Archive for December, 2009

Serving God Wholeheartedly – Mark Part 1

December 29, 2009

Mark 1:1-8 describes John the Baptist.

John the Baptist was set aside from (before his) birth to serve God.  He was who the prophet Isaiah called “the messenger sent before…a voice of one calling in the desert.”

From John the Baptist, we learn what it looks like to serve God wholeheartedly and really make a difference.

1.   Dedicate all of your passions to God.

John the Baptist let God pick where he lived, what he ate, what he wore.  He fulfilled his role as the voice in the desert completely.  He didn’t live in town, and go to the wilderness on weekends.  He lived where he worked. 

2.  You submitted yourself to God and His calling regardless of the consequences.

There are parts of the world where they really understand this issue.  In the U.S., people don’t mind if you serve God, as long as you keep it to yourself.  John was called to get under people’s skin.  He was called to be the VOICE CALLING.  People listened.  People came and were baptized.  This was a pivotal point in Israel’s history, and people wanted to get right with God.  They wanted to see change.  People were hungry to hear what John the Baptist had to say. 

When we are truly dedicated to serve God, we will be willing to speak up when He tells us to.  There are some hungry people out there.  We need to be willing to speak to them when God says speak.  Sometimes, in the workplace, our actions are our words.

3.  Be humble and give the glory to Jesus.

Even in his popularity, Johnthe Baptist never forgot Who he was serving.  “One is coming, of whose sandals I am not worthy to tie.”  The guy was eating grasshoppers, and had probably played tag with Jesus as a kid, and He never forgot Who he was serving.  The person of Jesus never confused him – he knew Jesus was the Lamb of God – he understood that Jesus was part of God’s plan.

He was not above his failings.  Like many of us, later on, when things didn’t look the way he thought they would, he sent word to Jesus.  “Are you really the One?”  Jesus sent back a simple message.  “Tell John that the lame walk and the blind are healed.”  That was enough.  John the Baptist didn’t doubt again.  He continued to share the good news and confront even Herod himself about his sinful relationship – right up to the day he was killed for it.

Well, we are only a few verses into Mark, and there is plenty for me to grow on.  Do you want to be the person God created you to be?  I know that I do.  Thankfully, He sent the Holy Spirit to teach, guide and direct us.  Where we are powerless, He will be powerful if we ask Him to do it.

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Today’s Focus in Light of the Global Issues

December 27, 2009

Our world is in unrest.  Everything is topsy turvy.  Every day, we find new things to be concerned about.

A quick look at gooogle trends shows us what people are concerned about today.

Overwhelmingly, they are concerned about US security, and the tweet #cn4iran, which is a tweet of those oppressed in China showing support for those protesting in Iran.

One thing remains the same.  Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)  Jesus was the Word that spoke the world into being.  He came to make it possible for us to have an intimate relationship with God.  He sent the Holy Spirit so that NO MATTER the circumstances, we will never be alone.  He is coming back again.

We can have great hope, because when creation cries loudly God answers.  As our world seems to spin out of control, we can expect a God-size response.  In the meantime, listen for the Holy Spirit.  He has things for you to do, right in your area of the world.  Global problems also have local and individual implications – God doesn’t just work on the mass scale, but He uses us to work in the micro scale to make a difference in the individual lives.

You were created for a purpose – in this century, and not in the 1500’s (aren’t you so glad…just think about flush toilets!).  God put you in this day and age to be part of the solution now.  You are a miracle.

Finishing Galatians – the Cross of Jesus

December 24, 2009

Yeah!  Today we get to finish Galatians.

Paul wrote in his own hand these last words (Galatians 6):

The focus of his argument is that people would rather force external rules rather than ‘be persecuted for the cross of Christ’.  Whereas, he himself has chosen the cross of Christ.

What is the cross of Christ?  Twice in Matthew, Jesus tells his followers that they must ‘take up their cross and follow him’.  (Matthew 10:38 and 16:24)

The Matthew 10:38 passage tells us that we must be willing to let go of emotional bonds.  Jesus speaks prophetically about the emotional dissidence that Christianity will cause in some households – mother against daughter, etc.  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This passage seems to connote inaction.  When your closest friends and family ridicule you for your Christ decisions, it is easy to just be inactive – to ‘find your life’.  Jesus invites us to the life of the miraculous – with an eternal promise, but it requires a life of action and danger – those we love may not always understand.  Sometimes they may stand against us.  We are called to pick up our cross and focus on Jesus.

Then the 16:24 passage talks about our ideas on how things should be.  The disciples’ idea of a messiah was a political one.  They had a plan.  They knew what Jesus should do.  Then Jesus said he was going to die.  Peter took him aside and said “Dude!  No way!  This isn’t the way this is going to go down!  I’ve got it all figured out!”  Jesus rebuked him and then told all the disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

The disciples had put Jesus in a box.  When Jesus started explaining that his plan was different, Peter didn’t think that was quite right.  What a tempting situation!  We live in a world of systems.  If you are going to do (X,Y, Z)… then this is how you get there.  We serve a God who doesn’t answer to those systems.  He transcends them. God puts people in captivity and jail for 12+ years to make them 2nd in command in Egypt.  He sends shepherd boys against giants.  He turns water into wine, feeds 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish….  If you want to live in the miraculous, you will have to pick up your cross and choose to live outside the box.  This isn’t a comfortable place to live.

Paul lived in a world that said:  If you are going to serve God, you get circumcised.  The Judaizers wanted non-Jewish Christians to follow the ‘system’.  Jesus came to set people free, not to burden them with rules.  Paul lived outside the box.  He knew the danger of changing one’s mindset to living inside the box.

If you live inside the system, you are ruled by the system.  If you let God rule you only, then you live outside the system, and are free.  Does this mean you don’t obey God’s laws?  No!  It just means that you answer to God instead of to the system.

Today we are encouraged to examine ourselves:

  • Do we have relationships that hinder us from seeking all that Jesus has for us?
  • Have we sought comfort in established rules of how things ‘should be’, or are we allowing God to really be in charge of our lives?
  • Are we living free, or are we in bondage?

Galatians 6, part 2

December 21, 2009

Verses 7-10:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Some days, you just want to do for yourself, huh?  After all, who is taking care of you?

I talked to a young person recently who is learning the life of servanthood.  She said “I’m learning that when you choose to live a life where you serve people, they don’t give back – they just keep taking.”  It takes a lot to continue to be humble and not lash out.  After all, when we figure out the right way to live, shouldn’t everyone live this way?  Mutual service should have a “mutual” component to it, right?

Paul understood this.  He said “don’t grow weary”… keep your eyes on the prize.  He also knew how to keep his eyes on the Source.  We are perfectly incapable of serving others selflessly in our own strength (at least I am).  We need Jesus’ strength to be able to see people the way He does, and to be able to love them the way He does.

The Christmas crowds and Christmas rush have a way of stretching everyone to their breaking point.  Those around us are already on their last bit of emotional energy this week, and might have crossed over into down-right snappy.  The delightful thing is that we have an infinite Source of Joy, Love and Peace.  Just a few minutes with Jesus can help you gain that selfless grasp of life again so that you can return to the fray ready to serve with His love.

40 Loaves by c.d. baker

December 20, 2009

I picked up 40 Loaves, and it was like a cup of cold water in a very dry desert.  c.d. baker is perhaps one of the most authentic and enlightening writers I’ve read in a while.

Each one of these devotionals is short.  They start with a real question.  Not questions that ‘good Christians’ ask, but the real ones that people like you and me ask:

  • Why do I fear unbelief?
  • Why am I so discontented?
  • Why is my life such a mess? (okay, maybe that’s just me)
  • Why is my conscience so sensitive?
  • Why are some Christians so hard for me to like?

And he answers them with real world answers. – No phony, holier than thou answers.  He reminds me a bit of Rob Bell in his honesty, only he seems more orthodox in his approach.

Each devotion is only 3-4 pages.  That’s about the length of time you have before the family figures out you hid in the bathroom, 1/4 the length of a bus ride, a morning coffee break…  Your life will be refreshed.

To start you off on the right foot, I have a free book to give away.  Be the first to ask for it, and it is yours.

Want to buy it?  You’ll find information on the Publisher’s website, or Amazon.com.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren

December 20, 2009

Tonight we have a guest blogger – my daughter Ashley.  I got this book to review, and she asked to read it.  After she read it, I asked her opinion, and in just a few sentences, she gave me a complete review – so I’ve asked her to repeat it for you.

The Story: The mother polar bear tells the cub how Christmas isn’t all about Santa and getting gifts, it’s about Jesus’ birth.

The Illustrations: I think that kids would love to look at the pictures while someone was reading the story, and that they could actually know what the story was by the pictures.  My favorite picture is where the Mom and Cub go look at the Northern Lights.

Who would like this book: This would be a good book for kids 4-10 to read, and it would be a good family book too.

What I thought about this book:  I liked it!!!

Mom’s thoughts:  I looked at two books by this author, God Gave us Love, and God Gave us Christmas and I think she is great.  I enjoyed her Christmas one the best.  I think that kids will particularly like the illustrations, and it is definitely a read-to book, as they will probably outgrow the book by the time they are ready to read it for themselves.  Like Ashley said when she read the first one – “this is a great family book.”

Want to buy this book?  You’ll find it on Amazon.com, or from the publisher, Random House.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group

Primal by Mark Batterson

December 18, 2009

I want to share a book with you.  Mark Batterson has written another book.  If his first two books, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day and Wild Goose Chase were childhood and adolescence, Mark has reached adulthood.

Really, if you are looking for a gift, run and pick this up.  Primal is about getting crazy creative in your walk with God.

Mark talks from experience.  He doesn’t talk from a high platform.  He talks from reality.  He challenges us from a basis of reality.  We aren’t just challenged to be better Christians.  We are challenged to be more real.

This book is not vintage Batterson.  This book is much more.  I think, like all of us, Mark is growing and changing and getting better with age.  Primal has the feel of Leonard Sweet mixed with Alan Hirsch and a bit of Frank Viola.  If you are looking for a book that will challenge you to live the dream – to be what God created you to be, this is the book.

In Primal, Mark explores the four elements of Great Commandment Christianity: compassion, wonder, curiosity, and power. Along the way, he calls you to be a part of God’s reformation, starting in your own life.

As Mark writes, “Is there a place in your past where you met God and God met you? A place where your heart broke for the things that break the heart of God? Maybe it was a sermon that became more than a sermon. Maybe it was a mission trip or retreat. Maybe it was a vow you made at an altar. In that moment, God birthed something supernatural in your spirit. You knew you’d never be the same again. My prayer is that this book would take you back to that burning bush—and reignite a primal faith.”

Primal will help you live in light of what matters most and discover what it means to love God. It will help you become great at the Great Commandment.

Want more information?  There is a lengthy quote from the first chapter in this article (A Face on Poverty) I wrote elsewhere.

You can buy the book from the publisher, or from Amazon.com.

This was book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah.

When those around you are falling apart – Galatians 6 part 1

December 17, 2009

We have reached the end of Galatians.  What a treat this has been.

Paul ends his letter in two parts.  There is so much here, we are going to have to do this in parts.

Paul doesn’t pull any punches.  He just tells it like it is.  Sometimes, those around you aren’t going to have their life together.  Sometimes, you are going to want to run for the hills because even an association with someone is going to seem too much.

When they’ve sinned.

Paul says:  go to them, restore them and don’t judge them, because you might someday need similar grace.  Ouch!  When people sin, don’t we hold part of ourselves back to ‘help’ them.  We want to use our higher brain functions to ‘show them how to do it right’.  Paul says:  treat them as an equal.  You have the same base tendencies.  Lovingly restore them.  (If you check this with other Paul writings, this would mean that the person has turned from their sin, and isn’t continuing in it.)

About 200 years after Paul wrote these words, there was a great persecution.  Some of the Christians couldn’t handle the pressure, and turned in other Christians.  Those who were turned in were tortured, and some were even fed to the lions.  When the persecutions were over, those who remained, wanted to make sure they could trust the informants.  They devised a method by which the informants could earn their way back into the congregation.  This is where the whole idea of penance came from.  They had to stay outside the congregation for a year and couldn’t have communion for a year while they were paying their penance.  Interestingly, those who had survived prison were the most forgiving, and called for forgiveness.

Share the burden of the oppressed

Ouch.  We like to give to charities so that the charities can share the burden.  In what ways do we share the burden?  Have you considered having someone who has alienated their entire family over to the holidays?  What about having coffee with someone and listening to their story?  Hospitality has many forms.  It is easy to show hospitality to those who look and act like us, but hospitality of the heart means that we offer our time and energy to those who can’t return it – in this way, we share their burden.  Genuine human contact is precious, and it is one of the things they miss most.

Be the person God created you to be

I had a conversation on the bus with a woman this week.   I was telling her how incredibly creative one of my children is.  She said “yes, but there is no money in that.  Better tell them now, and make sure they make plans for the future.”  I have been thinking on this all week long.

I wonder how much of our society has been squelched because people are trying to be responsible and earn a living.  God designed us in His image, and His image is creative.  His image is also analytical and methodical.  He has so many facets.  You were designed in God’s image, and when you live up to being the person He created you to be, you add value to society.  Find your giftings, explore them and develop them to the hilt.  We won’t be the same if you don’t.

I want to change the channel!

December 12, 2009

What do you do when you find yourself reaching for the life-remote?  You know, when you suddenly find yourself saying “wait!  I don’t like this!  I need to change the channel.  This isn’t my life, I want another one!”

I was thinking about this concept this morning.  Some days, we hit that point – where we decide, IT’S TOO MUCH!

Like I often do, my next thought was to find some biblical examples of what we should do when we are looking for the life-remote.

  • Moses talked to God about it.
  • Daniel revisited the spiritual disciplines of fasting and prayer.
  • Elijah sought solitude and actually ran to the Mountain of the Lord.
  • Jesus prayed his guts out in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • The disciples shut themselves in the upper room until God showed up
  • Paul and Silas sang songs
  • Corrie ten Boom practiced forgiveness
  • A myriad of believers have learned that practicing thankfulness is key

Today, I want to encourage you – the answer is found in digging deeper, not running away.  God will never leave you, nor forsake you.  He took Joseph to some pretty awful and dark places – all for the purpose of putting him in the perfect place, at the perfect time, to save a nation.  Moreover, God gave Joseph the strength to handle his situation with integrity.  He will do the same for you, if you let Him.

Free Living in Galatians 5

December 10, 2009

When I was young, I memorized Galatians 5:1, 13 & 22 by way of a song.  This chapter has been a part of my heart for years.  I never realized it was also the chapter where Paul blows his top.

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (vs. 12)

What is it about freedom in Christ that had Paul so hot and bothered?  What could adding a few rules hurt?

Let’s take a little walk, back to the evening before Jesus was arrested.  Jesus and the disciples were still sitting at the table.  Right after Judas left, Jesus gives them a new command:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)  Then he goes on to give them three promises:

  1. That he is going to prepare a place for them, and that he will come back (our eternal hope)
  2. “Anyone who has faith in Him will do what he is doing, and even greater things.”  The Message translates the next part best: “From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” (John 14:14)
  3. That he will send the Holy Spirit.  Chapter 16 goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit convicts and guides into truth.  Elsewhere he comforts and endues Power.

Now.  If Jesus wants to give you all these things, and His only commandment is to love each other and to remain in Him, why would you want to go out on a tangent trying to obey other laws?  Listen to the results of this behavior:  “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)

When I learned these verses as a teen, I thought it meant that I had to work hard to become that list of positive behaviors in verse 19.  That’s because I never learned verse 16.  Live by the Spirit and you won’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  It is a positive statement, not a negative one.  You can’t become Christlike by figuring out what not to be.  You can only become Christlike by getting to know Jesus – by letting the Holy Spirit do the work on the inside of you.

A dandelion doesn’t say I want to become a poof flower (whatever those things are), it just becomes one because it is part of it’s nature.  If you have the Holy Spirit on the inside of you, and you are listening to Him, you will become like Him.  If you are trying to figure out how to get it all right, you are going to lose.  The fruits of the Spirit grow from within – you can’t make them appear.

What about self discipline you ask?  For many of us, the real discipline is being quiet and letting the Spirit talk to us.  Listening to His voice and doing what He says instead of what seems like the right thing.