Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nov 30 - Psalm 23:4,6

Recently a parent wrote, asking about how to speak to their children about grandma's illness and impending death. Over the next several days, I'm letting you "listen in" to my pastoral advice. So far we have covered the following pieces of advice: 1. Be Honest and Upfront  2. Focus Forward 
Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life: and I will
dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23:4,6
Grieve Deeply
Have you ever heard someone say, "Christians shouldn't grieve."
In a sense, they're right.
We shouldn't grieve ... like the world does. The world grieves without hope. We have two powerful antedotes: 1) the resurrection and therefore 2) hope.
And yet we still grieve. Why? Because every change produces loss. And every loss produces grief. And grieving isn't a denial of faith. Rather, it's a glorious admission that we have loved deeply ... and we miss the person who was a symbol of that love.
If you have loved deeply, do you know what that really means? God was there!!! (Because God is love.)
So, give a grieving person -- including yourself -- permission to grieve.
In fact, tell them that it may take a full year to stitch their broken heart back together. Indeed, the closer you were to person who died, the longer it will take.
But at the same time, remember this ... The God who wove the blessing of grandma into your life, will see you through the valley of the shadow of death. And in God's hands, laughter, hope, and joy will come again. Indeed, goodness and mercy will truly and again follow you all the days of your life. And you -- like grandma -- shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's loved deeply,
and grieved deeply,
and loved deeply again
(and will grieve again)
(and will love again)
(and will grieve again)
(and ... well, God's love
always gets the final word)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nov 29 - Revelation 21:3-4

Recently a parent wrote, asking about how to speak to their children about grandma's illness and impending death. Over the next several days, I'm letting you "listen in" to my pastoral advice. So far we have covered the following pieces of advice: 1. Be Honest and Upfront 
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more
Revelation 21:3-4
Focus Forward
On the first two pages of scripture, God reveals his plan for humanity. As he creates, our Lord repeatedly says, "It is good, it is good, it is good." This goodness found its place in a perfect garden, which was filled with everything ... except mourning and crying, death and pain.
On the last two pages of scripture, God reveals his eternal plan for humanity. He tells us that there will be a new heaven, a new earth, a new "garden," filled with everything ... except mourning and crying and pain. In the fullness of God's plan, death will again be no more.
That's the first two pages (Gen 1 and 2) and the last two pages (Rev 21 and 22). But on the 1147 pages in between, sin rages and death has its way. In between, we certainly see glimpses of hope and promise — especially when Jesus comes in grace and glory — but mostly we see the imperfections of earth. Meaning? In these in-between-times, death keeps leaving a huge hole in too many hearts.
Therefore, when you know someone who is grieving, encourage them to quit looking downward at the grave and start focusing heavenward instead.
Now, this is definitely easier to say than to do. Tell your grieving friends that. But even more important, remind them that when we grieve, we are hungering for something that this broken earth can never supply.
Indeed, tell them that when we grieve we are already focusing forward. We are wanting what God promises. And we are mourning the wages of sin ... which is death.
Therefore, let us encourage one another to hunger for no more mourning, crying, or pain. Indeed, let us encourage one another to focus forward, to actively reach out for God's future, to vibrantly anticipate -- and with great hope -- the day that our deceased grandmas are already enjoying.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants his symbol to be
two triangles, pointing to the right
— look at the controls of your old VCR: 
I want to be "fast forward" and focused forward 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Nov 28 - 1 Thessalonians 4:13

But we do not want you
to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,
about those who have died,
so that you may not grieve
as others do who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13
"Pastor, my mother is dying, and I'm not sure what to say to my kids." I received an email similar to this recently. What would you say to the kids?
This parent knew intuitively that how a person responds to a death -- especially the first big loss in a child's life -- may set the tone for how a child perceives death for a long time.
But that's even more difficult when it's someone we love too that's dying. When "grandma" is our own "mom," we are grieving ourselves. As parents, now there is an extra responsibility: On top of my own grief, what do I say to my kids?
It responded by email. It became a long letter. And as I was writing it, I realized that this is information that most of us need to know because ...
  1. Grief will inevitably come to our own house, and we need to know to deal with loss, first, for our own fragile hearts.
  2. Second, we also need to know how to respond to others -- whether they're our own children or our co-workers at the office.
Here was the first piece of advice:
Tell them everything --
the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth.
I know we all want to spare our kids any additional pain. But denial doesn't soften the blow. It usually worses it.

Yes, truth can be initially very painful. But ... 

  • the truth will eventually come out anyway (At the funeral, for example, it will be hard to hide the fact that grandma's gone.)
  • truth -- in age-appropriate words -- also allows for ongoing conversation, participation through prayer, and emotional processing before the death
  • truth allows the person who's dying to give final gifts, usually statements of love, stories that strengthen, and wisdom that will guide us into the future 
  • truth builds a sense of family trust and fosters more honest communication throughout the years
  • truth also defeats secrets, denials, and other things that thrive in darkness
  • furthermore, truth allows us to carry one another's burdens as we journey downward toward a death ... and back upward as we heal
  • as Paul says in our verse today, truth keeps us from being "uninformed ... about those who have died, so that [we] may not grieve as others do who have no hope"
  • and truth, as Jesus said, shall set us free. 
Secrets and denials live in darkness. And while our discussions must be age-appropriate, involving them in the discussion lets them see the entire journey from the darkness of grief to our own eventual resurrection of hope and light.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who cares deeply about
how we all handle grief and loss,
despair and hope

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Nov 27 - Isaiah 40:1

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nov 26 - 2 Thessalonians 1:4

Therefore we ourselves boast of you
among the churches of God
for your steadfastness and faith
during all your persecutions
and the afflictions you are enduring.
2 Thessalonians 1:4
On the spectrum of Christmas letters, there are two extremes ...
  • Have you ever received a Christmas letter that includes every trial, bump, wart, grief, and calamity that the family incurred during past year? Some losses we have to include -- "and of course we're mourning the loss of dad this year" -- but have you ever received an over-achieving litany of complaints?
  • On the other hand, have you ever received a Christmas letter that brags about every superlative of every kid. It's like every word in the letter is an attempt to out-do any- and everyone on their Christmas list.
Christmas letters are a tricky thing -- especially regarding that last item, boasting.
Today's lesson tells us what we can and should boast about: True Faith.
Generally speaking, we should not boast about our own faith (My faith's better than yours)! Rather, we should celebrate the faith of others.
Now, when I say "faith," I'm not talking about who can serve on the most committees and memorize the most verses. I'm talking about celebrating the kind of faith that enables people stand up strong in the midst of this world's hurricanes ...
  • "I'm so proud of Alex for exhibiting love when his neighbor cussed him out."
  • "I'm so proud of Betty for taking time out of her crazy schedule to tutor a child."
  • "I'm so proud of Chuck for showing mercy to the drunk man who totalled his car."
  • "I'm so proud of little Danny for showing a heart of gratitude and writing that thank you note. It must have taken him hours.
  •  "I'm so proud of Erica for forgiving the person who hurt her."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who joyfully boasts about you
when you endure afflictions with courage,
stand steadfast when in world that minimizes faith,
and care for those need

Friday, November 25, 2011

Nov 25 - 1 Thessalonians 5:21

test everything;
hold fast to what is good
1 Thessalonians 5:21
You know what today's lesson is all about, right? False teachers and heresy were battering the Thessalonians. Paul, therefore, was advising them to test every teacher's teachings by comparing it to the standard of scripture.
That's what this verse is about ... but I'm going to butcher it a little bit today (worse, I'm afraid, than I mangled the turkey I cut into yesterday).
My son Jay is at home this weekend. He said to me the other day, "Dad, I can't wait until Friday. I think that's my favorite day of the year!"
While much of America calls this day "Black Friday," for us it is green. We drive out to a Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. As we bring it home and decorate it, we make Chex mix and turn on the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." By the time the tree is decorated, the Chex mix is ready. We get a bowl for snacks and a cup of egg nog and cry through the end of our favorite movie.
It's a great day.
It's a tradition.
As we start the Christmas season, I pray that you have some favorite traditions. And if not ... start some!!! Test them all -- as our lesson kind of suggest -- and hold fast to what is good.
Why? Because as we hold fast to family traditions, we often wind up holding more fast to one another.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who can't wait
for the Chex Mix
(it's even better than turkey!)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nov 24 - 1 Thes 4:16-17, 2 Thes 2:3

we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,
for the Lord himself, with a cry of command,
with the archangel's call and with the sound of the trumpet,
will descend from heaven ... then we ... will be
caught up in the clouds ... to meet the Lord in the air.
1 Thessalonians 4:13,16-17
Let no one deceive you in any way;
for that day will not come
unless the rebellion comes first
and the lawless one is revealed.
2 Thessalonians 2:3
Boy ... I don't know what was going on in Thessalonica!
I'm guessing they must have had a huge fascination with the end times. In fact, it appears that there was even some degree of being "uninformed," overwhelmed, and even "deceive[d]."
Why do I say that? Because in both letters, I think that the Apostle Paul is saying, "Wait! Don't worry yet! It's not the end! And do you know it's not the end? Because you haven't seen either of these two signs."
What two signs? 
In First Thessalonians, the sign they were told to anticipate was the rapture. Paul was saying, if you're a faithful believer, meeting Christ is in the air might just be a pretty good sign that the end is near! (By the way, I hope you're as inspired by that thrilling image as I am.)
In Second Thessalonians, the sign is the revealing of "the lawless one." This, you probably guessed, is the Antichrist. As Revelation tells the story, Jesus will finally and eventually come to his final victory, riding on a white horse. Ironically, the Antichrist will come on a white horse too. White is a symbol for both kingship and peace. A year or few before Christ returns, Revelation prophesies that the Antichrist will appear as a counterfeit king, and he will bring a counterfeit peace.
What is "a counterfeit peace"? It is predicted that "peace" will be the primary message of the Antichrist's lips. Like flies to sugar, evil knows that a message of peace sounds much sweeter than it's real agenda. The irony, as Revelations tells us, is that the Antichrist's presence may even work ... for a while. Tensions may seem to be soothed. Scripture tells us, however, that it will be false peace, a temporary peace. The mask will eventually come off.
Paul's point in writing was to give the Thessalonians -- and us -- a glimpse of the future. My point in writing is to remind you that Revelation is not alone in it's predictions of the future! Several Old Testament books -- especially Daniel -- point to the end. Paul and other apostles sprinkle their writing with eschatology -- the fancy word for the end times. And most importantly, Jesus himself had much to say about his own coming again -- see the end of the Matthew, for example. Jesus says, "Keep awake."
In Christ's Name,
a guy who wants to fly
(let's meet Christ in the air)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nov 23 - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God's will for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
In World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsy hid many Jews in their home. They heroic tried to keep innocent people from persecution. In the end, Corrie and Betsy were themselves persecuted.
With God's help, the two faithful Christians smuggled a Bible into the concentration camp. Corrie was famed for saying that when they read the words of the Apostles -- who themselves were persecuted -- it was like the ink was not yet dry on the page.
If the ink wasn't dry, Corrie, however, would have like to smudged 1 Thessalonians 5:18 from the page of her Bible. Upon reading, "give thanks in all circumstances," Corrie's sister Betsy said, "Well, then, we need to give thanks for the lice."
Corrie refused. But even in prison, Betsy's faith was joyful and childlike. "Corrie, if God says give thanks, then I'm going to give thanks ... even for the lice."
It turns out that the terrible outbreak of lice in their concentration camp hut kept their oppressors from breaking in and both brutalizing the women ... and discovering their cabin's secret Bible study. The lice, therefore, allowed the Gospel light to shine in one of the darkest places in the history of earth.
If Betsy could give thanks for lice, what might you need to give thanks for?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to
give thanks for sufferings
because as Paul said in Romans 5,
"suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope ..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nov 22 - 1 Thessalonians 2:8

So deeply do we care for you
that we are determined
to share with you
not only the Gospel of God
but also our own selves.
1 Thessalonians 2:8
Today's devotion is simple ... Today's lesson is the BEST way to share the Gospel!
Indeed, people don't care if you love God, until they know you love them.
Who do you need to share your life with more fully, so they can shared in the joy of the Lord? Might you be gathering with one of them this Thanksgiving?!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who loves
God and you

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nov 21 - Acts 16:19-21

Trembling with fear,
the jailer called for lights
and ran to the dungeon
and fell down before Paul and Silas
... and asked,
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 
They replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus
and you will be saved ..."
Acts 16:19-21
Do you remember the story?
Paul and Silas were in prison. In response to their prayers -- a scriptural testimony to the power of prayer -- God shook the earth, and their jail cells opened.
When the jailer awoke and realized that the jail was opened, he immediately drew his sword, and having obviously failed in his duties, planned to "do himself in."
"Wait!" cried the Apostles. They were still in their cells. They hadn't left yet. Why? I'm guessing that they had to finish their prayers. At first, they were probably praying for deliverance. Now, they were probably praying in thanksgiving.
(That too, by the way, is another powerful testimony to Biblical form of prayer. Too often we pray for God to act, and then we either 1) forget to thank him when he does or 2) charge out under our own power, figuring that his powerful provision won't wait long enough for us to pause and give thanks.)
When the jailer saw the hand of God through the earthquake, and the confident faith of Paul, Silas, and their companions, the jailer immediately decided that he wanted to be part of this power and confidence.
"What must I do to be saved," he cried.
"Believe on and in Jesus," they said. 
Saving faith is as simple as that. Thankful actions will probably follow, but salvation comes totally through faith.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's still trying to learn
how to pray like Paul and Silas 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nov 20 - Galatians 5:22

By contrast,
the fruit of the Spirit is ...
Galatians 5:22
Hopefully you can sing the fruits of the spirit by heart ...
Who creates, inspires, and instills them? The Holy Spirit. Which means what? On our own, we are not truly and totally loving, patient, or self-controlled.
Is that true for you? It is for me! I am by nature self-centered, impatient, and impetuous. In fact, on my own, I am a prisoner of my flesh.
Today -- and probably today only -- I'll argue that the most important words in today's verse are "by contrast." Paul is contrasting God's awesome power and our week flesh. Indeed he says -- Galatians 5:19-21 -- that "the works of the flesh are obvious." (At least mentally, circle the ones that describe you ...)
sexual immorality, impure thoughts,
eagerness for lustful pleasure, 
idolatry, participation in demonic activities,
hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger,
selfish ambition, divisions,
the feeling that everyone is wrong
except those in your own little group, 
envy, drunkenness, wild parties,
and other kinds of sin.
Ouch!! At one time or another, I've been guilty of most of those. How about you?
That's me on my own. Thanks be to God that he's invited me and empowers me to participate in love, joy, and peace.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's deceiving himself
if he thinks he can do
any good by himself
(but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
and the Spirit who inspires me.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nov 19 - Galatians 1:10

If I were still pleasing people,
I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10
I was listening last night to a Christian Radio program on forgiveness.
Most of the show focused brilliantly on learning the powerful humbling art of asking for forgiveness. But for about twenty-seconds, they focused on the people who are chronic apologizers:
"Oh, I'm sorry, Ed, for your plane being late.
How can I make it up to you."
"You didn't make my plane late. It's not your fault."
"Oh, I'm sorry for getting you upset."
"I'm not upset. I'm ..."
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Can I wash your car?"
Do you know any chronic-conflict-avoiders?!!
The Apostle Paul wasn't one of them! In fact, in 2 Timothy 4, Paul said,
3 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.
Rather than being a people-pleaser, Paul urges all of us to always speak the truth.
Now, some people use the call to "speak the truth" as an excuse to be chronic-conflict-creators! They'll blurt out anything and constantly hurt feelings in the process.
That's not it. Paul urges us, in Ephesians 4:15, "speak the truth in love." Why? Because if they know our love, they're more likely to listen to the truth we represent.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who want's to be
a people-lover
not a people-pleaser 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nov 18 - Acts 13:10

will you not stop making crooked
the straight paths of the Lord?
Acts 13:10
As Paul began his missionary journeys, one of his first stops was in Cyprus.
He was opposed there by false prophets and magicians. He called them, "10 enem[ies] of righteousness."
Paul said to one -- a magician named Elymas -- that "11 the hand of the Lord [was] against [him]," and Paul prophesied that this magician would go blind.
I wonder if Paul told the magician that this could be an act of mercy.
Mercy?! Why?
Because just four chapters earlier, Paul himself was an enemy of the church, and God made Paul himself blind. And it changed Paul's life!!!
There is no indication that Elymas' blindness set the magician free (although, we are told that the local "12 proconsul saw what had happened [and] believed"). 
Paul's blindness was a blessing. Elymas' blindness appears to have been a curse. Indeed, when "11 the mist and darkness came over him ... he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand."
Same event. Two different results. It was, in part, a matter of perspective. 
Do you tend to look at the events of life as occasions to grope in confusion or grow in faith. It is all a matter of perspective.
Some events do indeed hit us hard, but if we truly trust in the Lord's graciousness, the paths of life will be straight and bright instead of dark and crooked.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who was once truly blind
but now I see

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Nov 17 - James 4:15

Instead you ought to say,
"If the Lord wishes,
we will live and do this or that."
James 4:15
I worked with a wonderful 90-year-old woman for a number of years. Her family called her Sarge.
One day her great grandson -- all of 4-years-old -- pulled a chair in front of her. Stood up on it. Looked her in the eye, and said, "Sarge, you're very old for an old, old lady."
I can still here her cackling now.
Hazel's constant refrain, if you asked if she wanted to do something, was, "Yes ... Lord willing, and the crick don't run over."
Most of us, including me, generally act like we're in charge of our tomorrows. We make promises and commitments. Sarge -- and the Apostle James -- remind us that we aren't really in charge of anything.
Thankfully, someone more powerful, more wise, and more loving is in charge of our tomorrows. May we humbly submit to him.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who'll write
another devotion for tomorrow --
Lord willing, and
the crick don't run over!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Nov 16 - James 2:17

So faith by itself,
if it has no works,
is dead.
James 2:17
In Romans 3:23-28, Paul gives us the formula for salvation. He says,
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;
they are now justified by his grace as a gift,
... effective through faith ...
apart from works prescribed by the law.
If we wrote that out mathematically, we'd have ...
Justification + Grace + Faith + Works = Salvation
Paul, just said, however, that our salvation does not hinge on our works, therefore, in mathematical terms, 
Works = 0
Justification + Grace + Faith = Salvation
Martin Luther absolutely latched onto this powerful concept. He'd grown up in an age when "Works = 100%," and when he learned that "God's love and grace = 100%," his tortured soul was absolutely set free.
But then a problem emerged. He read James. James seems to say that ...
Works = Faith
Luther, therefore -- and quite literally -- wanted to cut the book of James out of the Bible. 
I like people with passion. But Luther needn't have worried. James does not contradict Paul.
James was just talking about a different part of life and theology. While Paul was talking "in order to," James was talking, "because I'm." Read the following two statements and see if you see the difference:
I do works in order to be saved. (No!)
I do works because I'm saved. (Yes!)
Paul rejected the first statement. And Luther absolutely rejoiced in rejecting that first statement along with Paul. Our works don't save us. Works = 0.
James, however, celebrated the second statement. "I do good works -- not to be saved -- but because I'm saved!" 
Because I'm saved,
I want to love my neighbor,
I want to quit stealing from my brother,
I want to honor God's commands.
James is not legalistic. Like Paul, James is talking about living freely and boldly.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who liked numbers and math
more than words and grammar
(could you guess?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nov 15 - Acts 9:3-5

... suddenly a light from heaven flashed around [Saul].
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
He asked, "Who are you, Lord?"
The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Acts 9:3-5
This sounds like one of those New Testament miracles. Something big that happened only around the time of Jesus, but could never happen now, right?
I don't know the statistics, but hundreds(?), thousands(?), maybe even hundreds of thousands(?) of people all around the world are seeing visions of Jesus. Ask our missionaries at Spirit of Joy. Google it, if you wish.
It is somewhat common, for example, in Middle Eastern countries right now. Tribal Muslim shepherds, for example, have lived in remote areas, have received little education, have never really heard of Jesus, and yet are quietly reporting encounters that not unlike Saul's. (Quietly, because they're under the threat of persecution -- even death -- in some of these countries.)
It's mainly through dreams. But it's an encounter with light and truth. It's Jesus himself. Shepherds, children, oppressed women are suddenly believing in a Lord they'd never even heard of.
Why? Because God is still active. He's alive. He's present. Do you believe that? Then why not believe if something could stirring in our world today!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who advocates ignoring
a bit of the standard news outlets
(you won't see these reports there)
and seeking out credible alternatives
— like missionary organizations —
to fill in a few blanks ...
Also try

Here's an except from New York Times bestselling author Joel Rosenberg ...
You rarely hear about it on the news. You rarely even hear about it in churches in the West ... But the big, untold story is that more Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ today than at any other time in history.
For many Muslims, despair and despondency at what they see as the utter failure of Islamic governments and societies to improve their lives and give them peace, security, and a sense of purpose and meaning in life are causing them to leave Islam in search of truth.
Some have lost their way entirely and become agnostics and atheists. Others have sadly turned to alcohol and drug abuse. But millions are finding that only Jesus Christ heals the ache in their hearts and the deep wounds in their souls.
For other Muslims, it is not depression but rage that is driving them away from the Qur'an ... They are seeing far too many Muslim leaders ... both advocating and acting out cruelty toward women and children ...
[A] top Iranian ministry leader told me. "Jesus Christ is revealing Himself to people in Iran. A big revival is under way and more is coming. ... At the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, there were only about five hundred known Muslim converts to Jesus inside the country. By 2000, a survey of Christian demographic trends reported that there were two hundred twenty thousand Christians inside Iran ...

Ultimately, I'm told that what is bringing these Iranians to Christ are dreams and visions of Jesus himself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nov 14 - Acts 8:1

 And Saul approved
of their killing him.
Acts 8:1
Throughout history, many people -- for one reason or another -- have changed their names.
Nowadays, it seems like athletes do it most.
  • Football player Chad Johnson tried to market himself by changing his name to match his jersey number. His new "brand" was Chad Ochocinco -- which is a butchered form of Spanish for number 85.
  • When I was a kid, basketball player Lloyd B. Free changed his first name to "World." Get it? World B. Free. That was kind of clever.
  • Another basketball player -- Ron Artest -- recently changed his name and in similar fashion. I thought it was, "Man of World Peace," but it's actually "Metta World Peace" -- "Metta" being the Buddhist word for kindness.
In the Bible, God changed several people's names ...
  • Abram and Sarai each got an "H" from Yahweh, becoming "Abraham" and "Sarah" as they cut a covenant with God.
  • Jacob became "Israel."
  • Jesus started calling Simon "Peter," which means "the Rock."
  • And Saul -- see our verse today -- became known a "Paul."
Saul was Pharisee. He was a persecutor of the church. Indeed, the first time in scripture we see the eventual apostle (Acts 7:58 and 8:1), he was cheering on the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian Martyr.
He's how Paul described his old self, "Saul": "If anyone ... has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless." -- Phil 3:4-6 
In the next sentence, however, the former persecutor begins to explain his new identity: "Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ" -- Phil 3:7.  
What's your real name?
Many of you have commented that you like the way I sign my name at the end of each devotion. Each day changing my name -- if even only momentarily -- to reflect what who I hope to be in Christ's name. What's your real name?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who does not have
multiple personalities
-- just many names with one goal:
"Deeper Faith"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nov 13 - Acts 3:6

W E E K E N D   E D I T I O N
Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." -- Acts 3:6
Some Christians do good deeds just to do good deeds. That's good.
Other Christians do good deeds and use these good deeds as a way to invite the recipients to hear the Good News. That's better.
Because of the curse of this world -- which is ultimately death -- all forms of physical help are always temporary. Healing is temporary, we will all still die. Silver and gold are temporary, we can't take it with you. House and food and clothing are temporary, because moth and rust consume (and food obviously gets consumed).
But the Gospel -- which literally means "Good News" -- is not temporary. In fact, believing in Christ is the only sure ticket through the gates of heaven.
QUESTION: When was the last time you gave someone a name -- indeed, The Name of Jesus Christ -- rather than just giving them some-"thing"?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nov 12 - Acts 2:47

Day by day the Lord
added to their number
those who were being saved.
Acts 2:47
On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled the disciples and blew majestically through Jerusalem. It prompted Peter to give the first sermon in the history of the church, and that day 3,000 people came to faith.
The church began that day. And the final six verses of Acts 2 describe what the church was (and is forever supposed to be). Below is a list of what happened there -- and beside it is suggestions on how we can do this today ...
  • 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching -- we can do this by reading the scriptures, which include the literal words and teachings of the disciples
  • 42 They devoted themselves to ...  fellowship -- church should be family ... and if it's not, we should devote ourselves more fully in faith to our congregations
  • 42 They devoted themselves ... to the breaking of bread -- we should worship a lot (which includes the breaking of bread) 
  • 42 and ... they devoted themselves ... to the prayers -- we need to pray!
  • 43 Awe came upon everyone -- our faith should look for and expect to see God's presence
  • 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need -- if everyone in the church gave the biblically mandated 10%, the church would have the resources to do precisely this ... but churches don't (do all their asked to do) because member don't (do all their supposed to do).
  • 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple -- church was not a once-a-week part of their lives, it was their life!
  • 46 they broke bread at home -- One of the places where church extends to homes is through small groups. Deeper discussions take places in homes and at the table than can ever take place in a large group.
  • 46 with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people -- We are called to generosity, praise, and goodwill, but generosity, praise, and goodwill inevitable spell "gladness" and joy. 
That is our goal at Spirit of Joy. And we do a pretty good job (when comparing ourselves to others) but like all human beings fall short of the glory of God, we as a church fall short of this standard. 
If we want to hear this line said about us -- "day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" -- then I invite you to find the discipline above that you're lacking in, and take a step out in faith.
In Christ's Love,
an Acts 2 marksman
(this is my target)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nov 11 - Luke 24:32

"Were not our hearts burning within us?"
Luke 24:32
I like the term "Master's Class." Whether it's in gardening or painting or at some university, an accomplished master teaches others how to master a subject. 
The greatest Masters Class in history took place along a dusty Judean road three days after the crucifixion. Jesus appeared to two disciples along the road to Emmaus.
Not recognizing Jesus, these two followers lamented the death of the man they'd hope was the Messiah. Reasoning, however, that the Messiah couldn't die before he physically redeemed Israel, their hearts were heavy and their hearts were crushed.
As they walked along, Jesus, however, patiently, lovingly outlined every piece of prophecy that pointed to the Messiah. This was THE moment when everything clicked into place theologically. This was THE Master's Class from THE true master himself.
For a world expecting a earthly king, Isaiah 53 had to be at the heart of Jesus' teaching. Seven hundred years before his death, Isaiah talked in astounding detail about the particulars of the crucifixion. And Jesus surely showed how the Messiah was a heavenly king whose earthly role was to be a suffering servant. 
The Master's Class culminated at table. Jesus took bread, blessed, and broke it. Suddenly their eyes opened. They recognized the Suffering Servant. They comprehended the Risen Lord.
Don't wind up kicking yourself for missing your Walk to Emmaus moment. When their eyes were opened, they said, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" When has your heart burned within you?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who once designed a t-shirt on this verse
(It looked like an advertisement for "Third Day Salsa."
The catch phrase was, "Were not our hearts burning within us?")

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Nov 10 - Mark 15:39

And when the centurion,
who stood there in front of Jesus,
heard his cry and saw how he died, he said,
"Surely this man was the Son of God!"
Mark 15:39
Imagine that you'd never heard of Jesus. Listen to how the Gospel of Mark -- the earliest Gospel written -- begins: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God."
Mark makes four immediate claims.
  1. In a world of bad news and pain, Mark is promising to tell a story of Good News and hope.
  2. It is about a man named Jesus, a name which means "one who saves."
  3. He is about to tell us about the Messiah, the long-expecting king and deliverer of Israel.
  4. Finally and most remarkably, Mark makes the remarkable claim that this Jesus is ... "the Son of God."
"Son of God" is an absolute key to understanding this Gospel and who Jesus is.
  • Immediately, as Jesus is baptized, we hear a voice from heaven, calling Jesus his "Son, the Beloved" (1:11) -- i.e. the holy side of the spiritual realm recognizes Jesus is king.
  • Soon this Jesus starts confronting the demons. As he casts them out, one of the demons cries "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God" (1:24). This means that the darker side of the spiritual realm recognizes who Jesus is too.
  • So far, however, no human has comprehended Jesus' full identity, including the disciples. Jesus asked them (see 8:27ff), "Who do people say that I am?" The crowds were guessing that Jesus was some sort of prophet. When Jesus asked the disciples, Peter was the first human to call Jesus the Messiah. Peter was one hundred percent right, but in about two minutes, he was also one hundred percent wrong. Peter -- and all of Israel -- expected the Messiah to be a conquering king. Jesus began to tell Peter -- and all the disciples -- that "the Son of God" must suffer and die. Peter was shocked by this idea, saying "God forbid."
Let's get this straight: Heaven and hell knew exactly who Jesus was ... but so far, no human comprehended Jesus' full identity yet.
Do you know then who the first human was who recognized Jesus fully as the Son of God? The answer is ironic. The King of the Jews is first recognized as the Son of God by a Gentile, a foreigner, a Roman soldier.
And when did he recognize him? It wasn't when the Messiah was riding on a white horse as a conquering king, it was when the Son of God was hanging humbly on a cross.
It is at this moment that the story of Jesus truly becomes Good News. Until now, this story has flashes of miracles and power, but it's not until Jesus conquered sin and death that momentary glimpses of good power becomes eternal Good News with the promise of eternal life.
It is Jesus' love and sacrifice that makes Jesus the Son of God.
In Christ's Love,
a Gentile who recognizes Jesus
as the Son of God, the Messiah

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nov 9 - 1 Peter 3:15

Always be ready to [give] an accounting
for the hope that is in you
1 Peter 3:15
I was just getting ready to write a daily devotion, when a friend emailed me. Since I used my devotion writing time to respond to a friend, I'll let you listen in ... because you'll quickly see that this question could come to all of us. 
This friend wrote ... "Dear Pastor, I have a friend in need. This person has [and I'll change the particulars] a son with health problem, a daughter with a drug addiction, a marriage that is not good, a persistent depression, a loss of a job, and financial problems leading to bankrupcy."
In this particular case, about half of these facts are true, but my friend says, "This person has so much on their shoulders that they're about to crack. I told this person that she needs to have faith and trust in God and put this in his hand to take care of it. Just pray and let him help you with the burden. She asked me I don't know how to do this how do I ask him to take this from me. I didn't know what to tell her." 
Here's how I responded. (It's long, but hopefully helpful.)
Good questions ... hard questions ... glad you're asking ...
The biggest thing is to testify to your friend based on your own personal experience. You can say, "I don't know all the answers, but here's how God helps me." In fact, Peter encourages us to do just this, "always be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15).
Here's a logical progression to work your friend through ...
Tell them that even if our life is perfectly charmed and even if it takes until our deathbed before we have real losses and real struggles, at some point in every life, we all eventually get to a place where we can't handle something ourselves.
So what do we do when we get to a point of significant struggle? One of the best hopes is to turn to Jesus who says, "Come to me, all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). 
Rest is a good first promise! You're not promising that God responds to a wave of a wand. You're not promising that every trial will be removed. What you're praying for is a "peace that passes all understanding."
A next good step is to tell where "the peace that passes all understanding" comes from. The Apostle Paul tells us about this in Philippians 4. He says,
  • 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. -- God's Plan for Peace: When we're looking up, we see hope, light, joy, and purpose. Why? Because that's where God is. When we're looking down -- and your friend is only looking down at some very trying circumstances -- things are only as hopeful as situations warrant and we ourselves can make them. 
  • 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. -- God's Plan for Peace: Part of letting our gentleness be known involves not dwelling on ourselves and think of others instead. Indeed, part of peace is thinking of others first. Tell your friend that the way to spell JOY in our lives is J-Jesus first, O-others second, and Y-you last. Now, your friend will probably claim that they're constantly thinking of others and constantly "doing everything for their hurting son and daughter." They're not! Why? Because neither of parents or children have the upward perspective. Hope, rest, and healing power come from Christ first. All they're doing on their own is climbing an impossibly high rope like we had to climb in gym class. The rope is high and their arms are getting tired. The only real hope is trusting in the only one who can pull us up.
  • 5 The Lord is near. -- God's Plan for Peace: Often when people hurt, they feel some measure of guilt for something. But none of us have done anything so wrong that God can't forgive them! In fact, on the cross, Jesus said about his executors, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Even if we literally hammered the nails in his hands, Jesus loves you and forgives. Indeed Jesus, reiterated his nearness, saying, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you ..." (Rev 3:20).  
  • 6 Do not worry about anything ... God's Plan for Peace: On our own, this is possible. Indeed, one our own, it is all up to us. But here's the answer ...
  • 6 but in everything by prayer and petition ...  let your requests be made known to God God's Plan for Peace: The answer, our hope, is through prayer. "Petition" reflects the kind of prayer that we say for others. "Prayer" in this verse is about us. It is our conversation with God. And through repeated conversation, we will develop a relationship that is real and personal. So how do we keep from worrying? By developing a trusting, personal relationship with God. More on this below ...
  • 6 [and] with thanksgiving. God's Plan for Peace: Thanksgiving is another way of focusing "up" rather than "down." When we're in the midst of trials, it's easy for the negative to overwhelm our lives. The result is that we forget all the blessings we do have. I have, for example, plenty of unemployed friends, who while confessing that it is hard, also keep telling me all the time that even though things are tight, they're thankful for a continued roof over their head and continued food on their tables. They've learned to be thankful for little things. And when we get in that habit, life honestly isn't so bad.
  • 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. God's Plan for Peace: We want the peace without the obedience. And that's precisely the next issue ...
Your friend is asking "How?" ... "How to have faith?" ... "How to trust?" ... "How to let go?" That was yesterday's sermon.
  • It was Noah building an ark in the middle of the desert. Why? Because God said so.
  • It was Abraham leaving his home and going to unknown location. Why? Because God said so.
  • It was David facing a giant. Why? Here's step two. He'd already done a few "God-said-so's" and now he trust that God could protect him, even in the face of a giant.
  • It was Peter stepping out of a boat. Why? Because he too had seen God's power and now he trusted that God could protect him, even in the face of a giant.
Your friend's life is falling apart. How dare you suggest that this person take their hand off any of these problems! This person can't and won't because they believe it's all up to them. Think about it: This person is their own god. And that generally works just fine ... until we can't do it any more.
It's like this ... until this person believes someone more powerful can handle it for them, they and their son and their marriage and their finances are going to sink lower and lower. But you're asking them to do something big, huge -- to entrust their son's life to a God this person barely acknowledges.
Here's the simple fact of the matter, this person can't trust God to do the big things until they can trust God with the little things. Therefore, have them do one or two steps in Philippians 4 at a time. Do one. Then add another. And another. When this person starts seeing God in small things, maybe they can trust God with big things.
And if anyone you know is just needing a jump start, try this website:  Look at the videos in advance, and see if one speaks to you about their situation.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants all our friends
to know the Prince of Peace