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.