Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jan 31 - Genesis 13:8

Abram said to Lot,
"Let there be no strife
between you and me, and
between your herders
and my herders;
for we are kindred."
Genesis 13:8
"We are family!" cheers Abram to his nephew Lot. So why does he also have to say, "So ... let's not have any strife between us"?
Why? Because some of the deepest hurts in life come from family. (How sad.)
Families live very close together, giving lots of opportunities for friction. Family knows us best, giving lots of opportunties to learn which buttons to push. Furthermore, we love them most, meaning wounds from them cut deeper than wounds from mere acquaintences. It's probably too simplistic to imagine, then, that we can just say, "Let's have no stife between us," and have that magically happen.
That leads to what I believe is perhaps the most important function of family: It teaches us to forgive. We can't live that close to people for that long a period of time without learning to forgive!
Actually, we can refuse to forgive! It just makes us a fraction of the person we're designed to be.
Who do you need to forgive? Discover the freedom and the peace!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's made others
learn to practice a lot of forgiveness
(in other words, I've caused
more than my fair share of friction,
and I appreciate their grace)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jan 30 - 1 Pet 1:13

Set all your hope
on the grace that
Jesus Christ will bring you
when he is revealed.
1 Peter 1:13
The meaning of this verse is focused past, present, future, and back to the present.
Past tense: Peter says, "3 By his great mercy [God] has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
What has God already given to us: New birth! Living hope! How? Through a powerful past tense action -- "the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
Present tense. Peter says, "8 Although you have not seen [Christ], you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."
Even though we have not ever seen God visibly, we nevertheless love him (presently), we believe in him (present tense), and we rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy (don't you want more and more of this in every moment's present tense?!!!).
Future tense: Why can we "13 hope"? Because Christ will be "13 revealed"!

In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul says, "now we see through the glass, dimly, but [through the second coming (or through our own death and trip to heaven before the second coming)] then we will see face to face." 
Back to the Present: Why, then, can we hope -- right now, present tense? We can have hope if and when we "8 believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."
Why? Because in hoping and believing, "9 you are receiving [the present, active] outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
As Jesus said to doubting Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (John 20:27,29).
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to go
Back to the Present
(A movie like that might not sell
as many tickets as Back to the Future,
but I want present, active Hope and Faith)
9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11 inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look! 13 Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." 17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. 22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever." That word is the good news that was announced to you.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Jan 29 - Hebrews 10:24-25

Let us consider how to
provoke one another
to love and good deeds,
not neglecting to meet together,
as is the habit of some.
Hebrews 10:24-25
"Provoke" is a provocative word.
It's also, usually, a bad word.
When someone provokes us, it's usually to anger. They push and push and push until a line is crossed. And then we blame our bad behavior on them.
I love that Hebrews encourages us to provoke others -- to provoke them, indeed, to love and good deeds. We are called to push and push and push one another until there is an explosion of love and service and blessing.
Pay attention to the whole verse, though. There's a context for this wonderfully provocative behavior. It's within the community of "meet[ing] together."
Hebrews isn't inviting us to provoke strangers. Rather scripture invites us to 1) meet together, 2) make family, and 3) nurture family. And whenever a family member seems to be rolling away like the tide, we're called to be provocative. We're called to call them back. And we're called to prompt them toward  God's glorious standard.
In Christ's Love,
a provocateur
(Go love! Go faith!
Go good deeds!)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jan 28 - 2 Kings 5:17

Naaman said,
"Your servant will no longer offer sacrifice
to any god except the Lord."
2 Kings 5:17
Naaman was a foreign general. He was also a leper. Wanting his general back, Naaman's king sent him to Israel to find a true man of God and a true healing.
Through Elisha, God healed Naaman. But pride almost kept the general from it.
Elisha gave Naaman a simple task of obedience, a humble task of submission. Generals don't like to submit. They like to give orders rather than obey. So do we.
God could have healed Naaman immediately without any water from the Jordan. But it was the permanent condition of Naaman's heart -- rather than the temporary condition of leperous and rotting body -- that God was most concerned about.
In humbling himself, Naaman found physical healing. He also found spiritual healing. When he cried, essentially, "There is no other God except the Lord," he was externally healed and eternally free.
In Christ's Love,
a four star general
(I too often want to go my way 
than submit to God's)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Jan 27 - Acts 12:8

The angel said to Peter,
"Fasten your belt and
put on your sandals."
He did so.
Acts 12:8
Whenever it's time to go somewhere, parents are constantly telling their children to "fasten their [seat] belt" and "put on their [shoes]."
If you had kids, what percentage argued? My kids weren't arguers; they were dawddlers. It often took a half hour to get out the door, in the car, and on the road.
Why is it important for children to obey their parents? Because it's practice for obeying God. 
The role of a good parent is to teach discipline. And good parents don't have to be harsh disciplinarians to do this, but they do have to insist on obedience. Why? Because hearts supple to their earthly father's authority (whom they can see), are more likely to be open to the heavenly Father's authority (whom they can't see).
When Peter was in prison, God said, "Jump!" Heaven said, "Peter, fasten your [seat] belt and put on your [shoes]." If the Apostle's heart hadn't been ready and obedient, he would have remained in prison.
God has somewhere for you to go. It's time! Freely obey and discover God's blessings ... instead of remaining in your self-imposed prison of willfulness.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who has his shoes on
and is ready for an adventure
(Strap me in and send me out)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jan 26 - 1 Timothy 1:15

Christ Jesus came into
the world to save sinners
-- of whom I am the foremost.
1 Timothy 1:15
Today's lesson introduces us to two sources of power ...
The first is the power of the truth.
  • Sin is dark enough to die for. (That's what Christ's sacrifice on the cross is all about).
  • At the same time, you are valuable enough to die for. (That's what the cross is all about too! For God so loved ... you!)

When we walk the balance beam between the horror of sin and the wonder of grace, we experience, power, freedom, and grace. 
  • Respecting the horror of sin keeps us away from too much sin and too much drama ... and thereby reduces our exposure to some of the sting caused by our own sin.
  • Simultaneously, the wonder of grace releases us from too much guilt and shame. (Now ... a little guilt and shame is healthy. It's a check on our dastardliness. But too much guilt is a prison. Christ has set you free!)
The second source of power in this passage is the gift of humility. Why was Paul such an effective evangelist? Because he was honest about his own weaknesses and sin. (And he was a Saint!!!) If we're honest with ourselves, we're not perfect "saints." Confessing our sins keeps us humble. Confessing our sins also keeps us from judging others. 
If you want to create a barrier between yourself and God, start judging others. As soon as you start judging, your life becomes either proud or futile, either "I'm better" or "I'm helpless."
Discover the power along the balance beam between the horror of sin and wonder of grace. So that you don't judge others, start confessing that you're the "foremost" sinner. And then rejoice magnificently that you are loved, forgiven, and saved.
In Christ's Love,
a gymnast
(I want to walk the balance beam,
but I don't want to try
to bend over backwards anymore.
How young do you think I am?!)


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jan 25 - Exodus 33:7-19

Moses used to take the tent (of meeting)
and pitch it outside the camp ...
And everyone who sought the Lord
would go out to the tent of meeting ...
Whenever Moses went out to the tent ...
the pillar of cloud would descend
and stand at the entrance of the tent,
and the Lord would speak with Moses
... face to face ... and Moses said
"Show me your glory, I pray." 
And [God] said, "I will ..."
Exodus 33:7-19
I love two words and phrases from this passage:
  • "[God,] show me," and
  • "[They] sought the Lord."
Do you hear the hunger?! Moses and the people of Israel wanted God to "descend." They sought his presence. They wanted to see his glory.
The question is: Do you?!
Today's devotion is simple. If you want more power, glory, blessing and light: Pray for it ... Chase after it ... Get hungry and hungrier.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who might as well be from
Missouri -- "the Show Me State."
I want to be a "God, Show Me" kind of guy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jan 24 - Psalm 42:1-2a

As the deer longs
for the waterbrooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.
My soul is athirst for God.
Athirst for the living God.
Psalm 42:1-2a
I can to the scriptures thirsty this morning. My soul was a little parched. I felt like faith was my work. Psalm 42 reminds me of God's "preventient" work in blessing my faith.
I know. I know. "Prevenient" is a weird, old-fashioned word. It means essentially that God is graciously intervening in my faith and life pre- (before) I ever do.
To put that another way, God acts before I act, in matters of my faith. Indeed, God is more thirsty for a relationship with me than I am for a relationship with him.
  • He created the deer.
  • He created the need and the deer's thirst.
  • He also created the stream -- the answer to the deer's desperate prayer.
God is acting preveniently in our lives too ...
  • He created you (and me) as his precious children.
  • He created our spiritual need and thirst.
  • He also created the answer to our most desperate prayers -- meaning, hope, joy, pardon, and purpose.
God provides for you and me a river of life which bubbles up into a fountain of joy. Are you as thirsty for that as I am?!
In Christ's Love,
a thirsty deer with
how many points on his antlers
(I'll say it before you do:
I usally don't have a point)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jan 23 - Ecclesiastes 7:29

God made human beings straightforward,
but they have devised many schemes.
Ecclesiastes 7:29
I love that verse ... and the obvious question is:
  • Are you straightforward?
  • Or is your heart a little crooked?
I almost said, "Are you a little twisted?" But "twisted" has earned an almost positive reputation. In modern advertising, "twisted" means brash, bold, unexpected, and wonderfully unconventional.
Have you ever been attracted to "twisted"? It's an axiom in theater that the evil character is much more fascinating than the bland good guy. That's true in high schools too. Dangerous is intriguing.
A better question today is ...
  • Who makes us straightforward?
  • Who twists our hearts?
Since God is the first answer, we might assume that the anti-god, Satan, is the second answer. It's not. Scripture says it's you and me that devise schemes. Yes, we may get tempted, but it's us how acts.
If you want a more straightforward, honest, blessed, and productive life, draw closer to the one who is level, straight, and true.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who wants to be
less of a pretzel

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jan 22 - Mark 1:15 part 4

 "At last the time has come!"
[Jesus] announced.
"The Kingdom of God is near!
Turn from your sins
and believe this Good News!"
Mark 1:15 NLT
The first two actions in this verse belong to God -- 1) at last he brings his plans to fulfillment and 2) he draws nearer and nearer to each of us. The final two actions, however, belong to us.
Yesterday, I addressed "the easier" of the two. In actuality, a vitality of faith may or may not be easier than repentance, but to a new believer, it probably sounds easier. Belief sounds like intellectual assent -- "yes, I acknowledge God" -- but repentance demands that we do something. Indeed, it demands that we change (and most of us don't like change).
I very purposefully chose the New Living Translation for today's reading of this verse. In Matthew's version of this same first sermon, Jesus says, "Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near" (Mt 3:2 NLT).
Turn from your sins
and turn to God.
I love that translation of "repentence." And logically, repentence absolutely belongs before belief. We can't believe in God, before we turn to him. And we can't fully turn to him, until we've turned away from sin, darkness, and the ways of the world. 
The problem is that most of us dabble. We dabble in faith; we dabble in sin. We dabble in the world; we dabble in church. And then we wonder why we lack power, purpose, focus, and direction.
Do you want something bigger and better? Go back to the first line, "At last [your] time has come."
This can be your time.
Turn away from the world and turn to God.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's like an old record player
(I want to turn and turn and turn ... to him)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jan 21 - Mark 1:15 part 3

Jesus said,
"The time is fulfilled, and
the kingdom of God is at hand!
Repent, and
believe in the Good News."
Mark 1:15 HNV
For the third day in row, we're focusing on Mark 1:15.
Notice who acts to accomplish phrases one and two: God!
  • All time belongs to God. Therefore, when God's prophecy is fulfilled, it is God who is bringing his owns plan to completion.
  • Secondly, when Jesus says, "the kingdom of God is at hand," he's saying that God is making himself available to us.
Now look at phrases three and four. Who is called upon to act now? Us
  • Jesus calls us to repent.
  • He invites us to believe.
Today we're going to focus on the fourth phrase -- "believe." Jesus is inviting us to believe that 1) the time is indeed fulfilled, and that 2) God presence and power really are at hand.
But it's more than that. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is inviting the world to believe everything that will be revealed through his ministry ...
  • He wants us to believe in his power -- he healed the sick and raised the dead. 
  • He wants us to follow his wisdom, taking all of his teachings to heart.
  • He wants us quit being legalistic like the Pharisees and show compassion to the poor and outcast and sinners.
  • The King who knelt down to wash dirty human feet, wants us to serve rather than be served.
  • He wants us to confess our sins, as we contemplate sin's real horror as it led to the blood-stained cross.
  • He wants us to believe in the freedom that comes from his resurrection.
God's action is love. In mercy and grace, our Lord stepped off the throne, came humbly to earth, died for your sins, and rises in victory. Our action is simply to accept his love, grace, and sacrifice.
That's what belief is. It's more than believing that he did certain wonderful things; it's forging a relationship and trusting that he still acts in power and grace.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who sings old Monkees songs
(get it? I'm not singing "Last Train to Clarksville,
but "I'm a Believer.")

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jan 20 - Mark 1:15 part 2

Jesus said,
The time is accomplished and
the kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe the gospel:
Mark 1:15 RHE
Yesterday we focused on the first phrase of Mark 1:15. Using the NIV translation, I ask if your "time has come," if your moment for deeper faith has been sparked?
The next phrase is a simple assurance:
When you're ready,
the Lord is ready too.
His "kingdom is at hand." It's right here. It's waiting for you. Do you see it?
We often don't see it. Why? Because we're looking for the wrong thing. We're looking for a neon sign ... a change of fortune ... or a tingling feeling. The kingdom is not energy, events, or emotions. The kingdom of God is a person -- Jesus Christ. Seeing the kingdom comes from establishing a relationship.
When young people date, they say, "I'm seeing John" and "I'm seeing Mary." Seeing implies a relationship. In fact, John and Mary might live on two different continents. They may only "see" each other once every six months, so why do they say they're seeing each other? It's because they have a committed relationship.
If you want to see the kingdom that is truly hand -- barely a half inch away -- it begins with a relationship. When you're ready, the Lord is ready too.
In fact, the whole reason Jesus came to earth was to ask you on a date. He wants to see you. And he wants you to see him.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's seeing someone
in addition to his wife
-- and wants to see more

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jan 19 - Mark 1:15 part 1

"The time has come," [Jesus] said.
"The kingdom of God is near.
Repent and believe the good news!"
Mark 1:15 NIV
I started my new discipleship group this week with this verse. "The time has come," I said to ten men poised on the edge of friendship, faith, and a new adventure. "The time has come."
What are you poised on the edge of? New friendships? Deeper faith? Greater hope? Richer blessings? Bigger joy? or Grander adventures?
The world tries to lead you to a different edge -- a ledge of despair, a precipice of anger, a ridge of insecurity, a canyon of guilt, and a free-fall of fear.
What are you poised on the edge of?
Well, think of the context of Jesus' saying these words. What was "the time [that had] come"? The world was about to meet the Savior and greet the Messiah.
If you want to stand on the precipice of blessing -- instead of the cliff of mediocrity -- it's time to meet the Savior in a new way. What will you start today to make his presence more real in your life?
In Christ's Love,
a mountain climber
(not a cliff diver)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jan 18 - 2 Corinthians 4:6

For God, who said,
"Let light shine out of darkness,"
made his light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6
Has anyone ever given you a job? ... painted a very vague picture of what they wanted? ... given you inadequate tools and inadequate training? ... then yelled at you when you didn't do what they wanted?
That's the reason that many of us are afraid to venture boldly. We've been given inadequate instructions and then been yelled at too many times for doing it wrong.
Is this the kind of "boss" that God is? We're told in scripture to let our light shine, but has he told us how -- clearly -- or are you still perplexed?
Actually, he has given us very clear instructions. In addition to hundreds of calls, Proverbs, and commandments, the God who calls us to be lights and shined his light in our hearts.
Furthermore, He has given us his own Son. Through the Savior, God's instructions are clear: Do what Jesus did!
  • Obey the Father.
  • Love the sinners.
  • Gather a group.
  • Point them heavenward.
  • Forgive human failures.
  • Stand for truth.
  • And pray a lot. 
Wouldn't this world be a much better place if we all did those few simple things?!
And here's the key ... Do it boldly! God's not an angry boss ready to yell at your failures. He's a forgiving Father who simply loves you and wants to bless your efforts. And if he says, "Be light," he'll give you the tools. He'll pour it into your life.  
In Christ's Love,
a shining knight
(because of what his light)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jan 17 - Mark 16:15

Christ says,
"Go into all the world
and proclaim the good news
to the whole creation."
Mark 16:15
"How?" I asked a group recently. "How can you personally go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all the whole creation?"
Personally, you can't. But here's the key. You're not alone. You're one part of a huge body.
What you and I are called to do is our part ... 
  • Personally, I / we can positively influence the people in our little corner of creation.
  • Personally, I / we need to be a little more bold, looking for even deeper hungers around us ... including opportunities to travel.
  • Personally, I / we should support the missionaries in our midst -- the ones who are personally called to go a little further into God's creation.
  • Personally, I / we are called to give generously. Superficial giving meets the basic needs of the basic church inadequately. Giving as generous as God's generosity to us, focuses the church beyond the local and powerfully into all creation.
When Christ says, "Go!" He gives us personally the tools to make a positive impact on all creation.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who got a letter from
a boy in Mozambique this week
(that's one way we're helping,
how about you?)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jan 16 - 1 Cor 13:6

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:6
Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth?"
Christians answer that by saying, "God is truth. His Son is truth. His Word is truth. His wisdom, laws, precepts, and promises are truth."
We have a world, however, that is blinded by lies. There's too much doubt and despair. Too much violence and injustice. Too much darkness and sin.
What therefore is love? It is rejoicing in the truth. It's also pointing others to the truth.
It's not loving, after all, to leave people wallowing in sin, lies, and corruption. Part of love is point others to the truth.
Who are you actively pointing in this direction? Who could you be blessing better?
In Christ's Love,
a truth-lover
and truth-teller 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Jan 15 - Judges 6:23-24

The Lord said to Gideon,
"Peace be to you;
do not fear, you shall not die."
Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord,
and called it, The Lord is peace.
Judges 6:23-24
Fear is one of the most dangerous forces in the world ... and it lurks in our own hearts.
  • Fear breeds hatred, injustice, and revenge. 
  • It's often behind curses and denials.
  • Fear has a hand in both bullying and arrogance; we inflate our worth because we're afraid that on our own we don't have much worth. 
  • Part of guilt is fear; we fear we we can't be forgiven.
  • Part of self-justication is fear; we lack a trust in God's grace to justify.
  • Part of greed is fear; we're afraid we won't have enough.
  • We're afraid of meaninglessness.
  • We're afraid of illness.
  • We're afraid of brokenness and bondage.
  • Most of all we're afraid of death.
Indeed, at the root of all our fears is that fear of death. We're afraid of literal death, of course. We're also afraid of figurative deaths. Gossip and embarrassment, for example, have us dying a thousand little deaths.
That's why God gave Gideon today's verse. Soon God would tell Gideon to battle an army of a 100,000 with his own little band of 300. By human standards, that was insane! But God empowered Gideon with a simple promise: "Do not fear. You shall not die."
Guess what. God tells you that too. He tells you that if you believe shall live forever.
This mortal flesh shall indeed decay. But when you have the confidence of heaven, you have boldness!
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's learning
to boldly say,
"Any day's a good day
to go to heaven"

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jan 14 - Romans 2:4

Do you not realize that God's kindness
is meant to lead you to repentance?
Romans 2:4
As our years go on and on, what is our inevitable default position? Death and decay. 
Some people assume that heaven is default position. Our right!
Without Jesus' sacrifice and our Lord's promise, our inevitable default position is dust. With him we fall and decay. End of story.
And yet God is kind. He is loving. He paints the tapestry of a beautiful world before our eyes. Even though the claws of sin try to rip apart the fabric of our joy, God, if we'll let him, will bless our lives with hope and peace and purpose. As we link to him in faith, we discover freedom, light, and love. As we catch a glimpse of God's majesty, we fall before him in worship, awe, and repentance.
And suddenly he has us where he wants us. On our knees in worship, awe, and repentance.
Now, in his kindness, he can stand us back up and empower our days. In these moments of grace, he changes our default position. As we repent, we are filled with new life.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's learning to change
the default position of his thermostat
(I'm setting it on confession)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jan 13 - Isaiah 31:1

How terrible for those who depend on horses!
They trust in how many chariots they have.
They trust in how strong their horsemen are.
But they don't look to the Holy One of Israel.
They don't ask the LORD for his help.
Isaiah 31:1

Generals depend on horses and chariots.
What do you depend upon in life? Jobs? Bank accounts? A government check? Certain people? Our car? Our house? Comfort food? Yourself?
We all do it. We focus down here. And we forget to do the most important thing -- We "don't ask the Lord for his help."
What burdens are you carrying right now? "Ask the Lord for his help."
In Christ's Love,
a guy who keeps
depending on his computer

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jan 12 - Psalm 7:1

O Lord my God,
in you I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers
and deliver me
or like a lion
they will tear me apart
Psalm 7:1-2
It's ironic that this is today's verse.
Each day I'm emailed semi-random Bible verses for my devotion, and I say that today's verse is ironic because I was praying with a friend about this topic just a day or two ago.
Like David, this friend was being chased by "a lion."
Now, like David, this person's ravenous foe was surely human, angry, spiteful, and sinful. But this vengeful human was surely not alone, because "like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet 5:8).
Do you feel like your being chased by circumstances, pursued by illness, hunted by creditors, stalked by depression, enslaved by bad habits, or ripped apart by gossip?
You're not alone.
David's hope was not clever plans, better doctors, or human intervention. He cried, "10 God is my shield. He saves the upright in heart ... 17 [Therefore,] I will ... sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High."
In Christ's Lord,
a guy who knows
a lion tamer

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jan 11 - Ecclesiastes 5:7

With many dreams come vanities
and a multitude of words;
but fear God.
Ecclesiastes 5:7
"Dream," like a coin, has two sides.
There's a positive side. God wants us to dream, hope, and aspire. Imagination and creativity can be godly and inspired.
But there are other aspects of "dreams" which are less positive. Daydreaming is one. With our "head in the clouds," we often forget the real needs on the ground.
This verse uses "dream" in the second way. And that's only the first word that needs explained in this verse. The second is "vanities." In the very first sentences of Ecclesiastes, Solomon wails, "Vanity of vanities" (1:2). Other translations render "vanities," "Meaningless. Meaningless. All is meaningless."
That means a more modern, and probably more meaningful, translation of today's verse is: "Dreaming all the time instead of working is foolishness. And there is ruin in a flood of empty words. Fear God instead" (NLT).
In Christ's Love,
a guy who needs to
flip the coin,
shut his mouth
and dream more with God

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jan 10 - Psalm 40:8

I delight to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart.
Psalm 40:8
One of the great historic theological battlefronts has been between faith and works.
In Romans 3, Paul says, "We are justified by God's grace ... effective through our faith ... apart from works prescribed by the law." But in James 2, this Apostle says, "faith without works is dead." Do they contradict each other? Martin Luther thought so. Therefore, since Romans was his favorite, he wanted to literally cut James out of the Bible!
Fortunately, he didn't.
And fortunately, these two concepts don't contradict.
If we view the distance between us and God as a canyon -- a canyon carved by our sins -- God bridges (present tense) that canyon with his love and grace. And it is faith rather than our works that helps us step onto that bridge.
Furthermore, once we take that step we realize that this bridge is greased -- and tilted downhill -- all the way home! (Salvation!) This means that once we discover God's grace, it should be a slip-sliding, rip-roaring "delight" (see our verse for today) -- not a duty -- to do God's will.
In this way, our works are a reflection of our faith -- not a requirement for faith.
Read that again. Our works should be a reflection of our faith -- not a requirement for faith.
How are your works a reflection of your faith?
In Christ's Love,
a delight-full guy

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jan 9 - Psalm 63:6

God, I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you
in the watches of the night.
Psalm 63:6
For some of us, sleep comes easy.
Others of us are awake at different hours of the night.
Do you remember the tower guards in the old movies. What did they cry? "3 o'clock, and all is well."
Is that what you're crying when you can't sleep at 3 am?
I must confess that when I'm awake at o-dark-thirty, it's often the burdens of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow that trouble me. The antidote to restless-brain-syndrome is prayer.
It is meditating on the fact that God is big and powerful and creator. It is confidently considering that he took care of this world long before I was born, and he'll take care of his people long after my earthly flesh is gone.
I know there are physical reasons we can't sleep, but sometimes sleep is trust. Yesterday we talked about power. Do you trust him to run the universe while you're away from the controls for a few minutes?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's learning to say at night,
"Okay, God; why'd you wake me tonight?"
(I'm learning better to pray
as I cuddle back into my Father's arms.) 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jan 8 - Micah 2:1

Woe to those who plan iniquity,
because it is in their power to do it.
Micah 2:1
When I was just a beginner -- a seminary intern -- I sat at a lunch with veteran pastors. One pastor made a loud, long, and vocal argument that people have no power.
He was half right.
The half he was correct about was that "only God has power." (And we should probably spell God's power like this: POWER.)
But humans do have a lower-case "power." We have the ability to influence our world for better or for worse. We can, as today's verse suggests, plan iniquity. On the positive side, we can also serve our neighbor and bless our kids -- and we don't have to be Christians to do that.
But the capability to do something is not real power. Here's where true POWER comes in. When we align ourselves completely with God's will, and begin trusting fully in the divine rather than the worldly, We begin operating under His poWer.
Wait ... align a little more ... PoWer
A little more ... PoWeR.
In Christ's Love,
a guy who's tired of writing
in lower-case letters
(align me, God)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jan 7 - What do Lutherans believe? Part 5

More and more people are asking me to tell them more about who Lutherans are and what Lutherans believe. Here's the final piece of our five-part glimpse of what Lutherans believe. (Although I'm glad to keep going if y'all ask me more questions.) 

Today's piece is on baptism ...

"Can anyone withhold the water
for baptizing these people
who have received the Holy Spirit
just as we have?"
Acts 10:47
Some churches baptize infants. Many don't.
Some churches require full immersion. Others sprinkle.
What's right?
The Christian church historically and primarily baptized converts -- thus, adults.
Nevertheless, it was also a common, original, Christian practice to baptize whole households. This certainly included children and even the homestead's servants and their whole families. For example, under the banner of one bold person's faith -- like Crispus in Acts 18 and Stephanus in 1 Corinthians 1 -- many households were baptized and many individuals became part of the church community.
By the middle ages, the Western tradition evolved in two strong directions. First, it was commonly believed that baptism was required for salvation. Second, the practice was "adult" baptism -- meaning: the age of roughly thirteen and up.
When the plagues swept Europe and huge percentages of people were dying, traditional Western theology hit a major snag. If children couldn't be baptized and yet were dying in huge numbers, were they all doomed to hell? The church -- i.e. the Roman Catholic Church, pre-Reformation -- re-examined its theology, remembered scriptural instances of whole households being baptized, and began again to baptize children. Indeed, children were baptized again under the banner of another person's faith -- namely their parents.
Lutherans are part of this heritage.
Traditionally we believe that two things "make" a sacrament: an element (in this case water) and the Word (specifically Christ's command, which he gives for baptism at the end of Matthew, saying, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit").
Believing that it's God's Word, God's promises, and God's actions that "makes" the baptism -- not some earthly element that "makes" the baptism, though it plays a role -- Lutherans generally believe that the amount of water does not matter. Water, therefore, is a sign, but it's God's Word and His promises that supply the power.
Other Reformation era Christians -- most significantly the Anabaptists -- returned, however, to adult baptism (an admittedly more common practice in the New Testament) and to full immersion baptism (which was certainly the way it was pictured in the stories of John the Baptist and in the detailed stories of the Apostles' actions, like the Acts 8 account of Philip baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch).
Literal battles with literal blood have been fought over which is right. (Sad!)
I will tell you what I believe is right ... But first let me tell you what I believe is wrong ... 
Many people -- and this more true in the Catholic and mainline traditions (of which many Lutherans are a part) -- believe that if someone is baptized, their eternal destiny is already and eternally decided. Taken to the extreme, they believe if a child is baptized as an infant, but never in his life goes to church, scoffs at the Christian faith, and lives a thoroughly agnostic life, he still goes to heaven because he's "a baptized child of God."
Not to negate God's option to save whomever he wishes, we must also acknowledge that this violates the interpretive key to our faith and theology, Romans 3:23-28 -- "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by [God's] grace ... effective through faith ... apart from works prescribed by the law." Baptism is not part of that equation. Therefore, it's personal faith -- not a ritual -- that justifies.
With that in mind, here's what I believe and teach ... 
I believe that there are two parts to baptism. The first is God's part. The second is our part. On God's end -- and through baptism -- our Lord takes us, washes us, adopts us into his family, calls us his child, brings us into his family, and forgives our sin -- washing away, especially, the original sin that taints us all. On our end, we need to personally claim our faith and personally claim the benefits of baptism.
In churches that insist on "adult" baptism, both of these actions occur at the same time. While we are claiming our faith and proclaiming God's saving actions through baptism, God is simultaneously washing us and grafting us into his family. In churches that practice infant baptism, these actions are usually separated by twelve or fifteen years. Under the banner of their parent's faith, a child is baptized -- part one. At confirmation, the growing child affirms his baptism and confirms his faith -- part two. Some say that's not valid; it must happen simultaneously. I say, for God, a thousand years is like a day and a day is like a thousand years!
But here's the real key, both parts are important! But it's not a man-made ritual like confirmation that is required to confirm our faith. I believe that we can claim our own faith through our own confession and in in our own prayers. Furthermore, instead of publicly proclaiming our faith in front of a church of believers (confirmation), I'd rather a believer proclaimed her faith publicly to her friends who were lost.
What matters, first, is faith that is alive and active.
What matters, second, is our obedience. God's spokesman Elijah once told Naaman to wash in the Jordan if he wanted to be cleansed of his leprousy. Naaman was insulted, he wanted a bigger sign. Indeed, he wanted to cleansed on his own terms. It was only after he submitted that he was healed. Why are we to be baptized? Simply because Jesus said to be! It's an act of submission, and it is always in our obedience that our sin-sick souls are healed.  
Confession ... 
I am not a traditional, American, twentieth or twenty-first Lutheran in my baptismal theology.
  • I do believe in infant baptism, but only as part one of a two-step process.
  • I do not however believe that baptism is a "magic bullet." 
  • I also don't practice cheap confirmations where you "graduate" with your class, regardless of how listless our attention is.
  • I believe, according to scripture, that we are justified by God's grace, effective through our faith. Therefore, I believe that we need to claim our faith.
But here's the really good news ...
  • I believe God is constantly stirring our hearts, constantly pinging our conscience, constantly interweaving our steps with his path, constantly knocking on our doors, constantly inspiring the faith that we need to claim.
Faith is not our work; it is God's proactive desire for you and me.
In Christ's Love,
a rebelious Lutheran
who goes back again
to our first two principles:
Word and Grace!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jan 6 - What do Lutherans believe? Part 4

More and more people are asking me to tell them more about who Lutherans are and what Lutherans believe. Here's a continuing five-part glimpse of what Lutherans believe. Today we turn to history ...
Jesus said,
"Blessed rather are those
who hear the word of God
and obey it!"
Luke 11:28
I told the first piece of Lutheran history in part one. It is Luther turning to God's Word and discovering God's grace.
The Reformation started in October 31, 1517. Luther didn't originally want to split from the Roman Catholic church; therefore, a decade of debates commenced. Church leaders increasingly tried to silence Luther and debate. Luther kept trying to draw church teachings back to the scriptures. What tipped the balance was a brand new invention, called the printing press. With the ability to put the scriptures in people's hand -- many of the people saw what scripture itself taught and sided with the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others).
Luther didn't want a church named after him -- we are followers of Christ, after all. Nevertheless, his teachings and his name spread across northern Europe -- mainly Germany and the Scandanavian countries.
Each country added a piece of their own culture to the Lutheran traditions. Additionally, differing degrees of personal piety began to flavor the Lutheran personality too. For example, Denmark was famous for having Lutherans who were either "Happy Danes" (they reveled -- respectfully -- in the freedom of God's grace) or "Sad Danes" (very austere and pietistic, reading scripture in an equally sincere but totally different way).
Lutheran's filled North America through migration.
  • The earliest Lutherans tended to be Germans settling up and down the east coast in the mid-1700s to the early-1800s. After many, many generations, they made up what predominately became known as the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). This band of Lutherans gradually migrated westward and fanned across the country from Eastern seaboard.
  • The second wave of Lutherans were predominately Scandavians who settled in the mid-west and upper mid-west who settled in the mid-1800s. Joining with German Lutherans who were also settling these areas, they formed the American Lutheran Church (ALC). They too fanned out from these locations.
  • The third significant wave, which came at about the same time as the second wave, were Germans who sailed up the Missippippi, settled around St. Louis, and became known as the Missouri Synod (LCMS). They too fanned out across America.
For Lutherans, the nineteenth century was generally small regional clusters of congregation, divided along ethnic line. In fact, many -- if not most congregations -- still worshiped in their own ethnic languages. 
The twentieth century, however, was a period of increasing Lutheran unity. Ethnic barriers were dissolving, and travel and communication permitted wider affiliation, Lutherans were beginning to band together in larger and larger groups.
Dozens of Lutheran denominations still exist (most either ethnic, regional, or theological in their identity -- there's even a small charismatic Lutheran "denomination"! click here to see! ). By the late 1970s, however, there were really just three major Lutheran bodies -- LCA, ALC, and LCMS -- and all had about two and a half million members.
The LCA was probably the most urban and more liberal (though theologically liberal in a still more traditional era). LCMS was surely the most conservative -- i.e. the most conserving of old Lutheran traditions and old traditional scriptural views. For a while, the more centerist ALC and the LCMS flirted with a merger. This would have been a larger, more traditional Lutheran body. That never quite came to pass.
Therefore, in the late 1980s the door was open for the ALC to merge with the LCA. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed. Spirit of Joy was part of this merger; indeed, our congregation was being formed at about that time.
This merger, however, didn't go as smoothly as anyone hoped. Two distinct ministerial identities were spliced together -- one more hierarchical in structure (LCA), one more congregational in authority (ALC). One group was more urban (LCA) and sought more inter-denominational affiliation. No one opposed this in principle -- every believe in Christian unity -- but in practice, many faithful Lutherans rejected some of the theological compromises that other denominations required of us for unity.
As culture changed, more theological compromises were made. As the denomination voted more and more with culture rather than traditional scriptural authority, a fatal crack erupted in this increasingly fractuous denomination. In 2009, a significant exodus began from the ELCA. Hundreds of congregations -- and tens of thousands of individual members -- left this body and its congregations.
Spirit of Joy (along with six other Charlotte area congregations) are now part of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). The distinguishing characteristics of LCMC are:
  1. traditional scriptural authority (which is shared with most Christians, including most Lutherans, around the world), 
  2. love and grace (that's the second of Luther's key principals -- he turned to the Word and discovered God's grace),
  3. and a passionate call to missions! (LCMC maintains an intentionally small national structure. They don't want our offering sponsoring a hierarchal organization; they want to propel us hands-on into local missions. This has given Spirit of Joy greater focus and renewed energy. A full ten percent of our regular giving now go directly to missions. In addition, we have dozens of additional outreaches that individual members choose to support, including angel tree donations, food bank donations, mission trips, etc.)
That's our history. Now, some look at history and yawn. I invite you to look back over this and look for God. Where has he shown up in the past? And where have we gotten in the way? And what does this tell us for moving forward as a people of God?
In Christ's Love,
a guy who likes
to learn from history
so I don't have to repeat
the bad parts

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Jan 5 - What do Lutherans believe? Part 3

More and more people are asking me to tell them more about who Lutherans are and what Lutherans believe. Here's a continuing five-part glimpse of what Lutherans believe. 
Yesterday we introduced the logic of the liturgy. Today we give you an additional glimpse of the power that can come from this ordered pattern of worship ... 
Glory to God in the highest, 
and on earth peace, 
good will toward men. 
Luke 2:14 
Many people tell me, "I can't memorize scripture." 
"No!" I say, "You're wrong. Let me prove it." 
Then I start quoting parts of our worship service. Immediately they begin filling in blanks. We know scripture because the logic of the liturgy is praise of God using his own words (scripture). This gradually sews God's truths (scripture) deep into our hearts. 
Did you realize that the liturgy is absolutely saturated with scripture?! Here are a few examples ... 
At confession we often say 1 John 1:8-9 -- "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 
If we're doing a more traditional service, we cry in the The Kyrie, "Lord, have mercy." This echoes a growing chorus of cries in the Gospel of Matthew as people came to Jesus, praying for hope, help, and healing (see 15:22, 17:15, 20:30). 
Depending on the hymn of praise we sing, we often echo the angels proclaiming the good news of Christ -- which was for them at Christmas and for us is all the time: "Glory to God in the Highest and peace to his people on earth." (Luke 2:14). 
Around the Gospel readings, we often sing Peter's words in John 6:60-69. At a time when many followers were turning away from Jesus and his challenging teachings, our Lord turned to the twelve and asked if they would turn away too. Peter answer, "Lord, to whom shall we go (indeed, where else can we go)? You (and you alone) have the words of eternal life." 
Often when the offering is being carried forward, we sing Psalm 51:10-12, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." 
With the "Words of Institution" -- "on the night in which he was betrayed" -- we echo all four Gospels and quote 1 Corinthians 11:23-27. 
Finally Our benediction is Numbers 6:24-26 -- "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you ..."
This is just a fraction of the scriptures we use in our regular liturgies. 
Furthermore ... most of the songs we sing are saturated with scripture too. 
Therefore, don't tell me you can't memorize scripture! Rather, just start singing a song you know from church, and then go searching for where these words are in scripture! 
In Christ's Love, 
a guy who been singing 
today Matthew 6:33 
(Seek ye first, the kingdom of God) 
and the second verse 7:7 
(knock and the door shall be 
opened unto you. Allelu, Alleluia!)