Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Do More" --- err --- I mean, "Do Less!"

Instead of our trying to do more, maybe we should try to do less, to pay attention to the presence of God.

Yaconelli, Michael.  Dangerous Wonder.

Have you ever been scolded for doing too much?  This is usually not the case -- at least in my life it is not the case.  We are usually told that we are not doing enough and this has produced in me a desire to do more.  When we are told that we are not doing enough, we find ourselves frustrated because we are, for one reason or another, not living up to the expectations of others.

I remember when I was hired as the Youth Director at St Luke UMC in Columbus.  I sat down with my senior minister and asked him, "What are your expectations of me?"  I asked this because I wanted to make sure that I did everything that he expected of me.  And, if I had any dream of exceeding his expectations, I needed to know what they were before I could exceed them.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  We need to know the expectations of our bosses.  We need to know the expectations of our spouses.  Knowing these expectations help us succeed in our work and relationships with others.  However, I feel that this mindset may have bled over in our spiritual life.  The problem for me is not that I understand what God expects of me.  The problem is when I am solely consumed by doing and forget the real presence of God in my every day life.  There are things that God expects of us and these things help us maintain our right relationship with Him.  But how many times have our duties and His expectations drowned out the still small voice of God to the point where all we see is the task list and duties of being a follower of Christ?   Psalm 46:10 reminds the reader to "be still and know" that God is God.

This is a Christian principle that Mike Yaconelli is reminding us.  It is not that he is encouraging us to stop praying and performing acts of mercy and justice.  But rather, he is reminding us not to be overcome with the doing.  Be still, pay less attention to the task list, and recognize the presence of God.  

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Value of the Journey

But while being a pastor certainly has some of these components, the pervasive element in our two-thousand-year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God—this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerful “without ceasing.”
Peterson, Eugene. The Pastor: A Memoir. 

Isn't it amazing how God shows us things not too early and not too late, but rather He shows us things at the right time?  I love the way God works!  He never gets caught off-guard.

I came across this quote and I needed to read it today.  I highlighted it this past spring when I read this book.  It was today of all days that it was brought to my attention.  Those who know me best know how much my task list runs my day.  It's not necessarily a bad thing -- task lists help me stay organized and they help my stay on top of everything that needs to get done.  But I confess that for the last couple weeks my task list has blinded my heart from "being" in the kingdom of God.  What I mean is that for the last several weeks my task list has kept my focus on the end task or the completed project.  It reminds me of everything that I need to get done.  It focuses my attention on the finish line.  The problem is that at times I am oblivious to the process as I look at just the end -- the finished product.

Some of you know that there had been a period in my life that I was a truck driver.  I enjoyed being a truck driver.  The journey from point A to point B was alone time for me.  It recharged my batteries and strengthened my soul.  But I soon became oblivious to the journey and started being anxious about when I would get to point B.  Soon, the journey became a chore and unenjoyable because I was focused on the destination.

Ministry is about the journey as much as it is about the destination.  I don't want to miss the journey of ministry.  I want to pay attention and call attention to what's going on right now between men and women and between us and God.  We cannot let the destination distract us from the value of the journey.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Surrendered Pen in My Pocket

The great nineteenth-century preacher Andrew Murray made this analogy: “I have a pen in my pocket that is surrendered to its purpose of writing and must be surrendered to my hand if I am to write with it properly. If someone has a partial hold on it, I cannot write with it.” By the same token, if we hold back the natural abilities God gave us at birth — or if we use those abilities for purposes that don’t include God — those talents will not be used to their full capacity.
Rees, Erik.  S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life.

My goal for life is to one day stand before God and hear Him tell me, "Well done, John.  You've been faithful with what I've entrusted with you."  I imagine this would/should be goal of every Christian.  But, if you're anything like me, then you know that this is a most difficult task.  For me, the difficulty falls squarely on whether I am going to let go of my grip of the "pencil of my life" and allow the Holy Spirit to guide and direct me.

I like what John Wesley said in your Notes on the New Testament about John 11:39.  When Jesus asked for the stone to be moved from the tomb of Lazarus, Martha responded, "Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead for four days."  Martha was conflicted.  Reason told her that what Jesus was asking was preposterous.  Faith told her that the Jesus was the Resurrection and the Life.  And, the struggle ensued!

At times (more ofter, I suppose, than I'd like to admit), I struggle between faith and reason.  Reason tells me that I need to be in control.  Faith tells me that God is capable.  Reason tells me that I need to be anxious.  Faith tells me that God cares for me.  Faith...Reason...the struggle continues.  

Andrew Murray reminds me that in order for me to achieve my goal, I must not struggle and I need to let go.  How will God write with the "pencil of my life" if I still want to move it and write what I want?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Kierkegaard on Reading the Bible
According to Kierkegaard ... “To read the Bible as God’s word, one must read it with his heart in his mouth, on tip-toe, with eager expectancy, in conversation with God. To read the Bible thoughtlessly or carelessly or academically or professionally is not to read the Bible as God’s Word. As one reads it as a love letter is read, then one reads it as the Word of God.”
Quoted by: Utley, Robert James Dr. You Can Understand the Bible!
Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1996.

I have been guilty of reading the Bible as an "academic."  I've read the Bible as a "professional" and I'm afraid that at times I have missed the love letter that was intended for me.  I love to dive into the academics of a text.  I love to redact it and partake in its textual and grammatical criticism, but Kierkegaard has reminded me of the simple and overarching message of the Bible: A message of love. 

Unfortunately, many Christians approach their Bible reading with baggage, and I am guilty of doing this, too.  We read with a bias; we read with a denominational slant; we read with a presupposition; we read without any regard to context.  And when we only do any one of these, we read it thoughtlessly or carelessly.  Certainly this is most unfortunate!

Now, there's nothing wrong with the academic side of Bible reading.  I still love this type of reading.  But my soul also needs my "heart to be in my mouth ... with eager expectancy" so that while I am doing a word study,  I am also listening for that gentle Gospel message of love.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, God desires to give you and me His message of love that has the power to cut through any baggage or bias that we may have.  Listen for that message the next time you read His word. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Moody: A Man of Prayer

Oftentimes Mr. Moody would write me when he was about to undertake some new work, saying: "I am beginning work in such and such a place on such and such a day; I wish you would get the students together for a day of fasting and prayer,"  and often I have taken those letters and read them to the students in the lecture room and said: "Mr. Moody wants us to have a day of fasting and prayer, first for God's blessing on our own souls and work, and then for God's blessing on him and his work."
Dr. R. A. Torrey. Why God Used D.L. Moody. Public Domain

I am convinced that any grace that God has granted me in ministry has been through my prayers or the prayers of someone else.  Whether it was the prayer of a parent of a childhood friend, the prayers of my wife, or the prayers of someone I have never met, these prayers -- including my own -- have been an important part of my life and my ministry.

I learned a lot about prayer at the first place that I served.  It was in a small Kentucky town called Shelbyville and the church was Olive Branch United Methodist Church.  I served there a few years in the early 1990s as their youth director and worship leader.  Rev. Steve Pearson was my senior minister when I first started there.  I worked there with an eye on him teaching me.  One of the lessons that he taught me was the importance of prayer.  Steve carried around a stack (and I mean a stack) of index cards.  On the front of each card was a prayer request.  The back of the card was reserved for the answer.  When the prayers were answered, he filed them away and referred to them often.

Steve didn't take prayer lightly (as I have too often).  When you asked him to pray for someone or something, your request quickly made its way to the front of one of his index cards.  His method was to take prayer walks.  Armed with the cards, he would go for a walk and pray through each card and each request.

It's been over 20 years since I had the privilege of serving with Steve, and I still remember this as if it were yesterday.  What a message!  What an impact!  What an example!

D.L. Moody took his prayer life seriously.  He prayed for others and he engaged others to pray for him.  He did this because he knew the importance and the power associated with an active prayer life.

God only knows the people that received an outpouring of God's grace because of the prayers of Steve.  God only know the people that received an outpouring of God's grace because of Moody's prayers.  What does God know about your prayers?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Bonhoeffer: "Your kingdom come!"

“Your kingdom come.” In Jesus Christ the disciples have experienced the inbreaking of God’s kingdom on earth. This is where Satan is overcome, the power of the world, sin, and death broken.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Vol. 4, Discipleship. Edited by Martin Kuske, Ilse Tödt, Geffrey B. Kelly 
and John D. Godsey. Translated by Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss. 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

How has the inbreaking of God's kingdom on earth changed your life?  It's a fair question, isn't it?  When we pray the Lord's prayer, do we really want God's kingdom to come?  Or, are we satisfied with our own kingdoms?  

When Jesus was in Bethany in John 11, He had one request before Lazarus would be raised.  Standing in front of the tomb, he asked for the stone to be moved.  A strange request, don't you think.  In a blink, if Jesus had wished, He could have said the word and the stone would have been catapulted into the sea.  But He didn't do that.  He made His request and He waited for the people to respond.

I like what D. L. Moody said about this verse:
It would have been very easy for Him to have commanded it to roll away, and it would have obeyed His voice, as the dead Lazarus did when He called him back to life. 
Moody, D. L. The D. L. Moody Year Book: A Living Daily Message from the 
Words of D. L. Moody. Edited by Emma Moody Fitt. East Northfield, MA: The Bookstore, 1900.

Jesus incarnate brought God's kingdom to earth and not even the powers of Satan were able to keep Lazarus in the grave.  But before that kingdom broke the barriers of death and the glory God displayed, the stone had to be moved.  I am certain that many if not all Christians desire to see and experience the earth-shattering presence of God in their lives.  But, before this happens, Jesus stands in front of our tombs and makes a rather strange request: "Move that stone!"

What stone in your life has stood between you and the power of God?  What stone has Jesus asked you to move?  What stone are you still clinging to for no good reason?  Move that stone and experience the inbreaking of God's kingdom in your life.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jesus is Sovereign Over All

"There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"
-- Abraham Kuyper

I recently read this quote in Matt Chandler's new book entitled The Explicit Gospel.  Like many people, I have fallen into the trap on a small and finite perspective of God.  I forget that He created not only our world, but He also created the universe.  I forget that He is the sustainer of not only my life, but all life everywhere.  To put it straightforward, I have fallen into the trap that God is small.
It's not that I truly believe that God is small.  I know that He is bigger than I could ever imagine.  What happens for me is that I just get distracted with the "big" things that seem to be pressing on me at any one moment.  So, the struggle for me (and possible you, too) is to find a way to remember the truth that God is sovereign and that there is not one thing that happens that will surprise Him.  In other words, whatever may come my way or whatever I am going through, these do not take God by surprise.  Thanks be to God!

Paul said it this way...
And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
(Colossians 1:17, ESV)
Can you see the benefit to allowing Christ be sovereign?  That's the issue, isn't it?  It is not that we don't believe that Christ is capable to handle all that comes our way.  It is that we don't allow Him to be sovereign.  What could change in our lives today when we realize and relinquish our desire to be in control of everything?  What freedom will be ours?  What frustrations will melt?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

It's noisy

"Apparently the fireball on Mount Carmel had no lasting impact on Elijah either.  Terrified for his life, the prophet put forty days' distance between himself and Queen Jezebel, Ahab's vengeful consort.  And when God next met with Elijah, he did not appear in a fire, or in a great and powerful wind, or in an earthquake.  Rather, he came in a whisper, a thin, small voice almost like silence..."
Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, p. 89.

At times I feel bombarded.  There's a lot of noise in our world.  Electronic devices, phones ringing, music playing, TV's on, radios blaring...Noise!  I can't help but be distracted by the noise.  I feel like I am missing something because of all the noise.  There's something special about silence and many times noise distracts from the beauty of silence.

While serving as a Youth Director, I loved to take kids on mission trips.  Mission trips were the cornerstone of our summer activities.  We would go on mission trips to give the kids an opportunity to serve and also to see how God could use them and work through them.  God did some great things through us and it was an honor to be used by Him.  We saw people come to Christ.  We saw impassable situations worked out.  We experienced the presence of God guiding and hold us in the palm of His hand.  These were certainly big things.  When we were on these mission trips, I was amazed at how we also saw the smallest ways God provided.  The little things along with the big things were provided.  I am convinced even today that one of the reasons that we were able to recognize God's presence --both big and small -- was because we didn't have the distractions that we bombarded ourselves with at home.  No TV's.  No iPods.  No Gameboys.  No cellphones.  No noise to distract us, and what resulted was our ability to recognize God's presence in our lives.

We know that there are times when God seems to shout and say, "I am with you!  I love you!"  We also know that there are many times when God does not "shout" over the noise in our lives, and He speaks in a still, small voice.  Elijah quickly forgot about the "shout" of God at Mount Carmel when he was being pursued by Jezebel.  He was afraid.  He was running.  He felt alone.  He was distracted.  But in the silence of being alone, Elijah recognized the small voice of God speaking to him.

Stop and sit in silence today and let God speak to you through His comforting, small voice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Action of a Disciple.

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
(John 2:5, ESV)

If we've said it once to our children, we've said it a dozen times: "You've asked, we've answered."  Sometimes I would like for them to just do what their mother and I ask them the first time instead of us repeating ourselves over and over again.  But, we still love our children despite having to repeat ourselves.

This verse is from John's account of what happened at the wedding in Cana.  I've read this passage many times and I am afraid that many of those times I've missed the point.  I looked at the fact that Jesus blessed the marriage with His presence.  I wondered what was being said about alcohol in this passage.  I looked at the relationship that Jesus had with His mother.  All of these are valid issues that are mentioned in the passage, but what stuck out to me yesterday was the uninhibited trust that Mary had in Jesus.  She said to the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."

I want to be a disciple of Jesus.  There is no doubt about this, but what is the action of the disciple.  It is as Mary reminded the servants, "Do whatever He tells you."  There is an inclusive bent on this command.  As a disciple, our response is not to question or to delay.  We are to do whatever Jesus tells us.

What is He telling me is found in the Scriptures.  Passages that tell me to pray for and love my enemies.  Passages that tell me that make disciples.  Passages that remind me to worship and praise my God.  Whatever He tells me, the action of a disciple is obedience and we, as disciples, are to obey the first time.

Oswald Chambers, "Delay is quiet rebellion and rebellion is sin."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Put your heart into it!

"I saw, that giving even all my life to God (supposing it possible to do this, and go no farther) would profit me nothing, unless I gave my heart, yea, all my heart, to him."

Wesley, John. The Works of John Wesley: Addresses, Essays, and Letters
electronic ed. Albany, OR: Ages Software, 2000. A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.

It was in the small fifth grade Sunday School room at Community Alliance Church in Butler, PA, where my teacher led me in a sinner's prayer.  It was in this very room at 10:35AM in the early 1980s that I ask Jesus into my life.  In the handwriting of a ten-year-old boy, I wrote the details of this day in the front of my Bible.  This Bible is still with me and it has a prominent place on my shelf in my office today.  Even though I asked Jesus into my life at the age of 10, it was not until I was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh that I gave God my heart.  I asked Him into my heart at 10, but I didn't allow Him to have control until I was 18.

Jesus summed up all of the laws with this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37).  Before my freshman year of college, I couldn't help but think that I had not been loving God like this let alone loving others like myself.  I asked myself what it meant to love God with all my heart.  I asked what it meant to love God with all my soul, mind, and strength.  A crisis in my faith ensued as I began to seriously consider the practical implications of lovingly responding to such a command as this.

John Wesley's words above remind me that our heart is at "the heart" of our lives.  It reminds me that I need to remember that my Christian walk is not an island by itself.  Rather, my Christian walk and my love for God must be at the heart of who I am and all I do.  It is not something that I do just on Sundays.  With God's help, I allow it to infiltrate every nook and cranny of my life.  

I heard an athletic coach tell his players some time ago to "put their heart" in it.  What was he telling them?  He wanted them to put their all in the game.  I hear the same encouragement coming from John Wesley: "Put your heart into your Christian walk!  Give it your all!"  

I am afraid many have become slack in our Christian life.  I am afraid many have surrendered too much ground in our churches.  Where is our urgency to further God's kingdom?  Where is our urgency to pray and worship and love God?  Where is our passion to reach the lost?  Where is our fire to allow the love of God to so bubble in our hearts that it overflows into every other area of our lives?  Unfortunately, we are compartmentalized people.  We have our work life, our play life, our Christian life, and our social life.  Unfortunately, many Christians have not allowed our Christian life to leave its compartment and affect the other compartments in our life.  Poke holes in the barriers and compartments and allow your Christian life to affect the way we work, play, and socialize.  Put your heart into loving God and allow it to touch every other part of who you are.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Frequency of God

"We must see God again; we must feel God again; we must know God again; we must hear God again."

Tozer, A. W., and David E. Fessenden. The Attributes of God,
Volume 2: Deeper into the Father's Heart
. Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2001. (p. 11)

All around us are radio signals.  We may not realize it, but it is true.  There are FM radio signals, AM radio signals, shortwave, cellular, CB, wireless, TV, weather, airport traffic, police radio, military, Bluetooth, and so many more that I don't even realize.  In the midst of the signals that are even now rippling through the air, we don't hear a single one of them.  Why?  Because we don't have the right apparatus to tune into those signals.  We cannot hear the intended messages nor can we tune into the frequencies because we have not equipped ourselves with the necessary means to receive them.  

Can this not be the same with God's presence?  The presence of God is with us.  It is all around us, and it is rippling through the air.  Unfortunately, we sometimes are unable to recognize His presence because we have not equipped ourselves to receive it.  How do we see God?  How do we feel God?  How do we know God?  How do we hear God?  We do all of this from a posture of worship.  Worship is the apparatus that equips us to recognize the presence of God.  And this is not just worship that we do or participate in on Sundays.  This is intentional and purposeful worship each and every day where we intentionally and purposefully tune ourselves to God's frequencies.

Nobody doubts that the radio signals are all around us.  They are there.  Why, then, do we sometimes doubt the presence of God?  We use a GPS to tap into the positional satellite signals.  We use a radio to hear what is being said on the FM and AM frequencies.  We use a scanner to hear most other frequencies.  And, we use worship as a way to tap into God's frequencies.  When we do this each day, we will begin to recognize the presence of God.  It is not that God has not been there all along!  It is just that we are now tuning ourselves into His frequency.

How will the recognition of God's presence change the way you live this week?

Friday, March 23, 2012

There were two in my right eye!

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
(John 7:24, ESV)

I couldn't figure out the other day why I could not see clearly.  My eyes were not hurting.  They were not irritated.  Even after putting a lot of saline solution in my eyes, I still could not see clearly. It wasn't too bad.  Besides, nothing was hurting me, so I went about my day with this impediment of slightly blurred vision.  It was not until that evening when I was getting ready to go to bed that I discovered what had been the matter.  I gently pinched my right eye to remove my contact and behold!  There were two contacts in my right eye!  I stood there for a moment wondering how I could so carelessly put two contacts in that eye.  How did that happen?  Where did I get a third contact?  I still have no idea how this happened or from where the other contact came.  Could it have been in my eye all along and I didn't even realize it?

If you wear glasses or contacts, then you know what it is like to have blurred vision.  Some people have worse vision than others, but all of us who use corrective lenses know what it is like to have blurred vision.

As I thought about this over the next day or two, I couldn't help but think about other areas in my life that are "blurry."  Not necessarily my vision, but where am I in need of corrective lenses?  Does my mind get "blurry" at times with anxiety and fear?  Does my heart get "blurry" with selfishness and greed?  Do my actions need the help of "corrective lenses" to refocus my purpose upon God once again?

I can't speak for you, but for me, I need "corrective lenses" to adjust and correct my judgment of others.  "Forgive me, Lord, when I judge my fellow brothers and sisters based upon appearances!"  Have you ever prayed that?  Jesus warns us to not judge others (not only Christians, but everyone) according to our own reasoning, our own discretion, or our own opinion.  It is like looking at people with blurred vision.  Our blurred vision of people distorts our opinion of them, and we find ourselves judging them based upon these distortions.  When I was doing missionary work in inner city Philadelphia, our mentor told us to look past what we may see and see Christ in everyone.  Seeing the image of God in every person becomes for us our corrective lens!

Martin Luther wrote, "No one views his neighbor with clear eyes except the Christian, whose sight is bright and pure.  He looks upon his enemies with the eyes of mercy and compassion, and wishes them no evil.  Even when his enemy is wroth and angry with him ... he feels compassion for him and would gladly see him saved" (Luther's Works, Vol 23, Page 241).  Seeing people with vision that is "bright and pure" only comes from seeing the Image of God in everyone.

Join me today as I start seeing the Image of God in all people.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How do you deal with victory? which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
(2 Peter 1:4, ESV)

I like to win.  I really like to win.  Now there's nothing wrong with losing, but if I am given the choice then I choose winning over losing.  The spring is the time of sports in our household.  Anna has her soccer, and John has his baseball.  Both Anna and John would rather win than lose.  I can still see the faces of our children in my mind's eye when they each had recently won their game.  Excitement and enthusiasm succumb defeat and for the rest of the day, we all as a family bask in this enthusiasm with them.  It is infectious.  It is encouraging.  It is fun to win.

It's OK to lose because deep down inside we know that without losing, we would never be able to know the great joy of winning.  But I fear that we are being taught a spirit of complacency.  I hope I am wrong!  This goes way beyond my idea of winning in sports and has infiltrated our understanding of living out our Christian life.  Instead of striving for Christlikeness, we become complacent to hold the status quo.  Instead of striving for holiness, we say this sin or that sin is OK.  Instead of striving for a passion for God and what He is doing in our midst, we stop short fearing that we may offend someone.  Could it be that we have been taught through this spirit of complacency that a status quo Christian life is OK?  Are we afraid to be victorious over the power of sin in our life?  Are we afraid to win?  

May I suggest to you (and me, too, because the Lord knows that I need to hear this) that we don't have to live in the power of sin and defeat?  It is not how God has intended us to live.  We don't have to be complacent, but rather we can bask in the joy and enthusiasm of victory!  Our passage today reminds us that there is available to all a Divine nature that enables us to escape from the corruption of this world.  My friend, throughout the tapestry of Scripture, there is a thread of power that we have access to, and this power is not of ourselves or based upon what we do.  This power generates soles from the Divine nature that is waiting to take over the life of every Christian.  It is a power to gives us, as Peter describes, power over sin.  Whether we call this power the Divine nature or the Holy Spirit, it is available to all Christians and it is tapped into when we surrender our flesh to its rule.

What would happen in our world if every Christian tapped into this Divine nature?  What would happen if we did it today?  What changes would take place?  How would we react?  How would our calendars change?  Winning in our Christian life bubbles enthusiasm within every nook and cranny of our lives.  How will you deal with victory today?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Who is watching Jesus?

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
(Luke 11:1, ESV)

The longer Lisa and I are parents, the more we notice that our children imitate us.  They are always watching us.  This is a good thing...and...a bad thing.  I notice the generosity that they have learned from their mother.  I notice the kindness that they have learned from their mother.  I notice the care and love that they have learned from their mother.  What have they learned from me?  Hmmmm.  I might have to plead the fifth!  Maybe they get their "passion" from me!  :D

I've heard it said that imitation is the fondest form of flattery, but we can't deny that their are good things to imitate and there are bad things to imitate.  Our consumer driven society has instilled within us a desire to imitate the celebrities.  We are encouraged to where the most popular clothes and carry the most popular phones.  We are sinking in a sea of conformity and this cannot be a good thing.

I like to notice observations behind passages of Scripture.  Our passage above it a great example where we can imagine what is going on behind the scenes.  We can gain a lot of insight by asking the question, "What is Luke explicitly not tellings us?"  It is no secret that in Luke's Gospel, Luke makes the case that Jesus is a man of prayer (3:21; 5:16; 6:12; 9:18, 28-9; 18:1; 22:41, 44).  What we see in our passage is that His disciples were watching Him as He practiced this habit of prayer time with the Father.  The passage tells us that after Jesus had prayed, one of His disciples came to Him and asked Him if He would teach them to pray.  Implicitly, what we see here is that His disciples were watching Him.  They saw something in Him that they admired.  They noticed a pattern, and they wanted Jesus to teach them how to pray.

The verses that follow give us the Lord's prayer.  It is a prayer that provides for us a template upon which we are to build our prayers.  But what we may miss is that the disciples received this teaching because they were watching Jesus and asked Him to teach them.  What would it have been like if they had never asked Jesus to teach them to pray?  What other things had they missed out on because they never even thought to ask Jesus to teach them?  

And what about us today?  Are we missing something as beautiful as the Lord's prayer because we neglect to watch Jesus and ask Him to teach us?  What can we learn about humility from Jesus?  What can we learn about serving the marginalized from Jesus? What can Jesus teach us about loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us?  Who is watching Jesus?  Will you seek Him and watch Him more closely today?  I will join you in this venture.

Oswald Chambers said this, "If in the first waking moments of the day you learn to fling the door back and let God in, every public thing will be stamped with the presence of God."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What makes heaven heaven?

What makes heaven heaven? The unhindered, unsullied presence of God!
A.W. Tozer.  Attributes of God: Journey to the Father's Heart. p. 134

Almost certainly every Christian has at one time or another asked, "What is heaven like?"  Maybe we looked at Revelation; maybe we read books like Heaven is for Real; maybe we asked other people about their ideas.  But at any rate, I suspect that every Christian at one time has found themselves wondering what heaven is like.

Revelation gives us great detail about the dimensions and such of heaven.  The author painstakingly gives descriptions of the walls, the streets, the throne, the gate, and so much more of heaven.  No other place in the Bible is such great detail given about heaven.  As I read passages like this, I can't help but be distracted with the details.  I wonder what it will be like to see streets of gold.  I wonder how beautiful it will be to stand at the gate.  The details of heaven have distracted me from one great detail of heaven: Heaven is heaven because as A.W. Tozer writes, it is the "unhindered, unsullied presence of God!"

During the last days that Jesus was on earth, we are given insight into the intimate conversation that He had with His disciples in the Upper Room.  He told them that one of them was going to be a traitor.  He told them that He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders.  This undoubtedly frustrated the disciples.  I'm sure that anxiety had set in and that doubts crept into their hearts.  

Then in John 14, Jesus begins a process of calming them.  "Let not your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in me" (Jn 14:1).  Other the next several verses, Jesus explains that He has to go away and that there will be a time when He will come to take them to be with Him.  There is talk about a house with many rooms, and we undoubtedly visualize heaven.  What is surprising is that Jesus does not give any other details of this place.  He doesn't talk about streets of gold or the throne room of God.  He doesn't tell His disciples about a pearly gate or does He give any dimensions.  All He says is that He will come again and take them to be with Him.  Jesus knew that the best thing about heaven is that we will be with God.  There were no details to distract us.  He just spoke of a foundational truth that we will be with Him -- in the unhindered, unsullied presence of God.

At the same time, we are reminded that the presence of God is with us on earth (Mt 28; Heb 13).  How will the presence of God calm your anxieties today?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Jesus - Our Example

He must increase, but I must decrease.
(John 3:30, ESV)

It's difficult to keep up.  Yes, I have to admit that for us, it is difficult to keep up.  With two children, the schedule in our house keeps us going here and there for sports and after school clubs.  It just seems that there is more and more that is going on.  More of this...more of that...more soccer practices...more baseball...more and more stuff.  As I was traveling home the other night from yet another busy night of taking kids where they needed to go, I saw a bumper stick on the car in front of me.  The message, "More Jesus."

It is a simple message and at the same time, it is a profound concept.  There is only so much time in the day.  This is a fact.  There is only so much stuff we can fit into our schedules.  Sometimes our schedules are so full that we have no time for Jesus.  This is a truth that cannot be minimized.  A glass can only hold so much Dr. Pepper.  At one point, there will be a time that we will have to admit that the glass it full.  Our schedules are the same way.  There is only so much that we can pack into the waking hours of the day.  The sad fact is that for me, when I fill that schedule with more and more, something important gets pushed aside.  Many times, Jesus is what is pushed aside.

What would it be like for you and me to have more of Jesus today rather than more of our schedule?  Make more of Jesus a priority with me today.  I like the way Eugene Peterson renders this verse, "This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines."

Friday, March 16, 2012

My name was written in her book!

Friends, keep up your prayers for us.
(1 Thessalonians 5:25, The Message)

I've been to the doctor over the last year and a half for a particular issue.  During that time, many fine men and women have expressed their concern, and they have told me that they are praying for me.  I believe them.  One particular woman saw me several months ago before the 11AM service and pulled me aside.  She said to me that she, too, was praying for me.  She then held up her left arm and with her right hand, she grabbed a hold of a bracelet on her wrist.  "I am praying for you, John," she affirmed.  "Every time I see this bracelet, I whisper a prayer for you."  I loved hearing that, and I was (and I still am) encouraged by her words.

Over the next several months, she would catch my attention and point to her bracelet.  No words needed to be exchanged, but she was most certainly communicating to me something that went beyond words.  She was praying for me.

To be honest, I recently had not been thinking about her prayers or other's prayers -- until recently.  I went to visit this same woman in the hospital the other day.  I walked into her room and after exchanging pleasantries, I noticed two books on her bedside.  One of the books was Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.  The other one was Jesus Is Calling.  As I flipped through the pages of the latter book, I was honored and amazed about what I saw.  As I flipped through the book, I saw my name written at the top of many of the pages.  My name was written in her book!  She was praying for me.

This is not the first time I had noticed my name scribbled in someone's prayer notebook.  After my Dad had passed away several years ago, we started the process of going through his personal books and Bible.  Dad was a godly man who spent a lot of time studying God's Word and praying for others.  Like my prayer partner here in Columbus, he believed in the power of prayer.  Tucked in the side compartment of his Bible cover were three little notebooks.  As I flipped through the pages, I was amazed to see the names and prayers that were written.  Dad truly prayed for those that he said he would pray for!  The names that popped up frequently were the names of his wife and their children.  Our names were written in his book!  Even as Dad sits in the presence of God today, his prayers are still making a difference here on Earth.

I am convinced that prayer changes things.  There is power to be tapped into as the Christian bends their knee in humility before the throne of God.  It may not necessarily be your prayers; it may be the prayers of other.  But make no mistake, there is power in prayer.

Why should we pray?  I can't speak for others, but I pray because I trust in the character of God.  God has proven Himself as faithful; God has proven Himself as loving; God has proven Himself as caring.  Because of these characteristics and others, I pray.  And what is more is that God continues to prove Himself today, at this very moment.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Love your enemies?!?

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
(Matthew 5:44, ESV)

A few days ago I confessed to you that I had some passages of Scripture that challenged me.  I confessed to you that this verse is one of those verses that rubbed against the grain in my life.  If you are serious in any way about your desire to follow Jesus, then I suspect that this verse has at one time or another caused you to pause.

I teach a word study group at St Paul.  Tonight we studied the different uses of the Greek words that are translated into English as "love" in our Bibles.  Two of the significant Greek words are agape and phileo.  Phileo means brotherly love, and agape means unconditional love.  Throughout the New Testament, each time one of these words are used in the original language, they are translated as "love" in English.  So, it is not explicitly known which word is used when as we read our Bibles.

You've heard Philadelphia called the "city of brotherly love."  It comes from the Greek word phileo. This word is a lightweight when it is juxtapose to agape.  Agape has been described as unconditional love.  While in college at the University of Pittsburgh, I heard a preacher liken this type of unconditional love to the love that a parent has for a child.  There is nothing that the child has to do to earn the love of his or her parents.  In fact, there are many things that the child does that would threaten that love.  The baby makes messes; the baby cries at times parents try to sleep; the child is selfish.  But in spite of all of these characteristics, the parents love that baby just because the baby breathes.  That is unconditional love.  I first heard this 20 years ago, and I have never forgotten this illustration.  It is so true.

With all of this in mind, which of these Greek words do you think is used in the verse above?  Are we to love our enemies with a "brotherly love" or are we to love our enemies with an "unconditional love"?  Surprisingly, the word that is used here is agape!  The love that we have for our enemies is love that is unconditional and a love that has no strings attached.  How will you love your enemies and those who persecute you today with a love that is unconditional?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In an insignificant place...

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.
(Genesis 28:11, ESV)

Jacob leaves his father Isaac, his mother Rebekah, and his brother Esau in Beersheba and heads to Haran.  He cheated his brother out of his birthright and stole the blessing of his Isaac.  To save his life, Jacob heads to his uncle Laban in Haran.  He is encouraged by his mother to stay there until the dust settles in Beersheba.  This sets the context for the verse above.

There is not much said about Jacob's journey from Beersheba to Haran.  No significant cities mentioned.  No significant people that he met.  In fact, the writer of Genesis seems to be very intentional about making it known that the particular place that Jacob stops is a "certain place," or as other translations say, an "insignificant place."  But what happens in this place forever changes Jacob.  It is in this place, Jacob meets God and is reminded that God is with him and will be with him.  God reminds Jacob in this obscure place that He will also keep him.  What a wonderful reminder for Jacob who is on the run from a brother that is seeking revenge.

There are several places that I go to every week that seem to be obscure and insignificant places.  I could be driving on River Road.  I could be walking from the parking garage to the hospital.  I could be waiting in line to purchase a cart full of groceries.  All of these places and more seem to be insignificant places in the course of a normal week for me.  I don't expect to meet God in these places.  Where I do expect to meet Him is in places like hospital rooms and meeting rooms and sanctuaries...not in these insignificant places.  However, after reading this passage, I am reminded that God is not only found in the places that I expect to find Him but also in the places that I don't expect to find Him.  And when I seek Him in these certain places, I am reminded that even in these places, God is with me.  God is with me!  How significant that is to see God even in the insignificant places.

Join me today as we together hear the voice of our God remind us that even in the insignificant places, He is with us!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I wrote it on my dry erase board!

Outside of my office, I have a dry erase board.  On it I write quotes from books that I am currently reading.  Today I erased a quote that I had from Mildred Wynkoop and scribbled a quote from A.W. Tozer.  This is what I wrote:

"...we forget that faith is confidence in God's character."
Attributes of God Volume 2

Lisa and I are blessed with two children.  They trust that we will protect them and provide for them. You could say that they have a sort of confidence in our character.  We have proven ourselves in the past to do just this: Love, provide, and protect.  They trust us.  They have faith that we will provide for them today and tomorrow because we have proven ourselves to them in the past.  

Faith in God has been defined for me in the past as an abstract idea that all Christians were just supposed to have.  We are told (and as a preacher, I quite often say this to my parishioners) that we are just to have faith.  If we don't understand something, "Have faith!"  If we are going through a difficult moment in our lives or if we are plagued with anxieties, doubts, and fears, we are told to have faith.  Just do it -- whatever "it" is and have faith in God.  But what has exploded in my mind today as I have meditated on this particular quote is that faith is more than an abstract feeling in an abstract idea of who God is.  Faith is a confidence in God.  It is a confidence in God who has proven Himself in the past to provide and protect us today.

John 1:12 reminds us that we are the children of God.  If this is true, then can we not have the same confidence in God that our children have in us?  Can we not have the same childlike faith that God will provide and protect us like our children have faith in us?  Faith in God is not an abstract notion.  By no means!  It is a confidence in the character of God who has proven Himself in the past and will love and protect us today and tomorrow!

Write this on a notecard today and be reminded of it throughout this entire week: Faith in God is knowing that God will do what He said He will do because He said He will do it.  Believe it!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Preaching is more than just preaching

"I'd like to say, with no attempt at morbid humility, that without a pure heart and a surrendered mind, no man can preach worthily about God and no man can hear worthily."

This is a simple reminder that there is more to preaching than just preparing well crafted words about a text that is studied.  There is more to preaching than merely writing a persuasive speech about a text in the Bible and getting people to respond.  If this is all there is, then we who preach are merely motivators performing under our own strength.  This quote from Tozer reminds me -- as I must be reminded every day -- that God needs to be involved in this entire process.  The intersection of God with my life is the intersection of God with my preaching of any text.

How does God intersect with my life?  Before my Dad passed away two years ago, he told me, "Son, preach the Word.  Never surrender and always preach the Word."  His voice still rings true in my mind today as I read Tozer's words.  I suspect that Tozer would tell me the same thing, but what is more, Tozer would articulate that preaching the Word of God is accomplished through a heart that is pure and a mind that is surrendered.  

As I think over the deep and dark recesses of my heart and mind, I ask myself, "O heart, are you pure?  O mind, are you surrendered?"  I am in the process of identifying those areas of my life that are in need of realignment with God's heart and mind.  I am in the process (continually) of thwarting the powers of darkness and worldliness that are engulfing me in selfishness.  An impure heart and an un-surrendered mind prevent me from being worthy of preaching the Word as my Dad had charged me.  

How does God interest with your life?  If you are a preacher or teacher of the Word, then hear also the charge of my Dad and Tozer to you.  Preach the word.  Surrender your mind.  Purify your heart.  Only then will we be able to preach the Word and majesty of God our Creator.  If you are Christian (or follower of Christ), then we must purify our hearts and surrender our minds so that we are worthy of hearing the clear message of God.

What would it be like for us this week if we sought to purify our hearts today?  What would it be like for us this week if we sought to surrender our minds?  What would it be like for us today if we took an active role in our Christian walk?  Unfortunately, at times I have been passive about my Christian walk.  Today, I commit to taking a more active role by purifying my heart and surrendering my mind.  Will you join me?

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Joy of Patience?

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
(James 1:2–3, ESV)

Do you have Bible verses that you don't like?  Don't be offended by the question!  I am serious about it.  Well, I do have passages of Scripture that I don't like.  There are certain passages of Scripture that challenge me to go against the grain in my life.  

How about where Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mt 5.44; Lk 6.27)?  There is nothing innate within me that wants to love my enemies.  There is nothing within me that wants to pray for those who hate me.  There is nothing within me...yes, this is true.  But there is the Divine nature that subverts the innate nature within Christians, and it is this Divine nature that enables us and empowers us to love our enemies.  It is this Divine nature that enables us to love those who persecute us.  This is exactly what Peter was writing about in 2 Peter 1:4.  We partake in the Divine nature and escape the desire of our sinful nature.

Have you identified any Scripture passages that are difficult for you?  James 1:2-3 is a passage that is difficult for me.  Steadfastness or patience is not a particularly glowing attribute of me.  I suspect that this may be true for many people.  We don't want to be patient when we feel like we have been wronged or when we are going through difficult times.  Our sinful nature wants to fight back.  Our sinful nature is angry.  However, the Divine nature is joyful. adversity?  It doesn't make sense.

John Wesley wrote in his notes on the New Testament about this passage that "joy is the highest degree of patience."  Think about that for a moment.  Joy is the highest degree of patience.  Adversity comes our way and there is nothing we can do about that.  But there is something we can do regarding how we respond to it.  Joy.  We allow the Divine nature to flow through our hearts and we respond with joy.

This week may have been a difficult week for you.  It has been for me.  I will allow the steadfast love of God to flow through me -- his Divine nature -- and be joyful in adversity.  This is the highest degree of patience.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

More...God is with us!

And the Lord appeared to him the same night and said, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
(Genesis 26:24, ESV)

Have you taken any time to serious think about God with us?  We celebrate the Advent season and talk about the incarnation of Christ and He being called Emmanuel which means "God with us."  But, has this moved passed an academic understanding in your life?  Has it become a life shattering fact that has effected every area of your life?

As I read through the Scriptures, I can't help but notice God reminding His people that He is with them.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and so many more have experienced the life changing and shattering realization that God is with them.  Today, these words ring true to me as I read Hebrews 13 where I am reminded that God is with me, too.

I will live today with this in my mind.  I will live today looking at the specific areas where I notice God's presence.  I expect a peace overcome me today, and I suspect the same opportunity awaits you, too, as you experience God's nearness.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Joy of Conversion

That’s the joy of conversion—not bringing God from some distant star, but knowing God by a change of nature.
A.W. Tozer.  Attributes of God: Journey to the Father's Heart. p. 136

How many of us honestly believe that God is with us?  How many of us believe that God is interested in the details of our lives, and He wants to be involved with what goes on with us?  If you are like me, there are been times -- too many to number, unfortunately -- that I believed that God was somewhere "out there" and was not concerned about what was going on in my life.  The intimacy of God was forgotten and His presence was subverted.  This was not because of anything God was about how I pictured God and envisioned how He related to me.  

There were many reasons why I felt this way.  I felt I was not good enough.  I believed that there were too many problems and issues in my life for God to be concerned.  I thought only God was interested in the big stuff.  These feelings put roadblocks in my life, and they took my eyes off of God nearness.

I read in Zephaniah an amazing reminder of God's love and nearness.  Judah was quickly approaching their time of captivity.  The first several chapters are full of God's judgment and the impending demise coming to the people of Judah because of their rejection of God.  In the midst of Josiah's rule and his commitment to return the nation of Judah back to their covenantal relationship with the Lord, the Lord speaks through the prophet glimpses of grace and nearness in the midst of these words of doom.  Listen to these words from verse 5 of chapter 3:

The Lord within her is righteous; 
he does no injustice; 
every morning he shows forth his justice; 
each dawn he does not fail...

Don't read this too quickly.  You may miss the prepositional phrase "within her."  Re-read it and this time emphasize this prepositional phrase.  Do you see the glimpse of grace?  In the midst of their rejection of God and His covenant, God is with the people.  He is near them.  He is not standing on the outside; He is not commenting from afar off.  He is right there with the people.  God is with them.

How would your life change today if you truly believed that God is with you?  What things would you do?  What things would you stop doing?  How would your task list change?  How would your schedule change?  Who would you notice that you may have previously ignored?  For me, there would be a lot of changes.  

Be encouraged, the joy of salvation, my friends, is that God is near us.  We have not been abandoned.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Come together and do the right thing.

Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre...
(Genesis 25:9, ESV)

Let's bury our differences and do the honorable thing.  I am sure that there was contention between Isaac and Ishmael.  It was obvious that Isaac was Abraham's favorite.  Verse 5 says that "Abraham gave all he had to Isaac."  Is there any doubt that this caused contention between he and his half brothers and sisters.  But when Abraham died, the Bible tells us that Isaac and Ishmael buried there father.  Differences were laid aside for that moment.  They came together for that moment and did the right thing.

Over the years Christians have been quibbling about differences regarding non-essential theology.  Squabbles about how we worship and when we baptize have built walls between us.  The result of these differences has splintered our efforts to reach our world for Christ.  I say, let's adhere to the theology of the Apostle's Creed and/or the Nicene Creed and let's bury our other differences and do the honorable thing.  Let's reach our world for Christ.  Let's help build the Kingdom of God.  Let's be encouraged to deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Christ.  Let's love God and love people.  Besides, we are not alone in this.  Christ has promised in Matthew 28 that He will be with us as we do this honorable thing - Make disciples for Christ.

Will you join me?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gazed in Silence

The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.
(Genesis 24:21, ESV)

The servant of Abraham was given the task of finding a wife for Isaac.  He asked the Lord to make it unmistakably clear about who the Lord wanted Isaac to marry.  The fleece was that when he asked a woman to give him a drink, the one who offered to give water to his camels as well -- she would be the one whom the Lord had chosen to be Isaac's wife. 

As the servant was lifting up his head from this prayer, Rebekah was approaching.  The servant asked for a drink and she gave him a drink.  She also offered to give water to his camels.  It happened exactly how the servant asked, but the servant doubted.  Listen to the servant's response: "The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not."

How many times have I asked God to do something for me or provide for me and when he does it, I still have doubts.  Lord, forgive me!  The Lord has proven Himself steadfast in His faithfulness.  I must walk obediently.