Thursday, December 30, 2010

Most Read Posts of 2010: #1

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12




Remember that commercial where the older women presses a button on her necklace, then says, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” The button promises independence with an emergency backup. And, I’m sure that it’s helped a lot of people. If they were given a choice, they would certainly prefer to have an actual person there.




Last night, I was listening to Dr. Mike Collins at Monday Night with the MOB (Men of Brookwood). I was tempted to leave early, since it was Game 5 of the World Series (Go Giants!), but I stayed for his whole talk and missed three scoreless innings.




Mike Collins is one of the most remarkable people I have ever known. If you attend Brookwood, you’ve probably seen him in his power wheelchair accompanied by his wife, Susan. Mike was an athlete, a trainer, a coach, a professor and a successful businessman. He’s also a Texan. He mentioned last night that he grew up understanding that you don’t ask for help, you do it yourself.




After an automobile accident in 2003, Mike was left paralyzed from the chest down. While he has gained some movement through intensive physical therapy, he is entirely dependent on his wife and his friends for everything. While I’m sure that there is frustration at times, he says that he’s happier and more fulfilled now than ever. What business success couldn’t bring him a life changing injury did.




When I listen to Mike, I do appreciate the use of my physical abilities. But, most of all, I appreciate his attitude and his outlook on life. I have never left a conversation with him and not felt encouraged. He could have plenty to complain about, yet he chooses to encourage others. He also works three days per week at Greenville Tech with Susan by his side.




Most of us have full use of our physical abilities, yet we are paralyzed in other ways. We can’t get past the things that we’ve done. We can’t get over the hurt of our past. We can’t escape the pull of an addiction. We’re stuck. We need a little button, so we can shout, “I’m stuck and I can’t move forward!”




In the church, help is all around us. Have you asked for help? Have you asked for someone to pray about the thing that’s breaking your heart? Have you borrowed something from someone rather than going out and charging it on your credit card? Do you have a small group around you to encourage you and to lead you to the truth of God’s Word?




Or have you fallen and you can’t get up?




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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Most Read Posts of 2010: #2

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 1 Corinthians 4:3-5




Several years ago, Dean Merrill wrote a book called Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church. He spoke about the evangelical culture and its presumed mission to condemn the wrongs of an ungodly world rather than to share the Good News. His point was that the battle was not in the political arena or over the airwaves, but rather the battle was in the hearts and minds of men and women in a lost world.




Ungodly people act in ungodly ways because they don’t have God in their lives. If a sinner sins, then he has done his job. We would be right there with them if we didn’t have God in our lives.




Paul points out that believers are ill-equipped to judge others. In fact, believers aren’t adequately suited even to judge themselves. We don’t have all of the information. We don’t understand others’ motives. Often, we don’t understand our own motives. Paul certainly didn’t have a grasp on his (Romans 7:14-16).




We may never understand why people do what they do. Sometimes they don’t even understand themselves. But, what we don’t understand shouldn’t keep us from being understanding toward them. We don’t have to agree with them. We don’t have to change them. God calls us to love them. The judgment is left up to God.




God is the only one who understands why we do what we do. God knows our hearts. We don’t (Psalm 139:23). God knows our motives. We’re not even clear on that sometimes. God loves us, and He would much rather reconcile with us than judge us.




Who are you tempted to judge? It’s not our place to pronounce final judgment on anyone. “But, they will never change.” We don’t know that, but what we do know is that nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37; ESV).




Let this be our prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24, NLT).








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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Most Read Posts of 2010: #3

Has Friendship Lost Its Edge?

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)




Sharpening implies the use of something abrasive. For most of us, that’s the last type of friend that we would choose. Nowadays, we want friends for fun, not for friction. Our sharpening process has been dulled. Rather than iron on iron, it’s more like Nerf on marshmallow. Friendship has lost its edge.




It’s not so much that we don’t want to hurt our friend’s feelings. It’s more that we just don’t want to deal with it. It was their choice. They chose that path. Now, they’re facing the consequences. But, we’re praying for them (not really). No wonder everyone needs Oprah for advice. Our friends are holding out on us.




I’m not saying that we all need to tell our friends off. But, we must realize that our politeness in friendship feels more like passivity. Oh well…




“But, who am I to tell someone else how they should live their lives?” Good question. Have you ever told someone to avoid a restaurant that had bad food or poor service? Have you ever recommended a good movie? An honest mechanic? A skilled carpenter? Are we the expert? No, but we’re sharing an experience.




We will speak to the miscellaneous matters of life, but we feel inadequate in addressing the significant matters of life. “That relationship is a train wreck.” “You are hanging by a thread at work.” “Do you have any idea how truly annoying you can be?” Think about the things that we say about our “friend” to our other friends. It’s not that we’re averse to spotting the issue or discussing it, we just don’t talk directly to them.




Maybe we don’t tell them what to do. Maybe we ask them what they’re doing. Maybe we help them see the outcome. “Is it me, or do you find yourself attracted to the same type of person? How will this be different than last time? Do you know the definition of insanity?” Okay, maybe not exactly like that.




While we may not feel the authority to speak to issues directly, Scripture certainly has the authority. But, isn’t that judging? It is, but you’re not the judge. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).




What friend do you see headed down the wrong path (again)? Where do you need some support and encouragement? Pray about how to proceed. Then, pray for the right approach.




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Monday, December 27, 2010

Most Read Posts of 2010: #4

Worry If You're Not Suffering

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12




“We should be worried if we’re not suffering,” according to Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love and The Forgotten God. If we fit into our culture so well that there is no friction between the way we live and the way the world lives, this is cause for concern. Have we been squeezed into the world’s mold? (Romans 12:2)




In my single days, I watched a lot of television…a lot. I didn’t realize how much television influenced me until after I got married and stopped watching as much television. Suddenly, television didn’t have the same appeal. After time passed, I went back and watched a few shows that I hadn’t seen for years. I was surprised by the language they used and the things they poked fun at. I was disturbed by what these programs portrayed. But, I was even more disturbed by the fact that I used to watch these programs and think nothing of it. I was the frog in the kettle. I was sliding down the slippery slope. Unaware.




Now this is not an effort to become some sort of goodie two shoes, holier-than-thou jerk. We don’t need any more of those. The point is that we were made for another place far from this world (Philippians 3:18-20). If we work hard to fit in with the world, then we have lost our reason for being.




The prophets of old followed God’s calling for their lives, and they suffered for it. Most of us would say, “Great. I thought that living in obedience to God would make our lives easier.” Here’s the news: following Christ is a harder path, but it’s a better path. It’s the path of salvation. At times, it’s not comfortable. At times, we suffer because of it. But, in the end, we become more like Christ.




Peter told us, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13). This is the part that we’d rather skip. These are the pages of our Bibles that we would prefer to have left stuck together. But, it’s also a bit of a relief, because some of us are going through some stuff, and it’s good to know that God hasn’t forgotten us and that our pain has a purpose.




No one’s life is easy. My life isn’t easy. Neither is yours. Our purpose on earth is not to have an easy and comfortable life. But, finding and fulfilling our life’s purpose is more satisfying than comfort or ease.




As I was walking over the Liberty Bridge this morning on my way to write, I spotted this plant growing in a difficult circumstance over the Reedy River Falls. It’s a non-native plant. A gardener didn’t plant it here. It just began to fulfill its purpose: to grow roots for nourishment and to reach out to the sun. There would be much easier places to grow, but this was the spot where this plant grew. It didn’t really have a choice.

 We are not called to live someone else’s life. We are not given a life that is problem-free. We are blessed.




How is your life blessed despite your circumstances? How has God given you joy and peace in the middle of trouble? Thank God for His blessings in your life.




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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Most Read Posts of 2010: #5

How Much Control Do We Really Have?

For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Psalm 40:12




David epitomizes the mess than we can make of our lives. Sin and shame leads to more sin and shame, which leads to still more. David felt like his life was so overwhelmed that his sin outnumbered his success. The weight of his sin was more than he could bear.




Have you ever made a mess of things? Have you ever caused trouble? Have you ever had to face the music? Welcome to the human race.




In recovery, we learn to “Consciously choose to commit all my life and will to Christ’s care and control.” Sin is an oppressive master. Christ is a caring master. When we give the control of our lives to sin, our lives spin out of control. When we give control of our lives to Christ, we experience life and peace. Ours is not a perfect life, but it is far better than the alternative.




We love Christ’s care. He loves us always, forever and no matter what. He won’t reject us. God loves us more than any person we will ever meet. We are all in favor of receiving Christ’s care. But, what about the control part?




We’ll gladly give our life to Christ’s care, but the second part is to submit our will to Christ’s control. That’s a whole other deal. David saw that his control of his own life led to a lack of control. Many of us have experienced that too. But, this isn’t a one-time, “I surrender all” sort of deal.




It’s a daily deal. It’s a situation by situation deal. It’s a decision to follow Christ or follow ourselves. It’s a choice to seek Christ’s guidance or to think that we know best.




Here’s the deal about being in control: we don’t have that much control. We can be the healthiest people on the planet and get killed while exercising. We can be the most careful investor and still suffer considerable losses. We can be the most giving spouse and still receive divorce papers. We can be the most devoted parent and still see our children rebel. We can be the most faithful Christian and still struggle with sin and insecurity. There is not much that we control.




Control really comes down to just two things: who or what we rely on to cope and how we direct our attitude. Some people cope by working more hours, consuming more food, alcohol, drugs or tobacco, having more fun, starting a new relationship, surfing the channels or the internet, vegging out, numbing out – any kind of escape. When any of these things becomes what we rely on for our well-being, it becomes an idol in our lives. The problem is that none of these things can or will ever satisfy us completely.




If stuff could satisfy us, then we should all be satisfied. Instead, we feel the need for more stuff. Using these substitutes to cope leads to a loss of control. It leads to the despair that David refers to in this psalm.




Giving control to Christ is scary. What if he makes us do something that we don’t want to do? God will never ask us to do something that is impossible for Him to do. He does not control our lives like some sort of deranged dictator. His control comes with His care. Just like you and I want to direct our children onto the right path because we love them so much, our Heavenly Father loves us far more than any parent could ever love a child.




What are you trying to control right now? How are you losing control over that right now? Rather than losing control, I would challenge you to surrender your control to Christ. Even if you have to surrender 12 times in a day over the same thing, His control and care won’t steer you wrong.




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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Undeserved for Hundreds of Years

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:12-17


In Isaiah’s time, the people of Israel were not following God. The spiritual condition of the people of Israel generally paralleled the spiritual condition of their king. Under Pekah, the people of Israel reached an all time spiritual low.


“In the fifty-second year of Azariah king of Judah, Pekah son of Remaliah became king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned twenty years. He did evil in the eyes of the LORD. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.


In the time of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria. Then Hoshea son of Elah conspired against Pekah son of Remaliah. He attacked and assassinated him, and then succeeded him as king in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah” (2 Kings 15:27-29).


But, God didn’t leave them there.


“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea [the district around the sea of Galilee], beyond the Jordan [the land belonging to Reuben, Gad and half-Manasseh]— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:1-2). [Insights from Jamieson, Faussett and Brown Commentary on the Whole Bible]


Galilee was not a highly regarded region. The inhabitants were a mixed race of Jews and Gentiles from the bordering Phoenician race. This was not merely an ethnic issue, but was also a spiritual issue of religious syncretism. Galilee was an unlikely place to produce a Messiah. Jerusalem would have been far more appropriate.


Quoting from Isaiah 9:1-2, Jesus stood at the exact spot mentioned in Isaiah‘s prophecy. In Isaiah’s time, the people of Zebulun and Naphtali were deported under Tiglath-pileser just prior to the giving of this prophecy (2 Kings 15:29).


Jesus was the Great Light. Over 700 years later, Jesus, the Light had arrived.


Where has gloom crept into your life during this Christmas season? What are you frustrated about? What are you depressed about? Maybe you don’t even know. Ask Jesus to shine His light and bring clarity and peace to you this Christmas. The Light of Christ is not merely the fanciful tale of the ancient Nativity. The Light of Christ is a powerful force available to guide you today.


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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Were Shepherds Supposed to be Invited?

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 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.”


Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”


When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”


So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:8-20


Why did the angels proclaim Jesus’ birth to shepherds? The kings from the East, the Magi, were prophesied about (Isaiah 60:3). Shepherds were not foretold. But, the shepherds were symbolic.


Jesus is known as both the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) as well as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). As Shepherd, Jesus led God’s people to places they had never been. While God’s written Word gave the road map, and God’s prophets proclaimed warnings, Jesus, the Shepherd, took them on the journey Himself. He showed us what to do. He showed us how to respond. He showed us how to live. What the cognitive and auditory couldn’t accomplish, the kinesthetic “Word made flesh” (John 1:14) demonstrated brilliantly.


The shepherds weren’t drawn to the manger by a flashy announcement. The shepherds were drawn to the Savior through worship. The angels came praising and proclaiming. Worship points people to the Messiah.


We all worship in different ways. Most obvious is worship through singing. But, people also worship through being in nature, serving, studying and many other ways. If you haven’t identified the way that you worship best, check out Sacred Pathways by my friend, Gary Thomas.


Some things we discover through words. Some things we discover through work. But, we are completely alive and more fully discover through worship.






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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Quiet Strength of Joseph

This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”


All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).


When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25


The Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to say about Joseph. In fact, Joseph is one of the few people mentioned in the Bible who is never quoted saying anything. He’s sort of an ancillary figure in our nativity scene. But, that’s not really true. This passage reveals two significant decisions Joseph made that led to the credibility of the Messiah.


When Joseph heard of Mary’s pregnancy, his first impulse was to divorce her. The terms of engagement then were much more stringent than today. It was more like the first year of marriage than planning a wedding. Infidelity during an engagement would have brought a great deal of dishonor to Joseph. None of us would want that. He reasoned that his only choice was to divorce Mary quietly. What else could he do? What would we do?


Can you imagine the problems that would have been caused if the parents of the Savior of the world were divorced? Even the Son of God needed an earthly mother and father to give him credibility. Illegitimacy might have voided the message Jesus came to proclaim. Who would have listened to Him? No one would have given Jesus any attention back then.


The angel appeared to Joseph and explained the situation. Divine revelation was the only way that this pregnancy could be understood or accepted. Joseph chose to man-up, take Mary as his wife, and claim Jesus as his own son.


Then Joseph made another remarkable decision. He chose to wed Mary and delay the honeymoon. “But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25). While every bride dreams of the wedding day, every groom dreams of the wedding night. Joseph chose to marry his pregnant fiancĂ©, and then he chose to put off the pleasures of marriage that were rightfully his (1 Corinthians 7:4) in order to guarantee that no one could ever say that Joseph had anything to do with Jesus’ human birth. For a man that didn’t get any words in the Bible, Joseph silently obeyed.


Following God would be easier if we knew that God’s direction would always lead us down an easy path. But, when following God makes things worse rather than better, it takes more than our willfulness to obey. It requires faith.


Regardless of how Joseph felt about Mary, regardless of what Joseph knew he was entitled to, regardless of receiving a life that he had never signed up for, Joseph chose to obey God. He didn’t receive any earthly honor for his obedience. In fact, after the incident of leaving Jesus behind at the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:43), we don’t hear anything else about Joseph. How did he influence Jesus? What did he do with his life? When did he die? We don’t know.


Joseph’s reward was investing in the life of someone else. His honor came from putting his own will and feelings aside for someone greater. Like all of us, Joseph’s ultimate reward is in Heaven.


What seems impossible for you these days? Regardless of what you deserve and how you feel, how is God directing you to obey? Are you willing?


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Monday, December 20, 2010

If We Can Do for Ourselves, then Why Do We Need God?

Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17


No one wants to be perceived as weak. We would rather put our weaknesses aside and attempt to be strong for others. It seems that as long as we can keep busy and look strong, then we don’t feel as weak. After all, no one throws a parade for the weak. Parades are for heroes.


Yet, in God’s economy our perceived strengths often get in the way. If we can do for ourselves, then why do we need God?


A week ago, David Ring, an evangelist with cerebral palsy, spoke at our Christmas Blessings Banquet at Brookwood Church. The banquet is a ministry to disabled folks in our community and their families and caregivers.


Many people have heard of David Ring. He’s been preaching for 37 years in over 6,000 churches and speaks to over 100,000 people every year.


He starts with his classic line, “I have cerebral palsy. What’s your problem?” David asked our audience if they had noticed that he had a speech impediment. Then, in his wry humor, he says, “Oh, I’m in South Carolina. Everyone has a speech impediment in South Carolina.” He’s a character.


David lost his father when he was very young. Then, his mother died when he was 14-years-old. He spent the rest of his growing up years in foster care.


I was struck by David’s attitude about his mother’s death. He said that if his mother hadn’t died, he wouldn’t have been married. He wouldn’t have four children. He wouldn’t be in the ministry. He would be at home tugging on his momma’s apron strings.


David went on to say that if he had the choice of having cerebral palsy or being completely healthy, he would choose cerebral palsy. His reason: “When I am weak, God is strong.” It was a little difficult for any of us to have a pity party that day.


The Apostle Paul said, “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).


How do you feel weak today? How can your weakness reveal God’s strength? God doesn’t want to keep you down through weakness. He wants you to see how helpless and limited you really are, so then you can see how He can give you His strength.




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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Better Than Cash for Gold: Peace for Problems

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD— and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.


The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. Isaiah 11:1-10


In these early prophecies of Isaiah, the prophet pronounced judgment on the people of Judah. They had forsaken God. They had turned to false gods. Their country was on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the middle of some very strong words, God gives Isaiah this beautiful vignette of peace and tranquility beyond their imagination.


As you drink in these words from Isaiah 11, think about the turmoil in your own life. Isaiah wasn’t speaking about peace in a peaceful time. Isaiah’s words were meant for people who were confused. These were people who had tried everything that they knew to do, yet couldn’t make things any better. I can relate to those people at times.


Rather than scolding them one more time, God casts a vision for their future (and ours). Life on this earth is not all that there is to life. The problems that we face today are not problems that will last forever. Ultimately, Jesus will usher in an unprecedented time of tranquility. There will be no diplomatic cables appearing on Wikileaks then. There will be no negotiations. The Savior will merely declare it so. Enemies will be vanquished. Tensions will be released. Natural rivalries will be turned into unnatural friendships.


While we haven’t seen these times, those of us who belong to Christ have tasted them. The outward workings of redemption are yet to come. Humanity and all creation long for that day. But, today those who belong to Christ can experience this kind of peace in our hearts.


The Bible tells us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). We can possess peace that is not rightfully ours, by giving our problems and turmoil over to God.


God knows what we will experience in Heaven. He also knows what we will experience when our problems are resolved. God, in His grace, gives us the peace of a resolved problem, even while He’s still working to resolve things.


What turmoil are you experiencing today? What chaos needs to be brought into order? God is waiting to give you His peace. You just need to give Him your problem.




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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Shadows

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”


A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”


You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”


See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:1-11


The prophecies given in the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah are words of judgment. This prophecy from chapter 40 begins words of comfort for the last one third of the book. But, the comfort for Judah was a long way off.


Jerusalem wouldn’t fall for another 100 years, and then God’s people would be exiled for another 70 years. God instructed Isaiah to begin planting seeds of encouragement. The hard, rocky soils of their lives were being tilled through one-coming adversity. As I mentioned a few days ago, the people of Judah were completely surrounded by the Assyrian Empire (LINK). More consequences and punishments were heading their way. But, in the midst of judgment, God directed Isaiah to tell about the comfort ahead.


God’s work in our lives doesn’t culminate in a dead end. Some of our struggles seem so dark, it’s hard to believe that it’s part of God’s plan. It’s hard to believe that God has anything to do with it. It’s hard to believe that anything will turn out very well. Yet, 170 years before God’s people are released from captivity, God promises His comfort, even though they don’t seem to have a clue about what they are about to face.


What dark thing are you facing today? Whether it was caused by your actions or someone else’s, God can use it to refine your character and demonstrate His comfort and grace in your life.


Joni Erickson Tada has been paralyzed from the neck down for over thirty years. She writes, “The cross is the center of our relationship with Jesus. The cross is where we die. We go there daily. It isn’t easy.


“Normally, we follow Christ anywhere – to a party, as it were, where He changes water into wine, to a sunlit beach where He preaches from a boat. But to the cross? We dig in our heels. The invitation is so frighteningly individual. It’s an invitation to go alone.


“Suffering reduces us to nothing and as Soren Kierkegaard noted, ‘God creates everything out of nothing. And everything which God is to use, he first reduces to nothing.’ To be reduced to nothing is to be dragged to the foot of the cross. It’s a severe mercy.


“When suffering forces us to our knees at the foot of Calvary, we die to self. We cannot kneel there for long without releasing our pride and anger, unclasping our dreams and desires…In exchange, God imparts power and implants new and lasting hope.” From When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.



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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Merry Madness

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:16-21


The wisemen gave gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). And, boy, has capitalism capitalized on that. Could it be possible that the holiday shopping season starts after Halloween now? At this rate, we could start seeing “After Christmas Sales” before Thanksgiving.


During the week of Thanksgiving, commercial after commercial announced that stores would open at 3 am on Friday. I thought, “And, the store is also open, right now.” But, I guess it’s not really Christmas unless you are a cold, sleep-deprived Black Friday gladiator fighting for the best deals. Ah, how it warms the heart.






I’m not opposed to gift giving. I enjoy giving gifts and receiving them. I even like fruitcake. Gifts are great. Gift receipts might be even better. Read my lips: I am not anti-presents. I am pro-presents. But, why do we give?


We give some gifts because we should give. These would be gifts for people who share our DNA, people we work with, people we live near, and people who serve us. We like some of these people. But, if we only gave to those we liked, it might be a much shorter list.


We give some gifts because people expect it. If we didn’t give them something, they would be disappointed. They might even retaliate.


We give some gifts because someone gave us something. To not give them something would be like saying “I love you,” but having no “I love you” return. They expect something of equal or greater value in return.
 We give some gifts completely in the dark. A truly thoughtful gift is giving exactly what they wanted without being told what they want. This requires some sort of gift giving ESP that most men lack. Ladies: to get what you want for Christmas, your man must be told. If he is left to himself, then don’t be disappointed with a universal remote control and beef jerky in your stocking. It’s his love language.


While Christmas giving has morphed into something surreal compared to the simple scene in the manger, giving is still at the center of Christmas. “God so loved the world that He gave…” We know those words well. Hopefully, they haven’t become “yada, yada, yada” to us. God didn’t give because we deserved it. God didn’t give because we expected Him to. God didn’t give because He needed to reciprocate somehow. God gave because He loves us. No matter who we are or what we’ve done or what we continue to do, God loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. God doesn’t give because it makes Him feel good. He gives because it’s His nature.


You and I are most like God when we are generous. When we faithfully give to God’s work either in the offering plate or online, we are reflecting God’s character and nature. In fact, the antidote to materialism is generosity. Rather than allowing money and things to control our lives, we can enjoy the freedom of giving it away.


Giving also demonstrates our trust in God. If I commit a portion of my income to Kingdom causes, I trust that God will provide for all my needs. That provision might be increased income or shoes that last for 40 years (Deuteronomy 29:5).


How do you trust God through your giving this Christmas? How are you celebrating this year and remembering why we celebrate?


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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nearing a Milestone

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God bless and thanks for reading,
Allen

Might Could or Use-ta Could?

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:16-19


The nature of Christmas and God’s mission on this earth is summed up in one word: giving. God gave His Son (John 3:16). Jesus gave His life (1 John 3:16). God’s instruction to His followers is to follow His example: “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). But, what does that mean? The answer is very clear.


If we have something that someone else needs, then this passage instructs us to have pity on them. Why? Didn’t they get themselves into their own mess? Why should I bail them out? We should have pity on others because God has pity on us. We talk about grace and mercy, but the root of these is really pity.


Most of us are too proud to be pitied. We’re not pathetic. We’re not unable. We’re still in the realm of “might could” not “used to could.” God sees us as “never could.” We never could live up to His standards. We never could save ourselves, so God had pity on us and He gave. Jesus gave His life, now He calls us to give to those in need.


Giving is easy when we know the people in need. We know the story about the hardship in their lives. We know how long they’ve been out of work. We know about the catastrophe that took place. We know about the single mom who has struggled because she hasn’t seen a check for child support.


Who do you know right now that you could do something for? Maybe you need to purchase a bag of staples for their pantry or donate a box of Angel Food for someone in need.


Then, there are those that we don’t know. The man on the street, shabbily dressed and in need of a shower, who asks for spare change. What do we do about him? Don’t you think that he would rather have a home and a job? Does he really prefer living on the street and surviving the cold? Maybe you give him cash. Maybe you give him a gift certificate. Maybe you donate to Triune Mercy Center or Miracle Hill in Greenville.


You don’t need to find a program or start a ministry. Just ask God how He wants you to help, and then keep your eyes open to the needs in front of you.




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Monday, December 13, 2010

Griswolds Anonymous

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:3-6


We used to live on a street in Turlock, California that was known as “Christmas Tree Lane.” That wasn’t the actual name, but that’s what it became every year. All of the neighbors would elaborately decorate their homes. Even the Jewish family offered a Hanukkah house complete with plywood cutouts of dradels.


Our house actually came with the decorations. The pressure was on. The week before Thanksgiving, all of the neighbors were outside in shorts and t-shirts (it was California after all) hanging their lights and creating their elaborate displays. Ours was pretty basic. Lights hung around the house and in the trees. A few Christmas trees placed in the yard and a pathetic nativity scene. Someone had stolen our baby Jesus, and one of our wise men wasn’t very bright.


Most of us spend an evening or two driving around looking at Christmas lights. Whether you bundle up in blankets and have hot chocolate or load the kids up in their PJ’s, turn up the heat and drive until they finally go to sleep, we like to take in the holiday lights. Houses range from gorgeous to garish. Either way Duke Energy or PG&E are very happy.






The Light of Christmas is certainly the greenest energy available – the Light of Christ. “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” The same God who on the first day of creation proclaimed, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) was at it again. But, this time the light wouldn’t shine in our eyes. It would illuminate our hearts.


So, if the Light of Christ is the light of the gospel, why is it “veiled” to unbelievers? The god of this age has blinded them. The evidence of blindness looks like selfishness, pride, fear, worry, addiction and success. Not everyone is blind in the same way.


But, how could the blind ever see the light? Here’s where the analogy falls a little short. The spiritually blind are not ignorant of God. They are made in His image. They benefit from His grace and benevolence toward all of His creatures. They are confronted with the Light when they hear from science that not all living things originated from a single life form. (The Huffington Post: NASA Discovers New Life: Arsenic Bacteria With DNA Completely Alien To What We Know)


Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).


How is your light shining today? Are you a Griswold or a Grinch?




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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Judah, Rhode Island, and the Messiah

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” Isaiah 60:1-3


Prophecy is of no use to people who don’t heed it. Isaiah wrote these words from chapter 60 toward the end of his ministry (around 681 BC). The northern kingdom of Israel had been taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 BC or about 40 years before this prophecy was given. The entire known world was under Assyrian control, except for Judah.


Judah was only 1,350 square miles. That’s just slightly larger than Rhode Island (1,213 sq. miles). Everything around Judah was under the control of the Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire totaled about 75,000 square miles from modern day Iraq to Turkey, Syria and northern Israel. This would be slightly smaller than the state of South Dakota (77,122 sq. miles). So imagine Judah, the size of Rhode Island, completely surrounded by a nation the size of South Dakota.




The only reason that Judah hadn’t been taken captive at this point was entirely due to God’s patience. They had been warned for by Isaiah for 60 years (the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah). Yet, they didn’t recognize God’s grace over them.


The people of Judah were caught up in pagan worship and were far from God. Spiritually things were very dark. Amidst this darkness, Isaiah proclaims, “Arise, shine, for your light has come…” The people of Judah probably thought, “Here he goes again.” Isaiah’s words didn’t draw much attention or appreciation. He spoke of Jesus 677 years before his birth (4 BC). That’s a long time to be patient for both God and His people.


Outside of God, there really is no reason that darkness shouldn’t take over the entire world. God’s patience and His mercy keep the light on in this world. In the darkness that surrounds us, the people of God might feel like refugees huddled on a small island. But, our island is not a place to seek refuge and find comfort. Our island is the lighthouse.


It’s our job to point others to the light. It’s our job to shine the light into dark places. It’s our job to allow the light to illuminate our lives and not to let darkness, even in small ways to creep in.


How well are you reflecting the light of Christ this Christmas? How can others see the difference that He has made in your life? What darkness needs to be swept out of your life? The Lord rises upon you!


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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Oxymoron: Self-made Christian

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Galatians 3:3


 There is a tension in the Christian life between what we do and what God does. While the Bible tells us that “without Him we can do nothing” (John 15:5) we argue back that “if we do nothing, it’s without Him.” Our Christian walk requires both our effort and God’s grace. It’s a lopsided balanced that depends on God much more than us. It’s not up to us. But, it does involve us.


If we fully depend on Christ for our salvation (as we should), but live however we want, then we have to wonder if we’re saved at all. Salvation should make a radical difference in our lives. If we say that we follow God, but we don’t have any desire for Him, then we should question whether we belong to God at all.


But, on the other side, if we feel that rule-following is the guarantee of our salvation, then we’ve got it wrong. The guarantee of our salvation is the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:21-22), not rule-keeping.


When the people of God live as if they don’t need God, then we’ve got a problem. I’m not talking about believers that are so caught up in the things of the world that they ignore God. I’m speaking of those of us who attempt to live our lives so perfectly that we don’t need grace and forgiveness. In our minds, we’ve done nothing wrong. If you’ve done nothing wrong, then you don’t need God.


The problem is that those who don’t feel the need for a daily dose of grace are living well according to a list, but it’s not God’s list. They put a heavy burden on themselves and attempt to live a life that God hasn’t called them to.


The Bible addresses the tension between God’s work and our work this way: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13). Who’s working? Is God working? Yes, God is working. Are we working? Yes, we are working. It’s not a competition. Believers and God work together to fulfill His good purpose.


Where are you tempted to depend on yourself for your spiritual well-being? What do you do or intentionally avoid to maintain your salvation? Are you fully trusting God or are you trusting your own efforts? There are no self-made believers.


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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Can You Pass the Jesus Test?

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 13:5


When I was 16-years-old, I became a member of my home church in Topeka, Kansas. The membership application asked the expected questions about my salvation experience and whether I had been baptized. Then, it asked about whether I participated in the following:


1. Do you smoke or drink alcohol?
2. Do you go to movies?
3. Do you play cards or dice?


There might have been some other questions along those lines, but those are the ones that stand out to me. I happily responded that I did not participate in any of these evil activities. Fortunately, they didn’t ask about spiritual pride or self-righteousness. I wouldn’t have qualified for membership.


Most religious institutions are harder to join than God’s family. God isn’t so concerned with quality control. God is not worried about being embarrassed by us. God just loves us. His ace in the hole is grace. Grace keeps us. Grace helps us. Grace grows us. If salvation depended on human effort, then God would have plenty to worry about. Fortunately, He’s taken much of that out of the equation.


So, here’s the question: why did Paul challenge the Corinthians to examine themselves and determine whether they were in the faith? What is that test?


Here’s a possible test:


1. Am I depending on Christ for my salvation? (Ephesians 2:8-9)


2. Is the faith I profess based on the Word of God, the Bible? (Romans 10:17)


3. What evidence does my life give for my faith in Christ? (James 2:17-18)


If we feel that we pass that short test, then we should celebrate what we’ve received in Christ. We should embrace the fact that “Christ is in us.” The power that created the universe in a spoke word, the power that raised Christ from the dead, lives in you and me. What could stand in our way? What couldn’t be accomplished? What is God calling you to? Don’t be intimidated. Ask God to reveal His power in your life to fulfill His calling.


If you’re not sure that you passed the test, but you want to follow Christ, the solution is simple: ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and surrender the control of your life to Him. If you’re not sure how, then just pray the words from the last sentence: “Jesus, forgive me of my sins and take control of my life.” It’s as easy as that, yet profoundly radical. If you have committed your life to Christ today and trusted Him for your salvation, please let me know. You can email me at: allen.white(at)brookwoodchurch.org




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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Worry If You're Not Suffering

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:12


“We should be worried if we’re not suffering,” according to Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love and The Forgotten God. If we fit into our culture so well that there is no friction between the way we live and the way the world lives, this is cause for concern. Have we been squeezed into the world’s mold? (Romans 12:2)


In my single days, I watched a lot of television…a lot. I didn’t realize how much television influenced me until after I got married and stopped watching as much television. Suddenly, television didn’t have the same appeal. After time passed, I went back and watched a few shows that I hadn’t seen for years. I was surprised by the language they used and the things they poked fun at. I was disturbed by what these programs portrayed. But, I was even more disturbed by the fact that I used to watch these programs and think nothing of it. I was the frog in the kettle. I was sliding down the slippery slope. Unaware.


Now this is not an effort to become some sort of goodie two shoes, holier-than-thou jerk. We don’t need any more of those. The point is that we were made for another place far from this world (Philippians 3:18-20). If we work hard to fit in with the world, then we have lost our reason for being.


The prophets of old followed God’s calling for their lives, and they suffered for it. Most of us would say, “Great. I thought that living in obedience to God would make our lives easier.” Here’s the news: following Christ is a harder path, but it’s a better path. It’s the path of salvation. At times, it’s not comfortable. At times, we suffer because of it. But, in the end, we become more like Christ.


Peter told us, “Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12-13). This is the part that we’d rather skip. These are the pages of our Bibles that we would prefer to have left stuck together. But, it’s also a bit of a relief, because some of us are going through some stuff, and it’s good to know that God hasn’t forgotten us and that our pain has a purpose.


No one’s life is easy. My life isn’t easy. Neither is yours. Our purpose on earth is not to have an easy and comfortable life. But, finding and fulfilling our life’s purpose is more satisfying than comfort or ease.

As I was walking over the Liberty Bridge this morning on my way to write, I spotted this plant growing in a difficult circumstance over the Reedy River Falls. It’s a non-native plant. A gardener didn’t plant it here. It just began to fulfill its purpose: to grow roots for nourishment and to reach out to the sun. There would be much easier places to grow, but this was the spot where this plant grew. It didn’t really have a choice.


We are not called to live someone else’s life. We are not given a life that is problem-free. We are blessed.


How is your life blessed despite your circumstances? How has God given you joy and peace in the middle of trouble? Thank God for His blessings in your life.


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