Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jan 31 - Psalm 11a

By the ordinances of the Lord
is your servant warned.
Psalm 19:11a

That verse begs a little context, doesn’t it?!

“Warning,” in context, is the final role of the laws, commands, and ordinances of the Lord. Listen to the positive things that the Psalmist cheers first …
  •      19:7a The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.
  •      19:7b The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
  •      19:8a The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.
  •      19:8b The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight to life.
  •      19:9b The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair.
  •      19:10a They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold.
  •      19:10b They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb.

Based on the underlined words, the law of the Lord is trustworthy, perfect, clear, right, and true. God’s commands are even desirable and sweet. And God’s ordinances provide us with – bold print – wisdom, joy, justice (fair), and life (reviving).

What else does God’s law provide. Let’s read today’s verse in another translation …
  •      11a [God’s ordinances] are a warning to those who hear them;
  •      11b there is great reward for those who obey them.

We like the word “reward.” But should we like the word “warning” too?

Let me give you an example … I’ll admit that I’m occasionally testy when Mary Louise gives me instructions when I’m driving. (I’m a proud man, of course.) But in spite of the occasional annoyance, my bride has saved my life more than once. Occasionally, I haven’t seen the brake lights in front of me. Therefore, from time to time I’ve had to humble myself and begrudgingly say, “Thanks for the warning.”

A warning may not always be welcome news, but if it saves us from destruction, it is good news, nonetheless.

If you’re a believer, you are NOT saved or doomed by your works. It’s God’s grace not our actions that save us. But that’s talking about salvation and destruction in an eternal sense.

Let’s talk for a moment in a daily, human, moment-to-moment sense: Our actions can lead to pain, grief, and various kinds destruction. Don’t you want to be saved from the opposite of what God’s law brings? If the gift of the law is wisdom, joy, justice, and life, then the opposite – and what we can avoid -- is frustration, injustice, anger, bad decisions, destruction, and death.

I don’t know about you, but I’m cheering for God’s law.
In Christ’s Love,
a proud automobile driver
– and an equally proud human –
who’s been given life
because of timely warnings

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jan 30 - 1 Thessalonians 4:14

since we believe that Jesus died
and was raised to life again,
we also believe that when Jesus comes,
God will bring back with Jesus
all the Christians who have died.
1 Thessalonians 4:14

Do you know what a “first fruit” is?

It’s the first tomato off the vine in the beginning of summer.

Now while this first tomato may not be technically the best of all the tomatoes that you’ll grow during the season, it always tastes the best! Why? Because you haven’t had a truly fresh tomato in nine months. And in comparison to your last canned tomato, this one is a million times better!

A first fruit is a promise – it is a foretaste of something greater to come.
  •       First, it is the promise of a glorious new season of fresh food and wonderful tastes!

  •      More importantly, it is the promise of another year of life. Think about it … most modern Americas think of food as coming from a grocery store. In agricultural societies, the first fruit was the promise of life instead of famine! The first fruit was a celebration of monumental proportions.

Jesus’ resurrection was a first fruit.

Paul literally called it that in 1 Corinthians 15:20. He said, “Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” Another translation conveys the importance of this even more clearly. Jesus resurrection is “the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.”

In 1 Corinthians 15 … and in our verse for today, 1 Thessalonians 4 … and in several other places in Paul’s writings … the Apostle links our Christian faith, hope, and confidence to the reality of the resurrection. Paul is saying …
  •       Jesus died. One day, we too will die.
  •       Jesus rose. One day, we too can rise!
  •       If we’re confident in his resurrection, we can be confident in our resurrection.
  •       If we’re not confident of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, we – as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:19 – “most to be pitied.”

The resurrection is the key to the Christian faith. As Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, then … your faith has been in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). But Jesus has been raised, and he is the first fruit – the first tomato. He is the promise of a season of feasting – here and now and while we’re alive on earth. And he’s the promise of an eternal feast. Death and famine do not have the final word. Resurrection and life are the final reality.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who’s suddenly hungry
for summer and a tomato sandwich

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Jan 29 - 2 Corinthians 4:6

It is the God who said,
“Let light shine out of darkness,”
who has shone in our hearts
to give the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

As scientists keep discovering, I love that everything is getting more and more complex.


Generally I don’t like more complexity in my world. (Give me more simplicity, please!) But the vastness of the universe and the complexity in little things like DNA strands is leaving scientists more and more awed. It’s getting increasingly hard for scientists to declare “randomness” and “accident” rather than design.

I say this because the foundation of faith begins with creation. If God created, then all things are possible. If God is not as powerful and creative as once thought (and some Christians believe this), then faith and redemption are up for debate (even in individual Christian hearts).

The Apostles believed, obviously, in a big and wonderful and creative God. In today’s verse, Paul is saying, “since we believe that God created light, then let’s celebrate how this same creative God is shining the light of Christ in our hearts.”

Faith is God’s gift. Light shines from his face. Truth is his identity. Life is his pleasure. And we are but dust … unless and until we are animated by his breath.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who prays,
“shine through me, God”

Monday, January 28, 2013

Jan 28 - Psalm 84:11

The Lord God is a sun and shield.
Psalm 84:11

I’m a minimalist.

I’m a guy.
  •      If I go hiking, all I bring is the cloths on my back. No water. No compass. No first aid supplies. I’m not a boy scout.
  •      If I go to a football game, all I bring is the cloths on my back. And hopefully I guessed correctly when putting those clothes on my back because I surely didn’t check the weather before leaving home.
  •      When I travel, all I bring is the cloths on my back … and cloths for tomorrow’s back too (… plus my toothbrush … and a book … and my computer … and … well, it’s almost worth not going anywhere if I have to keep packing.)

That’s me. Minimalist … or lazy, depending on how you look at it.

So let me confess one thing I do occasionally wish I had – an umbrella.

It’s not because of the rain. (Most times I’d rather be wet than carry an umbrella. I won’t melt.) Rather, the umbrella is for the sun in the summer. If I go, for example, to a long afternoon sporting event on a hot, sunny day, I often wish I had my own portable shade.

In our lesson for day, the Psalmist rejoices that God is our sun and our umbrella (“shield” was his actual word).

Think about what that means. When we go on a trip – say, through this journey of life – God supplies us with all we really need. Most times, we need sun to make things grow. But we occasionally need protection from that sun too, because – as the Psalmist knew well – the Middle Eastern sun could get very hot.

God is our sun and our shield (think umbrella). He is living water. He is also the bread of life. It is his breath that makes us live. He is our shelter and with him, we are never homeless.

He is the perfect God for a minimalist like me. Since he represents the clothes on my back – full armor of God, for example – I don’t need anything for this journey of life, but him …

… and then here’s the great irony … When I seek only him first, everything else that I need will be added to me! (Mt 6:33)

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who won’t pack things
(but will admittedly borrow what you pack)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Jan 26,27 - Psalm 49:15

God will redeem me
from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.
Psalm 49:15

“God will …”

It’s a statement of faith.

It’s not “God might”; it’s “God will.”

As New Testament Christians, we know how that redemption was won. On the cross and with his blood, Jesus saved us from our sins. He paid our debt. He redeemed us from the grave.

He even promises to take us to himself. And while it’s true that we are with him because we belong to him, we are not slaves. Yes, he paid for us, but we’re his out of gratitude, not duty. What he paid for was to set us free from bondage; therefore, we stay near him – or not – out of love.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy with the only debt
that it’s truly acceptable
for a Christian to have
(I am eternally in HIS debt!!!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Jan 25 - Luke 12:25

And can any of you by worrying
add a single hour to your span of life?
Luke 12:25

I’ve heard the phrase – and I think it’s mostly true – “If you know how to worry, you know how to pray.”

No, when you’re worrying, you are NOT praying. Nevertheless, you are practicing several of the key components to prayer …
  •      You care about some situation deeply.
  •      You eagerly desire a solution to “the problem.”
  •      You hang onto that concern passionately, not letting it go until there’s a resolution.

Those are key components to a powerful prayer life. But here’s the difference …
  •      Worry is seeking a human solution. “If only the doctors can fix it …” “If only I get that new job, then the bills can be paid.” “If only my daughter would quit going out with that boy …” “If only I can come up with an idea or a solution …”
  •      Prayer is trusting in God for the ultimate resolution. It’s admitting that there’s some things the doctor can’t fix … and you can’t fix … and may not ever be right in this world. But … when God is added to the equation, prayer is trusting that there’s hope … light … peace … forgiveness … healing … perspective … blessing … mercy … justice … and power!

If you know how to worry, you know how to passionately wrestle with a dilemma. Prayer is simply tag-team wrestling. When things get complicated, tag your partner. He’s an infinitely better wrestler, and no human dilemma can ever throw him! He’ll deliver the victory … and allow you more time and energy for more joyful endeavors.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who’s never been pinned
in tag-team wrestling

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Jan 24 - 1 Samuel 3:18

It is the Lord; let him do
what seems good to him.
1 Samuel 3:18

How many of us wish for a simpler life? Less hassle?! Less drama?! Less hard decisions?! Absolutely!

1 Samuel 3:18 is a simpler-life-verse. I tells us our motto should be, “Let God be God.”

In fact, a lot of worrying and wondering can be eliminated if we simply say, “Let’s do what seems good to him.”

We follow the commandments.
We love our enemies.
We forgive those who’ve trespassed against us.
“Let’s do what seems good to him.”

We don’t tell little white lies or fudge on our taxes.
We don’t buy into cultural excuses.
We don’t wink at sin.
“Let’s do what seems good to him.”

We reserve the Sabbath for church and family.
We break the pattern of addictions.
We remove ourselves from the center of our own prideful little world.
“Let’s do what seems good to him.”

These things aren’t necessarily easier – at least to begin with – but in the end, being free from secrets and sins sets us absolutely free. Integrity is a powerful path to deeper life.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who needs simpler
(but it’s the time wasters
that really kill me)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Jan 23 - Isaiah 60:10

In my wrath I struck you down, but
in my favor I have had mercy on you.
Isaiah 60:10

In my source for scripture lessons, two verses are usually paired together. I’m glad that today had as it’s pair Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

There are four key words in Isaiah 60:10. I like two – favor and mercy. I don’t like the other two – striking-down and wrath.

With just the Old Testament – i.e. before the coming of Jesus – I can understand the world’s uncertainty toward God. There was … mercy and wrath … kindness and discipline … forgiveness and judgment.

It’s how I describe parents. In order to raise children of faith, hope, and character, good parents have to carefully calibrate law and gospel. They have to love passionately. They also have to discipline consistently. Too heavy a hand often crushes a child’s spirit. But it’s the parent who refuses to discipline who often cripples a child more. Half the criminals with whom I’ve worked say, “My mother is the greatest woman alive. She never raised her voice.” I cry silently inside – “I wish she had raised her voice.” (The other half of the criminals with whom I’ve worked tend talk about the violence of their father.) Yes, good parents carefully calibrate law and gospel.

“What tips the balance for the child,” I like to say, “is the grandparents. If the parents are doing their job, the grandparents get to be pure grace!” Have you ever heard a grandparent say, “I’m spoiling my grandchildren.” That’s grace! A parent that spoils their children is, in the long-run, not showing grace. They’re usually creating a self-centered brat! But if the parents are doing a good job with law and gospel, grace-filled grandparents tip the balance and complete the child’s faith, hope, and character.

Jesus tips the balance. God is a good father – indeed, the perfect Father! We can trust that he carefully calibrates law and gospel, mercy and discipline. But lest any human heart had any doubt about God’s true heart, Jesus tips the balance! He is the testimony of pure grace. “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who’s nearing the end
of his law and gospel days as a parent
and can’t wait, in the next ten year,
for the pleasure of being the old guy
who gets to pour out pure grace!!!
(In fact, today’s my middle son’s 21st birthday.
Happy Birthday, Jay!!!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Jan 22 - Jeremiah 14:9

You, O Lord, are in the midst of us,
and we are called by your name …
Jeremiah 14:9

My brother-in-law loves genealogy. In fact, for Christmas, he gave my boys their full genealogy – on their mothers side. (It pretty much matches, of course, his own kid’s genealogy on their mother’s side.)

With Mary Louise’s father being Swedish, there are a lot of “sons” in my boy’s genealogy – “Ander’s son,” “Karl’s son,” “Swen’s son,” “Erik’s son,” etc. (Do you know a few Andersons, Carlsons, Swensons, Ericsons, etc.?)

I’d be a Garrison (son of Gary). Before marriage, Mary Louise would have been a Jimsdotter (daughter of Jim). How about you?

Now, I may not be named Edward Garrison, but I still carry on a family name. I am a Christian (a follower of Christ). Indeed, I know infinitely more stories about my heavenly Father and his Son than I know about hardly any earthly relatives – especially a few generations back. Indeed, this is my true identity. I am a child of God and a follow of Christ.

“We are called by your name,” chanted Jeremiah. The question is, Do you chant with the prophet the first half of this verse, “you are in the midst of us”?

It is true. God is in the midst of us. The question is, Do you live like you believe it?

Often people get into trouble because they live as if God is not really watching. We lie, we cheat, we steal … as if God isn’t there. We watch pornography … as if God isn’t watching us. We gossip, curse, and compromise … as if God’s presence is irrelevant.

I want it always to be clear – in public and in secret – that I am my Father’s son.

In Christ’s Love
Ed Thomas --
alias Edward Godson,
Ed Jesusbrotter,
and Eddie Christfollower

Monday, January 21, 2013

Jan 21 - Joshua 5:14

Joshua fell on his face
to the earth and worshipped,
and he said to him,
“What do you command
your servant, my Lord?”
Joshua 5:14

It’s the beginning of a new week … and today’s devotion is very simple …
  •      Take a few moments.

  •      Fall on your face (even if it’s just resting your head on your computer keyboard).

  •      And ask God, “What do you command your servant [for this week], Lord?”

  •      Joshua’s faithfulness blessed a generation – and changed history.

  •      Who are those you most want to bless? Pray for them with you head down.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy with dirt
on his forehead

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Jan 19,20 - Luke 8:21

Jesus said,
“My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the
Word of God and do it.”
Luke 8:21

I was counseling a group of people just the other night. We were talking about things we put in front of God. Family was, by far, the most common thing.

Family is great thing! It is a gift from God! But I reminded them of the deal I made with Mary Louise when we got married. (If you’re married, I’ll bet you made this same deal with your spouse too.) Here was the deal we talked about while surrounded by bright flowers and excited friends: One of us would die first.

Isn’t that a horrible thing to talk about on such a joyful occasion?! But isn’t that exactly what “til death do us part” means?

Unless we go simultaneously in, say, a car accident, one of us will indeed go first. ALL earthly relationships WILL end.

Fortunately, God gave us a way to make relationship permanent. In the church, we generally use the word “eternal” in place of “permanent.” Indeed, those who believe are eternal. And in today’s lesson, Jesus invites us to reexamine our relationships.

In light of the Gospel, there are only two classes of people …
  •      As soon as someone believes, their eternal status has changed. So has their relational status. They are now your brothers and sisters. And this relationship is permanent! It will stretch into heaven and across the millennia!
  •      The other category of people are temporary beings. Their life in the kingdom will end with the expiration of their life on earth. The good news about these temporary being: They have the potential of being eternal brothers and sisters too.

This second category elicits two critical questions for the way you live your life …

  1. Why would you entrust important issues in your life – issues that inevitably have eternal implications – to temporary people who are choosing not to value what heaven values.
  2. Second, and more importantly, do you love these temporary people enough to make them permanent?!!  
In Christ’s Love,
your eternal brother, Ed

Friday, January 18, 2013

Jan 18 - Jeremiah 20:9

I can't stop!
If I say I'll never mention the LORD
or speak in his name, his word
burns in my heart like a fire.
It's like a fire in my bones!
I am weary of holding it in!
Jeremiah 20:9

Jeremiah is like a volcano.

He’s about to explode.

The lava coursing through his body is the Word of God – a scorching, but purifying, fire. Listen to the context …

God planted his word in the prophet. The Lord asked Jeremiah to speak. And Jeremiah cries, “7 O LORD, you persuaded me, and I allowed myself to be persuaded. … Now I am mocked by everyone in the city.”

Prophets have a hard job. Usually God shows up prophetically when someone needs corrected. Jeremiah’s message was to shout “8 Violence and destruction!” And this message was not received kindly. Rather he was “7 mocked by everyone in the city.”

Jeremiah says, “8 Whenever I speak, the words come out in a violent outburst.” He cannot contain the volcano, and “the messages from the LORD,” he says, “have made me a household joke.”

“9 [But] I can't stop!” says Jeremiah, “If I say I'll never mention the LORD or speak in his name, his word burns in my heart like a fire. It's like a fire in my bones!” Do you hear the rumblings of a volcano?

I pray that the Word of God burns in you. I pray that like Isaiah, “[you are] weary of holding it in!” I pray that you’ll say, “’I can’t stop!’ I can’t help it. I’ll explode if I try and hold it in.”

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who wants heartburn
(or at least wants the Word
to burn more brightly in my heart)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jan 17 - Proverbs 20:12

The hearing ear and the seeing eye –
the Lord has made them both.
Proverbs 20:12

I am an artist. I am creative. It is an incredible gift from God.

Viewed correctly, it is reflection of God himself. As we all are, I am made in his image. And like you – each with our own unique gifts – I get to participate in something he loves … creativity!

What’s your gift?! How do you get to participate in something God loves. That’s a gift viewed correctly.

Some gifts – viewed pridefully – can have the opposite effect. They can draw us away from God as we puff ourselves up with ourselves.

I’ve done this with my talents too. In comparison with other people, I can view myself as more talented in one area or another. That’s poisonous. Instead of viewing my gifts as treasures from God and giving thanks, I’m prideful about what I can do well and jealous about what I can’t.

Have you ever done that?

My great faith awakening moments came when my creativity was utterly humbled. It’s essentially summarized in today’s proverb. Yes, I can draw a beautiful ear, but it can’t hear. And I can paint a detailed eye, but it definitely can’t see.

It sounds elementary to say … but I’m not God. Pride puffs us up and blinds us to the glory of God. I give thanks that I was humbled. I give thanks … that God is God … that eyes see … and ears hear … that birds sing … and that you and I are alive to rejoice.

In Christ’s Love,
a lump of clay
in the Master’s hand

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jan 16 - Isaiah 45:23-24

Before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me,
“In the Lord alone are
righteousness and strength.”
Isaiah 45:23-24

I’m a guy.

I want to be strong.

That’s the American way. We’re an old cowboy culture. We’re supposed to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Men aren’t supposed to cry.

And so … most men are weak (or at least weaker than we need to be).

As boys grow into men, we have the illusion of growing strength and capability. As grown men grow into old men, the truth is gradually revealed. Human strength is an illusion. It is here today and gone tomorrow. Sickness and death always have the final word on this dusty planet. And any whisper of strength is only in comparison to other finite creatures.

Isaiah says, “In the Lord alone [is] righteousness.” Our being good is only an illusion too. We all sin and fall short. (But that’s the story for another day.)

Toward today’s point, Isaiah says, “In the Lord alone [is] strength.” And here’s where men sometimes struggle with faith. We want to be strong and sufficient, in and of ourselves. But the grass eventually withers. Our true strength – indeed, the only strength there really is – is to place our lives in God’s hands. Then, he can be our strength. And this strength never fades.

In fact, this strength has out-lived every earthly king.

In Christ’s Love,
a strong man from the circus
(but only because of God)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Jan 15 - Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah said,
“Woe is me! I am lost,
for I am a man of unclean lips,
and I live among a people
of unclean lips.”
Isaiah 6:5

Isaiah 6 tells one of my favorite stories in scripture.

Isaiah walks into the Temple in Jerusalem and literally sees God! He falls on his knees in awe. And as swooping angels chant, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Isaiah notices the size of God. Just the hem of the Lord’s robe fills the entire temple.

Question: When was the last time you fell on your knees in awe? If it’s been a while, you’re God may not be big enough!!!

Second question: When you did last fall in awe, what’d you say? Isaiah said, “Woe is me.” When he realized the vastness of God, he was overwhelmed by his sin.

On another day, I’ll point to scriptures of grace that wonderfully scoop our beaten-down hearts off the floor. But today, it’s time to fall in confession, to be overwhelmed by sin, to be swallowed by God’s majesty.

In Christ’s Love,
a convict

Monday, January 14, 2013

Jan 14 - Acts 10:34-35

Peter began to speak:
“God shows no partiality,
but in every nation anyone who
fears him and does what is right
is acceptable to him.”
Acts 10:34-35

Many people use passages like this to say, “all people will be saved.” The logic is:
  •      God is loving. (True.)
  •      God wants all people to be with him eternally. (True.)
  •      Therefore, all will be saved. (And the question is: Is this conclusion true or false?!)

Now, it certainly sounds good and loving, doesn’t it? But we leapt to that conclusion by cherry-picking our premises and by skipping a few important Biblical pre-conditions.

The question is: What did we leave out of the formula above?

The answer is: Sin.

That’s the topic humans always want to leave out!
  •      If the wages of sin is not death, then I’m free to do whatever I want.
  •      But the consistent Biblical fact is that we need a Savior.
  •      Why? Because we all sin and fall short of the glory of God …
  •      and the wages of that sin is death …
  •      and scripture repeatedly tells us that this death has eternal consequences.
  •      Nevertheless, God in his love has given us access to an eternal gift that starts now and comes to fullness in the kingdom to come!
  •      This gift is life.
  •      It is a free gift.
  •      It comes through God’s amazing grace.
  •      And our access point to this life is faith through Jesus Christ.

That’s the consistent witness of the Gospels and throughout the New Testament – see, for example, John 3:16, Romans 6:23, Romans 3:23-28, and Ephesians 2:1-5.

So here’s how to respond when people misquote (or incompletely quote) verses like today’s. They’ll say something like …
  •      “Well, the Bible says that people ‘in every nation’ will be ‘acceptable to him.’
  •      And since people ‘in every nation’ worship a variety of gods and strive toward heaven in different ways …
  •      this means, therefore, that all paths are equal in their approach to God.’”

Say, “That sounds good. But didn’t you leave out a few premises … even in that short little verse you’re quoting?!!!! What about the ‘fear’ the of the Lord? What about ‘do[ing] what is right’?”
  •      To fear God is to respect what he respects and love what he loves. What matters most to God is obviously what caused him to make his biggest sacrifice and to send his own Son. If the wages of our sin demanded the death of his Son, can we fully love God, fear God, know God, or worship God without knowing, fearing, and loving Jesus? The only path to God that works flows through his Son!

  •      The second thing this verse calls us to do is “what is right”? Can we ever, permanently, and consistently do what is right? No! “We all sin and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Indeed, “no one is righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). We absolutely cannot do right … at least, not on our own. But “Christ Jesus … became for us … righteousness” (1 Cor 1:27). He makes us right! And until we accept the life of this Savior, we have no life in us (see John 6:53).

So let’s go back to the first formula we outlined this today. And let’s fix it …
  •      God is loving. (True. In accordance with scripture.)
  •      God wants all people to be with him eternally. (True. In accordance with scripture.)
  •      But sin separates us from God. (True. In accordance with scripture.)
  •      But because God loves us so very much, he sent his only Son, to become our Savior by taking our sin upon himself. (True. In accordance with scripture.)
  •      And whoever believes in him will have everlasting life. (True. In accordance with scripture.)

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who wants people
to know God’s love, God’s grace,
and God’s path to life
– here now and eternally

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jan 12,13 - 1 Thessalonians 3:12,13

May the Lord make you
increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
and may he so strengthen
your hearts in holiness
that you may be blameless
before our God and Father
at the coming of our Lord Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Some people’s favorite part of our worship service is the end. (Wait. That sounds bad. Let me try that again.) Some people’s favorite part of our worship service is the benediction – the final blessing.

Citing Numbers 6:24-26, we say a prayer of blessing, comfort, and encouragement: “May the Lord bless you and keep you …”

Our lesson for today is a blessing (and a benediction, of sorts) too.

The second half is a blessing indeed. “May the Lord strengthen your hearts in holiness.” Does anyone, like me, want a stronger heart and help with holiness? Absolutely.

But the second half of this second half begins to point to a responsibility. With the words, “so that,” we are told about something we need to do, “be blameless before … God.” I’d certainly like to be blameless before God, but that’s a pretty tall order and a fairly crushing responsibility. Indeed, “the Lord” had better “strengthen [my] heart in holiness” if he wants “blamelessness” before him. In fact, that’s our only shot a blamelessness.

The first half is also a responsibility, though not quite so daunting. While I can’t do this one perfectly on my own either, I can at least strive humanly to “abound in love for one another and for all.”

As far as benedictions, I like the comfort from Numbers better than the challenge from Thessalonians. But if I’m honest, in the long run I need both – comfort and challenge. Without challenge, I’m rather slothful and my life goes nowhere. Without comfort, I’m crushed.

The old axiom for good preaching was that the pastor should, “Comfort the afflicted. And afflict the comfortable!” Through the scriptures, God carefully calibrates comfort and challenge, to call forth passions from wounded hearts.

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who’s probably
too comfortable
(should I look out for
the next challenge?!!)

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jan 11 - Hebrews 13:2

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some have entertained
angels without knowing it.
Hebrews 13:2

This passage begs the question: How active is heaven in our day-to-day world?

Other passages – like Ephesians 6:12 – prompt an equally important question (though pointed in the exact opposite direction): How active is hell and demonic influences in our day-to-day world?

Let me address the interpretation at each extreme end of the spectrum first.
  •      Some “good church-going Christians” see only naturalistic explanations for everything. Naturalistic means “of this world.” Thus, angels and demons are mostly myth … or historic … or reserved for only old Bible stories or some future time in heaven. Thus, because they are “not-of-this-world,” they are definitely not a day-to-day reality.

  •      On the other side, are other good church-going Christians who see angels and demons behind every bush. Every positive happenstance involves at least an angel (if not a powerful orchestration from God himself), while every negative trial involves a demon.

Does it surprise you that I’m not sure either extreme is correct? In fact, each has dangerous flaws …
  •      Regarding the second extreme, if we expect every action to have an angelic or demonic component, we sometimes short-change the human role outcomes our world – especially in the negative outcomes in our world. For example, we humans don’t need much demonic influence to create our own messes!

  •      The first extreme, however, is even worse. It’s usually a deceitful ideology that makes God smaller than he really is or tries to eliminate the role of the spiritual in our daily lives.

More of the world flocks to this first – and deadening – extreme. We’re largely a naturalistic society that demands scientific explanation, cheapens faith, and routinely explains God and wonder away.

So today I want to conclude by pulling the pendulum a little farther in the direction of seeing our world more spiritually …

     Allowing for a little more supernatural involvement can make the world a much more exciting – even more harrowing – place in which to live.
  •      If good and evil do exist, then daily we’re on the battle lines!

  •      Day-by-day – and sometimes even moment-by-moment – we must fight for right.

  •      Every decision matters.

  •      Life is not a purposeless routine, it’s a daily and hallowed adventure.

  •      God is real, and the consequences are real.

  •      Be a part of the fight for victory and light!

In Christ’s Love,
a guy who’ll passionately
live on the battlefront