Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dec 31 - Revelation 21:1,4

Merry Christmas - day 10

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth
[and in it, God] will wipe every tear from [our] eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain
will be no more.
Revelation 21:1,4

What a wonderful verse for New Year's Eve. It helps finish off the Bible. It reminds us how to finish off the year.

Many of us view the march of time with wistfulness, regret, and pain. "My best days are behind me," too many cry.


Our best days are in front of us! Heaven awaits with an incredible promise: Not only will we come to a time when there is no more mourning or crying or pain, but our youth shall be renewed like an eagle's (Ps 103:5)!

But we don't have to wait for heaven to have our best days. The single greatest decision we can ever make is our own attitude. We can choose how we will react to circumstances. And knowing that our good God is in charge should give us confidence to face boldly whatever lies ahead.

Tomorrow starts a new year. Can you choose to believe that your best days are ahead of you?!

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wrote that last sentence very carefully:
"Can you choose to believe ..."
(Happy New Year)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dec 30 - Revelation 13:16-18

Merry Christmas - day 9

[The beast] causes all ...
to be marked on the right hand
or forehead, so that
no one can buy or sell
who does not have the mark,
that is, the number of the beast ...
It's number is six hundred sixty-six
Revelation 13:16-18

In Sunday School, my kids this year are asking, "Why does the number forty keep cropping up in all these stories?"

I said, "I think God wants us to see him. Therefore, he tends to work things in familiar patterns so that we might just stop and say, 'I wonder ...?'"

Forty is not the only Biblical number of significance. Twelve is important -- twelve tribes, twelve disciples. Three is important -- in addition to the Trinity, Jesus often took with him three disciples -- Peter, James, and John -- to his most important events. In addition, when you repeated something three times, it's meaning grew exponentially until by the third time it meant "to the highest degree." 

Seven is another key number. Seven was viewed as perfection.

Six, therefore, was by definition less than perfect. Therefore, 666 meant "imperfect, imperfect, imperfect-to-the-highest-degree." That is Satan and his Antichrist ... and not just imperfect ... pure evil.

On our foreheads, God wants to mark us with his cross. Satan wants to mark us with his alternative.

In our world today, we can easily imagine a "mark" that allows us to participate in commerce or not. We can imagine a microchip imbedded inside our skin. And we can imagine -- with the rampant degree of identity theft -- governments "requiring" such marks so as to guard us against fraud.

It's ironic, though ... God already provide us with unique marks. Our fingerprints are unique. The patterns of our eyes and pupils are unique. If God made us perfect and unique, why would we ever want to accept a mark that makes us  imperfect and part of the masses?

In Christ's Love,
a guy who is thankful
that God made me as me.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Dec 29 - Revelation 11:10-11

Merry Christmas - day 8

and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat
over [the two witnesses who have been killed] 
and celebrate and exchange presents ...
but after the three and a half days,
the breath of life from God [will] enter them ...
Revelation 11:10-11

It's sometimes hard to find an inspiring verse in the midst of Revelation!

As the story unfolds, God sends a warning ... and then waits. He sends another warning ... and then waits. He sends another warning ... and then waits.

Indeed, for four thousand years, God has alternately sent blessings and warnings. You'd think blessings would turn people to a generous God; however, whenever we're blessed we tend to credit our own ingenuity. Warnings don't necessarily turn people to God either. We hear what we want to hear, we ignore what's too stressful to handle, and if we're like Jesus said of Jerusalem, we kill (or are tempted to kill) the prophets.

As Revelation unfolds, God sends a warning ... and then waits. He sends another warning ... and then waits. Why? To give us time -- time for another opportunity to turn away from our sin and turn toward him.

Today's verse reflects another warning. Two witnesses, sent from God, preach uninterupted ... and uninteruptable. Most believe that these two are literally Moses and Elijah (the Law and the prophets) who return to call the world back to God.

When they have finished preaching, God allows the beast to claim their life. And after all the truth they've proclaimed, what does the world do? Repent? No. The world "gloat[s] ... celebrate[s] and exchange[s] presents."

Did their witness and warning turn people's hearts? Not enough.

Will God's power as he raises them three days later from the dead? Not enough.

What will it take to wake you up -- more fully -- to God's movement in this world and change you?!

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to 
change more than his socks 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dec 28 - Revelation 7:13-14

Merry Christmas - day 7

"Who are these, robed in white,
and where have they come from?"
"These are the ones who have
come out of the great ordeal;
they have washed their robes and
made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
Revelation 7:13-14

When my son Paul played football he washed his white football pants with his bright red socks. The result, of course? He didn't quite achieve quite as fearsome and manly appearance as he intended on the football field in pink pants.

We know what should happen if we wash our "robes" in crimson, right?

Let's get the context ... The Elder asks John, "Who are these robed in white?" John is the newcomer in heaven and pleads, "How am I supposed to know? Tell me!" The Elder tells him two things ... 

First, these are the true saints. Life is already filled with too many trials ... but, as scripture tells us, when the final days approach, life will be filled with more testing and temptations. The Elder is telling John -- and us -- that true saints have courageous faith. In the face of persecution, true saints stand up for what they believe in!

As Jesus said in the beatitudes, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That's what's pictured here. Salvation! Redemption! Restoration! Peace and joy! 

Second, I love the counter-intuitive image of their washed robes. We know what happens if we wash football pants with red socks. And we know what's supposed to happen if we wash our robes of life in blood. But Jesus' blood is healing. It's the only thing that makes us pure and white.

When we cling to cross of Christ, there is hope and life! And peace and joy! And forgiveness and restoration!

In the blood of the Lamb there is heaven!

In Christ's Love,
a bloody mess
(in his blood, my mess is forgiven
and I am made whole)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dec 27 - Revelations 3:20

Merry Christmas - day 6

Behold, I stand
at the door and knock.
If you hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to you, and eat with you,
and you with me
Revelations 3:20

Following the Bible in a Year, we conclude, of course, with Revelation. And end times messages are not inappropriate as we end a year and claim a few new resolutions.

John's vision begins with being whisked to heaven, being given a vision of God, and being told to write Jesus' letter to seven historic church.

I believe that these seven letters contained a very specific message for seven specific congregations that John knew and was ministering too. God historically did that with prophets. He'd often speak first the people of the prophet's immediate generation.

Often and obviously prophets also speak to other generations as well. Therefore, I'm intrigued by one interpretative conclusion of many scholars today. Some believe that the seven "congregations" also represent seven eras of the church (and with rarely a clear break between epochs, the eras usually overlap). But think about this ... Isn't it clear that: 
  • Some of the generation have endured persecution and have been comforted with Christ's message of "Do not fear" (2:10);
  • some generations "tolerate ... Jezebel ... and practice fornication" (2:20);
  • some generations have itchy ears and are drawn to false teachers (2:14); 
  • and some of us simply "abandoned [our] first love" (2:4).
  • Some of those things could clearly be said regarding just about any era. But if it is true, the final two church powerfully match what is going on in our world today (whether this is the end of time or not).
The final two churches are Philadelphia and Laodicea. Philadelphia is commended. They are said to have "little power [but] you have kept my word" (Rev 3:8,10). Laodicea is said to be "lukewarm ... neither cold nor hot" ... and that was not a good thing. (Rev 3:15-16).

If these are, as some scholars suggest, the two final generations, then they clearly parallel what is happening right now in the world-wide church. In the Global South and East, churches tend to be poor, powerless, and persecuted. And yet they are growing! Their faith is vibrant and alive. Jesus says to the Church at Philadelphia, "Because you have kept my owrd of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial."

The Laodicean church represents the church of the West. Compared to Philadelphia and the churches of the Global South and East, we are rich and historic. But the church in the West is dying. Church attendance in Europe, for example, is anemic, and America is trending increasingly in that direction. Jesus' message: "Because you are lukewarm ... I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (ouch! Rev 3:16).

Fortunately, for all who are lukewarm (or are in lukewarm churches and countries), there is always hope! Jesus says -- to the Laodiceans and to each of us -- "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you, and eat with you, and you with me" (Rev 3:20).

In Christ's Love,
a guy who hears
a knock at my door

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dec 26 - 1 John 5:3

Merry Christmas - day 5

For the love of God is this,
that we obey his commandments.
1 John 5:3

My son Jay, as you probably know, is at the Naval Academy. One of their goals is to make the men much tougher men. Therefore my favorite email from Jay in his first was: "Mom and Dad, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is: I have a huge black eye. The good news is: I got an A in boxing."

Today is known, especially in England and much of Europe, as Boxing Day. And no it has nothing to do with fists and black eyes. The day after Christmas, masters and servants have traditionally reversed roles.

All year long, the servants have to -- as our verse today says -- obey their master's commandments. (Whether they do so out of love, out of duty, or for the paycheck is entirely up to each particular servant.) On Boxing Day, the masters switch roles. And whether they do this out of love, out of duty, or because tradition is up to the individual master too.

At Christmas, Jesus took off his robes light and reversed roles. The master -- the King of Creation -- became the suffering servant. And of course he didn't do it out of duty; he did it out of love.

Rather than just returning gifts and shopping sales, who might you take a moment to serve today?

In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants a black eye
by the end of the day
(because I've boxed and served)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dec 25 - 1 John 2:7, 3:11, 4:7,9,10

Merry Christmas - day 4

All year long, our lessons have been following the chronological version of "The Bible in a Year." As your Christmas present, look what was ordained for today ...
Beloved, I am writing you
no new commandment
but an old commandment that
you have had from the beginning ...

For this is message you have heard
from the beginning that
we should love one another.

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is from God ...
[and] God's love was revealed
among us in this way:
God sent his only son into the world
so that we might live through him.

In this is love, not that we loved God
but that he loved us and
sent his Son to be
the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
1 John 2:7, 3:11, 4:7,9,10
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's very thankful
for the love from above
and for the love down here
(especially in this wonderful
First-John-Congregation that loves one another
... and reaches out in love to the world.
Thank you for being you. Merry Christmas)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dec 24 - Hebrews 11:1

Merry Christmas - day 3

Faith is the assurance
of things hoped for,
the conviction of things
not seen.
Hebrews 11:1

Merry Christmas!

For a thousand years the people of Israel waited for this day -- the coming of the Messiah, the birth of the Savior King.

A thousand years of waiting!

That took faith! Patient faith. Enduring faith. Very, very long-suffering faith. The ability to continually fan the embers of this promises was indeed, "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

Peter reminds us that "the Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness[; because,] with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day" (2 Peter 3:9).

What are you waiting, hoping for? The manager is a reminder that God is faithful. He will fulfill his promises. And he has all eternity to work out his purposes and your joy.

Tonight, look to the manger, remembering that God is faithful and praying that he'll make you even more faithful.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who likes the third verse
of "Away in a Manger" --

"Be near me Lord Jesus,
I ask thee to stay,
close by me forever
and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children
in your tender care,
and fit us for heaven,
to live with thee there."

Friday, December 23, 2011

Dec 23 - Hebrews 7:1-2

Merry Christmas - day 2

This "King Melchizedek of Salem,
priest of the Most High God,
met Abraham ... and blessed him;
and to him Abraham apportioned
one-tenth of everything.
His name ... means,
"king of righteousness";
next he is also king of Salem,
that is, "king of peace."
Hebrews 7:1-2

God is amazing.

From the first pages of scripture and the beginning of creation, God's plan was to send us a Savior. So what did he do? He put foreshadowings of Jesus -- some big, some small -- on seemingly every few pages of the Old Testament.

You get bonus points today if you can think a few that don't immediately leap to my mind, but here are three quick ones that occur to me in the life of Abraham:

God Miraculously Opens Wombs and Creates Life for His Purpose -- God opened the womb of the old lady, Sarah (see Gen 17), and the young lady, Mary, and God used these children -- Isaac and Jesus -- to fulfill God's purposes and lead his people. (That's the Christmas part of this story -- God's power and wondrous birth.)

God Uses a Lamb/Ram as a Substitute for Our Death -- When Abraham obeyed God's call (to sacrifice Isaac, Gen 22), God honored this faith and gave a lamb/ram as a substitute and sacrifice in place of Isaac's death. Similarly, Jesus, the Lamb/ram of God, was a substitute and sacrifice for our death.

God's People can Personally Meet the "King of Righteousness" and the "Prince of Peace" -- There are two parallels to Jesus in the life of Melchizedek.

In the Books of Moses (and for most of the Old Testament), when a character is introduced, we are given his lineage. For example, before Genesis turns fully to the story of Abraham (chapter twelve), the words "son of" or "father of" are already used 33 times! Genesis, however, does not mention Melchizedek's lineage. Therefore, we are told that Melchizedek, "without father, without mother, without geneology, having neither beginning of days nor end of life ... resembl[es] the Son of God [and] remains a priest forever" (Heb 7:3).

There's second way that Melchizedek is like Christ. Before there was ever a religion to preside over (Abraham's line was not yet established and the law of Sinai to preside over was generations from being given), Melchizedek was still a high priest of God. Jesus is our high priest too -- the ultimate high priest -- "he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them."

A third way that Melchizedek is like is Christ is through his titles. "Salem" is from the same root words as "Shalom." Both mean peace. Melchizedek is called both the King of Righteousness and the King of Salem; hence, the King of Peace. Those are, of course, titles for Jesus too. The point of the story of Abraham is that an ordinary human -- and that's what Abraham was -- could meet the Prince of Peace. So can you.

Indeed, I pray you meet him more fully this Christmas season.

In Christ's Love,
a guy who sings,
"O Holy Child of Bethlehem
descend to us we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today."

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dec 22 - Hebrews 3:13

Merry Christmas! - day 1

exhort one another every day,
as long as it is called day
Hebrews 3:13
As soon as Christmas day ends, many people immediately pull down the tree, turn off the carols, and declare Christmas, "so over."
The historic church has a completely different logic. Advent is a season of praying, waiting, and preparation. The season of Christmas begins with Christmas morn and lasts until Epiphany -- twelve days. Hence, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
But have you heard the legend behind that song? It is believed to have come from a time of persecution within the church. Christians had to subtly teach their faith, and they did it, in part, through these lyrics:
  • A Partridge in a Pear Tree -- This was Jesus, the heart of our faith, who died on a tree to set us free. His life-giving death is the meaning for every season, including Christmas.
  • Two Turtle Doves -- Represented the Old and New Testaments.
  • Three French Hens -- Represented the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • Four Calling Birds -- Were the four Gospels that continually call to our hearts
  • Five Golden Rings -- Represented the Torah. The first five books of the Bible, the Torah was also known as the Books of Moses or "The Law." Traditionally these first five scrolls were bound with a golden ring to hold them together.
  • Six Geese a Laying -- Represented the six days of creation; God "laid" the foundations of earth and the life that was brought forth from this "egg" called earth.
  • Seven Swans A-Swimming -- These are the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Council (Right Judgment), Courage, Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord.
  • Eight Maids A-Milking -- These are the eight beatitudes, "Blessed are the poor ... meek ... hungry ... etc."
  • Nine Ladies Dancing -- These are the nine fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control.
  • Ten Lords A-Leaping -- The Ten Commandments
  • Eleven Pipers Piping -- The eleven faithful apostles who piped and proclaimed the Good News all over creation.
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming -- represented the twelve key points found in the Apostles Creed.
If you've got kids or grandkids, make sure this Christmas that they -- and you -- can name the nine fruits of the Spirit quicker than they can name Santa's nine reindeer (including Rudolph).
In Christ's Love,
a guy who has a song to remember
the nine fruits (in addition to the song
that helps me remember Santa's nine deer)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dec 21 - Hebrews 1:1-2

Long ago, God spoke
to our ancestors
in many and various ways
by the prophets,
but in these last days
he has spoken to us
by a Son.
Hebrews 1:1-2
Today's verse is one of those subtle Christmas passages.
For hundreds of years, God's prophets had been proclaiming the wonder of the coming Messiah. In fact, Jesus' own cousin -- John the Baptist -- was the final forerunner and proclaimer of the coming Messiah..
In one sense, all of their voices are in the past tense. Nevertheless, in the present tense, they powerfully assure us that God wants to speak his mysteries into our lives. They also remind us to keep looking forward to God's interventions which are still to come.
Hebrews tells us, however, that we can do much more than try to decipher prophets like soothesayers try to read tea leaves. God has given us a more powerful message (the Gospels) and the ultimate messenger (Jesus, God's own Son).
When Jesus himself said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill," he reminded us to continue using the counsel of the whole Bible. Nevertheless, the life, death, resurrection, and specific teachings of Jesus should be at the core of our heart, mind, and theology.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants a stethescope
(I'll warm it up in pocket,
train it on the Gospels
and seek to hear more of God) 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dec 20 - 2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow
about his promises,
as some think about slowness,
but is patient with you
not wanting any to perish,
but all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
We live in a world of quick grits, instant messaging, and video-on-demand. Multi-tasking is part of life. And we are perturbed if a teenager at the fast food window dares to tell us to wait a minute.
It's not a surprise that we carry our watches into our prayer life. We want what we want when we want it. We subtly but daily demand that God conform to our schedule.
When God began to tell King David that his line would reign forever, David and his ancestors started checking off days on their calendar. But bringing his plan to fruition wasn't like stirring up a serving of minute rice. It took a full thousand years -- and God's perfect timing -- for the Messiah to arrive.
We can argue with God about timing, but "the Lord is not slow as some think about slowness." We could say that "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day." (That's the verse before today's verse.) But there's a better answer to this. "The Lord ... is patient."
Now make it personal -- "The Lord ... is patient with you."
When we did a full-year study on Revelation, we noticed a pattern:
  • God would act (and usually his end times actions were big and bold and splashed across the sky). 
  • And then he would wait.
  • Then he would act again.
  • Then he would wait.
Why? He is patient! It took a thousand years from promise to Messiah. It's taken two thousand years from Messiah to to today. Why? He is "not wanting any to perish."
  • He acts in our world ... and then in our own lives.
  • Then he waits.
  • He acts.
  • And then he waits.
  • He loves, speaks, invites, encourages, and draws you to him.
  • And then he hopes you respond.
  • And if you don't he keep acting again and again.
We're not patient. Thank God he is!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs
to take off his watch
and just abide

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dec 19 - 1 Peter 2:16

As servants of God,
live as free people,
yet do not use your freedom
as a pretext for evil.
1 Peter 2:16
Martin Luther grew up in a horribly legalistic time. God was pictured as angry, even vindictive. And human life was lived in fear.
Therefore, when was finally able to read the scripture and discover the concept of God's amazing grace, he was set free. So was much of the Christian world.
We humans have an unfortunate tendency, though. When change occurs, sometimes we don't change by inches; sometimes we swing the pendulum wildly in the other direction. Therefore, many of Luther's followers hurtled the pendulum hard in the direction of permissiveness. In fact, many argued passionately that should sin wildly so that they could prove that they believed in grace rather than works.
Today's verse obviously contradicts that kind of cockeyed logic. We must not, indeed, use our freedoms as a pretext for bad behavior.
Freedom, instead, should encourage us to live boldly rather than blandly. God calls us to love and serve and worship and proclaim. As we do those things passionately, we'll make occasional mistakes, but we should forgive ourselves and keep marching forward, trusting that God first forgives us.
Boldness! That's the freedom God grants to us.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants his pendulum to swing
toward the first words in this verse ...
Let me be "a servant of God."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dec 18 - 1 Peter 1:18-19

You know that
you were ransomed
from the futile ways
inherited from your ancestors,
not with perishable things like gold and silver,
but with the precious blood of Christ.
1 Peter 1:18-19
Have you ever wished you had a rich old relative who left you a million dollars in their will?!
That's the kind of inheritance that most of us think about. But rather than inheriting gold and silver, we are more frequently bequeathed patterns of thought and behavior from our parents and our culture.
Some of these patterns are tremendous blessings. For example, many of us have been given a wonderful heritage of freedom, justice, love, and even faith!
Others times we inherit utter futility.
In theory, most of us may "know" about God's promises of grace. But most of us don't live like it. Most of us live like we have to work our way to God.
How futile! We can't do it. God is so holy, perfect, and pure that we -- in comparison --are hopelessly broken, stained, and failing. Therefore, when we occasionally and inevitably fail, we wind up kidnapped by hopelessness, guilt, or despair.
If we were to be free, a ransome had to be paid. But we couldn't do it ourselves. We can never be as good as God.
The Gospel message is that the Son of God paid the penalty for us. Through the precious blood of Christ, our sins have been covered. The world futilily says, "work harder." Jesus' self-giving love says, "Give thanks, because you are ransomed and free."
In Christ's Love,
a former hostage