Thursday, May 29, 2014

New strength on wings of eagles

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"He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31, New Living Translation)

From August of 1984 to November of 1988, I was Associate Pastor of Music And Youth at Eagle Mountain Baptist Church. In April of 1991, I returned there to serve as Senior Pastor until May of 2008. Though I never saw an eagle in the area (or a mountain, for that matter), it seemed natural to use an eagle for a logo and to use these verses as a theme.

Those who know me well are aware of my bird phobia (feathered assassins), so my love affair with eagle imagery is a bit ironic. But it is present nonetheless.

When I add the imagery of these verses, I am strangely energized. I can take another step. I am abundantly aware of my own limitations, but I am even more aware of the strength of The Lord that lifts me above those limitations. I find "new strength."

Question: What new strength do you need today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Work Smarter

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"Unless the Eternal builds the house, those who labor to raise it will have worked for nothing. Unless the Eternal stands watch over the city, those who guard it have wasted their time. God provides for His own. It is pointless to get up early, work hard, and go to bed late Anxiously laboring for food to eat; for God provides for those He loves, even while they are sleeping." (Psalm 127:1-2, The Voice)

Many of us who have a long history of Christian life and church participation have heard a clear call to work as hard as we can for as long as we can to do as much as we can for Jesus. After all, He loved us and gave His all for us. How could we give Him any less?

Can I let you in on a secret? That message is more "Church-ian" than Christian. There is a message that I have heard, more often outside of a Christian context, that I think may be more consistent with the message of the Gospel: "Work smarter, not harder."

God doesn't give extra credit for fatigue. His desire is that we would listen to Him and allow Him to do what He wants to do in and through us.

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul: "Now I have found the freedom to truly live for God. I have been crucified with the Anointed One—I am no longer alive—but the Anointed is living in me; and whatever life I have left in this failing body I live by the faithfulness of God’s Son, the One who loves me and gave His body on the cross for me. I can’t dismiss God’s grace, and I won’t. If being right with God depends on how we measure up to the law, then the Anointed’s sacrifice on the cross was the most tragic waste in all of history!" (Galatians 2:19-20, The Voice)

God is not terribly interested in what we do for Him or how hard we work. He is abundantly interested in our complete surrender to His purpose of living out His glory through us. If we are willing to go, to do, and to say what He says, He will do the heavy lifting.

Seems pretty smart to me.

Question: How can you work smarter today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lessons from UnPleasantville


"Yes, this anguish was good for me, for you have rescued me from death and forgiven all my sins." (Isaiah 38:17, New Living Translation)

Wait ... What? This anguish was good for me?

"It's good for you," is the phrase parents once used to get their kids to eat their vegetables, to do unpleasant chores, or to take disgusting tasting medicine.

I'm not sure it gets used as much anymore; we seem to have a goal of ensuring that life is as free of unpleasantness as possible. We make medicine taste like candy, hide vegetables under a layer of cheese, and hire someone to do the chores.

Please don't see those statements as criticism. I do not intend them to be. I'm simply making an observation that we don't often think of unpleasantness, difficulty, or "anguish" as being good for us to go through.

But how much do we really learn in the middle of pleasure (except how much we like it)? How much time do we spend looking to God when things are going smoothly? How often do we say, "God is good," or, "It was a God-thing," when we are in those times of trial?

My brother-in-law used to be a ski instructor. He told people, "If you're not falling, you're not learning." I think that's true in life. The greatest learning comes in times of challenge. When we can say to God, "Thank you. It was good for me to go through this. I have learned more about trusting you," we may really be growing.

Question: What have you learned in times of unpleasantness?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your story.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Live Like You Were Dyin'

Glad to be back with you after a week of vacation.

"About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: This is what the Lord says: 'Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness. ’” (Isaiah 38:1, New Living Translation)

Most of us would not like to get a message like that. Hezekiah received his message from a prophet of God. In our day, the message most often comes from a medical professional. That message could come to any of us. So how do we live in light of that?

Tim McGraw sang a few years back, "Live Like You Were Dyin'." The idea is to make sure you do the things on your bucket list, because you never know when that message might come, or if death will come without warning.

There is an ancient Christian practice called "Memento mori." The idea is that we should remember that we will die and that we should, therefore, live well here and now.

Maybe that's what the 17th century English hymn-writer, Isaac Watts had in mind when he wrote:
"Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove,
With all Thy quickening powers;
Kindle a flame of sacred love
In these cold hearts of ours

Look, how we grovel here below,
Fond of these earthly toys;
Our souls, how heavily they go,
To reach eternal joys"

A dear friend of ours entered eternity this morning. When Mrs Sweetie and I visited him just over a week ago, he said, "I have no regrets. I've had a good life. I'm ready to go to heaven. I don't know how anyone makes it through life without The Lord." He is now in the presence of the One he loved in this life.

Question: How can the concept of "memento mori" shape your life today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Time off to unplug and recharge

Friends, I am going to take the next week off to unplug, recharge, and spend some focused time with Mrs Sweetie. I'll be back with you on Monday, May 26. 

Truth Is.

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Your words all add up to the sum total: Truth. Your righteous decisions are eternal." (Psalm 119:160, The Message)

Maybe you don't believe that. That's ok. It's not my job to tell you what you should believe.

Maybe you can believe SOME of what the Bible says, but other parts ... Not so much. You get to do that.

Here's the problem: How do you know which parts to believe? If it's not all true, how do you know any of it is true?

Truth is not determined by what we believe. Truth is not in the eye of the beholder. Truth is not changed by public opinion.

Truth is.

When Jesus said, "I am the way, and the TRUTH [emphasis mine], and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me, " (John 14:6) He was stating an objective reality, not a matter of preference.

Question: How will you respond to the truth today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

It's not that complicated.

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"The teaching of your word gives light, so even the simple can understand." (Psalm 119:130, NLT)

It's just too complicated!

Isn't that the way some people feel about the Bible? Isn't that the way some people feel about the church? Too many rules. Too little grace.

Then there are others that feel that there is too little depth, too little activism, too little teaching, too little holiness.

It would be untrue for me to say that everything in the Bible (or in church) is easy to understand. It would be just as untrue to make the leap in logic to say that, since there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand, therefore the Bible is too complicated to understand for regular people.

There is a famous quote attributed to Mark Twain: "It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand."

Maybe that's the problem. According to this verse, the Bible gives "light" (revealed truth) even to the simple (the uneducated or uninformed). So, we don't get a pass on the simple truths because some of them are harder. The truth of the matter is that we sometimes are resistant to simple truth, not because we do not understand it, but because we do not like it.

Question: How might our lives be different if we started simply focusing on obeying God and following Jesus in the simple truths of the Bible?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Looking out for Number One

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"Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet- talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand." (Philippians 2:3-4, The Message)

"Look out for Number One," is the consistent message of our culture. What does that look like? I'm glad you asked!

"I have to do what is best for me and my family," says the athlete turning down one multi-million dollar contract in favor of another one.

Leaders take a promotion based on the results of something that was the work of a whole team?

It is easier to write a check to our favorite charity than to invest the time necessary to engage with those in need.

We choose a church home based on the programs they have to offer that will benefit our lives.

I want to make a statement that seems crazy, but it is absolutely true: There is nothing wrong with looking out for Number One! In fact, I think the Bible teaches that we should.

Here's the twist: our problem is not LOOKING OUT FOR Number One; it is IDENTIFYING Number One.

According to this passage from Philippians, sometimes Number One is the person who is most in need at the time. Sometimes Number One is the person who needs a hand up (not a handout). Sometimes God wants to use us to give another Number One an opportunity to be empowered and equipped.

But in a larger sense, the Number One we should always be looking out for is the Number One of the universe. By "looking out" I mean, watching and paying attention to see where He is at work and what opportunities He will bring us to join Him in that work.

Question: What Number One are you looking out for today?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Just prayin'

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"But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, 'Do not answer him.'" (Isaiah 36:21, New International Version)

There is a long backstory to this verse that is beyond the scope of this post. (It may, however result in a good sermon sometime). For our purposes today, let me just say that the Field Commander of the Assyrian army was publicly taunting the representatives of the king of Israel. He basically told them that their God could not save them from the might of the Assyrian army. Instead of getting into a shouting match, or a negotiation, they listened and said nothing (following orders given by their king).

A few days ago, I heard some good advice to leaders: "Sit down, shut up, and listen." In our increasingly strident and argumentative culture, there seems to be a belief that arguments are won by volume and/or violence. We feel that we must shout louder or hit harder. And if we don't hit harder physically, then we must hit harder with our words. After all we have to stand up for what we believe!

The responses that we often give may actually call some of our beliefs into question. I am wondering today how some situations might be different if we were to pause and pray before we speak in these situations ... If we were to ask God what we should say ... If we were to ask God IF WE SHOULD SPEAK AT ALL.

What if "just sayin'" were preceded by "just prayin'"?

Question: What are some strategies you might employ to be sure that your words are guided by God?

Leave a comment.  I'd love to hear your ideas.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers' Day!

(photo from our Vancouver trip in Sept 2013)
This morning I am just going to share my Mothers' Day post.
Starting with the question today: What mother has most shaped your life as a follower of Jesus?

This Mothers' Day is special for many reasons. I am married to the most awesome wife and mother imaginable. Her love, guidance, and prayers have been the main contributions to the fact that our children have grown up to be the amazing adults that they are. Her partnership with me has made me a better husband and father, a better man. Happy, happy, happy day, Eva Dee Priddy Lewis!

I'm also celebrating my mom today. Geralene Harris has been my constant supporter for my 52 years on this planet. She's not on Facebook, but I am publicly proclaiming my love for her today.

My mother-in-law, Elsie Reynolds, has only been in the family for 3 years, but she is a treasure and has loved us like we have always been her own.

I'm also thinking today of my mother-in-law and my stepmother in heaven. What a time Edith Reynolds and Sue Walker Lewis must be having today! I miss them so much.

And I can't leave out my baby girl, who is not yet a mother, but will be when this day rolls around next year. Happy Mother-to-be Day, Tova Lee Lewis-Dad!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Your God will come ...

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"So, with confidence and hope in this message, strengthen those with feeble hands, shore up the weak- kneed and weary. Tell those who worry, the anxious and fearful, 'Take strength; have courage! There’s nothing to fear. Look, here—your God! Right here is your God! The balance is shifting; God will right all wrongs. None other than God will give you success. He is coming to make you safe.'" (Isaiah 35:3-4, The Voice)

Do you know someone who is weak and weary, fearful and anxious? Is that someone you? Maybe it's physical; maybe emotional or spiritual. "Look, here--your God! Right here is your God!"

The results may not be instantaneous, but the results are certain. God is here and He is working His purpose. He will set things right. He is strengthening us. He is walking with us now, preparing us to walk with Him for all of eternity, where there will be no weak knees, feeble hands, or fearful hearts.

Check out this song based on this passage from Isaiah.

Question: How does the assurance of THEN help you live NOW?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

We are not waiting on someday.

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"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, New International Version)

There may not be a more familiar or more often memorized verse in the entire Bible. What a comfort to know that God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. And if we trust Him (that's what "believe" means), we will one day be with Him in heaven.

But, wait! Do you realize that verse is not talking about heaven someday. In fact, it is not talking about heaven at all.

Check out these words of Jesus in John 17:1-3: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now THIS IS ETERNAL LIFE: THAT THEY KNOW YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." (Emphasis mine)

Eternal life is knowing God! If we have trusted Jesus for salvation, we are not waiting on someday. We have eternity's life right now. Heaven will simply be a glorious and fulfilled continuation of our life in God. Our challenge is to live with that perspective in this broken world.

Question: How might our lives be different if we lived as if we are already experiencing eternal life?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

God is already there

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When I made my first trip to Ukraine in 2010, I was amazed that one of my all-time favorite hymns, "How Great Thou Art", was a favorite in the churches there. When did this song get translated into Russian and how long have they been singing it?

Then I found out that we were the ones late to the party. The hymn was written in 1886 by a Swedish pastor. It was eventually translated into German and Russian. A British missionary serving in Ukraine translated 3 of the original 9 verses into English and added one more verse of his own.

So what's my point in telling this story? We tend to be quite ego-centric in our approach to life. Notice how it never occurred to me that the Ukrainians might have known this song first. If we are open to it we might learn some things from others if we will take time to listen to and learn the whole story.

I think a greater lesson is the reality that, wherever we go, God is already there. We may be going on a mission and ministry trip, but we are not taking God to a place He has not been. He has been going ahead of us, preparing the way.

"You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away. You see me when I traveland when I rest at home. You know everything I do. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!" (Psalm 139:2-6, New Living Translation)

Question: What can you do today to be intentional about seeing what God has already done to prepare the way for you?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Songs for the Road of Life

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"Your decrees have been the theme of my songs wherever I have lived." (Psalm 119:55, New Living Translation)

For as long as I can remember, music and the word of God have been part of my journey. I have embraced, and been embraced by, a singing faith. That doesn't mean that every song I sing is a hymn or some other "Christian" song. Often that means that the joy of walking with Jesus just bubbles up in a silly song from my childhood--often one that I learned while riding in the car with my dad.

Dad and I took a road trip a couple of days ago. We drove a 600 mile round trip to Houston and back on Saturday to attend (and for me to preach) the funeral of my cousin. We left my house shortly after 7:00 a.m. and arrived back home shortly after 11:00 p.m. While the circumstances were not what we would have chosen, all those hours in the car with just the two of us were an incredible blessing.

When we were about two hours from home (after stopping for supper and gasoline), we started singing all those silly songs that we haven't sung in the car together in almost 40 years. I would not trade those two hours for anything. The circumstances that got us there were painful, but God, in His amazing grace, redeemed the moments with His joy.

Question: How can you open yourself to God's grace to redeem your circumstances with His joy.

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Open my eyes ...

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"Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions." (Psalm 119:18, New Living Translation)

Do you ever feel as if you are "looking" but not "seeing"? You know how it is. You drive a familiar route and all of a sudden become aware that you have been so lost in thought that you have driven right past your intended destination. Or you read several paragraphs and can't remember one thing you just read.

Maybe it's just me.

If that's the case, indulge me for a moment. My mind is often such a whirling dervish of thoughts, plans, strategies, concerns ... I sometimes have difficulty calming my mind and focusing on what is before me.

I heard a quote not long ago that really grabbed me. I don't know the original source, but the quote is: "Wherever you are, be all there."

Each morning, when I come to spend time with God, I pray a prayer of surrender and petition to focus me. "Open my eyes to see You. Open my ears to hear You. Open my mind to know You. Open my heart to love You."

I'd love to tell you that this prayer always works to get me focused. Not always. A repeated prayer can become empty, mechanical ritual without deliberately focusing on being "all there" with God. The problem is not the prayer, but the pray-er.

I need God's help to see what He wants me to see, hear what He wants me to hear, know what He wants me to know, and love what He wants me to love.

Question: What ways have you found to help you be "all there" with God?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.