Monday, October 31, 2011

Oct 31 - Matthew 24:32

Jesus said,
"From the fig tree learn its lesson:
as soon as its branch becomes tender
and puts forth its leaves,
you know that summer is near."
Matthew 24:32
"Do you know why Jesus cursed the fig tree?" a friend asked me recently -- pointing back to Matthew 21.
I had to admit that I didn't -- and not being a botanist, I'm going with his explanation because it makes a powerful point ...
He said, "Fig trees are different than most other trees. Most trees bear their leaves in the spring and then their fruit as the summer goes on. The fig tree bears its fruit first, and the leaves emerge almost immediately to protect, shield, and almost cacoon the new fruit.
"Therefore," he said, "when you see the leaves. You automatically know there's fruit."
My theological brain must not have been turned on, because he said, "Now do you understand why Jesus cursed the tree?"
"It's because when Jesus saw the leaves, the tree was advertising that it had fruit. It might as well have been a neon sign: 'I have fruit. I have fruit! I have good fruit!!!' Instead of bearing fruit, the tree was bearing false witness."
Jesus wasn't really speaking to an ineffective tree, he was speaking to a "faithless and perverse generation" (see Mt 17:17). He was pointing back to the prophecies of John the Baptist, "the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Mt 3:10). He was talking to the Pharissees a "people [who] honor[ God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from me" (Mt 15:8).
Sometimes we have big flashy leaves and big flashy cars and somewhat prominant positions in our little social circles. Often we honor God with our lips. But is our heart as close to God as we pretend?
Today's lesson is another verse which reveals that our end might be nearer than we think. How close is your heart to God and how ripe is your fruit?
In Christ's Love,
a guy whose billboard would say,
"This Week Only: More Fruit than Leaves."
(Next Week: Will try again to Match Last Week's Great Deal.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oct 30 - Matthew 24:6-8

W E E K E N D   E D I T I O N
Jesus said,
"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars ...
nation will rise against nation,
and kingdom against kingdom,
and there will be famines
and earthquakes in various places:
all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs."
Matthew 24:6-8
Jesus words are today's exact headlines. They're still pulling survivors out from the rubble of Turkey's latest earthquake. Hundreds of thousands are starving from famine in Somalia. And today, as tensions in the Middle East continue to mount, the Al Qaeda flag has started flying over parts of Libya.
Does this mean that we are nearing the end of the age and the second coming of the Messiah? I don't know. But one thing is for sure ... every one of us is a few hours closer to meeting our maker than we were yesterday.
Question: No matter what you think about the end of the age, can you resolve to turn every frightening headline into a call to deeper faith and conviction? (No matter what, you and I are indeed one day closer to standing before the throne of grace and judgment.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Oct 29 - Matthew 22:29

W E E K E N D   E D I T I O N
Jesus said,
"You are wrong,
because you know neither
the scriptures nor
the power of God.
Matthew 22:29
In the world today, individual Christians, too many congregations, and even the trajectory of entire denominations have rendered powerless because they ...
  • seek rational explanations,
  • seek worldly approval,
  • ignore clear messages in scripture, and
  • dismiss the holiness and power of God.
Here's a hint ... any theology or ideology that makes God smaller is dangerous.
Question: How big is your God?!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Oct 28 - Matthew 21:31

Which of the two
did the will of the father?
Matthew 21:31
Do you know what it means to be passive aggressive?
If I asked my son to do something and he angrily said no, we'd call that "aggressive," right?
But what if I asked my son to do something and he said yes ... but intentionally didn't do it? If we called the first instance "aggressive," shouldn't we call this disobedience aggressive too? It's obviously not overtly aggressive, but isn't it subtle, passively, willfully disobedient and aggressive?
I like to think of Matthew 21:28-32 as the Anti-Passive-Aggressive-Passage. In Jesus' analogy, one son said he'd do a job -- and didn't -- while the other son said he wouldn't do a job but did. The first was what? Passive aggressive. The second was what? An unlikely servant.
Maybe that's a better name for this passage than "anti-passive-aggressive." Maybe this is "The True Parable of the Unlikely Servants."
The likely servants were the Pharisees, Chief Priests, the Elders, and the Scribes. They should have been looking for the Messiah. Instead, they were looking to put Jesus to death. (And putting the Son of God to death is not passive aggressive, it's just plain aggressive.)
The unlikely servants were "the tax collectors and the prostitutes [who were] going into the kingdom of God ahead of [the Chief Priests and Elders]." It wasn't that their behavior had been exemplary throughout their lives, it's that when they encountered God, they weren't aggressive; rather, they were humbled. Their hard hearts broke open, the Spirit entered in, they followed this Shepherd, and their lives were changed.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who really doesn't like
passive aggressiveness

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Oct 27 - Matthew 21:13

My house shall be called
a house of prayer.
Matthew 21:13
Under the Jewish system, in order to achieve forgiveness, you had to sacrifice an ox, a goat, a turtledove, or some other animal like a sheep. If you were a good Jew, traveling to the temple in Jerusalem from very far away, you'd rather carry cash across the desert than birds and goats. Therefore, moneychangers had an almost necessary role; they would change your cash into the proper animal for sacrifice.
Perhaps Jesus overturned their tables in Matthew 21 because many, most, or all of the moneychangers were cheating a few simple people who were making a few simple sacrifices.
Maybe what he was really turning over was the system of worship in God's kingdom.
Jesus was in Jerusalem. He had about five days left to live. By the next Sunday, he would be resurrected and a new system of religion would be eternally ushered in. No longer would we need goats, turtledoves, and moneychangers. Jesus himself would be the sacrifice -- the Lamb of God who was taking away the sins of the world.
He was turning the tables. Indeed, he was turning religion upside down. With a once and for all times sacrifice being made by him, now our relationship with God came not through blood, but through prayer.
From now on, God's house -- and our lives -- were (and are) to be governed by prayer.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who'll sell you a sheep
(if you pay me enough),
but who would rather
sell you on prayer

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oct 26 - Matthew 20:22

Jesus answered,
"You do not know what you are asking.
Are you able to drink the cup
that I am about to drink?"
Matthew 20:22
Do you remember the story? A mother wanted Jesus to sit her sons, James and John, at his right and left when our Lord came into his kingdom.
I would have been tempted to blast their self-centeredness with a little heated frustration. Fortunately, Jesus was a little gentler. He used wisdom and logic -- at least at first. He said, essentially, "Fine. If you can drink the cup I drink, you can sit at my right and my left."
I can imagine James and John thinking then, "Great! We've seen what he drinks. A little water, a little wine ... sure, we can drink that!"
But Jesus had a different -- and much less literal -- cup in mind. Before his crucifixion, Jesus cried out to his Father, "Let this cup pass from me." Jesus' "cup" included being betrayed, arrested, mocked, beaten, and crucfied. "James and John, are you able to drink this cup?"
The answer was no. None of us could have drank his cup, endured his fate, "borne our infirmities ... and be crushed for iniquities" (Isaiah 53:4-5). But that was before his resurrection.
After his resurrection, the answer was yes. It wasn't the exact same cup, but James ... and almost all of the other disciples ... and millions of Christians throughout the generations ... were arrested, mocked, beaten, killed -- even crucified were some -- all because they refused to quit testifying to love of God and the resurrection of his Son. 
And the great irony is this ... After the resurrection, James and John quit pursuing their placement in the kingdom selfishly. They became suffering servants like the Suffering Servant and discovered that the last truly are first and the first are generally last.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wishes Jesus' cup
was filled with coffee
... but I'll take up my cross
and his cup anyway!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Oct 25 - Matthew 20:2

After agreeing with the laborers
for the usual daily wage,
[the landowner] sent them out
into the vineyard.
Matthew 20:2
You probably know the parable. Throughout the day, a landowner hires laborers. Those who've worked longer, naturally think they deserve to be paid more. Surprisingly, however, the landowner pays them all the same -- the usually daily wage.
Normally we tell this parable in terms of fairness. If we're wise -- realizing that what we really deserve is punishment for our sins -- we ought to be thankful that our God is gracious instead of fair!
The question I want to ask today is: What is the usual daily wage?
  • Is it daily bread? Or have we come to expect certain tastes and flavors and conveniences in our food? Have we come to expect that we deserve to eat out a few times a month?
  • Is it a roof over our head? Or do we covet a bigger house with a few more amenities?
  • Is it basic clothing? Or have we been concerned with style?
  • Are we content with the 33 years Jesus lived? Or do we kind of think we deserve to live well into our 80s before we -- or loved ones -- start dealing with real health problems?
My parents taught me that life is not fair. To three demanding sons, they must have said it hundreds of times! In my life, I didn't get trophies for finishing fifth. If someone got further, I learned to thank God for their skills, their opportunities, and even their good fortune to be in the right place or right team at the right time. And I learned to work harder.
Life is not fair. Therefore, we all need a little perspective. 
  • Can we be thankful for what we have? Or will we be victims?
  • Can we rejoice in another's good fortune? Or will we covet, be jealous, or claim unfairness?
  • Will we love and forgive? Or will we hold onto grudges?
Christ sets us free -- not because we deserve anything, but because he loves us. He far exceeds fairness. He gives us riches.
In Christ's Love,
the richest man in the world

Monday, October 24, 2011

Oct 24 - Matthew 19:20

The rich young man said,
"I have kept all these,
what do I still lack."
Matthew 19:20
Two pairs of two words and one big difference. Here are the word-pairs: "to be" vs. "because I'm."
Now, plug these words into the following sentence and see if you can figure out the difference: "I do good works ____ _____ saved."
Do you see the difference?!
The rich young ruler asked "16 What good deed must I do to have eternal life." In other words, he was a TO BE. He didn't know God. He didn't trust God. He felt like he must do something TO BE loved and saved.
Scripture is full of laws and commandments and forms of righteousness. But following God's law does not make him love us more. He loves us ... because he loves us.
I pray that you trust -- absolutely -- that you are loved, saved, chosen, blessed, and forgiven. And trusting in this grace, I pray that you become a BECAUSE I'M and serve boldly.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to
honor God and live righteously
because I'm His!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Oct 21 - Luke 15:30

The older son said,
"But when this son of yours came back,
who has devoured your property with prostitutes,
you killed the fatted calf for him!"
Luke 15:30
I've been preaching lately about balance. Thus, a friend sent me a devotional that he'd written a few years ago. Let me share a piece. This friend writes ... 
"Rather than being at Home with the Father, the older brother was working out in the fields.  He comes in and hears the music and the crowds ... and the resentment wells up in him."
I never caught it before ... but that's the story of Mary and Martha!
Martha and the older brother spent the whole story righteous, busy, and distracted, while their "irresponsible" younger siblings were at Home and at rest.
My friend used his devotional to explain how he tried the older brother route to being the model Christian, saying,
I read and memorized Scripture, I prayed and fasted, I tithed, I sacrificed. When the church doors were open, my family and I were there. We went the extra mile for our children and guarded our household against influences that would harm. I took on every job and responsibility that was suggested. ... But slowly, over time, the doing for God became a real burden.
Like the older brother, he says that he did all the right things, but was missing out on the greatest thing -- a relationship with the Father.
In the end, after years of the distraction of doing and doing and doing things "the right way," the older brother wanted a party of his own. But by now he doesn't even want his Father to be involved. He just wants to his own revelry with "his friends."
Let us not be like the older brother, so busy and distracted that we come to a point where we could care less whether the Father was really there or not.
And remember, we don't have to earn or justify our place at the table. It's simply and wonderfully been offered to us ... with this invitation: "Come home."
In Christ's Love,
an older brother
who hopes to look younger

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oct 20 - Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock,
for it is your Father's good pleasure
to give you the kingdom.
Luke 12:32

When I was twenty years old, I helped coordinate Lutheran youth ministry in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

In the dead of winter, the bishop's staff, including me, drove all over these states, meeting with congregational leaders. Each stop, the pastor in charge of worship led us all in singing his favorite hymn ...

Have no fear, little flock.
Have no fear, little flock.
For the Father has chosen
to give you the kingdom.
 Have no fear, little flock. 

In one context, Jesus has just reminded us that if God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field, he'll surely care for you. Therefore, he urges us to seek first the kingdom of God and trust that all others things will be added as well.
In another context, we were going from church to church in the dead of winter. It was cold, wind-blown, and snowy. There were no lilies in the field and the birds, apparently wiser than us, had migrated away.
We too have cold, wind-blown times. But into our darkness, the Savior calls, "Have no fear, little flock. Have no fear, little flock. For the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom. Have no fear, little flock."
May we each seek first the kingdom of God and trust in God's promises that the resurrection of spring will come again.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who remembers
the second verse by heart too ...
Have good cheer, little flock.
Have good cheer, little flock.
For the Father will keep you
In his love forever.
Have good cheer, little flock.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oct 19 - Luke 10:41-42

But the Lord answered her,
"Martha, Martha, you are worried
and distracted by many things;
there is need of only one thing ...
Luke 10:41-42
One of my favorite book titles in recent years is: "Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World."
If you know the story of Mary and Martha, the "Martha World" means busyness and distraction. It is type-A personalities and "go, go, go." It's falling in bed exhausted and then not sleeping well, worrying about how we can't get everything done tomorrow.
On that work/rest pendulum that you've heard me describe, Martha's gas tank is empty, but "Mary," as Jesus says in the next half of verse 42, "has chosen the better part."
What has Mary done? She's sat and rested and feasted at Jesus' feet. She's gently abided. (And guess which of the two is more merry!)
What things worry and distact you?
Seriously, take a minute and make a mental list of the things that really worry, distract, and consume. And then give them to Jesus. Your savior wants nothing more than for you to come and sit with him awhile.
Abide. And in so doing, let the healer heal your weary soul.
In Christ's Love,
a guy named Martha
who wants to be called
Mary and more merry

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Oct 18 - Mark 10:9

Jesus said,
"Therefore what God has joined together,
let no one put asunder."
Mark 10:9
In Mark 10:6-9, Jesus points to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, validates the Old Testament, and teaches us about marriage. He says ...
  • "From the beginning ... 'God made them male and female.' In other words, men and women are different, and this was on purpose.
  • "From the beginning ... 'God made them male and female' ... and ... one flesh." In case you didn't notice, men and women are not only different, but their bodies are also complimentary. Without being too graphic, we were designed to fit together nicely!
  • "From the beginning ... God ..." When Jesus cites Genesis 1, we should not miss the fact that being different (and complimentary) is tied also to being fruitful and multiplying (see Gen 1:27-28). In other words, there is not only an enjoyable reason to fit together nicely, but a creative purpose to fitting together nicely too.
  • "For this reason a man shall ... be joined to his wife." From the very first pages of scripture, our Lord says that he intends weddings, blesses marriage, and endorses procreation. In other words, he joins "male and female ... together" (Mk 10:6-8).
  • And then he says one more big thing: "What God has joined together, let no one put asunder." In other words, don't mess with what he calls "very good" (see Gen 1:31).
Knowing now what God has put together, we are called to examine our lives and our culture and ask what puts marriage – and appropriate procreation – asunder.
  • Have we ever undermined a marriage through gossip?
  • Have we ever undermined a marriage (including our own) through adultery?
  • Have we ever undermined a marriage (including our own) through lust (Jesus said even lusting in our hearts was adultery)?
  • Have we ever undermined a marriage, especially our own, through anger, pride, apathy, ingratitude, or unforgiveness?
  • Has our culture ever undermined marriage by holding up a model of sexuality that does not reflect the marital one flesh union?
  • Has our culture ever undermined marriage by teaching us to love pleasure more than God?
  • Has our culture ever undermined marriage by teaching us to love pleasure more than honor and commitment?
  • Has our culture ever undermined marriage by trumpeting alternatives to marriage.
  • Has our culture ever undermined marriage by making divorce too easy?
We are all prone to be creatures of our culture and we all tend to want to satisfy ourselves; therefore, marriages today a vulnerable. Please heed our Lord's advice: "What God has joined together, let no one put asunder."
In Christ's Love,

Monday, October 17, 2011

Oct 17 - Mark 9:47

And if you eye causes you to stumble,
tear it out; it is better for you
to enter the kingdom of God with one eye
than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell.
Mark 9:47
I love the simplicity of children. When Pastor Fran's son was little, he heard this verse and asked, "Why aren't there more one-eyed men in church?"
What part of your body causes you to sin?
  • The eye that wanders and lusts?
  • The hand that holds onto things it shouldn't?
  • The teeth that grind in anger? 
  • The nose that we use to look down on others?
  • The ears and lips that listen to and spread gossip?
  • The heart that wants what it wants? 
  • The brain that dwells on unforgiveness and worry?
I don't know about you, but I've often felt brainless when I've woken up to some sin. "How could I have been so deceived?" I cry.
When you catch yourself in sin, do you really cut it out?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants his knees
to cause him to stumble
(because I'm bowing in prayer)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Oct 16 - Mark 8:11-12

The Pharisees came and ... ask[ed Jesus] 
for a sign from heaven, to test him.
And Jesus sighed in his spirit ...
Mark 8:11-12
Have you ever "sighed in [your] spirit"?!
Parents often sigh deep in their spirit. A common -- but rather trivial -- cause of parental sighs is being asked the same question for the hundredth time -- "Are we there yet?"
A more earnest reason for heart-wrenching groans comes after parents have given their children hundreds of warnings ... and yet our children still dabble with destruction.
Through the prophets, God had given his people hundreds of warnings, yet his children were still flirting with disaster. In fact, their hearts were souring at such a rapid rate that they were preparing to execute God's own Son.
In Mark 8, Jesus sighed in his spirit because hard hearts and murderous intents. He also groaned, I am sure, because it was probably the hundredth time that Jesus was asked to deliver a sign. The words, "to test him," were surely the cause for yet another sigh.
We all want signs as big as billboards and miracles with neon lights, but even the parting of the Red Sea only changed the Israelites hearts for three days. Complaining returned. Doubt reemerged. Discouragement reigned.
You and I have had as many miracles as the Israelites. Not all of them are neon. But even life and breath is more than we deserve. If we look closer -- and with the lenses of faith -- we can also see God's fingerprints all over our days. We can also turn to pages of scripture and walk through the sea with Israelites and watch Lazarus rise from the tomb.
So why do we keep making God sigh?
And why does he still keep loving us so much?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who'd rather be a sign maker
than a sigh producer
... I'm honored to point others to Christ

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Oct 15 - Mark 7:32-33

They brought to [Jesus] a deaf man
who had an impediment in his speech ...
[Jesus] put his fingers into his ears,
and he spat and touched his tongue ...
Mark 7:32-33
"Every healing that Jesus did was different." That's what I've heard. And when I think of it, that's pretty much true.
  • Once -- in today's lesson -- Jesus reached his fingers into a deaf man's ears.
  • Another time, he spat onto the ground and made mud -- a healing paste (Jn 9:6) 
  • Often, Jesus' healings were like his Father's works at creation. All he needed to do was speak the word -- essentially, "Be healed!" (Mt. 8:13).
  • Occasionally, power simply flowed out of our Lord when someone touched him. (Mk 5:27-30, Mt 14:36).
  • Other times, the healings could be done long distance -- without a touch (Mt 8:13).
  • Sometimes, Jesus coupled healing with the forgiveness of sins (Mt 2:1-12)
  • And frequently, Jesus told people that their faith acted like a key that unlocked the illness that was holding them in bondage (Mt 15:28).
Yes, there are a enough repeated characteristics to make that original statement invalid. But do you know why I'm glad that Jesus healed in so many different ways? Think about it ...
If Jesus' only way of healing was to spit and touch someone's tongue -- as he did in today's verse -- then every time someone was praying for healing, we'd be spitting all over the place and touching all over the place. Yikes!
I honestly think that this is why Jesus varied his method. It's not a series of incantations that provide healing. It's God's marvelous power in his sovereign time.
And all we're called to do is keep praying, keep trusting, keep confessing, keep hoping, keep believing.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's willing to spit on you
... if you think that'd help

Friday, October 14, 2011

Oct 14 - John 6:39

Jesus said,
And this is the will of him who sent me,
that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me,
but raise it up on the last day.
John 6:39
One afternoon, raised up bread and fed the five thousand. The next day that same crowd rushed back to him. They hoped for another miracle. But this time Jesus didn't raise bread; he raised instead some important theological issues.
  • He told them that he was the bread of life (v 35).
  • He told them that anyone who comes to him will never be hungry -- spiritually hungry -- again (v 35).
  • He hints powerfully at a meal that he will share during his final supper on earth, and through this meal, though the disciples don't know it yet, he will institute a perpetual meal/sacrament/blessing in remembrance of him (v 53-56).
  • Finally he begins to hint that if we keep raising up "this bread," he will raise us up on the last day.
Now, Christians can easily raise up this bread ritualistically, and even when it's mere ritual, it's still important to do this. Indeed, our Lord himself said, "do this." But it's far more than the ritual that imparts the power. It's what's behind the ritual that matters ... faith. Indeed, "believe" is the repeated refrain of Jesus in John 6:
  • Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (v 29)
  • Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (v 35)
  • [Jesus said, "How is it] that you have seen me and yet do not believe?" (v 36)
  • [Jesus said,] "This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day" (v 40)
  • [Jesus said,] "Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life" (v 47)
  • [Peter said,] "We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (v 69) 
In Christ's Love,
a guy who likes fresh bread
but loves the true bread

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Oct 13 - Luke 9:16

And taking the five loaves
and the two fish,
he looked up to heaven,
and blessed them and broke them,
and gave them to the disciples
to set before the crowd.
Luke 9:16
There are at least four important spiritual points in this story today ...
    1.    In order to witness to God's power and love, Jesus used what was available -- in this case, five dinner rolls and a few minnows. Whenever you have the chance to witness to God's goodness, look for the tools, images, and opportunities that are right at hand. (And don't forget that the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Yes, witnessing often happens best when we invite a friend to our table and break bread.)
    2.    Before Jesus did something momentous, he looked up to heaven. If you want better results in your endeavors ... stop!!! Indeed, stop and pray! Stoptrying to do it on your own power and initiative, and pray first for God's guidance and power.
    3.    Don't miss the connections! Nothing Jesus did was without deeper meaning. On the night in which he was betrayed, Jesus did exactly what he did before feeding the five thousand -- he took bread, blessed it, and broke it. Don't you know that at least one or two of the disciples, stopped and said, "Wait, where have I seen this before?" In your life, don't be so busy that you fail to stop and notice where God's hand of grace and power is.
    4.    Whenever you're doing something for the Lord, involve others. Jesus "gave the[divided bread and fish] to the disciples to set before the crowd." Jesus certainly could have done this great work all by himself, but he generously allowed others to be part of the blessing. Don't hoard the accolades or the blessings! Making a difference in the kingdom will probably encourage their faith ... as well as save you a little time. 
In Christ's Love,
a guy who likes taking
five verses from two books,
looking up to heaven,
breaking them open,
and setting them before a crowd

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Oct 12 - Luke 9:3

Take nothing for your journey,
no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money --
not even an extra tunic
Luke 9:3
When I go on trips, I'm not a heavy packer. Indeed, most times I'd rather not go somewhere if I have to spend too much time getting ready.
For that same reason, I'm not a real light packer either. Why? Because packing too carefully violates the same principle -- if I have to spend too much time thinking through every scenario and getting perfectly ready, I'd still rather not go.
Therefore, I'm a quick, medium, mediocre packer ... who'll probably never gone as light as the bagless disciples!
What was Jesus saying as he sent his disciples out on their first mission adventure? He was saying, "Trust in the Lord. See if he'll provide."
When you and I pack, we are generally trusting in ourselves. Did I bring the right rain gear? Did I bring the moleskin in case I get a blister? Did I bring a little reading light, so I won't wake anyone when I can't sleep the first night?
In general that's wise. But in general we're not going forward with the same purposes as the Luke-9-Disciples. They are going forward, not only to represent Jesus, but do to exactly what Jesus was doing. They were going "2 out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal."
The wisdom of heaven would proceed from their lips. The power of God would flow from their touch. And if the disciples had suitcases and provisions, they wouldn't have to depend on the Lord for everything. Indeed, without trusting completely in the Lord, heaven's power wouldn't have miraculously flowed in and through them.
Next time you or I go on a big trip, we should still pack a suitcase! BUT why not try going out somewhere, somehow, depending on nothing but God?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to be
a naked missionary
... figuratively, please!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Oct 11 - Luke 8:41-42

Just then there came a man named Jairus,
a leader of the synagogue.
He fell at Jesus' feet and
begged him to come to his house, 
for he had an only daughter,
about twelve years old, who was dying.
Luke 8:41-42
I've been a pastor for about twenty years. The worst human pain is when one of our own children is hurting. Most of us rather take their pain upon ourselves than watch our children suffer. That is why Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus.
Most leaders of most Judean synagogues were rejecting Jesus. This wise teacher and powerful miracle worker was capturing the hearts of the crowds and diluting their power and influence. But desperate times called for desperate measures. And Jairus, in spite of his pride, fell at the feet of the miracle worker.
Unfortunately, there was a problem with Jairus' plan. He wasn't the only one crowding in on Jesus, touching his cloak, and falling at his feet.
In the midst of Jairus' "hurry-hurry-come-this-way-hurry" Jesus stopped to spend way too much time with a woman who had a long-term issue. Jairus surely thought her ongoing inconvenience could wait. "Priorities, Jesus!" he probably shouted. Tragically, while Jesus' was tending to this long-term concern, Jairus' urgent problem literally passed away.
What we need to remember is that God has a different perspective on time than we do. We live according to the tyranny of the urgent. But God will sometimes pause and wait, if he sees an opportunity to nurture a longer-term (read, "eternal") faith.
For example, when Jesus' friend Lazarus was dying (see John 11), our Lord tarried too long -- intentionally -- and Lazarus died. Everyone was heartbroken, but our Lord stepped into the midst of their valley and raised both Lazarus and their faith (forever).
I think, maybe, Jesus was doing the same thing with Jairus. Of course, he wanted to help a suffering woman along the way. That's always his heart. But he was also taking a (probably cynical) leader of a synagogue on a powerful journey of faith. I wouldn't be surprised if Jesus tarried too long -- intentionally -- until the little girl died. If so, I believe Jesus wanted to absolutely sink her family into the valley of the shadow of death so that he could raise both the little girl and their faith (forever).
We are, indeed, prisoners to the tyranny of the urgent. But do you believe that God absolutely has your long-term interests at heart? And are you willing to be patient and trust him in the valleys?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's hiked many valleys
and has inevitably found a beautiful little stream
in those dark and quiet vales   

Monday, October 10, 2011

Oct 10 - Luke 8:24

"Master, Master, we are perishing!"
Luke 8:24
Two things were going on simultaneously:
  1. As the disciples were sailing in a small boat, a storm arose.
  2. As Jesus was sleeping in a small boat, that same storm arose.
The disciples panicked. They feared for their lives. And yet, Jesus kept sleeping. Indeed, even when they woke him up, Jesus was still not afraid! Why?
Have you ever had circumstances that have caused anxiety ... stress ... even panic? In fact, have you ever wondered where God was in the midst of your storm?
In the back of that boat, Jesus had two advantages that the disciples didn't have ...
  1. He knew the future. He knew his end would come upon the cross, not crossing the lake.
  2. The co-creator of the universe knew he could simply rebuke the sea and cease the storm.
You and I cannot simply rebuke the storms in our lives and cause them to cease. But we do have one powerful advantage over the disciples in that sinking ship: We know the whole story; whereas they were still in the midst of the story.
Think about that ... This means that we know the future. We know it! Can you honestly say that? The disciples didn't yet know about the resurrection. But we do. And faith promises us two powerful things:
  1. We know the creator and co-creator of the universe. And "sometimes," as Casting Crowns sings, we know that "he calms the storms, with a whispered peace be still."
  2. "And other times," we are privilieged to know that "he calms the child" by telling us that the absolutely worse that could happen is that we'll go to heaven.
You and I probably aren't quite ready to go to heaven today, but what happens if we don't have to fear death?! Suddenly we can venture confidently into the raging storms, the fiery furnaces, and the lion's ravenous dens, and we can absolutely "fear not." 
In Christ's Love,
a confident sailor
(even though I know nothing about boats)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Oct 9 - Luke 8:18

Jesus said,
Then pay attention to how you listen;
for to those who have, more will be given
Luke 8:18
What are you doing right now?
Yes, yes, I know it's with your reading eyes -- rather than your listening ears -- that you're "listening" to the Word. Nevertheless, you're intentionally taking 3 of 1440 minutes of your day to try to "hear" what God is saying to you.
Hear this today: God blesses those who listen! Indeed, our Lord powerfully and purposefully blesses those who sincerely seek him. Furthermore, he says he wants to fill you ... "more" ... and "more" ... and "more."
If you read Luke 8 in context, Jesus has just told the parable of the sower. You probably remember how he warned about head and hearts of stone, shallow roots and shallow intentions, and worldly intentions that grab and ensnare like prickly thorns. And you probably also remember how he invites us to pray, "Lord, let my heart be good soil."
Those are actually lyrics based on this scripture, rather than Jesus' exact words. But they echo his generous promise: "Pay attention to how you listen, [because the more you listen and the more you] have, [the] more will be given."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who loves spending
3 of 1440 minutes with God
... and is greedy for more.
"More, Lord. More!"

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Oct 8 - Luke 7:19

[They asked Jesus]
"Are you the one who is to come,
or are we to wait for another?"
Luke 7:19
John the Baptist was the long-prophesied forerunner of the Messiah. Ironically, even he, however, had to ask Jesus if he was "the one who is to come."
John was probably deeply buoyed by Jesus' answer. The Messiah didn't simply say, "Yes"; rather, he answered by pointing to scripture. Tying together the messianic prophecies of Isaiah -- 29:18-19, 35:5-6, 42:18, 61:1 -- Jesus said,
"Go and tell John
what you have seen and heard:
the blind receive their sight,
the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the poor have good news brought to them.
And blessed is anyone
who takes no offense at me."
Luke 7:22-23
What are the "proofs" you use not only to ground your faith, but to witness to others? I mean, if someone asked, "Why do you believe?" What would you say?
I would list several things:
  • Head: Faith helps me make logical sense of the world. Let me show you how ...
  • Help: Jesus and his principles give me the wisdom to lead a life of purpose and grace. Let me show you how he doest this ...  
  • Hope: Faith gives us tremendous courage because faith gives us hope. Let me tell you about the power (or lack of power) at the hundreds of hospital rooms and grave sites and job losses and griefs that I've walked with people through ...
  • Healing: I've seen people literally healed. More often, I've seen faith help people deal confidently with news realities. Let me tell you stories of healing ...
  • Heart (and this is the most important): I've seen faith change peoples lives -- including mine. Let me tell you a story ...
In Christ's Love,
a guy who confidently proclaims 
"He is the One"

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oct 7 - Luke 6:17,20

[Jesus] came down ... and stood
on a level place ... and said ...
"Blessed are you who are ..."
Luke 6:17,20
Most of the time when we hear the Beatitudes -- "Blessed are you who are ..." -- we think Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount.
But I love that Luke 6 is the "Sermon on a Level Place."
Why? Because more of life is spent on the level places than on the mountain tops and highs.
Plateaus are obviously much better than valleys, but all of us seems to chase the mountain highs and get a little bored with plateaus. We take them for granted. God, however, calls us to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thes 5:18).
What normal, level, average thing are you taking for granted and need to give thanks for?
In Christ's Love,
an improving gymnast
(a guy who's learned to appreciate
a good, level, balance beam)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Oct 6 - Matthew 5:14,13

Jesus said,
You are the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth.
Matthew 5:14,13
One of the beginning concepts of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is that you -- and I -- are salt and light.
With these words, Jesus invites us to bring brightness and flavor to this world, "16 so that others may see [our] good works and [as a result of our witness, maybe they'll] glorify our father in heaven [too]."
With this call of Christ in mind, I learned something fascinating while reading Eric Metaxas' recent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  • First, I learned that Bonhoeffer -- a German Lutheran pastor who gave his life to stand against the atrocities of the Nazis in World War II -- centered much of his theology around Jesus' own words in Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. That was interesting.
  • What as fascinating was that Mahatma Ghandi -- a civil rights leader in India -- based much of his teachings on the Sermon on the Mount too!
Ghandi -- a Hindu -- loved Jesus and his teachings. "So why aren't you a Christian?" some one asked. Ghandi essentially said, "Because I have never met a Christian who lived out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount." In other words, too few Christians lived as salt and light.
The question today is, what spice are you and what wattage are you as you flavor the world?
In Christ's Love,
60 watts of Oregano
(I know ... I don't know what that means either) 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Oct 5 - Luke 5:36

Jesus said,
"No one puts new wine
into old wineskins."
Luke 5:36
Do you know why no one puts new wine into old wineskins?
When wine is put in a wineskin, it is not yet wine. As the simple grape juice is stored, it will ferment ... and as it ferments, it will expand ... and as it expands, the wineskin must expand with it.
A new wineskin is made of new leather. It is still supple. It will still bend and stretch. An old wineskin, however, has already stretched, and becoming a little more brittle, it is all-stretched-out. If you put new wine in an all-stretched out skin, what will happen as it ferments and expands.
But Jesus wasn't simply talking about agricultural practice. He was talking about old and brittle and unchangeable religious practices. God had come to his people, Israel, with a simple message.
I am the Lord your God.
I have loved you with an everlasting love. 
[Therefore, I] brought you out of the land of Egypt.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your might,  
[And] have no other gods before [him]
Ex 20:2, Jer 31:3, Ex 20:2, Deut 6:5, Ex 20:3
But leaders in Israel -- though well intentioned -- took a simple message of love and devotion, and turned it into legalism. Indeed, by the time of Jesus, religious leaders like the Pharisees were hard and brittle and unbending.
And when the fruit of God's vine -- God's own Son, Jesus Christ -- was poured into this world, these old, unyielding wineskins snapped in anger. Indeed, they began to search for a way to kill a man ... not even realizing that he was God's own Son.
In what ways is your "religion" hard and brittle. Go back to the simple message of love and devotion.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to know personally
the Lord our God
because he's loved me (and you)
with an everlasting love.
I want to love him heart, soul, strength, and mind,
and have no other priorities besides him.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Oct 4 - Mark 2:3-5

Four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.
They couldn't get to Jesus through the crowd,
so they dug through the clay roof above his head.
Then they lowered the sick man on his mat,
right down in front of Jesus.
Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,
"My son, your sins are forgiven."
Mark 2:3-5
There is no greater joy than giving a gift that is an absolutely delight. You can see it through the spontaneous expression of surprise and joy written on the persons face.
When I think about that, I think -- with embarrassment -- of all the times when surprise and delight were not written on my face. I'm still sometimes like an eight-year-old boy who pouts, "Oh ... socks ... Thanks, Grandma ... Just what I needed."
I think the man in todays story would have been like the eight-year-old me. All the way to Capernaum, the friends carrying the stretcher were surely talking about the Healer-from-Nazareth who could make the lame walk. They dug through the roof. Dropped their friend in front of Jesus. Jesus was supposed to say, "Get up and walk." But the healer said, "Your sins are forgiven."
"Oh ... forgiveness ... Thanks, Grandma ... Just what I needed."
Since all our physical ills will be permanently restored when we get to heaven, our greatest real need is forgiveness -- a foregiveness that washes away sin and punches our ticket to heaven. But is that what we most want? We want the physical. We want the temporary.
All of the physical blessings in this life -- health and home and property -- are signs of God's gracious love. But they're ultimately here today and gone tomorrow. So let's not forget the greatest gift: an underserved forgiveness that cost Christ his live and opens the gates to heaven.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who NEEDS less holey socks
and a more holy thankfulness
for all Christ has done for me

Monday, October 3, 2011


Alert!!! Pator Ed Thoams was arrested Sunday, October2, 2011 at Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Weddington, NC.  Charges are not known at this time.  However,rumor has it that the missions team is collecting money for bail and one representative is in Washington DC to get this overturned.  We will post updates as they come  available!
Pastor Ed Thomas being led out in handcuffs

Officer Hyland arresting Pastor Ed

Oct 3 - John 4:34

Then Jesus explained:
"My nourishment comes from
doing the will of God, who sent me,
and from finishing his work."
John 4:34
Jesus and his disciples had been traveling long and hard.
Our long and hard is sitting on a leather seat in a plush automobile listening to music in stereo while eating a Big Mac from the drive thru. Our biggest traveling inconvenience is being a little stiff.
Their long hard road involved Middle Eastern sun, desert dust, and rare watering holes (instead of convenience stores at every exit). Therefore, after a day's travel and Jesus being distracted by a long conversation, his disciples kept "urging Jesus, 'Rabbi, eat something.' (v. 31).
"32 Jesus replied, I have a kind of food you know nothing about."
What fills you, sustains you, blesses you even more than physical fuel? That's the question of the day.
Jesus answers it this way: "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work."
That prompts three final questions:
  • What is the will of God that Jesus -- and you and me -- are called to fulfill? (Read the next verse: Jesus talks about a field that is ripe for the harvest. And why he told his disciples that he wasn't physically hungry, is that he's just been harvesting from that field by nurturing the faith of the Samaritan woman at the well.)

  • How great is your desire to do the will of God?
  • Do you allow service and outreach to fill you, or do you tend to fill yourself with yourself? (May I say, maybe that's why you're so tired and empty.)
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's nourished
every time he shares the Word
(Thanks for letting me eat today)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oct 2 - John 2:3-4

The wine supply ran out during the festivities,
so Jesus' mother spoke to him about the problem.
"They have no more wine," she told him. 
"How does that concern you and me?" Jesus asked.
"My time has not yet come."
John 2:3-4
Jesus' first miracle, in Cana of Galilee, was turning water into wine.
Last winter, I happened to go to that very spot! As our tour bus pulled up, guess what we noticed just outside the modern-day shrine to this event?  
A liquor store.
(Or, more factually, a Wedding-at-Cana souvenir shop with lots and lots of wine!)
Please be clear ... this story is not about the wine!
  • It is about hospitality -- not having enough to serve the guest would bring shame to the host.
  • It is about Mary's character -- she's not only entrusted with a shameful secret, but she actively seeks a solution rather than just passively showing sympathy.
  • And it's about Jesus' power -- turning normal water into exquisite wine.
Mary probably didn't expect her son to perform a miracle. She was probably just trusting him to do whatever was right.
She was trusting him to do what was right! Normally that would mean searching the town for a barrel of wine. But Jesus surprised everyone with something better.
How about you? Do you trust Jesus to do what is right when you bring a problem to him? Or do you demand exactly what you want when you want it?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to trust
... because I want His best,
not my plain and worldly