.
In this life we have things to deal with that at times are hard to understand. Death is one of those. Why do some die young while others cannot understand why they are left here so long? Others, like the recent airliner mystery, get driven into the ground and their families are left with grief and questions.
But there is one death that is fully understandable. Unlike His disciples that were a little slow in understanding Jesus' purpose, we have a wonderful position to view the entire scene. His humble entrance into the world He created, His perfect sinless life, plus we have His amazing teaching.
Some might get confused and want to blame individuals or a group of people, but the truth is He died for me and because of me! Isaiah even stated it pleased the Lord to bruise him! The reason - His death had an eternal purpose. It was effective. It produced the desired goal. It has brought salvation to a lost and hurting world.
Yes, His death was meaningful, purposeful and yet gruesome. But it was the only way for us to escape the wrath of God. Paul had it right when he stated, "…God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself…" (2 Corinthians 5:19).
We have been redeemed, reconciled to God, and it took our God dying for us. No wonder the coming weeks are so full of celebration! Whether it is the Lord's Table or Good Friday we celebrate a death. A death that had meaning and purpose and has produced incredible joy in us!
For years the subject of loving self kept coming up in our culture. But don't the Scriptures teach, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me"? (Matthew 16:24)
Loving self was often tagged onto the Great Commandment passages about loving God with all your heart and then loving your neighbor as yourself. But those passages clearly give two commandments, not three.
And don't we love ourselves too much? Are we not blessed to have a person like Jesus Christ to receive our love and worship, so that our primary attention is turned away from ourselves and focused on Him?
So what does the Bible teach about loving and relating to those around us? Where is God leading us?
The characteristic that God is building in all of us is otherness. How are we doing loving others? We can do many great, even incredible, things but if we don't love, Paul tells us we are nothing! (Read 1 Corinthians 13.)
Paul gives us a few principles to measure how we are doing.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered.
So, how is this even possible?
The person who loved perfectly has given us more than a pattern and more than just discipline. He has given us Himself, His Spirit, to be the power that works in us to fulfill His Law.
This is the only way the two Great Commandments are worked out in our lives. And it is an ongoing process. What an amazing Jesus. How great to worship Him who works so powerfully within us.
Courage is called for in a number of situations we go through. Recently a few of my friends have gotten news from their doctors. Decisions were made and programs were set up. I have seen courage. Changes in lifestyles, eating habits and exercise programs have brought major adjustments… and then a long, hard look into an uncertain future. Again, courage was on display.
Courageous people are those who have seen things in their lives that need changing and have begun to make those changes. A plan of attack and an overall vision is brought into focus and put into action. I applaud these brave people.
Am I that serious about things I see in me that need changing? Is it easier to hide or run? Is it time for some brave action?!
What I really need is a plan of attack. I do need worship times. I need prayer times. I need meditation and times in the Scriptures. I do need good friends and Biblical fellowship. I need to give service. I need all these not as a legalistic 'to do list', but I need them for my health. God uses all of them to help me grow, adjust and hopefully make courageous changes that bring honor and glory to Him.
I do want to honor God with 'everything' that I have been given. As life progresses I still need to work on things and process and grow. What I need to work on will become abundantly clear since life can be an excellent x-ray machine to reveal what is in our hearts. He is an amazing teacher and counselor and, yes, He does want us to make some bold, brave decisions.
All for Him,
Incredible Patience 03/05/15
We know we live in a broken world. We see signs of this literally everywhere. We see war, death, crises, cancer, horrific accidents, disasters and even aging.
We pray for healing, for peace and for real solutions. It is wonderful when we see answers and miracles. We celebrate and we should! I really enjoy good conclusions.
But God is incredibly patient about fixing everything! He lets us walk through things, experience and see things that perhaps we would not opt into! None of the items above is on my bucket list.
As I have walked through life there have been times when I have felt very alone! I have prayed for answers and solutions and it seems they were far from coming. I have at times abandoned prayer, and asked if it works? And then there's the big question, "God are you working?" I have found that God has been very patient, in fact it seems too patient, in answering. But then again He has also been very patient with me.
I can remember the first time I heard the song, "Never Once." Here is one verse…
Never once did we ever walk alone.
Never once did You leave us on our own.
You are faithful, God, You are faithful.
I was convicted and overjoyed at the same time. What great words!
God is patient for a reason. He is growing us. He is with us. We are never alone.
That being said, I long for the time when His family will be totally redeemed - when wrong is arrested, when pain and sorrow are not needed or present any longer, when the Kingdom of God is fully realized.
That day is coming. And until then I must be patient and wait for God. He is working and yes, He is still amazingly creative. Just look at His world.
Another one of His projects is us! "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus."
Encouragement is powerful. A smile, a helping hand, a word "fitly spoken" can be, and often is, very helpful.
Scripture gives us a great picture of the importance of encouragement, personified in a person.
Enter Barnabas who was called "son of consolation" or "son of encouragement."
We first see him when he sold his property on Cyprus and contributed to the poorer members of the church. Luke described him as a man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith! Barnabas helped to remove the distrust of the disciples at Jerusalem concerning former persecutor Saul, later called Apostle Paul. He was an encourager!
Later, he was sent from Jerusalem to help give encouragement and direction to a new movement. After a personal visit, recognizing its importance and need of a good teacher and leader, he sought out Paul. Before long the two were setting out on a new enterprise, a mission trip leading and encouraging people across the Roman Empire.
He was the main spokesman, but it is clear that during the trip Paul became the leader and the encourager took a secondary position. It seems everywhere He went he had a way of lifting up and making sure the Kingdom of God progressed.
No doubt, we need more just like him!
I am often asked, "What can I do?" One powerful answer is to be an encourager! It is something that all of us can do. We can speak well about God and speak well of His church. We can choose to lift others up!
Solomon gave us these great words in Proverbs 25:11, "Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances."
What a gift and what a blessing is a word "fitly spoken!"
God Used a Book 02/19/15
The Bible is simply amazing! In a small class we journeyed through Exodus. I really enjoyed the major themes of this book: Sovereignty, prayer, history, miracles, the Law, deliverance and how God made himself known. God used a book.
Yes, it was mentally stimulating and it aroused my curiosity about how people react in seeking freedom. It also taught me things about me. How do I react when the blessings of God are everywhere? Am I appreciative and do I continue to have a deep hunger for God? Do I realize what God has done to set up shop right next to me?
Here is what Paul told the philosophers on Mars Hill.
The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us… (from Acts 17)
Exodus details all the barriers that separated us from God and is just as specific about what He did to overcome those barriers so He could be with us. He has pursued us! God has a history of coming to us! The cross is the culminating event that proves it. And because of that, "He is not far from each of us…"
He is still coming to us and He still uses a book.
The Bible has only two chapters on creation and almost an entire book on the details of God wanting to be with us. The book of Exodus is chock-full of information about God coming down and dwelling with His people.
We also get plenty of information about a man named Moses who couldn't get enough of God. And with all the things he went through he certainly needed a counselor, guide and friend. Moses found God to be all of that and more. They spoke face to face!
I want to learn what this means.
If I need a 'mental health' day, I need to spend time with Him. If I need to be with a great friend, I need to 'hang' with Him! When I am misunderstood or even not understanding myself, I need to spend time with Him. When I need a deep sense of peace that the world cannot give, I need to seek Him!
This is something that I can neglect and then beat myself up for not doing! But He is healthy, holy and kind. Who better to spend time with? Yes, at times I have screwed up my discipline and tried to fabricate my desire, but I need to learn that He longs to spend time with me and I greatly benefit by just being with Him.
I need to quit looking at this as a duty, which it may be at times, but instead see it as a delight. To have The Counselor, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty God wanting to spend time with me is, well, simply amazing!
No wonder the author of the book of Acts noted that the Apostles had spent time with Jesus!
Yes, He makes a big difference in us but also in those to whom God has called us to be salt and light!
To His Glory,
Prayer is becoming more important to me! The reason, it is the only way to stay engaged and involved in so many things.
The Scriptures teach us to pray for our leaders. At these critical times it is imperative to lift up those who are in authority over us and making decisions for our nation. Generally my prayer is for righteous decisions to be made. In Proverbs 14:34 Solomon wrote these wise words for us, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people." At times we feel helpless in such huge matters but prayer is one way we can be effective. Let's be diligent to pray for President Obama and all our elected officials.
Prayer is vital in many situations:
When Chad was hurt and taken to Fresno Burn Center, what was our response? Pray.
When my good friend Gary, who is feeding 1500 children in Africa, is working harder than he should, what can I do? Pray.
When we are facing a bus inspection to get ready for the next trip, how can we help prepare? Pray.
When Winter Camp is right around the corner and a myriad of details need attention, what is the most important thing to do? Pray.
When members of our church family are hurting, how can we support them? Pray.
When we find ourselves in places we have not been before, how do we handle the unknown? Pray.
The list is endless!
I am writing this in the dining hall of an assisted living facility, having lunch with my mother and sister. We have just returned from a doctor's appointment. Mom is doing very well for 91 but this also is a matter for prayer!
In every direction and at every level I find He is the one that I can lean on. In Matthew chapter 8 Jesus calms a storm. In chapter 9 He heals a number of people and even casts out a demon, a totally different kind of storm.
What a privilege and honor and to pray to a God who knows, cares and can do the impossible!
An Open Letter 01/29/15
CLC has made some hard choices these last few months. With dipping finances, smaller attendance and reserves drying up we have made major cuts in our budget. The thing we have NOT cut is ministry. We as a Board have looked deep and prayed hard and pulled together.
So this family email is being sent out to say how we are proceeding. We are committed to doing what God has called us to do and to refocusing on our objectives.
What are we committed to?
The book of Acts is helpful. "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (2:42) The early church was 'devoted' to teaching. 'Devoted' to fellowship. 'Devoted' to breaking bread! And 'devoted' to prayer! Acts 1:8 tells us that the Lord also wanted them, and us, to be 'devoted' to going, whether that means next door or around the world.
Over the centuries the church has gone through difficulties and at times severe persecution. During these times there has been refinement, and spiritual growth and deep understanding of the things of God. These times can also alert the church and get us prepared for what lies ahead.
I am encouraged that Jesus told Peter in the book of Matthew, "…I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." How great to be part of an everlasting Kingdom.
So let us continue to be faithful. God has called us all. We all have a part in coming together, in giving and displaying to a broken world that we are a 'body of believers' that loves each other, serves each other and serves a world by sharing the best news - the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moses had it right in the book of Exodus. He essentially told the LORD we do not want to leave this place without You going with us and leading us!
End of Boasting 01/22/15
Paul told the Romans that justification by faith, a key cornerstone truth, is the end of boasting. What a big statement. The end of boasting!
We can have physical prowess, financial brilliance, talents and accomplishments galore. And these certainly have their place. After all, we want to do well in all our pursuits. I believe the Scriptures encourage us in these endeavors.
But where do we place our ultimate hope and trust? What foundation can we build upon that is earthquake proof? Bodies wax and wane, finances come and go, accomplishments can fade over time.
What is that rock and source that does not fade or chip away?
Paul says there is one landmark that is steady and strong, that will see us through all the cycles of life and is worthy of boasting in for an eternity. Of course it is the work of Christ on the cross that provides us with what we really need: justification by faith. The cross was an earthly event that pleased heaven and provided us with what our souls really needed.
Nothing, Paul says, is greater. It is the only thing he wanted to talk about. Nothing accomplishes more. Nothing is more foundational to the soul. No wonder he says it is the end of boasting!
Paul concluded the book of Galatians with this verse. "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
Paul says, because the cross is so foundational, it puts him in the proper place with the world and with himself!
How much we need that today - to be in the proper place with the world and with ourselves!
The cross is still stunningly powerful! No wonder Paul wanted to speak of nothing else!
How do we stay focused since we are in a war? The enemy is poised and waiting to kill and destroy and spread his lies. He is deceitful and enjoys keeping us off balance and pressing us to go in wrong directions. I believe he enjoys using blind spots.
There are Biblical principles that will prevent erosion of our souls! The default of our souls is to do our own thing, coast a little, take our ease and, yes, rationalize making up our own rules. After all, God is loving and forgiving so let's take advantage.
I want to be diligent, but I don't want to be legalistic.
Years ago I started going to the gym. It is so easy to fudge and rationalize weight gains. But those nasty numbers are exacting.
Yes, be filled with the Spirit! We find places in His word that are especially helpful. There are 'markers' or 'reminders' of things that I want to do and continue to do even when things get confusing and difficult. His Word shows up in my life!
Here are some 'markers' that are vital for spiritual existence.
· Time with God. Word, prayer, meditation fasting. Vital.
· Giving to my church and missions. Sacrifice! I was taught 10%. It is a
great place to start. Vital.
· Worship. Continuous and with a local body of believers. Vital.
· Small group. For prayer and fellowship. Vital!
· Service. Using my gifts and passion for others. Vital!
· Sharing my faith. What a blessing and instructive. Vital.
My medical doctor sees me about twice a year and he has certain 'markers' he is look for and checking, for my body's health. He doesn't cut corners. He looks at numbers.
I want to be as diligent for the eternal values of loving and serving my Commander-in-Chief Jesus Christ and not let erosion take place in my soul.
I have made decisions, as have you, and find that after a period of time the follow-through has eroded, and the continued downward erosion becomes easier to live with. It seems gravity not only works in the 'natural' world but also in the spiritual realm.
I have found that making a good decision must be based on truth. "God, what do you want me to do?" The problem is that truth has become relative in our culture. It comes down to choice - what am I looking to for guidance, and direction? It is so easy to go with the flow and realize that this is a cultural norm, so no big deal. But was the decision based on a Biblical principle or a whim of the moment?
Consequences happen. I do want to follow God. I do want to make good choices and follow them with discipline and love. Many aspects of Christianity call for discipline, giving, service and laying down your life - in short - sacrifice.
Whether it is prayer, fasting or giving, there are some tangible things in our life - decisions to be made and followed - that reveal much about us and what is important to us because those decisions are based on truth.
No, I do not want to follow Him in a 'legalistic' fashion, nor do I want to do just the minimum! Jesus calls for our all! He is LORD! He does not ask for a percentage; He asks for us entirely.
Our culture must not dictate our norms or our lifestyles. His Word is vibrant and clear and will lead us in the proper direction.
"God, may your precious Spirit lead me and guide me in a life of sacrifice for you!"
Truth and Love 01/01/15
Rodney Stark wrote in The Triumph of Christianity that before Christ, "almost everywhere on earth the gods were thought to be many and undependable." Along comes Jesus and Christianity emerges as the most popular religion. It takes on everyone and everything, including the Roman Empire.
It has done so with a powerful combination: truth and love. Truth without love can be brutal and heartless but, on the other hand, love without truth can be mushy and meaningless. Both together become a force that conquerors the world.
So how do we proceed in 2015? What force, pressure, vision or direction do we embrace?
Jesus has led the way. How many times He could have interrupted the process but He never once opted for a quick fix or gave in to anger. He is the model for having a vision, staying the course, being faithful.
These two things - truth and love - are vital in our culture today. And Jesus is the perfect person to show us how to implement them. Since both have been under attack it is important that Jesus be our model and our Lord.
He is the one who brought these together in his own person. It seems we usually fall on one side or the other - too soft or too hard; too lenient or too strict.
How do we put these together into one hug with two arms - love and truth?
The answer is Jesus. Hebrews 12 says, "Consider Jesus." Verse 2 reads, "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
A clear direction, a persistent love and incredible joy!
What a dependable God!
Christmas 2014 12/25/14
With just a few keystrokes Facebook compiled pictures that I took and made a 'photo album' for this past year. It was really fun to see the year at a glance and the highlights that I had captured on my phone/camera and then to have FB categorize them into this collection.
I loved the pictures… after all they were mine. My selections, the people that I love and the places I chose to visit. It told the story well at one level. Who would not take pictures of Africa and people that you have come to dearly love? The East Coast baseball tour with Eric was one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips. So many precious memories and all of them made with my son - very special indeed.
I reflected yesterday after looking at the pictures at the many blessings of God. The 'highlights' of life are results of God's grace to us.
The Africa trip was the result of God's leading. My friends provided so that I could go and be so blessed. As a result I now have genuine friends and loved ones there. God's grace and mercy shine clearly behind the scenes of these photos.
The East Coast trip was a long dream of ours and God's grace made it possible. Eric sold a number of houses and I saw a window of opportunity. Health, desire, opportunity and a dream came together. So I mentioned it to Eric and he swung into action. He planned well! We again were blessed.
So on this Christmas 2014 I reflected and enjoyed my God. The One who pursued and persisted and achieved for me what I couldn't do for myself, including the beautiful highlights that these pictures captured.
Jesus is a great giver and He continues to show us how to give.
The Great Author 12/18/14
If God made the world by merely speaking and then asked man to choose whether to follow God, but then man chose his own way, what was God left to do? Because of man's choice not only was man broken and cut off from His God, but something also happened to the creation. In short it is called the 'fall.'
Some think the children's nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty depicts this tragic event. "All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again."
Since man couldn't put himself 'back together', God actually wrote Himself into the script of human history. God became man. How could that possibly be true - God and man together actually being united in one body, not two but one? That is what I would call a miracle.
And since the incarnation did take place, that miracle makes other miracles possible.
Since God does not change, His creativity is still intact. Can you envision Him writing Himself into the script of your life?
He came for specific reasons, but we can basically say He came to save, to help, to rescue. He often comes when it appears all hope is gone - just like the first Christmas. After a long period of silence He came at the proper time and what a story He told! What help, life and hope that event has brought the world.
This great Author still loves coming and rescuing and saving today. He knows your and my stories and knows how to merge into our lives. Often when we are yet unaware, still He comes.
The incarnation makes all this possible. His name, Emmanuel, simply means "God with us." It has been His goal from the beginning to walk with us, to help us, to be the Way to find hope and life in Him.
What an excellent story. No wonder we celebrate it every year!
My Stuff 12/11/14
Where do I put my stuff? I really enjoy having a place for things. I also like knowing where things are, especially when I need them. A clean desk is great. Having categories or places to put things is really smart living. Organization has been integral for me these past years. I wish I were consistent, though. Please don't peek into my garage!
Years ago when I arrived in Paso Robles I had the office staff build a filing system with a manila folder for each book of the Bible, key topics and another must - an illustration folder. Before computers came along what would you do when someone gave you a great story? It would be easy to lose track unless you had a place for it. I had places for my 'stuff'.
But what do we do about all the issues swirling around today? When it seems like there is a clutter of problems, what do we do? Personal, national, international issues can pile up, whether they are war, famine, racism, hunger, grief, pain, finances... The list goes on.
But where do we take them?
Is there a place - a 'filing system' - for that kind of stuff? What category, what folder, can we use for injustice, not being heard, hurts by loved ones? Where can we file this stuff so that we don't just bury these issues but actually deal with them in a way that brings peace of mind?
"If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" Psalm 130:3
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." Ephesians 6:10-11
"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
What a great solution! I don't know of any other 'system' that provides what I need to deal with my hurt, grief, joys, victories than Scripture. What a place to go to find real answers for my 'stuff'!
What is up with my emotions?
I was recently called to the hospital for a very difficult situation. The next day I was trying to figure out what was going on inside me - tears, grief, memories, pain and then a deep sense of the presence of God. It was like reading the gauges on a dashboard trying to figure out what was going on.
Feelings are part of who we are. The soul includes will, intellect and emotions. How valuable all three are and how intertwined, so how do we proceed? How do we glorify God with all that we are? How do we manage the ups and downs of life? C. S. Lewis called it undulation.
Truth is vital at this point. When David was downcast or depressed he spoke words from God to himself. "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God..."
Truth leads us in the right direction. Find the truth. Trust that truth, no matter what the emotions are saying. Then hope in God.
Feelings are great. They are to be enjoyed, but truth should lead the train. The psalmist records for us, "Forever, O Lord, your Word is settled in heaven." Psalm 119:89
Following God and having faith in His Word will keep things in proper perspective, even when things around us are falling apart and out of our control.
His Word is the only place that is steadfast and secure. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that because of His Word we have an anchor for our souls!
Gathering Together 11/27/14
Thanksgiving is a time when families gather together. We are no doubt healthier for it. The first Thanksgiving gathering was a varied group that somehow came together and has been held up as an ideal for us as a nation. What is not to like about Thanksgiving Day?! The smells, hugs and all that make it a special day contribute to the deep meaning behind it all - the getting together of diverse people and giving thanks to a provider God!
Thanksgiving Day helps us remember that this day is linked historically back to 1621 when two different groups came together to give thanks. We need this day. Hopefully it speaks to us each year of how important it is to get along and love each other.
Matthew Westerholm recently wrote about getting together in 'corporate worship' and gave three reasons for it. He is spot on.
1. Because Jesus is alive.
2. Because we want to remember and practice the gospel.
3. Because we want to learn to love people different from us.
They sound like the same reasons that make Thanksgiving Day so valuable to us a nation. This special day also helps to perpetuate good values at a time when we desperately need to return to our roots. I tend to look at Thanksgiving Day as a national worship day - a day to give thanks to God who has blessed us.
I say celebrate Thanksgiving Day! Celebrate a God who is alive and has wonderfully provided. What great reasons to come together! After all, those are the same reasons we gather on Sunday - to declare what we believe about our God and what we want to share with our world.
I'm so thankful for this national holiday. We get to hug family and friends, eat food lovingly prepared and worship an incredible God!
Loving Jesus 11/20/14
I have loved Jesus since childhood. How wonderful to know and experience His 'steadfast love' over the years.
I could list a number of reasons for how precious He has been to me through the seasons of life. But today I want to focus on one thing I love about Him: His Power and what He does with it. He is omnipotent. He called everything into existence by simply speaking! How impressive.
But what Jesus does with His power is not only amazing but also instructive. He is not abusive nor does He use it to manipulate and hurt others. Can you imagine if He had only one bad day? But He is wise and sees the entire picture. He demonstrates perfection in His person. His administration of mercy and grace is brilliant.
The most powerful person is also the most absorbent person in the universe. He took my sins - all of them - along with yours. He was the epitome of patience and longsuffering, when He could have been otherwise. But don't think of Him as a wimp or weakling. He is incredibly strong, even when it appears otherwise. I love who He is.
So when I have power or resources that elevate me to a place where I can make the decisions, what do I do? Is there anything that I deny myself? Am I looking to be like Jesus? Do I walk toward the cross and lay down my life as He has modeled, or am I looking for my rights and my way?
I really love Him because He made amazing decisions that cost Him His life. I see in Him unrivaled strength and compassion.
What a model for us all. What a great God. What strength!
Yes, He created the world. Yes, He sustains it. And yes, He defeated 'every' enemy with style, grace and decisive power.
When I read the psalms I hear David loving the commandments, meditating on them, enjoying them. They seemed to be friends that he maintained a relationship with and that he drew strength from, especially in the middle of the night.
He somehow came to the understanding that God's commandments were more than just principles to follow, a path to walk down or a list of do's and don'ts. They had become real companions and nourishment for the journey ahead.
David pushed through the commandments as principles, to see the One behind the truth. He saw the Father who loved him and knew how best to lead David and to bring him to freedom.
He had found a secure place in God and through these commandments he came to know and trust that this loving Father is true and faithful.
David went through some very difficult situations in life. God and His Word provided ample help for all of David's struggles. The Word should be encouraging and helpful to us as well. John said so clearly in John 1:1, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
No wonder meditating, reading and studying the Word is beneficial to us! This is the way we come to know our God. David models for us the great benefits of treasuring His Word in our hearts.
And when all is digested, what is the logical response? A heart-felt obedience is gladly given to a great God who provided the way to know Him. And He provided a written document - the Bible - that is invaluable to the process.
Call it obedience… or worship. What else can my heart do?
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" Philippians 4:4
Always? Paul is writing from house arrest and says "Rejoice!" Limited in movement, with an uncertain future, he still has a joy that is unshakable.
Peter has some profound words on rejoicing as he writes to dear friends going through persecution. Here are his very words, "…and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory…"
Incredible! It is too much for words. Peter actually was trying to state the inexpressible.
Luke concludes chapter 13 of Acts, after Paul and Barnabas were forced to leave the city, with this, "And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."
Paul, Peter and Luke all have been shaken by God and so filled with His joy, that nothing can shake them. Not prison, persecution or powerful opposition can displace the deep-seated joy that pervades their souls. God has done a deep work that proves to be foundational.
They obliviously have seen Him. The truth that has become rock solid in their understanding has given them a resolve, a foundation, that cannot be shaken by circumstances. How blessed to be so connected to the Living Christ!
When well-known landmarks are gone, when mentors and heroes have all died, even when the familiar turns against us, there is one who not only will stand with us, but also infuses us with a "joy that is inexpressible."
Do I really believe what I believe? 10/30/14
Age has some benefits - perhaps not many, but some. One of them, it seems to me, is that real values come to the surface - not what we want to promote, not what we would like to think we believe, but our true, honest values.
Life has a way of pulling and pushing us in directions we would rather not go. But the way we make decisions and what we value will eventually reveal what is down deep in us. In short, idols will be exposed. And our response to that exposure is vitally important.
I think this is a great thing. God is not finished with us. His refining gets us looking at things that once seemed unimportant, or at least we thought we had down pat. His searchlight is brilliant and penetrating.
James says that we look in a mirror and then forget what we saw! That is not the best way to deal with the Word's showing us who we really are and what we really value. Politics has shown us that often the cover-up is worse than the original offense.
Growing and learning when we are young seems fun when compared to the extracting of entrenched ideas and harmful patterns. It's like pulling teeth!
This is the reason His Word is a friend. I recently read, "I have never met a strong Christian who is not wrestling with the Word every day nor a weak Christian who is."
His Word is not an option. It is direction, life and food.
What is the Bible for? Here is what Paul told Timothy, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…"
Yes, it will confront and convict, but it will also be instrumental in saving your soul.
What am I learning? 10/23/14
Examining the generation during the Exodus is a great way to study humanity and ourselves as individuals. We know a lot about them and their failures. I for one don't want to end up like that generation. God was essentially waiting for the next generation!
So what went wrong? Hebrews 4:2 gives us the answer. "For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard."
We too have had the good news delivered to us. We know it and can often quote it, but the part where they failed, and we too can fail, is "mixing it with faith." It is essential to place our faith and trust in His Word and then do it.
We can learn His Word and even quote it to others, but God wants us to place the ingredient of faith into the learning process and do what He has asked us to do.
When Boris Pasternak, the author of Dr. Zhivago, lost his place in reading his own material at a special gathering of friends, many stood and quoted his writing back to him! It was a powerful moment.
The Christian life is believers living His Word and essentially 'quoting' God with our lives. His Words are true, living and powerful. They are the way to the Father's heart.
Learning is good, but mixing it with faith is what pleases Him.
Little Things and Big Things 10/16/14
A friend is depressed. She thinks it is because she is watching too many news programs! She says, "There is too much going on and it is overwhelming."
On the other hand, I recently misplaced my keys. I keep telling myself it's no big deal. Then why does it keep gnawing at me?
Big things, little things. Is this a juggling act? How do I stay focused on the right things? I thought of this verse that I remembered from years ago. "Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, while our vineyards are in blossom." Song of Solomon 2:15
There is a lot to this verse. Whether you take it literally or metaphorically, it means take care of the little things before they become big things. Don't let the foxes or jackals hang around. Take care of them when they are small.
Solomon no doubt is talking about relationships but this can be applied to other areas as well. Watch out for the gnawing little annoyances that can grow into major concerns.
No doubt the best way to handle both is to run the race with passion. Hebrews 12:2 says, "…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
So whether it is 'big' or 'little', our eyes should be fixed on Him. We need Him more than we know!
"Jesus My Rock" 10/09/14
In my early high school years I came home from summer camp humming a new chorus. It consisted of only three words, "Jesus My Rock." With this kind of song you have to bring your meaning of 'rock' to the table and I am not sure what 'rock' meant back in those days to me. But I have added to the definition over the years.
Here is a verse from one of my favorite passages. "For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; he will lift me up on a rock." Psalm 27:5.
Jesus is that solid footing! All of us could list things that are concerning us - wars and rumors of wars, health concerns, major decisions, knowing the direction to take when we're in a place that we've never been before!
The Bible tells us not to shrink back! (Hebrews 10:39) So where do we place our trust? And the answer is Jesus, who is our Rock.
Paul had this to share with the Corinthians…
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual Rock which followed them; and the Rock was Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4
The Rock was real, the Rock supplied the needed nourishment, the Rock followed them and the Rock was Christ.
"Jesus My Rock." How my understanding of Him has grown, and how I need Him now more than ever.
When life takes those unexpected twists and turns, there He is, supplying what is needed.
Thanking God for Prayer 10/02/14
When asked about prayer, people will respond with all sorts of answers. Most Americans say they pray and no doubt for a variety of reasons.
Last night we gathered to pray. We had a focus to pray specifically for missions, including the persecuted and weary brothers and sisters in Christ in war torn countries. We read from Psalm 2 and Isaiah 62. One line in Isaiah resonated with me, "And give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth."
Give God no rest? How can we do that? He is telling us not to stop praying, asking, seeking and knocking. Is this really the only way that we can identify and link up with our family of believers who are enduring such atrocities?
Prayer is such a privilege and an invaluable link to God. Someone said prayer is like breathing! Prayer also helps us to identify with what is happening globally. It seems so much is going on around the world and yet much is happening even in our own lives.
This is where prayer enters! It seems to me that prayer creates space. When things begin to crowd in and take up room in our hearts, prayer is a great way to 'organize' the things that can make life so complicated. Prayer is effective on many levels. It certainly enhances our relationship with Him, it helps to calm and steady our own hearts, and it is also beneficial as we pray for others.
The Hebrews writer says it well…
"So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most." Hebrews 4:16
Amen. "Thank you, God, for prayer."
Daily or "What is it?" 09/25/14
Consider two million people wandering in the wilderness. Going from bondage to freedom and yet caught in-between. God was leading and teaching them and yet they were wandering and had not learned how to handle freedom. The lessons were coming but they were difficult for Israel to assimilate into their daily routine.
One such test was manna. It was called bread from heaven or angel's bread. The problem was the 'daily' part. Each day they had to gather it, except the day before the Sabbath. I'm sure Mrs. Moses' cookbook had 101 ways to prepare manna, but however it was prepared, Israel began to complain.
Food was literally falling from the sky, without other sources of provision and still Israel was ungrateful. This was a visual miracle every day. They received water from a rock and food from heaven - enough for over two million people! This went on for forty years - probably the first major catering service. Yet Israel did not do well with this simple test!
Daily provisions are not just necessary, they are vital. God is instructing, even testing, us to come to Him and gain strength necessary for our journeys. Yes, I want a larger spiritual fuel tank. I want to be able to go weeks on my own. Yes, I have tried doing it my way! But God knows that I need daily contact with Him and a renewing that ends up being delightful and necessary for the work and warfare ahead.
Jesus always called people to himself first! It's true that He enjoys this, but we need it…desperately. He, after all, is our creator, savior and ultimate source!
Shadow People 09/16/14
My son took me to a Tom Petty concert Monday night. This troubadour has struck a chord with people and he certainly did with me also! The Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia was packed and I found out from a Google search he has sold over 80 million albums. During the concert the audience sang along and all they needed was a couple of strums from his guitar to know the song and get started. They did not need words flashed upon a screen. The gentleman next to me literally knew every word of every song and the audience could not get enough. Pleasure and enjoyment was apparent. He said very little as he related to us through his music. I believe he wrote every song except for one during the two hours of this concert.
I couldn't help but think why there are such loyal fans from young to old? Petty, after all, is 63 years old and every age group was well represented. This concert was very enjoyable and Mr. Petty got me thinking about a number of issues.
He sang one of his new songs that had a 'blues' feel to it - 'Shadow People' - that captured my attention. Though this old guy had trouble picking up the words to most of his songs, this one stood out. The lyric was clear and it was sung with passion. It's about people in the background, in the shadows. For them life has become meaningless. Here is one line:
"Well, I ain't on the left and I ain't on the right. I ain't even sure I got a dog in this fight. In my time of need, in my time of grief, I feel like a shadow's falling over me."
He has captured how many people feel today in a world that is getting progressively more difficult to understand. I really enjoyed the last line:
"Waiting for the sun to be straight over head, 'til we ain't got no shadow at all."
Amen! Standing in the Light! He is the light of the world. This light - so accessible, so free, so pure.
Thank you, Jesus, you are the only way to true light!
I enjoy staying home but when I travel I learn so much. My horizons are stretched. I'm in New York City with my son Eric and we are getting ready for a Yankee game tonight on 911. We visited the 911 memorial yesterday and walked the streets of New York to get a feel for this city. We have eaten in a variety of places and we are staying in a typical NY apartment instead of a hotel to better understand the people here. We did the same in Boston.
I keep being reminded though that there are two horizons. The memorial was sobering! It reminded me of visiting Pearl Harbor 35 years ago. A 'funeral-like' emotion swept over me. Even the jersey Eric bought for me to wear to the game tonight with my favorite player's name on it is a reminder - Lou Gehrig. One of the greatest of all baseball players is also remembered for a disease.
It appears we are in for some experiences ahead that will affect our horizons. We are going to find out that evil is more evil than we thought. What is happening on the world stage will certainly cause us to think through how we are to proceed and what our ultimate hope is.
In Boston we walked the "Freedom Trail" that took us through various parts of the city and taught us its great history. The trail was well marked and we saw sights like Bunker Hill and the USS Constitution. But we are on another journey that is extremely well marked, and in spite of the ups and downs and detours it leads to the heart of God. How soul-satisfying this journey is.
Yes, highs and lows. Yes, evil is with us, but so are many joys. My prayer is "help me follow you, Jesus, through it all."
P.S. Eric and I have Baltimore, Philadelphia and Chicago yet to go.
I came across this word reading C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity years ago. Lewis used it as the flow of life with its 'highs and lows.'
When you hit the 'lows' what do you do? The 'highs' seem easy and yet many have found they can be the most dangerous. So how do you handle the 'undulations' of life?
Psalm 119:11. "Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You."
Psalm 119:71. "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes."
Learning and following His Word is absolutely essential. But how do you press His Word into your soul so in times when you do not know which way to go, His Word gives you direction? When things seem unclear and you are in a fog, His Word speaks loud and clear. The psalmist had it right in Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
The methods that seems to pile-drive the Word into our souls are meditation and memorization. This involves more than just passing by a verse or simply reading or listening to good teaching or a sermon. It means meditating on His Word and even memorizing passages.
David said this in Psalm 63:8, "My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me." Clinging presupposes energy and work. Then David reveals a great benefit - His right hand upholds me!
So, press His Word into your being, think about Him deeply, pursue Him and when the highs or lows come, and they will, you will have a stabilizer that will shepherd your soul.
His Word will give you direction and build in you wisdom for your journey. No wonder Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, "…It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"
Seeking God 08/28/14
Psalm 63:1 "O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly…"
What is it about God that He is 'yours' and yet you must 'seek' Him? David understood his need to follow after and seek hard after God. He knew above all things God was his source and the focus of his life.
The thought of this text is to seek Him early, as in early in the day. The idea is to seek Him as the first thing of the day, first in our plans and purpose, first in all things.
We should seek God before other things come in to distract and divert our attention. We should seek God when we make plans for the day, and before other influences came in, to control and direct us.
The favor of God was the supreme desire of David's heart, and that desire would be indicated by his making Him the earliest - the first - object of his search. His first thoughts, therefore his best thoughts, he resolved that these be given to God and God alone.
How healthy to seek God as of first importance in life, in youth, at the beginning of each year, season, month, week, in each day - in fact, in all our plans and endeavors. This is a great indicator to God and to us of how our relationship is going! True faith flourishes most in the soul, and thrives only in the soul, when we give God His rightful place at the head of all lists and choices.
Luke 9:23 "…If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
God knows what is best for us and He knows that a vigorous pursuit of Him keeps us focused and on track. The benefits of this pursuit are amazing!
Freedom is an attractive word. It implies a release from restriction, an opportunity to act without restraint. But all too often the freedom that we seek so urgently is nothing but another form of slavery. "Ahh! Freedom - doing what I want to do with no strings attached!" That seems to be the goal of many these days! This of course is the big lie of Satan that you can do what you feel like doing without answering to anyone!
Where do we find the freedom that we are looking for and that actually works? We need a freedom that leads us to good things and not damaging consequences.
This true freedom is found in Jesus Christ, but may not seem at first glance to be what we really need. Let's take a quick look.
Scripture does not offer independence or release from restriction. The New Testament insists that freedom is to be found only in willingly choosing to submit to a new master - to Christ. After all, we are His, purchased by His blood. This sounds counter-intuitive, making it seem like you have to walk tight rope. But that view misses the point of who this new master really is! He is freedom!
So how can slavery to Christ be true freedom? By this freedom we can see and experience 'truth' and by this freedom can we be released from the eternal consequences of our actions. How great to be at peace with God and not His enemy any longer!
And since Jesus has taken our sin upon Himself, we not only have a life of freedom but also an eternity with Him as well. This freedom releases us to serve Him and do what we were created for!
What joy to know and love Him and serve Him from a true heart of freedom.
Christ in Me 08/07/14
A little girl named Kobi was a favorite of mine in Bishop. She is all grown up, married and living in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Her life is full with a husband in the military, children and being very involved in her church.
She wrote recently:
"I am on a roller coaster of emotions today. As I watch the news and read articles about the turmoil in our world, sickness, persecution and despair...I am bouncing between feeling unbelievably heavy and heart sick to joy and thanksgiving for what God has promised. Then I become aware of a very real need in our tiny part of His kingdom and I am, just simply, overwhelmed. In my heart I trust Him, I know what His Word says and I love Him so, so much. He is faithful, He is true and He is strong when I am not, He is my rock, my fortress and a shelter in the storm."
Kobi no doubt speaks for a number of people.
What do I have for sure? What cannot be taken away from me? What is really secure? One of Paul's favorite terms for being a Christian is "in Christ." In Romans 6:11 he says, "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." I love that! What a place to be! In Christ!
And on the other hand, we read "Christ in me!" "…to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Colossians 1:27
Christ in me and me in Christ! That is my hope and what nurtures and satisfies the deep longings of my heart! He is my way, my truth and my life. And yes - my hope!