Thursday, September 6, 2012

Going and Coming

The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:8 

Psalm 121, from start to finish, is about God's watching.

But I love how it ends. It promises that the Lord will watch over "your coming and going." Literally, in the Hebrew, it says, “going and coming.” And "going and coming" conveyed a lot back then.

  1.  In the broadest sense it simply meant "all of life." In other words, God watches over all you do. 
  2.  It also meant "every venture." Every project or involvement you might have. 
  3.  Thirdly, every trip you take was a part of your "going and coming." 
  4.  Fourthly, "going and coming" was a way of talking about the beginning and end of every day. You go out and then return. It encompassed dawn to dusk. 
  5.  But fifthly — and this is the most important one for me — it tells us where home is. 

Since Psalm 121 is a Psalms of Ascents, it would have been what the ancient Israelite people sang on the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It reminded them that God's City was their home.

 But get this. It wasn't about coming to Jerusalem and then going, as we would say it; it was about  going and then  returning —  coming back again. Life required them to go back out into the world. Nevertheless the cycle was  going and then  returning. Every time they arrived in the Holy City they were coming back to the anchor of their lives and the goal of their journeys.

 Here's how I want to say it for you and me. Our walk with God is

 A Journey (capital J) that defines every other journey (small j). 

God invites us to see every venture, every project, every trip, every day of our lives and simply one leg of the Bigger Journey we are traveling. God longs for us to see ourselves as pilgrim people on the move, stepping forward with our capable God and Guide. And every smaller journey of our lives can be defined by that bigger journey.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas in a CUP

At this time of the year, many people long for Christmas in a CUP.

"C" stands for CONVENIENT.

If we are honest, what makes Christmas merry is that it is difficulty-free! We want everything to come together at the right time, in the right way, and as something that works into everyone’s schedule. That would be great! That would be good!

“U” stands for UNCOMPLICATED.

We also believe that Christmas would be best if it was carefree, simple, easy. Free from all the drama!

"P" stands for PERFECT.

We want a Christmas to top all Christmases. Best ever. The most wonderful time of the year. Perfect.

It's true. At this time of the year, many people long for a warm, hot chocolatey holiday. A marshmallow Christmas. A containable Christmas that fits in our hands, warm and frothy, sugary good.

Which is exactly why I find the original Christmas Story so compelling. In reality, the first Christmas was ... well, not perfect. It was inconvenient, awkward, far from ideal. There was difficult travel, awkward news, and inadequate accommodations. The first Christmas was messy.

So why did the angels call it cause for great joy? What was it about this inconvenient, awkward, and messy event that God determined was good? And great? And filled with joy? The angels reveal the source of Christmas joy:

"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11—12.

Instead of bringing us Christmas in a CUP, God gave us Christmas in a MANGER. And I’ll tell you why this is so good and great! Here's my acronym for manger. On a Messy, Awkward Night, God Entered Reality.

The good news of Christmas, and all year long, is that even in the midst of our busy, awkward and messy lives, God shows up. And that really is good news. That really is great joy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

All is calm... really?

You ask the average person on the street what they want for Christmas and many will say, “World peace.” Some people even think that’s why Jesus came – to bring world peace. I mean, didn’t the angels say at Jesus’ birth, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”? Didn’t the angels announce peace on earth at Jesus’ birth?

The reason many people think this is because that is the way older translations of the Bible put it. But all the recent translations have updated it. The original language actually translates more like …

… and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests… (Luke 2:14)

It is true that, one day, Jesus will bring peace to all the Earth. But that will be at His Second Coming. Instead, at His First Coming, the peace Jesus brought was not an outward peace, but an internal peace to specific people.

Here’s what that means for me. I need to stop expecting peace to be around me and start inviting it to be inside me. I can experience God's peace that is not limited to my circumstances, but actually sourced in Heaven. Just as I accept His grace and favor, I can also receive His peace. Indeed, I need to stop expecting peace to be around me and start inviting it to be inside me.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Restaurant tips

Before I was married, I worked as a waiter to put myself through seminary. And it was during that time that I was challenged to grow in grace of giving. And it was a challenge, partly because it was hard to predict how much income I would make. After all, my tips varied from night to night. Each time I showed up for work I was hoping for a good shift, a busy section, and good tippers.

Here’s how I crunched the numbers. Let’s say I received $47 in tips on one particular night. In that particular restaurant it was customary as a waiter to give 15% of your tips to the bus boy, and another 10% to the bar staff. That, alone, took about 12 bucks off the top. My take home that night would’ve been $35. What that meant for me was that the first $3.50 was set aside for my church. Another $3.50 was designated for savings. I’d have to live on 80%. Twenty eight bucks. It was hard. But I’m sure it would be harder now, if I didn’t begin back then.

Over the years I’ve seen how this practice has brought great blessing. God has provided more than we need. More than that, He has taught me to be content with what I have. Mostly, He has given us the opportunity to invest in things that don’t fade. I’m so grateful for what began with restaurant tips.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

As long as we both shall live

The Bible celebrates an exalted view of marriage.

Our culture, on the other hand, propagates many myths about it. And, quite frankly, one of those myths is that marriage is just a legal contract. But in the Book of Malachi, God calls marriage a spiritual covenant. And He emphasized the spiritual component by explaining that when that covenant is broken, people are actually breaking faith (see Malachi 2:14).

If marriage is only a contract, it is disposable. For those who see it this way, if a marriage does not work out, they simply mutually decide to terminate the agreement. Others, because they view marriage as a simply a social custom, put off getting married. Instead, they live together. They rationalize that it is a way of making sure the relationship is really going to work. Interestingly, statistics now show that people who live together before marriage are more likely to divorce than those who do not. As it turns out, living together doesn’t prepare people for marriage; it prepares them to keep their options open.

I appreciate that the Bible views marriage as a spiritual covenant. There are nearly 300 references to the word “covenant” in the Bible. A covenant was an exclusive, solemn and binding mutual agreement between two parties before God. Second only to your decision to follow Christ, your marriage vow is the most important spiritual commitment you’ll ever make.

Maybe it is time to rethink marriage. Instead of buying into the myths of our culture, let’s embrace the clarity, challenge, and satisfying joy for a lifetime that is offered in God’s Word.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Message Your Life Sends

In the final book of the Old Testament, God told the people that they were sending mixed messages. Their faith whispered one thing, but their faithless actions shouted something else. Our actions always send the louder signal.

So God told them that they would lose their blessings. He actually says this: I will curse your blessings” (Malachi 2:2). Curse is another way of saying Wreck. If we waste our influence, we wreck our lives. We know from the context that the people were sending the wrong message by giving God garbage for sacrifices -- the blind and crippled animals in their flocks. They were giving God the leftovers. And God seems to say, “I can’t bless this mess. You're sending the wrong message about My honor.”

These days, we tend measure blessings as health and wealth and easy livin’. But for God’s people in Malachi’s dat, blessing was the privilege of knowing God, serving, God. To be blessed was to be graciously loved by God and to have the privilege of sharing that grace with others. When our actions do not demonstrate that God really is the highest priority in our lives, we miss out on the privilege of serving God and being used by Him. We miss the blessing of blessing others.

What kind of message does your life send to your kids, your grandkids, your friends at school, or the people you work with? There is always a ripple effect. Our actions always send the louder signal.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

The First Thing God Wants You to Know

Malachi had a tough assignment. Because the people of his day had grown complacent, contentious, and disobedient, Malachi was called upon by God to issue a stern warning.

So what will God say through Malachi? How will God begin? What will be the first words out of His mouth? We find God’s opening words to His wayward people in Malachi 1:2:

"I have loved you," says the LORD.

Amazingly, God never speaks to us, except out of love. Whether He speaks kind words or severe words; liberating words or corrective words – in all the ways God speaks to us – He always does so out of love.

Incredible! Of all the things God wants us to know – the fundamental thing is this: “I have loved you!” “I have loved you!”

This truth is a significant part of my own journey with God. As a teenager, far from God, I was overwhelmed in a very personal way by God’s gracious love.

And notice God doesn’t simply say, “I love you,” but, “I have loved you.” In other words, not only does God love us now; He has always loved us! Our entire lives have been peppered with these overwhelming evidences of God’s specific love.

I marvel that the first words of God to His wayward people are an expression of love. God never speaks to us, except out of love.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Enthusiastic Inviters

The Bible ends with an amazing invitation:

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" -- REV 22:17

Looking closely at this verse it becomes clear that God wants His Spirit to work in sync with His Bride (that’s us – His people) in such a way that, together, we would invite others to come to Him.

Now, of course, this is the very thing that makes a lot of people uneasy. Let’s be honest. We are okay with our faith as long as we don’t have to have to impose it on others. But here’s why I think this passage takes some of the pressure off. It’s not about convincing, twisting people’s arms, debating, or arguing people into the kingdom. It’s about looking for people that the Spirit is already inviting… drawing … wooing.

And all we have to do is invite. We don’t have to plan the party or bake the cake. We just have to say, “Come with me.” It’s God’s job to convince, it’s our job to just say, “Would you like to join me in this journey?”

Think about how your faith started. Chances are there was another Christian somewhere who took an invitational risk with you. Why not extend that same invitation to someone else? You can bet that the Spirit will be working too.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Experience the thrill of God working through you

You were made to make a God-sized difference in this world. God pre-packaged you for a significant purpose. The Bible puts it this way:

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides… 1 Peter 4:11

I’ve never gotten over the first rush of knowing God was using me. As a teenager on the phone, it suddenly hit me that as I spoke God was actually using my very words. I couldn’t deny it! It was both humbling… and addicting!

According to the passage above, if you have strengths in speaking, then God wants to communicate to others through you! He actually wants you to be His mouthpiece. More than that, if you have strengths in serving, God wants to actually pour His strength into your service. In other words, it will be your arms, but God’s muscle -- your skills, but His strength!

And I've never gotten over it! The thrill of knowing God could use me! I even think that’s the way Peter felt. Because as soon as he wrote this, he broke into praise! That's why the above verse ends this way:

…so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Peter is pumped up. And you should be as well. God wants to work through you!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Company of the Unaffiliated

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing... Heb. 10:25

Gallop regularly surveys the religious faith of Americans. In the most recent results, as always, the overwhelming majority of Americans still consider themselves Christians. What is interesting to me is that they also break that category into smaller groupings (Catholic, Evangelical, Mainline denominations, Pentecostal, etc.). But here’s what is new. For the first time, the largest sector of Christians in America was the group categorized as the unaffiliated. This is the time it has happened.

In other words, there is a growing population of people in this country who somehow identify with Jesus, but nonetheless have so privatized their faith that they have no tangible community with which they identify.

Did you know that there is some research that suggests that if you join a group, you cut your risk of dying in the next year, as much as in half? I heard about one church whose motto for their small groups was, “Join a group or die.” :) I’m not sure I’m ready to adopt that one, but you get the point.

I’m not saying you have to become a social animal. I’m simply suggesting that the New Testament doesn’t allow for an isolated faith. Our faith was meant to be nurtured in relationship with others.

Don’t give up meeting together. Don’t become a part of the company of the unaffiliated. Rather make a commitment to connect with other believers as a regular rhythm of life for you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Too Much Information

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” -- Jesus in John 17:17

We live in a Wikipedia World. Information, which used to be as rare as rain in California, now floods our lives. So it is more essential than ever that we see the Bible as more than just more data to process.

Let me illustrate this. A lot of people look at Bible Study this way. Imagine the Buckethead below represents the average person.
(Cut me some slack. I drew this myself). A lot of people see Bible as information to download.

The trouble is that there is so much other information coming into our brains as well.

This leads to two problems. 1). Information overload. 2). With all this other information, the Bible becomes a smaller piece of all the data we are trying to assimilate.

Instead, I believe God wants us to see the Bible as a filter. It helps us discern what is true, what needs to be interpreted, and what needs to be discarded. In this way, the Scriptures becomes the grid through which we see life.

With so much information bombarding our minds every day, how can we make sense of it? How can we filter that information? And get to the truth? We need to use the Bible as our filter. It’s the difference between information and transformation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don’t remember what God forgets

In the Bible, King David wrote:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"-- and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

To acknowledge and confess means to agree with God. It is a way of saying that His perspective on the world, on morality, and even on our own lives, is the proper framework. More than that, it is to admit that our desire to do things independently of Him is destructive. And when we agree with God on that, God forgives!

Even more radical than that, when God forgives, God forgets. It is not that He literally has no recollection, but He no longer acts as if it has any bearing on our relationship with Him.

One of my favorite authors, Jill Briscoe, describes a situation where she was worried about something she had done. As she prayed, she said, “Lord, you remember that awful thing I did…”

She sensed God reply this way: “No I don’t remember, Jill. If you want to remember what I forgot that’s your privilege. But I would suggest that you learn to forget what I have forgotten.”

Celebrate forgiveness! Release guilt! Embrace life! Don’t remember what God forgets.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hit the Pause Button

In your anger do not sin… Psalm 4:4

I recently read a very relatable story. Author Kem Meyer tells of a friend who arrived at his church just before the service began. He sat down behind a family he didn’t recognize. As he waited for the service to begin, he noticed that their teenage son was playing on his Gameboy.

As the service started this guy was irritated that the boy continued to play his game. The longer the service went on, the more agitated he became. It was on mute, but still distracting. Finally, he started to lean forward to ask the boy to put the game away, when something caused him to stop. It was just a split second.

As he leaned forward again, he tapped the boy on the shoulder and said, “Hey, you know what? I’ve got a guide with all the moves to beat that game, if you want it.”

It was as if he had this In-your-anger-do-not-sin moment. God always gives us that moment.

As it turns out, that teenage boy in front him was autistic. And because of their son’s inability to sit still, his family hadn’t been able to attend church for years. They had been asked to leave public places numerous times because of the boy’s erratic behavior.

God always gives us that moment – that split-second between anger and sin. It’s easy to blow right through it – so easy to run that stop sign.

But if we can learn to recognize it, and respond well to it, it would make a huge difference in your relationships.

God always gives us that moment.
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