Thursday, August 4, 2016

Keeping the Great Commission as the Main Thing

“You gotta keep the main thing the main thing.” We’ve heard that phrase before. The idea being this: people need to focus attention on important things in order to give attention where attention is due.

It is important for Christians to remember that phrase too. Christians need to keep the important things in the faith at the center of our attention. If we don’t, we will be distracted by the lesser important details of life and end up not doing the foundational things Jesus called us to.

Jesus is clear about main things. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives His people one, foundational mission. Jesus says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That is the main thing. It is important that all Christians keep that as the main thing.

As you continue to navigate this transition together, keep Jesus’ main thing, the main thing. Jesus has called us all to go and make disciples. Let the Lord and His mission be the foundation of your life and this church. As you do, you’ll find that all of life’s other details fall in line. You’ll also learn that keeping the main thing, the main thing, is a very good thing for God’s people.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

C.S. Lewis and Following the God on the Move

There is a famous scene in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles that describes the anticipation of a returning lion king named Aslan.  One character tells group of children, “They say Aslan is on the move – perhaps he has already landed.”  The group of children does not know who Aslan is, but they are moved by the mere mention of his arrival.

If you’ve read the Narnia Chronicles you know Aslan is Christ-like character.  C.S. Lewis uses Aslan to illustrate that Jesus is a God who is on the move.  Jesus is not fixed or stagnant, but a God in motion, working to save the world.

That is important for Jesus’ people to remember.  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “Come, follow me…” Following Jesus assumes motion.  The Christian life is not a life lived in a fixed, constant place.  The Christian life is a life that moves because we follow a God who is on the move.

As we continue to navigate this season of transition at Faith Center, embrace the movement of this season.  Look for what Jesus is doing during this season of change.  Recognize that following the Lord involves a life of constant motion and change.  As you do, you will find life abundant in the Lord and His incredible mission.  You’ll also become one of those people who announces, Jesus is on the move – perhaps he has already landed!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

On Mission in Transition

I played on the J.V. basketball team in high school. Yes, I was that good. During one of our first practices, our coach said, “Our offense is going to be the transition.” What he meant by that was this: when our team got a rebound and switched from playing defense to playing offense, we would use that transition as our offense. Our team would not wait until we moved the ball to the other end of the court before setting up our offense. We would play offense during the transition up the court.

I think that is a great illustration for Christian mission in an ever changing world. Our lives are constantly on the move, always changing, always in transition. Kids grow up, graduating from one grade to another. Jobs change. Friends and family move. Schedules have to be adjusted. At any given moment, we are faced with some sort of transition in life.

As we navigate those transitions, it is important we stay on mission. In the words of my old coach, “Our offense must be the transition!” If we wait to fulfill Christian mission until everything is stable, predictable and comfortable, mission may never happen.

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus says this after his resurrection, but before his ascension into heaven. So, Jesus gives the great commission right in the middle of huge transition. The mission is always fulfilled in life’s transitions.

As we navigate the pastoral transition at Faith Center, remember the mission Jesus has given us all. We are all called to reach the nations with the good news about Jesus. As you do that, you will find purpose for navigating all of life’s transitions. You’ll also see how Jesus can run an offense in the midst of change!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Change and the Love of God

I am sure you have heard people say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” When I hear that statement, I think of an older saint reflecting on their lives. The person recognizes the many different seasons of life they have navigated. Simultaneously the person recognizes common patterns and qualities that always seemed present, regardless of the season. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

That statement and sentiment is not at odds with Christian belief. Christians understand that life is constantly on the move. God’s people are regularly adapting to the currents of the world in order to remain faithful in Christian worship and mission. In the middle of all that change, we recognize that our Lord Jesus is unchanging (Hebrews 13:6). Jesus is our constant in the midst of change.

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul banks on the unchanging presence of Christ's love. Paul writes, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In other words, whatever changes life brings, God and God’s love for us is going to be the exact same – always there.

As we navigate this new season at Faith Center, remember Jesus and His love for you. Nothing can separate any of us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. That means the more things change, the more God’s love stays the same!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

9-1-1 and the Gospel

Earlier this week, a Florida man was arrested for calling 9-1-1. To be clear, the man wasn’t arrested for simply using the emergency phone service. He was arrested for overusing and misusing the service.

The man called 9-1-1 six times in a single day. He called to talk about lots of things: Hitler, the persecution of the jews and other World War II era history. After repeated requests, asking the man to stop, the emergency service sent police officers to the man’s house. The officers asked why he was calling. He said, “(I was) talking to your dispatcher because I’m board.” The man occupied an emergency service for those in need because he didn’t have anything better to do.

Hearing that story, I am reminded how important purpose is. We humans long to have something meaningful to do with our time and energy. When we have no purpose, we do goofy stuff. Some end up using important emergency services like 9-1-1 for entertainment.

The good news about Christianity is that Jesus gives us that much needed purpose. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” In doing so, Jesus gave His people purpose. No reason to be bored. No need to tie up much needed emergency resources for our own entertainment. God has given us a job known as “The Great Commission.”

As you go through the coming week, remember your God given purpose. Jesus has called us all to reach the nations with the gospel, making disciples, teaching people everything that Jesus commanded. That calling gives meaning to our work-life, home-life, our relationships with neighbors and more. That is important to remember the next time you are tempted to call 9-1-1 in order to chat about World War II history.   

Thursday, June 30, 2016

American Independence and Freedom in Christ

On Monday, folks all over Aloha will celebrate American Independence. We’ll light firecrackers, spend time with friends and family and grill really great food. We do those things to celebrate our independence as a people.

In the Declaration of Independence, our country’s framers recognized that independence is God given. Their exact words: “…They are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” God gives human liberty and freedom to people.

Christians understand that God given freedom (the freedom Jesus gives) comes with responsibility. Jesus not only frees us from sin and death. Jesus also frees us for the abundant life. Jesus sets us free so that we can minister, evangelize, work for justice, promote freedom for others and prepare for the arrival of the Lord’s second coming.

In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” In other words, Jesus freed us from sin and death so that we can sin no more. Jesus freed us for righteous living and the life abundant.

As you celebrate independence, remember what our Lord freed you for. Live in God honoring ways because of the freedom He has given you. As you do, you’ll experience the blessings of freedom in Christ. You’ll also better enjoy fireworks, food, family and fun of the 4th.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Fire of God and God's Holy Spirit

Years ago, a non-Christian friend of mine accompanied me to a youth event where I played a concert. Before I went on, an opening band sang a song about the fire of God. I remember the lead singer yelling, “He’s got fire in His eyes!” over and over again. I didn’t think much of it, but my friend did.

In the middle of that song, my friend leaned over and whispered, “This is freaking me out!” I asked, “What do you mean?” My friend said, “This is the stuff that freaks me out about Christians.” Evidentially, the idea of the fire of God and the way that band of Christians sang about it made him uncomfortable.

To this day, I wonder what it was about the mention of God's fire that gave my friend the creeps. Maybe he associated the fire of God with God’s judgment and the fires of hell. I don’t know. I don’t understand because I find a lot of comfort in the fire of God and I am not alone.

Many Christians hear of the fire of God and think of Pentecost, where fire burned above the heads of God’s people as they filled with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, fire signifies the arrival of God’s spirit, the comforter, the healer, the unifier and our sanctifier. Rather than symbolizing condemnation, the fire of God symbolizes the presence of God that makes God’s people more like Jesus. That is a good thing.

As you go through this coming week, ask the Lord to reveal His fire to you. Open your life to the refining, comforting, healing presence of the Holy Spirit. As you do, you will experience more of the God who poured the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. You will also find victory in the one who has fire in His eyes.           

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cowboys, Lassos and Old Fashioned Christian Practices

I heard a great story this past week. In rural Southern Oregon, a man stole a woman’s bike at a local Wal-Mart. He rode the stolen property across the store’s large parking lot in hopes of getting away. A local cowboy heard the woman yell, “He stole my bike!” The cowboy chased the two-wheeled thief down and retrieved the property.

The cowboy chased the thief down in an old fashioned way. The cowboy got on his horse, road the bicyclist down and lassoed him. He tied the thief up, returned the bike to the woman and waited for the police. True story.

That cowboy’s story illustrates how seemingly old practices can come in very handy. When chasing a bicyclist on foot won’t work, a horse and lasso will. Old practices have very practical uses today.

The same is true in the Christian life. Very old Christian practices help in navigating very real problems today. Prayer helps us stay calm when under fire. The study of scripture readies us with answers to life’s potential questions. Worship gives us perspective when faced with distractions. Old practices have practical uses today.

In his letter to the church in Colossae, the Apostle Paul writes, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” In other words, internalize the time tested message of Jesus through teachings and instructions and even music. That old message will influence how you live your day-to-day life today.

As you go through the coming week, participate in the activities Christians have done since the beginning. Pray, study, love, serve, worship and minister. As you do, you will find that very old practices have very practical applications today. The traditions of the faith can be even more helpful than a horse and lasso!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Belief and Unbelief

I heard an inspiring story about Christian faith in the midst of obstacles.  A woman had recently been diagnosed with a serious illness.  Friends, family and loved ones offered their pity, expressing their sympathies about the difficult circumstances.  Time and time again, the woman responded the same way.  She said, “Well, I know what I believe.  Now it is time for me to believe what I know.”  In other words, the woman understood her Christian belief in theory, but real life hardship would give her an opportunity to mature in her belief.

Many times, we think of belief as something we have or we don’t.   But, that woman seemed to think that belief matures over time, as the Lord leads us through the ups and downs of life.  Practicing trust/faith/belief in Christ, especially during hard times deepens our trust/faith/belief in Christ.

That makes sense.  Jesus Himself helped people grow in their belief.  In Mark 9, Jesus heals a boy possessed by an impure spirit, stressing the importance of belief.  The boy’s father insists, “I believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  Though the father believes Jesus can heal, he asks for help to grow in belief.  Jesus deepens and enlivens belief  in those who believe, but also earnestly want to believe more.

As you go through the coming week, pray and ask Jesus to deepen your faith.  Ask the Lord, “Help me in my unbelief.”  As you do, the Lord will meet you right where you are.  And, the Lord will empower you in believing what you know.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Heimlich Maneuver & Holy Living

Last month, a senior citizen’s center in the Cincinnati, Ohio avoided a serious accident. An 87-year-old resident began choking on a piece of hamburger during mealtime. She began waving in distress, catching the attention of another 96-year-old resident. The 96-year-old performed a first aid procedure known as the "Heimlich Maneuver," dislodging the beef from the 87-year-old’s airway. Life saved. Accident averted.

Come to find out, the 96-year-old deliverer of first aid was Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the maneuver that saved that woman's life. In fact, that hamburger incident was the first time Dr. Henry Heimlich performed the first aid maneuver he created. Though he is the namesake of a life saving practice, he didn’t use it until the very end of His life.

I wonder if Dr. Heimlich’s funny story illustrates our participation many Christian practices. Though Christians are associated with worshiping Jesus, loving our enemies, caring for the poor, evangelizing, we don’t necessarily put it into practice. We grow older and find opportunity to do the things associated with Christians and realize, “Wow! That works!”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His disciples, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father,” (John 14:12). So, believing in Jesus as a Christian involves following Jesus’ example of behavior. In other words, Christianity is built to be put into practice.

As you go through the coming week, put the activities associated with Christianity into practice. Pray, study, worship, witness, love and serve. No need to wait until a crises arises in your nursing home. Jesus has given us a faith to be lived today.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Overdue Rentals and the Grace of God

Last week, North Carolina police arrested a man after a routine traffic stop. The crime: a late movie rental overdue since 2002. True story: authorities stopped the man in response to a broken break light. Running his license and registration, the officer learned of a warrant for the man’s arrest. While booking the man at the local precinct, officers learned the man had failed to return a VHS tape to “J&J’s Video” over fourteen years ago. J&J’s video is no longer in business. but, as it turns out, it doesn’t matter. Mistakes long forgotten can come back to haunt us.

That story illustrates how many of us can feel in our spiritual lives. We worry that some misdeed done years ago will come back to haunt us. We may have even forgotten what it was, but, we worry that when the right authorities in the right circumstances find out, we will be busted. The forgotten misdeed will land us in jail once and for all.

According to the scriptures, that is impossible for those who believe in Jesus. Writing to the early church in Rome, the Apostle Paul writes, “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,” (Romans 8:1-2). In other words, nothing in a Christian's past can condemn that Christian because condemnation no longer exists the way it used to. Jesus has freed His people from that.

As you go through the coming week, remember your freedom in Christ. That freedom frees you from worries about the past. It also frees you for the life Jesus calls you to today. That is good news for all who have lived under the law of sin and death. It is also good news for those of who may have lost a VHS tape or two.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tough Truth and the Love of God

My parents disciplined me as a kid – from time to time.  They claimed that they disciplined me because they loved me.  They would say thinks like, “I do this because I care about your welfare” or “It hurts me worse than in hurts you!”  I didn’t believe them.

Looking back on their investment (and direction), I better understand the spirit of their message.  It was this: people who love you do what they think is best for you even when it is hard.  Loved ones are willing to have the difficult conversations.  Loved ones tell us the truth – even when we don’t like it.  They don’t do it because it is fun or they enjoy it.  They do it because they care about our welfare and what is right.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes and celebrates this type of love.  In doing so, Paul writes, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth.”  Why does love rejoice in the truth?  The truth is healthy for people to hear.  While telling the truth may not always be fun, it can lead to incredible growth – especially when we are told the truth in love.

As you go through the coming week, praise the Lord for the people who loved you enough to do the hard things.  Praise Jesus for those willing to have the tough conversation.  As you do, you will recognize the loving people God placed in your life.  You will also recognize that God can work through the difficult things for great results.  Praise the Lord!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Feed the Good Dog

An old man gathered a group of younger men for a discussion about living the good life. The man began by describing the struggle between good and evil. The man said, “It is like two dogs fighting inside us. There is one good dog who wants to do the right and the other dog always wants to do the wrong. Sometimes the good dog seems stronger and is winning the fight. But sometimes the bad dog is stronger and wrong is winning the fight."

One of the young men asked a question: “Who is going to win in the end?” The old man answered, “The one you feed.” The dog you feed is going to win the fight.

Like that legend, the Apostle Paul describes an inner struggle in Christians. Paul writes, “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” There is an inner struggle between our natural desire to sin and the Spirit’s work for holiness.  Paul encourages the church to feed the Spirit.

Unlike the legend, Christians are not left wondering who will win in the end. Because Jesus Christ was crucified, resurrected, and poured out His Spirit on the church, we know that the righteous dog will win. The Spirit will see our redemption through. We simply feed the Spirit from the vantage point of Christ’s victory.

As you go through the coming week, feed the Spirit that is cultivating the good in your life. Pray, study the scriptures, listen, and wait on the Lord. Invest in your relationship with God as a way of feeding the Holy Spirit’s redemptive work. As you do, you will find energy for living the good life. You will also step closer to the victory that Christ has won on your behalf.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Experiencing Jesus at Easter

Years ago, I read a story about a popular English journalist named Malcolm Muggeridge.  Early on in Muggeridge’s career, he served as a correspondent in the USSR.  In one report, he analyzed religion’s decline in the Soviet block, interviewing Kremlin officials and others hoping to rid society of faith.  During his investigation, Muggeridge also attended a Russian Orthodox Church service to document the “dying” expressions of Christianity.

As Muggeridge observed the service, he focued on the faces of the Russian worshipers.  Nearing the end, the priest yelled, “He is risen!”  The church family responded by yelling back, “He is risen indeed!” As Muggeridge watched the expressions of Russian Christians yelling, “He is risen indeed,” he converted to faith in Jesus – on the spot.

Recounting his conversion years later, Muggeridge said the joy of those shouting, “He is risen indeed” compelled him to convert.  It wasn’t correct ideas or well crafted arguments that convinced Muggeridge.  It was the joyful expressions of faithful worshipers experiencing the living Christ in person.  The joy of the experience, expressed on their faces, could not be refuted.

That may be the most powerful Christian witness of all: a joyful response to the experience of the living Christ.  When we not only believe Jesus rose from the dead, but experience it, expressing it joyfully, we witness in ways that are as powerful as words.  The joy of experiencing Jesus speaks for itself.

This Easter week, we have an opportunity to experience and respond to the living Jesus Christ.  On Friday, 03/25, at 7 pm, Faith Center will host a Good Friday service, filled with scripture, prayer, song and communion.  Then, on Easter Sunday, at 9:00a and 10:45a, we will celebrate that Jesus Christ is risen indeed.  There will be flowers, special food, songs of celebration, baptism and more.  

Please join us for these special worship events.  They give us all a chance to experience the joy of Jesus' resurrection.  They also give us a chance to respond to the Lord joyfully: "He is risen indeed!"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Palm Sunday and the Arrival of Jesus

This Sunday is commonly called “Palm Sunday.”  Christians refer to this Sunday as “Palm Sunday” in reference to the scene surrounding Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem.  Before Jesus was arrested, crucified or resurrected, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt.  His followers placed palm branches on the road in front of him (Matthew 21:8, Mark 11:8, John 12:13), singing praise: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” (Luke 19:38).   That palm-paved march marked the beginning our Lord’s saving work on the cross and through the resurrection.  We remember and celebrate that this Sunday.

Many think of this Sunday, “Palm Sunday,” as a nice remembrance or tradition.  But, for Christians, Palm Sunday is more than tradition.  Because we believe Jesus is alive and present in the Holy Spirit, we have an opportunity to invite Jesus to enter our lives this Palm Sunday afresh and anew.  Just as Jesus marched down the Mount of Olives into the heart of Jewish life (Jerusalem), Jesus can march into the heart of our lives today.  We can join his disciples from long ago, praising God: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.”

As you worship Jesus this Sunday, open your heart to His Easter march.  Jesus is offering relationship with God and salvation to all who believe in Him.  That means He is marching into our lives in the here and now.  Open your heart to Him.  As you do, you will experience the very reason for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  You will also be blessed by “the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lost Wallets and the Certainty of Jesus

Reilly Flaherty lost his wallet. According to NBC News, the Brooklyn man attended a show at a local theatre and lost track of the billfold.  He assumed the contents gone, canceled his credit cards, and applied for a new drivers license. Then, unexpectedly, Flaherty received an envelope in the mail. The envelope contained some of the wallet’s items and a note explaining why the rest of the wallet was not returned.

The note read, “I found your wallet, and your drivers license had your address so here's your credit cards and other important stuff. I kept the cash because I needed weed, the MetroCard because, well, the fare's $2.75 now, and the wallet 'cause it's kinda cool. Enjoy the rest of your day. Toodles, Anonymous." The person who found the wallet kept what was useful (to her or him) and politely returned what was not. Reilly posted a picture of the handwritten note on Instagram with the caption, “Thanks…I think?”

Flaherty’s story illustrates a common experience in our world: good works come with a catch. Someone does something seemingly nice and considerate. Then, as you look into to the behavior, you realize it is kind of good…sort of nice. Inevitably, bad attitudes, ulterior motives or some sort of self-interest taint the blessing. We are left thinking, “Thanks…I think?”

Good thing that isn’t how Jesus works. Jesus saves His people with no strings attached. The blessing of salvation in Jesus Christ is pure blessing and nothing more. In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul writes, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free;” The blessing of freedom is the reason Jesus blessed us with freedom. That is the point. There is no ulterior motive or hidden agenda that leaves us "sort of" grateful or appreciative "to a degree."

As you go through the coming week, praise the Lord for blessing you with no strings attached. Enjoy the perfect, untainted, holy work of Jesus. As you do, you will blessed by God for God's sake. You will also be able to hold onto the things God gave you - like a wallet.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Losing Yourself

A couple weeks ago, a group of tourists reported that a woman had gone missing.  The group was visiting a canyon in Iceland and was instructed to return to the tour bus at a specific time.  When the time came, a leader counted each tourist to make sure everyone was back.  The leader’s count found one woman missing.  Time passed, the woman never returned, and the group began to worry.  They waited for an hour and then notified the police.

The police arrived and organized a search party, including members of the tour group.  They distributed a description of the missing woman and searched and searched to no avail.  The group finally gave up around three in the morning.

At the point of losing hope, someone realized that the woman they had been looking for was in the search party.  She had been with them all along.  In fact, not realizing she was the object of the search, the woman spent a large part of the night searching for herself! 

As it turns out, the group had made several mistakes.  The woman (who was thought to be missing) had changed her clothes and freshened up before meeting the group at the agreed upon time.  Because she was wearing a new outfit, the other tourists didn’t recognize her when they reconvened.  Then, the leader miscounted, mistakenly thinking the group was one short.  On top of that, the woman didn’t recognize the descriptions of herself.  It took hours before she realized she was the person they were searching for.

Many times we approach our spiritual lives in a similar fashion.  We join a church in order to reach the lost.  We focus all our energy on the lost, never taking stock of our own spiritual health.  In the end, we realize that we are people who need to be found.  We are the people who needed saving all along.

As you go through the coming week, recognize your continual need for a savior.  Call on Jesus for grace and mercy anew.  Coming to terms with our own wayward tendencies is actually the first step in truly being found.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Good Thoughts and Good Prayers

Recently, I heard a person tell a friend navigating a hard time, “I’m sending good thoughts your way.” She was very well intentioned. I assume that she wanted the hurting friend to know she cared for her. She hoped to express empathy for the friend even if not always present, hence, the sending of good thoughts.

I wonder if Christians understand prayer that way. We think that praying is sending nice thoughts towards someone. Prayer is an interpersonal, telepathic sentiment of sorts.

While there is certainly nothing wrong with nice thoughts, Jesus teaches that Christian prayer is more than good thoughts. In the gospel of Luke, one of Jesus’ disciples asks Jesus to teach him to pray. Jesus tells him, “When you pray say, Father…” Jesus tells His disciples to call on God in prayer like calling on a parent. Jesus goes on to tell his disciples to ask God to rule in their lives, provide food, forgive sins, and direct them away from temptation. Later Jesus encourages this type of petitioning by saying, “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened,” (Luke 11).

So, according to Jesus, prayer involves calling on God like an intimate caregiver, for just about everything in our lives. More than nice thoughts, Christian prayer involves bringing all thoughts before God. We send all thoughts God’s way, trusting that God is our provision in all things.

As you go through the coming week, take your thoughts to God in prayer. Ask for provision. Ask for healing. Ask God to be with a friend who is hurting. As you do, Jesus will redefine what it means to “send nice thoughts your way.” Jesus will also reveal that He is powerful enough to take nice thoughts and make a real difference.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Knowing Who You Are...and Who Jesus Is

A chaplain I know visited a patient at a local hospital.  The patient had recently received a very bad diagnosis and had a hard time processing the news.  In the midst of this difficult situation, a doctor stepped into the room to brief the patient.  The doctor didn’t have the best bedside manner and unintentionally upset the patient.  In response, the chaplain stopped the doctor, saying, “This isn’t a good time.”

The doctor looked indignant and asked, “Do you know who I am?”  The chaplain said, “I know exactly who you are.  This still isn’t a good time.”  The chaplain thought that Christian ministry and the patient’s emotional well being trumped the doctor’s status.  The doctor left the room a bit perplexed.

Sometimes, our Christian walk can the attitude of that doctor?  We think our experience or talents entitles us to a certain amount of status and respect.   Then, the words of the scriptures or the preaching of the church confronts us.  We ask, “Do you know who I am?”  The Holy Spirit says, “I know exactly who you are.  You are a person being made into the image of Jesus.  Do you know who Jesus is?”

In the Gospel of Luke, asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?”  Peter answers, “God’s messiah.”  According to the Gospels, Jesus is more concerned with His people learning who He is rather than adjusting to the status us of his followers.

As you go through the coming week, ask the Lord reveal who He is to you.   Ask the Lord to make you into His image rather than asking the Lord, “Do you know who I am?”  As you do, you will learn more and more about the goodness of Jesus.  You’ll also feel more secure in who Jesus is making you to be.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Valentine's Day and the Love of God

This Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Most people can agree that Valentine’s Day is a mixed bag. For some, it is a day to appreciate and celebrate their love for/with their significant other. For others, it is an event raising the world’s awareness about their single-ness. For still others, Valentine’s Day is one big commemoration of a loved one’s failures. In other words, Valentine’s Day is great for some, but not for others.

That is the way it goes with human love. Love is good and important and worth our attention – even worth the risk. But, because humans are involved, people get hurt. Human love falls short of the love we all long for and aspire to.

That is why it is important to remember the love of God on days like Valentine’s Day. While human love can fall short, the love of God does not. In his letter to the Roman church, the Apostle Paul writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Again: human love can and does fail. The love of God does not.

As you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Valentine’s Day this Sunday, remember the love of God. There is a love that runs deeper and spreads far wider than the ups and downs and ins and outs human love has to offer. It is a love that satisfies on an eternal level. That love will comfort and sustain us when human love fails. It will also help us love others better on days like Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Proper Perspective on the Super Bowl

As a kid, I loved watching the Super Bowl. Many times, I loved the game so much I ruined the viewing experience. In the days leading up to the big game, I obsessed. I studied the team I wanted to win. I bet friends that “my team” would win. I insisted “their team” would lose. I talked a lot of trash. My anticipation of the Super Bowl built and built and built.

When game time actually arrived, I became a nervous wreck. I paced back and forth, terrified “my team” would lose. I got in arguments with friends rooting for the “other” team. I snapped at people who tried to talk to me. When things didn’t go my way, I ended up in tears. What should have been fun ended up being stressful, sad and maybe a little embarrassing.

People have a way of doing that with the things we love. We take something good and put so much emphasis on it that it turns bad. We put so much emphasis on our possessions they become a status symbol. We place so much attention on food and beverages that they become an addiction. We focus so much on an important relationship, they become controlling and abusive. What should be a really great things end being ruined by our obsession with it.

Jesus calls us away from such imbalance, inviting us to keep things in perspective. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you,” (6:33). It is not as if “all these things” are bad in and of themselves. “Things” are simply healthiest when Christ and His Kingdom are put first and they are put second.

As you watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, keep it in perspective. Recognize that Jesus is Lord and football is fun. Then, enjoy the game to the fullest. Hoop, holler and cheer for you team. Enjoy the cheese dip and soak up the time with friends. As you do, you will be free to enjoy a truly great thing (like the Super Bowl). You will also honor the only one who can truly satisfy you in the process (Jesus).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Small Things, Big Results

Kelly Clarkson is a pop star known for her powerful singing voice. Though Clarkson is known for her “big” voice, she is tiny in stature. She stands five feet, two inches tall. Many have heard her sing and wondered how a sound that “big” can come from a person so small.

Kelly Clarkson is not the only small thing to yield big results. According the scriptures, God works through the small things of the world, to bring about big change. In Mark 4, Jesus says, “…What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” In other words, the kingdom of God imbeds itself in the world in small ways like a seed. It takes root. It grows. It spreads and spreads. It ends up making a powerful impact on the world.

It is not hard to see this at work in Christianity. Two thousand years ago, Roman authorities easily executed a little known Jew named Jesus in a backwater part of the Roman Empire. Jesus’ less-than-loyal followers began telling people that Jesus was alive, reigning as Lord over heaven and earth. They spread this “good news,” by word of mouth, on foot, in the face of persecution.

To me, that sounds like small beginnings to say the least. Yet, that small Jesus movement and its message took root. It grew. It spread and spread. Now, faith in Jesus Christ spans the globe. Many have wondered how something that big could come from something so small.

As you got through the coming week, look for Jesus and His kingdom at work in the little things. See where Jesus might be taking root in a family dinner or your co-worker’s cubicle at work. As you do, you will find that God is indeed present in the small things. You will also find that Jesus can make something very big out of something very small.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jesus Plays Favorites

As kids, people are told to not play favorites. We are encouraged to share with others. Friends are supposed to be treated as equals. No one person should be privileged over and above others.

For the most part, the lessons are good. Treating others like we want to be treated is downright biblical (Mark 12:31). The desire to bless all people is foundational to the gospel and the mission of Christ (Exodus 19:6, Revelation 7:9). So, I see how “playing favorites” can lead to behavior that every child should avoid. Fair treatment of others is a good lesson for children to learn and even better to practice.

Because of those lessons, we assume God would never play favorites. Yet, the scriptures tell us otherwise. Christianity worships a God who indeed plays favorites (Malachi 1:2-3, Romans 9:13). Jesus privileges some at the expense of others (John 12:1-11). In fact, Jesus’ approach to playing favorites really upset people of his day (Luke 4:14-30).

The scriptures tell us that Jesus favors people the world doesn’t. Jesus feasts with the sick while avoiding the healthy (Mark 2:13-17). Jesus blesses the poor (Luke 6:20) and warns the rich (Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 6:24). Jesus embraces little children while correcting His “mature” disciples (Mark 10:14). Jesus celebrates the persecuted (Matthew 5:10) while admonishing the powerful (Luke 18:18-23). Jesus puts the last first (Matthew 2:16). Jesus plays favorites and privileges those the world disdains.

As you go through the coming week, praise the Lord that He has favored unfavorable people like us. Look for people who the world tends to devalue and do something special for them. As you do, you will catch a glimpse of the heart of Christ. You will also experience the God who indeed plays favorites.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Time to Pray

Time and experience have a way of pointing people to God.  The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life reports that the longer Americans live, the more we pray.  The study surveyed members of Generation X in the early 1990s, asking them how often they prayed.   Forty-two percent reported that they prayed on a daily basis.  When asked the same question in 2010, fifty-four percent of Gen Xers reported daily prayer.  Members of the baby boomer generation were similar: forty-seven percent reported that they prayed on a daily basis during the 1980s.  But, in 2010, sixty-two percent reported that they prayed every day.  Time and experience have a way of pointing people to God.

It makes sense.  The longer we live, the more we learn that we can’t control things like thought.  In fact, we find that we have little control over the things we value the most (life, love, relationships, et cetera).  Recognizing this, we begin to talk with God and petition God, asking for care and comfort.  We see God show up. We find care.  We find comfort.  We learn more and more about God’s goodness.  Many people like us give our lives to faith in Jesus because of it.

The Psalm writer from the Bible learned this too.  Psalm 116 says, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.  Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”  Time and experience have a way of pointing people to God.

As you go through the week, take a moment to think about things you have prayed about in the past.  Make note of the many ways Jesus provided.  As you do, you will be reminded of the faithfulness of Jesus.  You will also find yourself turning to the Lord in prayer more and more.