Thursday, December 31, 2009

Prayer and Action

Nehemiah 4:9

Have you ever seen a team huddle for prayer before a big game? Have you ever prayed before taking a test? Most Americans pray at least occasionally yet I come across few who seem to truly understand it. On of my Bible heroes is Nehemiah, a man who worked extremely hard and achieved great success yet always saw the results as ultimately coming from the hand of God.

In 445 BC, while in Babylon, Nehemiah received a report from those who had been to Jerusalem. The walls of the city were still in ruins and Nehemiah was very troubled by this. After much planning and prayer, he got up the nerve to approach the king and ask to be sent to personally oversee the rebuilding of the walls. He was a very trusted member of the king's court and the king granted his request.

Upon arrival in Jerusalem Nehemiah was greeted with opposition from the locals. He was mocked and ridiculed. He was threatened continually, yet the work progressed. Here is a portion from chapter four:
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. But when Sanballet, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammorites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (vs 6-9 NIV)
 Clearly Nehemiah was a man of action. He understood the relationship between prayer and hard work. Yet how many of us pray and then sit back and wait to see what God will do? Andrew Murray wisely stated that "Prayer is the power by which that comes to pass which otherwise would not take place." This is very true indeed. However, if you look through Scripture to find examples of God granting requests of the slothful you will look in vain.

Let us therefore be people of earnest prayer, but not of the type that make prayer an excuse for laziness. Come, take up a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other. Together we shall be wall builders and if the good hand of God is upon us (2:8) we shall succeed!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Proverbs 21:30

Ah yes, here comes that time again. We are now approaching the New Year and we each must decide whether or not to make resolutions. Studies show that the most common New Year's resolutions are losing weight, exercising more, and quitting smoking. Other notable examples include: managing debt, saving money, getting a better job or education, reducing stress, taking a trip or volunteering.1 

This year some former resolutionists will decide to become nonresolutionists due to their inability to carry out their good intentions. Though there are many reasons why people do not keep the majority of their resolutions I believe Christians should spend some time reflecting on 2009 and then looking ahead to what might be in 2010. When making resolutions keep Proverbs 21:30 in mind:
There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.
 Do you believe this? If so, I would hope the action that flows out of your belief would be to seek the Lord's will for your life in 2010.

1 Fader, Jonathan, PhD is a psychologist and an assistant professor of family medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. This quote is from an article entitled "Most Common New Year's Resolutions...and do they work?" posted on the website Psychology Today

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Matthew 25:42
My kids needed no prodding to get out of bed this morning. It is only eight o'clock and they are already energized by the proximity of Christmas day. I must say it's catching!

It is convenient to be able to look at the calendar and see that the children's holiday is tomorrow. The house is in order, the presents are wrapped, and the dry cleaning has been picked up. We are ready for our guests. This is all true because set dates tend to drive us to preparedness.

Have you ever wished that God the Father operated that way? Imagine the frenzy on earth initiated by a sign from heaven that Jesus would come one week from today. How quickly would you get your spiritual house in order? Would you make sure to dust the shelves and sweep the corners? How long would it take you to bake those cookies and go have that conversation with your neighbor you've been putting off?

But God does not operate according to the timetable of any man. Only he knows the day or the hour (Mt. 24:36). Jesus told his disciples that their state of readiness, even though there is no set date, should be no different than if it were in a week. Why has he chosen to operate this way? Just imagine that two thousand years ago Jesus said he would return in the year 2020. Over sixty generations would come and go with no incentive to be ready! But Jesus said instead, "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."

I believe anticipation is one of the most neglected commands in the Bible. I don't hear people talking about readiness. You may be ready for Christmas, but are you ready for Christ?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holly: A Visual Reminder

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Joshua 4:1-7
There used to be a small American Holly tree by my garden gate. I cut it down about five years ago to prevent its spiny leaves from poking me every time I did yard work. It appears to me from some reading I did this morning that Holly was quite popular in ancient Rome. It seems they borrowed aspects of Celtic druid teaching and tradition took on a life of its own.

In his book "Stories Behind the Great Traditions of Christmas," Ace Collins writes, "Romans believed, much like the Celts, that holly had the power to bring good luck. Hence, the more holly you had in your home, the luckier you would be. The people of Rome also felt that the plant warded off lightning strikes; a home containing holly would better survive a storm than one that was undecorated and therefore unprotected. Holly was also thought to drive away the evil powers of black magic."

However, as Christianity became the state religion of the empire, holly took on a new meaning. Teachers used the plant as a visual aid with the prickly leaves representing the crown of thorns and the berries representing the blood Jesus shed on the cross.

Of course, whether or not God intended holly to be used this way is pure speculation, but this story does underscore a powerful Jewish concept-the concept of using all five senses to teach the faith. Christians have done so as well (think of communion and baptism). So, if you have a Christmas tree in your home, let it be a Christian Christmas Tree. If you have bells on your door, let them have a Christian meaning. Learn the story of the candy cane and other stories behind Christmas traditions. In doing so you will pass down truth in ways not easily forgotten.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Watch out for BibleTwisters!

Acts 17:11 

I read today that during the middle ages European rulers used a Christmas story from the Bible to abuse poor people. They latched onto the story of the Wise Men bringing gifts to the new king to justify an edict requiring all the people of the land to bring the best possessions they owned as "gift" tribute to quench their greedy thirst for wealth. The tribute was due by December 25th. Appalling!

When I survey the modern landscape I see that the practice of twisting the Bible's message is neither new or rare. The Apostle Luke gave the Bereans a special compliment in the book of Acts when he noted:
Now the Bereans were of more noble character...for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
 Indeed, if Paul himself was subject to such scrutiny should we not do the same with the messages we hear and the articles we read? I am particularly alarmed by those who seem to take whatever they see on nice looking websites to be gospel truth without knowing anything about the author who writes it. Please listen to me, seeing that the word "Christian," or "Bible", or "Jesus" etc. is in the web site address is NOT sufficient investigation. I digress.

So I say to all my brothers and sisters out there, please be careful. I love you too much to see you led astray.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Wonder of Christms

Luke 2:8-11

If I were to copy down the text of Luke 2 many believers would stop reading. After all, why bother reading something we're so familiar with?  I remember listening to a pastor pray before preaching when I was a boy. He would say, "Lord, help us to see your word with new eyes today." In a world where we wouldn't dream of picking up yesterday's newspaper this is a good reminder.

I am the father of a baby boy and it has been a while since my older children were as young as Peter. I am rediscovering the joys of parenting a new person. From the moment his eyes opened a year and three days ago he has been seeing things for the first time. Every day there is something that fills his eyes with wonder.

If we are not careful as we get older our eyes grow dim for wont of wonder. We need to be reminded to see things again for the first time--to see with new eyes.

Now, take the example of Luke 2: 8-11 (the famous monologue in Charlie Brown's Christmas play). Try to read it with freshness.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore (very) afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. (KJV)
 Imagine the scene and the astonishment of the shepherds. The magnitude of this encounter must have been terrifying. But even more than that, the message the angel brought that night had been longed for for hundreds of years. Generations came, generations went. Years turned to centuries and the darkness of the cold night on that quiet hillside was the darkness of a nation in despair. Wonder at this! Not only was the Messiah coming, he was coming in the human form of God himself! Imagine yourself there with them...wonder with them.


Post Script:  Ravi Zacharias wrote an excellent book for those who have lost the wonder in their faith. It is entitled "Recapture the Wonder." C.S. Lewis also wrote on the subject. His potent treatment is entitled "The Weight of Glory." Neither book is long.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thanks for the Little Things...Again

Ephesians 5:20 and Philippians 4:10-13

I have a set routine in the morning. I stumble out of bed, wake Anna and Andrew up and then go downstairs to make coffee, breakfast and lunches. I accomplish this running on autopilot until the coffee kicks in. Sometime after the synapses started firing at 6am a thought occurred to me while preparing Peter's bottle. I opened the freezer and pulled out an icepack and noticed that if dropped it was solid enough to damage the stoutest toes. I paused and decided it was time to thank the Lord our freezer worked.

A couple of years ago we awoke to a room temperature fridge. That was not a happy time. We took all the perishables out, put them in boxes and carried them over to the Hotpoint fridge in the church youth building. We now have a different fridge at home.

I wrote previously about giving thanks in everything and the difficulty of accomplishing this merits further attention. Here is my thought. This thought comes from observing that there are people that can allow a single negative circumstance to unplug their ability to be thankful. I believe gratefulness vs. ungratefulness is measured in a balance scale. It stands to reason that we will find ungrateful people lacking the ability to see small blessings. So, if we want to be people who are characterized by gratitude we can be well on our way by being conscious of the little things--like hard icepacks. The ungrateful person who begins to see little things as a blessing will see the balance start to tip in the direction of an overall attitude shift.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jesus' Example

Philippians 2:5-11

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likenesss, and being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

What an example!

Friday, December 11, 2009

God's Promises at Christmas

Luke 2:25-32
Can you say with conviction that you believe in the promises of God? Whenever I ask this question I almost always get "yes" as an answer. But, though people say they trust God to do what he says he will do I don't see them living that way. For example, Philippians 4:19 says, " And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Though this famous verse is a promise of God so many Christians wring their hands with worry I wonder if they actually trust God at all (or at least in this area). It's one thing for a child to say, "I trust you'll catch me if I jump." It's different to actually do it.

God is faithful to keep his promises. His timing is not always to our liking, but faithful he remains. In the Christmas story there is a seldom read portion that bears witness to this truth. I will quote at length from Luke 2 (NIV):
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel (the coming of the Messiah), and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel. (vs 25-32)
 This account does not include when it was that Simeon first received this promise, but we do know it was not fulfilled until very late in life. It appears Simeon thought it was worth the wait.

How about you? Are you having trouble waiting for God to fulfill his promises? Many of them are conditional, meaning we could wait forever and not see them answered because we fail in some way. An example: We wait for God to answer our prayers, but Scripture tells us it is the prayer of the righteous that God promises to hear (Proverbs 15:29).
Let us be like Simeon and maintain faith in the promises of God.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Life Evergreen

Romans 6:23; John 10:10
If you live in the temperate zones of the country you most likely are seeing evergreens more now that the deciduous trees have lost their leaves. Every year in America more than 30 million fresh-cut Christmas trees are sold.* Though I have an artificial tree now I can still remember traveling each year to a tree farm with a saw and some rope. Our family would not decide which tree to take until all the trees were examined carefully (or so it seemed). 

I'm glad for evergreens. The color adorning their branches fights off the appearance of deadness across the landscape. Life in this way reminds me of eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). But not only so, it also reminds me that life can thrive in this world--even in tough environments. There is great beauty in this world, but there is also evil and death. In the search for meaning in the here and now people work and play all in attempts to have the good life.

If you are a Christian there are times you need to hear these words of Jesus, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full" (John 10:10). Life for the Christian is not just about that eternal life in heaven. There is a temporal fullness to it that should be offered to a world in need. The apostle John commented at the beginning of his biography of Jesus, "In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (John 1:4) This is most significant. 

If you have life of the eternal kind in you this Christmas use it to change the landscape around you. Those who possess should bring hope and light--like the evergreen in a forest of brown leafless trees. 

Is there a way you can change the lifeless landscape you are planted in?


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Hidden Sin

Numbers 32:23
This past week the world has been watching the downfall of a superstar. Tiger Woods, the most famous golfer, and richest sportsman in the world has been roiled in an adulterous scandal that could permanently tarnish his image. Not only so, many of his endorsements from companies such as Nike and Gatorade may be in jeopardy as well. This is significant because most of his annual income comes from deals off the golf course.

I will not pretend to know for sure what caused him to cheat on his wife, but one thing is certain: we now have another spectacular example of a biblical principle. Numbers 32:23 says, "you may be sure that your sin will find you out."

Did Woods think he wouldn't get caught? Did he think he was rich enough to keep the women quiet with payoffs? Did he think that he had attained a superman status? Even Superman had kryptonite. I wonder how many other supersports heroes are lying awake wondering if the women they cheated with will follow the example of Wood's ten partners?

How about us? I wonder how many men stood on golf courses this week shaking their heads at Tiger's infidelity while hiding their own sexual hypocrisy. Such is the nature of hidden sin. Even when we see others caught for the same "transgressions" we maintain that we won't get caught. You and I may not be as rich or famous as Tiger, but the principle applies to all. It doesn't matter whether we are rich or poor, obscure or famous, weak or strong, clever or dull, hidden sin doesn't stay hidden forever.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


1 Corinthians 10:13
Temptation is a reality we all face. How are you doing in this area? 
Paul said, "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man." There are so many types of temptation and thinking about them boggles the mind. People handle temptation in different ways too. On one monastic extreme, men and women cloister themselves in sterile environs to avoid it as much as humanly possible. On the other hedonistic extreme, we have the Oscar Wilde's of the world who never miss a chance to indulge in a guilty pleasure.

As with many things, temptation is a reality we must face with balance. The Scriptures give us much help in this area. Here are a few instructive statements:

God promises the strength to stand up under temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
God promises we will always have way of escape in temptation. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
We must be wary of temptation for it is through this device the devil seeks to devour us. (1 Peter 5:8)
Falling in temptation does not cause God to cease loving us. Confession rights our relationship.  (1 John 1:9)
Overconfidence in your own ability to fight temptation is a sure way to fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

These statements are tried and true, but there is something even more powerful in the example of Jesus. He did not shut himself away from the temptations of the world. If he had done so he would not have been able to bring light and healing to a dark and terminally ill humanity. He recognized temptation and rebuked the tempter (Satan). He utilized Scripture as his weapon of choice in his encounters with evil, and also took time away in the mountains to be alone with the Father to recharge.

Is there something here you should keep in mind this week?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Simple Solutions

2 Kings 5; Psalm 119:9-11

Why do we protest simple solutions to big problems? This question is illustrated for us in 2 Kings 5 with the story of Naaman and Elisha. Naaman was an army commander who contracted leprosy--a nasty disease to be sure. He heard that a man of God named Elisha could heal him and so he traveled to Israel. Upon arrival he was told to go dunk himself seven times in the Jordan river to be healed. He balked and angrily turned away to go home. His servants said to him, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?" Naaman turned around, washed in the river and was healed.

Let us now apply this story to a more difficult problem than leprosy. As Christians we know that the Bible calls us to holiness, but we are often slow to make progress. Many of us halt progress altogether thinking that the solution must be something too complex or too difficult. To those who think this way I call your attention to Psalm 119. Listen to this simple solution:
How can a young man [or woman] keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 The Psalmist is talking about memorization, a solution too simple for too many people. I have conversations like this:
J: How are things going?
X: I'm really struggling with _________________.
J: Have you been memorizing scripture?
X: No. What should I do?
J: Memorize scripture.
X: Yes, yes, I know, but what else should I do?
J: Memorize scripture.

This is the same mindset that caused Naaman to turn away from his cure. Are you turning away from the solution as well? If so, I hope you have good people around you like Naaman did--people that care enough to turn you in the right direction.

Let us now answer the question we posed at the beginning. The answer is not difficult. Pride keeps us from the river. We believe that simple solutions are an insult to our intelligence. We think, Why, if it were that easy I surely would have figured it out on my own! Admitting we missed something simple may wound our egos, but that may be just what God was looking to accomplish. After all, pride is the worst and subtlest of all sins.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Walking with the Wise

Proverbs 13:20

I work with teenagers. My challenge is to help them develop reverence for God and obedience to his Word. This is a daunting task in the few short years I have them. This difficulty has forced me to seek for life essential verses that clearly and concisely communicate the truth. These verses are not ambiguous. They are practical and irrefutable. One such verse is Proverbs 13:20. It states,
He who walks with the wise grows wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.
The point is simple. Success or failure in life depends on the company we keep. I have seen this over and over again. I can tell you how a student will turn out based on the kinds of people with which they spend their time. Influence is an extremely powerful force and people react differently to it. Gullible people can be made to believe anything quickly. But even those who are independent and display leadership qualities are affected by those around them. It may take longer, but it is inevitable--like water on rock.

Generally speaking, walking with the wise means walking with those who are older. There are some who are wise beyond their years, but they are few and far between. With age comes experience and experience is the best teacher. Developing relationships with the wise can be tricky because wise people are not idle. The have little time to spare. Howard Hendricks, the dean of men at Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote the book on mentoring (Iron Sharpens Iron). In it he relays a helpful anecdote . There was a wise man he wanted to spend time with who was booked solid every day. So, he cleverly offered to cut the man's grass once a week in exchange for something much more valuable than money. He wanted conversation.

How about you? Do you walk with wise people? If not have you been making excuses? Proverbs 13:20 in my experience is a rock solid axiom. It cannot be broken. If you fight it you will end up the broken one.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Isaiah 7:14

Deism is the belief that God exists but cares little for his creation. He is understood to have wound up the universe like one would spin a top. After spinning the top he has taken a hands off approach ever since. So with the laws of thermodynamics in place the universe has been winding down and at some unknown future point everything will halt. True?

I will admit that on some days I feel quite alone. Things don't always make sense and my best laid plans fall apart. The Psalmist wrote, "Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" I've heard worse questions.

To those of us who have such days I offer the word "Immanuel." It represents a Christmas truth that fights against the decay of entropy. Immanuel was first written seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus by the prophet Isaiah. He wrote, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). What good news this must have been for the Jewish people in a deep time of trouble. What they understood is clarified for us by Matthew as he reflected on the prophecy some years after Jesus ascended into heaven. In chapter one of his gospel account he wrote: "they will call him Immanuel--which means, 'God with us'" (vs 23).

God with us--three very small words that have such a profound meaning! God did not let the top spin down. God has not ignored us. He has not given up on humanity. And the word Immanuel represents the answer to the Psalmist's cry.

When the disciples stood with Jesus on the mountain of ascension they must have feared life without his presence. Sensing their apprehension he assured them he would not cease to be Immanuel. He said, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20b).

The claim of the Deist is a false one. This thought makes me stand a little straighter. It makes me want to shine light in the darkness. I'll celebrate Christmas with gusto this year because Immanuel is still with us.

Picture from,_snow.htm

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Christ at Christmas

Luke 2:10-11
It took a while, but I finally found a manger scene Christmas tree ornament. I walked into a large "holiday" shop thinking I'd have no trouble but that is increasingly becoming untrue. I imported some of my Christmas CD's into iTunes the other day and searched for them under "Christmas" only to find that the new iTunes calls them "holiday" CD's. I stubbornly took a half an hour changing the genres of all the tracks to "Christmas." As a Christian parent I am realizing that keeping Christ in Christmas is going to take more intentionality than ever before.

I grew up with a tradition that I recommend to anyone with children. My family kept a "Christmas Banner," or that's what we called it at least. My mother hand cut pictures out of colored felt to be pinned on a hunter green felt banner adorned with twenty-four small red squares. At the top the banner read "God's Gift to Us, Jesus." She also made a maroon lacy plush folder with a pocket to contain all the felt pictures and a guide to tell us which picture to pin up each day. I inherited this banner when Anna was born.

Each night in December we sit down, open the folder and pull out the appropriate picture. Tonight we'll pull out a blue package with a red bow and talk about Jesus as God's gift. We'll read Luke 2:10-11 and then sing O Come Little Children.

You don't have to make one yourself. I found a  Good Advent Calendar online and didn't bother looking for one in a store to recommend. Let's hold on to what has been passed down to us and keep the chain unbroken for future generations. Let's tell about God's gift like the angel told the shepherds long ago.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you ; he is Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What we take for Granted

Psalm 103:2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of his benefits.
Health is something easily taken for granted until you get sick. My family contracted the stomach flu over the Thanksgiving holiday and we are just now getting back on our feet. I now have a deeper sympathy for those who spend their days horizontal. As I drove back from the school bus stop this morning I had some time to reflect. Why is it so easy to take the simple things for granted?

Here is a short list of things that are wonderfully true for me but not true for so many around the world:
I have a wife and three children that I love, and they love me.
I have heat in my residence.
I have food in my pantry.
I had a choice of coats to wear to work this morning.
I had friends call to wish me a speedy recovery.
I can lawfully own multiple copies of the Bible.
Water comes from the faucets I turn on.
My car started this morning.
I can see and hear.
I have the hope of salvation.
I have all my limbs and appendages.
My body fights infections.

What would your list look like? I chose twelve in the spirit of Christmas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

First Delight

Psalm 37:4

What do you delight in? Your answer is a good indicator of where your love and loyalties reside. Most of us know that the first of the Ten Commandments is to "have no other gods before [Him]." An idol in the biblical sense is anything that breaks this command. Examples of idols range from wood carvings and people to abstract concepts like pleasure and power. But the command to not place anything before our relationships with God is put in a more beautiful light in Psalm 37:4. It says,
Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Quite a promise! If we obey the commandment to delight first in the LORD (see also Matthew 6:33) then there will come transforming blessing. What I mean by this is best explained by clarifying the meaning of the promise. God does not promise to give us all the toys we really want if we go to church and read our Bibles. It means when we delight in the LORD the influence he will have on our desires will be transformational. When we walk with the LORD our delights become his delights and at least in my case that's a big improvement!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Busy Thanksgiving

Psalm 46:10

I thought of something as I bumped around the kitchen on autopilot this morning. I was making the kids lunches (which they didn't need due to the half day) and sipping my wake-me-up cup of coffee. Anna came down dressed in a Pilgrim costume with perfectly braided hair. Suddenly a rush of memories flooded my mind. The coffee in my hand became the orange spice tea my mother makes. The sounds of family laughing came from the other room and the smells of Thanksgiving meals made me breath in deep. Surely this is the most wonderful time of the year.

What made me write about it is the realization that I am just now having those nostalgic thoughts. Usually they come earlier, but the busyness this year has clouded my holiday sense. Thankfully, I don't think it's too late to get on track.

I envy children at this time of year. I remember when being caught in the wonder of this season lasted for a whole month. At some point we adults get too busy making the moment happen to live in the moment or reflect on the past. I am determined to find a way through the whirlwind of activity to get my head straight.

I read yesterday that the Chinese have an ancient custom during holidays where they will invite others to come share an hour or so gazing out of their picture windows. Once they sit down nobody talks, they just sit and reflect. I know plenty of people who would go crazy doing such an activity. In our culture we don't sit and contemplate unless we're forced to do so.

Thinking about these things brings two verses come to mind:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (Psalm 107:1).
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10);
This may be radical idealism, but what would happen if we all decided to turn off the football game for an hour tomorrow and decided to be still before the Lord? Not total silence necessarily; profitable conversation is still possible in America. Our conversation could begin popcorn style where everyone randomly expresses thankfulness to God for something. Or, we could start at one end of the room and work our way around till everyone had a chance to say something. We could have the children sit on the floor and tell them stories of God's faithfulness (Hebrews 10:23). 

My family carries on a tradition that has become increasingly meaningful to me. After the big meal we pass around a pottery bowl containing popcorn kernels. Each person takes five or so and once the bowl gets all the way around we start putting the kernels back in--one at a time. Each kernel represents something the holder is thankful for. Vocalizing our thanks helps us remember the blessings of the past year.

So plan some reflection time and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Note to the reader: This is the last post this week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Faith that Pleases God (part 2): Tangible Reassurances

Hebrews 11:6,8

Faith that pleases God is characterized by a firm belief that God is who he says he is (part 1). It also steps into the unknown, believing obedience is worth the risk.
Psychologists tell us that young people tend to be impulsive because their brains have not fully developed the means to see the long view. As we grow we learn to count the cost of actions before we take them. The painful consequences from youthful risk tend to work against us as we grow older. The question enters, are we willing to trust God without tangible reassurances?
Andrew (my 7 year old) and I were in the back yard the other day and he asked me to help him up into a tree. I placed him on a branch and watched him cautiously move up to a fork between three branches. He enjoyed the view for a while explaining to me the virtues of tree-house building and why it was essential for us to begin as soon as possible. After finishing his discourse he prepared to dismount. With wide eyes he jumped into my outstretched arms shouting "wow!" as I caught him.
I thought for a while about that scene later in the day. I asked myself how a typical adult would have handled the situation. Adults would have been much more reluctant to jump without first asking the person on the ground to gather up six or seven other people from the neighborhood and have them jump from the branch first. If most of them landed safely then they would consider jumping based on the logic of the numbers.
But friends, God does not work that way. A prime example is Abraham (vs. 8),
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
 The reason he did not know where he was going was because God did not tell him. The point in these two verses is that if we have to know the outcome before we act we are not people of faith. We are promised rewards for faithfulness, but we cannot see them. We are promised that God will supply all our needs, so we need not worry (Phil. 4:19). Do you trust God?
John Piper says that the power to risk is in the promise of God. Do you believe his promises? You can say you believe all you want, but unless you jump off the branch you are only fooling yourself.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Faith that Pleases God (part 1)

Hebrews 11:6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly see him.
 I used to think that the mere fact I wasn't an atheist qualified as pleasing to God. But an enormous amount of light opened my eyes when I placed emphasis this way: anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists.

There are many concepts of God in the world today. There are big differences between the way Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans and others portray God. But God is not pleased with false portraits. He is pleased only when we believe he exists the way he has revealed himself to us through the Scriptures.

I was a huge Michael Jordan fan in High School. If I were in a conversation with two people and one of them did not know who he is I would need to describe him to help his understanding. What if I described him as 5'11'' with curly hair, white skin, funny, a regular on Saturday Night Live, star of a couple of movies, etc? It stands to reason that the third person in our conversation would object to my description and say I was describing Will Farrel, the comedian actor. He would think I didn't know who MJ was at all.

The point is that if we want to make up our own idea of God then we cannot please God because God does not put up with false representations. Now, it is at this point we Christians can straighten up and say, yes, we have the proper understanding! But, many times I question the validity of that statement.

The Bible reveals a God who is present everywhere at the same time (Psalm 139). If we believe this how is it that we swear around some people, but not around pastors? Or when we watch certain movies with some people and not with others? Is not God present with us no matter whom we are with? For untold numbers of Christians, God lives at the church building and never comes out.

We say we believe in a God who is all wise (Romans 11:33). But do we consult that wisdom when we make decisions? Or, do we make decisions and then ask him to bless them after the fact?
God is pleased when we come to know him as he is, not as we want him to be. Let us pursue that understanding!
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.                                 -Paul, Missionary and Apostle, Philippians 3:8

Friday, November 20, 2009


Philippians 4:13
Last night my family gathered before bed and recited "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." We knew today would be a very busy day. I was reminded of that verse again as I was putting Peter in his car seat at seven o'clock this morning. I said to myself, yes, I need to apply that verse! I promptly rushed back inside to the kitchen and spilled coffee all over the counter. I got the message loud and clear. Though I had just finished saying the verse I am trying to teach my kids, I still wasn't applying it. What was my hurry? Did I not know that God will make sure that everything that needs to be done will get done? Isaiah said, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;" (Isaiah 40:31).

Are you strong? What do you do when you come to the end of your strength? The Bible tells us that self-reliance is a trap (Jeremiah 9:23). Paul came to understand this lesson well. God knew that it would be too tempting for him to rely on his own strength. So, God touched his body with an unknown infirmity to keep him from boasting about his own power.  Paul begged God to take it away, as I'm sure I would have done. But God's response to him acts as a flashing sign to us as well. He said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Let me be frank. God will not supply his strength to those who don't depend on it. The surest way to a fall is to use the word "I" too much--I did it, I will do it, I made it, I earned it, I deserve it and so on and so forth. Do you bask in the glory of a home run or a test score? Do you take a deep breath of self satisfaction at a big sale or your full balance sheet? Did you purchase your last car based on reliability or head-turnability?

Let us flip the coin for a minute before ending. All this is extremely encouraging for those who's pendulum swings in the opposite direction. Do you feel weak, lost or broken down? If you are at the end of your rope, you are at the point where God's strength can shine through most brightly. Be uplifted! "He gives strength for the weary and increases the power of the weak" (Isaiah 40:29).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trust the Process

Philippians 1:4-6
We live with the innate desire for measurable results. We get frustrated when we don't see hard work pay off right away. Students want a good grade on the test they studied hard for. We want our lawns to look green when we spend all afternoon spreading fertilizer. We want our children's fevers to go down when we give them Tylenol. We count down the number of payments remaining on that car that's past it's prime. We want problems fixed within a week at the latest and AAA has no right to take more than 30 minutes to fix our flats. I digress.

Could this be why it is so hard to develop Christlikeness as a Christian? Paul told the Philippians:
4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (NIV-italics mine)
 There are days when I wonder if I've grown at all in the past month, or year for that matter. I need to keep doing my part and trust the process. The more of my life I surrender, the more in my life he can render. Charts and tape measures can't gauge this kind of progress. But if you "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18) there will be fruit for your labor. So, stay on your knees and in the Word. Those who do never regret it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fresh Start

1 John 1:9
Wouldn't it be great if life had a do-over button? Mine would be worn out by now. What if you could only push it three times in your life--would you have used it yet?
We mess up. That's just the way life is. But when it comes to right living, God wants us to be rounding it up sin and kicking it out of our lives. Making a wrong turn while driving is not a sin, but road rage certainly qualifies (Colossians 3:8). Some of us have a hard time recognizing our sin, but the majority of us are quite aware of those uh oh moments.
What do you do when you mess up? How does that affect your relationship with God? Far too many people I've known have a hard time letting go of their sin. 1 John 1:9 tells us that confessed sin is always forgiven by God. Why is it then that we tend to refuse a fresh start? One of the chiefs among many reasons is that we project our own human limitations on God. We think, if someone did to me what I just did I'd never forgive them! Then we mistakenly attribute the same feeling to the one who sent Jesus to die for us when we were his enemies.
Do you need a fresh start this morning? Fresh coffee is good, but the forgiveness of God is better!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Romans 6

Anarchists have the illusion of freedom--no laws to govern us! We will govern ourselves. It is based on a notion that we are all really good people by nature and it is the oppression of laws that makes people do bad things. The Bible, simple observation and common sense speak out against such thinking. According to Romans, we are not good by nature but broken and unrighteous (3:10). This sinful nature enslaves us (6:17), keeps us bound and blinds us (2Cor 4:4). It gives us the illusion of freedom.
The best historical example of national anarchy we have is the French Revolution. It was a classic example of "every man doing what was right in his own eyes." The laws of the land were disregarded and what happened--utopia? I think not. Charles Kingsley explained the illusion this way:
There are two freedoms - the false, where a man is free to do what he likes; the true, where he is free to do what he ought. 
 This was precisely the point in Romans. The illusion of freedom that sin offers is a trap. Deep, penetrating claws grip the souls of those who are chained to sin. There is a sinister motive behind the illusion. True freedom is found by those who come to Christ. He sets the captives free. We become servants of righteousness (6:18) and there is no greater freedom. So rest easy in the service of Jesus. I like the way the poet Robert Frost put it: You have freedom when you are easy in your harness.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Beautiful Mystery

Romans 11:33
I love when my children ask me questions about God. One time it was, "Daddy, how does God hear all our prayers?" That's a fair question! The point is in the question, not the answer.

The questions of children-and of those with weakness in the mind-seem simple, and they are usually satisfied with simple answers. But, for those who dive deep there is a robust and profound character to the faith that will occupy the mind indefinitely. Why is this so? The answer is in the infinite nature of God. Paul sat back in wonder after pondering God's grand story in Romans. He exclaimed,
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
One of my favorite songs by Caedmon's Call is entitled "Beautiful Mystery."
It compares this theme to water, which is simple and complex. You can feel it and see it, but you cannot grasp it. It flows through your fingers just like God does. I for one am glad that God is vast and mysterious yet loving to the smallest of children. Remember, God comprehended fully cannot be God at all.

So come ask, wonder, and ponder the unsearchable. Dive deep and embrace the mystery. You need not fear hitting your head at the bottom of his divine riches, wisdom, knowledge and paths.

To listen to "Beautiful Mystery" click this link and select track number 7.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Too Complicated

Psalm 119:11

There is a tendency to make things more difficult than they really are. Take understanding a subject for example. If you really know a subject you can explain it in terms people can understand. But, we often use words others don't understand simply to make others think we're smart.* This sinister little aspect of human nature does much damage to the faith. 

Think about this: the Psalmist said, "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."
Could it really be that simple? Aren't there lots of lists, and expectations and hocus pocus that make you a good person? Not really.
Try taking a verse, like 1 Peter 5:7 "Cast all your cares upon him for he cares for you." Put it on a 3x5 card and take a week to hide it in your heart. If you have lost the sharp edge to your memory, try a verse every two weeks or a verse a month. Set a goal and see what gradually happens.
Simple things can make a big difference.

*Note: Big words are not bad. Neither are deep concepts. Many things are simple and complex at the same time. I'll write about that on Monday. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Anything to Belong

Matthew 23:5 and Genesis 25:29-34
I was thinking back to my Jr. High days this morning and was overwhelmed with some of the feelings I had back then. There were fears, rejections, joys, hormonal changes, different schools, zits, etc. But I cannot think of anything that trumped the need for acceptance. I would have given anything to be liked by the other students who were doing anything to be liked themselves.
I used to scoff at a story in the Bible about a man who sold his inheritance for a bowl of soup (Genesis 25:29-34). How sort-sighted of him! Who could possibly be that hungry, or impulsive for that matter? Answer: a Jr. High student taking a joint from an acquaintance.
As an adult I am tempted to look at these things from an adult perspective and I forget how easy it is to get sucked in to all kinds of things for the sake of acceptance. I say things like, I would never smoke a joint! And I bet many Jr. Highers who smoke them now said similar things a year ago. When that acquaintance hands them marijuana they are handing them acceptance, and for far too many a foggy brain or addiction is a small price to pay for friends. Does not teen sexuality work the same way--especially with girls?
The uncomfortable question for us adults is how far have we come from that need for acceptance? Honestly, how often do we do the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do? I wonder what percentage of our deeds are done to impress "good" people who in turn are trying to impress other people with their good deeds? If Sr. High boys can try to impress each other by exaggerating their sexual prowess cannot I fall prey to the same temptation only for goodness?
Jesus said of the religious leaders he knew, "Everything the do is done for men to see." (Matthew 23:5a) May that not be true of you and me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Look

Hi Everyone,
I was encouraged to hear that I have some regular readers. I plan to post tomorrow. I spent all my writing time the last two days editing the layout. I like it and I think you will too.

God bless,


Monday, November 09, 2009

Is Faith a Crutch?

Philippians 4:13

Skeptics argue that religion is for the weak--a crutch to prop up the sick and feeble-minded. My response to them may surprise you. I agree with them.

In my experience, those who are agnostics and humanists have a "can do" attitude about life. They say things like what Paul Kurtz says in the Humanist Manifesto II, "No deity will save us. We must save ourselves." That sounds noble and responsible to many people. Christians believe in personal responsibility too. The difference is, we believe that human nature is marred and in need of an overhaul. Take a look around, or take a look inside. At any given moment we can alternate between blessing others and cursing others.  In this way we are all weak.

So, when a very capable man like the Apostle Paul declares that "[he] can do all things through the strength of Christ," I know what he's talking about. Human nature is not something we can overcome ourselves.  It would be wonderful if when we became believers God eradicated the human nature in us. But, he instead chose to plant a new nature within us. It resides side-by-side with the old nature and there is a battle for the control of each of our wills. This is why we see such varying degrees of goodness in Christians. Some have let the human nature override the new nature.

Contentment, righteousness, faithfulness, peace, joy, patience, goodness, and kindness are products of God's work in a life.  If you find yourself frustrated by a lack of personal development, don't get angry. Take it to God. Work hard at relying on the strength he alone can provide. He can do in you what you are too weak to do.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Out of the Depths

Psalm 130:1-6

Often the best course of action is to let the Scriptures speak for themselves. The author is unknown, but the subject is universal. Even though we are sinners and make big messes for ourselves, the Lord hears us cry out of the depths.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
O LORD, hear my voice,
Let your ears be attentive
To my cry for mercy.

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgivenss;
Therefore you are feared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits
And in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than watchmen wait for the morning.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Passing the Pen

Matthew 19:26

Do you remember when you were very young and the sky was the limit? You were free to dream big dreams and discouragement was rare? What is the current state of your hopes and dreams? Somewhere along the continuum of life we start to see things differently. Life experiences temper our enthusiasm and our expectations lower to safeguard us against the pain of disappointment.

I like to think of our lives being chapter books. We take up our pens each day and write. The opening chapters are full of imagination. We look forward to the slaying of dragons and turning the world right side up again. But as we move past the prologue and into the middle of the story we shift from doing the impossible to coping with reality. We aim low to avoid being disappointed with mediocrity.

I propose a solution that may cause some fear at first, like standing at the edge of a precipice. Why not give the pen to "the Author of life"? (Acts 3:15) God is at work all around us and has plans to prosper us (Jer. 29:11), he has good works for us (Eph. 2:10), and rewards for faithfulness (Phil. 3:14). Anyone who has handed the pen to the one who designed us can tell you that impossibilities and dreams start looking more like possibilities and realities. Jesus said, "with God all things are possible."

So, how tight is your grip on the pen?  Hand it over and start dreaming again.

Monday, November 02, 2009

New Every Morning

Lamentations 3:22-23

It has been said that regret is insight that comes a day too late. I've wanted to hit rewind on my share of blunders but since humanity has not yet unlocked the ability to change the past I'll look for a more realistic option. You can find all kinds of advice about regrets from philosophers, actors, politicians, etc. They range from embracing them and meditating on them till you learn to acquire a taste for them (Thoreau), to that guy who jumped off the bridge on the Simpsons screaming in defiance, "I regret nothing!"

Thankfully, we can turn to the Bible for some sanity. It includes a wonderful truth tucked away in the little book of Lamentations.
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (ESV)
 The answer to regrets cannot be to deny we've done wrong things, nor can it be to dwell on them indefinitely. The answer must be to allow our failings to keep us humble while remembering the steadfast love of the Lord. There is a freshness to each day, new opportunities to do good and to avoid evil. We cannot erase the past, but we must learn to leave our mistakes where they belong--in the past.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sticking with It

Galatians 6:9

We've all heard that nice guys finish last and some of us hear Billy Joel's voice when we read "only the good die young." Let's face it, doing the right thing doesn't always seem like it works out as advertised. There is such a strong current flowing away from faith today that it can be an exhausting swim toward the things of God. Not only so, but the good we do on the behalf of others can seem like a waste of time when we measure the results.

If you've ever thought, I didn't realize it would be this hard, or, I can't seem to get victory over the sin in my life, then you may have thought of giving up. Don't give up! Giving up is giving in and giving in is playing into the hands of the Evil One (1 Peter 5:8).

I was greatly encouraged by a card I found on my dresser this morning. It had this verse written in blue:
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at just the right time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)
 God calls us to do good. Though people's hearts remain cold, or good deeds go unappreciated, or sin gets us down--don't give in! Believe this promise: God always rewards faithfulness. Sometimes it happens when we least expect it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Generous Farmer

Luke 20: 9-16

When we demand from God we rob him of the joy of generosity. This idea threads its way through a parable Jesus taught. The story is about a farmer who hired out his land to workers and left on a journey that kept him away all summer. At harvest time he sent someone to collect some of the fruit, but the workers refused. Three times the farmer patiently asked to no avail. In a last ditch effort he sent his son hoping the workers would respect him, but they took him out and killed him in a hostile take-over scheme.

The problem here is entitlement. Like the workers, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking that God owes us. When we have spent time and effort we expect payment. That's the way we are. But we must not forget that it is never God who owes us but rather we who owe him. The hymn writer Isaac Watts expressed it this way:
But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away—
’Tis all that I can do!
But let us not forget the generosity of God. He loves to bless his children (Matthew 7:11). In fact, he gave us the greatest gift ever given when he gave us his son Jesus. Such a gift can never be deserved. So, let us remember to be grateful. When we stop trying to put God in our debt we restore to him the joy of generosity.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Four Maples

Colossians 1:16
I just finished identifying trees for a project my daughter Anna has for science class. We now know there are four different types of maple trees within a couple hundred yards of our house. There are Silver Maples by Mrs. Carter's, a Red Maple at the park, Norway Maples dying in the grove and a Sugar Maple into which I'd love to pound a tap for syrup! There are many more varieties of these wonderful trees in New Jersey, but these were enough to get me thinking about our Creator.

The Bible says, "For by [Jesus] all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him." (NIV)

We, like the maples, are all God's creation. We have worth and dignity because we were made by him. So think about this the next time someone puts you down. Kids in school can be cruel, but their mocking tones are thinly veiled cries of insecurity.  Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered why you can't look more glamorous or hide new wrinkles? Do you know that you are beautiful in God's eyes?

Men thrive on productivity and affirmation. We tend to buy the lie that our worth is bound to our successes and failures. God doesn't think so. He created you and he loves his creation.

So, next time you look at a maple leaf (or anything wonderful that catches your eye in nature) remember your Creator (Ecc. 12:1) and be encouraged. If he cares enough to make so many varieties you can be sure he cares about you!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thanks for the Rain

1 Thessalonians 5:18
It's raining here in Whiting, NJ and it won't reach sixty degrees today. My back is stiff and the coffee isn't knocking the sleepiness out of me as fast as I'd like. I'm trying to get myself in a good state of mind to face the day.

Some people let just about any adversity get them down. Others seem to roll with whatever comes their way. I want to be like some of the seven year old boys on my soccer team who think rainy games are just as good as sunny ones.

The Bible tells us to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thess. 5:18) and rainy days make application difficult for some of us. But rainy days seem mild compared with the bigger problems in life. We suffer from illnesses, family problems, flat tires when we're late for work, etc. and sometimes we just want to be miserable. But, the point Paul makes is not that life is always fun, or we should run around shouting for joy in the streets when our house goes into foreclosure, he is merely stating that no matter what we are going through-- no matter how hard it gets--there are always things to thank God for. In fact, there are things we would never think to be thankful for if not for the trials of life. For example, it is the rain outside my window that makes me thankful for  the warmth and dryness that comes with a roof over my head.