Saturday, November 22, 2008

Off we go into the wild blue yonder

Off we go into the wild blue yonder.
Climbing high into the sun;
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder,
At 'em boys, Give 'er the gun! (Give 'er the gun now!)
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
Off with one heckuva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!

I heard that song more than once over the last few days. As I write this I am in San Antonio, TX for my son-in-law's graduation from Air Force Basic Military Training. We heard it Thursday at a family briefing and again at the Coin Ceremony. We heard it Friday at Graduation. We heard it again today playing in the background in one of the buildings that we were walking through.

It is a great song. It is encouraging and awe inspiring. And I have been thinking a lot about the lyrics. Especially the first two lines of the song. And if you will allow me to slightly rewrite the second line by changing the spelling of "sun" to "Son", I find myself thinking about the day when we will be caught up to meet our Savior in the air.

What a day that will be. When my Jesus, I shall see.

Hey wait a minute. That's another lyric. I will post about that some other day.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Family . . .

I have had a few thoughts rattling around inside my head for a while relating to family. I guess that is somewhat thematic for me lately.

My thinking and ponderings about "family" all started a few weeks ago when my daughter got married. It was great day. It was a great day in spite of the fact that Mom and Dad couldn't make it for the wedding. It was a great day in spite of the fact that we were all still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ike. It was great day in spite of many other little things that could have caused the day to be a flop.

And in the end, it was "family" that made the day.

But wait a minute. Didn't I just say that some family couldn't make it to the wedding?

Yes, that is what I said. Perhaps you, like I did up until that time, also have too narrow of a definition of family. As that wedding day approached and in the days following, I got a whole new and expanded definition of family.

  • Family = My brother and his wife coming all the way from Michigan to perform the wedding.
  • Family = One of my oldest and dearest friends driving all night long from Ohio with his wife to perform the wedding with my brother.
  • Family = A very dear family friend from our old church stepping up and offering to be the wedding coordinator when she has a plate that is way too full already.
  • Family = A group of college kids, that probably couldn't afford it, flying down from Ohio and working like slaves to decorate the church and then help clean up while the bride and groom slipped away for the honey moon.
  • Family = A guy that I used to work with that called me out of the blue and offered me his generator free of charge after his electricity was restored.
  • Family = A guy that I have known for the past 7 years who left from the emergency room where his son was receiving treatment from an injury that morning that occurred while handing out ice and water to those in need.
  • Family = Our church friends that came out and celebrated the wedding ceremony with us when they didn't even really know the bride and groom.
So, what is your definition of "family"?

I bet it could probably be defined a lot like Jesus defined "neighbor" in the famous parable known as The Good Samaritan.

My definition of family has expanded since the events leading up to and following the wedding. God is helping me to come to grips with family as it relates to the family of God that is the Church.

I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God.
I've been washed in the fountain.
Cleansed by His blood.
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod.
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God.
Words and Music by William J. Gaither

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Wedding to Remember

You always want your daughter to have a wedding that she will remember for a lifetime. Well we certainly got that the weekend of September 20th when our daughter Libby married her fiance Taylor.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with where we live, I will tell you that we live in the path that the eye of Hurricane Ike's passed over recently. Hurricane Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast four weeks ago. The eye of the hurricane passed directly over our neighborhood early Saturday morning the 13th of September. This map shows the path that the eye of the storm.

We lost electricity the evening of the 12th of September and did not receive it again until the afternoon of the 23rd. Did I mention that the wedding was on the 20th?

As we awoke on the morning of the wedding, this was the situation relative to electricity in our zip code.
But the story of this wedding deserves to be told. And it is a story of beauty, grace, priorities, and love.

It is a story of the beauty of the bride (and her mother).

It is the story of the pride of a big brother for his little sister.
It is the story of the love a groom for his bride as he saw her for the first time that day.
It is a story of the grace of those who felt the pressure of planning a wedding under these weather conditions.

It is a story of the priorities that became clear when it became obvious that everything would not be as we had planned it.

And yes, it is a story of the love of a bride and groom for each other, a father and mother for their daughter, a brother for his sister, friends and family's love for one another. But even more importantly, it is about the love of a Heavenly Father who provided for a memorable day.

My prayer for this young couple is that they would get to experience God's love in such a real and dramatic way that it will make their marriage into the most sacred and blessed relationship that we can have. And I pray that they would be a beacon of encouragement to others and a shining example of what a christian marriage is all about.


My family expanded on September 20th. At noon on that day my daughter married her sweetheart. And when she did, our family grew by one as her husband forever became a part of our family. My daughter took his name. But we took him into our hearts and lives.

Taylor, welcome to the family. We love you and we are happy to have you as part of our family.

“Family” is a topic that I am coming to have a greater appreciation for.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Last Word on Life

We all live with some kind of hope. We hope it won‘t be too hot today. We hope we will get a raise. We hope our candidate will win the election this fall. We hope to shoot par on at least one hole. But what is hope? The Bible tells us that it is more than just wishful thinking. It is “he assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen“ according to Hebrews 11:1. When the Bible talks about the “hope of heaven,” it isn't talking about hoping we get into heaven, but rather the hope that comes for the reality of heaven.

Do you live with calm assurance that God will do what He says He will do? Maybe you feel that God has let you down in the past. Maybe you have been hurt by folks in your relationships or in business. Everyone that you thought you could count on has let you down. That is the way it seems sometimes. And in fact that may be your experience.

At a time of such uncertainty in the world, people are looking for something or someone to believe in. They want to feel secure, but then the stock market plummets and gas goes to more than $4.00 per gallon. People just want to be happy, but happiness seems so dependent upon our circumstances. They want to be independent, but then they realize that they do not have the resources for today and tomorrow. They want to trust, but their own feelings betray them. Self-help books and prosperity teachers are a dime a dozen.

Why did God make it possible for us to spend eternity in heaven? Was it because of our goodness? Or was it because of His mercy and His grace?

Well, if it is because of His mercy and grace, and He is never changing and never failing, then we can have hope for today and for tomorrow.

“Living hope“ means that it isn‘t something that we store away for the future. It is alive. The hope that we have empowers us to live today the way that God intended us to live it -- in holiness. What we hope for won‘t fade away, rust, or shrink in significance because it is “incorruptible and undefiled.”

The Apostle Peter went on to explain further that our faith is secured not by us, but by almighty God. When we experience true salvation and turn to Christ in repentance, we have a place prepared for us in heaven. John 14: 2 and 3 are fairly clear. No one, not even Satan himself, can take it away from us.

Now this doesn't mean that life will be easy or without trials. Peter acknowledged this but still assured his readers that the opportunity to spend eternity in heaven is worth whatever the struggles are here on earth.

Have you ever camped outside a store in order to be there when the doors opened in order to get the big sale item? Have you ever stood in line for the chance to buy concert or playoff tickets? I remember getting up before dawn once to be in line to get one of the first Teddy Ruxpin animated talking bears. (Some of you are too old to have had one and too young to remember buying them for your children!)

We get so mixed up in our priorities. We make important the things that are so fleeting. And we minimize the things that have eternal implications. We go to a lot of trouble for what pleases us for a moment. But we ignore the things that will provide peace for today and a hope for tomorrow. We live in the present and yet we are created for eternity.

Jesus has been to Bethlehem, wearing barn rags and hearing sheep bleating and cows chewing. He took His first sips of milk shivering at the feet of animals. God had come to earth in the form of a helpless baby. Countless who face the chill of empty pockets, face the fear of uncertainty or face the tragedies of everyday life turn to Jesus Christ. Why?

Because He has been there.

He has been to Nazareth where he toiled in the hot sun of Palestine; to Galilee where He recruited some who would turn and run when He needed them most; to Jerusalem where He was assaulted by the religious leaders of the day and was ultimately put to death on a cruel Roman cross.

You and I have our Nazareth, Galilee, and Jerusalem. So why turn to Jesus? Because He‘s been there!

And He‘s been somewhere you and I have not been yet. He has been to the grave. Not as a visitor. He was a resident for a time. But death and the grave could not hold Him.

So, in this walk of faith, in whom do you put your faith and in whom do hope? Why not place your trust in the One who has been there before you and who has gone before you to prepare a place for you in heaven?

Just a thought . . .

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Place MUCH Better than My Last Post

Heaven -- The mention of the word probably brings as many images to our mind as last weeks topic, hell. Again, pop culture may have influenced us more regarding heaven than the Bible.

Maybe you don’t even think much about heaven. Maybe you are busy enough in your everyday life with your countless activities such that you don’t feel you have time to even contemplate heaven. However, the thought of spending eternity in heaven can bring peace in the midst of despair and in the tumult of life. But heaven isn’t about us wearing white robes, sitting on a little cloud and playing a little harp. In fact, it isn’t about us at all! It is about spending eternity in His presence.

Have you ever thought about living in a perfect world? Think about that for a little bit. There would be no need to lock your doors. You wouldn‘t need central air or heat. Doctors would be unnecessary as would lawyers. The list of things that would be different is long. For me, I would be 6' 2", thin and the best bass singer gospel music has ever known!

The truth is that you and I can live in a perfect world. Just not today. But there is coming a day when that will be possible. No matter how bad life gets today, we can look forward to a place of eternal perfection - heaven.

Look at our study passage in Revelation 21:1-26. John was given a glimpse of what no man had seen before and no one has seen since. The entire book of Revelation draws a picture of what the end times will look like and tells us about life beyond this earthly journey. The descriptions are the best that John could come up with. He saw the unbelievable and indescribable. And he tried to describe it to both Christians and non-Christians.

Not an easy job! Especially considering the task of trying to describe the indescribable using earthly words and images.

In the 21st chapter of Revelation, John begins by pointing out that the “first earth had passed away.” Staying on this planet doesn‘t seem to be an option, does it? It looks like we will relocate somewhere for eternity. And John saw a new location for those who are forgiven and are in a right relationship with Jesus Christ. He saw a new city in which God and man will live together in peace similarly to the way they did once before in the Garden of Eden.

Those who fail to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and choose Heaven will, by default, choose eternity in the “lake of fire.” But choosing Jesus Christ and Heaven is much more than getting a free pass or “fire insurance”. It is all about allowing God and His Holy Spirit to live in us and through us until that time that we reach the end of our earthly journey. It is an abundant life now and an unbelievable life after that.

John goes on to say that there will not even be a temple in heaven. Imagine that. God's own Heaven and it doesn't have a temple.

How about this as a concept. . . . Heaven, by definition, will be a place of worship! After all, that‘s what worship is. It is a natural response to being in God‘s presence. And we will be in His presence always and forever. There will be nothing to distract us from worship and from praising Him and celebrating being in His presence.

Go back and read Genesis 1. In the beginning, God designed a place where everything was good and perfect. But man messed it up by his sin and his disobedience. man chose to believe the serpent instead of the Creator who walked with him in the cool of the evening.

Since that time, we have tried to redefine good. We have equated good with big houses, fast cars and high-powered jobs. We have lowered the standard of goodness so that we can experience things that we believe to be good. But good isn‘t good unless it is Godly.

When the things we define as good can be made better, we have missed God’s concept of good. For God, good was the supreme expression of His creation. He looked at Adam and Eve and He said that it was good. God had no better. When God declared that that creation was good, He didn’t mean that it was good enough until something better came along. It was perfect and that is just what heaven will be like.

Do you want to spend eternity in the place that God calls good?

If so, then you can. Simply confess your sins and ask God to forgive you. If you have done that, then ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to indwell you and empower you to live a life of what Wesley called, “Christian perfection.” And allow the Holy Spirit to work in you to bring about a life worthy of heaven and a life that is pleasing to God and that will allow you to anticipate heaven and anticipate being in God’s presence with absolute peace.

This is the abundant life that God offers. Would you like a life like that?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

H - E - Double hockey sticks

I've been told to go there. People make jokes about it. It has been depicted many different ways in film or on TV. Some folks have chosen to just ignore it. Some would tell you that it doesn't even really exist.

What is it?


And many times we never even give it a second thought until Halloween rolls around. But even then, we make light of it.

So why do we try to make light of it or minimize it? It just might be because if we dare to acknowledge that it exists, then we have to deal with some criteria for getting in to it or staying out of it. And if we seriously consider that criteria we may find we are more “qualified” or closer to the admission criteria for hell than for heaven!

For some folks, salvation is little more than “fire insurance.” They bought it one night at a revival or at the conclusion of a scary “turn or burn” sermon. Maybe it was purchased one night at teen camp when they showed one of those scary end-times movies that they inevitably showed us.

Some folks even say that they might prefer hell over heaven because that’s where their friends will be. So let’s be clear about this. Hell is not a place for companionship. Heaven is not the Ritz Carlton and hell is just the Motel 6! Hell will be experienced in agony and alone. In fact, it is eternal separation from God and everyone else in heaven. It is eternal punishment with fire. There will be absolutely no respite from the torment.

Read Matthew 7:13-23. Entering the city through the narrow gate meant leaving all of your possessions outside. It is interesting that Jesus compared salvation in that way. Imagine walking up to the entrance: In your backpack are all of your possessions and all the good things that you have done. Maybe you have your checkbook in there and your laptop. Behind yourself you are pulling a big suitcase with all the trophies of your accomplishments. Inside are your diplomas and the souvenirs of your great worldly accomplishments. Only one problem, the gate is too narrow for both you and the baggage to pass through. You either stay outside with your “stuff” or you put them down and enter alone. The cool thing is that once you get inside, you come to realize that all the stuff that you thought was valuable is now behind you and you are left to stand in awe before God on your own. All the stuff that you accumulated and accomplished is now insignificant. And you are left with nothing but your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Heaven and hell are real. Your choices in this life have eternal implications. You can “want to go to heaven” all you want to, but if you don’t have a right relationship with God it will never happen. And a relationship with God requires some things from you relative to your sin, relative to His will and relative to our obedience to His commands. And God operates on a completely different value system than you and I do prior to becoming a Christian.

Whenever we are operating on a different value system than God, we are living in disobedience to God. In other words, we are holding on to that backpack while trying to squeeze through the narrow gate. We are like Winnie the Pooh in the popular children‘s book -- we are unable to get through the opening.

And false spirituality is no spirituality at all. Read Matthew 7:15-20. Real faith is revealed in changed lives. When we are living for God, we say Godly things and think Godly thoughts. We do the things that are important to God. Jesus warned people to steer clear of folks whose faith doesn't call for or produce a changed life.

Hell is very real. It is not just a sub-standard eternal resting place. The Bible says that it is a place of eternal agony for those who have refused God's love and His offer of forgiveness. In our focus verse for this summer, John 3:16, the idea “perish” is equated with eternal torment and punishment. Those are the two choices: eternity in heaven or eternity in hell. Either way it is eternity.

How will you face death? Will you face it with joy and anticipation? As the Apostle Paul said, “For me to die is gain . . .” Or is death something that you dread? Now I am not looking for folks to be anxious to die. God has placed us here for a time and for a reason. Esther in the Old Testament stated it best when she proclaimed that she was here “for such a time as this” as she found herself in the royal court and in a place of great influence.

For many of us, there are many years to come ahead. And God expects us to live it for Him and with great enthusiasm He expects us to do all that we can to take as many folks on to heaven with us as we can. Yet, when our life here on earth is over, we will face eternity based upon the choice that we made while we were alive. The good news is that you can have peace here and now. And you can face the future with peace and assurance that you will spend eternity at the feet of Jesus. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

In His grip -- And oh that smell . . .

I hated Saturday mornings when I was very young. That was the morning my mom went to the beauty shop and dragged me along. And I will never forget the smell of a beauty shop. It was the smell of women getting permanents.

Getting a permanent (a.k.a. “perm“) done to your hair might be one of the strangest concepts ever -- after all, if it‘s “permanent“ why does it have to be redone every three to six months? One comedian has even asked the question - Shouldn’t it be renamed a “temporary“?

This temporary nature of permanence spills over into theology and doctrine today. Some people have applied it to their spiritual lives, wandering if God might change His mind. Some have wandered away from God or they have wriggled loose from His grip, applying that temporary / permanence to their commitment to God.

Jesus says that eternal life is something that He gives to us; it isn‘t something that we have earned or deserved. Jesus did for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves. The legalistic faith of first-century Judaism had become cumbersome and confusing. They spent more times counting the steps someone took on the Sabbath than they did counting the cost of Christ and His death on the cross or the cost of discipleship. And today‘s “theology“ as seen by perusing the bookshelves at your favorite bookstore is equally confusing. One book tells you your problem is your diet. Another tells you it is your past experiences, and yet another tells you it is the lack of positive thinking. A better you is just around the corner.

Now throw into the mix the simple concept of salvation as a function of God‘s grace and some people get really confused. Solutions to major problems usually require a summit meeting by the world's leaders or at least a committee or telethon, right?

Read John 10:22-30. We live in a culture where nothing is permanent. Everything we believe to be permanent is really hanging by a thread, so it seems. It is easy to see how people might apply worldly reasoning to spiritual conditions and have that push us to one side or another theologically. With marriages disintegrating and the collapse of the family unit it is hard to believe that God‘s love is eternal. The tenuous nature of our jobs makes it hard for us to believe that God won‘t discard us in the same way our employers do.

The key is this -- salvation‘s permanence isn‘t based on my ability to keep it, but on God‘s ability to sustain it. When I doubt my salvation, then I am expressing doubt of God‘s ability and desire to preserve our relationship. And when I return to my old sinful ways, the Bible clearly states that I “fall away“ as in Luke 8:11-15 and Hebrews 6:4-6. And the result of that is that we deny His power to forgive us and cleanse from unrighteousness.

Now that doesn’t mean that we won’t have spiritual highs and lows. Some days are better than others. Some days we sense His presence more than others. But this I know for sure -- If I feel distant from God, it is me that has moved away, not God!

Jesus pointed out the problem. Take a look at verse 26 of John 10. It points out one reason that I would doubt God’s ability to save me and keep me -- I am not one of His sheep. These are harsh words, but they speak more to patterns of sin than moments of doubt. It is one thing to acknowledge Jesus’s existence; it is another thing altogether to put your faith in Him and move forward in obedience as He draws us deeper and deeper into a relationship with Him.

Read Colossians 2:6-10. Receiving and believing are companion concepts. When writing to the Colossians, Paul referred to believing as “walking.” The idea is that faith is intertwined with action. Action reaffirms faith. Reaffirmed faith spills over into action. This is the idea expressed as being “established in the faith.” It is the same as being rooted or firmly planted. Your daily walk reveals the strength of your faith.

If a casual observer followed you around for a day, would your actions reveal a dynamic, growing faith in God or would that person be convinced that God lacks the power to hold on to your life?

Look at that -- we are the ones not walking in faith and yet God will get the blame for it from that casual observer.

Oh Lord, may it never be in my life. May I not crucify you again.

Believing and Receiving -- Presto Change-o

Belief. Now, there is a word that we use with relative ease but we exercise with caution. True belief will be followed by some kind of action related to that belief. You can say that you believe a boat can safely transport you from shore to shore, but your belief is merely speculation until you actually step foot on the boat. In much the same way, believing and receiving are cause and effect statements.

For instance, we believe the Texans will have a great season. We believe our jobs are secure. We believe that gas will eventually go down in price. We believe that this year will be better than last year. But sometimes the things we believe are little more than hopes based on wishful thinking. There is a line between wishes and beliefs. Wishes are based on desires; beliefs are based on facts.

Is your place in Heaven something you hope for or something that you know to be a fact?

Read 1 John 1:1-10. John’s letter wasn’t based on wishful thinking; it was based on his personal experiences with Jesus. This was John the disciple -- the very same John who wrote the Gospel of John and was one of the closest companions of Jesus Christ.

Modern history books tell us stories of people we’ve never met and we can’t really prove ever existed. Our money memorializes individuals that we accept to be factually accurate based upon the testimony of generations. Few doubt the leadership of George Washington, the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, or the courage of Abraham Lincoln. Yet no one who is alive today has ever encountered one of these men in the flesh. We simply accept their existence because history tells us they lived and we can see their fingerprints of their accomplishments in our world today.

So, why don’t people believe that Jesus existed when the Biblical and extra-biblical testimonies offer the same proof as that of the historical figures from our nation’s history? The sad fact is that they don’t want to believe. If you want to believe in Jesus, there is ample evidence to support your belief. However, if you want to ignore Jesus, you can certainly find articulate arguments to support your lack of faith. It really comes down to a question of your whether or not you want to believe.

In 1 John 1:6, John draws a line in the sand. The claim of discipleship must be supported in action. That must have been a problem in the first century; I think you will agree that it still is a problem today. Walking in darkness can be explained forever as not “living what we claim” as it says in The Message. But, what does this mean in everyday life? It means not making spending time with God a priority. In means greedily holding on to what rightfully belongs to God. It means seeking our own pleasure rather than seeking to serve God. It means living for our own purposes and pleasure rather than for God’s purposes and pleasure.

Think of it this way. If you hang out around a car lot, you don’t become a car. Likewise, if you hang out around believers, you don’t become a believer (although it certainly helps!) Becoming a believer is an act of your will. You become a believer when you take Jesus at His word, seek His forgiveness, turn from sin in true repentance, accept His control over your daily life and act in obedience to His will.

In 1 John 1:9, we see the formula for establishing a right relationship with God. Confess your sins. Confession is an acknowledgement. It is a formal agreement with God about our state or condition. We can confess only when we stop making excuses for what we do. We must see ourselves from God’s perspective. Once we see our lives from His perspective, it is inevitable that we will be broken and disappointed in ourselves. We will then seek God’s forgiveness and He will forgive us. His Word says so. Read the end of 1 John 1:9 again. The verses say that He will “purify us from all unrighteousness.” Then, and only then, will we be ready, or able, to have the kind of life that God intended for us to have.

Are you living proof of God’s love and forgiveness or are you trapped in your sin? Real belief is followed by real change. And when it comes to God, rest assured, it is you and I who are required to change. We are not the person that we once were. At least we are not supposed to be!

Heaven's "Whoever" Policy

Whoever in the Bible is a pretty all-inclusive term. In other words, no one has to be left out. The worst sinner, the vilest offender, the most despicable character, and the most hard-hearted person are all included in the potentiality wrapped up in that whoever statement. I am also included in the whoever statements. The next time you are reading the Bible, substitute your name for the word whoever.

Some folks find it hard to believe that they are desirable to God.


They obviously recognize God‘s holiness and they can see their own personal depravity. They see the great gulf that separates them from God and they see no way to cross from the depraved side to the Godly side.

Been there!

For many, it is easy to recognize our need for God, but often difficult to comprehend God‘s desire for a relationship with us. We can‘t add anything to God that He doesn't already have or that He needs. So, why does God desire to have a relationship with us and why did He allow His Son to be sacrificed so that the relationship could be made possible? It‘s because of His love for his creation. Remember the theme of all of this? - - - "For God SO LOVED the world . . . "

God’s "Whoever Policy" includes you and me and everyone else on planet Earth. And as Christians, it is our responsibility to:
  • point people to God’s love and,
  • not stand in the way of them seeing God’s love.

So, here is a question for you to consider:

Is it easier for you to point people to God’s love or to control your actions and attitudes so that you don’t become a stumbling block to others?

The very reason many people out there in the world fail to accept God‘s offer of salvation is because of their encounters with people who are “Christians.” How often has someone told you about those hypocrites in the church? If that is how they view Christians, do you really blame them for not wanting to be one? I don't!

One final question to consider:

When people encounter you, are they encouraged or disgusted? Are you a good advertisement for God’s “whoever” policy?

Lord, help me to be a good example of what it is to be a Christian.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Been very busy lately . . .

. . . and haven't blogged as much as I wanted to lately.

I have been on vacation. And I have been travelling for business purposes. But, I plan to get caught up this week-end. I plan to cut and paste some from my other blog that I am using to augment my Sunday School teaching.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Buy the heart, get the new life for free!

“For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly”

Mark 7:21-22

Jesus understands why we are so messed up without Him. It is a heart problem. Just look at the problems Jesus connected to the heart. Heart problems are the symptom of a need for heart holiness. God wants to deal with our actions (sins) and our attitudes (sinful nature). This is the reason Jesus Christ sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. He sent the Holy Spirit to perform the kind of heart surger that only the Divine Physician can perform.

Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. We normally evaluate people against a human standard. We grade intelligence, appearance, and success as better or worse than another person. In verse 16, Paul suggested that being in a relationship with Jesus Christ changes the criteria by which we evaluate people. The new criteria is Jesus Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

We get it way wrong when we say that we invited Jesus Christ into our lives. This suggests that He took up residence in the area that we assigned Him. That sounds like we are some cosmic innkeeper or run a boarding house. We think we can just let him move in to the empty room to the left at the top of the stairs.

That isn’t real salvation! We don’t invite Jesus into our lives; He invites us into His life. When we understand this little difference, we are ready to experience a radical change of heart and life.

When we enter into this kind of relationship with God where He is not just a resident, but the owner, we must leave behind the things that are contrary to His nature. Verse 18 says that “now all things are of God.”

Romans 3:23 reminds us that this sin problem is universal and plagues us all. That may seem like bad news, but it sets the stage for a remarkable truth. There is also Romans 6:22 and 23. Most of us know verse 23, but we may not be as famiar with verse 22 and it's context.

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:22-23

The good news is that God can empower us to live a life that is worthy of the calling in our lives. God, through the Holy Spirit, can live that life through us, if we allow Him to inhabit every area of our life. Rather than claim Christ as a resident of our compartmentalized life, let's turn over the entirety of our lives to Him. Only when we totally surrender to God will we be prepared to experience life the way God wants it to be -- holy, full, abundant, rewarding.

And here is the good news. The heart transplant includes a complete “life overhaul” at no extra charge. Jesus Christ took our sin on Himself so that we can stand before God without fear of eternity in hell. But salvation is more than “fire insurance” as is taught by many churches; it is the only way to experience the life of holiness.

Are you living life with a new heart? Are you living a life of holiness? If so, you can testify about God's power to change a person‘s life. If not, you have yet to accept Jesus‘s invitation to live out His plan and purpose for our lives. You are not yet “in Christ.” But you can be!

This is not some goofy game show where you try to guess the answer and hope you are not wrong. If you are right you get a new washer and drier. And if you are wrong, no big deal. You just don‘t get the new washer and drier. This has eternal implications. It also will impact how you live out this life right now.

Test drive a new heart. And try out that new life that comes along with it!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

One, Exclusive, and Unique -- Jesus!

In teaching Sunday School this morning I spent a lot of time “building the front porch” and didn't get to spend as much time “building the house” as I wanted to. So, I'll build a little on the main house now.

If you are not familiar with John 14:1-14, go back and re-read it.

Why were the disciples troubled?

Something was up and they could just sense it. There was tension in the air. Their lives were about to be turned upside down and they couldn‘t yet comprehend it. We have felt that way before, right?

Jesus was trying to explain things to them by trying to help them see the big picture. If Jesus were successful at that, then His disciples would be better equipped to face the days that were just ahead.

He was also trying to provide a measure of comfort to them. Jesus promised to go and prepare a place for those who follow Him. The most encouraging promise here is that those who do trust Him and follow Him will spend eternity with him in Heaven.

The symbolism here was not lost on the disciples. They were all Jewish males and they understood the reference. Jesus was using the words that young Jewish males would recite to their fiances. They would commit their love and life to their future bride and then they would leave them with their family and the man would return to his own home. Once home he would beging to build an addition on to his dad's house. He would build a couple of rooms on to his parent's home. As soon as they were built he would go back to his fiances house and get her. He would bring her back to be with him.

Now do Jesus' words make more sense?

Does that alone make today's problems disappear? -- Of course not. But it does help us keep the very finite nature of our problems and circumstances in the perspective of eternity with Jesus. They become strangely smaller in that light and context. A line from an old hymn says, “ . . . and the things of this world will grow stangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

Now here comes our “Narrowminded Alert!”

For some folks, what Jesus says in verse 6 is one of the most difficult truths to accept. Jesus’s statement is even harder to accept in today’s society. He says that there is no other way to His Heavenly Father but through Him. What an exclusive and narrow statement! That flies in the face of our multi-cultural, open, inclusive and politically correct society.

That statement completely eliminates any faith that is not built on Jesus Christ. It shoots down the theory that we can get to heaven if we are “good enough.” It says that being better than __________ (fill in the blank) isn’t good enough in light of God’s requirement that we be holy as He is holy as seen in Leviticus 11:45 and 1 Peter 1:16. It says that I won’t make it based upon my geography or genealogy. There is only one way to God.

Thomas asks a question like we would ask. So, how do we have a relationship and know the Father? What does a relationship-based faith look like?

It means we discover God’s Son, Jesus by spending time with Him and reading His Word. Philip speaks up and says, “Well, show us God and we’ll get it this time.” Jesus’ response pierces right to the heart of the matter. “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known me, Philip?”

What if Jesus asked that question of you.

Jesus claims something extreme. He does not claim to be a great theologian, a top theologian, or even the supreme Theologian, but rather He claims to be the ONLY Theologian. He says, “No one really knows the Father except the Son.” Again, He doesn’t say “No one really knows the Father like the Son” or even “just like the Son.” His words are precise and purposeful. “No one really knows the Father except the Son”

Heaven’s door has one door and one key. And Jesus holds it.

But, He stands at the door of Heaven calling our name.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pursuing Love . . . Redeeming Love

The book of Hosea is one of the more unusual books in the Bible. Hosea was a prophet in the time of the divided Kingdom and he lived out one of the most difficult stories that we can imagine. Hosea was told by God to marry a woman who would be unfaithful to him. This was a sin that was punishable by death. He knew what she was going into the marriage. God instructed him to go and marry a harlot. -- How about that?

What would YOU do in that situation?

What would I do?

His wife's name was Gomer and was a picture of the attitude of the Israelites toward God. Her adulterous actions were a reflection of the actions of the Israelites as they were unfaithful to God and worshipped Baal. Gomer’s actions resulted in her being enslaved. But God instructed Hosea to go and buy her back at the slave market . . . to pay the price to redeem her. This is a a picture of God’s desire to redeem His people from their sin.

Hosea would have been justified under Mosaic law to stop loving Gomer and divorce her. He could even have had her stoned. God wouldn’t have to look very hard to find reasons to stop loving us, would He?

However, in spite of countless reasons, God refuses to end His pursuit of us. God’s pursuit isn’t motivated by His desire to punish us; no, it is motivated by his love for us.

Deuteronomy 7:7-8 says:

The Lord did not choose you and lavish his love on you because you were larger or greater than other nations, for you were the smallest of all nations! It was simply because the Lord loves you, and because he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors. That is why the Lord rescued you with such amazing power from your slavery under Pharaoh in Egypt.

This passage reveals the reason God loves us -- He wants to love us. He created us to love us and for us to love Him. He promised to love Israel’s ancestors and God can never be accused of going back on His promises.

Hosea understood commitment. Some prophets used object lessons; Hosea became an object lesson. He was told to take as his wife a woman of questionable character -- a harlot. This relationship symbolized Israel’s relationship with God. The nation had been “married” to God but cheated on Him by pursuing other gods.

In the story, Hosea represents God. Hosea loved his wife as if she had been totally faithful to him all the time. And just like that, God loves us as if we had maintained our faithfulness to him. He loves us even now when we have moments of “unfaithfulness” (OK, let's call them what they are - sin). In spite of our unfaithfulness, God loves us in the same way that Hosea loved his wife. The rest of the story is also symbolic. Hosea’s wife was taken into slavery and Hosea was forced to pay a huge price to reclaim her. But he did. He paid the price and bought her back. Wow!

God’s love for His people -- you and me -- isn’t based on his emotion; it is based upon His decision. It isn’t something He feels, it is something He does. When God looks at us, He sees us through the filter of His Son . . . if we have accepted His Son Jesus Christ as our Savior and given Him the right to be our Lord. God showed that He loved the world in this way: He gave His Son as payment for our sins.

In this context Hosea gives the Old Testament’s most eloquent expression of God’s love and tender mercy. It is embodied in the Hebrew word hesed, which is translated as “mercy”, “loving kindness”, or “steadfast love”. It is a love of loyalty and total commitment and it is best seen in the sacred vows of marriage.

Jesus was the very personification of love. He left heaven for a feeding trough and the dusty roads of Galilee. He grew up in a simple carpentry shop where he swept floors and worked with his earthly father. As an adult He entered a life of public ministry. He was pursued by the religious power brokers and betrayed by one of his closest friends.

He was here on a mission. That mission was to redeem us. His mission was to buy us back. He could have said that we weren’t worth it. (and we weren’t) He could have considered his own needs as more important than ours. But He stayed, He lived, He suffered, He died, and He rose again! Why? Love . . . God’s kind of love . . . agape love . . . love that won’t let go. God’s love is unlike anything that you and I can explain or understand. The only decision that we have is to accept it or reject it.

Depending on your generation, one of these sets of lyrics will resonate with you.

Matt Redmond says “You never let go”:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
Your perfect love is casting out fear
And even when I’m caught in the middle of the storms of this life
I won’t turn back
I know You are near

And I will fear no evil
For my God is with me
And if my God is with me
Whom then shall I fear?
Whom then shall I fear?

Oh no, You never let go
Through the calm and through the storm
Oh no, You never let go
In every high and every low
Oh no, You never let go
Lord, You never let go of me

George Matheson says it is a “love that will not let me go”:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee,
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee,
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee,
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Either way, the point is that God loves you and has made a way for you to have a relationship with Him.

“God so love the world.” This is a simple statement that has incredible ramifications. Love is offered from Heaven to us. We simply have to choose to accept it or choose to reject it. And doing nothing is not an option. Accepting God’s love comes with conditions; rejecting it comes with consequences. Both the conditions of accepting and the consequences of rejecting it are predetermined . . . by God. And He has announced them clearly throughout the pages of Scripture. We don’t get to set the terms. How arrogant and rude of us to even think that we could. This is where so many potential believers balk -- they want a relationship with God on their own terms, not His. However, a relationship with God on any other terms than His is no relationship at all.

For God so loved . . . that He relentlessly pursues us . . . to redeem us . . . to dwell in us . . . to cleanse us . . . to sanctify us . . . to empower us to live a life of Holiness.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wash, rinse, repeat . . .

I have been think a lot about a statement made in a Bible study that I attend on Wednesday mornings. The leader made the following statement: “I am sure that everyone of us around this table have unconfessed sin in their lives.” And most guys nodded in agreement. Now, I don't think that he really meant that the way it sounded. (or maybe he did) And I am not going to debate the definition of “Sin”. But, nevertheless, that statement got me to thinking. And that is a good thing.

Our study passage today in Sunday School was Exodus 32:1-35. It is especially familiar to those of us who have been on this journey through the first few books of the Old Testament. (Hopefully we will get through these books in the Old Testament in less time than the Israelites wandered in the desert. But I digress.)

This passage contains a few brief words that make me laugh every time I read them. Aaron tries to explain to Moses how the golden calf came to be.

Aaron says, “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

Give me a break! Come on Aaron. That calf didn't create itself. You made it for them.

The Israelites wanted a god they could see and touch. We do to. So they melted their valuables and fashioned a golden calf. The calf wasn’t just a convenient image to worship; it was reminiscent of the cow and the bull that were a part of Egyptian worship rituals. The bull was also part of the Baal worship of the Canaanite culture. (this culture would continue to haunt the Israelites for hundreds of years). The Israelites watered down their faith by including pagan elements from pagan practices. And the consequences of this act would follow them for years and generations to come.

They allowed elements of their old lifestyles, previous experiences and bad habits to continue to shape and define who they were. They still were not grasping what it was to be the children of a Holy God.

Why did the Israelites make such a tragic mistake? In a word, fear. They were afraid. Now let's be clear on something here. Being afraid is not an offense to God. But how we respond in our fear can be a big problem. When the Israelites were afraid they reverted back to the familiar past. Even though they were slaves in Egypt, life back in Egypt was predictable. And like the Israelites, when we are scared, we often seek out the familiar and stable . . . even if that stability is negative.

The end of this part of the story of the golden calf is more tragic than its beginning. The people were permanently affected by their decisions to turn their backs on God. According to verse 35, the people were plagued because of what they did. [Remember last week? -- Connecting the dots?]

The Israelites probably had a series of “if only” moments. If only they had remained faithful to God. If only they had resisted the urge to worship the golden calf. If only they had waited patiently for the Lord. If only they were willing to break the cycle of disobedience to God and live a life of holiness.

As we discussed last week, the bad news is that we often have to live with the consequences of our sins. The good news is that God is the God of forgiveness and restoration. We can be in a right relationship with God even after we have let Him down. We can be restored, we can move forward. We can leave the mistakes of the past behind us, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk in Holiness and not repeat them over and over.

We can break the cycle of sin, repent, sin, repent, sin, repent . . .

Read the back of your shampoo bottle. It says, wash, rinse and repeat. No one in their right mind expects us to live in the shower and continually wash, rinse and repeat. I think it is reasonable at some point to get out of the shower. Dry off. Get dressed and go to work!

We are not supposed to live in the shower. And I guess that is where the shampoo analogy breaks down a little bit. But the analogy does work when it comes to Holiness. God calls us to live a life of holiness. Like the Israelites, we, who are Christians, are His children. And He has given us His Son to die for our sins so that we might be forgiven. And he has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us and empower us to live that life of holiness that He calls us to.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Connecting the Dots

Sometimes, despite all our intelligence and experience, we find ourselves in a similar situation as those that we looked at this morning in Bible Study. We don't seem to be able to connect the dots between our actions and the consequences of our actions.

Our passage was found in the 40th chapter of Isaiah. This section of Scripture begins a longer section where Isaiah directs some prophetic words for the Israelites as they are in the early period of the Babylonian captivity. The glory years of David and Solomon were a distant memory and now the Israelites lamented their situation. Why they were there is a long story filled with persistent rebellion and abandoning authentic worship for idols. Or maybe they got mad at God because He didn’t deliver what they wanted according to their schedules. Sound familiar?

Have you ever asked God, “Why me?” or “Why now?” Sometimes we aren’t very good at connecting our actions with the consequences that we experience. We repeatedly disobey and then question God when we find ourselves slap dab in the middle of the consequences of our disobedience.

Do you see the dots? Disobedience . . . . . Consequences.

Isaiah asks his audience to identify anything that was comparable to God. He specifically asks them if they can be compared to an idol made by a craftsman, covered in gold, and adorned with silver.

I don't have any idols in my house. But idolatry is just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is that the Israelites had lost focus on who God was. And, as such, they began to wander from God. Then the natural outcome of that began to show itself. They became more and more disobedient to God and to the prophet who God raised up during that time.

Maybe some of the Israelites thought God had forgotten them. We can relate to that feeling can’t we? When life is turned upside down by sickness, death, job loss or something like that we must be reminded that God indeed is in control and that He cares for us.

In Isaiah 40:18-31 God was disrespected by his chosen people. They ignored the obvious and chose to worship inanimate objects rather than the living God. In this passage, God seems appalled that the Israelites could experience all they had been through and yet turn to idols rather than the Creator. They knew the stories of the Exodus, the Red Sea, and David and Goliath. Yet they ignored him. And now they are whining because they are suffering the consequences of their actions.

Be honest . . . When was the last time you whined to God? What was going on and how did whining work for you? My guess is that it didn't work so well for you.

He words of John echo through our deepest valleys . . . “For God so loved!” We can hear it on the mountain peaks and there is nowhere that we can go where we can escape this undeniable truth.

There really is no one like God. Scripture is one of the ways that He reveals himself. Nature is another. Evidence is all around us to prove that God is alive and well. And because He exists , we can be sure He is in control.

What is one situation that you need to give to God right now?

How is that situation affecting your life?

How long will you hold on to it and try to work it according to your own understanding?

What is keeping you from seeing God at work in your life?

Are you able to connect the dots between your own obedience and your current circumstances?

When we look at some of the writers of the Bible we see that they wrote more from experience than education. The Psalms reflect David’s ups and downs. The Apostle Paul wrote of his struggles with the old man and the new man. That is why we have the entire Bible. It is to be our source of wisdom and guidance in dealing with everyday life. God loves us that much and more!
Life appears to fall to pieces at times. It seems to be irreparable. But God is in control. He is working all things according to His plan for those who are His children.

How can you know?

Because God so loved the world. Because God so loved You. Because God so loved Me.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Broad Daylight Christians

This summer I am teaching the adult Bible Study class that my wife and I attend at our church. Our regular tacher is taking some time off and I am filling in this summer. We are using Max Lucado's book “3:16” as the basis for our study.

The focus passage for today was John 3:1-12.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

“You are Israel's teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but till you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

Many things spoke to me out of such a common passage.

Nicodemus came to visit Jesus in secret. Remember, he was a very prominent Jewish leader of his day. He was a “big shot.” He was a Pharisee. He was a part of the same group that had investigated John the Baptist and they were now preparing a case against Jesus. But Nicodemus stepped away from his official investigative role and went looking for some personal answers. Nicodemus knew enough to wonder if Jesus might really be the one that was prophesied. His colleagues were not convinced, but Nicodemus was curious or intrigued enough to seek answers directly from the source.

And Jesus did not disappoint Nicodemus in terms of proving insight and information about the nature of a relationship with Himself. But Jesus spoke in spiritual terms and Nicodemus was hearing things in physical terms. He couldn't get his mind around the concept of a faith based relationship. He was more in to doing all the right things. He was in to being in the right groups. He was in to religion. And Jesus was inviting him into a relationship.

Some of us would make good Pharisees because we tend to overlook the spiritual significance of biblical instruction, choosing instead to nitpick the minutia. Like a defense attorney on your favorite crime show, we badger the prosecution’s witness, hoping to poke holes in the testimony. We misdirect the conversation. If we can just find one loophole, then the instructions won’t apply to us.

Now contrast that with this passage later in John. John 19:38-42 says:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Nicodemus goes to the same fellows that he was once a part of to ask for the body of Jesus christ who had just been humiliated publicly and crucified. And he does not go this time under cover of darkness. This time he goes in broad daylight. Both Joseph and Nicodemus had reason to fear the Jews. But they came anyway.

Why? What was different this time?

Nicodemus began with an interview or encounter with Jesus Christ. But that encounter changed him dramatically. He changed because he began a relationship with Jesus Christ. He came to Jesus Christ for information. And, at some point, he came to Jesus Christ in faith and became a disciple and follower. And that change was so dramatic in his life that he came to request the body of Jesus in broad daylight. He came in faith and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus couldn't understand this relationship at first. Born again? He thought it was impossible. But then he experienced it. And although he may not have been eloquent in describing what had happened. There is no doubt that something happened.

So, I have a question...

When it comes to a faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ, are you studying it? Or are you experiencing it?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Back from vacation

Well, we are back home in Texas after a long vacation and road trip of nearly 1700 miles. It was the longest vacation we have ever taken as a family. And our son was able to join us fore the entire time. What a blessing! During our vacation we fulfilled the dream we had nearly 8 years ago when we wanted to take a trip that involved seeing the people that mean the most to us... our family and friends.

We flew to Columbus, OH to join up with our daughter. But before we left Ohio for the rest of the vacation we got to spend some time with our long time friends in a rousing Wii competition of Dance Dance Revolution and Mario Kart. (Be thankful there is no video posted of my attempt at DDR!) We also took advantage of the opportunity to welcome Andréa home from a semester abroad in Brazil.

We picked up some old friends and new friends and made them a part of the rest of the trip. We were joined by our long-time friend Joshua and our relatively new friend, Katie. But, the beauty of how God works is this. They are not really friends. Rather, they are family. We called them pseudo-son and pseudo-daughter throughout the time together. But that title belies our true feelings. They are not pseudo-anything. They are God's gift to us and we are grateful to Him who added them to our family for that time. And there were others that would have or could have joined with us. But that was not God's plan at this time.

We headed out for Flint, MI to visit my brother and his family. He pastors a great church in West Flint, MI and God is blessing his ministry there. We had never been able to be with him in the eight years that he has pastored there. So, it was high time we did. And God was good to us there. The weather was unbelievably gorgeous. It was a welcome respite from the heat of springtime in Houston.

From there it was off to the Ontario side of Niagara Falls. God blessed us with a rental house that was a block and a half from the river gorge and about 3 blocks from the falls. In fact we walked down to the river's edge to watch the fireworks over the falls on Monday night the 19th of May, which was Victoria Day in Canada. We even got a chance to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario while in the area. And, yes, we got a chance to see and touch the real Stanley cup!

The last weekend of vacation was spent with my folks in Warren, PA. We met last Friday night for dinner at the Lakewood Rod & Gun Cub for a tremendous dinner. We spent a few days with Mom and Dad and got caught up on all the happenings in the raging metropolis of Warren, PA!

We finished our vacation back in Mount Vernon, OH. We got our daughter somewhat settled in to her apartment for the summer. Plus we had a chance to spend some time with her boyfriend and enjoy a few meals together.

So as I sit here tonight and reflect on the past week or two I realize how blessed I am. God has blessed me with an amazing family. And He has given us amazing friends to share this journey through life with.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sincere -- Sincerely Wrong

I have become a huge baseball fan over the past few years. I won't go into why or how I became a baseball fan so late in life. But, trust me. It's a good story.

I saw this quote tonight while skimming the sports news. Apparently, Yadier Molina, the catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals was thrown out for arguing balls and strikes with the home plate umpire Paul Schreiber last night. You can maybe mutter something under your breath to the umpire. But everyone knows you are going to get tossed out of the game if you argue balls and strikes. And both Molina and his manager Tony La Russa got tossed out of the game for doing just that.

But that is not the point of this post. What really struck me was the comments by his manager, Tony La Russa. La Russa knows Yadier Molina well and Molina has a reputation for being competitive, but good to work with from the home plate umpire's perspective. Here is what La Russa said to the media following the game.

“You try to coach emotion in players, and that’s what competition is about,” La Russa said. “That’s not his style, so evidently he was sincere. And if he’s sincere, what can you say about it?”

So what does all of this have to do with a blog like this?

Sincerity is not enough. Our own human efforts are not enough. Believing with all our might is not enough. Popular culture tells us if we just believe we can achieve whatever we want.

We must be right. We must be righteous.

And there is only one way to attain righteousness. And that is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Play ball!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Vacation is coming

It's Friday... but Sunday's a'comin'...

Oh wait, that line has already been used by a famous preacher.

It's Monday, but Wednesday's coming!

By Wednesday night at this time we will be together and complete as a family. Those of us still living in Texas will join with the wayward one in Ohio and be reunited as a family for a much needed vacation for all of us. And I can't wait!

And if God is gracious to us, we will expand the family for most of the vacation. We are hoping and planning to pick a few extra "family members" in Ohio and drag them with us around much of the northern tier of the United States. The plan is to spend as much time together with those that can't go along due to responsibilities and work schedules on the front end of the trip and again on the back end.

I didn't mention this earlier, But I am a big fan of Tax Rebate Stimulus Packages...

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Sinner or Saint

This dialog has resurfaced in my social circles lately. It was also a topic of my pastor's sermon last Sunday. Now I recognize that it is a debate that has raged down through the ages in the evangelical church. And sometimes it has raged at a feverish and less than “holy” pitch. As usual, I have many thoughts and some of them are conflicting.

My favorite musical genre is southern gospel. One of my favorite singers sings a song that was written by one of my favorite songwriters. George Younce sings a song written by Bill & Gloria Gaither entitled, “Sinner Saved by Grace”. If you haven't heard it, you need to! It never fails to bring a tear to my eye. And although that is a great song, it doesn't really help me understand who I am or what I am.

I guess when all else fails we could look at what the Bible says... Plus that will give me a chance to break out the new set of commentaries that my best friend, Dave, gave me as a gift last week.

A reasonably thorough search through the Bible will point out one thing when it comes to the topic of whether or not I am a “sinner” or a “saint”. New Testament authors refer to Christians with many labels. Most of them self-given. For instance, you see Christians calling one another “brethren,” “the faithful,” “the elect,” “believers,” “the church of God,” “servants (slaves) to God,” and “saints.” Not once do they refer to one another as “sinner.” I find that interesting.

Now, compare that to the use of the word “sinner” in the New Testament. Study shows us that the word “sinner” indicates a pattern of sin, a devotion to sinning, or in some cases it was a Jewish derisive term for women of ill-repute. Now I find that interesting too.

So here is a verse or two for consideration.

Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar's household.
Philippians 4:21-22 NIV

Notice the free flowing use of the word “saints”. Paul uses the term when he tells them to greet their fellow church members in the church at Philippi. And he uses it when he sends the greetings from the fellow Christians there in Rome.

So, to a large extent that really settles it in my mind. I am a saint. The Bible says so. And that's good enough for me. I will put away any other thoughts and self-condemnations to the contrary.

But here is the tricky part. If I am a saint, shouldn't I act like one and live like one?

Maybe the key to this is not so much to focus on what or who I am. But rather, WHOSE I am.

I am a Child of the King.

I am an Heir and Joint-heir with Jesus Christ.

And that my friend will dramatically affect how I live my life on a daily basis. It will lead me to think and act in ways that continue to put distance between the person I was and the person I am.


I think I want to write more on this, but it's suppertime.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Bitter Water

I just can't seem to get that passage from Exodus 15 out of my mind. Perhaps God still has a lesson for me and I haven't learned it yet.

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them. He said, “If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”
Exodus 15:25-26 NIV

Now, I am not all that smart. And I had to dig a little into the commentaries to gain some insight as to why this passage was speaking to my heart. And here is what I found. The evidence and speculative conclusions may point to a tree with some chemical properties that enabled the wood or its sap to render the bitter water sweet.

Maybe it did, or maybe it didn't. Maybe, as one lady in my Bible Study says, “It was God's will.” Maybe it was just another plain old garden variety miracle like the one at the Red Sea a few chapters earlier. The point is that the water became sweet to drink.

Now, here is the part that I failed to fully grasp earlier. The newly sweetened water had a medicinal effect as well as a refreshing effect. In fact, it had a “cleansing” effect. One of the commentaries noted that there is research to indicate that the water acted as a laxative and purged the Children of Israel of some internal gastrointestinal parasites that caused weakness and was marked by dysentery.

So, here is the point.

Are you ready for this?

Not only did God want to get His children out of Egypt. He wanted to get Egypt (or at least its ill effects) out of his children!

OK, that's may be a little gross and out of place on a blog about holiness. But maybe not once you let the thought sink in. At Marah, God provided just the right medicine to prepare His children both physically and spiritually for the long hot march to Sinai.

So what does that mean to me?

I think it means that when I have tasted the bitter waters of sin, shame and suffering I can have them sweetened by the wood of Calvary's cross. And that wood can bring refreshing, cleansing and healing to a sin sick soul. It can cleanse the outside. And it can cleanse the inside from the stain of sin. So that, just like the Children of Israel were cleansed of the internal parasites, God can cleanse me from the sinful nature that causes me fall into sin.

And that dear friend, is holiness.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Adoration as a Spritual Discipline

Adoration was the topic again the other night as a group of us met to look into the book, Disciplines for the Inner Life. I won't take the time here to reiterate the summary that our leader provided on his blog. Rather, I want to provide my thoughts on this topic.

First of all, the words "adore" or "adoration" do not appear in the Bible. At least not in the KJV. Adore does appear in the NIV. But it is in Song of Solomon and the context is not exactly what we were looking at. However, the concept of adoration of God is found throughout the Bible. But how do we get a handle on what it means to adore God?

My thoughts kept coming back to a truly secular example. I am not a huge art fan. But I enjoy some of the paintings of the masters. The modern stuff doesn't really do anything for me. In 2002 I was on an extended business trip in Europe. I had the good fortune to have a free week-end to spend and I spent it in the town of Antwerp, Belgium. This town had a beautiful old cathedral called the Cathedral of Our Lady. Inside near the altar was a triptych painting by Rubens. The theme of the triptych was Jesus being carried. In the small panel to the left Jesus is carried in Mary's womb as she visits her cousin Elizabeth. In the small panel on the right Jesus is carried to the temple by Mary and Joseph. The central panel has Jesus carried down from the cross.

I stood in awe in front of the painting. The subject, the beauty, the scene and the passion captured by Rubens caused me to stand in awe and adoration of that beautiful work of art.

There is nothing that painting can do for me. And there is nothing that I can do for that painting. And perhaps that is where the secular analogy breaks down. But I stood in awe of the painting because of what it was -- a fabulous and priceless work of art.

When I think of God and what adoration has to do with my relationship to God I find that my adoration is based upon who God is. It is not based upon what he has done, can do, or will for me. In short, it is the only reasonable response when I truly see God for who he is.

What does adoration mean to you? How does adoration manifest itself in your personal relationship with God?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Worshipping or Murmuring

We have been diligently going through the beginning of the Old Testament in our Bible Study on Sunday mornings. We began in Genesis. Which is a good place to start, I suppose.

Last Sunday found us in the 15th chapter of Exodus. The week before the Children of Israel were miraculously delivered from the advancing army of Pharaoh. God parted the waters and Moses and the people walked across on dry land. Not wet, sticky, messy, get stuck between your toes mud. But dry land. What an amazing deliverance.

It is in this passage that God places a test before the people. This is not the post to debate whether or not God tested His people back then, or tests us today. All I know is that the Bible says that God said to them “if you will listen... do... and obey...”, then God would do something.

Whenever God tells us what to do we always have a choice. And that choice really demonstrates a lot about us and about our character. If we obey then we see God's hand upon us and our faith in Him grows. The next command will be easier to obey because of our obedience to the last command.

But many times we do not obey. At least not right away or not cheerfully. This is certainly true of the children of Israel. God had delivered them from bondage, slavery, Egypt, Pharaoh and his armies. And the bulk of the 15th chapter of Exodus is all about the spontaneous worship that erupted from the mouths of the people. They celebrated the horse and the rider being thrown into the sea. They sang praises to God as Miriam leads the ladies choir in echoing the praises of the people.

They leave the worship service and go three short days into the wilderness of Shur. And there they found no water. Their physical natures were being tested a little due to their thirst. They began to murmur and grumble about the lack of water. And that brought about a question about their spiritual nature.

Were they going to be a worshipping people who occasionally murmured? Or were they going to be a murmuring people who occasionally worshipped?

That question is relevant to me today. And it is relevant to you.

What is my spiritual nature?

Am I a person who truly “listens, does, and obeys” but someone who occasionally doubts and murmurs when God does not respond immediately and as I think He should? Or am I a person who consistently doubts, grumbles and murmurs about my lot in life and who only occasionally stops and worships the God of all creation?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When time passes slowly

Last week I posted about the passing of time and how it seems to be moving at a very quick pace these days. And I realize that this is not the case for some. Although scientifically we know that time progresses at the same pace for every one and every where. And we know that time seems to go by at a different pace depending on our age.

Do you remember as a kid it seemed like Christmas would never come? In fact, 10% of your life span so far would would go by until the next Christmas. While for me, it will only be 2% of my life so far until we gather as a family again to celebrate Christmas. So there are comparative and perceptual differences.

So what do we do during these seasons in our life when time seems to go by slowly?

I am afraid that my answer to that question is more simple than it is easy.

Psalm 27:14 says:

Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

But what do we do while we are “waiting”? The Bible is not all that specific about what to do while we wait on the Lord. But the Bible does speak to these times.

The prophet Micah has words of encouragement to the people of Israel. He says:

But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light
Micah 7:7-9

What a great encouragement that God is near even when we don't feel it. He hears my cries, even when I feel they are just bouncing back to me from the ceiling.

Consider this passage containing the Apostle Paul's prayer for some whom he cared deeply for.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.
Colossians 1:9-12

He is praying for them to be filled with knowledge of God’s will for them in their present situation. He prays that they would lead a life worthy of the Lord. He prays that they would both be and do things that would be pleasing to God.

Then he prays that they would be empowered or “strengthened” from a divine source. Thus the strength would not be according to our weakness, but that it would be according to His power, from whom it is received. When God gives he gives like himself, and when he strengthens he strengthens like himself.

The purpose of this strength was for enduring difficult time and suffering what may come their way. Paul prays not only that they may be upheld in their trials, but strengthened for them. For you see, there just may be some work to be done or lessons to be learned even in the midst of our suffering. And those who are strengthened according to God’s glorious power are strengthened, with a sufficient measure of patience. A measure that includes not only bearing patience, but waiting patience.

The problem is that we could never do this by any strength of our own, but only as we are strengthened by the grace of God. And in the end it is God who will get the glory. But it is you and I that will get the grace, mercy, blessings and all kinds of things from God that we can’t see right now through the pain and tears.

This has been on my heart for the last few days. I believe that there is a reason. I don't have to know it. I just have to write it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Less Like Scars

Gerry Cheevers was finishing his great NHL career and was the goalie for the Boston Bruins the first year I was in college. His trademarked goalie mask is easily identified by even moderate hockey fans. It was a simple face contoured fiberglass mask. What made it so memorable was that it had hand drawn "stitches" all over the front of it. Each of these sets of stitches was drawn in place by Gerry himself, or the longtime Boston Bruins trainer, John Forestall.

They represented each and every puck that hit Gerry's face mask during practice or in a game. John Forestall would calculate the damage that each shot would have inflicted on Gerry's face and diligently drew the approximate number of stitches the doctors would have used to close the gaping wound the puck would have undoubtedly inflicted upon him.

That mask had character.

Driving to work this morning I was hit by the power and message in the lyrics of this song written and sung by Sara Groves. So I called my office phone from my cell phone to remind myself to find these lyrics somewhere on-line.

I really enjoy Sara Groves voice and vocal style. She sort of reminds me of Norah Jones who I really like. I like the "jazz" sound of many of Sara Groves' songs. But that is not really why I liked the song. These lyrics really spoke to me and framed some of the thoughts and feelings that have been somewhere in the back of my mind for years.

Here are the lyrics to the song:

Less Like Scars
by Sara Groves

It's been a hard year.
But I'm climbing out of the rubble.
These lessons are hard.
Healing changes are subtle.
But every day it's...
Less like tearing more like building.
Less like captive more like willing.
Less like breakdown more like surrender.
Less like haunting
more like remember.
And I feel you here.
And you're picking up the pieces.
Forever faithful.
It seemed out of my hands
a bad situation.
But you are able.
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars and more like character.
Less like a prison more like my room.
Less like a casket more like a womb.
Less like dying more like transcending.
Less like fear, less like an ending...
And I feel you here.
And you're picking up the pieces.
Forever faithful.
It seemed out of my hands
a bad situation.
But you are able.
And in your hands the
pain and hurt
look less like scars.
Just a little while ago.
I couldn't feel the power or the hope.
I couldn't cope, I couldn't feel a thing.
Just a little while back.
I was desperate, broken, laid out.
Hoping you would come.
And I need you.
And I want you here.
And I feel you...
And I feel you here.
And you're picking up the pieces.
Forever faithful.
It seemed out of my hands
a bad situation.
But you are able.
And in your hands the pain and hurt.
look less like scars.
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars.
And in your hands the pain and hurt
look less like scars.
And more like character.

I need to be honest here. I am certainly not suggesting that I was able to see the character building as it was happening in real time. In fact that is the point. Some of it was not apparent until today. But, like Sara Groves says, "healing changes are very subtle". But they are happening. God is trying to mold us and make us what He wants us to be.

And here is the key: God is "forever faithful".

I can't (or don't want to) go in to any more details. But I can say at least one thing at this point in my life. God is forever faithful.