Sunday, June 29, 2014

There's nothing like the Bible

(I can't remember where this photo came from.  I downloaded it to my computer quite a while back)

"There's nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of Scripture is God- breathed and useful one way or another-- showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us." (2 Timothy 3:15-17, The Message)

I like to think that I occasionally have something good to say. That is, perhaps, a generous assessment. In truth, the only good things I have to say are those which are grounded in the absolute truth of God's Word. No collection of ancient documents has been more scrutinized and questioned than those which make up our Bible. While other ancient writings are accepted at face value without question, the Bible is regularly described as an out-of-date, moralistic code that originated in the minds of ignorant and superstitious people.

Yet, the Bible is without parallel in terms of overwhelming archaeological and historical support outside of the writings themselves. To deny the historicity and accuracy of the Bible is to deliberately ignore and reject the evidence.

Yet, evidence is only one part of the equation. The same God who "breathed" the Scriptures also breathes life into those who choose to respond to Him in faith. To believe God is more than believing "in" God and believing in the truth of the Bible as a reliable code for morality.

For those who know God personally, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Bible becomes our source of spiritual nourishment. Are you feeding on His Word regularly?

Question: In light of overwhelming evidence, why do you believe that some people still question the validity of the Bible?

Leave a comment.  Our community would benefit from your perspective.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What's your Issue?

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"Teach these things, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. Some people may contradict our teaching, but these are the wholesome teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. These teachings promote a godly life. Anyone who teaches something different is arrogant and lacks understanding. Such a person has an unhealthy desire to quibble over the meaning of words. This stirs up arguments ending in jealousy, division, slander, and evil suspicions. These people always cause trouble. Their minds are corrupt, and they have turned their backs on the truth." (1 Timothy 6:2-4, New Living Translation)

"These things" to which he is referring are some basic and practical instructions he has given, in the previous chapters and verses, for simply following Jesus and doing life together in the community of faith. Unfortunately, some in the community are not satisfied with this simple approach and require an "issue."

I recently had a conversation with a man who told me that he and his wife had not yet plugged into a local church in his community because he couldn't find one that would "take a stand" on certain hot-button issues. (He named the specific issues, but they are not necessary for our purposes here). I asked him how long he had lived there.

"Eight years."

Are you kidding me? For him, this said a lot about the churches in the community. For me, this said a lot more about him. And, to be honest, I would not wish his participation on any church that is trying to simply live out the truth of the gospel by following Jesus and making disciples.

Question: How do think "issues" can distract us from the main issue of following Jesus?

Leave a comment below.  Your insight would be beneficial to our community.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Peace like a River?

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"This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: 'I am the Lord your God,who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow. Oh, that you had listened to my commands! Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.'" (Isaiah 48:17-18, New Living Translation)

We used to sing a song, "I've got peace like a river ... in my soul." (If you know the song, you are probably humming the tune right now). I was in a church in Saltillo, Mexico a few years ago and the kids started singing that familiar tune, "Tengo paz como un rio ..." (my spell check really did not like that phrase).

In this passage from Isaiah, God identifies Himself as the source of wisdom, blessing, and direction. If only we would listen to Him and obey, he says, we would have peace like a river.

So, does that mean that obedience to God guarantees a gentle float down the lazy river? I don't think so. I think it is more likely that God means that peace like a river and righteousness like waves of the sea will flow OVER US, washing away the silt and sediment of sin and spiritual stupor until we are purified and energized in His stream.

Question: What does "peace like a river" look like for you?

Leave a comment below.  Our community would benefit from your perspective.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Lack of experience is a bad excuse

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"Let no one despise or think less of you because of your youth, but be an example (pattern) for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12, Amplified Version)

This verse has filtered through the various phases of my ministry. I was 26 when I began my first pastorate and tried (sometimes successfully) to avoid dumb, youthful mistakes. After 20 years as a pastor, when I was no longer one of the young ones, I moved to a ministry where I was once again one of the youngest of my peers.

Experience has taught me an important lesson: lack of experience is not the same as immaturity, and it is a bad excuse.

Observation has taught me another lesson: length of life and abundance of experience are not adequate safeguards against immaturity.

So here's Dr. G's paraphrase: No matter what age you are, don't do dumb, immature things that cause you to lose credibility. Be the one that people look up to, not the one they make excuses for.

Question: What do you think is the most common excuse people use for immature behavior?

Leave a comment below.  Our community would benefit from your insight.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Jesus, the Carrier

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"I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you." (Isaiah 46:3-4, New Living Translation)

Today brings a special perspective on life for me. Yesterday, I sang for a funeral of a baby that only lived for one hour after birth. His parents knew for the last 4 months of pregnancy that this would likely be the case, but they loved him and bore testimony of God's goodness and nearness.

41 years ago today, my little brother, Walt, was born prematurely. Babies his size routinely survive and prosper now, but medical technology in 1973 did not provide that opportunity. He lived a few days, but never left the hospital. I was never in the room with him. I saw him inside an incubator through a window.

God carried both those babies. He carried them in the womb and He carried them into His presence. I don't know why I have been allowed to live until I am beginning the "hair white with age" stage, but I know He has been carrying me. That reality makes me want, even more, to fulfill His purpose for my life.

Question: Can you think of times throughout your life that you were aware that God was carrying you? What can you do to cultivate that awareness today?

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When God hides ...

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"Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Savior." (Isaiah 45:15, English Standard Version)

God hides Himself? Doesn't He want everyone to know Him? That verse gave me pause as I was reading this morning, so I checked several other versions. Here are a couple that shed some light.

"Truly, O God of Israel, our Savior, you work in mysterious ways." (New Living Translation)

"Clearly, you are a God who works behind the scenes, God of Israel, Savior God." (The Message)

God is not playing a cruel game of hide and seek with us, but He is working in ways that we do not always see. He wants us to engage with Him in such a way that we are looking for the evidences of His hand in all of our circumstances. He wants our attention, but He does not always seek it dramatically. He wants to be known, but He does not want to be figured out.

God may seem hidden in your circumstances right now. I promise you that He is at work behind the scenes. Look closely. Trust even when you can't see.

Question: What are some ways you can deliberately seek God when He seems hidden?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to learn from you.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fearing God

Between travel and a death in the family, the morning writing got moved to the back burner for the past couple of days. I'm glad to be back with you this morning.

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"The Lord takes pleasure in those who reverently and worshipfully fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy and loving- kindness." (Psalm 147:11, Amplified Version)

I got stuck on the word "fear" this morning. I have to admit that "fearing" God has always been a difficult concept for me. I have no problem with "reverence" or acknowledging His holiness. He is not my big buddy in the sky. But I cannot bring myself to be afraid of Him.

Not a big deal except for the fact that "fear" is a Biblical word. I do not have the right to arbitrarily change the words and concepts to fit my comfort zone. The word translated "fear" can also be translated "revere," so the problem is not the word itself. But my question to God this morning was, "Am I approaching You in the way You desire to be approached?"

God brought about a precious "aha" moment in response to that prayer. This verse does not say that God takes pleasure "when He is feared." It says that He takes pleasure "in those" who fear Him. It is not the perfection of my approach that gives God pleasure, it is me. With God, it is always personal. It is always about relationship.

Question: How can you focus on relationship rather than performance today? How might that affect your reverence for God?

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dirty hands that make God smile

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"Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people." (Colossians 3:22-23, New Living Translation)

I don't think anyone reading this today is an actual "slave", property owned by a master. But, you may feel enslaved by your job. Or you may feel enslaved by your lack of a job. Or you may feel enslaved by your fixed income.

Maybe you have all the financial and material resources you could ever need, you are the boss, you only work for yourself, and yet you still feel enslaved by the systems necessary to keep all those resources in place.

Everybody answers to somebody.

So, how can we experience freedom from this sense of enslavement? I'll give you a hint: it's not by being in charge. It's by offering our work as worship, looking beyond the task of the moment, to bring glory to God in every endeavor, and to do so with joyful abandon.

That paragraph was easy to write. It's pretty easy to read. It is a lot harder to live out. It is ... Work ... Real work.

And isn't that the point?

Question: How can we offer our work as worship? What habits have you found to be helpful to keep that perspective?

Leave a comment below.  Your thoughts might be helpful to someone else.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Silence is golden; duct tape is silver.

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"Guard my mouth, O Eternal One; control what I say. Keep careful watch on every word I speak." (Psalm 141:3, The Voice)

In yesterday's post, I talked about God's shielding our heads as a helmet to help us make good decisions in times of crisis. Because I invite comments, a couple of people mentioned that the helmet should come with a mouthpiece to control our words. I had to chuckle when I moved on to Psalm 141 this morning and found the words in verse 3.

Words cannot be "un-said." Apologies can be offered. Clarifications can be attempted. Thankfully, grace and forgiveness can be granted. But, wounds heal slowly and rebuilding violated trust is really, really hard work.

If our words were more thoughtful and prayerful, they might be less hurtful.

Question: What situations present the most difficulty for you to control your words? How will you pray in those times?

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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Is your helmet on straight?

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"Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer, you shield my head in the day of battle." (Psalm 140:7, New International Version)

"O Lord, Eternal One, power of my deliverance, You are my helmet in the day of battle." (140:7, The Voice)

I read that verse in several different translations this morning to get a sense of what it means for God to shield our heads in battle.

Why do participants in dangerous activities and sports wear helmets? To protect their heads. Seems pretty simple, but what is so important about the head? I would suggest that the head is important because it contains the command center for the rest of the body. If the brain is injured, the rest of the body is affected. If the brain is not processing well, choices could be made that bring about devastating consequences.

Could it be that part of God's shielding of our heads is so that we can make right decisions in times of crisis ("the day of battle")? Could it be that His shielding is what makes it possible for us to think clearly in the midst of chaotic circumstances?

Question: How do you need The Lord to be your helmet today? What are some practical ways that you can be sure your helmet is on straight?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear what you think.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Help Me!

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"In the day when I called, You answered me; and You strengthened me with strength (might and inflexibility to temptation) in my inner self." (Psalm 138:3, Amplified Version) 

"Help me!"

Sometimes that is all the prayer we can muster.  Prayers tend not to sound pretty when we are knee (or maybe neck) deep in the struggles of life.

This verse is a reminder of a profound truth: Sometimes God rescues us FROM circumstances; sometimes He strengthens us IN circumstances.

We would almost always prefer the former.  The latter has a longer lasting impact.  I am grateful to have experienced the former.  My life has been shaped by the latter.

God chooses how He responds to our prayers.  He wants us to openly offer them.

Question:  Can you think of a time God has rescued you?  Can you think of a time He has strengthened you?

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

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Selective hearing ... and seeing

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"Pay attention! Are you deaf? Open your eyes! Are you blind? You're my servant, and you're not looking! You're my messenger, and you're not listening! The very people I depended upon, servants of God, blind as a bat — willfully blind! You've seen a lot, but looked at nothing. You've heard everything, but listened to nothing. God intended, out of the goodness of his heart, to be lavish in his revelation. But this is a people battered and cowed, shut up in attics and closets, Victims licking their wounds, feeling ignored, abandoned. But is anyone out there listening?" (Isaiah 42:18-23, The Message)

God seems a little impatient in those verses, doesn't He? Those of us who are parents have been there. "Mom, where are my shoes?" "I never get to do anything!" "You just don't understand!" And all the while, we are thinking, "Have you looked around lately and seen what you have and what we've done for you?"  It seems that our kids have selective hearing AND seeing.

And all the parents said, "Amen!"

And the only reason we said, "Amen," is that our memories are short. We only looked back far enough to see ourselves as parents. We conveniently neglected the longer look back, when we would see ourselves as the same clueless kids.

How much of God's provision are we totally missing because we can't find our shoes? How much of God's love and grace are we failing to share because we are focusing on what we wish we had and noticing that others seem to have more? We won't grow out of selective hearing.  We have to deliberately choose to listen to God.

Questions: What would it be like for you to stop right now and ask God to open your eyes and ears to the reality of all He has provided for you? How might your conversations today be different after that deliberate focus?

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

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sibling rivalry and the family of God

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"How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! It's like costly anointing oil flowing down head and beard, Flowing down Aaron's beard, flowing down the collar of his priestly robes. It's like the dew on Mount Hermon flowing down the slopes of Zion. Yes, that's where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life." (Psalm 133, The Message)

When I was a kid, I could not figure out why my mom was so upset when my brother and I fought.

Then I grew up and had kids of my own. Then it made sense.

Fortunately, my kids have been best buddies their whole lives, so the fighting was minimal. Even now that they are both grown up and married, it gives me a special joy when I know they have spent time together, either enjoying each other's company or helping each other out with some task. 

How do you think it makes God feel when His kids fight? When they are self-centered? When they wound one another with their words? When they neglect one another's needs? When they are so convinced they are right that they are unwilling to listen to and learn from one another?

If we notice the end result of the unity God is looking for ("Yes, that's where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life"), we may come to the conclusion that we are the dirty hairball clogging the flow of God's blessings.  Just a thought.

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Question: What can you do today to live more at peace with your siblings in the family of God?

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