A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Luke 2:7, John 1:14 "No Room" (part two)

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  (Luke 2:7)

 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14)

This was clearly the most significant event in all of world history –God had become man. God’s plan for redemption and salvation had been put into action. Angels were amazed, but the humans were oblivious.

Christ, the Messiah, had come to Bethlehem, but Bethlehem didn’t even know it. These people who thronged the streets and hawked their wares and filled the inns –these people who had longed for and prayed for God to send the Messiah –these people missed the birth of God

They didn’t miss the advent of the Messiah because they were terrible people. Not at all –they were mostly good, devout Jewish people. These other people living in the village of Bethlehem didn’t miss the most important event in all of human history because they were hopelessly evil or wicked or cruel. They missed the birth of Jesus simply because they were too busy to notice.

That brings me to today. I wonder –do I really have to make the application? We sure are busy people aren’t we? We have much to do –don’t we? Here it is already the Christmas season. On top of our jobs we have chores to do, errands to run, places to go and people to see. And somehow we still have to find the time to trim the tree and hang up some decorations, and do some Christmas shopping –and, of course, we have parties to go to, and get-togethers, and pageants, and caroling. And then guests are going to be arriving for the holidays –or else we’ve got to get packed to go home ourselves. We are always busy people, but at Christmastime we are even busier than usual.

And just mentioning these things has gotten some of your minds racing, thinking of all the things that still need to be done around your house. But I want to encourage you to take a moment right now in the middle of this busy season to stop and think of how much love God has shown us through this baby that was born.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Luke 2:7 "No Room"

And she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:7

We like to picture the manger scene as a nice sterile place with clean, fresh hay, and clean stalls with pretty little sheep and maybe a friendly cow or two. And that’s alright for our nativity sets we put out to symbolize this scene and remind us of the circumstance of Jesus’ birth –I mean, who wants a dirty, smelly barn sitting out on the coffee table? 

But let’s be realistic. Jesus was born in a real barn with real sheep and real cows and real goats and maybe chickens. Real animals living in real barns don’t stay pretty and clean for very long. 

Jesus was born in the midst of musty hay and sweaty animals and manure and mice and cobwebs, and his mother wrapped him carefully in some rags and laid him carefully in the feeding trough so that the cows wouldn’t accidentally trample him while she rested. 

This is how God entered the world –the King of all Creation, Almighty God became a tiny baby, born to a teenage girl in a barn behind the local inn.

I want to invite you to pause for a moment -in a sense, to pause before the manger and look at that baby and think about God’s extraordinary love. 

God loved the world so much that He sent His only Son that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but have everlasting life. This is love –not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 
This is love –God sent His Son. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

God Became Man (part two)

A few years ago, it seems like everybody was wearing the little WWJD bracelets. What Would Jesus Do? On the one hand, that’s an ok approach to life –to ask ourselves in any given situation, What would Jesus do?

But, the only way we can really know what Jesus would do is by looking at what He actually did do. And, again, I want to say that I think there are enormous implications for our lives in the way Jesus lived His.

Jesus interacted with sinners all the time. He treated them with dignity and grace. So, how should we treat the neighbor next door with his live in girl-friend? Or the guy at work who is addicted to pornography? Or the mixed up kids with all kinds of garbage going on in their lives? How should we treat people who, in all honesty, are immoral?

How did Jesus treat the woman at the well who had sought intimacy in all the wrong places and had already failed at 5 marriages and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband? How did Jesus Treat the woman caught in the very act of adultery? How did Jesus treat the woman with a bad reputation who inappropriately wept at His feet and tried to dry the ears away with her hair? He loved them. He forgave them. He restored them. He encouraged them to change their lives.

How did Jesus react when His friend Lazarus died and the sisters were grieving? He cried with them. How did Jesus treat the thieving little weasel, Zaccheus? He had lunch in his home with him. How did Jesus show His disciples the importance of serving each other? He washed their feet. What did Jesus do when the crowds yelled “Crucify Him -and the religious leaders lied about him, and the soldiers brutally tortured Him, and people sneered and mocked as His life’s blood drained away? He looked to heaven and said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t understand what they’re doing.”

All of these things, Jesus did, not as almighty God, not as Ruler, not as Creator, not as Lord of All –all of these things Jesus did, fully human. All of these things, and more, Jesus did to teach us and show us. Jesus died to forgive us –but He lived to show us how to live. And since this is why Jesus came, this is what Christmas is really all about.

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Monday, November 28, 2016

2 Corinthians 3:18 "Why God Became Man"

 When God became man –when Jesus was born –He had more in mind than simply providing forgiveness. If forgiveness was all that God wanted, He probably could have found an easier way than dying a brutal, painful death on the cross –He could have found an easier way than taking our sin and our shame and our guilt and our emotional and spiritual baggage onto and into himself. If our forgiveness was all God wanted, I think God would have done things differently.

When Jesus came, it was to provide salvation for mankind –but let’s not ever limit our view of salvation to having our sins forgiven. Our salvation lies in the relationship with God that was made possible when our sins were forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus –but Jesus did more than simply die for our sins and rise again from the dead –Jesus lived. 

He lived a real life. He was born. He lived here among us. He ate food like we eat. He slept when He was tired –and drank water when He was thirsty. He laughed at weddings and cried at funerals. Jesus lived here among us. That means something –there is a reason. God didn’t plan it out that way on a whim.

There is a sense in which Jesus came, not only to be our Savior, but also to be our teacher –our mentor. A good teacher, or a good mentor, not only tells his students what they need to know –a good teacher does whatever it takes to make his students understand. A good teacher shows his students.
Jesus lived a real life among real people. Some of those people, as you remember, loved Jesus a whole lot –others hated Him. Some showered gifts on Him while others plotted to take His life. Sometimes Jesus had plenty to eat –while other times He went hungry. Sometimes Jesus was well rested –at other times He was weary to the bone. If Jesus is our mentor, you see, this stuff all matters a whole lot.

If Jesus lived His life in some kind of secluded bubble –we still wouldn’t know how to act and behave and treat others. But Jesus lived a real life just like ours. So, we actually know how to live the life that God desires –Jesus modeled it –in real life.

  2 Corinthians 3:18   And all of us have had the veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.”

#by-his-stripes.com #ByHisStripes

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Matthew 6:9-13 "Praying Like Jesus"

The twelve hand-picked disciples must have learned a lot walking all over Judea with Jesus. One of the things that they learned was that Jesus prayed.

Not that He prayed stuffy, boring prayers –not that He prayed out of a sense of duty or obligation. They'd seen plenty of pharisees and religious people standing on the street corners and in prominent, noticeable places praying those kind of prayers.

But Jesus prayed differently. They noticed that Jesus had an intimacy with God that they had never observed before. And they noticed that whenever Jesus prayed, things happened –God responded. They noticed these things, and they wondered if they might have the same relationship with God that Jesus had –after all, Jesus was their teacher. They wondered if maybe Jesus could teach them to pray like He prayed. 

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus gave them this prayer as a model:

‘Our Father in heaven:
May Your holy name be honored;
may Your Kingdom come;
may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us the wrongs we have done,
as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.
Do not bring us to hard testing,
but keep us safe from the Evil One.
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.'

These are things that we also should pray for and about if we, like the disciples, want to learn to pray like Jesus.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Matthew 5:43-48 "The Law Of Love"

The lines are obvious and the mandate is clear. No gray area here. If we are followers of Jesus, we are citizens of a different Kingdom. The Kingdom of God has one law: LOVE.

In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus said (paraphrased): "You've heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say you should love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.... For if you only love those who love you, how is that any different than everybody else? If you are only loving and kind to your friends and family, aren't you just like the nonbelievers?" The bottom line: If we do not love, we are not truly following Jesus and we are not participating in the Kingdom.

All earthly kingdoms operate by a natural law -almost everyone loves their family; this is natural. All people tend to love their friends; this is natural. But the Kingdom of God is supernatural. There is, therefore, an expectation that citizens of the Kingdom see the wisdom of loving those who do not love us, and embrace the supernatural priorities of the Kingdom.

If we love God and love others, the Kingdom grows and our Father is glorified. We bring glory to Father as we learn to transcend the natural by loving others -even those who do not love us in return - with His love.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Romans 9:18-21 "God's Sovereignty/God's Character"

“Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:18-21)

If we read only this little snippet of the book of Romans without putting it into the context of what the entire Bible teaches about God, or even what Paul has already written in this letter to the church in Rome, we might read this and come to the conclusion that man has no free-will –that God chooses and orchestrates and decides every detail of life. With this understanding of Scripture, we would conclude that those whom God calls to be His children will be His children, and those whom He doesn’t call won’t be –it’s out of our hands. And if we push that thought just a little we might decide that ultimately it doesn’t matter if we share our faith with others or pray for others or do anything to advance the Kingdom of God here on earth because whatever God decides is going to happen anyway. This view makes God out to be arbitrary and unfair and the relationship that I’m always talking about is a lie.

Of course, it is true that God’s ways are higher than our ways and His measure of fairness supercedes our standards –nevertheless, if we do not have the capacity to choose right from wrong –if that has been predetermined by God and yet God holds us accountable, God is unfair. And we know that God is not unfair. In fact we know that God is not arbitrary and petty and we know that the relationship with God that Jesus died and rose again to establish is very real and meaningful.

Let’s be real clear where we are headed with this though. God is sovereign –there is no doubt about that. He is in control. That’s true. And whatever God decides is going to happen, He clearly has both the authority and the power to make sure of it. But ultimately the issue here is not about God’s power or His authority, it’s about His nature -His character. In order to get even a glimpse, even a hint of an accurate picture of God, we’ve got to take the reality of God’ sovereignty and power and factor into that His character. Let’s look for a few minutes at what God has revealed to us about Himself –what we know to be true about God. We are going on a quick tour of the book of Psalms:

Psalm 11:7 -righteous, loves justice
Psalm 34:8 -good
Psalm 68:20 -A God who saves
Psalm 71:19 -righteous
Psalm 86:15 -compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful
Psalm 116:5 -gracious, righteous, full of compassion
Psalm 145:8 –gracious, compassionate, slow to anger

So, here is what we know about the character of God: He is righteous, just, good, merciful, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, faithful, gracious, and willing to draw near to all who will call on Him.

As we read in Romans about the sovereignty of God, we need to make sure we understand that God’s sovereignty is guided by His character. So, He is not and cannot be arbitrary and petty and unfair –that’s against His nature. And that means that the point of Paul’s argument here is not against our free-will. We need to ask ourselves, what is his point then? I’m glad you asked.

One of the main themes of the entire book of Romans is that the God of Israel has opened the doors to the Kingdom and it is longer about being Jewish, it is now about trusting Jesus. Paul is so adamant about this that he begins chapter nine (Romans 9:1-3) by saying that he would give up his own salvation if that would bring his Jewish brothers into a saving knowledge of Jesus.

Every person, Jew and gentile alike must trust Jesus. That is God’s plan. It is a plan that many Jews found –and still find offensive. And that is why Paul pulled out the sovereignty of God card here.

We don’t have the right to question God’s plan. The clay cannot argue with the potter. God does not operate within the framework of man’s traditions. God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom He has compassion.

So, what does this now mean to us today? I can’t tell you exactly what this might mean for you, but let me tell you what it means for me. It means that I, a non-Jew, am now one of God’s “chosen” people. I, through faith in Jesus, have been grafted into the spiritual lineage of Abraham. This process did not happen and never could happen by my being a good person and keeping the right spiritual laws and rituals and traditions.

This new covenant between God and me was activated when I recognized my own sin and agreed with God that my sin was an act of rebellion against Him –I wanted my own way and did not care about His ways. And my rebellion against God was deserving of the full punishment of spiritual alienation and death that God decreed. But when I trusted that Jesus’ death covered my sins, my sins were forgiven and I could begin following the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is now in me.

My salvation is in this relationship with God that results from following the Holy Spirit. God could have kept this all for the Jewish people with whom He had made the Old Covenant –but He didn’t. And I am a grateful benefactor.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

1 Thessalonians 5:17-21 "Testing Spirits"

The Holy Spirit is real and vital to a church that pleases God.  We cannot please God apart from the Holy Spirit.  And when the Holy Spirit is present in a church, ministry will occur that cannot be explained in any other way.  Christians filled with the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus promised, will do the same Spirit empowered things that Jesus himself did.  Sick will often be healed.  God will speak to our hearts.  Motives of the heart will be discerned.  Miracles will happen.  Those in spiritual bondage will be freed.  The broken-hearted will be restored.   And in a spiritually healthy church, this will happen in a very Biblical and balanced way.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:17-21, Paul gives instruction and warning concerning manifestations of the Holy Spirit in church.  “Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt; test everything and hold on to the good.”

We are told here to listen when people have things to say that God has laid on their hearts.  If God has given someone a Word of Knowledge or a prophetic warning, we should listen –but we should also be discerning.  We are told to test everything.  1 John 4:1 says it even a little stronger.  “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

A false prophet is anyone who claims that God laid something on his or her heart to share that isn’t actually from God.  Most people would not intentionally try to deceive the church.  But the problem is that it’s not always easy to know if that inner prompting I’m feeling is God or if it’s just my own feelings.  It’s not always obvious if God is telling me to say something or if it’s just my own mind, or if some spiritual being other than the Holy Spirit is trying to manipulate my feelings and thoughts.  Sometimes what we want to say is true.  Sometimes we really believe that others need to hear what we have to say.  But if the source is not God, even truth turns out to be something selfish or prideful and contrary to God’s purposes.  This is why we are told to test the spirits.

The Bible doesn’t give us a specific test that covers every situation.  It doesn't even give us a list of things to look for or to match against.  What it does give us are some fundamental principles.

I think that testing the spirits can be summed up in these three questions: How does this experience or manifestation affect my attitude toward God?  How does it affect my attitude toward Scripture? And how does it affect my attitude toward other Christians?

When we have any kind of religious experience, whether a prompting to speak or an ecstatic experience, or a deeply moving emotion, we have to ask ourselves:  How does this affect my relationship with God?   Does it honor God?  Does it give Him glory?  Does it affirm His sovereignty?  Does it cause me to love Him more deeply?  Does it draw me closer to God? And finally –and this is vital - Does it make God the center of attention?  If my religious experience causes me love Jesus, magnify the Lord, worship and adore Him; if it has purified my concept of God; if causes God to appear more wonderful and glorious, then it probably is an experience from God.  If, however, this experience in any way detracts from God, diminishes Jesus or exalts or makes anyone or anything other than God the center of attention, watch out.

The next question is: How does this experience relate to God’s already revealed Word?  God will never reveal anything to you as truth that is not Scriptural. God’s Word is eternal –We don’t reinterpret it to make it socially acceptable or politically correct, and if our experience doesn’t match what the Bible shows to be eternal truth, we are the ones that are wrong.  So, when God lays something on our hearts, or when the Holy Spirit reveals something to us, it will always reflect Biblical truth.  If it causes us ignore God’s Word or invent creative ways to interpret God’s Word or look for loop holes in God’s Word, it’s not from God.  It is that simple.

And the final question we must ask is:  “How does this affect my relationship with other believers?”  We know because God’s Word already tells us that God’s intention for the church is unity, His desire for the Body is that we love each other, His plan for humanity is reconciliation.  We know that God calls us to be forgiving, merciful, graceful people.  We know that we are to build one another up and edify each other.  These are things the Bible clearly teaches.  God will not prompt us to say things or do things that are contrary to His Word, so we know that anything from God whether a prompting or a revelation will help the Body of Christ, not harm it.  When people claiming to be Spirit-Filled, leave a trail of wounded brothers and sisters in their wake, that’s a problem.
So, when someone says, “I have a word from the Lord,” we need to ask these three questions: How does this affect my relationship with God?  How does this affect my understanding of God’s Word?  How does this affect my relationship with God’s people?

When testing the spirits or when receiving promptings and urges ourselves, we need to ask those questions plus analyze our situation and motivation.  Does what I think I should say or do have some self-serving motivation?  Is it from God or does it simply allow me to vent frustration?  Is it from God or is it simply an opinion I feel strongly about?  If it is from God it will build the Body, honor God’s Word, and cause God to be worshiped. 

“Pray continually.  Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt; test everything and hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-21)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"I'm Going Fishing" John 21:3

The words seem simple enough.  "I'm going fishing."  If I said them to my wife, they would mean something like, "I need a break and a little alone time."  If I said them to my friends or my brothers, they would be an invitation and if we are lucky, they might imply a fish fry later.  When Peter said, "I'm going fishing," however, they meant something more like, "I am a complete failure and I give up."

In the book of John leading up to this announcement, we have the story of how Peter denied Jesus and suffered from deep remorse and guilt.  Even though Jesus rose again from the dead, Peter could not forgive himself for denying his friend and Savior.  In his mind, he began to think that he had done the unforgivable.  Maybe his betrayal of Jesus had disqualified himself from whatever plans Jesus originally had for him.  Certainly his betrayal had disqualified him from whatever the plan was for the rest of the group.  

All of the disciples had been afraid when Jesus was arrested and executed.  The others had all run and hid.  Peter had followed at a distance, but when confronted had actually said, "I'm not with that man; I don't know that man' leave me the #*x$!!! alone."  And even worse than Peter knowing that in his friend's hour of greatest need he had denied their friendship, Jesus knew. How could Jesus ever trust him again?  How could he even look Jesus in the eye?  He was so ashamed.   

So, when Jesus rose from the grave, while the rest of the disciples rejoiced, after much thought, Peter made a decision.  Since he was no longer fit for service to Jesus, he decided that he had better get back to work and pick up where he had left off three years earlier when Jesus had first called him to follow. Peter had been a commercial fisherman.  So, Peter announced to the others, “I’m going fishing.” And to his surprise, six of the other disciples decided to go with him. 

In the big picture, this turned out to be a bigger issue than the betrayal.  Now, you see, not only was Peter walking away from Jesus and His calling on Peter's life, but Peter was taking others with him. Fortunately even though Peter left Jesus, Jesus did not give up on Peter and fully forgave and restored him.  It's beautiful story (John 21).

So, this fishing trip had a happy ending -still, there’s a lesson here for us.  Sometimes we tend to think that our thoughts and actions and beliefs and moral values are a personal matter.  We think that as long as we don’t hurt anyone else, it doesn’t matter what we do or what we think or how we talk.  But the problem is that life is not lived in a vacuum –everything we think and do and say affects other people.  There is no such thing as doing or saying wrong things and hurting only ourselves.  Whenever I do wrong or say something wrong, it hurts others.  
--> There is no way around it.  Our words and choices and actions influence others whether we want them to or not.  How we live matters.  We influence others.  

Lord Jesus, Thank you for the influence you have given me.  Help me to live in such a way that my words and actions and even my thoughts influence others to seek You and find You.  May my life lead people to You and never away from You. Amen.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Matthew 6:31-34 "What God Knows"

“Do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?'  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:31-34
If there is a God that designed and created and continues to sustain this earth, it really is a reasonable assumption that He knows what is going on better than we do.  He knows what works and doesn’t work in life.  He knows what is good for us and what is harmful to us.  He knows more than we do.  Living under God’s Kingdom is actually very practical –denying God’s Kingdom and demanding our own way is foolish.

If there is a God, it seems fairly obvious that demanding autonomy from God, demanding to live our own lives without the benefit of His wisdom and goodness and blessing, is foolish.  Yet, we all do this to some degree or another.

The problem we have then, is that to whatever degree we deny the authority and sovereignty and wisdom and goodness of God –we are in rebellion against Him.  Rebellion against God is not a matter of any specific sin –it is a heart attitude.  It is the opposite of loyalty –it is the opposite of surrender.

Rebellion is the little voice inside of us that says, “Why can’t I do it my way?  What about what I want?  I just want to live how it seems right to me.  I trust only myself.  

Whether we make a conscious choice to reject God’s Kingdom, or the more passive choice to ignore God’s Kingdom, the end result is the same.  Rebellion leads to spiritual blindness and ultimately to spiritual death.  Rebellion against God –Living as if God has no say, is a dangerous and hurtful way to live.  Bad things happen.

Rebellion leads to spiritual blindness.  The problem with blindness is that if we are blind we can’t see.  The problem with spiritual blindness is that we can’t see truth –we can’t see reality.  And if we insist on living by our own agenda instead of God’s agenda when we can’t actually see reality, we are always going to be in worse condition than we realize.  When our perceptions are clouded by spiritual blindness, we don’t realize the danger we are in.  

One night a long time ago, I was suffering from allergies.  We had just gone to bed, but my eyes began itching so badly I couldn’t stand it.  So I asked Sarah where the eye drops were.  She told me that she thought they were in the living room on top of the computer monitor.  So I got up out of bed and groped my way to the living room–all of the lights in the house were out, and it was very dark.  But I found my way to the living room, and located the computer monitor, and found the little plastic bottle sitting on top –all in the dark.  And I tipped my head back and let a drop fall into my itchy eye.  And I quickly realized that what I had was not a bottle of eye drops.  As it turned out, what I had actually picked up in the dark was a little plastic bottle of tape recorder head cleaning fluid –mostly alcohol.  And it did not sooth my eye –it burned my eye more than I can even describe.  It was horrible.  My eye felt like it was on fire.  And I yelped, and I started jumping around in the dark yelling.  And while I was jumping around, I managed to bang my shin into a chair, which caused me stumble, which wrenched my back.  All the commotion got Sarah out of bed to see what the problem was.  And as I remember it, when she turned on the light and saw what had happened, she thought it was kind of funny.   

So basically, I had burning eyes, a wounded shin, a wrenched back and a bruised ego –all because I was trying to operate blindly.  Just as my physical blindness caused all sorts of problems for me –problems that I had not anticipated –spiritual blindness causes repercussions and consequences all throughout life, because the only way to actually see reality is to see life from a Kingdom perspective.  This is because the Kingdom perspective is based on what God knows, not simply on what we think we know.

If we are desiring to be Kingdom people, when things in life go wrong –as they always eventually do, we have someone to turn to.  We turn to our owner with full confidence that since He designed and created and sustains all things, He also know how to take care of the problems in our lives.  We can turn to the One who know the way things really are.

On the other hand, if we are living in rebellion against God’s Kingdom (either actively or passively), if we are insisting on being the owners of our lives and are usurping God’s sovereignty, when things break down, when things go wrong –as they always eventually do, we are stuck in a bad way.

So, for me, I will choose to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  It's a practical thing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

1 John 4:19 "We Love Because He Loves"

1 John 4:19 “We love because He loved us first.”

God’s gift of love is not primarily about us learning to be more loving.  As we grow in grace, we will likely learn to love others more; but first we must learn to receive love. For many of us, this is a problem because we think that the Christian walk is about what we do and what we give. We fail to grasp that we cannot give what we have not received.  Quite literally, receiving love must precede giving love.

Accepting God’s love means, in a very practical way, accepting the love of others.  To put it another way, if we do not accept the love of people we will find it impossible to actually accept the love of God.  And since only God is perfect and His love is the only perfect love, accepting the love of people means accepting imperfect love, which is risky.

Imperfect people loving us imperfectly will sometimes include betrayal and breaches of trust and feeling let down.  On the other hand, choosing to trust someone to love us even knowing that there will be moments of let down, opens us up to actually receiving love –both the love of people and the love of God.  And as we receive the perfect love of God, we now are able to begin (imperfectly) to love others.  We love (imperfectly) because He loves us (perfectly).  Receiving precedes giving.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Philippians 2:3-5 "Respect Theology - Love Jesus"

"Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus."  Philippians 2:3-5

We don't have to manufacture the unity and humility that Scripture is speaking of.  We don't have to try and make it happen.  It is already ours in Christ Jesus.  Spiritual disunity in the Church is a result of pride, arrogance and looking to our own interests.  But this, clearly, is our issue, not God's.

By design, all who are truly in Christ have unity with one another.  And so long as we abide in Christ, our unity is apparent.  The problem is that most Christians abide in church doctrines, traditions, and theological systems instead of abiding in Christ Himself.  It's not that doctrines and traditions and systematic theology are wrong things -it's just that if we love our doctrines and traditions more than we actually love Jesus, the resulting disunity will also be apparent.

That what separates us as Believers seems more obvious than what unites us ought to be a glaring wake-up call.  Respect theology and traditions -but love Jesus and love each other.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Philippians 1:8-11 "Love, Knowledge, and Understanding"

I pray that your love will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.   Philippians 1:9-11

I sincerely would like to be pure and blameless.  It seems impossible.  I am so damaged.  Even when I try my hardest, I fall short; and even when I appear to be doing the right actions, it is often with the wrong motives.

Pure and blameless seems out of my league.  Yet Paul is praying for the Church in Philppi (and, I believe, for you and me).  And, importantly, he is not only praying, but identifying a path that leads to the very place I want to be.  Here is the path to being pure and blameless: Love -with Knowledge -and Understanding/Discernment.

In order for us to even come close, we need all three ingredients.  Love without knowledge and understanding is simply an emotional experience -all light, no heat.  Knowledge without love and understanding leads to arrogance and judgementalism.  Love and knowledge without understanding/discernment produces an atmosphere where anything goes and no internal transformation is expected.

When love happens in the context of understanding and knowledge, however, we attain compassion, wisdom and transformation.  Where true compassion, wisdom and transformation are operating, the Spirit of God is also operating since true compassion, true wisdom, true understanding and true love are from God.  Where the Spirit of God is operating, the Kingdom of God is being realized.

Clearly, there is an inherent connection between the Kingdom and the King (Jesus) and His righteousness.  It is in this fruitful environment that intimacy with God grows.  And intimacy with God produces spiritual transformation that leads to being pure and blameless in God's eyes.

So, for the Kingdom's sake, let's emulate Paul and pray for one another and for the Church that our love will overflow and that we will keep growing in knowledge and understanding.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Philippians 4:8 The Good Stuff

The connecting link between what we believe in our hearts and how we live in everyday life is what we think with our minds. There is a phrase among the computer geek crowd. GIGO. It means garbage in, garbage out. You see, a computer only does what it is told to do. If the programming isn’t right, the computer doesn’t run right. If the programming is garbage, the computer is garbage. A computer is only as good as its programming. Garbage in, garbage out.

Our brains are similar to a computer in this sense. Our thinking is determined by the quality of input. If we put in bad stuff –if we put in hatred, unbelief, jealousy, lust, greed, selfishness, hopelessness, discontentment –then, obviously the output is going to be garbage. Many times we as Christians see negative stuff in our lives –we see garbage output, and we immediately blame the devil, the world, the flesh, the people we work with, the people we live with –we are full of excuses about why there is garbage output in our lives. But the bottom line is that many times the garbage output is directly linked to garbage input.

If we have been struggling with lust or greed or selfishness or anger or any other negative thinking –and especially if it has been leading to negative living, the first thing we need to do is ask, “What have I been putting into my mind?” What television shows have I been watching? What movies have I been watching? What music have I been listening to? What web sites have I been visiting? What books have I been reading? It would be both na├»ve and foolish to think that there is no connection between what goes into our brains and what comes out in our lives.

And, in fact, this is what Paul was talking about in his letter to the church at Philippi. Philippians 4:8  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.

Sometimes it seems we want to fill our minds with the good stuff, but find ourselves unable to concentrate on all this good stuff –we find that when we try to add this good stuff into our lives and into our thinking, it just doesn’t seem to fit. If we want the good stuff in our lives, we must make it a priority and put it in first. If we fill our minds with the trivial stuff and the unimportant and the useless and harmful stuff first, and then try to add some of the good stuff in as an afterthought, it just doesn’t fit -there isn’t room for what matters most.

Fill your minds with things that are excellent and praiseworthy. Notice the phrase “think about such things.” The word that Paul used here means to ponder or consider seriously, and give proper weight or value to, and allow these things to influence the way we live. In other words, Paul is saying, input this. Think these things first.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Proverbs 3:4-5 "Questioning My Own Understanding"

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.  Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight.

We seem to live in cycles; life is filled with ups and downs.   I’m pretty sure that it’s not just me –it’s all of us –we have our good moments and our not so good moments. Sometimes we’re up and everything is good and we are consistently walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh –and sometimes not so much.   And because the way of the Kingdom is so contrary to how our culture programs us to think, we can’t even always discern when we’re up and when we’re down.

Scripture reminds us of this when Jesus says things like,”The first will be last and the last will be first”  or  If you cling to life, you lose it, but if you surrender your life to Jesus you gain eternal life.”   And that our righteousness –our attempts to please God are like filthy rags to God; and when we are weak, we are strong; blessed are those who are spiritually bankrupt and happy are those who mourn and the meek will inherit the earth.  According to Kingdom thinking, everything we think we understand, we don’t understand at all.

There is an old Chinese story that I heard somewhere –I don’t even remember where –that kind of illustrates what I’m trying to say:

      A very poor Chinese farmer had an old horse on which he relied for everything.  This old horse pulled the plow, drew the wagon, and was the farmer’s means of transportation to market and back.  One day, while the horse was out in the field grazing, a big, nasty bumblebee stung him on his rear flank, and that horse bolted –he ran off into the mountains.  The poor farmer went off searching for the horse, but was unable to find him.  The neighbors from the village came by and said, “We heard about your horse running off –we’re sorry for your bad luck.”  But the poor farmer just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bad luck or good luck –who is to say?”
      A week later. The old horse came home –and he was accompanied by three beautiful, healthy wild horses, which the poor farmer was able to corral.  Again the neighbors came by and said, “We heard about your windfall –now you have four horses.  Congratulations on your good luck.”  But the farmer just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Good luck or bad luck –who is to say?”
      The farmer’s only son decided to make the most of the opportunity and set out to break the new horses so they could be put to work in the field or maybe sold for a profit.  But as he was trying to break the horses, he got thrown off and his leg was badly broken in several places.  Now he wouldn’t even be able to help in the field himself.  And the neighbors came by and said, “We are so sorry to hear of your son’s broken leg –such bad luck.”  But again the poor farmer shrugged his shoulders and said, “Bad luck or good luck  -who is to say?”
      Just a week later, war broke out between the provinces in China and the army came through conscripting able bodied males.  Because of the broken leg, the farmer’s son stayed home –and news soon came that all of the young men from the village had been killed in a single battle. 

The point of the story is that things are not always what they seem.   It’s human nature to misunderstand and misinterpret the circumstances around us.  Sometimes, when we think we are doing good, we’re really not doing so good –and sometimes when we think things are bad, God is actually at work doing something wonderful.

This principle is clearly shown in how our American culture thinks of strength and weakness.  We value the rugged individualist –the “I did it my way” mindset –the “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps” idea.  We think we are strong if we don’t ever have to rely on anybody for anything.  We feel weak if we ever are need of someone else’s mercy.

But this is clearly the opposite of what the Bible teaches.   We are strongest when we know know our weakness.  We are strongest when we understand our absolute need for Father’s mercy.  We are strongest when we completely rely on God’s grace.  We are weakest when we rely on ourselves and trust our own understanding.