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.