Monday, May 24, 2010

May 26

He [Jesus] must increase,
but I [John the Baptist] must decrease."

John 3:30

Daily I am praying for revival -- mine, first; our church, our nations.

Someone said to me recently that "I heard revivals are often short-lived."

"It's true," I said, "The Holy Spirit comes down powerfully for a period of time. And then that magnificent seasons sometimes ends as quickly as it started."

"Do we really want to pray for something that may come and go."

"Absolutely," I said, "after all, do you know how long John the Baptist's ministry was? I've heard that it was maybe as short as six months. But wouldn't it be worth everything in creation to be as alive as John for even six months ... and have even a fraction of his impact on the kingdom?"

And wouldn't you love a faith so trusting that could joyfully say, "If something better may increase, let my moment decrease?"

In Christ's Love,
a guy who says,
"my whole life here on earth
for six months like that!"

May 25

"God did not send the Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world
might be saved through him."
John 3:17

If you love John 3:16 ... I invite you to love the next verse just as much.

John 3:16 is full of love, grace, forgiveness, and the remarkable assurance that God loves YOU so much that he's (and the son) are willing to submit to the pain of death for YOU.

John 3:17 adds one more assurance ... Many people see God (and church and Christians) as legalistic and judgmental. The sacrifical life of Jesus is, however, the exact opposite of condemnation.

Many of us are imprisoned by our past sins and too many say, "God can't forgive me."
John 3:17 reminds us that Christ is literally dying to forgive you.

Condemation? No! Freedom.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who believes
that those who don't know history
are condemned to repeat it
(if we don't remember the history of the cross,
we force ourselves to continually relive
our hopelessness because of past sins)

May 24

Jesus answered him,
"Are you a teacher of Israel,
and yet you do not understand these things?"

John 3:10

Read Jesus' words again. Our fear of not knowing everything absolutely paralyzes God's church. Therefore ...

+ We don't go to Bible Studies ("I might not know something and look stupid").
+ We don't evangelize ("What if they ask me something I don't know?").
+ And we don't teach -- our kids or classes at church ("I don't know enough").

I was in a Bible study a few weeks ago and threw out a term that I thought was readily understandable. One of the longer-term students in the group finally said, "What does that mean?!" And all the others cheered. "Thank you."

I loved the hunger to understand! And I loved -- even more -- the willingness to risk asking the question. I am certain that Jesus did too when he said to Nicodemous, "are you a teacher ... and yet do not understand ..." He wasn't judging! He was clarifying what was and wasn't known so that in John 3 he could teach some of history's deepest truths. (Where would we be without Nicodemus' questions and John 3:16?)

Fear paralyzes us ... and the church. Be bold. Clarify. Everyone will be richer.

In Christ's Love,
a dumb guy
(because I haven't always asked the right questions
and have been dumber because of it)


Friday, May 21, 2010

May 23

He came to Jesus by night
John 3:2

The Gospel portrait of the Pharisees is: Whitewashed tombs. Clean as a freshly scrubbed cup on the outside, but full of greed, self-indulgence, legalism, and pride on the inside (see Mt 23:25-26).

Fortunately, at least one Pharisee defied the stereotype. Nicodemus was hungry for the truth. Therefore, he sought out a humble carpenter who reflected the way, the truth, and the life. Isn't it fascinating, though, that he did it at night, under the cloak of darkness?

I've watched too many spy movies (to be sure) and a few comic capers like Get Smart. Therefore, I often imagine Nicodemus as Maxwell Smart -- sneaking between the shadows, looking over his shoulder, dialing Pharisee number 99 on his sandal phone, and meeting with Jesus under the cone of silence.

How many people in our sphere of influence are hungry for the way, the truth, and the life, but they've dug themselves into a prideful hole? They dare not admit that they need help ... need faith ... need healing ... need God. They're so scarred by life that they cannot believe that they can be loved. They cannot come forward publicly. It would be too embarrassing.

Who do you know like that? Tell them about Nicodemus. And encourage them to sneak into God, church, and faith undercover. (For example, many people can't imagine coming to a church worship service -- "the roof might cave in" -- but they wouldn't mind being invited to a picnic!)

In Christ's Love,
Agent 32
(as in John 3:2)

May 22

His disciples remembered that it was written,
"Zeal for your house will consume me."

John 2:17

John doesn't record my favorite line in the cleansing of the temple: "My house shall be called a house of prayer" (Mt 21:13, Mk 11:17, Lk 19:46 -- all based on Isaiah 56:7). Thankfully, John's remembrance enriches us with another verse -- based on Psalm 69:9, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

When you think of "church" -- Spirit of Joy -- what do you think of? I urge you to lift two words to the top of your list: prayer and zeal.

Pray more and more for you church ... and in your church. Come early. Stay late. Pray for our council and leaders. Pray for our hurting brothers and sisters. Lift up our kids in a society intent on dumbing them down. Ask for reconciliation with those who've hurt you. Seek to know those who are new as true brothers and sisters in Christ.

And zeal ... Zeal means passion, enthusiasm, eager desire, fervor, and love. What keeps you from zeal for God's house -- our church -- in your life? Whichever one of those words for zeal is missing in your heart, start praying for it daily. "Lord, help me have a fervor for church and service -- not just an exhaustion in my life and work." "Lord, help me be enthusiastic supporter of ____ ministry."

In Christ's Love,
a guy who hungers for
a stronger and stronger and even stronger
house of prayer

May 21

Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water."
And they filled them up to the brim

John 2:7

It didn't make sense.

They were out of wine. Why fill the barrels with water?

Sometimes our instructions to our kids don't make sense. We say stop. They go three more steps, then think about slowing down. From their perspective, there's no reason to halt. But what if there was a snake? Obedience matters. Immediate obedience matters.

It didn't make sense for the stewards at the wedding in Cana to fill the jars with water. In fact, many of the passages in the Bible don't immediately make sense ... at least from our human perspective. But miracles happen when godly obedience exceeds human reasoning.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to write a hundred times,
Obey immediately.
Obey immediately.
Obey immediately.
Obey immediately.
Obey immediat.....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 20

In the world ye shall have tribulation:
but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Confirmation used to be an ordeal for many young Lutherans. "Every Sunday we had to sit on the front row of the church and take notes on the Pastor's sermon. And he'd stare down from us from the pulpit whenever we missed jotting down one of the points."

We live in a kinder, gentler era of church going. Much of it is for the better. But there was a very good purpose for this notetaking. We remember about 5% of what we hear, but we remember about 15-20% of what we write down.

Therefore, if you want my sermons to four times better, take notes!!!

I'm reminded of this because of an email I received today entitled, "Your Sermon Blessed My Socks Off." I opened it immediately (of course) ... and I pass on to you as an encouragement to be a notetaker ...

Dear Pastor Ed,

Last week I ran into notes I took from one of your sermons preached some time ago. It was based on, "In this world you will have tribulations, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world."

You asked, "what would our lives look like if when we experienced tribulations we realized Jesus had already overcome it? We would then be able to be Of Good Cheer.

You also quoted, "your new name will be contentment ... joyful and ______. (My notes are at home and I am at work.)

I don't know how much that sermon blessed me the first time but after spending the last 5 days [in] reflection and prayer ... it blessed me immensely--it made me JOYFUL.

I just wanted to bless you for blessing me.

God has more blessings in store for each of us than we can possibly remember. (So take notes ... you may remember a few more!)

Note: I know of another member who carries a notebook in her purse. All the sermons and all her blessings go in that book. It's a traveling treasury of insight and joy.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to develop writer's cramp
from remembering and writing down
all of God's lessons and blessings

May 19

And lead us not into temptation ...

Matthew 6:13

I love it when people ask me questions about faith and scripture. Occasionally, I will pass them on to the rest of you, figuring if one person's interest, others may be too. Here's today's question ...

How do you explain the phrase of the Lord's Prayer that says "Lead us not into temptation" when the Bible says that God does not tempt us? (James 1:13-14)

God does NOT tempt us -- nor lead us in that direction.
How does we know this? Because it is never God's desire for us to enter into sin because sin is incompatable with God's nature. As it says in 1 John 3:9, "[when] God's seed [God's life, God's nature] abides in [us], [we will not] make a practice of sinning."

Nevertheless, God allows us to be put into situations where our faith is tested and strengthened.
As it says in 1 Peter 1:7, "These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold -- and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold.

Where do we find hard, challenging, tempting situations? In every corner of daily life!
As Paul puts it -- 1 Cor 10:13 -- "No temptation has seized you except what is common to [all]."

What's our hope? God! His power. His guidance. His intervention ... as we allow him to truly work through us.
Again Paul says -- same verse 1 Corinthians 10:13 -- "When you are tempted, [God] will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."

Does God lead us into temptation? No. Life does! And life's hard knocks can purify us if we let them.
. Furthermore, we need to take strength in this: God will protect us in and through all our trials if we let him!
Again 1 Corinthians 10:13 -- "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear."

In Christ's Love,
a guy who's succumbed to temptations
and is continually learning to rely on God's power
instead of mine

May 18

"I saw you under the fig tree"

John 1:48

At the moment Jesus met Nathanael, Jesus immediately revealed a few key things about Nathanael's life.

Nathanael's jaw dropped. "How do you know me?"

"I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you," said Jesus.

Spiritual sight! Jesus saw Nathanael. Our Lord sees all things. Jesus gave Nathanael a glimpse of this power. Nathanael began to see Jesus as the Son of God. But Jesus said, "you will see greater things than these."

God sees us -- indeed, watches over us -- but even more so, he invites us to see him. Through Scripture ... and prayer ... and experiences ... and church ... and through Jesus himself ... we catch glimpses of God's love.

I heard someone complain recently about not believing in God because they see too many Christians who are hypocrits and too many churches that are imperfect. Then I heard someone respond, don't look at people and institutions, look at Jesus.

When you look down, you'll inevitably be disappointed. But when you look up, you will see "greater things" -- greater love, greater peace, greater hope, greater joy, greater forgiveness, greater life.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to go
from good to great


Friday, May 14, 2010

May 17

The saying is sure:
If we have died with [Christ], we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful
— for he cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:11-13

The first petition reflects a common Biblical theme. In Matthew 16, Jesus said, "those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." When we unite our lives with Jesus and die to ourselves, then we shall "live with him" -- now and eternally.

The second petition reflects that this journey of life can be hard and this journey of faith can involve persecution. The crown won't come here, in this life, but in the end, those who are faithful will "reign with him."

The third petition we don't like to think about.

But something happens in the fourth petition. Going into this reading, I would have said that "denying Christ" and "faithlessness" were the same thing. Perhaps they are not.

It seems to me that denial is intentional while faithlessness (doubt) is unintentional. We'd like for it to not be this way, but our faith often rides a roller coaster along with our circumstances. And thanks be to God, a down day will not exclude us from the kingdom. God remains faithful even when we waver. He loves us, forgives us, woos us.

In Christ's Love,
a roller coaster guy
who will not deny
(God help me)

May 16

I have singled him out
so that he will guide his children

Genesis 18:19

One of the greatest calls that any of us can have is to guide our children. So ... do you know what American parents tend to wish most for their kids? "I just want them to be happy."

Happiness, however, is situational. Therefore, happiness is always fleeting. And if our goal is for our kids to be happy, we are teaching them to be consumers (trying to buy their next glimpse of happiness) and we are teaching them to look out for me, myself, and I (self-centeredness).

Now ... that's certainly not all that we teach our children. We clearly teach them other good things -- like being moral and compassionate -- but then we leave them oddly conflicted. Their self-centeredness (personal happiness) constantly struggles with their sense of compassion (morality). What wins? A stunted view of right and wrong. "I'm compassionate if and when it makes me feel good (and is convenient)."

As soon as morality is subjective, however, our children lose the ability to discern right from wrong. All we have left is an experiential (feelings-based) morality. If it makes someone feel good, it must be "okay for them."

What's the answer? We return to scripture. The verse above is not the full verse. Scripture tells us that God singled out Abraham "So that he will direct his children to keep the way of the Lord." If we believe that the fruit of the Spirit is joy and if we believe that joy includes and far exceeds happiness, then we know now the compass for guiding our children. We don't teach them happiness (which encourages selfishness); we teach them righteousness and holiness and faith (which encourages servanthood). We ground their lives in godliness because the Lord will uphold them even when life's situations are trying.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who doesn't want to be happy
... just spiritual, fruitful, and joyful

May 15

"He shall come down like
rain upon the mown grass"

Ps. 72:6

One of the things I love about scripture is how specific it can be. This Psalm doesn't say, "rain on grass"; it says, "rain on mown grass." That means I can smell it! Can you?!

The smell of mown grass is the smell of summer.

Rain also has a smell ... and a feel. Here in the south, a summer rain almost clings to you. It cools things off, awakens the fragrance of parched plants, and envelops you in it's humidity.

That's what God's presence does, says this Psalm. Soothes. Awakens. Envelops and surrounds.
God is near you. Can you see him? Feel him? Smell him?

In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to go outside
instead of sitting at his computer
and experience a little of God's goodness!


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May 12

"Under hopeless circumstances
he hopefully believed"

Romans 4:18

I love this Weymouth translation.

And the question is: How do we find hopeful belief in hopeless circumstance?

The answer is: Don't wait til a hopeless time!

God invites us to develop a personal relationship that will transcend every momentary crisis. Therefore, let us each strive to draw nearer to him each day.

In Christ's Love,
a guy named "Hope"
(it's kind of like being Johnny Cash's
"boy named Sue")

May 11

They that dwell under his shadow shall return;
they shall revive as the corn
and grow as the vine

Hosea 14:7

The context is the Exile. God's people have been conquered and kidnapped. Who can come home? "They that dwell under his shadow."

In what corners of your life are you not where you belong?

If you want to come home and experience richer blessings, "dwell under [God's] shadow." Or in other words, draw near to him.

And what will be the fruit? God wants to pour water on you in the same way that a gentle summer rain revives a parched field of corn. He wants to take you -- the severed branch -- and graft you onto the vine, so that you may grow and bear much fruit.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to
quit being afraid of the shadows
(especially God's)

May 10

Your gift will return to you in full measure,
pressed down, shaken together
to make room for more,
and running over.
Luke 6:38

God wants to give to you.




But there's a problem. We are often too full of ourselves that there's no room for Him, no room for better blessings.

Therefore, we must empty ourselves. And one of the ways we do this is by giving. And the amount that we give and empty ourselves is the amount that God can supply.
And then God gives more!

He fills us up. Then he presses the flour (the blessings) down. Then he shakes it, compacts it even tighter. Why? He's making room for more blessings. He pours, presses, shakes, and then pours some more. He desires to pour and pour and pour until we're running over.

But it starts with this: Emptying ourselves of ourselves. And we do that by giving generously and focusing on others (instead of ourselves).

In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to be shaken


Saturday, May 8, 2010

May 9

As many as I love
I rebuke and chasten.

Revelation 3:19

We find several passages like this in scripture.

For example, in Psalm 23 we hear that "[God's] rod and staff, they comfort me." I don't know about you, but I don't find it comforting to be grabbed by the neck with a hook nor bonked on the head with a correcting stick.

In John 15 scripture tells us that Jesus prunes us whether we're good or bad! "2 He [prunes] every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit."

Correcting sticks, pruning shears, rebuking, chastening. How is that love?

I caught two minutes of an interview on the radio yesterday regarding a book entitled, I think it was, "The Other Wes Moore." The author -- the first Wes Moore -- grew up in a tough inner-city environment. He researches how he rose from that environment to be a Rhodes Scholar and State Department assistant to Condoleeza Rice and the other Wes Moore -- who grew up in the same years on the same streets -- to be on death row for killing a cop.

In the end, the final analysis -- at least in the two minutes that I listened -- is that one Wes Moore had parents who loved him enough to use correcting sticks, pruning shears, rebuking, and chastening ... and the other didn't.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who want to be hit with a stick
(no ... I know what you're thinking ...
that's God's staff I'll submit to ... not yours!)

May 8

But what things were gain to me ...
Philippians 3:7

In your life, what do you consider gain? What do you consider valuable? What do you consider treasure?

Jesus says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
And Paul finishes this verse like this: "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ."

What are you willing to give up for Christ?

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to run a deficit
so he can be truly rich


Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May 7

As I was among the captives by the river of Chebar,
the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God ...
and the hand of the Lord was there upon me

Ezekial 1:1,3

Do you want God to act in powerful ways in your life? First you may wish to join Ezekial down by the riverside.

Chebar is a river in Babylon. This means that Jerusalem had already been sacked by the Babylonians and much of the Jewish nation -- including Ezekial -- had already been shipped into Exile.

Bad Babylonians, right?


It was God's people who had been "bad." In spite of generations of warnings from God, the Jews had opted for generations of unfaithfulness and sin. In effect, they chose their own bondage.

The very first verse of Ezekial ought to remind us of God's continual promise to set the captives free! And all of us have some thing(s) we need to be set free from. But as this book of prophecy unfolds, Ezekial will remind us that there is always a two initial steps to freedom -- 1) recognizing our own part in our own bondage and 2) turning from those sins.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who'd rather blame the chocolate bar for my bondage
than accept personal responsibility
(repentance = turn away from the chocolate bar and turn toward God)


May 6

And all of us have had that veil removed
so that we can be mirrors
that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord
2 Corinthians 3:18

On Mount Sinai, Moses saw God, and when he came down the mountain, his face glowed. In fact, for many days afterward, he needed to wear a veil so that the reflection of God's glory -- shining on his face -- wouldn't overwhelm others.

Paul says in today's verse, that it's time to take our veils off. If you've encountered God, let it show and let it glow! Our world, our nation, needs shining faces right now -- not smiling faces, but lives and faces that are transformed by a very real encounter with God.

Indeed, a few verses earlier, Paul invites us to be "3 a letter from Christ" to the world around us, "written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. [C]arved -- not on stone, but on human hearts."

In Christ's Love,
a guy who's more like the shine on a car than a mirror
(i.e. kind of dull ... especially if you've seen my still pollen-coated vehicle)


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4

"On all bare heights shall be their pasture"
Isaiah 49:9

Have you ever felt like the mountains were bare, the opportunities were scarce, and God's voice was silent. You were hungry for pasture, for feeding, and for rest; instead you were like Charlie Brown. Instead of Halloween candy or heavenly goodness, you got rocks. Good grief!

It seems like about half of God's prophecy is speaking words of hope to people in rocky times. In this case, "the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel" says ... (and see if this isn't a good summary Isaiah 49:7-10, see at bottom) ...

God says, I will keep you close to my heart.

And when the day of salvation arrives, I will help you.

If you feel like a prisoner in this broken world,
I will say to you, Come out of the darkness.

I will take you on a journey.

I will feed you along your pathways.
I will turn the mountains into a road.

On what appear to be bare heights, I will sow a pasture.

The sun shall not strike you.
Instead springs of water shall guide you.

So sing for joy,
for the Lord will have compassion on his suffering children.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to invite God
on his next vacation
(all that's a pretty good deal!)

Isaiah 49 - 7 Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, "Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you." 8 Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; 9 saying to the prisoners, "Come out," to those who are in darkness, "Show yourselves." They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; 10 they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. 11 And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up. 12 Lo, these shall come from far away, and lo, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene. 13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

May 5

"But prayer"
Acts 12:5

Last night our church council laughed at me. I said, "I have a very short report this month." "Yeah right," they said, "We've heard that before." I said, "Here it is: Prayer works."

Therefore, when I found today's lesson, I delighted that it was also only two words! Now the book of Acts -- like my council report -- elaborated just a little bit. In Acts, it tells us three things about prayer ...

1) The Need: "5 Peter ... was ... in prison ..."

2) The Human Action: "5 but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

3) The Heavenly Reaction: "7 [So], behold , the angel of the Lord came upon [Peter] ... and ... his chains fell off from his hands."

If you have a need, and want a heavenly reaction, you may want to try "prayer ... without ceasing"!

Prayer works, I told our council. For four straight months, we have embarked on the wonderful discipline of holding a prayer vigil on the first Saturday of the month. We had 150 prayer requests this month -- some of them praise reports from last month.
Doors are opening. Rough places are being made smooth. Chains are falling off. Healing is occuring.

Two words: Pray more!

In Christ's Love,
a guy who's practicing

what he's preaching