Friday, August 31, 2007

A Flash of Lightning

Almost without notice, a massive storm began to build on the horizon. Soon winds began to puck up in and around the town, and flashes of lightning could be seen and the distant roll of thunder could be heard and felt.

In this climate a mother worried about the safety of her child, the little girl who would be walking home from school at just this moment. She quickly got into her car and began to drive the route from her house to the school yard.

Before long, the mther spooted her daughter. Surprisingly, the little girl was not frightened by the approaching storm. Instead, she seemed gleeful, and at each flah of lightning and roar of thunder, she would stop, look, and smile. One lightning bolt followed another and with each the little girl stopped, looked at the streak of lightning, and smiled.

By the time the mother reached her daughter she was quite curious. Calling for her daughter to get in the car, she asked, "Why are you smiling at the storm?"

The little girl answered with a smile and a giggle, "Because God keeps taking pictures of me."

Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Is a Christian?

What is a Christian? In the Letter to Diognetus, which dates back to the 2nd Century A.D., an anonymous writer describes a strange people who are in the world but not of the world.

Christians are not differentiated from other people by country, language, or customes; you see, they do not live in cities of their own, or speak some strange dialect. . . . They live in both Greek and foreign cities, wherever chance has put them. They follow local customs in clothing, food, and the other aspects of life. But at the same time, they demonstrate to us the unusual form of their own citizenship.

They live in their own native lands, but as aliens. . . . Every foreign country is to them as their native country, and every native land as a foreign country.

They marry and have children just like everyone else, but they do not kill unwanted babies. They offer a shared table, but not a shared bed. They are passing their days on earth, but are citizens of heaven. They obey the appointed laws and go beyond the laws in their own lives.

They love everyone, but are respected by all. They are put to death and gain life. They are poor and yet make many rich. They are dishonored and yet gain glory through dishonor. Their names are blackened, and yet they are cleared. They are mocked and bless in return. They are treated outrageously and behave respectfully to others.

When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if being given new life. They are attacked by Jews as aliens and are persecuted by Greeks; yet those who hate them cannot give any reason for their hostility.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One of God's Greatest Blessings

Another August has come to a close and with it the beginning of another school year. In a moment of reflection I have reminisced on a school year that had a great impact on me. I have thought about my seventh grade year and how in that one year I was surrounded by a number of individuals who have had a great influence upon my life. It was during my seventh grade year that many of the most dominant personalities that have affected me entered my life. I want to briefly introduce you to some of these "heroes" of mine.

I remember my first day of seventh grade when I met my homeroom teacher, Bruce Dean. Coach Dean was unlike any teacher I have had before or since. He was the first teacher I came to know as a friend. He was quite adept at having us look past the textbook and into the "real world." He was a man of great spirituality, coming to a faith in Christ after many years of rebellion and hardship. He was the man who first taught me that Jesus laughed (that my Lord was so much more than the stoic figure portrayed in paintings) . . . I remember Coach's chapel talk on "Jesus and the mudfigt" as if it was yesterday (yes, there was some poetic license in the talk, but it made a powerful point!). He was the man who I first heard speak of Camp Blue Haven, a place that would later become so important to me. Coach Dean tragically died during the summer following my seventh grade year, but his influence is still with me.

It was during the seventh grade that my relationship with Dale Hukle really began to grow. Dale was my youth minister, and he, rivalling even that of my parents and grandparents, was the dominant personality of my adolescence. In many ways, his influence has shaped my own personality and my faith in God. He was the man who first told me that I should become a minister, and if it wasn't for his encouragement and direction I might now be an architect or college professor. It was Dale's intense love and passion for God and his commitment to teach God's Word, formally and informally, that has had the greatest influence on me.

It was during my seventh grade year that my friendships with Chetlen Crossnoe, Tim Byars, and Vernon Barnett began to grow in earnest. I had attended school with them since kindergarten, and had been friends with them over the years, but it wasn't until we reached junior high school that our friendship as a "foursome" took off. To this day, these men and their families are special to me. We have since added Jeff Phillips to our circle, but the closeness, although we each live in different places, is just as genuine.

If space would allow, I would also write of Coach Russell Beene, Norm Clothier, Paul Smith, Steve Studer, and others. but this listing is sufficient to make a point. God has blessed me, just as I am certain that he has blessed you, with countless men and women who have had a profound affect on me--not just in the seventh grade, but throughout my life. It is good for us to reminisce and to thank God for the good people he has sent our way. We do not live life in a vacuum, devoid of contact with any other person; God has created us with the need for companionship. We need the friendship and counsel of wise and loving people. Let's not take this need and God's gifts for granted.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Rule of Life Today

I love the picture. What lessons and/or observations can be learned from it?

I am not sure who said the following, but it presents a wonderful outlook on life.

"This is the Rule of life today, as it has ever been: The world bestows its smile on those who have the strength to win. Beneath all outward semblances it looks for merit true. It little cares how much you know, but asks, what can you do?"

Monday, August 27, 2007

Adaptability Is an Essential Component of Life

Humans are a lot like turtles: we have shells. Not a physical shell that protects us from the elements or from predators, but a shell we create and modify throughout the years of our lifetime--an emotional spehere in which we can feel comfortable, secure, and unthreatened.

Sometimes we call our sphere a comfort zone. We are careful to engage in activities that don't overly stress us, to accept those beliefes that do not overly challenge us, and to relate to people that do not overly intimidate us. New activities, beliefs, and people often present us with a challenge.

Do you remember when a new student was introduced into your classroom at school? There was a nervousness in the ait, wasn't there? "Is he going to be wierd?" you asked yourself. "Will I fit in?" he wondered to himself. In time, however, these anxieties dissipated as the "new kid" gradually became incorporated into the life of your class. Fear was weakened through the expanse of knowledge and experience.

We live in a time when the culture about us is changing at an unprecedented rate. It is easy to become intimidated by the evolution of society. It is easy to shrink back into our shells and desire to live as if it were yesterday. But, adaptibility is an essential component of life.

If you were to take a snapshot of the church standing on the threshhold of the 21st Century and compare it to one taken of thew 1st Century Church, would the pictures be a mirror-image of one another? In certain respects, yes: we share in the fundamentals of Christian faith. In certain respects, no: we may differ in terms of methodology and practice. The passage of time results in the transformation of any organism or institution.

The Gospel of Jesus is timeless and the faith we express and practice is not affected by the transformation of soceity and culture. However, our methods of teaching and worship, service and fellowship, are often affected by time, and rightfully so. And, thus, when certain circumstances such as lessened effectiveness demand change let us not fear new things, but approach them with a rationality founded on the Spirit's direction, study, and prayer.

Remember the 1st Century church as it wrestled with the inclusion of Gentile converts within the boundary of Christian fellowship. The church was faced with a dilemma and the specter of newness. Many sought to withdraw within their shells--within their established comfort zones--and not attain to a new plateau. Many sought God's guidance, stepping out of their shells, and becoming transformed into a people ready to confront the next challenge.

Where do we stand today?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Rules to Promote Harmony

I ran across this list of "Excellent Rules to Promote Harmony Among Church Members." I am not certain of the author, and the is obviously quite dated (considering the language), but the points are good.

1. To remember that we are all subject to failings of one kind or another.

2. To bear with--and not magnify--each other's infirmities.

3. To pray for one another in our social meetings, and particularly in private.

4. To avoid going from house to house, for the purpose of bearing news and interferring with other people's business.

5. Always turn a deaf ear to any slanderous report and to lay no charge against any person until well founded.

6. If a member be in fault, tell him of it in private, before it is mentioned to others.

7. To watch against the shyness of each other and put the best construction on any action that has the appearance of opposition or resentment.

8. To observe the just rules of Solomon--that is, to leave off contention before it is meddled with.

9. If a member has offended, to consider how Godlike it is to forgive, and how unlike a Christian it is to seek revenge.

10. Remember that it is always a giant artifice of the devil to promote distance and animosities among members of the church; and we should therefore watch against everything that furthers this end.

11. To consider how much more good we can do in the world at large, and in the church in particular, when we are all united in love, than we could do when acting alone, and indulging in a contrary spirit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 7)

Jesus says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4.8).

What a statement! What a promise from God to us!

What a blessing! Consider the awesomeness of Almighty God desiring to draw close to you . . . to me. But such an intimate relationship is predicated on our active involvement. God takes the first step . . . the first 100 steps! . . . but we must make a commitment to him, as well. A relationship with God does not happen passively, it is not built by him alone.

James sayd, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."

How does one draw near to God?

There are a number of ways to draw near to God . . . each is essential.

Bible study is so important. How can we know God without listening to him and considering the words he has given to us?

The relationships we have with men and women of faith . . . God's people . . . his church . . . help us to draw near to God. Our relationship with God is not cultured in a vacuum, our relationship with God is not isolated . . . it is built within a framework of relationships. God has placed us in a community of believers. I love a verse in the song, Have You Seen Jesus, My Lord?. The lyrics say, "Have you ever stood in the family with the Lord there in your midst seen the face fo Christ on your brother then I say you've seen Jesus, my Lord."

Observation of nature and appreciation of God's creation can draw us closer to God. Looking at a snow-capped Hesperus Peak will certainly put life into perspective . . . how awesome is the God that built that mountain!

Acts of snow and service rendered to others can certain bring us close to God. As we love others we are expressing God's love.

Through an active and vibrant prayer life, we draw near to God.

Perhaps prayer is the single most important way in which we draw near to God. Bible study works to inform us of God's character and will . . . prayer represents, in part, our response to God . . . our affirmation of who he is . . . our willingness to come close . . . an indication that we want to be in relationship with him.

Communication is vital to any relationship. Indeed without healthy communication a meaningful relationship is not possible.

Consider the closest relationships you enjoy . . . with your spouse . . . with your parents . . . with a brother or sister . . . with a friend . . . with your kids. Can you imagine going a day . . . a week . . . a year! . . . without communication . . . without a meaningful discussion?

I have a friend . . . he and I were so close for much of our lives. best friends . . . inseparable . . . but I haven't physically spoken to him in over two years! Since our college days were over, we have drifted apart . . . different careers . . . different states . . . lives that do not come into contact much. A lack of communication has kept us apart.

The Jewish leaders failed to recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Why? What was the result of their forgetfulness?

The story of Israel is a sad story, especially that of its religious leaders. How unimaginable it is that they failed to recognize Jesus, the Son of God, as he lived in their midst. Why the blindness?

These men, the Pharisees and scribes of the law, were religious zealots, but they wore their faith on their sleeves. They read aloud God's Word, but the words fell of deaf ears. They spoke at God, but not to him. They were men of God in name only. They did not know God, and they failed to see him.

James says, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you."

What a statement! What a promise from God to us!

What a blessing! Consider the awesomeness of Almighty God desiring to draw close to you . . . to me. But such an intimate relationship is predicated on our active involvement. God takes the first step . . . the first 100 steps! . . . but we must make a commitment to him, as well. A relationship with God does not happen passively, it is not built by God alone.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 6)

You remember the story. It is found in Luke 10.

Jesus has come to the home of Martha, who, at the time of the narrative is busily looking after the needs of her guests. All the while, though, her sister, Mary, is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching. Martha becomes angry: "She came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!'" (v. 40).

An understanding of the culture of the day is in order. There were probably many guests in Martha's home on that day. The men would have been gathered together, conversing, listening to Jesus, whil ethe woman would have been about the business of preparing, serving, and cleaning. You see, Mary, according to custom, is out of place! Martha's displeasure with her is sister, according to custom, is warranted.

How did Jesus respond? He criticizes Martha, and not Mary. He says, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the bteer part, which will not be taken away from her" (vv. 41-42).

Wasn't Martha doing waht was expected of her? . . . and what was needing to be done? Why is Jesus critical?

Jesus is highlighting a tendency we all have at times: the busyness of our lives sometimes takes us away from devotion to God. Have you forgotten God at a time when you were overwhelmed by schedules, obligations, and expectations that your focus was drawn away from him to the mundane?

I remember a time when I had grown distant from God. I was 18 years old and a freshman in college. All my life, I had gone to church . . . there was never an option in my parent's house not to go. But, as a freshman in college, I moved out of my parent's house and moved 400 miles away to attend Oklahoma Christian College.

I was not prepared for the new freedom I had found. My relationship with God was merely a borrowed thing . . . passed down from my parents to me and not personally developed.

To make a long story short, I forgot God during that semester away from home. I drifted away from God and in a matter of weeks found myself at the bottom of a pit. It took my about 18 months to dig myself out of the pit. Actually, God, in his mercy, lifted me out.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 5)

You remember the story. It is found in 2 Kings 5.

It happened during a difficult time for the nation of Israel. They were at the mercy of the powerful Syrians. The nation had forgotten God, once again, and were experiencing the dire consequences of their faithlessness and rebellion.

The story centers around a man from Syria, Naaman, the commander of the army, and a man afflicted with leprosy. Through a servant girl, a household slave from Israel, Naaman is told that a man of God lived in Israel. The girl lamented, "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy" (2 Kgs 5.3).

Naaman tells his king what his slave girl had said. The king replied, "Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel" (v. 5). So, Naaman went, taking the letter from his king, and came before the king of Israel. The king read the letter: "When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy" (v. 6).

Can you see the look of surprise and shock on the face of the king? "When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, 'Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me" (v. 7).

As the story continues, the prophet Elisha, the man of God known to Naaman's slave, sent word to the king and told him to send the Syrian commanded to his home. Elisha cured the man of his leprosy (you remember the details).

Why was the king surprised? Why was he distraught? Had he not forgotten about Elisha? Had he not forgotten God? A young slave girl in the service of an enemy remembered God and remembered his prophet, yet the king of Israel had not.

What would have happened has Elisha not intervened in sending word to the king? What would have happened had the king of Israel turned away Naaman, not knowing how to cure his leprosy . . . not remembering that the prophet of God could do this? How would the king of Syria have reacted to the king of Israel's forgetfulness and faithlessness? Probably not too kindly!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 4)

You remember the story. it is found in the Book of Ruth.

It happened during the time of the judges, a period of Israel's history that was noted primarily for the faithfulness and rebellion of the people. Indeed the book of Ruth follows the book of Judges, the final sentence of which reads, "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes" (Judg. 21.25). The nation had forgotten God . . . the famine that provides the setting for the book of Ruth is not coincidental.

The opening five verses of Ruth tell a distressing story of a family seeking security and prosperity during a time of famine only to be met by death and widowhood.

You remember the details. Elimelech and his wife Naomi live in the city of Bethlehem. They have two sons, named Mahlon and Chilion. The family, facing the ravages of famine decide to leave Bethlehem and move to the country of Moab. There, they hope, their family will be secure and prosper. But, in time, Elimelech diesm and "Naomi is left with her two sons" (Ruth 1.3). The sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The marriages, however, prove fruitless, and in a few years, both sons/brothers die. "Naomi was left without her twos sons and her husband" (v. 5).

What a tragic story. Where was God? He is curiously absent from the narrative. Did the family of Elimelech know God? He is curiously absent from their thinking and in their decision to leave Bethlehem and move to Moab.

Consider the irony at play in this story. There was a time of famine in a land promised by God to be "flowing with milk and honey." There was a time of famine in Bethlehem, a city named, literally, "the house of grain/bread." had God forsaken his people? had he forgotten his promise to bless his people? No, famine was a consequence of faithlessness and rebellion . . . God had warned his people that times of famine would come when they forgot him (see Deuteronomy 28.15ff.).

Consider the irony of an Israelite family leaving the Promised Land for the wilderness. Moab was in the wilderness, where an entire generation of Israelites perished because of their faithlessness and rebellion. Doesn't their action belie their distance from God? Elimelech's family forgot God as they left their home during a time of famine. They sought security and prosperity in a foreign land; they found only death and widowhood.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 3)

You remember the story. It is found in Numbers 13.

The Israelites are camped in the wilderness. The Promised Land, Canaan, is just to the north. Their long journey from Egypt promises to be nearing an end.

God tells Moses to select a representative from each of the twelve tribes, men who would enter the Land for the purposes of looking it over and confirming to the nation that it was indeed the land of blessing God had proclaimed it to be. God is clear: the Land will be given, thoughts of defeat and failure are not part of the equation.

You remember what happens. The twelve spies go on their journey and return to make their report to the nation. Wih one voice, the twelve men speak of the richness of the land . . . it was indeed a land "flowing with milk and honey." But only two men, Calen and Joshua profess faith that God will give the Land to the people. Ten of the spies speak of defeat and failure. They despair: "The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size . . . and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them" (Num. 13.32-33).

These men had forgotten the assurance of God. Their failure disheartedned a nation that God would condemn to death in the wilderness.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 2)

You remember the story. It is recorded in Matthew 14.

Early in the evening, Jesus miraculously fed a crowd numbering many thousands. After a busy day spent preaching and caring for the needs of the crowds of people, Jesus told his disciples to sail to the other side of the lake while he went to a secluded place to pray.

During the night, as the disciples were sailing on the sea, a storm arose. The storm must have been intense, because these men, several of whom grew up fishing on these waters, were strainingat the oars and were frightened. Can you see the sheets of rain, hear the rolling thuinder, see the flashes of lightning, feel the gales of wind and the sloshing of the waves?

In this desperate situation, Jesus comes out to his disciples, walking on the water. Imagine the sight from the boat. What would you think seeing a man walking across the deep in the midst of a raging storm? The disciples were frightened. These veteran fishermen were frightened, believing the man to be a ghost. Jesus spoke to these frightened men: "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid" (v. 27).

You remember Peter's reaction. He said, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water" (v. 28). What was Peter thinking? What motivated him to say this? Was it a statemrnt of great faith? Was he wanting to show himself stronger than the rest? Was he delirious? I'm not sure, but Jesus accepted the challenge: "Come," he said to Peter (v. 29).

Can you see Peter at the edge of the boat preparing to step out onto the turbulent sea? Did he dash out of the boat full of confidence and unconcerned with the dangers of the deep? Was he hesitant, pushing himself to take that first, big, unchartered step? I suspect it took him a moment to leave the safe confines of the boat. First, one foot placed ever so cautiously onto the surface of the water, and then only when his footing was secure was the other leg lifted over the railing of the boat and onto the sea. Then a slow methodical walk toward Jesus.

Do you see Peter's eyes during those first few strides toward Jesus? Are they not transfixed on Jesus, the One enabling this amazing journey across the sea. But, at some point, Peter's eyes wander . . . "he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and began to sink" (v. 30). Peter forgot Jesus and became lost. Peter's failure left him treading water in the midst of a raging storm.

Peter forgot Jesus and became lost.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Have You Ever Forgotten God? (Part 1)

Has there been an occasion in your life where your forgetfulness resulted in a regrettable experience?

When I was a teenager, I and a friend spent our summers working at Camp Blue Haven. One afternoon, we decided to hike to Marble Falls, a scenic waterfall located about 5 miles from camp. We made it to the Falls without any trouble and spent a couple of hours scaling the rocks, playing in the water, and taking in the view. Our return trek to Camp should have been as uneventful, but our forgetfulness got us lost.

The trail from the Falls to Camp followed a long box canyon along a rugged dirt road for about a mile. At that point, a large outcropping of rock to the left marked the place where one was to leave the road and follow a loosely marked trail through the forest to several meadows and over a ridge line into Camp.

My friend and I were so familiar with this trail, we could walk it in our sleep. But, on this one day, we weren't paying attention. We decided to race each other down the long box canyon down the rugged dirt road. In our competition, we ran past the outcropping of rock that marked the trail head. I don't know how far we ran before we realized our mistake . . . one mile? . . . two miles? . . . I don't know.

We stopped and thought about what we ought to do. Obviously, we should have turned around and walked back to the trail head. Our choice: cut cross country in the direction we thought Camp was located. Well . . . 8 hours and probably 15 miles late we arrived back at Camp! If we had only remembered to look for the Rock!

Our forgetfulness didn't cost us much, just a day lost in the woods. But, what is the cost when one forgets God?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Devil's Tools

Editor's Note: I did not write the following, but I know from firsthand experience the truth of what is said.

It was advertised that the devil was putting his tools up for sale. On the date of the sale, the tools were place for public inspection; each tool being marked with its sale price. They were a menacing lot of implements: Hatred, Envy, Deceit, Lying, and Pride among the tools.

“What is the name of that tool?” asked a customer, pointing to a harmless looking tool laid apart from the rest. It was well worn and priced extremely high.

"That is Discouragement,” replied the devil.

“Why is it priced so high?”

The devil eagerly answered, “Because it is more useful to me than the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s heart with Discouragement when I cannot get near him with my other tools. It is badly worn because I use it on almost everyone, since so few realize it belongs to me.”

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Integrity Illustrated

A New York City cab driver provided a ride to a well-off business woman. At the end of the ride the woman paid her fare and gave the driver a 30¢ tip. It would have been easy for the cab driver to have felt slighted. Who gives a 30¢ tip? What can you do with 30¢?

Later that day, the cab driver discovered that the lady had left a bag in his trunk. The bag had over 30 diamond rings in it. Collectively, the contents of the bag were worth thousands of dollars.

What did the cab driver do? It would have been very easy for him to take the bag and claim the contents. He could have been spiteful to the woman who had dismissed him with a 30¢ tip, taken the diamonds, and pretended as if nothing had happened.

Is this what the cab driver did? No. He spent the next few hours locating the lady so he could return her property to her. He finally found her, and she was relieved to have her bag returned. Her expression of gratitude to the man who went the extra mile to return her property was rather modest: she gave the man a $100 gift certificate to the jewelry store she owned. Nothing more.

The cab driver, who had lost countless fares as he searched for the lady, was not bitter. He simply took the gift certificate, put it into his pocket, thanked the lady, and went about his business. The gift certificate was absolutely useless to him—everything in the woman’s store was priced much higher than $100, and he would be out a lot of his own money to redeem it. So, in reality, the 30¢ tip was all he had to show for a great act of kindness. But, he did have his pride and the comfort of knowing that despite the response of the lady he had done the right thing.

How does one define “integrity”? Look no further than this NYC cab driver.

Friday, August 3, 2007

What Are Your Treasured Possessions?

We collect a lot of stuff over the course of a lifetime.

From time to time, every family has a garage sale or yard sale. The time comes to part with many of the things acquired over the years. The lack of use and a shortage of storage are usually the reasons for the effort to downsize.

I have found that the process of selecting items to post for sale is difficult. It is odd how attached we become to things. I know that certain items have a sentimental value—they remind us of special people, of fond occasions, and the like—but they are things, they are things of this world.

Are we as attached to the spiritual treasures we have?

Prayer is a wonderful blessing. The opportunity to stand (or sit, kneel, lay, etc.) before God and communicate to him our thoughts, praises, feelings, and longings is a treasure beyond value. Yet, how often do we relegate prayer to a 30-second corner of our day? How many times is prayer left at the mercy of work schedules, family fun, and allure of the living room idol (TV, of course)?

The study of God’s Word is a wonderful blessing. The Creator of the Universe has expressed himself to us in the pages of the Bible—contemplate the great treasure that has been placed in our hands. Yet, do we cherish moments spent reading and listening, meditating and learning? A three-hour sporting contest doesn’t eat up too much our day, but 30 minutes of reading is thought too much?

Togetherness with men and women of common faith is a wonderful blessing. God has blessed us with those who can strengthen our faith, but how often do we neglect meeting together, sharing together, working together? Do we under appreciate time spent with our spiritual family?

How sad it is that we often value more the piles and piles of stuff stored in our garages than we do the countless blessings God has give to us.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Touch of Irony?

As you undoubtedly know, Barry Bonds and his San Francisco Giants play against the Los Angeles Dodgers tonight at Dodgers Stadium. Bonds, once again, tries to hit homerun 755 to tie Hank Aaron.

The promotion at Dodgers Stadium tonight? It is Steroids Awareness Day!!!

Only in America!

He Left the Throne of Heaven

Is it not the most beautiful sentence that has even been written? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16, ESV).

He left the throne of heaven to become a man. He became a person like you and me. Not for a few hours, or a day, or a week, did he come, not even for a month or a year. No, he experienced the fullness of humanity, from birth to death, and he assumed all that is common to life.

He left the throne of heaven and came into the world through the same means that you and I are introduced to life. His conception, albeit miraculous, was followed by a birth that was rather natural. He came not to the halls of kings, but came forth into this world in a stable, in the most humble of places. His birth was heralded not by the wealthy and powerful but by shepherds coming in from their fields. His childhood, implied from the scarcity of information given to us, must have been rather ordinary. He went through the same stages of life that we all experience. He grew to be a man.

He left the throne of heaven to live an ordinary life. I doubt that he was physically imposing. His looks must have been rather plain. I imagine that he appeared a lot like his neighbor across the street. I imagine his hands bore the calluses of a carpenter. The Gospels speak of times when he was hungry, when he grew weary, we he felt sadness and wept.

He left the throne of heaven to accomplish a mission that was anything but ordinary. He came to live a life that pleased God, to show a way that no man could walk on his own. He came to teach and to inspire, he came to serve and to heal, he came to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice no other could bring.

He left the throne of heaven and gave himself into the hands of evil men. These men took him and nailed him to a cross. He did not resist them. He did not curse his enemies. He did not call 10,000 angels to rescue him from death. He simply bowed his head, lifted his cross, and died on a windswept hillside.

He left the throne of heaven to show us beyond a doubt of God’s great love for mankind. He became one of us to show us the will of God and to provide a way for us to stand before heaven’s throne for eternity.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

He Makes All Things New

When I was a child, the man who lived across the alleyway from my family was a rather strange man who had an extraordinary gift. We would often find him in the alley rummaging through dumpsters. He would find junk, old things that people had thrown away—broken furniture, busted electronics, tattered clothing—and he would gather up these things and bring them to his home and repair them. He then would sell the items in a yard sale. What everybody else regarded as eccentric, this man considered a calling. He relished the opportunity to take something old, discarded, useless and make it new again.

Isn’t this what we see in Jesus?

Consider Zacchaeus. Here was a man who was quite successful in his business. He was a tax collector and apparently quite good at it. He had amassed a great fortune, but in ways that were quite shady. He had become reviled by all of his neighbors.

You remember his story. It is recorded for us in Luke 19.

One afternoon, Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was coming to town. He knew some things about Jesus. Everybody was talking about him—how he was healing people of their illnesses, giving sight to the blind, casting demons out of the possessed, even raising the dead. Zacchaeus had certainly heard about the things Jesus was saying. "Blessed are the poor, and woe to you who are rich," was certain to catch Zaccheaus’s attention.

Hearing that Jesus was coming to his town, to the streets of Jericho . . . well, Zacchaeus had to make every effort to see this man. His desire belies an unease deep within Zacchaeus. Despite his wealth, his success, his powerful job, Zacchaeus wanted, no needed something more. Perhaps he had become convicted by his lack of ethics, by his shady business dealings, by the stigma attached to his profession. Whatever the feelings deep down inside, Zacchaeus felt compelled to see Jesus, for in Jesus he saw a new beginning.

The scene is rather ironic. Zacchaeus, a man of powerful position was a man of short stature. The crowds thronging the route Jesus was taking through Jericho blocked Zacchaeus’s view of the man he so desperately wanted, no needed to see. But he did not give up. He did not allow this obstacle to prevent him seeing Jesus, from seeking a new way in his life. No, he found a tree, a sycamore tree, and he climbed up into its branches. His efforts paid off. He saw Jesus, but more importantly, Jesus saw him.

What Jesus said to the man is extraordinary: He said, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19.5). Can you imagine the look of surprise on the face of Zacchaeus? Jesus knew the man’s name, and you would have to think that Jesus knew something about the man himself. Yet, when Jesus addressed Zacchaeus, he did not see a shady, crooked, despised tax collector. No, he saw a man who had undoubtedly made some mistakes in life, who had obviously earned the ire of his neighbors, but who was desperately wanting, needing renewal.

The genuineness of Zacchaeus’s heart is seen in his words. He said to Jesus, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much" (Luke 19.8). Zacchaeus had become a changed man. In Jesus, he found the ability to renew his heart and to humble himself. Jesus affirms his rebirth as a man: he says, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

Indeed Jesus makes all things new.

Consider the woman who crashed the party at Simon’s house. Simon was a Pharisee, a man of great respect in the community. He had invited Jesus to be his guest for dinner. We read about the occasion in Luke 7. In the middle of the meal, something quite shocking happens. A woman bursts in. She was not on the guest list. In fact, she was a woman who would never be welcomed into Simon’s home. She was a woman of the streets, a prostitute.

What brought her to Simon’s home? Undoubtedly she, like Zacchaeus, had heard about Jesus. Perhaps she had witnessed one of his miracles. Perhaps she had overheard one of his powerful sermons. Perhaps she had only heard about Jesus through the reports of others. The text tells us that she came into the room where Simon and his guests were eating, and she immediately fell at Jesus’ feet. Her eyes were filled with tears. She was weeping. Her tears were for herself. The implication of the text is clear, she had become convicted of her sins and had sought out Jesus.

Her life had been a waste. We do not know the circumstances that lead her into the life she was living, but we can imagine. Perhaps it was poverty that led her to sell herself to satisfy the wanton pleasures of others. Perhaps it was abandonment of her by others that led her to choose this shameful way of life. Perhaps it was her own skewed sense of morality, or a total lack of regard for what was right and proper. Whatever the case, she had come to a breaking point, to a moment where she realized that her life was empty, that her actions were immoral. She needed a new beginning. She needed absolution. She needed God.

And, so she came to weep at Jesus’ feet. The others gathered in Simon’s home were aghast at her presence, offended, even angry that she had interrupted their meal. Simon was ready to leap his feet and thrown the woman back into the streets. But, Jesus, was different. He could see the tears in her eyes. He could feel the sadness in her heart. He knew the genuineness of her response, and he was compassionate.

To the great surprise of Simon and the others in his home, Jesus said, "[Simon], do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" (Luke 7.44-47).

Jesus’ response suggests the possibility of a prior encounter between himself and the woman. Perhaps it had been earlier in the day. Perhaps the woman had heard Jesus speak about the possibility of renewal, about the opportunity awarded by God to leave a shameful life and to claim a new one, about the opportunity for repentance and a changed life. In his response to Simon, Jesus seems to suggest that the woman’s dramatic gesture at the meal was one of thanksgiving to Jesus for the wholeness, the newness she had found in him.

Indeed Jesus makes all things new.

Consider the fishermen we meet in Luke 5. Simon Peter, James, and John, were their names. Jesus meets them on the shores of Gennesaret, the Sea of Galilee. The men had been fishing, presumably all night. When Jesus meets them a great crowd is pressing in and around him. So, Jesus commandeers Peter’s boat to use a speaking platform. We are not given the details of Jesus’ message on that day, but it must have been powerful, for the hearts of three fishermen were moved.

We have no pictures of Peter, and James and John, but I imagine that they were impressive men. Their physical appearance must have been quite rugged. I can see that they were strong men and as down to earth as any men could be. They had to have been hard workers, committed to their work, with little time given to idleness and fun. They must have been serious, driven to provide for their families in the best way they knew how. The shores and waters of Gennesaret must have been where they could have been found day and night.
Yet, on this day, they meet Jesus. Perhaps they had been hearing things about him. After all, everyone seemed to be talking about this man who could heal the sick, give sight to the blind, cast out demons, and raise the dead. The text of Luke suggests that Jesus had even healed the mother-in-law of Peter, so this fisherman, at least, had already witnessed the great life-changing power of Jesus.

On this day, as Jesus finished speaking, he looked at Peter and told him, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch" (Luke 5.4). Peter protested, "But, Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing" (v. 5).

Remember, fishing is not just a hobby for Peter and the others, it was their job. Their livelihood depended upon their ability to catch fish, and when their luck ran out on the water, they needed to spend that time constructively, perhaps hiring out as a day laborer to earn money to feed their family for that day. Spending their time pursuing a catch that had already alluded them must have seemed foolish. Yet, Jesus asked, and Peter was perceptive enough to do what he had been asked. Certainly, he had seen enough of this man to know that his words were wise and worthy of heeding. He said to Jesus, "Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."

You remember what happens: the men catch more fish than they had ever caught. So many fish, the nets began to break and two boats were needed to haul in the catch. Peter’s response? He was overcome. "He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’" (Luke 5.8). He declared this most emphatically. Something had convicted Peter. Was it simply the catch of fish? Or, was it a case of him putting all the pieces together? The fullness of who Jesus was was beginning to become clear to Peter. His faith was certainly not complete. He would have many more questions about Jesus. But, for the moment, he was moved by the power, the goodness of this man.

Jesus does something rather surprising. He pushes aside Peter’s protest and invites the man (and his partners) to follow him. "Do not be afraid," Jesus says, "from now on you will be catching people" (Luke 5.10). And, then we read, "When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him" (v. 11).

Picture the scene, these men leave their boats, their nets, the great catch of fish—imagine the monetary value—and they follow Jesus. These are fishermen, not preachers, yet they follow Jesus into a new life. Did they have questions about how they would feed their families? Did they wonder what they next day would hold in store? They must have, it would be only human for them to do so, but these questions are not recorded in the text. They simply left everything and followed Jesus.

From being a fisherman to becoming a preacher, I can’t imagine any more startling transition than that. To speak of new beginnings is an understatement. Yet, Jesus called these men to a new life, and they followed.

Indeed Jesus makes all things new.

Turn to each page of the Gospel, and you will see the renewal that Jesus brings to people. These three stories are but a sampling. They illustrate a remarkable truth about Jesus. In him we find newness. In him we find one who takes what is old, discarded, and useless and transforms these things into people that are new, treasured, and worthy.

From the beginning, this is a picture of God that comes repeatedly into view. The opening verses of Scripture describe God taking something that was "formless and void and filled with darkness" and creating a universe that is beautiful, whole, and filled with wondrous light. In the Exodus story, he took a people that were battered, enslaved, and without identity and forms them into a nation that is free, numerous, and his own. But, as is the case with humanity and the material world, decay and rot set in. In time, the world of beauty God created and the humanity he fashions become corrupted by evil, sin becomes master, and God’s creation drifts away from him. But, God, the ultimate scavenger, reclaimer, recycler, repairer and healer, picks up the broken pieces and fashions life anew.

This is the story of the Gospel. God, in Jesus, makes all things new.

In the final verses of the book of Revelation, the Lamb of God, Jesus, says, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. See, I am he who makes all things new. . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life" (Revelation 21.3-6).

Can you relate to Zacchaeus? At a point where you recognize the shadiness of your business, the unfair treatment you’ve given to others, the distance between your self and your neighbors, the distance between yourself and God?

Can you relate to the woman at Simon’s house? At a point where you have been convicted by your sin, the shamefulness of your actions, the despair of your life?

Can you relate to Peter and his partners? At a point where Jesus is calling you to new course in life, a new calling, a more meaningful existence, to service in his name?

Indeed Jesus can make all things new. He can take your past, whatever it is, and replace it with a new outlook, a new course, a new promise. He can take your sin, however great, and remove it, making you clean, making you new. He can take your life, wherever you are at, and instill within you a new resolve, a truer desire and purpose.

Do not be like the rich, young man who came to Jesus searching, but rejecting what he found.
You remember his story. It is told to us in Luke 18.

He was a man of privilege. A man of status. Yet, deep within him, he knew something was lacking. He came to Jesus with a question. "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18.18). Something within him told him that his riches and his place in society were not enough. He was seeking assurance, the way to eternal prosperity. Perhaps he simply wanted affirmation for the things he was doing. Perhaps he wanted an easy process to follow, some outward works he could accomplish. Nothing too inconvenient. Nothing too challenging.

At first, Jesus’ reply was expected. It was just what the man wanted to hear. The Good Teacher said, "You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother’" (Luke 18.20). Fantastic! the man had all these covered. Home free! the man must have been thinking.
But, not so fast. Jesus had something more to say. Something startling. Some unsettling. Jesus added, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me" (Luke 18.22).

Talk about earth shattering. Matthew describes the man’s reaction the best. He writes, "When the man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions" (Matthew 19.22). It was too much. What Jesus asked was too great.

You see, newness comes with a price. The newness that comes from Jesus is not a free gift. It is freely offered. It is offered despite our sin, our pride, our doubt, our spitefulness of God seen in the way we have lived life and spurned his overtures. It is offered because of God’s great, undying love for us. It is offered from the one who sees the brokenness of our lives and is moved to pick up the shattered pieces and create anew.

But, the free offer must be met with a response. It must be accepted with a willing heart. For, God does not force the pieces into place. He takes what he can mold, work with, that which is pliable and adjustable and responsive to his tender touch, his caring hands, his masterful skill of putting together what has been broken, cast aside, made useless.

Zacchaeus was willing. He had come to a moment of decision in his life. He chose to move forward and be transformed by the one who come to seek the lost.

The woman in Simon’s house was willing. She had come to a breaking point. The shamefulness of her condition had driven her to tears and to the feet of Jesus.

Peter and those with him were willing. Addressing the mundane cares of the day were suddenly not enough. They had seen and heard Jesus, the one that could address needs much more important than the catch of the day. They saw in him an abundance never before seen in their nets. They left all to follow him.

Sadly, the rich, young man was not willing. His riches were too comforting. His status too precious. He was unwilling to give up that which Jesus asked. He went away dejected. The newness Jesus offered left unclaimed.

What about you? Do you see in Jesus the one who makes all things new? Do you find in him meaning to fill the void that is in your life? Do you find in him the healing to salve the pain and hurt you fell? To you find in him the forgiveness to remove the layers of guilt and shame that have burdened you so? Do you find him the renewal that once again can make you whole, worthy, and at peace?

The renewal found in Jesus is a blessing that continually refreshes. It is a power that we must continually commit ourselves. For, again, God does not force the pieces into place. He takes what is pliable, adjustable and responsive to his work.

One of my most treasured possessions is this quilt. It was finished by my grandmother, but it has a remarkable story. Many years ago, after my great-grandmother had passed away, my grandparents were going through her things. They discovered a box filled with quilt squares. Each square bore the image of a U. S. President.

My grandfather instantly recognized what he was looking at. When he was a child, his mother had started an ambitious project: a quilt bearing the images and signatures of all the U. S. Presidents. She invited her son, my grandfather to help her. As a child, he traced the images of each of the Presidents (who had served up until that time) and their signatures. But, for some reason the project was delayed. The squares were placed in a box, and the quilt was never completed.

That is, until, it was discovered anew by my grandparents following the passing of my great-grandmother. They took the squares and finished the quilt. My grandfather traced the remaining images (Ronald Reagan is the last image on the quilt) and signatures. My grandmother placed the images accordingly and finished the quilt.

They took what was laid aside, discarded, forgotten and fashioned something that is quite beautiful and unique. God, in Jesus, does a similar thing with our lives. He picks up the pieces and patches them together as they were originally intended to be.

Consider yourself. Where are you today? Follow the steps of Zacchaeus, making every effort to see Jesus. Come, as the woman did into Simon’s home, falling at the feet of Jesus. Do as Peter did, leaving all to follow the one who makes all things new.