The power of All

6 05 2017

One of the cool things about learning original languages is how it impacts reading the Bible.  Hebrews 1:3 is often translated “sustaining all things by his powerful word.”

When I read “all things,” I naturally limit my thinking to…things.  In fact, the ESV translates “all things” as “universe” which for me means the physical world.  The original Greek simply says “all.”  As I was reading the passage and looking at the Greek, it struck me how powerful the idea of “all” can be.

Limiting my thinking to “stuff” or “things” misses the complexity of life.  We live in a physical reality but we also believe there is a spiritual reality and our minds can take us all over the place.

When I see Jesus Christ in his proper place as sustaining “all,” it is truly profound.  We know from Genesis God spoke to create the physical world.  The rest of Hebrews 1:3 shows Jesus sitting down in the spiritual world.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:5 to “take every thought captive” putting my wandering mind in it’s place.  “All” shifts the focus from things swirling around in my world to seeing God’s larger world.

“All” puts a lot of things in perspective.

I hope this thought will cause you to also pause and reflect like it did for me.  We serve an amazing God who truly has the big picture and sustains all.





Theology of Rest

22 12 2016

I hope you are getting an opportunity to enjoy the Christmas Season.  As you (hopefully) get some time off work or school, I invite you to consider your theology of rest.

What do I mean?  Theology is simply how we talk about God.  How we talk about God shapes our beliefs and guides how we live our lives.

You probably find yourself in one of two groups.  First, you are mature in your faith and have thought about theology.  Second, you see theology as something for the pastor.  You understand God is important but you really don’t think about theology.  But like I said, it is simply the way we talk about God and how that impacts how we live.  Welcome to theology!

I believe rest is a part of our conversation about God.  Rest has to be more than just distracting ourselves or sleeping in.  Rest that involves God should bring peace.  It should provide rest for our mind, body and most importantly our soul.

When I read the Old Testament, I see a system of rest built into the community.  There was a day of rest each week, festivals that included rest and even a year of rest for the land.  I don’t think it was because God had some vacation bug.  I think God wants something deeper in our relationship.  God also knows we have a tendency to get consumed by life and don’t take the time to enjoy our relationship with God or those around us.  Fast forward to today and I see the Church wearing itself out.  Sunday comes every week and someone has to work in Children’s Ministry.  Those who volunteer often work full time jobs and are trying to balance families and other commitments.  Many people just give up or burn out.

There are some simple principles that can guide us in developing our theology or rest.  A great starting point is a verse found in Hebrews 4:9; “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”  There is a whole lot packed around that verse that I encourage you to dig into.  I am just giving you a starting point.

True rest begins in our relationship with God.  Do we have peace in that relationship?  When we have peace, everything else falls into place.  From that place of peace, we can look at our relationship with others specifically why we serve.  Do we serve because of the relationships or the need to feel we have accomplished something?  Next, we can look at our time of worship.  Is it about honoring God with God leading or is it about our needs and comfort?  Finally, there is the practical element of resting, in other words having a day off and even having intentional seasons of rest.

Each one of these elements has a lot more to it.  I would encourage you to wrestle with them and consider how you look at rest and your relationship with God.  To help I have put together a quick survey you can take.  Hopefully it will prompt some self-reflection and more importantly an opportunity to engage God in an honest conversation about rest.  Remember Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  It will start with him and ends with true rest for your soul.

Self-reflection on Rest

In my relationship with God I have:

Peace                                           No peace

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

Serving is more about:

Relationships                           Programs/Accomplishments

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

 

When I worship, I am focused on:

Honoring God                            My needs

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

God’s leading                           My comfort

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

 

I have a day of rest each week

Every week                                 Never

10—9—8—7—6—5—4—3—2—1—0

 

How long ago was my last true vacation?

__Within the last month

__Within the last 3 months

__6 months

__Year

__What’s a vacation?

Do I build in breaks (sabbaticals) in how I serve?  Yes / No

What does that look like?

As a result of answering these questions what do I need to do?

I wish you all a Merry Christmas!!!





Same Old World

1 08 2015

In preparing for a sermon I read “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.  It was written in 1931 and published in 1932.  He attempted to capture a potential future if our primary focus was happiness.  He got a lot right.

Happiness is a tyrant that is never satisfied.  It tricks us into believing it is just around the corner.  If we can just make a little more money. get one more item. have a “new” experience.  Sure enough it visits us as we get a raise, open the box or play the latest “cool” game on our phone.  Then, it evaporates leaving a hunger so intense we blindly chase after it.  When it becomes our primary focus, we become addicted.

We know this.  So the only proper response to happiness is.suppress it.  We use rules or good old fashion guilt to conform ourselves into proper citizens.  Meanwhile, happiness whispers in our ear until we throw off the rules, justify our actions and the addiction is satisfied.but it never is.

What does it cost us?  A life of meaning and purpose.  Time marches on.  Relationships grow cold or even worse become something we use for our own satisfaction.  Our focus is divided.  It becomes harder to speak out against injustice because we waste our time being entertained.

If something is important, someone will tell us what to believe.  We will even support them as long as all we need to do is click a link or “share.”

We do an excellent job of complaining about it.  Scroll down any social media site and you will see a post or a re-post of dire warnings.  We “like” it then notice a fun distraction and get lost again in our own world of personal happiness.

Aldous Huxley warned us of just how easily we can fall into a trap that tells us, “just be happy.”

I have some great news.  All you have to do is clink on this link. not really.  The great news is the trap can be avoided with a simply shift in perspective.

Happiness is not bad.  It just has to be put in its proper place.  Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

What are you seeking first?  It is a simple question with huge ripple effects.

There is profound depth in what Jesus said.  I could tell you what it means.  You might “like” it or even “share” it.  I have too much faith in you and God created you with the capacity to grasp the depth.

So dive in and wrestle with Jesus’ statement.  Let it ripple through your life.  Hopefully I will see you on the other side and we will have shaken off the tyrant of happiness and be living a life of significance.





The Tale of Two Crowds

1 04 2015

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

That is the opening line of “A Tale of Two Cities” written by Charles Dickens in the 1850s. It was about the two very different worlds of the rich and the poor during the time leading up to the French Revolution and the brutality of those two worlds colliding.

The idea of two different worlds colliding is what it feels like in the week leading up to Easter. Palm Sunday shows one crowd praising Jesus.  Then, just a few short days later another crowd is shouting for his death.

When Matthew tells the story of Palm Sunday, he mentions a prophecy told in Zechariah 9:9. It is a great reminder that God’s plan will never be swayed by the crowd. Events were unfolding according to God’s will to redeem humanity.  (Matthew’s account is found in Matthew 21:1-11)

While God may be unchanging, we are very easily swayed by the crowd. If you ever read social science experiments you will see that under the right conditions we can be made to do almost anything. It is kind of scary. Just last year Facebook got in some hot water when it was revealed that they had been manipulating news feeds to see how it would impact people’s posting habits.

That leads to our second crowd. Mark 15:11-15 tells us that the people who shouted “crucify him” had been stirred up by the religious leaders. Even though Pilate knew they were being manipulated, he went along with it and satisfied the crowd’s insistence to kill Jesus.

It is a stark reminder we live in a fallen world. We actively and passively rebel against God and we can be lead down that path very easily. Of course, we always believe it will not happen to us.

That is what Peter thought. In Mark 14:29-31 he said even if everyone else deserted Jesus he would not. I believe Peter had very good intentions but as we watch the story unfold those good intentions fail. He falls asleep when Jesus needed him to pray (Mark 14:33-40). He got violent (John 18:10) and he denied him when the pressure was on (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter is just like you and me. We often have good intentions but in the pressures of life we find ourselves defeated just as Peter did.

Luke 22:31-32 gives us more insight into what happened with Peter. Jesus warns him that Satan wanted to shift Peter like wheat. Jesus also told him that he had prayed for him. What an amazing picture! Jesus praying for Peter.

On this side of the Easter story the picture becomes even more amazing. Hebrews describes Jesus serving as our mediator (8:6, 9:15, and 12:24).  Paul will remind Timothy of that reality in 1Timothy 2:5. We have access to God in a profound and powerful way. WOW!

This is what we are celebrating on Easter. Jesus did the work to restore our relationship with His Father conquering both sin and death.

My prayer for each of us is that we will pause and reflect on the significance of Easter. It will require facing our part in crucifying him. It will also be an opportunity to celebrate the one who was not swayed by the crowds but instead focused on his Father’s Will and extends an invitation to us for a new life and the privilege of being in His crowd.





We don’t need Jesus

3 02 2015

They say catchy titles will draw people to read your post.  Did it work?

Can I be honest?  I see some truth in the title.

“Give us our daily bread”  Honestly, I look for that in my paycheck that comes faithfully twice a month.

“Your will be done” is great as long as it can be accomplished on the weekends and preferably not during football season.

When a crisis hits, the need for Jesus shines brightly.  As a Chaplain I am in awe when I bring the power of the Gospel into a situation.  I am always amazed and humbled when God moves me out of the way and touches hearts.  Then, I go home where I have a good marriage and, while my kids frustrate me from time to time, they have normal middle class American problems.

Jesus teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done.  On the night he was handed over to be crucified he has a desperate time of prayer and says “not my will but your will be done.”

Wow!  Jesus lives out the very thing he taught.  I am convicted.

If you can relate to me, I challenge you as I challenge myself to re-engage our world.  I don’t believe we have to wait for a crisis.  We just need to allow ourselves to be uncomfortable.

My conviction was helped by a NPR story on my drive home.  The reporter was being honest that the stories of Jesus seemed distant but a priest who stood up for the poor and was killed for his stand made the stories of Jesus real.  No, I do not want us go out and get shot.  However, when we engage our world, we bring hope and make Jesus real in lives of the people around us.  Then, we have the privilege of watching our Savior change lives.

After listening to the story I went into the store to pick up a couple of items.  As I looked around, the Holy Spirit pointed out that each person I saw had a story and God loved them.  It was an invitation to join him as he looks for his “will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I want that. I need that.  I need Jesus.





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





Talk, talk, talk, #talk

16 04 2014

Do you ever feel like everyone has something to say but no one is really listening? We can have a hard time listening especially if we are talking to someone with a different point of view. I am guilty of formulating my response and just waiting for them to catch their breath so I can start talking instead of really listening and trying to understand them. Of course social media does not help. Just as you are scrolling down the news feed or tweets you get the little icon that tells you there are new stories and new tweets.

We keep talking but are we slowing down to listen? This weekend we will celebrate Easter. This is the central story of the Christian message. There will be lots of tweets and posts. There will be stories on the news and shows that will put their spin on the story of Jesus. Some of us will go to church and participate in special worship services. We will eat lots of chocolate (hopefully) and then Monday will come and we will be back to our normal routine. In all the busyness what will we hear?

In Matthew 13:15 Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah right before he explains a parable he told in verses 3-9. He says, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (NIV)

Easter is the most incredible event in human history. We believe God came and walked with us. In order to have a right relationship with us, God took our punishment upon himself. He died for us demonstrating how much he loved us. He rose from the dead demonstrating his power over sin and death. He did all the work and asks for us to put our faith in him.

It is a simple but profound message.

My prayer is that we will take time to truly listen to the story of Easter. We may have to be honest about areas of our heart that have become calloused. Do we have areas of our lives where we have stopped listening to God? Have we closed our eyes to things that we need to look at? As we soften our hearts, open our ears and eyes we will receive the healing that comes from the power of who Jesus is and what he did.

If you need a starting point read the parable Jesus shares in Matthew 13:3-9. He explains it in verses 18-23. Pray and ask God to reveal the condition of your heart. I have a chapter dedicated to this in the Discipleship Curriculum I have on my Discipleship/Mentoring page.

This devotional is as much for me as it is for you. We all need to be mindful and slow down to listen. I hope you have a great Easter and we are refreshed and healed as we listen. He is Risen!





Life on Purpose

26 01 2014

Have you ever come to the end of a week and you ask yourself “what did I accomplish?” I usually say this after a week that may have been busy but not productive.

One bad week is not the end of the world but what if after a month, a year or even a decade you felt you were busy but not effective.

If this happened in our professional life, we may be in danger of losing our job. If it is in the pursuit of our education, we would have lots of classes but no degrees. We see the need to have a plan and be focused so we can feel productive and accomplished.

What about our faith? It is easy to take this area of our life for granted. Often when someone mentions reading their bible they use the “whatever passage I open my Bible to” approach. While there is nothing wrong with that, it can result in our faith becoming stagnate. When it comes to church we either say yes to everything because we feel we have to or we don’t do anything because we have no passion or focus.

When I talk about having a plan and being focused, I am not talking about something you generate. There is a classic joke “if you ever want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” So what am I talking about? I am saying we should be like Jesus.

Please read Matthew 16:21-28. In this passage Jesus talked openly about the plan he was on earth to accomplish. Peter pulled him aside to correct him and Jesus told him “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (verse 23 NIV). Jesus went on to say it would be pointless if you gained the whole world but lost your soul. He said this with a warning if you choose to follow him you need to be willing to face hardships.

Jesus lived a life of purpose and focus. He had confidence and trust in his Father. He invites us to do the same. The only way we can do this is if we are intentional. Life can be busy and it can also be distracting. The result is our faith being set aside while we continue to be busy. In the end we feel frustrated because we have a feeling we are missing out on something better.

You and I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in this world. We can only truly be effective if we are being faithful to what God has called us to do. This means that from time to time we need to pause and look at what we are doing. It is easy to get distracted and get lost in the business of life.

I encourage you to take some time this week to look at your personal time with God. Are you letting God lead and guide you? Does your prayer time include time to listen for God’s direction? Do you have a solid knowledge of the Bible? If you go to church are you serving? If you are serving why are you serving? Is it just because you feel guilty or is it because you are serving God with the gifts he has given you.

The result will be that you may need to adjust some of your day to day activity. You may need to be more intentional about how you read your Bible and what you do in the community. It will be worth it as you begin to see God at work and get the huge privilege of being a part of it. So let’s commit to living life on purpose.





God’s restraint –He wanted us more

13 07 2013

My wife is on a diet.  (This is when good husbands insert the comment, “She already looks great and does not need to diet but I will be supportive.”)  One of the keys to success in dieting is self control.  I watch Andreya have self control as she eats her lunch while three…okay four hungry boys eat a much different lunch.

Self control is critical to being successful in life.  I also believe it is vital to grow as a healthy Christian.

There seems to be two primary ways to get self control.  One is by establishing habits.  The other (and the one I want to focus on) is when we want something more than whatever we need self control for.  For example, if you really want an “A” in a class you will not watch TV but instead study.  Andreya wants to be at a healthier weight more than she wants that piece of chocolate cake.  (Sorry honey for reminding you of chocolate.)

Many people will try to have self control but fail.  I believe they fail because they either don’t have good habits or they are more focused on what they are giving up rather than on what they want.  When I keep thinking about how I am not suppose to watch TV, all I want to do is watch TV.  However, when I focus on the fact I want that “A,” I am not thinking of TV but I am focused on my class.

What do I want more?  That simple question seems to be a powerful tool to help me develop self control.

Here is the amazing part.  God never asks us to do something that he has not done.  God wants us to have self control.  What about God?  Has God ever demonstrated self control?

Walk with me through the gospels.  Luke 4:9-12 gives us some insight into the power available to Jesus.  Satan tempts Jesus to jump and see if the angels will do their job and catch him before he hits the ground.  Jesus turns him down by quoting scripture.  Just a little while later in Luke 4:28-30 we see Jesus walk through a crowd of people who wanted to throw him off a cliff.  He walked right through because he had the power to do so.  John 18 is about the arrest of Jesus.  Verse 6 shows the soldiers falling back as he spoke. Later in the chapter, verse 22, we see Jesus getting slapped by one of the officials.

Pause with me right here.  It is safe to say every angel in heaven wanted to pounce on that official.    Imagine all of God’s army at the ready begging to step in and save Jesus.  (There is a similar picture in 2 Kings 6:17.)

Instead of releasing the angels to protect Jesus, God restrained them.

Jesus wanted us more.  He demonstrated self control in the face of humiliation, beatings and ultimately the cross.  It is very humbling.  It is also inspiring and amazing.

If you are like me you will struggle with self control in some area.  Sometimes we will get self control by building good habits.  Other times we may need to pause and ask ourselves what we want more.  In that moment remember what God wanted more.  If you are like me it will put things into perspective.  You will be grateful and it will be easy to pick what you want.





What is bigger?

18 05 2013

I heard about a great website, iamsecond.com.  It has videos of a variety of people who declare “I am second” with God being first.  The videos are powerful and for those of us who are Christians they make perfect sense.  For those who are not Christians, I think the site does a great job of building a bridge and encouraging people to consider the possibility of being second.

When we look at the world, we see the ugliness of sin.  The escape of three women who had been held captive for a decade is one extreme example.  Each one of us have personal stories that make us cry or make us so mad we want to scream at the world.

That is where I found myself Friday afternoon.  I sat with a group of leaders wrestling with an ugly situation involving some of our people.  There was sorrow, anger, frustration…and the big question “why did this happen?”  Good leaders take it personal and look in the mirror to see if it was something they did or didn’t do.  They blame themselves and desperately want to fix it.

The easy answer is to tell everyone to become a Christian.  Of course the recent story of a Christian musician being accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill his wife might make some skeptical.  I prayed Saturday morning needing answers and thankfully God nudged me.

When we are focused on something larger than ourselves, we seem to get it.  If some catastrophe hits a city there are two choices.  Those who chose to focus on their community come together and great things happen and amazing stories are told.  Those who chose to worry about themselves loot.

I have a bias.  Jesus perfectly demonstrated what it meant to live a life focused on something bigger. It is amazing to mediate on the idea of God making our well being bigger.  Jesus didn’t have to die for us.  He chose to die for us.  He lived a life saying “not my will but your will be done.”  Even non-Christians are humbled by his life and point to his example.  Everyone can agree he lived for something bigger than himself.

When do Christians get it wrong? When we start worrying more about ourselves and stop caring about those around us.  When our needs and sadly often our wants become bigger.  We need to remember the one we follow.  He set the standard and promises to help us meet it.

This seems to be a universal principle.  I played through a variety of situations.  When we are focused on something bigger than ourselves, we act appropriately.  When we are focused on ourselves, we hurt others.  You can apply this to marriage, work, friendship…any area of your life.

Monday morning I will have the opportunity to sit back down with this group of leaders and offer my contribution.  It will need to be something that can be understood by everyone regardless of their faith.  It will need to be tangible.  I think I have the seeds of something good.

For those of us who are Christians, the world desperately needs to see that we are “second” and we are focused on something bigger.  For those who are not Christians I would ask you to consider what is bigger in your life.