Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Resolutions and the Presence of God

New Years is a time for resolutions. People resolve to lose weight. People resolve to spend less and save more. People resolve to invest more in there closest relationships. The beginning of the year is a time when people set goals for self-improvement.

Most of the time, when we think of resolutions, we think of will power and hard work. We think we need to make right decisions, work hard and accomplish the goals we set for ourselves. We assume that resolutions never become reality by accident.

While right decisions and hard work are not bad things, I wonder if Christians forget an important resource when making resolutions. We forget the power of the Holy Spirit. We forget that God has given us a guide to help us discern God honoring resolutions and power to help fulfill those resolutions.

Jesus promises this power to His people at the beginning of Acts. Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). God gives God’s people the Holy Spirit to empower them in fulfilling the God given goals God calls them to.

As you make resolutions for 2016, soak them in prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in setting resolutions. Seek the Spirit for power in fulfilling what God has called you to do. As you do, you will get a better sense of the resolutions God is calling you to. You will also find power for making them a reality in 2016 and beyond.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas and the Hound of Heaven

I once heard an old preacher refer to Jesus as the “Hound of Heaven.” Though the name sounds odd, he wasn’t disrespecting the Lord. In fact, it was quite the opposite. This man loved the Lord and used the name as a term of endearment.

As it turns out, Jesus has pursued this man for years. The man had wanted to live his life, on his terms, doing as he pleased. But, he always had this sense that God was after him. God desired relationship with him. God intended to save him and change him for God’s purposes. God was relentless in His chase – like a hound from heaven. God indeed caught the man and called him to the work of the pastorate.

That pastor’s testimony reminds me of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Paul writes, “For (God) chose us in (Christ) before the foundations of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him,” (1:4). Before all of creation God made a claim on us for God’s purposes. God pursues us for those purposes. So, in a way, God is indeed after us like a hound of heaven.

As you continue through the Christmas season, remember God’s pursuit of His people. That baby, born two thousand years ago, is the beginning of God’s chase. God is here and God is claiming those who belong to Him. That is good news for the wayward and the lost. It is good news for all celebrating that the wonderful Hound of Heaven started His chase at Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Good Lord and Good Decisions

A couple weeks ago, a 55-year-old Georgia man stole a beer truck and then proceeded to run himself over with it.  Gregory Miller stole an 18-wheel Coors Lite truck after finding that the driver had left the keys in the ignition.  Police gave chase until Miller jumped out of the vehicle while the vehicle was still moving.  The truck ran over Miller’s leg, leading to a hospital stay after his arrest.

Miller’s story is a bit extreme, but how many of us make bad decisions knowing that the results are going to be bad too?  We snap at a loved one, knowing it will lead to an argument.  We buy something we can’t afford, knowing it will stress us out later.  We bend the truth, knowing it will cause confusion and suspicion some other time.  If we are honest, we know our decisions will have negative consequences, but we press on.

The Apostle Paul talks about this struggle in Romans.  Romans 7 says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”  Paul knows that bad behavior will lead to bad consequences, but he still does it anyways.  Paul’s experience is very human.  All people have a hard time choosing the right things in their own power.  It is as if we need help from something outside of ourselves.

Jesus at arrives at Christmas to solve that struggle.  Jesus takes on flesh and dwells among people who can’t resist bad decisions.  Jesus creates a type of human that is truly capable of making good decisions and enjoying the good results.  In Christ, there is a way to live a righteous life, free from the drama that comes with police chases and stolen beer trucks.

As you worship Jesus this Christmas, invite Jesus to make you into His image more and more.  Ask Jesus to help you make good decisions that yield good results – like Him.   As you do, you will find a life free of the drama that tends to accompany bad choices.  You’ll also experience the very reason Jesus came to us at Christmas in the first place.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Traditions: the Good and the Bad

Not all Christmas traditions are good. Growing up, I had a tradition of sneaking a look at my presents before Christmas morning. One Christmas, I went so far as unwrapping my presents and then trying to rewrap them before my parents found out. The results: several days grounded, frustrated parents, and a Christmas morning completely void of surprise. Not all Christmas traditions are good.

The same is true in our worship life. Not all of our traditions are good. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut and do the same old thing simply because we always do the same old thing. We forget the meaning and significance that started the tradition in the first place.

Christmas is actually a great time to enjoy good traditions and avoid the bad. Jesus shows up as the fullness of God’s revelation and serves as a sort of measuring stick for traditions. We can hold our traditions up next to Jesus and see which traditions focus us on God and which ones distract us from God.

As you continue through the holiday season, let go of bad traditions. Hold on to the good. Ask the Lord the show you which traditions are helpful and which are not. Study the arrival of the Lord in the scriptures and ask, “How do my Christmas traditions bring my attention to that?” As you do, you will find that the wonderful traditions of Christmas bless your life with Christ. You will also find a renewed focus on the reason for the traditions in the first place.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Christmas, D-Day & Boots on the Ground

Many times, when we think of Jesus’ arrival at Christmas, we think of a little baby in a manger. That is good and important and definitely a part of the Christmas story. But, the baby Jesus marks the beginning of something bigger and far more dramatic than only the nativity.

Advent/Christmas and the birth of baby Jesus marks the arrival of God’s kingdom and God’s reign on earth. Later in the gospels, Jesus says as much: “Repent, the Kingdom of God is near.” So, just as much as Christmas marks the arrival of a baby, it also marks the arrival of God’s reign. Christmas is a heavenly D-day of sorts. In baby Jesus, God has boots on the ground and God’s invasion has begun.

As you celebrate the arrival of Jesus this Christmas, remember that God is invading our world through Christ Jesus. Invite the reign of God to define your Christmas. As you do, you will celebrate the reason for the season. You will also enjoy the presence of the God who has boots on the ground.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Giving Time Away

This time of year is often associated with generosity. With the holidays approaching, people think about charities they want to support. People wonder how they can help families in need. They think about gifts for loved ones. Giving is on peoples’ minds and (I think) it is a wonderful characteristic of the season.

Though our thoughts about generosity often center on money and material goods, there are other ways to be generous. There is more than check writing and gift giving.  According to the scriptures, God's people can be generous with their time.

In Paul’s epistle to the church in Ephesus, Paul writes, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time...” Paul instructs the church to use their time in a way that reflects Jesus’ redemptive work in their lives. That means there is a way that we can give generously of our time, in a way that honors God.

This is a great reminder when the holidays are in sight. Time is about to become scarce and, if we are not careful, time will fly by before we know it. We have to be intentional about reserving time so that we can be generous with it.

With that in mind, think and pray about how we might be more generous with your time this holiday season. Maybe say “no” to activities that suck up time while distracting us from Jesus. Say “yes” to activities that keep us focused on Jesus and the people Jesus loves. As you do, you will find blessings in the time of the holidays. You will also find that Christ is redeeming your time as you give it away.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Bad Bowling and the Truth of God

Last Sunday afternoon, members of Faith Center went bowling. We bowled to raise funds for our annual food drive. It was a great time that supported a great cause.

When I play sports (like bowling), I tend to exaggerate my abilities. I tell people I am pretty good. I exaggerate my scores in the past. I trash talk with other amateur bowlers who overestimate their abilities too. It is a goofy ritual.

The problem with such tall tales is the reality of the matter. I cannot bowl (or play most other sports) as well as I remember. Inevitably, people watch me bowl and notice I am not as good as my talk. I end up embarrassing myself.

God calls us away from such embarrassment. God tells us, “Thou Shalt Not Lie.”  In doing so, God graces us with the truth.

God doesn’t tell us to avoid lies because God intends to rob us of fun. God tells us to not lie in order to save us from the drama that surrounds lies. We don’t have to keep up facades, cover our tracks or face the embarrassment of being found out. The truth is a grace of God.

As you go through the coming week, embrace the truth. Speak the truth and find freedom in it. As you do, will find comfort and joy in who God made you to be. You also enjoy things like bowling (poorly) that much more.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Your Neighbor's Bowl

A while ago, I read a great story about a Dad trying to teach his little girl a valuable lesson. The man’s daughter asked for a Popsicle, but the father had none to give. The daughter started complaining, saying that another kid had gotten a Popsicle and she didn’t. She yelled: “That’s unfair!” The father told her to stop complaining and worry less about what others have. He said, “The only time you should look at your neighbor’s bowl is to see if they have enough. You don’t look at your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” That is good - downright Christian – advice.

The scriptures teach us to be grateful for what we have and to be concerned with the needs of others. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul gives some parting words to the church in Ephesus. Paul says, “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” In other words, Paul didn’t look at his neighbor’s bowl to see if he had as much as them. Paul looked at his neighbor’s bowl to make sure they had enough.

As you go through the coming week, appreciate all that God has given you. Remember all that Jesus has provided and praise the Lord for it. Then, look for those who are going without. See how you might use what you have been blessed with to help others. As you do, you will find great reasons to praise the Lord and incredible opportunities to serve His purposes.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Halloween Candy and the Freedom of God's Law

Halloween makes me think about candy.  I like to eat candy. I like to eat candy a lot. At my worst, I binge on all kinds of candy and end up making myself sick. Afterwards, Leah gets irritated with me and I regret the candy binge.

To be clear: candy is not bad in and of itself. In fact, candy is really great. For me, candy eating simply needs some rules. Rule number one: only eat one or two pieces of a candy at a time. Rule number two: only enjoy candy on special occasions. These rules actually help me enjoy a really great thing like candy. They also free me from the sickness that comes with the abuse of candy.

Concerning much more important things, God has given us rules to help us enjoy good things too. They are called the Ten Commandments. God works through them to help us enjoy God’s blessings to the fullest. 

It is not as if God is a killjoy who gives us instruction to rob us of fun. It is just the opposite. God gives us instruction to help up enjoy all that God has blessed us with.

James 1:25 says, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it--not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it--they will be blessed in what they do.” God’s law does not take enjoyment from God’s people, but actually frees us for enjoyment.

As you go through the coming week, find the blessings in God’s instruction. Enjoy relationship with God as you worship God alone. Enjoy the people God has placed in your life as you honor them. As you do, you will be blessed by all the blessings God has given. You will also avoid the sick stomach that comes with a candy binge.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mine!

Leah and I have a twenty-month-old little girl living with us. She learned a new word in the past few weeks. She says, “Mine!” When taking her seat on the couch, she says, “mine!” When she grabs her blanket: “mine!” When fighting over a toy with her brother: “mine!” She wants to tell everyone that everything is hers.

Most of the time, her possessive declarations are good spirited. Sometimes, they are not. Rather than enjoying what she has, she wants to make sure others have not. “Mine” becomes a way of saying, “Not yours!”

I am sure many adults can relate. At our worst, we want to make sure our adversaries don’t have. We want to take from others in order to win rather than focusing on and enjoying all that we already have.

The scriptures call us away from such an impulse. Acts 20 says, “It is better to give than to receive.” Our possessions are not to be lorded over those who don’t have. Our possessions should be enjoyed as a blessing for others.

This week, see how your possessions can bless others. Loan out a tool. Take a loved one to lunch. Give a friend in need a ride. As you do, you’ll see that what is “mine” is not necessarily intended to be all about “me.” What is “mine” is intended to glorify God as a blessing for others.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Disobedient Children and God's Embrace

There is an old Jewish legend about a boy named Mortakai who refused to go to school and study the word of God. Mortakai’s parents tried to force the boy. It didn’t work. They hired a psychiatrist to evaluate the boy and got even fewer results. Mortakai determined to avoid faithful study.

Exasperated, Mortakai’s parents took the boy to see their rabbi. The parents emotionally explained the problem.  The rabbi didn’t say a word, but picked the boy up and held him closely to his chest. He rocked the boy back or forth for a time, humming a sacred song. After some more time, the Rabbi softly handed the boy back to his parents. From that point on, the boy displayed a genuine interest in learning God’s word and had no problem attending school.

In a way, that simple story is a beautiful illustration of how God’s people relate to God’s instruction. We rail against (and even avoid) God’s direction until we experience God’s embrace. By incredible grace, God draws us close and holds us, allowing us to experience God's love in relationship. After experiencing that embrace, we have an earnest desire for God’s instruction.

That is also the heart of the Psalm writer who writes, “Your statutes are wonderful, therefore I obey them. The unfolding of your word gives light. It gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. Turn to me and have mercy on me as you always do to those who love your name,” (119:129-132).  Because God always turns to us in loving mercy, we long to know God’s instruction.

As you go through the coming week, study God’s word. Soak up God’s instruction. As you do, remember God’s loving embrace. God has saved you by grace so that you might know God in relationship. That embrace makes the most obstinate of children lovers of the word.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

God and a Good Job

Chariots of Fire is a movie that tells the story of a missionary-turned-track star named Eric Liddle. In the movie, Eric’s sister scolds him for neglecting missions work in order to run in the Olympics. Eric tells his sister, “…when I run, I feel (God’s) pleasure.” The track star senses that doing something well honors God.

That is a beautiful depiction of how God views the work of God’s people. Though we sometimes dread Monday mornings, our trade/craft/professional life can be a way we experience God. God is honored when we do things well for God's glory.

In Colossians, the Apostle Paul suggests that all work is ultimately done for God. The Apostle writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” (Colossians 3:23). Work is a means for honoring God, not people. When we gain experience and do something well, we may indeed sense God’s presence and feel God’s pleasure in the process.

As you go through the coming week, look for opportunities to do something well. As you excel in your trade or craft, pay attention to the spiritual life. God is with you. God is empowering you. God delights in the skills, gifts and abilities God gave you. Working for God's glory, may help you experience that God is pleased with a job well done.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Preach What You Practice

People say things like “practice what you preach” a lot. I think, generally speaking, the sentiment is good. Doing the things we say people should do lends credibility to the things we say. The behavior reveals our convictions and, thus, supports the ideas we promote.

Less often, people say, “Preach what you practice.” We don’t usually tell people to talk about the behavior they believe in. We usually encourage people to allow their behavior to speak for itself.

Yet, the scriptures teach us to preach what we practice. In 1 Peter 3, the Apostle teaches the church to respond to mistreatment with good behavior and blessings. The Apostle suggests that such behavior begs for an explanation. The Apostles tells the church to be ready and eager to give one: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,’ (3:15). In other words, be ready to preach what you practice with gentleness and respect.

As you go through the coming week, look for opportunities to explain God honoring, faithful behavior. If a co-worker asks, “Why do you do that?” Tell them, “Because it honors Jesus….because I love Jesus!” As you do, you will find easy, ordinary opportunities to share your faith with the world around you. You will also have a chance to preach what you practice in the power the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Fought the Law and Christ Won!

There is an old song that I love called “I Fought the Law.” The hook sings (over and over again), “I fought the law and the law won!” The verses tell the story of a troubled soul who commits crimes and suffers the consequences. The message is clear: those who fight against the law will lose.

In one way, the song illustrates a characteristic of the human soul. In our natural state, we rail against rules and regulations. Even when it comes to God’s law, our instinct is to fight it.

The Apostle Paul says this rebellious instinct is actually revealed by the law itself. Romans 7 says, “Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’” In other words, the law reveals our wrong inclination to fight. It reveals our inclination to fight a losing fight.

Unlike the song, God’s law does not point out our rebellious instinct for the sake of defeating us. God’s law does this for the purpose of pointing us to Jesus. Paul goes on to say, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Where the law reveals our rebellious instinct, Christ reveals (and offers) a law fulfilling Spirit.

As you go through the coming week, don’t bother fighting the law. Know that you have already won in Christ Jesus. Let that victory encourage you in fulfilling the law. As you do, you will find life in the law of the Spirit. You will also find no need to sing, “I fought the law and the law won!”

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Law, Freedom and Obedience

An old professor once said, “Having the right to do something does not mean we should do that thing.” His point: freedom of action does not make every action moral or good. I think he is right.

People do all kinds of things that are legal, but hardly moral. People exercising their freedom of speech spew all kinds of garbage. People wielding their right to free assembly, assemble for all kinds of goofy behavior. Having the right or being free to do something does not mean we should do that thing.

The Apostle would have agreed with that professor. In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul tells the church that God’s work in Christ has freed them from service of the law. But, Paul continues, that freedom does not make law breaking pleasing to God. Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Freedom from the law does not make sinning right or moral. Freedom from the law frees us to fulfill the law freely in Christ Jesus.

As you go through the coming week, exercise your freedom in Christ to fulfill God’s will. Live faithfully out of freedom instead of using freedom to justify goofy behavior. As you do, you will experience a righteousness that comes from God instead of the law. You will also enjoy the freedom of a faithful, obedient life.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Discovering What We Already Knew, Anew

Concussions have been a hot topic in the news. Retired football players report problems symptomatic of head trauma, claiming the trauma is a result of playing football. In response, medical researchers across the country are pouring resources into the study of sports related head trauma. Many are finding a direct correlation between full contact football and premature loss of brain function.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to some. Putting on a helmet and running head-to-head with a 250 pound, muscle builder will knock your brain around. Do it enough times and the collision will have lasting results. Researchers are discovering what we’ve known all along: football can knock a person senseless.

Discovering what we already knew isn't isolated to sport. It happens in our spiritual lives too. We know that life apart from relationship with Jesus isn’t good for the soul. Sin leads to drama. But, we do it anyway. With time, we realize, “As it turns out, neglecting relationship with Jesus negatively impacts the spiritual life. I have learned this through extensive research!” We turn our attention back to Jesus and He begins cultivating the life abundant again.

The early church in Corinth wrestled with it. They had been told of the challenges of life apart from God’s will. They did the research and discovered what they already knew: Sin enslaves. Jesus frees. Paul calls them discover what they already know. Paul writes, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand, by this gospel you are saved…” The Corinthians are discovering what they already knew (anew).

With that in mind, let me encourage you to go with what you already know. Sin enslaves.  Jesus frees.  No need to test the theory. Stay focused on Jesus and enjoy what you already know. As you do, you will be blessed by the God who never fails.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Satisfied in Christ

I once heard an old preacher say, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.”  I think that is a beautiful way to describe our relationship with God.  Honoring God with our lives is good for us.  In fact, the blessings we experience in honoring God (deep, eternal satisfaction) are actually what gives God the most glory.

The end of Revelation agrees with that old preacher.  In Revelation 21, the Apostle John catches a glimpse of God’s heavenly city.  This city will be the final dwelling place for God and God’s people.  John describes the city in saying, “It shone with the glory of God.”  John also says that this glorification of God is really good for the people who live there: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed.”  In other words, the residents in the New Jerusalem will be satisfied in God.  The residents being satisfied in God fills the city with the glory to God.  Therefore, God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.

As you go through the coming week, seek Jesus in order to be satisfied in Him.  Call on Him in prayer, asking Him to sustain your soul.  Study Him in the scriptures, recognizing His goodness.  Take time to remember His faithfulness in your life.  Be satisfied.  As you do, you will indeed be blessed by a good God.  You will also be honoring and praising Him in the process.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

What Goes Around, Doesn't Necessarily Come Around

“What goes around, comes around” is a common phrase.  The phrase gets used so often, I can forget what it is actually communicating.  “What goes around, comes around” means this: if we do good things to/for others, we will eventually experience good fortune in return.  If we do bad things to others, we will eventually experience something bad in return.  In more basic terms, do good and get good.  Do bad and get bad.

The sentiment sounds nice and makes a certain amount of sense.  But, it simply doesn’t work with Christian belief.  Christians believe that what goes around does not come around.  All people have done bad things, but because of Jesus Christ, they do not necessarily get bad things in return.

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul writes, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” So, according to the Christian faith, what goes around has been forgiven by God through the work of Jesus Christ.  What comes around in return is salvation by the grace of God.  For Christians, the do good, get good slogan doesn’t apply.  We are not justified by doing good.  We are justified by God’s grace.

As you go through the coming week, praise the Lord for the grace He has extended to you.  Appreciate His favor.  Recognize His faithfulness.  As you do, you will come to know a faithful God more.  You will also appreciate that what goes around, doesn’t necessarily come around.  That is good news.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Great Guitars and the Image of God

A few years ago, Gretsch Guitars manufactured sixty replicas of George Harrison’s favorite guitar. Harrison loved the Gretsch Duo Jet and described the guitar as the “first really decent guitar.” Gretsch replicated the guitar in tribute to the legendary rock musician and went so far as copying the nicks and dings Harrison added during his years of use. Suggested retail price for the copy of the used guitar: $20,000.00.

Why would anyone pay so much money for the copy of a beat up guitar? The answer is fairly straightforward: the original guitar is so valuable as a collector’s item that guitars reflecting its image reflect a degree of its value. In fact, the more the replica reflects the image of the original, the higher the value.

In a way, Gretsch’s replication of the Duo Jet illustrates the redemptive work of Jesus. Jesus Christ, in the fullness of His resurrection, is priceless. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is creating replicas. His people, the church, are being made into His exact image. We are valuable because we reflect the image of the highest value of all – Jesus Christ.

In his second letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul writes, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” According to Paul, the more we are transformed into the image of Jesus, the more we reflect His glory. God’s people reflect the glory of Jesus.

As you go through the coming week, continue to open your life to Jesus. Pray to Jesus. Read about Jesus in the scriptures. Invite Jesus to make you into His image, reflecting every detail of His character. As you do, you will be made more and more glorious like Jesus. Along the way, you will find that His holiness is way more valuable than any guitar.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Onion, Satire and the Wisdom of God

The Onion is a website that parodies current events with fake headlines and articles. Example: the Onion ran a headline announcing, “ExxonMobil, Chevron Locked In Bidding War To Acquire Lucrative Pennsylvania Senator.” The Onion has a reputation for publishing sometimes humorous, other times crass, always biting satire.

Unfortunately, the nuance of The Onion’s satire is lost on some. Folks read the fake headlines and assume they are true. Then, they share those fake stories as if they are reality. This is dangerous when combined with social media. People log into their facebook/twitter/tumbler/snapchat account, read a fake headline, think that it is real, and then share it with the world. Fake news goes viral like it is real news.

This has become such a problem that Facebook has created a special tag for fake news stories. Posts from sites like The Onion are clearly marked “satire.” In other words, Facebook has to tell users what is fake and what is real.

This is an example of our world’s need for wisdom and discernment. Our world is swirling with so much information, running in so many different directions, it is easy to confuse the fake news with the real news. On a spiritual level, we need a God given wisdom to help us recognize, discern and then promote real truth.

The book of James agrees: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” God gives wisdom. That wisdom helps us navigate a world filled with real and fake information. 

As you go through your day and week, pray that the Holy Spirit will cultivate wisdom and discernment in you. Get to know the Holy Spirit. Ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. As you do, you will find God given wisdom for navigating a world filled with competing information. You might also have a good laugh, recognizing and appreciating good satire for what is.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Wake Up and Live!

A funny thing happens when I get startled awake. I act (often rashly) before I am aware of my surroundings. A family member or friend will startle me out of a nap. I'll yell, flail, and rebel before I actually know what is going on. Though I respond instantly, it takes a minute to get my bearings so that I can respond appropriately.

That response can illustrate how we wake up in our spiritual lives. We fall asleep in our faith. Therefore, we aren’t as aware of God’s voice, God’s direction or God’s presence in our lives. Then, some circumstance jars us awake. We turn to Jesus like a knee jerk reaction. We pray for Jesus to fix the situation before we fully understand the situation. We demand God give us direction though we aren’t that familiar with God's voice. In other words, we jump to spiritual action before we get our spiritual bearings.

When that happens, God’s grace is sufficient. Though we return to Jesus like a startled napper, he helps us regain awareness in Him. Ephesians 5:13-15 promises it: “But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.’” We may not be spiritually aware when we wake, but we have the promise that Jesus will help us see by shining his light on us.

If you have fallen asleep spiritually, let me encourage you to wake up! Wake up and act spiritually even if it feels like you’re flailing. Pray. Read the scriptures. Worship with fellow Christians. As you do, Jesus will shine a light on you. He will help you discern His voice. He will help you recognize His will for your life. Though waking up may shock our system, He will help us see our situation for what it is and bring it to life.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Lamp and Light


A Gospel singer named Amy Grant was popular when I was a kid.  One of her big hits was a song called Thy Word.  The lyrics of the chorus to Thy Word quote Psalm 119: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.”

When I first listened to Grant’s song, the lyric didn’t make sense.  My thoughts went something like this: “Why do you need light on your feet and how can words be a light?  If you are in the dark, you should carefully walk to the closest wall and turn the light on.”  The Psalm writer’s symbolic language was lost on my grade school sensibilities.

As I grew older, I learned that flashlights and flood lamps were hard to find in ancient Israel.  In fact, they didn’t exist.  In the Psalm writer’s day, light was carried on candles and torches.  Carrying a light allowed a person to see where they were walking, illuminating a short distance in front of them.

That is the type of image of scripture the Psalm writer is trying to create.  We carry God’s word with us and it illuminates the path right in front of us.  We take steps of faith, trusting that the light will continue lighting our way.

As you approach this week, read God’s word in a way that allows you to take it with you.  You might even try memorizing a short passage of scripture.  As the words of the Bible become a part of you, ask how they apply to your life today.  You can take God’s word with you to work and allow it to inform your relationship with co-workers.  God’s word can come to mind during your family time this evening. 

The Bible is a lamp for your feet.  Let it light the path that is right in front of you today.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Culture Wars & the Christian Life

America’s culture wars have reached a feverish pitch. Facebook feeds are filled with mudslinging (aggressive and passive aggressive). The talking heads of 24-Hour news stations use inflammatory language to bludgeon silent opponents who were never invited to the conversation. The lines are drawn. The talking points are clear. Us verses them. Them verses us. To be on one side or the other, people must agree to the entire ideological platform.

Confronted with that, many Christians don’t know where they fit. Our faith won’t allow us to agree to an entire platform of ideologies. The scriptures, the traditions of the church and the direction of the Holy Spirit constantly call all human ideologies into question. As a result, we feel like we don't fit in.

If you are one of those folks, wondering where you fit in, you are in good company. The Apostle Paul described “not fitting in” as a natural part of the Christian life. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Our belief in Christ (and opinions that stem from that belief) may trip up some factions and be foolishness to others. Though it doesn’t always fit, it is our belief.

As you navigate the culture wars of the world around us, ask the Lord for wisdom. Consult the scriptures for wisdom about the affairs of the day. Study what the Christian church says about issues rather than consulting the talking heads of the media. As you do, you’ll find wisdom in the One who sits above the petty conflicts of people. You may also find that you still don’t fit in.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Less and More of Life Abundant

In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says this: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” In other words, God intends to amplify the lives of His people, not diminish them.

We see people who desire too little out of life every day. People ignore the high art of Shakespeare and Joplin in order to listen to Justin Beiber and Kesha. People neglect conversation with loved ones so they can scroll through their Facebook feed. In our spiritual lives, we forsake conversation with God so that we can watch hours of CSI – Tupelo. We are satisfied with too little. Jesus calls us to desire more out of life with Him.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes Himself as a Good Shepherd. In doing so, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (10:10). So it seems that C.S. Lewis’ point has a biblical foundation. Jesus calls His people to have more life in Him – not less.

As you go through the coming week, ask how the Lord might be calling you to more. Ask Jesus to help you desire more of the life He gives rather than less. As you do, you will find richness and steadfastness beyond the limits natural human wants. You’ll also step away from the mud pies of the slum, toward an eternal holiday at the sea.
                       

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dads and the Blessings of God

A few years ago, Penn State University published a study celebrating the benefits of spending time with Dad. The study tracked 200 families, studying one-on-one time between parents and their kids. The research found that the more time kids spent one-on-one with their fathers, the better their self esteem and social skills. Susan McHale, director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State, says this: "Our research shows that, well into the adolescent years, teens continue to spend time with their parents and that this shared time, especially shared time with fathers, has important implications for adolescents' psychological and social adjustment."

For Christians, that makes sense. The scriptures teach us that Dads are good for kids too. Ephesians 6 tells Christians to honor their fathers (quoting the Ten Commandments), justifying the instruction by saying, “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Dads are good for kids.

This Father’s day, honor the Dads of your church family.  They may be biological dads, adoptive dads or a mentors in the faith. Either way, biological and spiritual Dads are good for their kids. Praise the Lord for them this Sunday. Enjoy time with them. Thank them. As you do, you will reap the benefits of time well spent (according to the research). You will also be following one of God’s instructions intended for your greatest good.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Books & the Unchanging Christ

With the rise of the internet, people predicted that local book stores would become a thing of the past. The logic was simple: electronic books are cheaper to publish and less expensive for consumers.  Multiple books can be stored and read on one electronic device and more convenient for consumers.  Therefore, hard copies are no longer needed and neither are the retailers who sale them.  With time, book stores would become obsolete.  That was the logic.

Evidently, the logic was wrong. A recent news report claims a 25% rise in local, independently owned bookstores. As the number of book retailers has increased, so have sales. Though technology has changed, the desire for a time-tested, trusted resource is on the rise.

Hearing that story, I am reminded about predictions about the demise of Christianity. People say that the world is changing. Those changes will make faith in Jesus obsolete. Much like books, Christianity will be obsolete because of the rise of newer and better things.

Yet, the scriptures talk about Jesus as if His time-tested, unchanging, trusted qualities are strengths that last forever. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. That unchanging, time-tested quality about Jesus assures Christians that faith in him isn’t going anywhere. Like books, the time tested qualities lead to growth, even when fads claim to be replacing them.

As you go through the coming week, seek the unchanging God, Jesus Christ. Participate in the time-tested practices of the faith. Pray to Jesus. Read the scriptures about Jesus. Turn off the computer, set down the phone and listen to Jesus. As you do, you will find riches in the time tested blessings of relationship with Jesus. You’ll also find that relationship with Jesus gets better the more He stays the same.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Above Financial Ups and Downs

I follow the stock market from time to time. I read news stories about financial markets around the world and corporate earnings reports. If you follow financial news over time, you’ll notice that the values of stocks, bonds, currencies, and commodities are always changing. They are never constant. Assets are either becoming more valuable or less valuable. The name of the game is betting on whether things are rising or falling.

A frustrating part of following the ever-changing market is the way in which it is reported. If stocks plummet and the NYSE has a bad day, the story is a front-page headline hi-lighted in red. If the Dow posts strong gains, the story gets mentioned in passing with little fan fare, somewhere in the margins. People love to hear bad news about money.

The world’s financial markets are a constant reminder of my need for Christ. I would go nuts if my family’s welfare ultimately depended on the roller coaster world of money. Every up and down of the ever changing, preferably bad financial markets would make me a nervous wreck.

Good thing Jesus offers an alternative. Jesus meets the ever-changing bad news of money with the unchanging good news of the Gospel. He is in control, He is good, and He will take care of His people. Financial markets may crash and global economies crumble, but Jesus will still be in control and care for you. Count on it. Take it to the bank. Cash it in.

As you worship today, take comfort in God’s unchanging promise to His people. It is old (goes all the way back to Moses), but it does not change. He will see His promise through. The money of this world will never compare with the surest investment in human history: faith in Christ.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

It is Not Good for Kobe Bryant to Be Alone

A few months ago, Kobe Bryant spoke candidly with a writer from GQ Magazine. The writer asked a pretty pointed question: “Do you have any friends?” Kobe gave a surprisingly honest response. He said, “I have ‘like minds.’ You know, I've been fortunate to play in Los Angeles, where there are a lot of people like me. Actors. Musicians. Businessmen. Obsessives. People who feel like God put them on earth to do whatever it is that they do. Now, do we have time to build great relationships? Do we have time to build great friendships? No. Do we have time to socialize and to hangout aimlessly? No. Do we want to do that? No. We want to work. I enjoy working.”  The reporter quickly asked a follow up question: “Do you miss the idea of having a great friendship?” Kope replied, “Of course. It's not like I'm saying, ‘I don't need friends because I'm so strong.’ It's a weakness….” 

In a surprisingly candid moment, a famed basketball player recognizes that his success has come at a price. He hasn’t had time for relationships. He admits it is a weakness of character instead of a strength.

Kobe’s confession is a chilling reminder of an important Biblical lesson: humans are not meant to live alone. Genesis says that God created all things and periodically paused, appreciated the work, and called it good. That is, God did so until he created Adam. God looked at Adam (the first human) and said, “It is not good for man to be alone,” (2:18). Lesson: people need people. God created us for relationship with others.

As you go through the coming week, take time to invest in one of the meaningful relationships of your life. Take a friend to lunch. Stop and play with your kids. Invite your spouse to coffee. As you do, you’ll have a chance to let the people you love know it. You’ll also have a chance to enjoy the relationship God created you for.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Gifts of the Spirit and the Unity of the Church

There are two famous stories about language in the Bible.  The first, in Genesis 11, people speak a human language in order to build a big tower as a vanity project. As they do, their language becomes confused and people end up divided. The lesson: human language used for very human ends leaves people confused and divided.

The second story, in Acts 2, describes the effects of Godly language. God’s people gather in the upper room in anticipation of God fulfilling His promises. The Holy Spirit falls in power and God’s people speak in heavenly and foreign languages (tongues). Thousands of people, from all nations, come to faith in response. The lesson: God’s language used for God’s ends brings people together as God’s church.

The lesson of Pentecost is a lesson for all of us. The Spirit of God empowers His people with gifts and abilities in order to bring the church together and edify the church for God’s purposes. Jesus told His people to be together and wait in the upper room. They came together in obedience. The Holy Spirit fell in power and all nations were brought together by the miracle of heavenly tongues. Upshot: the gifts of the Spirit – like tongues – brings people together.

This Pentecost, if the Holy Spirit has given you a gift, ask how you might use that gift to bring the church together. If God hasn’t given you a gift like tongues or prophesy or administration, ask for the gift in earnest. Ask the Lord so that all nations might come to together around the Lordship of Jesus. As you do, you will enjoy a life lived in the Spirit. You will also see how the Holy Spirit works in a through individual gifts to build the church as a whole.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Power in the Name of Jesus

There is a worship song that says, “There is power in the name of Jesus. There is power in the name of the Jesus. There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain!” I love that song lyric.

That lyric doesn’t claim that Jesus carries an electrical current. The lyric doesn’t claim that Jesus is a saws-all, able to cut through metal either. The song is using figurative language to say that Jesus is able to liberate His people from the bondage that accompanies sin and death.

We know that things that can creep into out lives, weigh us down and tie us up like a bunch of chains. Addiction makes us a slave to our appetites and desires. Bitterness allows frustrations and disappoints to consume our thoughts and imagination. Abusive relationships make us feel like we are worthless and helpless. These challenges feel a lot like chains that hold us back from what God is calling us to be.

Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” That Jesus sounds powerful. That Jesus sounds powerful enough to offer real freedom from the things that bind us. That Jesus sounds powerful enough to break every chain.

As you go through the coming week, remember that Jesus has the power to deliver you from the chains that bind you. Addiction, self-hatred, bitterness, and abuse have no claim on you. You belong to Jesus. He is powerful enough to deliver you and sustain you in a life free every chain.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mary Thomas and the Jesus Gang

Mary Thomas had nine kids: seven boys and two girls. Mary raised her family in a rough neighborhood. She did what she could to invest the very best in her children.

One day, Mary heard a knock at her front door. She answered and found a group of young men who were associated with a local gang. The leader told Mary that her seven sons would be joining their gang. She dropped her eyes and said, “Oh, ok. Hold on just one second.” Mary disappeared into the house and later returned with a shot gun. She pointed the gun at the group and said, “There’s only one gang around here, and that’s the Thomas gang!”

That gang didn’t initiate Mary’s boys. In fact, they had very little influence on the “Thomas gang."  Mary made sure each one of her children graduated high school. Her youngest, Isiah, ended up winning a scholarship to the University of Indiana. He went on to fame and notoriety, becoming a Hall of Fame basketball player with the Detroit Pistons. Years later, the “Thomas Gang” attributes much of their success to their mother’s willingness to fight for their well being.

There is something admirable about a mother who is willing to fight for her loved ones. I praise the Lord for biological mothers, adoptive mothers and church mothers who intentionally and proactively invest in our lives. We are far better off because of it.

The Apostle Paul celebrates mothers and grandmothers who are willing to fight for the faith of their loved ones. Writing to a young Pastor named Timothy, Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Praise the Lord for women who fight for our faith.

This Mother’s Day, thank the women who have fought for you. Thank the moms and spiritual mentors and church leaders who invested in your life and fought for your faith in Jesus. As you do, you will recognize some of the many saints that God has graced the church with. You may also be reminded “there’s only one gang around here, and that’s the Jesus gang!”