Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Was I Created?

Ephesians 2:10 says, "For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of times so that we should walk in them."

I have often overlooked this verse but God spoke to me through it during morning devotions the other day. In my previous post, I had asked "Who am I" so this post seemed a natural follow up in answering "why" I was created.

The Apostle Paul says we are His creation. In a world that places so much on the superficial and appearances, it is nice to note that no matter what we look like, no matter what our skin color, no matter where we came from, we are His creation. There are a lot of things that I do not like about myself. However, God in His Word seems to hold a much higher opinion of me that I do. I guess the real reason there are things that I don't like about myself is because the world and its standards have blinded me to the peace that I can relax and be who I am because it was Him, God, who created me.

When our children struggle with self-esteem issues, we want to take them in our arms, muss their hair up and say, "don't you know that you're the most beautiful thing to me?" Isn't this what God does with us? Doesn't he laugh to Himself when we fuss with our outward appearances never happy to see what we see when we look in a mirror? "For we are His creation..."

The world says you and I need the right "look" to be successful, happy, _____ (you fill in the blank). God says, I created you not for what the world considers acceptable but "...in Christ Jesus for good works..." Interesting thing is that I was not created to look good but to do good. It's a different perspective. (And a comforting one!)

There's nothing wrong with looking good unless it takes precedence over our being and doing good. God created us first and foremost to do good works. And these "good works" are in turn to be blessings to others so that they may see Him in us and in the end, come to know Him better.

Why was I created? To do good works that lead others to Jesus.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Who Am I?

In 2 Samuel 7:18 King David says, "Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?..."

Are you ever overwhelmed at the goodness of God? In the last few months, I have been more and more thinking about how incredibly blessed my life has been. I have been blessed with a wonderful wife/soul mate and three great, loving children. We have now added two more with a son-in-law and daughter-in-law who both bring us utmost joy.

I am blessed in my work and ministry through Baptist Global Response (BGR). I work with some of the most committed and dedicated men and women that anyone could find anywhere.

I am blessed in the good things that God constantly brings into my life and leadership with BGR. I describe myself as, "the accidental leader", meaning the one who seems to bumble and stumble but yet God continues to lead and bless.

I am most blessed with good friends and a privileged life whereby I am getting to do what I feel I was created to do: helping people in need both physically and spiritually.

So, I ask along with King David, "Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family that you have brought me this far?..."

There are trials along the way. There are periods of intense pain and hurt. But overall, there is an amazing amount of grace and mercy flowing from God's throne to my life that I utterly and simply stand amazed.

Who am I? I am His and for some strange reasoning of His choice, He is mine!

I am truly blessed.

Thank You, God...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thanksgiving: A Whole New Meaning...

The Thanksgiving holiday has come and gone but it was a much different experience for me this year. As it always seems, I was traveling during the holidays and working in my role as BGR Executive Director.

I spent Thanksgiving this year in the Horn of Africa. On a holiday that we in the USA traditionally gather with friends and family and enjoy some of our favorite festive foods, I was visiting work with our BGR partners who were unselfishly ministering to the poor and needy of the Horn. Many were coming for food; they were refugees from Somalia looking for relief from the terrible drought that plagues their country and a safe refuge from the armed conflict going on.

One morning, during my quiet time, I was reflecting on the differences between where I was and my home in Nashville, Tennessee. Here are some of the contrasts that I jotted down...

Thanksgiving in the Horn of Africa -
* Missing my family but being with the extended family of God that is serving in a difficult area of the world
* Missing turkey and the trimmings but helping to feed the hungry people of the Horn
* Not watching the traditional football games on TV but getting to see first-hand the amazing movement of God among some unreached people groups
* Not a citizen of this country but in truth, not a citizen of this world

As we were working with feeding stations and some health care clinics, one of the local workers made the following statement...

"We are learning day by day how to be a friend of the poor."

Jesus is a friend of sinners. He is also a friend of the poor. I am thankful that in His abundant grace and mercy, He reached out to me in my sin and in my poverty.

I am thankful that He allowed me to re-experience Thanksgiving in a whole new light.

Did I forget to say, "thank You, Lord"?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Salt, Light and Firm Foundations...

From Matthew 5 through Matthew 7, we have some of the greatest teachings ever given. We call it, "The Sermon on the Mount". And in these few short chapters, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus turns upside down the conventional wisdom of the day and opens to us the heart of the Father and His desire for our lives.

He starts with the beatitudes and extols the virtue of being poor in spirit, mourning, gentle, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, etc. All of the things that the natural world and our natural inclinations would deem weak, Jesus celebrates and promotes as characteristics near and dear to the heart of God.

He challenges his followers to understand that they are salt and light to the world. They should add the flavor of God and shine His light to a fallen world. He says they do this for the simple fact that people might see God through us and give Him the glory.

He then spends a bulk of the message showing how He, Jesus, is the fulfillment of the law. That the conventional wisdom was to follow the letter of the law whereas He was challenging us to follow the spirit of the law. Jesus says it is easy not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to lie. But the deeper question is not in the absence of committing a banned act but in the intent of our own hearts.

He also teaches us His model prayer, how to truly fast, how to view our possessions and even the cure for anxiety (what a great need for our world today).

He closes this amazing message by talking about building on a solid foundation. The foolish man builds on the sand whereas the sensible man builds his house on the rock.

Every part of the Bible is God breathed, God inspired so we need to tread carefully when we single out one or two particular portions. However, I find myself continually coming back to the Sermon on the Mount and thinking, "If I could live life as Jesus describes here..."

And He taught His disciples to pray...

"Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven..."

What would or maybe what should God's Kingdom on earth look like? Pretty close to these two chapters I would venture to say...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Think Carefully About Your Ways...

I just read through the book of Haggai this morning for my devotion time. Haggai was a prophet who came as the Jewish exile to Babylon was ending. He was among the returnees to Jerusalem and was struck with a message from God. He saw that the house of the Lord had not been rebuilt. The Jewish leaders and people had fallen on hard times and claimed that they couldn't rebuild God's house. They used the excuse that it really wasn't time to rebuild the house.

Haggai, true to his prophetic standing, calls them out. He asks, "Is it time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruin?" In other words, "How can you let God's house lie in ruin and make provisions for your own comforts and own houses?" (Haggai 1:4)

He then says a chilling statement...

"Think carefully about your ways..."

"My house lies in ruins, while each of you is busy with his own house." (Haggai 1:9)

"Think carefully about your ways..."

God has blessed the church in the United States with abundant resources. Even in economic hard times, we are able to build bigger buildings, install state of the art video and sound equipment, hire a legion of staff. Please understand I am not complaining but I am wondering when there are 9 out of 10 people in the world who are lost, are we really thinking carefully about our ways?

What about the 6,800 unreached people groups of the world that have less than a 2% chance to hear about Jesus? And even greater, what about the 3,800 people groups of the world that are unengaged and unreached with about zero percent of hearing?

Jesus said, "where your treasure is, there will be your heart as well." (Matthew 6:21)

I look at our churches in the USA and wonder, "where is our treasure?" Is our treasure in bigger and better things or is it in God and His desire for the nations to come to know Him as Lord and King?

Again, I am not complaining. I'm just saying...

Think carefully about your ways..."

I think Haggai was on to something...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Our Task and Call: To the Lost, the Last and the Least (Part 3)

As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to reach out to the lost with the good news of the Kingdom. We are moreover called to reach out to the "last" of the lost joining God in His plan to see the "panta ta ethne" (the nations) hear His message. Additionally, we are called to the "least" which is the third point to this already lengthy blog.

In Matthew 25:31-46, there is a great story told by Jesus in which He describes a final judgement. The "Son of Man" (Jesus) in all His glory with His angels sits on His glorious throne and judges the nations. All the nations ("panta ta ethne") are gathered before Him and He begins to separate them, one from another. He separates the sheep (His flock) to the right and the goats (not of His flock) to the left and says to the sheep, "Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world..." (Matthew 25:34)

As you read through these verses and this story, it becomes evident that the criteria in this judgement has everything to do with how the "sheep" treated the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and prisoners. The sheep are rewarded with an inheritance in Jesus' kingdom based upon how they responded to those in need. Conversely, the "goats" in the next few verses are excluded from the kingdom based upon the sole fact that they did not care for their needy brothers.

Then, Jesus makes an extraordinary statement revealing a disturbing truth. When the sheep asked, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink?..." To which Jesus replied, "I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me." (Matthew 25:40)

I am not suggesting that Jesus is saying our "good works" are what gets us placed in the sheep pen. I am saying that our "good works" are a tell tale sign of how (or even if) our lives have been transformed by the Master Shepherd. For whatever we did for the "least", we did for Jesus.

Two things. The word "least" can really be interpreted only one way. These are the people who are "very little" or "very small" in the eyes of the world. These are the ones with the "least" dignity and the least hope in this life: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, etc. You cannot spiritualize this fact. These are the "poorest of the poor" in the world.

Secondly, when we minister to these, in the name of Jesus, Jesus Himself says, "...you did for Me." Can it be that when we reach out to the "least", we are reaching out to Jesus? And conversely, when we turn our backs on the "least", we turn our backs on Jesus. Want to talk about radical?

I believe Jesus calls us, as His church and His body, to be on His business in making His name known among the lost, the last and the least.

Final note. It is interesting to me that the three passages we've looked at (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 24:14 and Matthew 25:31-40) all use the wording, "to the nations" or "panta ta ethne".

Our task and call? To the "panta ta ethne" of the lost, last and least!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Our Call: To the Lost, the Last and the Least (Part 2)

God's Word in Matthew 28:18 to 20 commands us to reach the lost. It is in the heart of God that as we are going about, we should be in the business of making disciples of all the nations. This is a mandate to the church. It is a personal command not to the "missionary" but to the average, everyday follower of Jesus.

But God's Word also commands us to go to the last of the lost as well. This is a command to every Christian as well but to the church as a whole. Second Peter 3:9 tells us that it is God's will that none should perish. Expounding on Matthew 28:19, we are commanded again to make disciples of "all nations" or the "panta ta ethne". This would be better said as making disciples of all people groups.

What is a people group? It is group of people often defined by language and culture. It is sometimes defined by geographical location as well. But the best Biblical definition of a people group is the largest group of people that the gospel can flow without encountering a significant barrier.

For example, we lived and worked in the Philippines for a number of years. We worked among tribal people groups helping with their livelihood and physical needs as well as sharing the gospel. We would see a lot of fruit of our work among a certain people. We would assume that that good work would spill over to other tribal people groups (there were about 60 tribal groups on our island). Over and over again, we saw that there needed to be a catalyst, an intentional plan, or a "jump start" to see the gospel "jump" people groups.

At best count, there are almost 12,000 distinct people groups in the world today. Over half of them, about 6,800, are unreached or less than 2% evangelical Christian. Out of this 6,800 "unreached", there are about 3,600 unengaged and unreached people groups. While those living in places deemed "reached" like the USA have a great opportunity to hear the gospel multiple times in their life, those living in unreached areas have a very small percentage chance to encounter a follower of Jesus and even smaller percent chance of hearing the gospel clearly in their own heart language.

Now, think about the 3,600 unengaged and unreached people groups. These are places and peoples in the world that no one is trying to engage with the gospel. They live in areas of the world that for some reason - political, geographical, religion related, inaccessible, etc. - that they will be born, live their lives and pass into eternity without ever having the chance to even hear the name of Jesus. This is "the last of the lost."

Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 24:14, "And this good news will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come."

I am not suggesting that our global evangelism efforts in any way will slow, hasten or change the Father's timetable for Jesus' return. I am saying that God is inviting even commanding us to be about His business of making His name known among the "panta ta ethne" or "nations."

Question. If you are a follower of Jesus, I surmise that you like I are looking forward to his second coming? However, my heart cries out, "How can we celebrate His second coming when there are so many who have never heard about His first coming?"

To the lost...and to the last.

But there is a third category. To the least....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our Call: To the Lost, the Last and the Least...

I've never done this before but I've decided to preview the message that I'm going to share Sunday here on my blog site. It is a simple one that's titled, "To the Lost, the Last and the Least". The central theme is that God calls us to reach out to our world with His good news and His compassion. He commands us to reach to these three basic groups of people: the lost, the last and the least.

To the lost. Matthew 28:18-20 is probably the most familiar verse associated with missionaries sent out from the church to reach the lost of the world. Here, Jesus says, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you..."

The "command" word here is not "to go" but rather to "make disciples". It might even best read, "As you are going..." giving more of a passive but continuous action for the follower of Jesus to obey. It in truth presumes that "as we go" and "wherever we go" we will be doing what comes naturally to a follower of Christ and that is to make disciples. The command is in fact to make disciples. Another way of stating it is, "As you are going, disciple the nations..."

I would garnish that most people's interpretation here is that this verse is for sending out missionaries. But it appears to be more for the average Joe and Jane of the church to be about the business of disciple making of the nations wherever they are.

So this passage is not as much a challenge for the missionary to go to some dark continent taking the gospel but more about you and me, as we go about our lives, to have as our life's goal and practice making disciples of all the nations we encounter.

Keep in mind that "all nations" doesn't refer to geo-political nations with boundaries as we understand them (e.g. the USA, China, Brazil, etc.). It refers to the Greek, "panta ta ethne" meaning language groups and population segments of the world.

If you go to the grocery store today to shop for groceries, how many "nations" will you meet along the way? If you live in a fairly homogenous section of the USA (such as my home town), how can you be about Jesus' command of making disciples of all nations?

I desire to be a disciple maker of all the nations whether I live in rural Tennessee or urban Asia. I can do this by actively making disciples of those I come in contact with. I can also facilitate the making of disciples through my prayers and gifts through my local church.

I just need to constantly remember that as I go, I am to go about making disciples of all the nations.

Next blog: to the last...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Time to Sit and Rest...

I heard a great devotion this morning. We walked through the fourth chapter of John and the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. The devotion leader took it verse by verse and brought out some great truths to a story that I had read time and time again but missed.

One thing that really spoke to me was the truth that he shared from John 4:6. It's at the first of the story, the place I'm usually rushing through to get to the "meat" of the main story. That's why I often miss God's simple messages.

The story goes that Jesus leaves Judea to go to Galilee and passes through Samaria along the way. It is technically "enemy" territory that he is passing through. The Samaritan's are not mortal enemies, but they are much lesser than the Jews because they are considered to be a mixed breed. No "good Jew" would be caught dead talking to a Samaritan.

However, as Jesus came to the town of Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph and as He approached Jacob's well, the Word of God makes a simple statement that is easy to miss saying...

"...and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well."

Our devotional leader camped a bit on this verse and said to our group,...

"When you're weary from the journey, sit down by the well...Jesus did."

I don't know if you're like me, but I tend to live life in a feverish panting swirl of activity. If I'm not doing something that I consider significant for God, I feel as if I'm maybe less worthy than I should be. However, it is comforting and chastising to me to know that even Jesus got tired and sat down from time to time. Not only did he sit down at the well, he sat down in the perfect place for God the Father to use Him in order to speak into the life of a woman who was coming to draw water but was deeply hurt to her core by the burdens and choices of her life.

I don't know about you but I need to sit down by the well more. I need to sit down and let God show me His next step and His next plan for my life.

Have you been in enemy territory lately? Are you a bit weary? Why not take a seat at the well? You and I might find some living water...

(Note: Thank you, Elbert, for allowing God to speak through you to me)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Forth-telling the Obvious...

In my daily devotions, I have recently walked through the books of the "major" prophets: Isaiah and Jeremiah. I am currently in the book of Ezekiel. They have much to say about God's Kingdom. They have a great deal to say about what is coming "forth" as a result of God working in their midst. And I've concluded that prophets seem to be more "forth" telling than "fore" telling.

This strikes me as so because much of what they prophesy seems to be fairly obvious if you can look back and forward as we can when we meditate on what they say. To me, much of what they are speaking from God to the people of Israel and Judah are simply reminders of what Israel and Judah should already know. Love God, follow His commandments and live in His presence. Pretty simple and (to me as an observer from the outside) pretty obvious.

Conversely, they "forth" tell that if you rebel against God, follow after the ways of the world, and reject His commandments, you will reap sin, death and destruction. The law of reaping what you sow.

I know this is a base analysis and could be construed as naive or even simple minded. But it reminds me of what my Grandfather always talked about: God's word and way as an anchor to our souls. It also brings to mind a person whose life is arranged according to God's way as having a "moral compass", a guide, a set of principles (based on God's word and Spirit) that leads us to a fulfilled life in Him.

Then it hits me. It is easy to read/devotion through the prophets and think that the "forth telling" and warnings only relate to those in the story. That they missed the obvious, rejected God and His ways, and thus suffered the consequences. But isn't the story also about us?

The Psalmist tells us that God's word should be a lamp unto our feet and light unto our path. And blessed is the person who delights int eh Lord's instruction. As he meditates on it day and night, he becomes like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season. Whatever he does prospers.

I pray that today I will hear and heed God, His word, His way and His will.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Loving God; Loving Your Neighbor...

I heard a great message by our Pastor at Mt. Juliet FBC this past Sunday. He shared the story of the good Samaritan and made it come alive once again to me. The premise he started out with was simple...

"You cannot love God and not love your neighbor; conversely, you cannot not love your neighbor and love God."

A teacher of the Law had come to test Jesus. The teacher asked Jesus, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" To which Jesus turned the tables and asked a question back to the teacher of the Law, "What is written in the law? How do you read it?"

Without answering the question, Jesus answered it. His question back to the teacher of the Law was to reveal the teacher's "yoke", or the burden that the teacher himself placed on others because of his beliefs. The teacher answered well from the Shema of the Torah by saying, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus told him that he answered well and that if he did this, he would live!

But the teacher, wanting to justify himself, asked, "Who is my neighbor?" to which Jesus replies with the story of the good Samaritan.

What Jesus did in that short story was to dissect the heart of the teacher. He also dissects our hearts as well.

The point is that we not try to define who our neighbors are. The teacher of the Law wanted a strict definition of neighbor so that he could exclude those who weren't from his culture or even class. In other words, if his "neighbors" were only those people like himself (e.g. other teachers of the Law), he would find it easy to love them. However, Jesus shattered that idea by showing that the definition of "who" is our neighbor is infinitely insignificant to "how" we respond in a "neighborly way" to those in need that we encounter no matter who they are or where they are from.

It is easy for me to love others who are like me. It just isn't natural for me to love enemies or people that I don't know. I find it pretty easy to drive by the person on the side of the road needing help. I can find all kinds of excuses to justify doing so: I'm in a hurry, I'm on an important mission, I pass a value judgement on that person and just know that he/she is going to waste money on booze or something else if I give them some...the list goes on and on.

How do I love God? Take a look at how I love others. That should give you a clue and many times, it's not a pretty sight.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Nutella For Lunch...Sacrifices We Make

I had a Nutella and peanut butter sandwich for lunch today. For those of you that don't know what Nutella is, it's a Hazelnut/chocolate sandwich spread that kids love...usually. Anyway, I didn't choose it. It chose me.

At Ethan's school today, they didn't serve lunch due to a power outage yesterday. We were told to prepare him a lunch today and so his wonderful mom did so. At the time of leaving the house, he informed us that he didn't want a Nutella sandwich (which he usually loves and which his mom prepared for him) and left.

As his car pulled out of the driveway, I stared at the Nutella sandwich on the counter top. I then looked at Regina who then looked back at the Nutella sandwich. It was a no brainer. I knew what I was going to have for lunch.

Please understand. I'm not a Nutella hater. It's just that it's not what I would choose for my lunch given a choice. But there it was on the counter, bigger than life. And if there's one thing I can't stand more than a less desirable lunch is to see food wasted. So, I did the right thing. I bravely proclaimed, "I'll eat it."

All parents from time to time (some more often than others) step in to take one for their kids. It's what we parents do. We love them. We sacrifice to make theirs a better world. We eat their Nutella when they don't want it. We do it because we love them.

God the Father has loved me with an everlasting love. He made the ultimate sacrifice for us by giving His Son, Jesus Christ. He continues to step in for me in my time of need. When I slip and fall, He is there to pick me up. When I fail to do the things I ought, He is there to forgive. Every day, He goes far and beyond what I deserve to give me His blessings.

I guess He would even eat a Nutella sandwich for me if I needed Him to...

Thank You, God, for being such a good and kind Father...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Contentment with Great Gain...

The writer of the 30th chapter of Proverbs say...

"Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, 'Who is the Lord?' or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God." (Proverbs 30:8-9)

The Apostle Paul says, "...I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I now how to have a lot In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content - whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need..." (Philippians 4:11-12)

And, Paul goes on to say, "But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these..." (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Sunday, October 9, 2011 is the observance of World Hunger Day on the Southern Baptist calendar. While the hungry of the world is something that should move us to action each day, we Southern Baptists have at least set aside one day to call attention to the needs of the hungry and more importantly move us to action.

On the average, a member of a Southern Baptist Church gives about 30 cents annually to the Southern Baptist World hunger fund. Yes, you heard me right. Thirty cents. In the United States, I am not sure what 30 cents buys anymore. Not much. Thirty cents, however, overseas, say in the Horn of Africa, will proved a meal for a family. It also will provide a much needed food supplement for a home of HIV/AIDS orphans in South Africa. Thirty cents isn't much to ask and it isn't much to give but it will be sorely missed if we don't give it.

I wish the average Southern Baptist would give 3 dollars or maybe even 30 dollars annually to the World Hunger Fund. What a difference that would make in not only feeding the world's hungry but also sharing the compassion of Christ!

Paul and the writer of the 30th Proverb knew how to be content with much or little. We as Southern Baptists seem to know how to be content with much...but what about little?

I pray that God will move all of us to stop and think this coming World Hunger Day. I pray that He will move our hearts to do something more than just 30 cents worth...

May our "contentment" be of "great gain" to others and not lead us to apathy or worse, indifference...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There is a Way that Seems Right to a Man...

Devotioning through the Proverbs of King Solomon, I find a recurring verse that pops up almost word for word every few pages...

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but is end is the way of death."

While there are many words of wisdom in the Proverbs, most of them boil down to one thing. True wisdom is fearing God and following His commands. In His commands and in His plans are long life, blessings, better people and even better communities. When we live life individually and collectively in the way that He prescribes, we are better people, better communities and a better world.

It is simple yet profound. It is easy and yet so hard to do.

Jesus said it this way..."If a man really wants to find his life, he must first lose it."

There are many competing voices in the world today that tell us how we should live and who we should be. They range from self-help gurus to advertisers wanting to sell us their products to make us "acceptable" and even popular to others. Our cultural icons of Hollywood, sports and entertainment seem to ridicule us if we don't subscribe to their definition of what it takes to be a success in this world. Theirs is the path to fame, fortune and fulfillment (according to them).

But God says...

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death..."

The laws of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul...

Happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners...his delight is in the Lord's instruction...He is like a tree planted besides streams of water...

And, unless the Lord builds a house, its builders labor in vain...

I don't know about you, but I choose to not to follow what seems right to me. I choose to follow God's way, no matter what...

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the temple than have all the world could offer.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

When There is Nothing Else, There is God...

Our God is a God of compassion. Our God is a God who is on the side of the helpless and the needy. Our western culture teaches us that weakness is generally a bad thing; that we should be self-sufficient and strong. But the Bible says,...

"Happy (blessed) is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry. The lord frees prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are oppressed. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects foreigners and helps the fatherless and the widow,..." (Psalm 146:5-9)

This Psalm foreshadows Jesus' proclamation in Luke 6:20 where He says, "You who are poor are blessed, because the kingdom of God is yours..." Conversely, in Luke 6:26, He pronounces woes to the rich saying, "But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort..."

I am convinced that I rob myself many times of the blessings of God because I am so apt to trust in my own resources, my own ways and my own abilities. I tremble at the thought of losing everything so that I can be totally dependent on Him and nothing else. I pray that if life does come to the point where all it lost, I will have the faith that says, "Blessed be the Lord,...my help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."

When I see the beggar on the side of the road here in the USA and oversees, many times I am tempted to say, "there but for the grace of God go I."

Maybe I should instead say, "If there go I, may I still trust in the grace of God"...

"Blessed you who are poor..."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Remember the Awesomeness of God...

Devotioning through the Psalms, it strikes me that a number of the Psalms, especially those of David, are a call to remembrance. Since many of these were written to be performed publicly in the temple, I can envision the temple filling up with worshipers, the trumpets and instruments resounding, and the priests coming in, marching, singing these praises to God.

They would be calling the people to remembrance of the awesome deeds of God: His provisions during times of crises, His deliverance from bondage in Egypt, His steadfast hand upon them through their wanderings in the wilderness, His provision to them of a land flowing with milk and honey, and last but not least, His calling and setting them apart as His chosen people. Again, these are not small deeds they are called to remember but great and awesome acts of God in their lives and the lives of their nation.

I sometimes forget to remember. I oftentimes lead my life in such a feverish panting of activity that I forget to remember. I need to remember and praise God for His awesome deeds in my life as well.

Thank you God for giving me life and life with a purpose.

Thank you God for giving me your salvation and grace so rich and free through your Son, Jesus Christ. It did not cost me one thing and yet cost Him everything.

Thank you God for giving me such a loving family to be raised in and for giving me a beautiful family of my own to love, lead, raise and watch them begin their own families.

Thank you God for calling me according to your purposes and allowing me to be on mission with you to the uttermost parts of the world.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good..." (Psalm 34:8).

God, I have tasted and taken refuge in you and I am so blessed.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Nellie's Story...

Her name was Kw'nelle (Kwa-nellie). She never knew her biological parents. She was born into a community in South Africa that has about 50% of its members either HIV positive or in full blown AIDS. In her particular community, an average of 30 people die per day from the complications of the disease. In her larger community, there are over 5,000 child headed households. Because of HIV/AIDS ravaging the adult population, the average age of the head of those households is 15 years of age.

She was born HIV positive. She didn't have a say in the matter. She didn't have a say in the matter either that she was abandoned at birth. This is the world that "Nellie" was born to.

Nellie was taken in by a local ministry and cared for until a week or so ago. She had been on ARV's, medicines that kept the HIV at bay, since a baby. Those medicines combined with the love and provisions of her caregivers were the only things that kept her alive. Until last week.

Nellie passed away. She was 8 years old. She had an infection in her ear that eventually worked its way into an abscess in her brain. The doctors tried. Her caregivers did all they could. Prayer was mobilized all around the world for Nellie. But Nellie's little body combined with the constant battle with HIV/AIDS finally reached its limit.

I had the honor to be at her memorial service. I am an outsider but was overwhelmed with the love of those who knew Nellie. Her 30 "brothers and sisters" at the orphange. Her kind and godly caregivers who had raised Nellie. The members of the community and local churches who had known and come to love Nellie. The memorial was for Nellie but I received the blessing.

There is nothing left for us to do for Nellie except celebrate that she is now at home with Jesus. We can also rejoice that she is not in pain like she was those last few days.

There is nothing left for us to do for Nellie but we can resolve to do something about the specter of HIV/AIDS that so cripples Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world.

We can pray. We can pray that God will lead us to a cure for this terrible disease. We can pray for those working in this field. We can pray for workers and ministries who are tirelessly ministering to those affected.

We can get involved. Our churches or civic groups could pack an In Home Care Kit to be sent to help caregivers and families ministering to those dying of HIV/AIDS.

We can support others that minister in these areas. We can help people like those who helped Nellie even if we can't go and do it ourselves.

I am so blessed. I don't know why God has blessed me so much. I don't know why I was born with all the advantages that Nellie never had. I do pray that I will be a good steward of what God has blessed me with so that more "Nellies" and communities where Nellie has come from can experience a more abundant life.

In memory of Nellie...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Mama Mary's Story from the Slums of Nairobi...

This past week, I met a remarkable Kenyan grandmother names Mama Mary. I was helping to conduct a workshop in urban community development with our Baptist Global Response Area Directors here in Africa and we had just finished the classroom work and went out to local communities to practice what we learned.

My team consisted of myself and four Kenyan pastor/leaders. We went to a nearby slum area and met with a small community group to talk about their issues. We went in letting them know that we were learners and were trying to understand from our recent training how to really know a small community like theirs.

We used some key questions to get them to begin participating with us. We also used some mapping and problem analysis tools to talk about the major issues in their community. One of the things that quickly rose to the surface was the fact that they had no water source.

They had one before but it was illegal and the pipe had been cut. They were now using what we in the west would be called a "mud puddle" to get their water. It was basically a seepage area in the middle of the community and it was open to foot traffic of the community, animal contamination and a host of other things that would make any of us gag at the thought of taking a drink from. However, it was the only water they had.

They shared with us the causes of the water problem ranging from no government support to no really good source in the area. They also talked about the results from having poor quality or no water: their children were constantly sick, they had to go a long way to haul water, they spent a lot of time and money in getting water.

During the discussion, we met Mama Mary. She was the "grandmother" of the whole community and the community midwife who had delivered all the babies in that community for the past 50 years. When I asked her how many babies she had delivered during her lifetime, she simply started pointing to all the people gathered in the small room (about 11) and just said as she pointed to each one, "I delivered that one and that one and that one..."

Mama Mary then told us how hard it was for her at her age to get water. She couldn't go the long distances and haul the water back to her house. Since she was the "grandmother" of the community, she would go each day with a glass to every home in that community and ask for a glass of water. She would make her round of about 48 homes and that is how she got her drinking, bathing, cleaning and cooking water for each day. She said (translated into English by one of the pastors with me), "Water is life...without water, life is miserable."

I thought of the story of Elisha in 2 Kings and the widow and the flowing oil. When the containers were exhausted, the oil stopped flowing. But everyday, Mama Mary has to go through her village to collect the blessings of God at the mercy of her neighbors.

Pray for Pastor Patrick (one of our companions and the Kenyan church planter working in that community) as he continues to work with that slum area and share with the member the Living Water. Pray for Pastor Patrick too as he helps the community walk through the process of getting a good, clean water source for their members.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Lord is Patient, But...

I finished reading through 2 Chronicles this morning during my devotions and look forward to beginning the book of Ezra tomorrow. However, there is one final lesson from the lives of the kings that literally jumped out at me today. It is found in the Chronicler saying,...

"But Yahweh, the God of their ancestors sent word against them by the hand of His messengers, sending them time and time again, for He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept ridiculing God's messengers, despising His words, and scoffing at His prophets, until the Lord's wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy..." (2 Chronicles 36:15-16)

God made Himself known to the Israelites as the, "...compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin.." (Exodus 34:6-7). He also made it known that if Israel rejected Him, He would ultimately reject them.

Over and over, God's goodness and His patience is manifested to His people. Over and over they scorn His advances, His love and His provisions for them. And ultimately, they pay the price until God's "wrath was so stirred up against His people that there was no remedy." What a sobering statement.

I am one who celebrates and strives to live the grace of God. However, I wonder if I often, like Israel, tread on God's grace in a way that grieves Him? I wonder if I, like Israel, am testing His goodness to the point of stirring up His wrath? I don't mean to. I think I'm a pretty good person (at least by the world's standard). But, like Israel, do I have have my own idols, my own distractions that easily take my eyes off the Lover of my soul and cause me to try His patience with me?

I pray today that I will be single-eyed in my devotion and service to God. I pray that He will once again wash over me with His goodness and grace and I will be content and satisfied with Him and nothing else.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Not About Our Strength...

The stories of the kings of Israel and Judah in the book of Chronicles and Kings always fascinate me. There are so many life/spiritual lessons to be learned - both positive and negative - from their examples. One lesson that rings true throughout almost every story is that no matter what the strength of a particular king and his army, God is the one who determines the outcome of the battles.

From the stories of the kings of Israel/Judah, over and over, God makes known that He desires their obedience and faithfulness - not their horses, chariots and armed men. God teaches them time after time that the battle is His to win or lose, not theirs. As in the story of Jehosaphat (2 Chronicles 20) when Judah is confronted with a vast hostile army, the word comes to them, "You do not have to fight this battle. Position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord...Do not be afraid or discouraged. Tomorrow, go out to face them, for Yahweh is with you."

Conversely, in the story of Joash (2 Chronicles 24), God uses a smaller and weaker Aramean army to defeat and plunder Jerusalem. The Bible says, "Although the Aramean army came with only a few men, the Lord handed over a vast army to them because the people of the Judah had abandoned Yahweh, the God of their ancestors. So they executed judgment on Joash."

From the world's point of view, I guess it would be best to be the biggest and strongest person in the room. Personally, I wouldn't know that. But I do know that from heaven's point of view, it is much better to be the more obedient and more faithful than the strongest, smartest or best looking.

King David said, "Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God." (Psalm 20:7)

Unfortunately, I sometimes look for security in my own strength, ways and methods. I find it to be true that I have much more real security when I trust in the Lord and lean to His understanding, not mine.

I pray today that I have the wisdom to let the battle belong to God...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Filled With a Cloud...

In 2 Chronicles 5, we see the story of Solomon completing the preparations for the temple of God in Jerusalem. King David was not allowed to build the temple because he was a man of war and had shed blood. So he made the preparations and gave the charge to his son, Solomon, to complete the task.

As he makes the elaborate preparations and time comes to dedicate the temple, Solomon has the priests consecrated. He has the Levitical singers robed and carrying cymbals, harps and lyres and he has 120 priests blowing trumpets. One by one, the trumpeters and singers joined together to raise their voices accompanied by the instruments in praise to the Lord singing...

"For He is good; His faithful love endures forever."

The Bible then says, "The temple, the Lord's temple, was filled with a cloud. And because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled God's temple." (2 Chronicles 5:13-14).

The New Testament teaches us that our bodies are the temple of God. Have you ever experienced the filling of "the cloud" of God's presence in a way that the world would see the glory of the Lord filling it? Wouldn't it be something if we could die to self daily in a way that would allow the life, the cloud of God's glory to shine through us radically affecting every life we came in contact with?

Meister Eckhart says, "If we are wholly surrounded by God, enveloped by God, clothed with God - such a man no one can touch except he touch God also."

Would it be that people would be touched by our lives and come away saying...

"The Lord is in His Holy temple; Let all the earth keep silent..."


Monday, August 29, 2011

Remembering the Good (and God) Things...

In 1 Chronicles chapters 15 and 16, we have the story of King David settling in his new kingdom city, Jerusalem. He builds houses for himself and he prepares, albeit temporary, a place for the Ark of the Covenant to rest. After a botched attempt, David, the priests and his men, bring the Ark to Jerusalem and there is great thanksgiving. Most of chapter 16 is devoted to David's famous Psalm of Thanksgiving where he sings,...

"Give thanks to the Lord; call on His name; proclaim His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him; sing praise to Him; tell about all His wonderful works!"

David then goes on, in the rest of the Psalm, to recount the good things that God has done for him and for Israel.

Mind you, there are a lot of bad things in David's life he could have remembered. He was unjustly persecuted by Saul. He was driven away from his home and country. He had to submit to his sworn enemies to even survive. At one point, he had to become like a madman in appearance so that he would not be put to death. Along the way, he had experienced the loss of all his possessions, his dignity and even his self worth.

One thing he never lost, however, was his faith and his confidence in God.

In our lives, there are a number of negative things that we all could dwell on. But like King David, wouldn't it better for us and the body of Christ if we could commit ourselves to focus on the positive? I am not encouraging us to live a "Pollyanna" type of life that doesn't feel grief or sadness over losses and trials. But there is something to say for the life that lives in faith and trust, like King David, and continues to focus on the goodness of God even in the shadow of the valley of trials and death.

Paul said, "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8) Peter says, "...make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love..." (2 Peter 1:5-7).

I think today you and I would be better people if we could join King David in saying, no matter what comes our way, no matter how people treat us, no matter what life throws at us...

"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever..." (1 Chronicles 16:34)

May it be so...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Chronicle of Relationships...

The first twelve chapters of 1 Chronicles reads like a "who's who" in the early life of Israel as a nation. Most of it (chapters 3 to 12) are devoted to the relationships that were established by King David. While reading it through, one is tempted to be bored and skip over the details to get to the stories that start in Chapter 13. However, there are some interesting insights from reading the list of David's descendants, relatives and his mighty men.

For one, there are those listed who lay down their lives for David: Jashobeam, Eleazar and Abishai - the three mighty men. One time when David was thirsty, they risked everything and broke through the armed guard of the Philistine camp to draw water from the well at the gates of Bethlehem for David to drink.

There were the honored thirty, who were revered for their fighting skills and victories. Many of them were from his own clan but others were not even Israelites. Mighty fighting men from all of the tribes came over to David until, "there was a great army, like and army of God." (1 Chronicles 12:22)

But in that list, there were those who were murderers and betrayers of David. Also, there were some in that list that David himself betrayed (such as Uriah the Hittite, husband of Bathsheba). There were even 3,000 from the line of Saul, the king that preceded David after Saul had died for his unfaithfulness.

One thing stands out. In the mix of all of David's relationships, there were those who were loyal to the end. There were also those who would betray him (such as his son Absalom). There were even those David himself would betray.

In our world of relationships today, I wonder if we are any better than King David or any more blessed? I think, if the truth be told, there are those relationships and people who bring us utter joy. But at the same time there are those who can cause deep pain - even those we love the most.

As King David, we have to become people after the heart of God. We have to celebrate and enjoy those relationship that God gives us but we also must remember that we cannot put our trust in those relationships if we are to find fulfillment. Our relationship to God has to be first and foremost in all of our relationships and when that relationship is where it should be, He gives us the grace and wisdom to live with others.

Our relationships with others will give us pure joy. Some will cause deep pain. However, if we keep the primary relationship with God in focus, He will help us keep our eyes fixed on Him no matter what comes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No Matter What, No Regrets...

One of the last kings of Judah was a good king named Josiah. During his lifetime, he initiated a reformation for the whole nation. The Bible says, "He did what was right in the Lord's sight and walked in all the ways of his ancestor David; he did not turn to the right or the left." (2 Kings 22:2)

Judah as a nation was breathing its last breath. They were on an irreversible path to death and punishment. Judgement had already been passed. And no matter what good things Josiah brought about, no matter what spiritual renewal he instigated, no matter how much he honored God in all that he did, his people were doomed to God's wrath. The writer of 2 Kings says, "In spite of all that (the good things done by Josiah), the Lord did not turn from the fury of His great burning anger, which burned against Judah..." (2 Kings 23:26)

I wonder if Josiah knew that in spite of all his best efforts the inevitable was going to happen? And if he did, would he have still given it his best efforts?

I like to think that he would have.

I like to also think that I, no matter what is on the horizon, will continue to give God my best. No matter what happens. No matter what tragedy befalls. No matter what...period.

I choose to live my life wholly for God. No regrets. Whether He pours blessings of mercy and grace on me, I will live for Him. Whether He chooses to pour suffering and hardship out on me, I still choose to follow.

To a large degree, I cannot choose or control many of the circumstances in my life. However, I can choose to follow Him...no regrets!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You Are What You Worship...

In 2 Kings chapter 17, we read the chronicler's account of why the northern Kingdom, Israel, fell. He lists a long string of reasons including...

* Sinning against the Lord their God who had brought them out of Egypt
* Worshipping other gods
* Living according to the customs of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites and the customs the kings of Israel had introduced
* Secretly doing things that weren't right
* Setting up sacred pillars and Asherah poles on every high hill
* Burning incense to and serving idols

He then summarizing by saying, "...they became obstinate like their ancestors who did not believe the Lord their God. They rejected His statutes and His covenant He had made with their ancestors and the decrees he had given them..."

He then makes this frightening conclusion. "They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves..."

Many of us grew up probably hearing the old saying, "You are what you eat." What the writer here is saying, "You are what you worship."

What are the things that we worship today besides God? What is it that we fix our eyes and even our hearts on that serves as our modern day idols? What are the worthless things that we revere that cause us to become like them, worthless?

I think this is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, "...lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of of our faith..." (Hebrews 12:1-2). It is also why Paul exhorts us in saying, "Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable - if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise - dwell on these things." (Galatians 4:8)

Transformation and conformation to the image of Jesus is truly a gift from God. It comes from us constantly gazing at and seeking Him. From glory to glory and slowly but slowly He changes us to be like Himself but we must keep our eyes and our hearts fixed upon Him and not the worthless things.

So here's my question. What will you worship today?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Live Well by Listening Well...

In 2 Kings, chapter 12, we find the story of Joash the boy king. He came to power at seven years of age in a tumultuous time in Judah's history. At the death of his father, Ahaziah, his grandmother, Athaliah took advantage of the vacant throne and had all the sons of Ahaziah (her own grandchildren) put to death in order for her to claim the throne. She ruled six years while the remaining heir, Joash, was hidden in the temple and raised/protected by his aunt and the priests.

When Joash was publicly revealed and Athalia overthrown, he began his rule. At the beginning of his rule, he was instructed and led by Jehoiada the priest. Jehoiada instructed and guided Joash in the ways of God and the Bible says that Joash, "did what was right in the Lord's sight."

Many good things happened in his early years. The kingdom was strengthened. The temple was repaired. The nation regained its prominence. Everything went well as long as Joash listened to the word of the Lord through Jehoiada.

However, Jehoiada grew old and died. With Jehoiada gone, Joash began to fall away from God. He abandoned the temple of God and began serving the Asherah poles and idols. God's wrath returned to Jerusalem and God sent the prophet Zechariah, son of Jehoiada, to call Joash and the people back to God. Then the Bible tells us, "King Joash didn't remember the kindness that Zechariah's father Jehoiada had extended to him, but killed his son..." (2 Chronicles 25:22). In the end, Joash, in an untimely way, is wounded in battle and then assassinated by his own 'loyal' servants. Sad.

I have often experienced that I tend to live better when I listen better. God places wise guides in my life from people to His inspired Word, the Bible. When I spend time listening to God through their counsel, I find myself walking God's path instead of one contrived in my own power.

I also find that cultivating the art of listening for God has its practical rewards in life as well. Foster says that, "We are to live in a perpetual inward, listening silence so that God is the source of our words and actions. If we are accustomed to carrying out the business of our lives in human strength and wisdom, we will do the same in worship..." We also will tend to not trust in the Lord and we will tend to lean towards our own understanding.

I pray today that I will not run ahead or run behind God but take time in every moment to listen for His wise counsel and His Word for my life. I pray then that I will have the wisdom and courage to follow whatever His prompting.

To hear...to obey...

It could be an interesting day!

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's for Lunch? Cole Slaw...

Yesterday morning, as per my usual routine, before I left out the door for the office, I opened the refrigerator door and peered into the great abyss. I do this every work day excited to find what leftovers are available to take to work as my lunch of the day. If I'm lucky, it will be one of Regina's famous dishes. If the refrigerator is bare, well it's whatever is available.

Now, I could make a sandwich if I wasn't so lazy (or in a rush to get going). Or I could even buy my lunch (if I wasn't so cheap). But the truth is that I really do enjoy taking bits and pieces of things - leftovers - and making that my noon meal of the day. However, yesterday was different.

All that was in the refrigerator was cole slaw. To make matters worse, it was mayonnaise slaw and not vinegar slaw which I am more partial to. It was what was left of the "penny item" that Regina gets as a promo from a local supermarket and it had been in there a few days because no one in our family particularly likes mayonnaise based cole slaw. Even worse, there was lots of it.

So...because I'm lazy, cheap and in a hurry, I have a tub of mayonnaise slaw for lunch. Please don't get me wrong, I am not a cole slaw basher and I have nothing against folks who love cole slaw (even mayonnaise based). Its just that when I pulled my lunch out at noon and saw the tub of slaw I thought, "Really? I settled for this?"

In our spiritual lives, we tend to do the same thing if we are truly honest with ourselves. We tend to "settle" for good enough when God has even better for us. Maybe it takes too much effort or maybe we're just in a hurry to get somewhere. Maybe it just costs too much to quit striving and receive what God really has planned for us. In many respects, I settle for spiritual "cole slaw" when God really has something much more tasty and filling in store for me.

I look at the Old Testament and am constantly amazed that the nation of Israel seemed to always settle for something else besides God. "Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Ps 34:8), urges King David. And yet constantly after tasting the goodness of the Lord, the people immediately go back to the gods of the land and settle for "cole slaw."

I don't know about you, but today, I choose not to eat cole slaw...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened Yesterday...

Late yesterday afternoon, Regina and I went to run some errands. On the way to the car, she picked up the mail and we took off.

Looking through the mail, we saw that we received a sample of a new type of granola bar in the mail (we sign up for all those special promos) and being late afternoon and a bit hungry, I encouraged her to open it and eat it together. It was one of those really good kind with a chocolate coating (read 'healthy') but the only problem is that it was quite melted. No worries. We ate it anyway. Me driving while she stuffed my half (or three quarters) into my mouth.

Our first stop was at our bank. Regina remained in the car while I went in to make a quick transaction. Lucky me! No one was in the bank! There were four lady tellers all ready and eager to wait on me. And as I drew closer to the counter, they all were smiling and looking right at me. I thought, boy, what a friendly bank. And then, or course because of my vanity, I thought, I must still look pretty good at my age to have four women looking at me and all smiling.

Feeling smug, I completed my transactions. The smiles only increased even to the point of a bit of a chuckle. I quickly returned to the car, jumped in and Regina looked at me and broke out laughing. My face (mainly my lips) were coated in chocolate from the melted granola bar!

Regina promises she didn't send me in the bank knowing that my face was covered in chocolate. I believe her (for the most part) but I'm kind of glad it happened. It reminded me of two valuable lessons...

1. When people smile at you it may be because you have something all over your face, not that you are a good looking guy/girl.
2. Sometimes our own sins that are so hidden to us are obvious to others. They are especially known to God.

I think of the stories in the Bible where people tried to cover up their sins. Achan and devoted things taken from conquered Jericho. Saul who defeats the Amalekites and keeps the best of the spoils. David, who as supreme commander of God's army and all of Israel, steals and murders to claim the wife of one of his most trusted warriors, Uriah the Hittite.

The message? Be sure that your sins will find you out.

I resolve to do better today. I resolve to see myself in God's eyes; to let Him expose every area of my life to His loving mercy and grace.

Oh, another lesson...I resolve never to eat a melted chocolate granola bar and go out in public.

Granola bar anyone?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Obituary...

The early classical Christian writers talked of a spiritual discipline known as "looking" or "peering into the abyss." As strange as it might sound, it is a discipline one uses to contemplate ones own mortality. It was used as a tool of personal transformation to help the practitioner come to a sober judgment of his/her life and to put things in perspective such as the things eternal versus temporal.

Foster says, "In our day of runaway narcissism it is a practice we would do well to revive. What would happen if you were to die today? If I were to die today? One of the most sobering insights from such a meditation is the realisation (sic) that life would continue right on without us - and quite well for that matter. The sun would come up the next day. People would go about their normal duties. Nothing of substance would be changed. This is a hard reality for us who carry the illusion that the world revolves around our decisions..."

So, with that in mind, I want to take this opportunity to write my obituary or at least outline some major points. Like Momma said, you can never be too prepared! Or was that my Scout leader?

Anyway, here are some things that I would like to be said or written about me when I'm gone...

* He loved God and he loved people
* He was a most fortunate man who knew the love and companionship of one woman and three excellent children
* He served his King well
* He had a passion for the lost and for the least
* He is more alive now than he has ever been...Rejoice!

The helpful thing about writing ones own obituary is that you can look at it and ask, "Is this the life I am now living?" And if not, what do I need to change and get right with God in order to make my life what I want to be remembered for?

Help me today, Lord, to keep in perspective that I am mortal and at best, in the process of dying. May my physical dying day by day be an outward sign of my daily spiritual death to self and conformation to the image of your Son, Jesus.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Arrows From Unexpected Places...

In their book, "The Sacred Romance", Brent Curtis and John Eldredge talk about arrows in our heart that cause pain and are a part of our journey of growing into the people we are. An arrow of an abusive parent that sometimes shapes a young child into an abusive adult. The arrows of withheld love that tells a teenager that he or she will never be good enough and so they look for fulfillment in worldly avenues. There are even arrows we inflict on ourselves; arrows of poor self image or low self esteem that constantly finds ourselves pitting and comparing our lives to others who seem to have it all together.

Of all the arrows that pierce the deepest are the arrows that come from the ones we love the closest. I think of King David in the Bible in relation to his son Absalom. David loved Absalom with a father's heart. Even when Absalom brutally murdered his brother Adonijah, David's love for Absalom stayed true. When David fully restated Absalom to his place of sonship, Absalom took advantage and leveraged everything he had to dethrone and even have his father murdered. David's love for Absalom was only equalled by Absalom's deep craving for power and taking by force everything that belonged to his father. Yet, even when it was all over the the young man Absalom lay dead, David cried out, "My son Absalom!...If only I had died instead of you..."

It is easy to recognize the "arrows" that come from our enemies. David could tell the difference between a Philistine and an Amorite arrow, I am sure. What trips us up is when the arrows come from those we love the most. An unkind word. A betrayal. An intentional plot to take us down.

Fortunately, for the most part, few of us have to experience the deep arrow of betrayal such as an Absalom with his father David. But even the smaller arrows can be hurtful and cause deep wounds that may take years to heal.

* A colleague who puts us down in some way in order to build himself/herself up in the eyes of others
* A confidence shared with a friend broadcast for the world to see
* A word of criticism from a loved one when a word of encouragement is what is needed

These seem like small things and maybe they are but when these particular arrows come from those who are supposed to be watching our backs, it can be discouraging and even crippling.

What are some of the arrows of affliction that God is bringing to your mind right now? How do we allow Him to take those arrows of pain and turn them into something good like a life-lesson? How do those arrows become building blocks for us to become more conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus?

I am tempted to think that all of the arrows in my heart are "about" me. Sometimes I need to realize that they might just be "for" me in order to make me more like Jesus.

Monday, August 15, 2011

If Life Were Only a Series of Recipes...

I marvel at my wife. She is undoubtedly one of the best cooks on the planet. Yesterday, she whipped up a batch of her amazing brownies to go with our homemade vanilla ice cream. She took a recipe that she had marked as one of her favorites, placed it on the counter and began following the steps that she had followed many times resulting in perfect brownies. The recipe, if followed correctly, works every time.

Sometimes, I wish life were like this: a simple recipe. We do the things that are "right", follow what God asks us to do, write it down and pull it out and follow the steps every time we need it. However, I have found that a life that is called to follow God is never as simple as following a recipe. There is no cookie cutter philosophy in cross-filled living. I wish there were but my experience and the Bible proves otherwise.

Yes, there are general Biblical principles that we all should strive to live by. Yes, there are some practical spiritual disciplines that we all should seek to cultivate. But over and over I am amazed at those who seek to follow God with all their heart and in all their practices and decisions can arrive at very different destinations. There is no guarantee that if we "do the right things", life will be all that we expect it to be.

* Consider the parents who raise their children according to God's word. One turns out a lover of God and the other turns out a prodigal.
* What about a young mother who lives according to God's laws and ways and wakes up one more to find that she will soon die of cancer leaving too soon a family behind.
* Or the father who does everything right to the best of his knowledge and ability who loses his job and self-esteem and cannot provide for his family anymore.

It just seems unfair. At least from a worldly standard.

The truth is, we live in a world that God loves but it is a fallen world. A world that was meant to be something else and is becoming something else. It is a world that brings, at times, unspeakable joy and happiness but at the same time sin, death, suffering and pain.

We are created with a purpose to learn to love God and keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Him. No matter what circumstances we find ourselves or our loved ones in, our call is to constantly seek the face of God and Jesus, focusing on Him and His perfection and not our present trials.

In my perfect world, "A" plus "B" plus "C" would equal "D". That makes sense to me. In God's world, add the same things together and you might come up with "Z". The truth is that there are no failsafe recipes to make life here turn out the way that we all desire.

And this should not be discouraging. Rather, it should be liberating to know that no matter what the outcome of this life, no matter what results in the final equation of life, our eyes should be fixed on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith because it is in Him we move, breathe and have our life.

The prize is not our expectations of what should turn out when we get the recipe right. It should be God Himself and His Son Jesus.

Friday, August 12, 2011

But, Let Me Explain Myself...

We all have those times when we are misunderstood or something we did or said was misinterpreted. At least we say we were misunderstood. But maybe we really meant that action or that particular word but find ourselves having to come back and do damage control or worse, image adjustment. The simple fact is that this worldly flesh prompts us to want to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others.

I am at time my own worst image consultant. I am at times addicted to others' approval. I don't really want to, but I find myself time after time trying to explain things in a way that put me in the best light of others. It's a deep flaw and it is a deep addiction.

David, before he was King, could have fallen prey to this malady. He was a very winsome person to both men who would follow him and ladies who would more than once glance his way. He had a natural way in which people just fell in love with him. And yet early on, and throughout much of his latter years, he was the recipient of some of the most unjust accusations and character assassinations than any one person ought to have to bear.

His response? He constantly went to God. He refused to lift his hand against the Lord's anointed. He bore the loss of most every convenience and every right he had and responded mostly in silence, allowing God to be his justifier before others. Radical.

Richard Foster says, "The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image...If we are silent, who will take control?..."

Today, I determine to live my life without having to excuse or justify myself to others. I pledge to let God be my justifier. I choose to let my "self" image be immersed in a "God" image and let Him be my identity to a world so in need of Him.

I vow today not to have to use the phrase, "But, let me explain myself..."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Understand a Cross Death, but a Cross Life?...

In the story of David in the Bible, young David does everything he can to support King Saul and his family. He fights and slays the giant Goliath even though he is a youth. He fights for Israel in the name of God and becomes its most famous general. He serves Saul with all his heart and supports whatever his king commands.

His reward? The king throws a spear at him trying to pin him to the wall. He is persecuted and hunted. He is driven out of his home and even his country to live like a madman at times. He is surrounded by a group of malcontents and misfits who look to him as their model and leader.

Life, at times, just doesn't seem fair. We give and give, we serve and serve, we even obey to the best of our abilities, and the world, instead of applauding, throws a spear at us.

Jesus experienced this and in a much greater way than any of us can begin to understand. We celebrate His "cross-death" for us, but rarely stop to thank Him for HIs "cross-life".

Richard Foster says, "The most radical social teaching of Jesus was his total reversal of the contemporary notion of greatness. Leadership is found in becoming the servant of all. Power is discovered in submission....Christ not only died a 'cross-death', he lived a 'cross-life'...Jesus called his followers to live the cross-life. 'If any man would come after me,...' 'If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all'...The cross-life is the life of voluntary submission. The cross-life is the life of freely accepted servanthood."

A couple of thousand years before God came to earth in the form of Jesus, David showed us the way of the cross-life. He was obedient to his king, never even thinking about raising his hand against God's anointed. He had every opportunity to do so. He had the hearts of the people who would have followed him. But you see, David was a man after God's own heart and he chose God's way even though it meant becoming the spear-throwing target of a madman.

I am often willing (at least ideally in my mind) to think that I can accept the cross-death...to be a martyr if needed. What I struggle to do is to be able to live the cross-life. I am finding that the cross-life is far more difficult to choose than the cross-death.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Our Strength; God's Strength...

The stories of the Old Testament always seem to speak to me simple and obvious truths. Where I find myself struggling is trying to apply those truths practically to my own life and in most cases, it is a struggle with my will and pride.

Take the story of Gideon and how one day, God leads him to select an army to fight against Midian. The Midianites were as numerous as a swarm of locust. They had oppressed Israel for several years and had so laid waste to the land that Israel, "became poverty stricken...and cried out to the Lord."

God calls out Gideon to lead Israel against Midian. Gideon puts together an impressive army. Then, the Lord tells Gideon, "You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you..."

Gideon had amassed 32,000 warriors and God said that this was too many to fight a people who were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. God instructs Gideon to give a "go home free" card to those afraid of battle. Twenty-two thousand left leaving 10,000. God said, "There are still too many people." So God had them separated by the way they drank water. He instructed Gideon to choose only 300. God took what looked like an impressive army and whittled it down to 300 to face the Midianite hordes. And He did it all because, "...or else Israel might brag: I did it myself."

There is no math, no military strategy, no earthly reasoning that would say 300 is better than 32,000 when it comes to war. It is only in God's economy and in God's plan does this even begin to make a little sense.

Relinquishing our plans and our strategies to God and His way is no easy task. I do find it easy to champion "God's will" and even to fight passionately for it when it conveniently aligns with my interpretations. But when God's will becomes perpendicular to mine, that's when I struggle with, "Not my will but Yours..."

I think Gideon had to experience doubts when God left him with 300 men. I admire his willingness to follow God's way no matter how counterintuitive it was to all of his natural inclinations.

Foster says that through His prayer in Gethsemane, "Jesus shows us a more excellent way. The way of helplessness. The way of abandonment. The way of relinquishment. 'My will be done' is conquered by 'Not my will.'"

Lord, today and forevermore, may it be, "Not my will, but Yours."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Why Am I Afraid to Go to God?

In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, there is a loving father waiting anxiously for the son to return home.

This is how I picture God looking and even longing for us day in and day out. Standing with eager anticipation of His children returning to Him with a broken and contrite heart. And even though I know deep down that God never turns away a broken and contrite heart, I constantly find it hard to next to impossible to make that first step back towards the Father when I have strayed.

I don't know about you, but I constantly fail and constantly stray much like the prodigal. It may not be as dramatic and it may not be as visible to the world, but my heart has a tendency to wander.

Oftentimes it wanders into busy-ness and good deeds. I can get so busy for God that I forget that He wants my heart and my companionship above all service.

Sometimes it wanders into complacency and boredom. The 'same old, same old' becomes the standard of the day and I go through the motions looking good on the outside but dry and barren on the inside.

More often, it wanders into pride and self-sufficiency when my heart tells me to trust in my own understanding and abilities.

So how do we continually walk in a way that we carry this broken and contrite heart? Richard Foster says,...

"We begin by asking. I wish that did not sound so trite, for it is the deepest truth we can ever know about our turning towards God. We simply cannot make heart repentance happen. It is not something that we cause to come about by creating a certain kind of mood with a certain kind of atmosphere and a certain kind of music. It is a gift from God, pure and simple. But it is a gift that God loves to bestow upon all who ask."

Lord, please grant to me today a broken and contrite heart. May all of my senses be in tune with You. And may I have the courage to take the first step back home to you like the prodigal that I am.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I Wish I Were Better at Praying...

Reading the Bible fervently? No problem. Reading good devotional material? A snap. Service to others? It's one of my gifts. Preaching and proclaiming? I can do that.

These are the things that come fairly natural after years of being in love with and serving King Jesus. And while there are many, many areas in need of improvement (including those listed above), the one area I constantly struggle with prayer. I try. I determinedly set my mind to do it. I set aside time. I try spontaneous prayer. But I always seem, to myself, to come up short for what I think is a dynamic, vibrant prayer life.

I recently re-read a statement made by Richard Foster on prayer where he says...

"The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives - altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it."

I long to be that person who "prays without ceasing." But maybe I have to learn to accept that my attempts at prayer are always going to be messy, short of my ideals, and just not perfect.

I pray that I give myself, like Christ has given me, the grace to pray. He does receive us with "all our mixture."


Saturday, August 6, 2011

There But For the Grace of God Go I...

As I continue to read through the Bible two times per year as one of my spiritual disciplines, today I am finishing up time in Joshua and moving into Judges. As I reflect back on Exodus, Deuteronomy and Joshua, one of the things that jumps out at me is the continual encouragement from God that He is on the side of the Israelites.

As they were coming out of Egypt and being pursued by Pharaoh and his army, God told them, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord's salvation. He will fight for you today."

In Deuteronomy, over and over, the Israelites are reminded and continually being taught that it is the Lord who is their helper and He is with them, goes before them and will deal with their enemies. (Deuteronomy 1:29; 7:18; 20:1; 31:26). And in Joshua, when the Israelites were setting about conquering the tribes in the promised land, the Lord says to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them, for I will cause all of them to be killed before Israel..."

When I look at these wonderful promises from God, I often think, "How could the Israelites see such provisions from God and in one or two generations be totally rebellious to Him who has provided so much for them?" He took them out of captivity. He provided for them throughout the wilderness experience. He took them to a land promised to their forefathers. He went with them and even prepared the way before them by taking care of their enemies. How could they in a few short years forget about God's goodness and provisions for them?

And then I think, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

How often to I let the problems of my life cloud my ability to see God's goodness and grace? How many times do I take my eyes off God and focus on my problems or either rely on my abilities and wisdom to address the issues in my life? How frequently do I forget to acknowledge that our God is awesome, powerful and has His best intentions for my life? In short, like the Israelites, He is constantly fighting for me.

It is easy to judge others' actions and reactions. It is hard to acknowledge that we are not much different than the things we judge in others.

My prayer for today is that I will not be afraid. I will stand firm and see the Lord's salvation. And I will rest in the comfort, knowledge, and assurance that God will fight for me today.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Participating in the Divine Nature...

The Apostle Peter says, "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:3-4).

These are a loaded two verses so let me try and unpack them.

First of all, Peter says that God's divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. This is good news to a lost and dying world. It is good news to a fallen world that needs a fresh touch of God's divine power. We see that this divine power comes from God through Jesus by faith (verse 1, previously). Isn't it nice to know that even though "fallen", we can experience the power that gives us all we need for life and godliness?

And we know this to be true through, "..the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." God wants to display his great and awesome power through our lives not necessarily or solely for our benefit but for His own glory and goodness. What I glean from this is that I have to constantly remind myself that it is not about me; it is all about God and His glory, His goodness.

What really excites me about this short passage is what Peter says next in verse 3. "Through these...you may participate in the divine nature (of God) and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil." I don't know about you, but I grieve to see how much of a grasp that evil has on our world. When I see hunger, poverty, war, exploitation, etc., I wonder, "where is the hope?"

In this short verse, Peter says that the hope is in His (God's) divine power and that through the promise of that power to followers of His Son, Jesus, we can "participate" in the divine nature...

The word "participate" here is the word "koinonea". We generally interpret this word as "fellowship". But the word usage here is much deeper than what we understand as fellowship. It is a unity of relationship where we become one in God through Christ and He becomes all that He wants to in us. When we are "in Christ" and He is "in us", we can then participate in His divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. And we can move on to be beacons of God's power to others, our neighbors and society as a whole.

Participating in the Divine Nature is the first step in not only transformation of our own selfs but of the communities and societies we live and move in. And God wants, even desires, for us as His children to experience that power in our lives. Us participating in the Divine Nature and living that nature out in the world is a way in which He receives glory and honor.

"In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Search for Significance...

Psychologists tell us that one of the deepest human needs is for us as humans to find our significance in this life. Appropriately, every person eventually struggles with the question, "do I matter" or "what difference does my life make"? This is called the search for significance.

In the greater story, God's story, we are called to step out of our small worlds and see the world and ourselves as God created us to be and to become. If we look only through our own filters, we will always come up short because we are comparing ourselves to the world's standards and we can never be enough. However, if we learn to find our significance in who God says we are and in Him, we find peace, joy and, ultimately, our significance.

Peter points this out in his first letter. In chapter 1, verse 3, he says, "In His great mercy, He (Jesus) has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never spoil or fade..." He continues in verse 9 to say, "...for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." And this is so amazing and so far fetched that God would love us so much that Peter says, "...Even angels long to look into these things." (1 Peter 1:12)

He continues to describe how significant we are to God by saying, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:19). Furthermore he states, "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." (1 Peter 1:23)

He then caps this whole reminder of our significance in God by declaring, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God..." (1 Peter 2:9-10)

In our day to day lives when we are trudging through the mundane, we should take time to remember who we are. We should also remember to realize that who we are and what makes us significant is truly found in our relationship to God through His Son Jesus Christ. If I look for my significance in the eyes of the world or men, I will always be found wanting. If I listen to God and find my significance in Him, I will delight to find that I am chosen and belong to Him.

It cannot get more significant than this. Who am I? I am God's beloved and redeemed. I belong to Him.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Life as it was Meant to Be: The Significance of the Tree of Life

As per my last post, we catch two glimpses of life as God meant it to be in the Bible. One is the garden of Eden before the fall (Genesis 2:4-25) . The second is the New Heaven and New Earth found in Revelation 22. It is also interesting to note that these are also the only two places in the Bible that we find the Tree of Life.

God created everything and then planted a garden in the east. He put man there to enjoy and for Him to enjoy. He gave man responsibility to work the garden and take care of it. He made all kinds of trees pleasing to the eye and giving food to man. He also placed two specific trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was free to eat of any fruit of any tree except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and was told that if he were to eat of it, he would surely die.

Enter the serpent. See the woman disobey. See the man disobey alongside of her and also fail to protect the woman. See God punish the serpent (Satan), man and woman. The ground is cursed because of man and now he must be tied to it forever to produce food by the sweat of his brow with the ultimate end of returning back to dust. Woman has her pains in childbearing greatly increased and is placed under the rule of her husband.

Then, as God drives them out of the garden forever (at least in this life), He places a cherubim and flaming sword to guard the way back to the garden and more importantly the tree of life.

I propose that the "tree of life" is to be taken as a symbol of what God meant our lives to be. Perfect. In the garden. No death, no tears, no pain, no sickness. Most of all, we were created to be in perfect fellowship with Him, walking with him in the cool of the day, sharing our intimate secrets.

The reason I say that the tree of life symbolizes all of this is for the simple fact that we do not see the tree of life again until the end of time. And that tree of life is rediscovered by man in the coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth. John the Revelator is shown by the angel the river of the water of life as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God. It is coming down the middle of the great street of God. And on each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing fruit and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

Notice what Revelation 22:3 says now that the New Heaven and New Earth are a reality and that the tree of life is back within grasp: "No longer will there be any curse." (Rev 22:3). God is now back with His people to be reunited. Life for man is now restored to life as God always meant it to be. Man will see God's face once again and there will be no more night. We will be His people and God Himself will be with us. He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away. The curse is broken!

I recently heard a pastor say that the bad news always precedes the good news of the gospel. The bad news is this: you and I are under a curse. It came when sin entered into this world by the choice of our forefather Adam and foremother Eve. The good news is that there is a way back to the life, the paradise if you will, that was lost. That way is through the cross and the blood of Jesus.

I don't know about you, but I look forward to one day seeing God face to face and tasting of the tree of life so graciously provided for us.

That will be life as it was meant to be!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life as it was Meant to Be: The Haunting of the Sacred Romance

Do you ever get that feeling of overwhelming awe? Or do you ever get that sense of things all coming together at the right place at the right time and a sweeping emotion of "everything is right" comes over you?

It might happen at a picture-perfect sunset. It could happen when your favorite team overcomes all odds and wins the championship. It happened to me at the birth of all three of our children when I got to see and hold them for the first time.

These are moments in our lives when we realize either consciously or sub-consciously that there is something deeper, more meaningful, more permanent than life as we know it. Eldredge and Curtis says this is the "haunting of the Sacred Romance." In other words, these are snapshots of the true story that we all are living; the life God has planned for us from the beginning of time. I call it "glimpses" of "life as it was meant to be."

From the cradle to the grave, we are all on a journey. And the journey is not just about this small, insignificant life we live here on earth. It is about eternity and a life forever with our Creator-Lover who has made us and called us according to His purposes.

Our lives at best here on earth are dim shadows of who we really are and forerunners of who we are to become. The great enemy, Satan, would like nothing more for us to believe that our short stories here on earth are the ultimate reality. In fact, that is how he lures many of us away from the Sacred Romance. He convinces us that what we are experiencing here and now is the best that it is ever going to get. So, we just settle...

I challenge you to remember today, that the best of the best that you and I experience here on earth can never compare to the worst in the Kingdom to come. My imagination is too small when I think of eternity with God. I sometimes think, "C'mon, there has to be more than attending an eternal worship service (not that this is totally bad)..."

Imagine the greatest elation/joy that you have felt in this life. Multiply that by one million and think, "Gee, this is what God has planned for me for eternity."

The next time you or I are moved by a great story, stirred by some great music, touched by a scene in nature, or just given a moment of rapture, I hope we take time to reflect that this is just a taste of what God has prepared for us.

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes says that, "He (God) has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Today, give thanks to God when He gives you glimpses of how life was meant to be. Also, celebrate that one day, for those who know His Son Jesus as Lord and Savior, all of life will be like that moment and immeasurably more than you or I could ask or imagine.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Signs and Wonders and Kingdom Impact

In Luke 7, there is a great story about Jesus raising to life the dead son of a widow from a village called Nain. By Luke's account, Jesus has just finished teaching the great sermon on the mount (or level place) and was going through the local villages and towns. As he passed through Nain, he saw a dead person being carried out of the town gate. This dead person was the only son of his mother and she was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."

He then went up and touched the coffin and said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" Then, to the amazement of all present and the obvious rapture of his grieving mother, the young dead man sat up, began to talk and Jesus, Luke says, gave him back to his mother.

A number of things strike me about this story in relation to the Kingdom of God. For one, the compassion of Christ for one who had lost so much. "His heart went out to her..." Second, the authority of Jesus to say to the dead young man, "...I say to you,get up!" and then the great gift made as He, "...gave him back to his mother."

But the thing that intrigues me the most is the reaction of the crowd of on-lookers. "They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us,' they said. 'God has come to help his people.'"

"God has come to help his people." When we minister to people physically in the name of Jesus, the whole goal should be to point people to the Father and His Son, Jesus. When we respond to a disaster event in Japan, a chronic hunger problem in sub-Saharan Africa, an urban slum and its needs in a mega-city in India, our goal to have the people whom we minister to say, "God has come to help his people!"

A mentor of mine always taught me that when we are finished working in a community with our development projects, the highest praise from the local people is that they do not build a statue to us, but rather give glory to God.

Jesus used compassion and life touching ministries to point people to the Kingdom and to God. Our compassion ministries and demonstration of the gospel through acts of kindness should ultimately be about making His kingdom and the King Himself known.

What do people see and say when we help them in their hour of need? Do they applaud us or do they see that through us, God has come to help them? More importantly, what do we do to make sure that they don't applaud us but see God's Kingdom and His fingerprints in our acts of service and ministry to them?

It's a good question...