Monday, May 31, 2010
A few years ago, I was on a weekly conference call with pastors from all over the country. Most of us had never met in person, but we talked every week about small group ministry.
Some months later, I was talking to someone in the lobby of Willow Creek Community Church. A stranger turned around, pointed his finger at me, and said “Allen White.” Guilty as charged. He had never seen my face, but he knew that no-accent Kansas voice.
Before the days of caller id, we all had our own version of caller id. If a friend or relative would call, we wouldn’t need to ask them to identify themselves. We would just start talking. If we didn’t recognize the voice, then it was probably a telemarketer or someone from church trying to recruit us for something.
Jesus said that His sheep, His disciples, listen to His voice. Part of the reason for saying this was to address the unbelief of the Jews. They didn’t hear and understand what He was saying.
The reason that believers face so much resistance or even hostility in the world is that unbelieving people can’t understand spiritual things. I didn’t say that they “don’t understand,” but that they can’t. The Bible tells us “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). That doesn’t make believers better than anyone else. Simply put it takes the Holy Spirit in your life to fully connect with God and understand spiritual things.
Jesus also pointed out that His sheep hear His voice, but that they run from strangers’ voices (John 10:1-5). There are many other “voices” in the world that want to change our thinking. We become confused as believers when we avoid the Word of God. The world subtly influences our beliefs and standards. The hard truth is that most Christians are discipled by television (and I don’t mean Christian television). When the Word of God begins to become objectionable to us, then we need to evaluate whose voice we’re listening to.
Please don’t take this wrong. I’m not saying don’t watch television. I’m just saying watch it less. Maybe even watch different things rather than the same programs all of the time. Break its pattern of influence in your life.
God is speaking to us, but often we can’t hear His voice because it’s being drowned out by so much noise in our lives. That noise may be sound. That noise is also busyness, hurry and worry.
How easy is it for you to recognize God’s voice? It doesn’t have to be some hyped up, spiritually extravagant sort of episode. God wants to speak to you every day. What is He saying in His word? What is He saying in your few quiet moments? He is speaking. How can you learn to listen more closely?
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Sunday, May 30, 2010
I’m always amazed that God uses me at times to speak to others. I’m not surprised, but I am amazed every time. Sometimes it seems that the days that I feel that I have the least to say are the days when there are more responses of “you were talking directly to me.” Sometimes God will speak things to people through a Sunday message that I didn’t even realize that I actually said. Other times in conversation I will say something to someone, and then wonder where in the world those wise words came from. They certainly didn’t come to me. (See I am more self-aware than you thought.)
In my early days of ministry, I would often become nervous about having exactly the right thing to say to comfort others in their trouble. After 20 years of serving God’s people, I’ve discovered that what I have to say in a crisis situation or in a hospital room really doesn’t make much difference at all. My words don’t matter nearly as much as being there to support and to pray.
As Jesus prepared to leave this earth after three and a half years of working alongside His disciples, He left them a wonderful gift, the Holy Spirit. They would no longer have to go and seek out the God-man, Jesus Christ. The Spirit would always be with them. God’s Spirit would live in them.
The Spirit also lives in all of us who believe. When we wonder what to do or what to say, we just need to ask God, and then pay attention to the next few thoughts in our head. If those thoughts sound like something that God would say in His Word, then pursue them. If those thoughts seem a little strange, well, we should do a little research in God’s Word and maybe consult a mature believer before we step out.
What do you need an answer for today? What is the Spirit speaking to you? He is speaking. Are you listening?
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Thursday, May 27, 2010
Words are flying around everywhere these days. You can find opinions and advice everywhere. If you don’t get enough from cable news or the coffee shop, then sign up for Twitter or Facebook. Words come in an endless stream.
In this flurry of opinion, where does the Bible fit in? Is God’s Word THE authority for what we think and do? Or, is the Bible one source among a myriad of others? Now, I don’t want to come across as some sort of Bible-thumping, fried chicken-eating preacher today. (How do you thump an electronic Bible anyway?) But, look at how Paul commends the Thessalonians.
Paul and his companions thanked God continually because “when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God.” What if your pastor texted, tweeted, Facebooked or MySpaced a message this week in 140 characters of less that said, “Come this Sunday. God has spoken. You need to hear it”? Would you come running? Would you be skeptical? Would you bring him an antacid?
The reality is that every Sunday when our pastors open God’s Word, they are bringing a message from God. While that message is cloaked in human interpretation and presentation, God is speaking to us. When we open our Bibles and read, God is speaking to us. God may even be speaking through these devotionals (from the top of the page for sure).
Some people long to hear a direct message from God. Low and behold, that direct message is right under your nose, and possibly your reading glasses. Read it. Ponder it. Discuss it. Obey it. God’s Word is “at work” in those who believe.
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
For some this seems like a dangerous verse. If we can ask for whatever we wish, then what if we ask for something we shouldn’t have? Here’s a little secret: God’s a big boy. He can say “No.”
But, the verse says that if we ask for whatever we wish, then it will be given. But, we have all asked God some significant things: healing, provision, miracles and not all of those answers have been “Yes.” Is this verse just supposed to frustrate us? Is this reserved for a better, more spiritual class of Christian?
To get the second part of this verse, we have to get the first part. Jesus says that we will get what we ask for if we “remain” in Him. Remain, abide, dwell – that’s all great if you’re a laid back, Type-B personality who spends your days sipping tea, listening to music, and reading spiritual classics. But, for those of us who are Type A personalities, you can’t really nail us down to one spot. Remaining sounds like hard work.
What’s the scariest thing that you’ve ever done? Whether it’s riding a roller coaster, bungee jumping, changing careers, or having surgery, when we are in a high anxiety situation, we tend to pay very close attention to the instructions. If we don’t depend on the amusement operator, our new boss, or the doctor, things could go terribly wrong. We could fail. We could die or be seriously maimed. We trust that they have our best interest at heart.
Jesus compares remaining in Him with a branch connected to a vine. To remain connected is life and fruitfulness. To disconnect is death. If Jesus were teaching this today, maybe He would talk about an astronaut being tethered to the International Space Station or unborn babies receiving all of their sustenance through their mothers’ umbilical cords. In both scenarios “remaining” is essential for survival.
For those of us who are more often called “human doings” rather than human beings, we’d rather just cut the cord. Independent spirits struggle with depending on God. Yet, without Him we can do nothing.
What does your connection with God look like these days? Are you completely connected and enjoying the flow of His Spirit? Or, are you lost in space? Stop right now and make a quick connection with Him. Then, keep it going all day. Before you make a decision, check in with Him. Before you utter a discouraging word, check in. If you can’t remember, then set a timer or a reminder.
Once your connection is strong, then you’ll be amazed at how your wishes change and how many of them are answered.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Okay, before you hit “delete,” let’s put this verse into context. Jesus is speaking these harsh words to the Pharisees. Just a few verses before the Pharisees were employing their status as “Abraham’s descendents” to justify their religious position. They didn’t need to repent. They didn’t need to change. The system they had was working great. Jesus just needed to shut up.
Jesus told them that by their words and actions the Pharisees revealed who their true father was. Their father was the devil (John 8:44). Now before you take away the wrong impression, here’s the deal: Jesus loved the Pharisees just as much as He loved His disciples. God loves all people equally. Love is God’s nature. He couldn’t be any other way.
The Pharisees refused to see how their humanly controlled religious system had substituted itself for an actual relationship with God. They were calm. They were in control. Jesus upset all of that. Again, Jesus didn’t intervene because He hated them, but because He loved them. Jesus won’t allow any human being to settle for less than what God intends for them. The most miserable people on the planet are the ones who resist the Father’s voice.
I don’t know that any of you reading this devotional have reached the level of stubbornness and religious regulation of the Pharisees. But, what we have to be sensitive to is any checklist that we find ourselves depending on. The checklist goes “if I attend church on Sunday, give to charity, recycle my garbage, and read a Bible story to my children, I’m in good shape with God.” None of those things are bad. But, our dependence on any list undermines our relationship with God.
Think about it this way. Let’s say that you want to become the best spouse/parent/friend that you possibly can be. You consult all of the experts. You read every book you can lay your hands on. You arrive at what you believe is the correct way to be the best spouse/parent/friend. The reality is that you can do all of the “right” things according to the expert and still fail to have a successful relationship. Relationships are not something that we do to people.
Religion is something that we do to God, but religion lacks relationship. In a relationship with God, we learn to hear His voice.
How easy or difficult is it for you to hear God’s voice? If you’re not sure about the things that you feel or experience, the safest place to start is with God’s Word. We are certain of God’s voice through His Word. Then, pay attention to other things that you’re “hearing” that sound like the Word.
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Monday, May 24, 2010
2 Timothy 3:16-17
I’m not much for manuals. I would rather open a new computer program or try a new venture on my own first. When I get stuck, then I find the manual or better yet, a friend who has read the manual. Most manuals give me information that I will never use anyway. Why sit down and read the whole thing?
Last year I bought an outdoor play set for my children. I thought that the hard part would be lugging the six very large boxes home. That was easy. I phoned a friend.
Once the box was opened, then the complication began. The assembly of the play set required 132 steps. One hundred and thirty-two! It was daunting to say the least. After I had completed the first three steps (only 129 more to go), it snowed. It was the one day of snow a year that we get in South Carolina, but it snowed on my project. This was going to be a very long process.
There were days when I felt that it would never be finished. My children were anxious to actually play on it. At times, they wondered if that would ever be possible. Well, after about a month of identifying parts, assembling, disassembling and then assembling correctly, it was finished. All 132 steps! The swings, the slide, the chimney, the plasma TV, everything was ready for play.
God’s Word is meant to “thoroughly equip” us. Now, if it were only 132 steps that would be awesome. Sometimes it seems like 132,000 steps. It’s the guide for the course of our lifetimes.
The Bible tells us when we’ve been wise, and when we’ve been foolish. It evaluates whether we’ve built well or have built poorly. The Bible even points out when we’ve been building the wrong things.
What are you building these days? Have you followed God’s instructions closely or are you waiting until you get stuck? God’s Word has something to say about every situation in your life. Is it time to consult the manual?
Sunday, May 23, 2010
If you want to feel younger, hang out with old people. If you want to feel skinnier, hang out with fat people. If you want to feel “Christianer,” then hang out with lousy Christians. If you have multiple issues, then hang out with older, fatter Christians who eat a lot of snacks and watch a lot of TV. Then, we can feel better about ourselves. Ouch.
If getting into Heaven or living an outstanding Christian life was a contest, it would be pretty easy to win. Just look at the people around you. There are plenty of reasons to vote them off of the island.
The Apostle Paul addresses this kind of thinking, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). It’s easy to be a “better” Christian if I am more knowledgeable or more obedient or more holy than you, but then again, I’m probably also more prideful. Oops.
I’ve found that it’s much easier to pick up the remote than to pick up the Bible. I do read and study God’s Word. Usually there is not a remote around. Most of us have quite a collection of Bibles, yet why is the Bible so hard to open? I’m not talking about that behemoth family Bible on the coffee table. I’m talking about the one on your nightstand or is it on the shelf? It’s around here somewhere.
Why is it hard to pick up the Bible? The Bible cuts to the chase. The Word of God “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” We can justify ourselves all day long, but God’s Word pulls the covers back to expose who we really are. It gets to places in us that we can’t even go: the space between our soul and spirit and the gap between our joints and marrow. The Word of God can penetrate our entire being. No wonder we’re sometimes reluctant to pick it up.
How does the Bible have this kind of effect on us? The Word of God is living and active. While there are many books that can inspire and inform us, there is no other book that is alive. Think about this: the Holy Spirit lives in every believer (Romans 8:9-11), and the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible to be written (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). The Spirit that inspired the Word lives in you. There is a wonderful exchange that takes place when we interact with the Bible.
What happens when you pick up God’s Word? Do you ever have times when its seems that the Words just leap off of the page and it’s exactly what you need to hear? Or, do you ever read a familiar passage only to discover things that you had never really seen before? These are a couple of ways that God speaks to me through the Bible.
Now, if you feel that God reveals something that no one has ever heard of before, then you should carefully check the context. But, overall, you will be surprised at how God can guide you by His Spirit to ‘hear” from reading the Word.
Thursday, May 20, 2010
I have heard Christians long for the days when people heard God’s audible voice. Somehow hearing an actual voice seems more spiritual or more valid. Prophets and leaders in the Old Testament often heard audible voices. Oh for the good old days…
The difficulty in hearing from God is how we know what is actually from God and what is really part of us. The theologian Lily Tomlin summed this up well, "Why is it that when we talk to God we’re said to be praying, but when God talks to us we’re schizophrenic?"
God doesn’t want us to be confused or to lack direction, so He gave us something that the prophets of old never had. God gave us His Spirit to live in us. Jesus told His disciples that when He left, the Counselor or the Comforter would take His place. The Spirit of truth wasn’t foreign to them. The Spirit was living with them. But, when Jesus ascended the Spirit’s role changed. The Spirit would no longer be just accompanying them. The Spirit would be indwelling every believer.
The presence of God’s Spirit changes how we go about life. The Spirit elevates our conscience. Things that we used to do freely bring about an internal struggle that wasn’t there before. Don’t beat yourself up over the struggling. God’s Spirit is working in you. When the struggle ceases, then worry.
The Spirit gives us insights that we couldn’t have any other way. Maybe we suddenly know something that we wouldn’t have known otherwise. Or let’s say that we’re asking God to bring someone to serve alongside us. Suddenly, a person that we never really thought about, pops up on our radar. We keep running into them. That’s something to pay attention to.
My more cerebral readers at this point are getting nervous that I am advocating some sort of hocus pocus. Here’s the test. Whatever you sense God speaking to you will be verified in other ways: God’s Word, prayer, circumstances, and other believers. Whatever doesn’t measure up, especially to God’s Word, should be ignored or written off as indigestion. Whatever passes the test of Scripture will also pass the test of time. Each confirmation will build our confidence in discerning God’s voice.
The presence of God’s Spirit in the life of a believer is a remarkable thing. The prophets of old never received such a gift. How would your life change if you truly grasped the power and presence of God in you?
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him." 1 Kings 19:11-18
Elijah had just defeated the prophets of Baal in a contest at Mount Carmel that proved once and for all that Elijah’s God was the One True God. The people of Israel were in rebellion and were ruled by an ungodly king, Ahab. The prophets of Baal were put to death. Good was victorious over evil that day. But, Elijah didn’t receive a victor’s crown. He got a death threat instead. Queen Jezebel was an ardent worshipper of Baal.
Elijah ran for his life, and then in a moment of exhaustion and panic, he was ready to end it all. He wasn’t suicidal. He just longed to receive his reward in Heaven sooner rather than later.
After some rest and nutrition, or as Brenda Blankenship put it on Mother’s Day, “Take a nap and eat a snack,” Elijah managed a 40 day journey to Horeb. He found a cave and took a nap.
Elijah desperately needed to hear from God. Following God’s will resulted in a death threat. If we were in Elijah’s shoes, at this point, we would probably be wondering if we had misunderstood something along the way. It would seem that obeying God would lead to a more positive result. Unfortunately, God has never given us that guarantee.
God instructs Elijah to step out of his cave and wait. Elijah witnesses gale force winds that tear the mountains apart and shatter rocks. You have to wonder if Elijah is thinking “Yay God!” or “Oh Crap!” But, God wasn’t in the wind. The wind subsides, then the earth begins to move. But, God wasn’t in the earthquake. Then, fire appeared. Wind, earthquakes and fire -- do you think Elijah was in California?
God wasn’t present in any of these phenomena. Elijah needed for God to show up in a mighty way. But as soon as Elijah began to hum, “I feel like something good is about to happen…” the storm would subside. Maybe he was hoping that Ahab’s army would go the route of Pharaoh’s army and just disappear from the face of the earth.
God wasn’t in the dramatic moments. God didn’t speak through special effects. God didn’t come across as the great and power Oz. He didn’t need to.
Elijah heard a gentle whisper. That was God. God didn’t need to demonstrate the power of His presence. God’s presence is powerful. God’s whisper is powerful.
God directed Elijah to what would happen next and revealed a portion of His plan. Elijah would retire. Another would take up the mantle.
God doesn’t need volume. God doesn’t need special effects. God simply needs a listen ear that will listen to His voice.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Southerners are loyal. They are loyal to their church, and they are loyal to their football team. One of the first questions I was asked when I moved to the Upstate was whether I was a Clemson fan (pronounced Klemp-son – there’s no “z” sportscasters) or a USC fan (which has nothing to do with Trojans or Southern California). I have never entered that fray. I am a Jayhawk. Born in Lawrence, Kansas, how could I be anything else?
Southerners delight in decorating their cars and themselves in homage to their team. They name their children “Dabo” or “Steve” based on their loyalties. There are even a few who come to church dressed entirely in black when their team loses.
While there are a few Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia Tech fans thrown in, there is one group who incurs the wrath of most South Carolinians: those with divided loyalties. Now, there are some households that are unequally yoked: a Clemson fan married a USC fan. We understand that falling in love is a result of a miracle and temporary insanity. But, there are some who have the audacity to have actually attended both schools. This is an abomination.
The Bible tells us that God wants to draw near to us and be close to us. But, this intimacy with God is not possible if we have divided loyalties. Just like someone can’t graduate from Clemson and root for USC (or vice versa), we can’t devote ourselves to God and then live as if He doesn’t even exist.
Now, I’m not advocating that we reject the world, sell all of our possessions, and move to a mountain top monastery to live our lives as some sort of spiritual survivalists. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. The problem is that the longer we’re in the world, the more we find ourselves, even as believers, becoming more “of the world” than we care to admit.
The answer is simple, but difficult. The solution is to slow down throughout our day and connect with God. The difficulty is that we rarely slow down or we think that a connection with God needs to follow some grandiose ritual. My solution is that I have scheduled God on my calendar for two appointments per day: 8 am and 3 pm. If you want to see me then, well, I’m indefinitely booked at those times. My appointment with God is about 10 minutes long. I start out with two minutes of silence. Since I’m a Type A personality, one eye is on God. The other is on the clock. Then, I read two or three Psalms. I end with another two minutes of silence.
When I am faithful to my appointments with God, I have better perspective on my life. Those first two minutes of silence remind me that God doesn’t really need me to do anything, to think about anything, to solve anything…without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). The best part is knowing that God looks forward to these appointments more than I do.
How do you draw near to God daily? Where can you make time for even five minutes with God? In your car on the way to work? In the bathroom while you’re getting ready? Maybe you can’t set a regular schedule. Maybe you’d rather just stay in a constant conversation with God throughout the day. “God, did you see what that driver just did?” “God, what am I going to do with these children?” “God, how should I respond to that jerk in my office?”
God is looking forward to your time with Him.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can watch the messages online at http://www.brookwoodchurch.org
A Message Discussion Guide is also available for Small Groups, individuals or friends: http://www.brookwoodchurch.org/discussionguide
Samuel answered, "Here I am." 1 Samuel 3:3-4
God communicated directly with Samuel in a way that not many people experience. Samuel heard an audible voice. He had never heard God speak. In fact, according to the Bible and the flannel graph story from my childhood, Samuel got out of bed thinking that Eli had called him from the next room. This happened twice, and then Eli advised Samuel to acknowledge God’s voice and listen.
I remember an anniversary I wanted to celebrate with my wife. Money was a little tight at the time. Since we are committed to getting out of debt and staying out of debt, I knew that plastic was not the answer. I needed paper. I asked God if He would provide for our anniversary.
Not long after that someone asked if I would be interested in doing a wedding. I told them that the date wasn’t going to work since there was a family birthday that day. They left to see if another pastor could do the wedding.
A little while later God spoke to me, not audibly, but through an impression. The thought went like this: “Didn’t you ask Me to provide for your anniversary? Then, why did you turn down officiating at that wedding?” Suddenly, the light bulb went on. I may be slow, but I’m not stupid. I immediately contacted the staff member, committed to the wedding, and celebrated our anniversary with the honorarium.
Do you find yourself asking God, but not really expecting an answer to your prayer? You’re not in Sunday school here. You can give an honest answer.
God delights in giving to His children. This is not in some overboard Name It and Claim It, shouldn’t-the-King’s-kids-drive-fancy-European-cars sort of angle to make you healthy, wealthy and wise. But, God loves you. Jesus said that He knows what we need before we even ask (Matthew 6:8).
What do you need these days? After you ask, pay attention to what happens next. The answer might be right in front of your face.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
My son, Samuel, has a hearing loss in both of his ears. We’re not sure exactly why this showed up a few years ago, but it’s not ever going away. Sam wears hearing aids in both ears and has some special accommodations in his classroom at school to help him hear the teacher.
I’ve learned with Sam that before I speak to him, it’s important that I get his attention first. I can’t just say, “Hey Sam, come over here.” I usually walk up and touch him on the shoulder to get his attention. Then, I talk to him.
Hearing loss is a limit on Sam’s life. There’s really no way around it. But, I expect that Sam will have a good life. He’s intelligent and highly creative. Sam is curious to the point of interrogating me on the morning drive to school. Some days I just want to take the Fifth.
I’ve discovered something else about Sam’s hearing. Sometimes Sam doesn’t hear because he’s hearing impaired. Other times, though, Sam doesn’t hear because he doesn’t want to. He is hard of hearing, but he also has selective hearing.
A friend of mine has twin girls. One is hearing impaired. The girl with hearing squealed on her sister one day by reporting that she sometimes turns her hearing aid off to avoid hearing what her mom has to say.
How’s your hearing? How is your eyesight these days? The prophet Ezekiel spoke frankly to a rebellious people. At first glance, it might seem that their lack of communication was caused by their rebellion. The reality is that not hearing from God was their rebellion.
When things are going well, it’s easy to trust our own decisions and go with the flow. There really doesn’t seem to be any reason to consult God when we have matters firmly in hand. But, then life takes a turn. Suddenly, we are prompted to either blame God for the problem or beg for His mercy on our pitiful souls. Does God need to turn up the heat just to have a conversation with us?
Think about this: the Master and Creator of the universe wants to have a relationship with you. Just like you would text a friend or sit down for a cup of coffee, God wants to interact with you. God wants to guide your steps. He wants to help you even in the mundane things in life.
Where has a little rebellion crept into your life? How about unstopping your ears and listening today?
Thursday, May 13, 2010
When someone hurts us, we are placed at a fork in the road. Simply put, we have two choices: forgiveness or resentment. Neither choice is easy. Resentment locks us in a prison of emotional pain. Forgiveness is freeing, but it’s not cheap.
Some have bought into the false notion that we forgive and forget. I don’t think that’s actually possible. The best we can probably do is forgive and repress, but that actually feels more like resentment.
Forgiveness is costly. Sometimes people will say, “That’s okay. It really doesn’t matter.” That’s not really forgiveness. In fact, forgiveness is only required when their actions really did hurt and really do matter.
Think about this: forgiveness was tremendously costly to God. Jesus died on the cross to offer forgiveness of our sins. God couldn’t say, “That’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” Our sin results in eternal separation from God. Our forgiveness comes at a considerable price.
Forgiveness is not brushing off someone else’s action. Forgiveness says, “I have every right to hold this against you. You harmed me. Intentionally or unintentionally, you did damage to me that I did not deserve. Because of that, you deserve to pay. You deserve the heat of my anger. You certainly don’t deserve to be in relationship with me. But, considering all of that, because Christ forgave me of much worse things, through Christ I am able to forgive you. I don’t know if I can trust you right away, but I am not going to let this stand between us. It will never be forgotten, but I’m not going to hold it against you. And, I will stop wishing that you’d get run over by a bus.”
Who do you need to forgive? On this Mother’s Day week, maybe you need to forgive your mother for something that happened long ago. I would encourage you to release that. Maybe forgiveness isn’t necessarily offered in a conversation with her, but it certainly can be offered in your heart. Even if your mother has passed from this life, it is worth it to free yourself from the bondage of resentment and to forgive.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Twice in Luke chapter two, Mary “treasured” things that she witnessed about Jesus. The first was the angel’s announcement about God sending His Son to the world through Mary. The second was when Mary and Joseph returned to find Jesus speaking with the Rabbis in the temple. While Mary had indisputable evidence as to Jesus’ origin and purpose, the signs of His mission revealed even in His childhood were precious to her.
Your child is special, and not just the short bus variety (but some of us have those special ones too). God has a unique purpose for each of your children. God has given them talents and abilities to fulfill a calling in life that only they can do. Have you thought about that?
What is your child’s natural talent other than annoying his parents? What does she do that stands out? What are they naturally drawn toward? Can you never get them in the house? Can you never get them out? Does he like to take things apart and figure out how they work? Or, does she destroy things? Do your children sing? Do they tell jokes? Do they like to read?
I believe that part of our responsibility as parents is to expose our children to all kinds of things and see what they’re good at. That doesn’t mean to torment them with things you would like to see them do. If your future pro linebacker hates playing the piano, just save the money. You’ll need it for your grocery budget down the road.
Take time to notice your child’s likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. Then, pray for how God will use them in this world.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
"Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Luke 2:41-50
I love this story. Mary and Joseph lost the Savior. That’s ironic! Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. At 12 years old, He was lost.
I often panic when I can’t spot my kids on the playground. I can’t imagine losing one for a couple of days. But, that’s exactly what Jesus’ parents did. They lost the most significant child to ever be born.
Now, Jesus’ parents weren’t being neglectful. They were probably traveling with a large group of people. And, there were probably other boys named Jesus in the group. It was an honest mistake.
All parents make mistakes. And, their parents also made mistakes. We can trace parenting mistakes all of the way back to Adam and Eve in the Garden. I don’t offer this as an excuse. We can all do better. But, when we start out as parents, we don’t start as a blank slate. We had parents, and fortunately or unfortunately, that is our default.
So let’s say that as a father you have difficulty connecting with your son. When you look back at your childhood, you see that your father had difficulty connecting with you. And, your grandfather had difficulty connecting with your father when he was a boy. By default, this pattern will continue on and on. But, it doesn’t have to.
If by example or makeup or excuse, you cannot connect with your son, then you choose to find what your son is interested in and make a regular effort to connect with him. As unnatural as this might seem at first, over time you make regular connections with your son. With God’s help, that pattern is broken and your grandson will already have a better life than you did.
You can apply that example in a thousand different ways. You can work hard as a parent. You can learn the techniques and study Scripture, but the bottom line is that sooner or later all parents blow it. What do you do? You ask your child to forgive you. You say, “You know what you were doing made me angry and I said some things that I shouldn’t have. I need to ask you to forgive me.” Then, you need to work on your anger.
Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It’s a tough job, but it is so worthwhile. Brookwood Church has many great parenting resources including Parents Small Groups, BrookwoodU classes, Sunday message series, and many other resources. I would encourage you to find a group or a class. Maybe even find another parent who is a little further down the road than you are. Lastly, pray for your Heavenly Father to give you insight into your children and wisdom for what to do. He gives freely to those who ask.
Monday, May 10, 2010
I am always surprised at how much people shy away from the title “mentor.” When I talk to people with a lifetime of experience in marriage, parenting, working, following God, and just living, they often don’t feel that they have much to offer. They think, “Who would want to listen to me?” Well, you’d be surprised.
Almost 20 years ago I started teaching at a Bible Institute in Modesto, California. My first class was on the Major Prophets. My joke was that I was going to have to read them first. The truth was it wasn’t a joke. I was a little intimidated to say the least.
I asked another instructor who attended our church how he had become so well versed in the courses he taught. He offered some wise advice, “All you need to do is stay one lesson ahead of the class.” That was it. That was the secret. I’ve been staying one lesson ahead for 20 years now.
How about you? What do you have to offer? Maybe you don’t tweet or have a thousand friends on Facebook. But, if you’ve built a company that you or someone else owned, raised a family, celebrated a silver anniversary, or have faithfully walked with God, you have something to offer someone younger than you.
How do you get started? The BWomen Ministry at Brookwood Church has a mentoring program where they match younger women and mature women together for a period of time. But, all mentoring doesn’t need to be formal. Leading a Small Group gives an opportunity to mentor and help others. In fact, you might even end up mentoring each other. If you have knowledge from your education, employment or even a hobby, BrookwoodU is a great place to share yourself with others.
Why not pray and ask God who you can help? Then, pay attention to who God brings across your path. It’s not a coincidence. Invite them for a cup of coffee, and then go on from there. It’s better than men would mentor men and women mentor women.
If you’re open, God will use you.
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Many new moms pick up a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. While the book offers many helpful tips on a variety of topics, even memorizing the book wouldn’t make you fully prepared for motherhood. I think the biggest issue is that the baby hasn’t read the book. The baby just doesn’t know how to act. There is nothing against preparation. But, all of that knowledge paired with a lack of sleep pretty much equals zero in the end.
Mary was unprepared for motherhood to say the least. She was betrothed to Joseph, which was a little more than engaged, but definitely not married. Mary was a virgin. The thought of being pregnant was, well, inconceivable (sorry).
There was no doubt in Mary’s mind that she was pregnant. She wasn’t waiting to see if the line on the test changed color or showed a plus sign. An angel appeared and made the announcement. There was no mistake there.
Now for those who are reading this devotional what occurred with Mary will never occur with you. It’s impossible to identify with immaculate conception or virgin birth. But, what we can relate to is interruptions.
We see most of our interruptions as problems. Our goal is to resolve the interruption and get on with the plan. But, let me ask you this: what if the interruption is the plan? It may not fit our expectation of how we thought things would be. But, it’s certainly not a surprise to God.
Whether you’re a expectant mother preparing for your first born or a middle aged man in a career transition, you are in God’s plan. Do your best to prepare. Then, depend on God for the rest.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
…That the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Romans 8:21-22
Paul had it right long before the Second Law of Thermodynamics was articulated. Matter and energy deteriorate gradually over time. Things don’t tend to improve on their own. Things tend to decline. If you need proof, just look in the mirror. (Sorry for that depressing thought).
One day all of creation will be renewed (Revelation 21). But, until then, the whole creation is “groaning.” Considering that creation is destined for decay, but ultimately for transformation, believers often take a lackadaisical approach to the earth. Yet God’s first assignment to human beings was stewardship over creation (Genesis 1:26, 29). Our first God-given responsibility was to care for God’s creation.
Now, I know that is much division over environmental issues. On one side we have granola-eating, tree-hugging, earth-worshippers and on the other side are conservative-right wing-FoxNews watching folks. I really don’t think the issue is that cut and dried. Nobody wants to swim in a polluted river. No one wants to turn the landscape into a giant garbage dump (although the state of Nevada might be a candidate).
We can make some very simple changes to make the earth a better place. Even though this is just the temporary home, we are living in it. Here are a few suggestions:
• Recycle instead of throwing away. You could even make a little money.
• Donate everything you can instead of throwing it out: furniture, clothing, etc. You get to help a charitable organization in the process.
• Stop junk mail. Wouldn’t that be nice?
• Switch to reusable food storage containers.
• Check your hot water heater. Lower the thermostat and your gas bill.
• Inflate your car tires to keep them from wearing out so quickly.
• Avoid releasing balloons into the sky.
• Potty train your children. Enough said.
• Use fluorescent bulbs. They last a long time.
• Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without.
There are tons of good and ridiculous ways to be good stewards of the environment. Just google and you’ll find plenty.
This earth was never meant to last forever. One day God will “recycle” it too. But, in the meantime, this is where we live. We should do our best to take that “first assignment” from God seriously and make the world a good place for everyone and everything.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “What kind of devotional is this for today?” Just roll your eyes and remind yourself, “Oh yea, he’s from California.”
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
These verses come from King David’s prayer after the Israelites generously donated their wealth to build the temple. The temple was a tremendous undertaking that required not only building materials but gold, silver and precious stones. It took much of what the people had to follow God’s instructions. David says, “But who am I, and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand” (1 Chronicles 29:14).
It’s one thing to believe in God. It’s another thing to trust in God. But, our faith and trust in God take a big step when our devotion to God moves from our head to our heart to our wallet. (Okay, I do remember that this is “Creation” week, not tithing week).
Today is my dad’s 70th birthday (or yesterday if you’re receiving this by email). My dad is one of the most faithful, hardworking people I’ve ever met. (I know what you’re thinking; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
When I was a boy, I wandered into my parents’ bedroom and discovered several checks sitting on my dad’s chest of drawers. They were all written to the church. One was for their tithe. Then, another check was for missions. And, yet another check was for the building fund. At first, I kind of got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It sure seemed like a lot of money to me. I knew that this wasn’t a onetime event. This was a regular habit.
Our family didn’t live a lavish life. While we didn’t have everything we wanted, we did have everything that we needed. What money couldn’t provide, our faith in God certainly could. I’m grateful to my dad for teaching me through his example to trust God with my life.
God requires very little of us compared to what He gives. As Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13).
What do you need today? Have you asked God? He owns it all.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Years ago, someone told me, “I can’t believe in God because how could anyone possibly listen to every prayer from every person on the planet and answer. It’s impossible. I just can’t believe in God.”
Personally, I can’t believe in a God who can’t hear the prayers of 6,692,030,277 people and answer them. God is far beyond us and our abilities to understand Him.
While He has revealed a great deal about Himself to us through His Word, we have everything we need to know, but certainly not everything we want to know. The Bible tells us that “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When we consider the wonders of the night sky, with the Psalmist, we get a sense of how great God is and how relatively small we are. God is lofty. God is over all. What an awesome perspective. We also know that God is near and cares about us.
When you’ve had one of those days when life has completely overwhelmed you, just step outside and gaze up at the stars. If God can take care of all of that, He certainly can take care of what’s going on with you. Nothing is overwhelming to God.
Monday, May 3, 2010
Origins are not a matter of science. Matters of science must be replicated in the laboratory. To date no one has taken one species and through the scientific method proven that another species can be created. Science can only validate things that can be observed.
Evolution cannot be observed. Now, there is plenty of speculation out there because of the fossil record, but fossils are more like pieces in a puzzle than proof. Have you ever tried to assemble a puzzle without knowing what the big picture actually is? It’s not easy.
Whether you hold to the Big Bang Theory, Evolutional Theory, or Divine Creation, origins are a matter of faith. There is no scientific proof.
Our understanding of creation comes from God’s revelation to Moses, who wrote the book of Genesis. Moses was not present at creation. God revealed creation to Moses, and then Moses guided by the Spirit recorded the revelation. While we don’t understand how exactly creation came about, we know from God’s revelation that God did it.
Paul takes this one step further in his letter to the Romans by saying that creation itself is a witness to the character and nature of God. Only an all-powerful God could have created the universe out of nothing.
Think about this, those who hold views other than creation face a dilemma: where did matter come from in the first place? If the Big Bang is the explanation of origins, then what banged? How did that stuff come about? We have to believe one of two things: either God has always existed or matter has always existed. Something doesn’t come from nothing.
Paul tells us that everyone has a witness of who God is by looking at nature. The beauty and diversity of the earth show His power and creativity. The placement of the earth in the solar system wouldn’t have worked in any other way. A degree closer, and we would burn up. A degree farther away, and we would freeze to death.
Paul says the evidence of God through creation is so clear that no one has an excuse not to follow God. Will an appreciation for creation save us? No, only Jesus can save us. But, creation and conscience (Romans 2) definitely point us in the right direction. For those who sincerely desire to follow God, He will further reveal Himself to them much like God revealed Himself to Abraham (Genesis 12).
What does nature speak to you about God? Why not set aside some time this week for a beautiful place like Jones’ Gap or Caesar’s Head, Yosemite or Monterey, or another beautiful place near you (for my Kansas readers, I’m not sure what you’re going to find…just kidding. Even the prairie has a certain beauty to it.) Take in the beauty of that place and sense the finger of God.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Few photographers can capture a glorious sunset. When we experience the spectacular array of red and orange hues, we get a sense of the glory and majesty of God. Then, we run inside and grab our camera. But, what we end up with is sort of dark and not nearly as spectacular.
Now, I know that sunsets are made up on particles in the air that refract the light of the sun. And, falling in love is only a matter of biology, right?
The Bible has a lot to say about God’s glory and His majesty. But to witness a star-filled night or a meteor shower creates a sense of awe that puts God’s glory in context.
A friend of mine worked for CBS Sports and was assigned to cover the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway in 1994. One night Dan and his crew ventured outside in sub-freezing temperatures to witness the northern lights, the Aurora Borealis. He said they were so awestruck by the experience that it didn’t even occur to them that they weren’t even wearing coats. The cold was overshadowed by the sight. To this day it’s the most magnificent thing they have ever witnessed.
When have you experienced the glory of God through the heavens? It can’t be done in a hurry. Most of us can’t dedicate every evening to watching the sunset. But, when you see a good one, stop for 30 seconds and take it in. Get a sense of God’s majesty and glory.