Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Karl Barth and the Love of God

Karl Barth is arguably one of the most influential Christian theologians of the 20th century. His Church Dogmatics has influenced professors all over the world. His sermons have blessed the church for decades.

In 1962, toward the end of his life, someone asked Barth to sum up the millions of words he had written about God. He replied quickly and simply: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” A great Christian thinker thought that a children’s song about the love of Jesus best described his complex theology.

The love of Jesus has a way of doing that. It sums up the complexities of life and gives us a reference point for navigating the complexities of life.  Many of us learned John 3:16 as a kid: “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Over our lives, we keep coming back to it over and over again. It has a way of anchoring us and directing us, even when things get complicated.

As you continue to navigate all the festivities of the holidays, remember what sums it all up. Everything about Christmas boils down to the love that God has for the world. It is a love that will anchor you. It is a love that will direct you. It is the love that inspired the very first Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Paul and the Joy of Christmas

At the beginning of 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul describes ministry in a wonderful way. Paul describes the work of he and other church leaders in terms of encouraging joy. Paul writes, “Not that we have lordship over your faith, but are helpers of your joy…” Paul understands his ministry to the church as being a helper of joy.

Christians understand joy to be a satisfaction found in Jesus Christ. This satisfaction runs deeper than happiness or sadness. It keeps us and sustains us during the ups and downs of life. It gives us a sense of well being regardless of the circumstances around us.

We have an incredible opportunity to be a helper of that kind of joy this holiday season. During this time of the year, people sing, “Joy to the World.” Folks talk about the joys of dinner parties and gift exchanges. We can encourage people to find a joy that goes beyond this festive time of the year. We can encourage folks to find joy in the very reason for this festive time of year.

As you continue to navigate the holiday season, be a helper of joy. Point people to the soul satisfying goodness of Jesus. Tell folks how great Jesus is. Share about what the Lord has done in your life. As you do, you will grow in your own joy. You will also see that Jesus Christ is joy to the world indeed.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Baby Jesus: Breaker of Bad Traditions

There is a great legend about a new minister and his congregation. The new minister led his congregation in prayer and half the congregation stood. The other half remained seated. Both groups insisted that their way of praying was the correct tradition in their congregation. The disagreement carried on until folks were screaming and yelling at each other, leaving the minister confused about what to do.

Afterward, the young minister contacted the congregation’s 99-year-old founder. The young minister asked the old minister, “Did the congregation stand for prayer at the beginning? Is that the tradition?” The elder minister said, “No.” The young minister responded by asking, “So the true tradition is staying seated during prayer?” The founder said, “No, that isn’t it either.” The young minister became frustrated: “What do you mean? I need to know the true tradition. Half the people stand and shout, insisting they are right.  The other half sit and scream, saying they are right.” The elder minister smiled at the younger minister and said, “Ah yes, that is the true tradition of the congregation.”

Many of us have been a part of such a tradition. Conflict, discord, and disfunction is in our DNA.  We can trace that tradition all the way back to Cain and Able.  Hostility is one of the oldest human traditions.

On the very first Christmas, Jesus Christ, arrived to break such traditions. In the Luke 2, the heavenly angels announce how Jesus undermines the human tradition of hostility. The angels say, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” In Jesus, there is a way for God's people to live in peace.

As you go about your holiday season, start a new Christmas tradition. Promote peace on earth and good will toward people.  Take time to set relationships right this holiday season. Seek forgiveness where you need to seek forgiveness. Forgive those who have wronged you.  As you do, you will find blessings in the Christian tradition of peace. You will also experience a blessing that the Prince of Peace offers His people through Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Christmas Fire Fighter


I heard a great story about a fire fighter who refused to get swept up in the drama surrounding emergencies that his truck responded to. The fire fighter would meet people who were (understandably) distraught and overwhelmed by crises. He’d tell them, “This is an emergency for you, but it is not an emergency for my team. We successfully remedy situations like this every day. We are here to bring order to the chaos.”


In a way, that attitude illustrates how God approached crises in the world at Christmas. Sin and death were an indeed emergency for humanity, but not for Jesus. He came to bring order to our chaos – not get swept up in it.

The Gospel of Luke describes it well. God sends angels announcing the birth of the Son of God. The first thing they tell Zechariah, Mary and the Shepherds is this: “fear not,” (Luke 1:13,30; 2:10). In other words, “This is an emergency for you, but it is not an emergency for God. God is in control and God has come to bring order to the chaos.”

As you begin the Christmas season, remember that Jesus is not a part of all the emergencies that pop up around the holidays. In fact, Jesus is here, offering hope and peace and joy and love to His people. As you remember that, you will find meaning in the holidays that runs far deeper than busy calendars and complicated family dynamics. You will also find a God who extinguishes the figurative fires of the holiday season.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Angry Americans and the Peace that Surpasses All Understanding

Americans are angry. Actually, according to recent studies, Americans are really angry. USA Today says that sixty percent of Americans report feeling angry or irritable – up from fifty percent just two years ago. Harvard Medical School published a study in which two-thirds of American teens report anger attacks involving the destruction of property, threats of violence, or engaging in violence. Again, Americans are angry.

With that in mind, the teachings of Jesus’ church are more important than ever. Grace, forgiveness, love, contentment, gratitude, and peace are virtues Christianity has promoted for centuries. The Son of God taught us these virtues in person. In a culture that seems to be getting more and more cranky, it makes sense that we would embody and promote those virtues.

In the book of James, the Bible says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” There is a righteous life Jesus calls His people to, it is different than anger, and the world around us can learn from it.

As you go through the coming week, ask the Lord to help you love. Pray that the Lord will cultivate a peace that surpasses understanding. Open your life to the joy of the Lord. As you do, you will find freedom from a life driven by emotions and temperament. You will also become a witness to a world gone mad.    

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Atheism and the "Fors" of Christianity

I recently read about a new kind of church. It is a church comprised of atheists. These churches or “assemblies” encourage community, testimony and celebration. They unite around a common disbelief in God.

That makes no sense to me. To this outsider, Atheism looks like a religion based on what it is against. It is propped up against the existence of God and, therefore, if God ceased to exist as a concept, so would they. That hardly seems compelling enough to build a church.

Still, if I’m honest, I have to admit that Christians can behave in similar ways. We are tempted to define ourselves by what we are not. We are tempted to think that we are Christians because we are against the secularists. We are against evolution. We are not humanists. We are not Muslims. When we do that that, we forget who we are in Christ and all the things we are for because of Jesus.

The earliest claims of Christian belief describe all kinds of things that Jesus’ people are for. The Apostles Creed says Christians believe in a ton of positive stuff that stands on its own two feet. We believe in God Almighty. We believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We believe Jesus was crucified, dead and buried, descended into hell and rose again on the third day. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the church and a whole lot more. As it turns out, Christians believe in a lot. You should read it. You should read the Bible too. Christianity offers a ton to be for.

As you go through the coming week, remember who you are in Christ. Remember all the things Jesus is for. Let the things we believe in define how you go about your day. As you do, you find a fullness of life defined by Jesus. You will also find something eternally positive to be for.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bill Murray and Loving Your Neighbor

Bill Murray (the famous actor) caught a cab ride and struck up a conversation with the driver.  Murray learned that the cab driver loved to play his saxophone, but didn’t get to do so very often.  The driver explained that he drove cab fourteen hours a day, leaving little time for practice or performance.  He simply drove his cab with his saxophone in the trunk, wishing he could play more.

Learning about the driver’s love for music and unused instrument in the trunk, Murray got an idea.  He would drive the cab and let the cab driver play his sax in the backseat.  Long story short, Murray paid cab fair for almost an hour so that he could drive the cab and let the cabbie to play his music.  The actor went out of his way to allow someone enjoy what he loved.  That is a true story (according to Bill Murray).

Murray’s story is humorous, but also moving.  In some small way, Murray’s cab ride illustrates very Christian understandings of love and kindness.  Jesus tells His disciples, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Mark 12:31).  Most of us appreciate it when people go out of their way to help us enjoy something we love.  Why not get creative in doing the same for others – like driving a cab so that a music lover can play his sax.

As you go through the coming week, be on the lookout for opportunities love your neighbors in creative ways.  As you do, you will be following the instruction of Jesus.  You may also get to enjoy the music of a really great saxophonist!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Big Dreams and the Miracles of God

A friend of mine served as the Youth Director at a Salvation Army Church.  While serving, he got the idea to reach at-risk youth in his neighborhood.  He approached his pastor and shared the vision.  The pastor responded, “That is great, but I don’t think you’re dreaming big enough.  Lets not limit God.”  They put their heads together, prayed, got to work and watched Jesus move.  A couple years later, they celebrated the opening of a youth center, in a new building, intended to reach at-risk kids throughout their community.  It was awesome.  God indeed performed a miracle.

Remembering that miracle, I appreciate that pastor’s first response: “I don’t think you’re dreaming big enough.”  I love that response because I know that there are times when my dreams don’t do God justice. I try to manage my expectations with God.  I pray for modest results because I worry about being disappointed.  I dream for reasonable things because I think they have a better chance of happening.  In the end, God has to overcome my limited expectations.  By grace, God does.

We see that type of grace at work in Acts 19 when God does the extraordinary through Paul.  Acts 19:11 says, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…”  This assumes God did ordinary things too.  But, there were indeed times that God did the extraordinary.  It was important that Paul not limit God, trying to manage expectations.  God called Paul to dream big.

As you go through the coming week, dream big.  Pray big.  Believe big.  God can and will do the extraordinary.  As you do, you may just see God move in power.  You may also hear God say, “I don’t think you’re dreaming big enough.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Noisy Fans and Fellowship with God

Football fans are known for being noisy.  NFL fans yell and scream and hoop and holler to try and distract visiting teams. When fans are successful, visiting teams falter and make mistakes.  Fans wear their ability to distract their team's opponent like a badge of honor.

To combat the noise, teams often give up on verbal communication. Players practice in the week leading up to the game so that they can work together with little-to-no communication at all. This allows teams to stay connected in loud, and even hostile, environments.

I think that non-verbal connection illustrates our need for fellowship with God in a noisy world. Our world is filled with distractions and obstacles. That noise makes it hard to hear from God some times. The enemy tries to keep the noise at such a level, we can’t hear God’s voice at all. Because of that, it is vital we get to know God in preparation for life in noisy environments.

Knowing that noise was coming, Jesus taught his disciples to fellowship with God in preparation. At the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells Peter, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” (Matthew 26:41). Getting to know God apart from the noise, helps us stay connected with God when things get loud.

As you go through the coming week, prepare for life in a noisy world. Study the scriptures, talk with the Lord and get acquainted with God’s presence. Fellowship with Jesus. As you do, you will find resources for navigating a life filled with distractions. You will also find ways of fellowshipping with Jesus that cut through the noisiest of environments.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Broken Elevators and God's Presence

A couple years ago, a nun got stuck in an elevator at her convent. The elevator broke down with the nun inside while her sisters were away at a convention. As a result, she was left stranded, alone for three days and four nights.

Having celery and a jar of water, the sister was able to meet her physical needs. But, the bigger challenges came in her spiritual and emotional life. The isolation was frightening. The nun wondered if anyone would come and get her.

In the midst of that difficult situation, the nun turned to God. The nun told Time Magazine, “It was either panic or pray.” The nun decided to pray.  In fact, the sister treated her alone time like a prayer retreat. She talked with Jesus for three days until her sisters came to her rescue. In hindsight, she described the experience as a “gift.”

That woman’s story is an important reminder of God’s presence in each of our lives. Challenges do pop up and make us feel like we are all alone. We are tempted to forget that God is near and available. Yet, we have Jesus’ promise at the end of the Gospel of Matthew: “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age,” (28:20).

As you go through the coming week, remember that God is with you. You are not alone. When challenges arise and you feel like you are all by yourself, pray. Call on Him. Speak to Jesus. As you do, you will find resources for facing life’s challenges. You might also find a prayer retreat in the most unlikely of places.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Olympic Winners and God's Rejoicing

I love watching the Olympics. One of the things I love watching is an Olympic coach celebrating his or her athlete’s win. A gymnast will stick a perfect landing or a swimmer will take first in a heat and their coach erupts in celebration. You would think that fist pumps and celebration dances would be reserved for the Olympians. But, often, the athlete’s coach leads the way.

The reason coaches celebrate wins is because they are invested in their athletes. They have spent countless hours pouring everything they know about their sport into their athlete. They have put a part of themselves into that athlete. That type of investment gives the coach a huge stake in the competition. When the coach’s athlete wins, they feel like they’ve won.

On a much bigger scale, God has a huge stake in the spiritual victories of His people. God went to great lengths, becoming human, so that His people might find victory. God invested in His people, teaching them the way of His Kingdom. God even poured out Himself on His people, giving them the Holy Spirit, to empower them in living out this kingdom.

With that type of investment, God surely celebrates the victories. When we find freedom from sin or healing in a broken relationship, God rejoices with us. The prophet Zephaniah describes this rejoicing, saying that God rejoices over His people with singing (3:17). Like the coach who has invested everything in their athlete, God surely pumps His fists in the air, celebrating our wins.

As you go through the coming week, remember that God has a stake in your story. God is invested a part of Himself in you and celebrates your wins. When you experience a victory in your walk with Him, join God in the celebration dance.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This is Your Brain on...Negativity

Complaining causes brain damage. True story. According to INC Magazine, researchers are finding that overly negative talk is bad for the brain. In fact, listening to 30 minutes or more of a negative message peels away neurons in an area of the brain called the hippocampus. One author describes it in saying, “Basically, (negativity) turns your brain to mush.”

This isn’t a surprise to Christian folk. We’ve known for a long time that incessant negativity does more harm than good. In the first century, the Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to avoid negativity as a way of witnessing to the world. Paul wrote, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky,” (Philippians 2:14-15). It seems that positivity and harmony let the world know we are children of God.

Paul (and many other Christians) promote positivity and constructive behavior for other reasons too. Christians serve and worship a God of resurrection and redemption. Reading the end of the Gospels, we find our God smack dab in the midst of the most negative of situations (crucifixion). Instead of responding to the negativity with more negativity, Jesus miraculously turns it into something positive and good. The cross becomes the resurrection. In response, Jesus' people look for good, resurrection type things – even in the most negative of situations.

As you go through the coming week, look for positive things to celebrate. Compliment a co-worker on their work. Tell someone about the ways God has blessed you. Approach a challenging situation looking for constructive solutions instead of focusing on the problems. As you do, you will see the God of the resurrection at work in your life. You also might just do your brain some good.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Custom Christianity and the Call of Christ

Customization is king. From clothing to entertainment to groceries, we like to mix and match according to our wants. You want a metallic grey, four door, mid size, hybrid, with leather seats, blue tooth capability and an oversized trunk? Go to cars.com, fill out the search engine accordingly, and it will find you one. Want a short, half-calf, soy, one pump, sugar free, vanilla latte? There are ten coffee shops within five miles of your current location that will make you one with a smile. Customization is king.

This is making an impact on Christianity. People are picking and choosing what they like about Christianity while ignoring and rejecting what they don’t. In extreme cases, folks mix what they like about Christianity with bits of other religions that they like, creating a unique religion for themselves. In the end, Christianity (and even religion itself) gets so customized to the wants of the individual, it looks more like the individual than Jesus (or any other faith).

Jesus calls His people, His church, to something entirely different. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples to go to all nations, making disciples, and baptizing them. Then, Jesus says, “and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” No customization there. Jesus calls disciples to make disciples who obey everything Jesus commanded. In other words, the church is in the business of customizing people into image of Christ (by the power of the Holy Spirit) rather than customizing Christianity into the image of people.

As you go through the coming week, look at areas of the Christian faith that you don’t like and would rather do away with. Ask yourself why those things make you feel uncomfortable. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand why they make you feel uncomfortable. Then, ask the Lord help you grow in those things, becoming more like Him and the life He taught. As you do, you will find goodness and truth that goes beyond your basic wants and desires. You’ll also have a chance to grow in the Lord.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Get Out of Jail Free


In Greece, people buy their way out of jail. Inmates serving time for minor offenses can reduce their stay by paying (on average) five euros per day. This program simultaneously reduces Greece’s prison population while generating revenue for the state.

This program is also great for criminals who have money. Rich criminals are able to pay off long jail sentences, serving little-to-no time. Poor criminals, on the other hand, are forced to serve their full sentences.

Learning about this disparity, a Christian minister began buying the prison sentences of Greece’s poorest inmates. Father Gervasios Raptopoulos devoted his life to paying off the prison sentences of inmates with the greatest need. After years of work, Father Gervasios has freed over fifteen thousand inmates. Inmates battling illness have been released to receive medical attention. Others with large families have returned home, able to work and provide for their spouse and children.

I don’t know a better illustration of Christ’s love in the world. Those who do not deserve and cannot afford freedom are liberated by a generous act of mercy. Their debt is paid. Their offense is forgiven. They are free to go through no work of their own.

As you go through the coming week, look for ways to share that type of love with the world. We all owe everything to Jesus Christ and his gracious work on the cross. Share it with those in need. Let the freedom you have experienced in Jesus drive your work for freedom in the world.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

M.C. Hammer, the Apostle Paul and Prayer


There is an old M.C. Hammer song that I love.  The song is called “Pray.”  The chorus sings and shouts: “We pray (pray)…pray (pray).  We got to pray just to make it today!”  I remember singing those words, dressed like M.C. Hammer (in knock off “Hammer pants”), wishing I could dance like the pop star.

Though the Hammer brand seems funny now, M.C. Hammer’s song lyrics were onto something.  We do need to pray just to make it today.  Our world is full of obstacles and temptations that undermine the Christian faith. Prayer connects us with God, helping us keep focused on God’s will and purposes.  As we connect with God in prayer, God cultivates character in us that helps us overcome adversity and temptation.  In these ways, you got to pray just to make it today.

In Ephesians 6, Paul teaches early Christians to be spiritually ready for overcoming hardship.  And, prayer is a big part of that preparation.  Paul likens spiritual preparation to putting on battle armor and then writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”  Prayer helps us and empowers us for faithful living no matter what life throws our way.  In other words, you got to pray just to make it today.

In the coming weeks, pray.  Pray a lot.  Ask the Lord to help you.  Ask the Lord for direction.  Ask the Lord to cultivate character in you that stays focused on God and God’s purposes no matter the circumstance.  As you do, you will see that Jesus indeed helps His people.  You will also find a way to pray and make it today!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

That...was...awesome!

Years ago, Leah and I attended a really great concert. One of my favorite bands played some of my favorite songs. The mix was crisp and clear. The lighting was tasteful. The crowd jumped up and down when they were supposed to. They sang along at all the right places.  By the end of that show, I thought to myself, “That…was…awesome!” 

I was right in describing the concert as awesome. It inspired awe. It gave me a sense of wonder and amazement. The experience of the show was (and still is) hard to put into words.

When Christians worship Jesus, we invite the same sense of wonder and awe. But instead of being amazed by rock bands, we are amazed by the Lord. God gives us a sense of wonder and amazement in worship. Sometimes, our experience of God’s goodness is hard to put into words.

In the book of Job, we find this type of awesome God. Job 5:9 says, “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” God leaves us amazed. God is hard to put into words.

As you worship this week, recognize the wonders of God and be blown away. Let His praise be hard to put into words. As you do, you will experience more of His goodness. You may even walk away thinking, “That…was…awesome!”
  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Spiders, Blow Torches and Peacefilled Prayer


A Seattle man recently noticed a spider in his laundry room and decided to teach it a lesson it would never forget. The man grabbed a can of spray paint and a lighter. He lit the lighter, spraying the paint over the open flame, creating a homemade blowtorch. The man turned the blowtorch on the spider, ending its modest, laundry room existence. In killing the spider, the man also set the laundry room wall on fire, eventually burning his house down. True story.

How many of us have had a similar experience in our spiritual lives? We come across a real problem and decide to teach the problem a lesson it will never forget. We take matters into our own hands and do everything we can to fix it in our own power. Our solution ends up starting a fire that makes the situation way worse.


The Apostle Paul tells the early church to avoid this all together. Paul tells the church to attack life’s problems by first giving them to Christ in prayer. Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It seems that asking God for help with life’s problems gives us a peace that better equips us for solving life’s problems.

As you go through the coming week, put the blowtorch down and spend some time in prayer. Take your problems (big and small) to Christ. Ask the Lord for peace, wisdom and guidance in dealing with life’s very real challenges. As you do, you will find effective ways for dealing with spiritual spiders. You’ll also solve problems in ways that don’t burn the whole place down.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Chicago White Sox, Mind Control and the Will of God

The 1975 Chicago White Sox were bad. Vegas odds makers gave them 60-1 odds to win the American League pennant. Wanting to win, players looked to anything and everything for a competitive advantage. Some even tried studying and practicing mind control techniques in hopes of improving their play (true story). Players would lie in a dark room, turn on a read light and try to “lower their brain waves.” They held baseballs and gloves and bats to their head, trying to become “one” with the gear. The White Sox finished the year eleven games under .500 and in fifth place in their division. Whatever type of control their mind took over the game, it didn’t work.

The ‘75 White Sox and their pursuit of control illustrates how we can approach our devotional lives. We pray and study scripture and seek the Spirit as a way of gaining control. We want the Spirit to give us what we want in life. We want to use the spiritual life for our ends. But, according to the scriptures, God calls us to something different.

In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus instructs His disciples to pray in saying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” While devotional practices do bless God’s people with tons of spiritual resources for living, they are ultimately intended to give God control. A person finds power in surrendering to God’s will and God’s purposes in the world.

This week, intentionally seek the Lord in your devotional life. Do so in the hopes of becoming a part of God’s will and work in the world. As you do, you will find God given power for living God’s will out. You will also find sustenance for the wins and losses that do come with the great game of life.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

.....................KIDS.....................THESE........................DAYS..................................


Kids these days. Many of us have said it. When I was a teenager, my elders said it when lamenting my generation’s lack of morality and work ethic. They worried that my generation’s moral makeup had so devolved from previous generations that we would bring society to ruin. Now, as I approach 40 and have an increasingly difficult time relating to teenagers, I find myself tempted to say the same thing. Kids…these…days.

As it turns out, kids are doing better these days (in many ways). The U.S. Center for Disease Control recently published a study that reveals better behavior amongst today’s young people. Since the 80’s, teenage pregnancy has been on the decline. Young people are drinking and smoking less. The use of illicit substances is declining as well. On top of that, today’s young people are exercising more. Yes, that is right. Today’s young people are using drugs less and exercising more.  Kids these days…are awesome.

That is a good reminder that good things are going on in our world too. We can see them when we look for them. In fact, as Christians, we have a special perspective on noticing and celebrating good things. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our life is marked by a hopeful optimism. No matter what, good things are coming.  

First Peter begins in saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope…” The Christian faith gives people hope. The resurrection of Jesus Christ reminds us that, ultimately, good things are coming. Instead of looking for doom and gloom in life, assuming demise at every corner, God’s people look for - and announce - the great things in life.

As you go through the coming week, be on the look out for great things. Focus on great things when you see them. Assume that great things are coming. Do so because you have experienced the greatest of things in Jesus. By doing this, you will see the Son of God at work in exciting new ways. You will also see that there is indeed hope in Jesus Christ – hope for kids these days.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fourth of July Sparklers and the Voice of God


People love sparklers. Many of us have fond memories lighting sparklers on the 4th of July and waving them around as fast as possible. Many of us have tried to form letters in the faint afterglow of the firework, spelling out words for onlookers, and sending messages to friends and family.

With those experiences in mind, I wonder if God has tried to communicate with us in similar ways. God blesses us with us spiritual fireworks during mountain top devotional experiences. It happens in worship services, prayer closets, and small groups. Behind the beauty and excitement of the spiritual fire, God sends a quiet message: “Follow me. Care for the poor. Love your neighbor.” If we are too focused on the spiritual fireworks themselves, we might miss the message.

The people at Pentecost had that type of experience. Spiritual fireworks went off and it was awesome. In the midst of all the sparkle, God sent an important message: “Jesus Christ is the living messiah! Jesus Christ is Lord of all!” Good thing Peter, the disciples, and many others were paying attention. Peter stood up and announced the message for all to hear.

In the future, when you are blessed with spiritual fireworks in your devotional life, look for the message God is trying to communicate. Ask, “What is Jesus trying to say with this? Where is the Holy Spirit trying to lead?” As you do, you will find important direction for following God’s will. You will also enjoy God’s spiritual sparklers to the very fullest.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

World Cup and Worship

Last week marked the beginning of the 2014 World Cup. Soccer teams from all over the world converged on fields to play one another.  By the millions, fans watched their perspective teams compete, cheering on the "home team." Arguably, like no other event, the World Cup invites very different people to put aside very real differences for the sake of a common love. 

Well, there may be one event that invites more people to set aside their differences for a common love. It happens every Sunday…in Aloha, Sydney, Cape Town, Shanghai, L.A. and Sao Paulo. We call it church. Every Sabbath, Christians from all over the world, from different backgrounds, interests and experiences engage in a common event. We worship Jesus Christ as Lord.

Isaiah, Romans and Philippians all celebrate this type of unity in worship. They promise that there will be a day when all people - from all backgrounds - recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Those scriptures promise that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christian worship on Sunday morning is simply a glimpse of that coming day.

As you worship this week, remember that you are a part of something far bigger than your own culture and experiences and interests. You are part of Jesus’ worshiping church. We worship with saints from many nations and peoples and heritages. That is a wonderful thing because that is what it takes to worship such an awesome Lord.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Father's Day Lesson for Men


Earlier this week, I read an article written by a former soldier.  In the article, the soldier listed “10 Army lessons All Men Can Learn From.”  The soldier had been in combat in two foreign wars and learned a few lessons that he thought were helpful for all men.

One of the lessons surprised me.  Lesson eight said, “There are some things you can’t do on your own.”  That surprised me because I assumed that successful soldiers are the radically independent, self-sufficient types.  Successful soldiers need to be able to handle themselves in extreme conditions and survive on their own.  But, according to this vet, I was wrong.  The soldier insisted that teams and buddy systems and community are vitally important for soldiers.  All men could learn that lesson.

The Bible agrees.  Genesis describes God creating Adam.  God looks at Adam and says, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  In its own way, the Bible teaches us all: “There are some things you can’t do on your own.”

That is a good thing to remember this Father’s Day.  Our world often encourages men to isolate, ignoring their need of others.  Men are taught that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  Being the “last man standing” is celebrated as a virtue.  Father’s Day gives us an opportunity to learn a different lesson.  We can enjoy all the relationships and community that God has given us.

This Father’s day, recognize your need for others.  Enjoy time with kids, spouse, friends, and family.  Celebrate the blessings Jesus has given you in the people around you.  On top of that, have the humility to ask people for help.  Recognize that there are some things you can’t do on your own and rejoice in the community God created you for. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tell Me About My Messiah

Years ago, a Christian professor met a Jewish woman from South Africa while touring the infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz. The woman had been researching how her relatives had perished during the Holocaust and visited the camp to gather information. During their tour, they began to share their stories. The professor mentioned his Christian faith.

Learning about the camp’s history, the two were struck by the cruel and heartbreaking past. During one particularly shocking display, the woman looked at the professor and asked, “And what does your religion make of this?” Fair question.

The Professor thought for a moment. He said he didn’t want to trivialize such heartbreaking history with a simple answer. He went on to explain that he believed Jesus was the Messiah and God. Because God suffered on a cross, God met our heartbreaks. God did not remain distant from our suffering, but became a part of it Himself.

Hearing the professor’s answer, the woman got tears in her eyes. She stopped and asked, “Why has no one ever told me that about my messiah before?" Fair question.

How many in our lives might ask the same question? Surrounded by difficult situations, they wonder where God is. Someone tells them about a God who knows and cares about their difficult situations and they too wonder, “Why has no one ever told me that about my messiah before?"

As you go through the coming weeks, pray for the opportunity to tell someone about the Lord. Ask the Lord to give you a natural opportunity to tell the world of His care and love. Then, go and tell the people in your life, so that they may know this about their Messiah.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Real Answers for Real Questions

Years ago, I watched a powerful scene from the TV show ER. In the scene, an older man is battling cancer and doesn’t have long to live. A hospital chaplain visits to try and offer some comfort. The patient begins confessing mistakes and things he regrets about his past. He says he knows he is at the end of his life and is afraid. He asks the chaplain what he can do to be forgiven by God.

The chaplain is well trained in providing care to people of all faiths. Instead of answering the patient’s questions, the chaplain asks more questions – much like a psychologist. When pressed for an answer, the chaplain says, “I think it is up to each one of us to interpret what God wants.” Frustrated with the nebulous answer, the patient begs for a chaplain who will answer his question. With tears in his eyes, he pleads, “I need someone who will look me in the eyes and tell me how to find forgiveness ‘cause I’m running out of time!”

I want to assure you, Faith Center, that true forgiveness is possible and it is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, became human and took the punishment of sin on our behalf. He was crucified for the sins of the world and when we call on Him, we are forgiven. The book of Hebrews describes this well: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."

As you worship this morning, seek and find forgiveness in Jesus Christ. A past of regret need not influence your future. When you call on Jesus, there is nothing to fear in life or death. Whatever stage we are at in life, that is the answer we are all looking for.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Learning to Follow


For generations, cowboys trained wild horses by forcing horses into submission. This is often referred to it as “breaking a horse.” Through a series of exercises, the cowboy forces a horse wear a saddle, yield to a bridle, take direction from a rider, and so on.

More recently, a rodeo cowboy named Monty Roberts developed a different method of training. Roberts studied the body gestures of horses and tried to communicate on the horse’s terms. Roberts invited horses to follow him using their means of communication. Rather than forcing them into submission, Roberts encourages horses to willingly follow his lead. It worked. Roberts became known the world over as a horse whisperer.

In similar, but much more meaningful ways, God invites us to follow Him. God speaks to us in our language through His Son Jesus. Jesus encourages us to willingly choose Him and follow His way. Jesus describes it well in the Gospel of Matthew: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jesus seeks to build us up rather than break us down.

As you worship this week, take time to follow Jesus’ lead. When you pray, take time to listen. If you journal, ask yourself where the Lord might be leading you. Then, write down some possible answers. Look at your life as one big opportunity for following Jesus. As you do, you will see that the Lord is a gentle and loving teacher. You will also find the life God created you for.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

He is Risen Indeed!


Many Christians include a traditional greeting in their Easter celebration.  One Christian greets the other by saying, “He is risen!”  The other returns the greeting by saying, “He is risen, indeed!”

He is risen, indeed.  The dictionary defines the word indeed like this: in fact, in truth…in reality.  A Christian saying, “He is risen indeed” is basically saying, He is risen in reality.  That is an important tidbit to hold onto when celebrating Easter.

We can be tempted to celebrate Easter like it isn’t a reality.  We think of Jesus as a person who lived a long time ago, disconnected from our lives.  We remember that Jesus got up from the dead like a history lesson.  In doing so, we forget that Jesus is still alive.  Because Jesus got up, Jesus is at work in the here and now – in our reality.           
           
Because we forget this truth, the old Christian greeting reminds us that Jesus is risen indeed.  Jesus’ resurrection shapes our reality today.  Death is no longer the ultimate end of our lives.  Jesus is.  The grave is not the end of our story.  Jesus is.  For Christians, the resurrection is not a myth or tradition, but a reality that changes every aspect of who we are and how we live.

As you worship Jesus this Easter, worship Him in the reality and truth of His resurrection.  He is alive and present in the His Holy Spirit.  He is continuing His resurrection work in the world around us.  Lives are being saved.  People are being healed.  Death is overcome.   All of this is true because He is risen.  He is risen, INDEED!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Give Up!


I loved wrestling with my cousins when I was a kid.  We would pretend we were G.I. Joes, ninjas, the Dukes of Hazard, and a million other things.  Regardless of the fantasy, it always led to a wrestling match.  Because I am a poor wrestler, I always lost.  Every wrestling match ended with me yelling, “I give up!  I give up!”
By yelling, “I give up,” I was signaling several things all at once.  I was admitting that I was helpless.  I was pleading for mercy (my cousin wouldn’t stop rubbing my face into the ground until I gave up).  I was giving control of the situation to my (much tougher) cousin.
We can treat our relationship with God like a childish wrestling match.  We envision God trying to overpower us and impose His will on us.  We think that we need to out maneuver God in order to make choices for ourselves.  Then, God pins us down, we give up, and let God have control of our lives.  But, God doesn’t work like that.
One of the last things that Jesus says to His disciples on earth is this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” (Matthew 28:18).  The power is already God’s.  He does not have to wrestle it from us.  God Almighty does not need to force His will on us.  From the get go, He has the authority.  We “give up” by simply accepting an already existing fact:  Jesus is Lord.
As we worship this week, we are letting God know, “We give up!”  The entire reason we are here today is to give up (sacrifice) to the fact the Jesus is Lord.  We read scriptures that remind us that we are helpless.  We sing songs that state our need for mercy.  We pray prayers giving control to God.  In doing so, we are not giving up because God forced us to.  We are simply declaring what has always been true:  Jesus is Lord!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Basketball and the Sacred Mission of Worship


A couple years ago, Beren Academy from Houston, Texas had a great basketball season. Their high school team won the regional championship and qualified to play in the state semifinals. Despite all the success, the team forfeited the game. 

Robert M. Beren Academy is an Orthodox Jewish day school and the semifinals were scheduled for a Friday night at 9pm. Jews worship God from sundown Friday night through sundown Saturday night, thus creating a conflict. Though the team had a shot at moving to the state championship, they prioritized their worship. A Rabbi from the school described their decision in saying this: “The sacred mission will trump excellence in the secular world.”


Obviously, as Christians, our belief allows for the occasional basketball game on our day of worship (Sunday). But as I read about Beren Academy’s decision, I wondered what we sacrifice for our mission to worship Jesus. When we look out our lives, where does our sacred mission trump excellence in the secular world?

Some might look at Beren Academy’s decision and call it legalism. But I don’t know if our culture’s problem is legalism (especially when it comes to observing the Sabbath). I admire the team’s decision. In a world where work, sport, vacation, family obligations, and even the Sunday paper tempt us to miss worship regularly, a group of high school kids prioritized their sacred mission to honor God.

This morning, let me encourage you let the sacred mission of worshiping Jesus Christ trump the many distractions our world has to offer.  We don’t do this to earn our salvation, but we worship because our salvation is earned in Christ.  In the end, the value of Him and His work on the cross trumps anything this world has to offer.  Praise the Lord!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Technology and the Lord Our God

On March 8th, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing during a routine flight to Beijing, China. Watching reports about the disappearance, I heard more questions than answers. How does a huge plane, filled with people, disappear? We live in a world of advanced radar systems, satellite surveillance, in flight wi-fi, and cell phones. How can we lose track of something so important? Those are all fair questions.

With the story still unfolding, we are reminded that we are not as in control as we think we are. Technology can accomplish wonderful things. But, it doesn’t deserve our complete trust and devotion. We can still be lost.

The Psalm writer says it well, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Referring the technology of her/his day, the Psalmist announces (s)he will ultimately trust in the Lord. We could say the same in our day and age: “Some trust in search engines and ATMs, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

This week, place your trust in the Lord our God. Trust in the one who truly saves. As you do, you will find hope in a God who is truly trustworthy. You will find hope in the one who makes what was lost found.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Navy Seals and Self Sacrifice


I’ve heard a lot of great stories about the Navy Seals.  This elite military unit has been celebrated in everything from comic books to blockbuster movies.  This week, I read a story that I didn’t expect.

The Wall Street Journal published an article by a former Navy Seal describing some of what it takes to survive the grueling training required to become a Seal.  The former Seal said that service of others was the key ingredient to becoming a member of America’s elite military unit.  He wrote, “Almost all the men who survived (Seal training) possessed one common quality. Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the "fist" of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.”

That has an almost biblical ring to it.  Sacrifice for the sake of others trumps the “fist of courage and physical strength.”  In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says, “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."  For Christians, our greatest victories come through sacrifice and service of others.

As you go through the coming week, look for opportunities to sacrifice and serve others.  Give your spouse some time off, doing extra things to free them up.  Help a co-worker for no other reason than to make their job easier.  Volunteer to help a neighbor with a project.  Focus on – and serve – others as a way to serve Jesus.  As you do, you will find strength for the day.  And, ultimately, you will find strength in Christ.