Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sing Along with Mary’s Christmas Carol

Moms sing to their babies, even while they’re in the womb. In tender tones, with tender tunes, they pray for, comfort and connect with them long before birth. (Want to live dangerously? Tell an expecting Mom "it" is just a fetus, a mere embryo.) We can learn much about a Mom by overhearing her Mommy-mutterings, her lullabies to her baby.

Did you know that Mary, the mother of our Lord, wrote one of the earliest Christmas Carols? Her song, found in Luke 1:46-55, is commonly called "The Magnificat" (Latin for "glorifies"). It was her response to her older, also-pregnant cousin Elizabeth’s greeting.

Hearing Mary’s scripture-soaked song, we find it filled with theology, an incredible grasp of Israel’s history and God’s covenant promises. One sharp Lass, was she. While God’s Spirit could have helped her say this spontaneously, it makes me wonder if it was Mary’s Mommy song, her well thought out and rehearsed gift she sang to yet-born Jesus.

Speculations aside, Mary’s words of praise – as we sing along - help us magnify and enlarge the Lord in our lives as His humble servants. To aid our sing-along, here are the words from Luke 1:46-55:

And Mary said: "My soul exalts [magnifies] the Lord,

And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

"For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;

For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

"For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

And holy is His name.



"He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

"He has brought down rulers from their thrones,

And has exalted those who were humble.


And sent away the rich empty-handed.

"He has given help to Israel His servant,

In remembrance of His mercy,

As He spoke to our fathers,

To Abraham and his descendants forever." (NASB)

Hear her theme? The Lord is to be magnified and rejoiced over in our lives! As He caused her body to enlarge in pregnancy, she enlarged her heart of praise. While He distended her tummy, she extended His rule, swelled in her love and submission to Him.

Mary gives ample reasons to expand His place in our lives. The first stanza (vs. 46-48) speaks of God being mindful of the lowly, having regard for nobodies. Mary is Exhibit "A" of the socially invisible of her day: a young girl, a Jew (an oppressed people), from a nowhere place and family. If God was looking for an under-qualified, He done good.

Yet, God remembers and cares for the overlooked and oppressed. As Abraham Lincoln said, God must love the common man, because He made so many of them. God sees and has compassion on the hurting, the left out and left behind.

This is great news when we understand our spiritual status apart from Jesus: spiritually lost, blind and dead. We are justly damned sinners, who are hopelessly alienated from and even hostile to God. Talk about lowly - yikes and yuck!

Yet, as He did for Mary, God blesses us with gifts; eternal endowments. Mary became the mother of the Messiah, perpetually honored among women. We who were lost are found, forgiven, adopted, given spiritual life and sight (devour Ephesians 1:3-5; John 1:10-14; 5:24; 1 Peter 1:3-5).

Yes! The Lord is to be magnified and rejoiced over in our lives because He is mindful of the lowly and – second stanza – He is merciful to those who fear Him (vs. 49-50). Mercy is undeserved kindness, pity and compassion. It is what the condemned want and need; to be spared deserved punishment.

Singing about God’s mercy, Mary strikes a central chord in Israel’s history and hope. His acts of kindness and love were brought most fully to life by the Messiah’s coming. Careful: mercy does not betray a weakness in God. Don’t confuse kindness with weakness. As His mom sings, "He is mighty." It takes might to show mercy: to forgive,
rescue, provide and protect.

Mercy is not just feeling sorry for us, a passive pity. Both merciful and mighty, God "does great things." Mary would love this passage: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:4-5 - ESV).

His is a holy mercy, too, not a compromising, sloppy sentimentalism. Read Paul’s take on mercy and justice in Romans 3:21-26. For God to demonstrate His righteousness, Jesus died in our place (mercy). That allows Him to be both just and the justifier of the ones who have faith in Jesus. Holy mercy!

Such mercy, Mary sings, is ongoing for those who fear Him (i.e. honor and obey; see Deuteronomy 5:10 & 7:9). Thus, Hebrews 4:16 invites: "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (NKJV).

Finishing Mary’s sweet serenade, the Lord is to be magnified because He is muscular on behalf of His humble people (vs. 51-55). The LORD God’s meaty and mighty right arm protects His own and swings at those who oppose Him.

God scatters and brings down the proud. Rulers, who think they’re invincible, answer to Him. If not in this life, there is a payday some day (Hebrews 9:27; Philippians 2:5-11).

Since God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6-10) it follows that we should humble ourselves before His mighty hand so He can exalt us (1 Peter 5:5-9). Mary is again a great example of this, as was Moses, as is Jesus. Are we?

Listen to His Mother! God helps His covenant people (vs. 54, 55). Just as He kept His covenant with Abraham, so too with the humble of all ages. Want God to scatter or dethrone you? Stay proud, self-reliant. Want God on your side, to be exalted? Be one of His humble people: believe in, call upon Him (Genesis 15:6; Romans 10:8-13; Galatians 4).

Mindful of the lowly, merciful to those who fear Him, mighty on behalf of His humble people, no wonder Mary sang! And so must we, enlarging His presence in our lives, extending His rule and imprint.

Is He growing in you? Are you showing? Is there "that glow" about you (Colossians 1:27)? Do you let Him impregnate every area of your life, knowing you will never be the same? Is He your God, your Savior? Are you His bondslave? He knows your state of life, your hardships and deepest needs, and He cares for you. Rejoice in His eternal blessings! Magnify the Lord!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Miss Ophelia S. Graff – what a woman!

a parable... or is it a metaphor . . . maybe an analogy . . .

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17 - KJV)

Miss Ophelia S. Graff – what a woman! She was Principal / Head Administrator at the local prep school, Kurious Academy. This select student seedbed was known for its products – trained, capable, ready young men and women. They were fit to face the challenges of life, yet life long learners; the fruit of the work of Head School Mistress Ophelia S. Graff.

Her secret? She had assembled a staff like none other. Her unequaled teachers were the toast of the county, the state in fact; a truly inspired lot. Not only did they know their stuff, had mastery of their material, they were gifted in delivery as well. Not content to use one approach, they sought creative means and methods to develop their disciples.

Miss Graff knew there was a difference between being exposed to information and being taught. Make no mistake about it, Kurious Academy’s graduates were well schooled. They had a solid core of fundamentals, knowing the basics and beyond.

Discipline issues? Sure, she had them. Her kids were still human. Nevertheless, she was ready for them, having assembled a top-notch team of "enforcers". They were skilled at fair and honest critiques of erring pupils. When a learner stepped out of line, Graff’s "Pupil Police" pointed it out, yet in always-appropriate ways.

Her philosophy: she knew that the student’s self esteem was helped best by not being allowed to continue in error, mistakes or malady. Fully aware that correction stung, she knew that life’s sting was far more potent, if not deadly, to those who were allowed to continue in folly. Miss Graff would have none of that; she loved here kids too much.

Yet, not one to just "bust" a student, catch them at their worst, she had a remedial education program that was specially designed for each student. No mere "Gotcha Granny", she loved showing the correct path, the right way. Aware that "any old mule can kick down a barn," she reveled in barn raisings – building up her students.

Funny thing: she noticed through the years that caught-and-corrected students – when treated with love and grace – were her best alumni, prized pedagogues. They - now even more ready to learn - could be trained for life, equipped for service to others. No teacher’s pets, these eager beavers saw that data had daily implications.

Diplomas were not exit documents, get out of jail passes. Indeed, rather they were contracts to commence and use what each had learned. If they thought she expected much from them while her students, her expectations of her trained and tutored ones was even higher. Having been shown the way, they were expected to walk it – living a life of service, giving back.

Seemingly omnipresent, she was known to show up in former student’s homes, work places, and family gatherings just to remind them of their duty to be and to do. "Use what you learned" she cried out. "Come back any time for further classes" she offered, sincerely inviting them back for continuing education programs that rivaled any place of higher learning.

Miss Ophelia S. Graff – what a woman! And what a name: Greek was the rumored heritage. Ophelia was from a Greek word that meant "profitable, useful". Graff was Greek for "writings" (heard the word graphic?). The "S": why that is for scripture, silly. And Kurious means "the Lord’s".

With her name spelled out for you, see if you can make decode my little parable by reading its source: 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, here given in a variety of translations:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (KJV)

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (The Message)

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. (New Living Translation)

God’s multifaceted, hard working Word

an outline of 2 Tim. 3:16, 17

God – ever orderly - uses His word in a powerful process to repair and prepare us for service. His beneficial Writings are "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Why? He has in mind a prized product: "so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (vs. 17 - NIV). As times get harder before Jesus’ return, we must stay faithful to God’s singularly sufficient word. As The Message puts it: "Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God's way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us." Let’s learn more about it from 2 Timothy 3.

Paul warned Timothy: 1 "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days… 13…evil men & impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving…"

An Ounce of Prevention: 14 "You, however, continue in the things you have learned & become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them"

The Scriptures we are to abide in are (vs. 15-17)

* To be taught to Children: "…from childhood you have known…" 15

* Sacred, holy, different, unique: "…the sacred writings" 15

* Wisdom-giving: "…are able to give you the wisdom… (Ps. 19; 119)

* The only source of the knowledge of Salvation: "…wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."

* God-breathed: "inspired by God…" (1 Pet. 1:23, 2 Pet. 1:20, 21; 3:14-16)
* Beneficial to the soul: "profitable…" (see Psalms 19; 119; Prov. 1)

* Part of God’s process of preparing us to Serve: "

profitable for…
1. teaching:
2. Doctrine. It is the source of our theology & world view reproof:
3. Rebuke, revealing where our lives do not match the Word correction:
4. Straightens out our crooked places;
shows a new way training in righteousness
practical readiness to live holy lives

Disciple (Gk.: paideia): Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11; Eph. 6:4

* Producing Prized Products:
17 "…so that the man of God"

"may be adequate" proficient, competent, capable

"equipped for every good work" (NASV) stocked, furnished

* Are you continuing in God’s Word, relying on its truth, heeding its corrections?

* God has trained you to serve others. Do you trust your readiness (2 Cor. :4-6)?

* Are you a spiritual anorexic? Wanna grow? Ya gotta eat (see 1 Peter 2:1-3)!

* You are in God’s employ. What kind of worker are you (Col. 3:23-25)?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"One Stop Shopping" - God’s Equipping Word!

Sermon Notes from 2 Tim. 3:14-17

The sacred & singularly sufficient Scriptures are God’s sculpting tool used to shape His people for service. Believers are to learn & live in God’s word, allowing it to instruct, rebuke, correct & train us in righteousness so we may serve God. As times get hard, and they will, we must stay faithful to God’s word all the more, ala 2 Timothy 3.

When mentoring Timothy, Paul wrote letters to encourage, challenge, and instruct him. Timothy was urged to stay true to God’s Word. The last days would be tough, evil men would seek to mislead people. He needed to abide in God’s sure word, of which he had been convinced and committed. God’s sacred, Spirit-given truth would thoroughly prepare him to do the ministry he was called to fulfill. It will do the same for us. Let’s study & benefit from 2 Timothy 3.

* Dire Warnings: 1 "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days… 8 … so also these men oppose the truth

* Stark Contrasts: 10 "You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life… 11 persecutions, sufferings… 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (NIV)

* The Command: Continue in the Word: 14 "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them … NASV

God’s Scriptures Described & Deployed: (vs. 15-17)

* It is to be taught to Children: 15… from childhood you have known…
* It is Sacred, Holy, Different, Unique: the sacred writings
* Wisdom-Giving: are able to give you the wisdom… (Ps. 19; 119)
* The only source of knowledge of Salvation: wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
* God-breathed, from God: 16 All Scripture is inspired by God

* Profitable to Prepare God’s People to Serve:
and profitable…

* It uses a Powerful Process to Shape us:
and profitable

for teaching,

for reproof,

for correction,

for training in righteousness;

* It Produces a Prized Product:
17 so that the man of God

may be adequate, (i.e proficient, competent)

equipped for every good work. (NASV) (i.e stocked, fully outfitted)

How much do you value God’s word? Is it a first source for wisdom & guidance?

Do you continue in it: meditating upon, learning & obeying it (Ps. 1: Josh. 1:1-9)?

Are you using your training to serve others? Do you trust your readiness?

Wield the sword of truth (Eph. 6:17).

Trust God that He’s prepared you (2 Cor. 3:4-6).

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Below is an imaginative tale based on a true story found in Luke’s gospel. I offer it as a Thanksgiving gift to each of us. Us? Yes, I
need its reminder too.

"Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well" (Luke 17:11-19 - NIV).

I guess I ask too many questions and speak without thinking. I never intended to hurt Grand Pa like that. I love him and would never seek to shame or embarrass him. But I did - and shamed myself even more! It just caught me by surprise and I needed to hear his side of the story.

From childhood I had always heard this great story - "Grand Pa's Story"! It was a family centerpiece, a source of pride and joy. Now, to hear new details, which I had never heard before - a part that changed The Story so much - well, it threw me off stride.

Everyone knows Grand Pa. Everyone has heard "The Story". Grand Pa used to be an outcast. He smelled, was ugly to look at, and scary to little kids. He was dying the slow, painful, lonely death of leprosy. As a leper, he had to move away from all his family and friends. He had to live outside of town with the other lepers.

Good friends now avoided him - understandably so. Family could only visit from a distance, often in secret lest people fear you too were "unclean".

Unclean: I hate that word. "Unclean! Unclean!" Grand Pa had to say it as he walked near anyone, or if they approached. It was if he was saying: "Avoid me, shun me, scorn me. I'm a dead man, I'll defile you. Run away! I am unclean."

But, praise God, that all changed the day Grand Pa had his encounter with Jesus. He and nine fellow lepers heard Jesus was coming. They knew Jesus could help them - if He would.

They went near the road He was traveling. When Jesus' entourage came in sight, they started yelling for Him at a distance, calling out: "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us". I've always thought it neat they stayed a respectful distance, for Jesus' and the peoples’ sake. That's my Grand Pa!

Hearing them, Jesus turned and looked for them. He surprised them by what He said and did. Really, He did nothing. He told them to go and show themselves to the priests, who had the job of declaring people clean or unclean.

These Ten had already done this more than once. When you think you have a skin illness, you ask the Priest. He says to come back in a week to be reexamined. If it has not cleared up, then come back again in another week. After a final check – a final chance - if it is still there, you hear the awful verdict: "Unclean." A death sentence.

Jesus said "Go and show yourselves to the priest." As they were going, it happened: New skin! No longer unclean! Ten ex-Lepers.

That's why Jesus sent them: so the priests could give them a clean bill of health, and send them home to their families. That's what happened too. The priest declared them clean, and we got Grand Pa back.

That's why everyone knows Grand Pa. Its not every village that has a man miraculously healed by Jesus. Besides, Grand Pa never got tired of telling the story of how Jesus had healed him.

I was always so proud. I still am, but its just that, I'm still working through what I learned.

The other day, I heard a Preacher reading in Public Square a book about Jesus. It told about His birth, teachings and miracles. It was the stories Luke the Physician investigated and wrote down. What an amazing man Jesus was, I mean, is! I already loved him for what He did for Grand Pa. Now, I love Him for what He did for me!

The Pastor read the part where Jesus healed a leper. At first I thought it was Grand Pa, but then I could tell it was about a different leper; one who Jesus healed right there on the spot and then sent to the Priests.

As he kept reading, there was Jesus’ encounter with the Ten Lepers - Grand Pa's Story! I was so excited! I nudged and elbowed everyone around me. They knew I was the proud grandson.

Yet, some parts he read did not sound familiar. There were new details I’d never heard. The story spoke of one of the lepers who had gone back to praise and thank Jesus. Confused and excited, I ran to tell Grand Pa and ask about the new parts to the story.

Finding Grand Pa, I told him what I heard. In my excitement - without thinking - I asked why he had never told us about that Samaritan, the man Jesus praised for returning to thank Him. Then, I asked why he did not return and thank Jesus.

As soon as I asked, I saw the hurt in Grand Pa's face and realized what I had said. I did not mean to shame or embarrass Grand Pa, I simply spoke without thinking. Suddenly, I felt like an outcast, I felt unclean.

Reflecting on and recovering from what happened, both then and now, I'm asking myself some hard questions. Would I have done any different from Grand Pa? Do I thank Jesus for what He's done for me? I've never had leprosy, but Jesus has cleansed me too, the spiritually unclean. Do I thank and praise Jesus for His love towards me, or only ask for favors? Am I too only telling half the story?

Seeing my hurt and embarrassment, Grand Pa said he forgave my thoughtlessness, just as Jesus forgave his thanklessness. He knew how I felt. He knew that healed Samaritan went back. But he also knew Jesus' forgiveness and now thanked Him often.

Do yourself a favor, learn a lesson or two from Grand Pa and me: Think before you talk and thank God before you walk. Shalom!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Are you Qualified? ? ?

Qualified to Share in God’s Inheritance

Ed McMahon, who awards the sweepstakes millions, has never shown up on my doorstep. You met him? Returning the entry form might help, but only so much (though I did win $5 as a kid like that!). At the end of the day, to receive the prize, you must qualify for it.

Shhhh. Pssstttt. Come here. I have a hot tip, some qualifying news you’ll want to hear. It involves immeasurable riches, perks and spiritual blessings. Once you get in on this scoop, you will want to thank God.

A life that pleases God includes thankfulness. An aid to gratitude is remembering what God has done for us. Thus, I submit to you thanks-giving Pilgrims Colossians 1:12-14 and its insider news about getting in on a boatload of an inheritance. Here’s the fine print:

"…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (NIV).

Better than a random drawing for mere millions, God has made it possible to share in what He gives as an inheritance to His children. Now there’s a Will to get in. He went to no small trouble to qualify us for this heavenly haul.

As the passage says, He rescued and relocated us. Not satisfied with that, He purchased us from slavery and released us from our sin-debt. How is that for being qualified? This prize package, secured by God for us, is incredible.

A brief word about this text’s context. Paul prayed that the Colossians would be filled with knowledge of God’s will so they will live in it: walking in ways worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects. Such a life bears fruit in every good work, increases in the knowledge of God, is strengthened with all power by God and joyously gives thanks to the Father.

Elaborating on thankfulness, we are given a gargantuan reason for gratitude: God Himself has qualified us to share in the saints’ inheritance! We get a portion with God’s people, a divvy of the divine dole. What does that entail? How did He pull that off?

First, we learn of a rescue / relocation mission: "He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves." Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer are wimps compared to the mission God sent His Son on. Going deep behind enemy lines to slaves ensnared in the dominion of darkness, Jesus yanked our sinful, spiritually dead rumps to safety (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Not one to leave us in "no man’s land," God "brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves." Ex-POW’s are now citizens of Jesus’ kingdom, enjoying all His provisions and protections. To qualify for the inheritance God has for His kids, you need to be one of His kids.

By leaving heaven, dying for our sins, and kicking in Satan’s teeth, He has made us fit to be family. "This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

As they say in some commercials: "but wait, there is more." Rescued and relocated, we were also redeemed. We came into His kingdom with baggage. Slaves to sin, we needed to be purchased and set free - redeemed. Like the old saying: "We owed a debt we could not pay. He paid a debt He did not owe" (see 2 Corinthians 5:21).

For entertainment, rich Romans used to go to the slave market, buy slaves and set them free. Just for the pleasure of blessing another and the fun of watching their genuine joyous surprise. "You bought me and are doing what? I am free? Is this a joke!"

All our outstanding debts to God have been paid by Jesus. All our offenses taken care of: "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." To forgive is to release from a debt. It is to not seek revenge or require pay-back. It is to forget – choose to not hold against someone - what cannot be forgotten.

In a Chicago museum, there is a round, wooden table – mahogany. It is where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, which led to the freedom of slaves. Outside Jerusalem, there was another piece of wood where slaves were set free - the cross of Christ. Give thanks! Jesus qualified us by releasing us from our sin debt. He forgives us freely, fully and fantastically (Psalms 51 & 32; 1 John 1:5-2:2).

Because God rescued me, I'm free in Christ and Satan’s grip has been broken (John 8:28-36; Galatians 5). Since the Father settled us to His Son’s realm of rule, we are safe in Him (1 Peter 1; Ephesians 1). As has been said, "When Satan reminds you of your past, remind him of his future."

Being bought out of slavery, redeemed, we are His now and can enjoy fellowship with Christ (1 John 3:1-3, 8; 1 Peter 1:18-21). Released from our sins through forgiveness, we are no longer condemned (Romans 5:1-12). By His grace and His doing, we are qualified to share in the saints’ inheritance.

Use this as a prompt this Thanksgiving. Also, don’t keep this good news to yourself. Others in bondage need freedom too (2 Corinthians 5; Romans 10:10-17). Finally, beware of "plantation living," staying under your old master’s reign. You have been emancipated. Live out your freedom as slaves to Christ (Romans 6:1-8:39).

Give thanks! In Christ we are qualified to share in the saints’ inheritance! Why? How? Because He has rescued and relocated us, redeemed and released us (i.e. forgiven us). Rejoice!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Continue in God’s Sacred, Equipping Word!

Believers are to learn & live God’s word, allowing it to instruct, rebuke, correct & train us in righteousness so we may serve God.

This is Reformation Sunday. On Oct. 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses (ideas, propositions) on the door of the church in Wittenberg. This German Monk turned Professor, wanted to debate and discuss abuses he saw in the church – in its practices and teachings. He wanted to bring some reforms, not start a new church. Instead, he and his “protestations” were rejected, thus we are not Roman Catholic. Three main key truths of the Reformation were: Sola Fida (salvation by grace, thru faith alone), Sola Scriptura (scripture alone is God’s word) & the Priesthood of all believers.

Paul, in mentoring Pastor Timothy, wrote letters to encourage, challenge, and instruct him. Timothy was urged to stay true to God’s Word. The last days would be tough, evil men would seek to mislead people. He needed to abide in God’s sure word, of which he had been convinced and committed. God’s sacred, Spirit-given truth would thoroughly prepare him to do the ministry he was called to fulfill. Let’s study 1 Timothy 3.

Serious Warnings: 1 “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud… 8… so also these men oppose the truth— men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. 9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” (NIV)

Stark Contrasts: 10 “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose… 11 persecutions, sufferings… 12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (NIV)

The Command & Commendations: “You, however, continue
in the things you have learned and become convinced of,
knowing from whom you have learned them,
15 and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings
which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation
through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable
for teaching,
for reproof,
for correction,
for training in righteousness;

17 so that the man of God may be adequate,
equipped for every good work.” NASV

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Walk this Way!

Living God’s Will
Kerry S. Doyal - Grace Ev. Free Ch -

Take a deep breath and say it with me: “Apostle Paul picked some pertinent participles. Some prime participles, Apostle Paul picked. If Providence provided us with such powerful products, let’s prudently pick apart these particular participles, please.”

Nicely done. Allow me to explain.

If God described a life that pleased Him, one worthy of Him, would He have your attention? If you knew which way to go in life, His will for you, would it capture your heart? Take note: When God shows us His will, He desires and designs that we live it.

In a letter to the baby Colossian believers, a group craving special spiritual insights, the Apostle Paul prays they would be filled with a knowledge of God’s will so they will live in a way that is worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects. Great prayer!

With four potent participles (remember those mysterious “verbal adjectives”?), Paul proceeds to point out the particulars of a life that pleases God. Now this kind of “secret knowledge” is worth pursuing! Let us parse out these pertinent participles for a path that pleases God. First, pause and read the prayer a few times.

He prays they would “be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Colossians 1:9-12 - NASB).

Did you see them? “Bearing fruit in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power, joyously giving thanks to the Father.” Let us consider each briefly.

Doing God’s will includes fruitful, productive, Christ-like lives. Not just busy for God, nor just doing well, but being about matters that matter for the Master. This is fruit of both the internal (Galatians 5:19-22; John 15:1-7) and external variety (Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 2 & 3).

The sheep and goats of Matthew 25 are different not because of their wool, but their works. As Henry Van Dyke wisely relayed: "Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best." Sing, man, sing! (Read Matthew 7:21ff.)

Do you still have a childhood-level, Vacation Bible School-based knowledge of God: all stories, little substance? Have you confused simple faith with being simplistic, petty divisive doctrines (preferences) with foundational deep truths? Are you any further in your grasp of God’s character than you were last month, year, decade?

A worthy life is one that increases in the knowledge of God. Ignorance of God, His will, His word and ways ain’t bliss (see Hebrews 5:11-14). Are you striving to know Him more deeply (Philippians 3:8-12)?

Edward Bedore rightly wrote: “The knowledge of Christ's love for us should cause us to love Him in such a way that it is demonstrated in our attitude, conduct, and commitment to serve God. Spiritual maturity is marked by spiritual knowledge being put into action.”

Our third participle is passive: “strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience.” God wants to empower us to have endurance and forbearance. This speaks of an unlimited power: it is according to “His glorious might” (Colossians 1:27, 28; Philippians 4:13-19). Yo! “Tool-Time” Tim Taylor, talk about more power!

It also tells us of a purposeful power: to attain steadfastness and patience, endurance. By God’s grace, we can avoid Samson-it is: raw, untamed power. Instead, we can attain forbearance and patience (1 Corin. 13:4; 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Pet. 3:9).

God wants to enable you to handle tough places in life (steadfastness) and tough people (patience). When tempted to walk away from hard heads or hard knocks, God says “Hang tough, I’ll empower you for the long haul.”

Last of all, we are to be “joyously giving thanks to the Father.” Thanksgiving certainly pleases Him: a proper, humble, joyous recognition of all He is and has done for us. When we remember that He has “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light,” we ought to give thanks (from which we get the word Eucharist).

How did God qualify us to have a part in such an inheritance? Read on, or listen further to Paul’s prayer: “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” God ran a rescue mission for you to adopt, redeem and forgive you – give thanks with joy, daily, hourly.

“Bearing fruit in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God,S trengthened with all power, joyously giving thanks to the Father.” Such a life shows one knows and follows the will of God. This life pleases Him in every dimension. It is a life-long pursuit– press on (Philippians 3:8-12)!

Use these four participles as a test and guide as you seek to lead to a worthy walk (Ephesians 4:1-6; 5:1, 2, 8). Make them a matter of prayer and focused spiritual discipline. I commend to you two great reads by Jerry Bridges: The Pursuit of Holiness & The Practice of Godliness (both Nav. Press).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Living, Dying & Praying Like Stephen

"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit"
"Lord, do not charge them with this sin." ~ Acts 7:59, 60

Stephen was a good man, with a great reputation, a Spirit-filled Deacon who took care of the widows (Acts 6 & 7). When pushed in a corner, He stood up for and spoke out for Jesus, boldly challenging powerful Jewish leaders to repent. It cost him his life. He died with two exemplary prayers on his lips: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" & "Lord, do not charge them with this sin" (Acts 7:59, 60). When rocked by life, persecuted for your beliefs & forced to choose safety or the Savior, put yourself in God’s hands & forgive your enemies.

Jesus’ Return Means:

* Deliverance for His own (1 Thess. 4-5; Matt. 25)
* Damnation for those who are not (Ps. 1:6; Matt. 25; 2 Ths. 2, 3)

"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (vs. 59)

Entrust yourself to him, put your life in His sovereign hands (Phil 1:20 ff).

We will die as we have lived. To die well, we must live well.

"As being stoned." Crises reveals character. Echoes Jesus on cross.

* Commitment / Reliance
* Contrition: all aid bare before eyes of the Lord – Heb. 4:13
* Submission: "Lord Jesus"

"Lord, do not charge them with this sin." (vs. 60)

Don’t hold against them, keep to their account. "Father, forgive…"

Fulfills the Lord’s prayer: "forgive us… as we…"

When we commit selves to Lord, we must do as He says: i.e. forgive

Forgiveness – no small topic / problem / need / request (Eph. 4:29 – 5:2)

Whom do you need to forgive?

Who do you require God to show justice to, as you cling to His mercy?

Notice Stephen’s Lofty View of Jesus:

* Saw Him in heaven at God’s right hand – the Son of Man (Dan. 7)
* He calls Him Lord – either worship or idolatry
* He asked Jesus to forgive – only God can do such

Final Thots from Stephen’s Final Words:

* How is your reputation? Are you filled with God’s Spirit (Eph. 5:18)?
* Who, at the end of it all, are you trusting, looking to for salvation?
* What will be on your lips, in your heart, on your mind at the end?
* Who is God telling you to release from your debt (forgive)?
* Will your death bring glory to God and spread the gospel (Acts 8:1-8)?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Knowing and Doing God’s Will

Have you figured out the latest Bible code yet? Did you read any of the top selling Jesus-redefining novels? Rediscovered the “lost gospels” in your quest for truth and spiritual guidance? Heard the newest ideas from Scholars of who Jesus really was, the Bible notwithstanding?

Maybe your search for spiritual insight included reading your horoscope, consulting the stars, a Reader, Tarot cards or crystals. It seems we all want to know God’s will, the inside scoop from Above. Sadly, we will go – no, run – down any path that seems to offer answers; especially quick ones or new, secret ones.

If you are you anxious to know God’s will, His plan for you; have I got a prayer for you! One to not only personally pray, but to speak on behalf of others. Two for one! This God-honoring prayer was penned to some other folks also tempted to find new, esoteric wisdom from God – the young church in Colossea.

When the Apostle Paul heard from Epaphras that a church was birthed in Colossea and that they were the prey of false teachers, he started praying for them (Colossians 1:6-12; 4:12, 13; Philemon 1:23). Written from jail (4:10), Colossian’s meaty teachings and serious warnings reveal a people tempted to turn to heresy – serious doctrinal errors about Jesus.

Itching for hidden knowledge (see 2:1-10), Paul prays for them to truly know God’s will so that they will walk in it. This potent prayer hits home for us who are also tempted to seek life-guiding wisdom from ungodly sources. Jesus’ divine nature and mission are also often misrepresented in popular culture and by false teachers in the church. With this background and in light of these issues, read Paul’s prayer from Colossians 1:9-12 a few times:

“We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (NASB).

Here is my summary: “We are praying that His will you would fully know so that in His ways you will fully go - worthy of and pleasing Him. And it will show, to Him and others, as He causes fruit in you to grow: in your doing, knowing, enduring & thanking of the Father.”

This prayer has two primary requests, seen in its main verbs. (Its four participles ain’t bad stuff either.) The plea he makes for these new, vulnerable Christians is that they would know God’s will and walk in it.

“Knowing God’s will” is a topic that sells books, packs classes and keeps pew people awake – at least a bit longer than usual. This letter’s emphasis reminds us that knowing who Jesus truly is and what He has done is far more important than God revealing a career or mate choice. To marry well and work in a satisfying field is little consolation if one does not know and grow to know Jesus.

To be filled with knowledge of God’s will is to know God. His character reveals His will just as His will reveals His character. We are to seek to have a distinct perception, a clear knowledge of God and His heart. We are to pine to know His inclinations, resolves and sovereign pleasure. Not according to worldly or – heaven forbid – demonic devices. But with a godly, spiritual wisdom and with discernment (Col. 2:8; Philippians 3:8-10).

Beyond yielding bragging rights at Bible Studies, this knowing of God is to be fruitful. Note the prayer’s second main thrust. It is a “so that” action item: so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects (vs. 10).

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote that "knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do." Other than sounding a bit like Yoda, he echoes James 1:22, which says: “Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourself, do what it says.” Remember the Wise Man of Matthew 7:24-29? Knowing without doing ain’t true knowing.

The four following participles – hang with me – spell out what that walk should look like: bearing fruit in every good work, increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with all power, and joyously giving thanks to the Father. Yet, before you run to examine those, don’t miss the need to marry Biblical data to discernment, info with spiritual insight. That is true maturity (Hebrews 5:11-14).

If you know any part of God’s will, you are to live it out in a life that is worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in all respects (Ephesians 4:1-6; 5:1, 2, 8). Having a life that pleases Him in every dimension is a life-long pursuit (Philippians 3:8-12). Since we are not there yet, let us press on to know, to do, to be! Do not settle for a data-driven discipleship. Know God’s Word & heart (Psalms 1; 19; 119).

To pray to know God’s will presupposes a heart ready to obey, not just one shopping for options to pick between. We do not ask for His best offer that we may compare it with other choices. We come ready to obey, knowing that will help us see His will even better (Romans. 12:1, 2; John 7:17).

Edward Bedore concurred: “The knowledge of Christ's love for us should cause us to love Him in such a way that it is demonstrated in our attitude, conduct & commitment to serve God. Spiritual maturity is marked by spiritual knowledge being put into action.” Here, here!

Allow me to recommend three books: J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, AW Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, and AW Pink’s The Attributes of God.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Moving Past “God Bless So-and-so”

Maturing in Prayer - Starting with Colossians 1:1-12

Multiple times in God’s Holy Writ we are told to pray for one another. Yet, at times, we are not sure what to pray. Between rushed morning prayers or sleepy bed-time prayers, our good intentions often turn into anemic offerings; puny prayers punted for those who need and deserve better. Now that we all feel sufficiently guilty, what shall we do? How about some help from God’s word?! Colossians 1 models a prayer that speaks of specific & significant spiritual needs we all have. It points us towards God’s glory and other’s spiritual growth. Let us pray!

Col. 1:9 “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” - NASB

A KSD Summary of the Prayer (I bet you can do better. Go for it!): “We are praying that His will you would fully know so in His ways you can fully go - worthy of & pleasing Him. It will show, to Him & others, as He causes fruit in you to grow: in your knowing, doing, enduring & thanking.”

A Poem - Pre Apologies to Real Poets

Beyond “God Bless Them”
KSD – GEFC - Aug. 2006

Now I bow my head to pray
But I’m fresh out of things to say
So once again, the same old way:
“Dear Lord, please bless them all today”

Now, a blessing is no small thing, true.
But what specifically do I want God to do?
Yes, “suite a blessing to their need”
But, there is more for which I should plead

Are they seeking to know God?
On His path, do they trod?
His holy will, do they know?
Or on His ways, do they go?

Are they walking worthy of Him
Pleasing Him with vigor and vim?
Is fruit increasing in their life
Knowing God despite life’s strife

Do you ask Him to empower them,
Make them faithful and patient within?
For them are you giving thanks
That God has rescued them from sin

Oh Lord, please teach us how to pray
To help us use your word each day
To seek Your face in all we do
For us and others – skoodley-do

Okay - I threw in the skoodley-do as a bonus. . .
Pray for me - use Col. 1 - thanks. ;-)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Lessons from Katrina and New Orleans

Thirteen lucky (blessed) adults and youth from our church recently helped gut flooded houses in New Orleans, in St. Bernard Parish. Even after a week of being in the midst of the destruction Katrina caused, it is still hard to fathom or communicate its breadth, depth and implications.

The impact of this Monster was seen from over 75 miles away in the bent and broken trees, and unused FEMA trailers – thousands sitting on a hillside, waiting. Getting closer, the wind’s damage was heavily supplemented by water’s power: a Hurricane’s driving rain, a behemoth storm surge and floods from broken levies.

A region far greater than the Tri-Cities area has been more than scarred. Rich and poor, black and white, owners, renters, insured and noninsured were equally hammered and made destitute by Katrina, and her slightly less ugly and equally unwelcome sister Rita. This is not to mention Mississippi and Alabama’s woes.

Even for the majority who did evacuate and those who had insurance, and alternative places to live, work, educate their children and live life, most of them are not able to go home and get on with life. More than just out of pocket, the entire fabric of their life has been ripped apart, believer and unbeliever alike.

The people we were honored to help were homeowners who had lived in their nice, middle-income brick houses for 40 plus years. From these solid homes, they raised and sent off kids and received back grandchildren. Their stores, schools, churches, family and social networks had been there, but are no longer.

Huge curbside piles of trash are now among the few signs of life and hope. Those fortunate enough to get help rehabbing – if the structure can be saved - are faced first with the task of breaking into their homes; doors are often blocked with debris.

Access gained, they must now throw away almost all of their ruined worldly goods, and then strip their former home’s walls to the maybe moldy studs - nasty, slow, dangerous toil.

Simply getting into a house or a room may mean crawling over a floated, now flipped over sofa, walking over mattresses that meandered to the living room beside a dryer. It means encountering refrigerators – filled with rotted food – lying over in the trashed kitchen. Do not ask about the smells or rats.

Those press-board computer desks we have? Water is not kind to them. When the water recedes, to the floor they proceed, sinking into half-dried oil spilled from a local refinery. Monitors, keyboards, files, games and speakers make an interesting puzzle – all a tangled mess to be thrown curbside.

There are many things I learned from this exhausting, invigorating, faith-building trip. Allow me to share a few. First, it was easy after watching the coverage of Katrina – and probably racist - to blame "those people" for not getting out, for living there in the first place.

Until going and seeing the pervasive, equal-opportunity destroyer Katrina was, it was easy to smugly ask why they did not have insurance, don’t just move on, get busy rebuilding… Shame on me, Lord. Forgive my self-righteousness.

Seeing ruined family photos hurt. Throwing away now worthless treasures was a valuable reminder of what really matters most in life. Seeing how much stuff we can accumulate was impossible to ignore.

I doubt I’ll ever forget seeing a discarded plaque for Homecoming Queen – an honor that once shaped a life - now headed to the dump, along with a dozen more trophies and awards.

It was satisfying to rescue a remembrance and return it to the homeowner: medals, baby pictures, $650 cash. It was amazing to see how they had learned a lesson we had not. Often what we were certain they would want to keep, they no longer saw as valuable – it had become stuff.

A story we heard that grabbed my imagination was of brave heroics and incredible ingratitude. A man used his boat, at risk to his own safety, to rescue some people in peril. Bringing them to his own home, which was remarkably habitable, he let them stay with him.

As is cynically said, no good deed goes unpunished. The next day, the people he helped were gone. With them, were many of his valuables. The rescuer took his gun, found them and got his stuff back.

While this story appalls, it rebukes more loudly. How many times have I treated God, my gracious Rescuer who offers me His home with such disdain? He left heaven’s perfections to wade into wild waters to save me from me and how do we often say thanks (John 1:11-13).

Like the homeowner, for those who do not receive the rescue, the Savior will someday take on a Judge’s role and mete out justice. And, for us spoiled kids of the kingdom who often forget Whom to thank, we can expect a spanking.

Ever the pastor, allow me to share one lasting parable we experienced. Sin, like Katrina, has tumbled our innards too, wrecking our heart-homes. Its mess in our lives is worse than those devastated domiciles.

The cleanup process that is needed is no small job, requiring outside Help. The task will not be complete unless full access is given and former valuables gotten rid of or reassessed. If there is any consolation, each of us have messy, ransacked rooms inside. There is no sense acting otherwise.

Some final exhortations: Pray for those hundreds of thousands still feeling Katrina’s slap. If you can go and help, I urge you to go. If not, give and support those who can go. We hope to go back. The need will there for years.

Repent of any ignorant, sinful condemning of those displaced or overwhelmed by natural disasters. If we do not believe that could be us, God help us. Oh the pride that divides and damns.

Finally, let Jesus clean your mucked up life. Yes, call out for salvation if you have not. But, frankly, I am speaking to us believers who are still full of putrid, ravished, ruined stuff. Some are of our own doing, others the results of others’ destructive influences.

Guard your garbage and you will stay a mess. Let Him haul out what He will and He can rebuild (see Romans 8).

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Who are you, Christian?

“He’ My Daddy!” - 1 John 3:1-3

1 "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself,
just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:1-3 (NIV)

How much love does it take for God to call us His kids?
1 “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!” (NIV)

So you don’t miss it: We are God’s kids! (Eph. 1; 1 Pet. 1:1-3)
“And that is what we are!”

Being God’s child puts us at odds with the world. They didn’t know Him, they don’t know His kinfolk either (John 1:11-13).
"The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him."

Our Current status: God’s kids, though all the family traits are not yet in place. “But wait, there’s more!”
2 "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known."

When He comes back, we will be fully like Him,
because we will see Him for all He is – whoa! (Is. 6; Ezk. 1)
"But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is."

The confidence of being one of His beloved kids, of seeing Him, and fully being like Him leads us to pursue a pure life.
3 "Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself,
just as he is pure.” (NIV)

Some Final Thots:

He adopted us knowing ALL our imperfections and future failures & flailing. Warts and all. See Romans 5:1-11; 8; Psalm 103; Jer. 1.

He is not finished working on us (Phil. 1:6; 2:13; 1 Thess. 5:24).

We are not to be finished working on us either (vs. 3 & 2 Cor. 7:1)

We are to rejoice & rest in our status with him: His adopted kids!

2 Corin. 7:1 “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (NIV)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Citizenship Lessons for Us Aliens from Jeremiah 29

Citizenship Lessons for Aliens from Jeremiah 29

God’s people, under divine disciple, are in exile in Babylon. False prophets were building false hope in the people by promising a quick return to Jerusalem, but God said it will be 70 years (vs. 8-10). Thinking they will not be there long, they are tempted to not unpack their bags or be involved in the nation God has placed them. The letter the LORD directs Jeremiah to write to these exiles has many good reminders and encouragements for us aliens, too (see 1 Peter 1:1, 13-17; 2:9-17; Romans 13:1-8; Titus 2:1-10).

The Context:
vs. 1 “This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon… 4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:”

· Who took responsibility for their exile (& return vs. 10)? Why?

· Who is sovereign over our circumstances (Is. 40; Ps. 73; 103)?

The Commands: vs. 5 "Build houses and settle down; plant gardens. . .
6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters…
7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."

· Wherever God plants you, don’t refuse to bloom. LIVE!

· A life of waiting to live is hardly a life ( 1 Tim. 2:1-6; Titus 3:1-8).

· God’s people are to be the best of citizens, seeking good for those around them (Babylonians) – for their sakes & our own (Matt. 5).

Vs. 8 Yes, this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says:
"Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you.”

· It is tempting to believe the easier, more favorable “word from God.”

· “Ear ticklers” abound & are loved & sought (2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:1-5).

Vs. 10 "…When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity..." (NIV)
· The LORD will fulfill His promises. Trust Him & His word (Ps. 37).

· The LORD has great plans for His people, even when under His disciple (Heb. 12). He’s a forgiving, restoring Savior (2 Chron. 7:14)

· When under disciple, we should seek His face all the more.

· Rest in God, knowing that He knows & He cares (Is. 40:9-11, 27-31)

2 Chronicles 7:14 - “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (NIV)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Following Father Abraham

Following Father Abraham

“I have singled him out so that he will direct his sons and their families to keep the way of the LORD and do what is right and just. Then I will do for him all that I have promised.” Gen. 18:19 (NLT)

The Context of this Command is Amazing (Gen. 18)

v Abraham shows hospitality to LORD & two Angels

1 Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. 2 …and behold, three men were standing by him; 22 Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the LORD. (see 19:1ff) - NKJV

Theophany / Christophany: a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. For more examples see Gen. 16:7–13; 22:11–13; 32:24–30; Ex. 3:1–8; 23:20–23; Num. 22:22–35; Josh. 5:13–15; Jdg. 2:1–3; 6:11–24; 13:18; 1Kg. 19:4–8; 1Chr. 21:16–22; Is. 37:36; Dan 3:25 - “This passage involves another Christophany… The three visitors appear as “men,” but one is identified as the “LORD” (v. 13). Possibly the other two “men” accompanying Him were angels (19:1). The outstanding visitor, perhaps the preincarnate Christ, assumed control of the conversation and foretold the miraculous birth of Isaac.” W. A. Criswell, Believer’s study Bible [computer file], electronic ed. , Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1991 by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies.

v The LORD is bringing Abraham into His confidence – Sodom’s fate

17 “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing…”

v The LORD is renewing the promise, His covenant with Abraham, though he tried to shortcut God’s plan (Ishmael): Gen. 12; 15; 17

18 “since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation,
and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?

v God gives a new insight into His purpose and plans for Abraham and the means of bringing the Covenant Blessings to Abraham’s descendants. Father Abraham has some divine daddy duties:

19 (NKJV) “For I have known him [chosen], in order that
he may command his children and his household after him,

that they keep the way of the LORD,

to do righteousness (to do what is right – CEV)

and justice (what is... fair – CEV)

WHY? “…that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.”

A lot was riding on Abraham training his kids & household. So too us & ours.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Wise Advice for Foolish Young Lovers

Recently I had the honor of doing a wedding of two "kids" I saw grow up from preteens to neat, godly Adults. What a joy! Interestingly, the wedding was on April 1, otherwise known as April Fool’s Day. No comments, please.

With wedding season bearing down on us, I am pleased to share the challenge I gave at their wedding. A last insider note to help you make sense of one bit of advice I offered, his last name, her now-married name is Short. Shhh, here comes the Bride….

From time immortal, or at least since the 50’s, mankind has sought an answer to this question: "Why do fools fall in love?" Yet fools do fall in love and holes, the mud and traps.

Most of us, when we fall into something, try to get out of it. With an April Fool's Day wedding, you've provided a great way to remember some important lessons for marriage.

Certainly— or should I say, "no fooling"— you want to live a life of wisdom and abandon all foolish ways. So to help you from being mere fools who fall into love and risk falling out of love or climbing out, I have some words for the W.I.S.E.

The Wise work to grow in love and stay in love. The Wise may find a deep emotional connection, but it is not something they fall into or fall for. It is the results of wise workmanship.

Proverbs 14:1 says "The wise woman builds her house, the foolish one tears it down with her own hands." Since you do not want to be that kind of man or woman, here is your W.I.S.E. advice.

"W" - Walk with the Lord. Live in close step with Him. Abide in the vine, Jesus.

Proverbs 1:7 teaches that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." You need to walk with each other, but to do that best, walk with the Lord - as an individual, as a couple and in the community of the Church. To do otherwise is foolish and deadly to a relationship.

The second word to the WISE is "I", Invest in each other. Alexis, your dad knows a thing or two about this as a financial consultant, and also from the example he has set with your Mom. Investing means paying a price. [Here in the ceremony, I read Ephesians 5:21-33. Go thou and do likewise, dear reader.]

Alexis, love and show Ben respect. Ben, be willing to die for Alexis and die daily to self. Ephesians 5:21 instructs us "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Many investments, maybe all of them, have risk. So too in marriage, there is no promise of return. Yet not investing is worse, far riskier. If you want a return, you have to invest. Walk with the Lord and invest in each other sacrificially and trust God for a return, a dividend.

The third W.I.S.E. advice is easy to remember. "S" - Keep Short accounts. Forgive.

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 we are wisely instructed that "love keeps no record of wrong". It does not take into account wrongs suffered. No score keeping, no family historians. Keep short accounts.

Ephesians 4:26 says "Be angry and sin not. Do not let the sun go down on your anger." If you do this, you’ll show great wisdom. If not, you’ll prove foolish and tear down your home with your own hands.

Walk with the Lord. Invest sacrificially. Keep short accounts, forgive.

Your last W.I.S.E. word is "E" - Enjoy. Where did Jesus perform His first miracle? At a party, a wedding party. The thought of the host being embarrassed by running out of wine and the party ending early was unacceptable to Him.

God created and gave us marriage. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. The last time I looked, gifts are to be enjoyed. Enjoy each other— laugh with, and not at each other. Play, celebrate, and extend the honeymoon.

Life can be hard. Make your home a haven, a slice of heaven. Be a harbor from storms. Host your friends often, yet hole up too and enjoy each other.

So again, I ask the question: "Why do fools fall in love?" They weren’t watching where they were going. It is said that love is blind, but marriage is a real eye-opener.

Yet, the Wise go in fully alert and aware. They walk with the Lord. They invest sacrificially in each other. They keep short accounts, forgive. They enjoy each other till death they do part.

May you live lives of wisdom, reverencing, honoring, and fearing God. Let us pray.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Helping God’s Hearing - Zechariah 7

Sermon Notes from Zech. 7

Setting: 518 BC - Post-exilic, i.e. back in the land. Same era as Haggai, Malachi. “In the fourth year of King Darius…” (vs. 1 - ESV)

The Delegation’s Question: Now that we are back in the land, shall we continue the Memorial Fasts from when we lost the Temple & were exiled?
2 Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men to entreat the favor of the LORD, 3 saying to the priests of the house of the LORD of hosts and the prophets, "Should I weep and abstain in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?" (ESV)

The LORD’s Answer / Question: 4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me: 5 "Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? 6 And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? 7 Were not these the words that the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous, with her cities around her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited?"

The Heart of it – A Call to Repentance, Righteousness & Reminder:
8 And the word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying, (cf. 7:1; 8:1; 18)

9 "Thus says the LORD of hosts,
Render true judgments,
show kindness and mercy to one another,
10 do not oppress the widow, the fatherless,
the sojourner, or the poor,
and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart."

11 But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. 12 They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the LORD of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the LORD of hosts. 13 "As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear," says the LORD of hosts, 14 "and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations that they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate." - ESV

1. Sacred acts – if empty or misguided - can be deadly in their deception

2. More important than a Fast is Obedience: Loving God & Others

3. To not repeat history, learn from it! Keep the “they” vs. 11 a they.

4. God not listening (vs. 13)? Who started it (vs. 11-14)? Repent.

5. Though God scattered, He restored. Practice righteousness (vs. 8-10)!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Checking Your Church Connectedness

How connected to your church are you? I am not asking if you are a member, or regular in attendance or giving. But, how much are its people a part of your life and you theirs? Do you see other Christians as family or fellow attendees? Do you think of your church as a “them” or an “us, we”?

A Spiritual Utility Company is how many see church: a place that holds a service where the Pastor meets – or doesn’t meet – your needs. As the Phone, Electric and Cable companies have their role in your life, so does the church.

The Biblical descriptions of a believer’s relationship with the church are vastly different from what many (most?) experience. Many do not seem to know how deeply Jesus wants our lives to intertwine. Others are quite pleased with their comfortable, yet shallow, relationship with their spiritual family.

Few seem to see it as a blood-bought body into which we have been baptized, placed by Jesus; a body that is as interdependent as your own. Sing with me: the wrist bone’s connected to the arm bone, the leg bone… (Ephesians 4; 1 Corinthians 12, 13; Romans 12).

Here is a way to check your church connectedness. Which of these phrases sound like how you describe your church to others?

1. “I go to Pastor So-and-so’s Church.” The Pastor is the church’s main identity point. He is the Man of God that you follow, adhere to, trust, respect, stand-behind… As enviable as that may sound to us Pastors, it is a scary, vulnerable place to let people stay.

What if the Pastor leaves, shows his humanity or worse, falls into sin or serious doctrinal error? Understandably, these are hits in one’s life, but how deep a stroke would it be to you? Do you believe what you believe because a pastor seems convinced enough for both of you, or do you own your faith?

2. “I go to Such-and-such Church.” Its reputation, distinctives, denomination – or lack there of – and even its image are key. You name-drop it for spiritual credibility, clout or even to be “chic by association.” Your church identity is defined by who you are and are not: Traditional, Contemporary, Reformed, Free Will, Baptistic, Presbyterian…

There are thousands of things we own as distinctives: Pentecostal, Non Charismatic, High / Low Church, house church, Emergent, Decaf., non smoking, window seat. These can be great things. Yet, when they define us, they divide us.

We often assert that most of us agree on a few core doctrinal matters - the essentials. Still, we truck in our distinctives, put them up front, give them more weight then they deserve or can bear and start parting company.

Though we may have the Lord Jesus in common, it sure sounds like music styles,
Sunday Evening services and dress codes are a lot more important than our Crucified, buried, risen, coming again Savior. Our connectedness is not Him but our particularities, our differences.

3. “Our church offers. . .” (fill-in a list of programs). If church is primarily for you is a place to be served and catered to, then something is amiss. We have far too many pew people who claim to have known Jesus for years and are still takers, consumers. They are not ministering, using their gifts, laying down their life for others.

Satisfied customers like what their church provides. They show up for many of its offerings and even give, bring goodies and help set up / clean up. But, dare you disappoint, offend or slight them and they are suddenly no longer around, not returning calls, and arriving late and leaving early to the last few events they come.

When the novelty wears off of how well their church “serves the better burger”, and the next “First Church of the Latest and Greatest” bursts on the scenes, reporting remarkable growth (sheep shuffling), they feel the need to check out what “God is up to” there.

4. “That’s my family’s church.” You grew up in the same neighborhood as your parents, went to the same schools, and of course, attend the same church. It’s “where your family goes” since they helped start it. Like three other generations, you were dedicated, and married in that church.

This can be precious, a holy legacy of stability and commitment. There is nothing wrong with a family church, as long as your family knows it is part of a bigger Family where God is in charge, not Grandma.

5. “That is the church family I am part of… Our church…” To use an old, noble term, you are a Churchman. A committed to, serving in, making-happen, plugged-in, need-meeting, class-teaching, stranger-greeting, sick-visiting, meal-fixing, flower-buying, card-sending, family member.

You rejoice with those having babies, getting married and you weep with those facing death, divorce, unemployment or disability. You know and acknowledge birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, promotions, layoffs and major medical tests. You provide rides to the store, help cut the grass, pay the bills, fix the car, slip cash to, pass along hand me downs, watch the kids, loan the car…

Note this well: each church probably has some of each of these five types of Christians. Their disposition towards Church may or may not be produced or promoted by their church.

Take the risk – again - and be the church. Lead the way by humbly serving one an other as “inasmuchas” people. Jesus said that in as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto Me.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Measuring Maturity by Ministry Stages

Take the Test . . .

Years ago, I noticed an interesting way to gage the maturity or ministry development of a church or individual. I have couched these stages of growth in hypothetical comments made to one’s Pastor.

Let me back up a bit. According to Ephesians 4:11-17, a mature church is - among other things - one in which the people are trained by their leaders to do ministry and then they do it.

Such spiritually healthy saints are solid in their beliefs about and walk with Jesus, not vulnerable to the latest spiritual fads or ideas (e.g. Da Vinci Code).

They share the responsibilities of ministry according to their giftedness (read 1 Peter 4:10, 11), contributing to the church body in “which every part does its share” (Ephesians 4:16 - NKJV).

These are people who see needs, take initiative and create and do ministry, not simply follow the lead of their pastor in what, when and how. (The Reformers spoke of the Priesthood of the believers.)

With that context, here are the progressive comments of people growing into ministry maturity, and a pastor allowing and fostering it:

First, we hear: “Great job, Pastor!” This can be an encouragement from newer believers, or the intoxicating applause, of adoring, approving spectators. Sadly, such satisfied customers are fickle and unless they are growing out of this stage, they are drains on the church’s ministry and focus.

Next comes: “Pastor, may I help?” These souls have gone from watching to wanting to lend a hand. It may be from the fear that the “poor Pastor is overworked” or it may be, “I think I could be of help here.” Dare they start to think, “Hey, I can do that”? Read Romans 12:1-8.

Growing even more, we hear: “Pastor, I have an idea. May we…?” These courageous congregants are starting to see church life beyond Sunday morning worship and the sole job of the Pastor.

They may joke he only works one day a week, but know it is more like three, maybe four. No longer mere followers, these are burgeoning leaders. Either stop them while you still can, or add fuel to their holy fire.

Moving into maturity, they declare: “Pastor, we are going to…” These brazen souls have earned trust, cleaned toilets, served, led and faithfully paid their dues. Now, on their own, they see needs and opportunities that God brings before them and they act.

Out of respect and for prayer support – as well as getting first dibs on a room at church – they tell the pastor what is going to happen. Yes, tell him, not ask.

Finally, reflecting a mature ministry mindset, we overhear: “Did anyone tell the pastor that we…?” Ah, these are the heart, the life, the pulse of a healthy church. They have met a need, started a ministry, lead a charge and did not feel the need to “bother the Pastor”. The mutual trust they have developed freed them to “go for it.”

They realize – maybe after the fact - that he might want to know for his own encouragement how God used them, as well as to lighten his load, allay some guilt and prevent ministry duplication.

Truth be told, he might not even enter into their thinking. It ain’t about him, and he knows and teaches that (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

Once a pastor gets over getting “left out” by such saints, he can rejoice. This kind of ignorance is bliss and blessed. Such is the making of a ministry monster – in the best sense of the word.

Such churches blessed with such lean, mean ministry machines are not as strong or weak as their pastor. He is not the end-all. Such people are the strength of the church.

That last category may sound scary: people not running their ideas by the Pastor, Elders or Deacons. Admittedly, there are some people that need to be checking in – and frequently.

However, if at some point some people cannot be trusted to follow the Lord in using their God-given gifts, we have either done a poor job of equipping them or we are control freaks.

I close with a quandary that has haunted me for years. We applaud missionaries for bringing a church to maturity and working themselves out of a job. When the “locals,” the indigenous people are finally leading the church, the missionaries have achieved their goal.

However, that mindset, that grand ministry philosophy seems only worth exporting, not applying here at home. Why is that? Could this failure to free God’s people to serve contribute to the anemic nature of the body of Christ in America?

This quandary – call it a crisis - calls for a response on both sides of the pulpit. Are we pastors promoting people’s movement through these stages, or hindering it?

How about you “pew people” (a terrible term): In which stage do you find yourself and what are you doing to move to the next one?

Mother Mary: a Magnificent Model

Mother Mary: a Magnificent Model

Mother's Day Sermon Notes from Luke 1:38-56

As a reaction, many Protestants shy away from much that deals with Mary, the mother of our Lord. Many reactions are over-corrections in which we rob ourselves in the good name of self-protection. A study of Mary from Luke 1:38-56 yields so many great lessons. Mary is a magnificent model for all of us, not just Moms. Her song in vs. 46-55 is called "The Magnificat", from the Latin for "glorifies". Pretty deep stuff for a teen girl (cf 1 Sam. 2:1).

Mary’s Response to Angel Gabriel’s Birth Announcement:

38 "And Mary said, "Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me

according to your word." And the angel departed from her." NASB

* Humbly submissive: "the bondslave of the Lord"
* Obedient: "may it be done to me…"

Cousin Elizabeth’s Description of Mary:

45 "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment

of what had been spoken to her by the Lord."

* Mary was a woman of faith: unlike Sarah, or Zechariah

* Mary’s faith brought blessing to her & all

The Ultimate Mother’s Lullaby: 46 And Mary said:

"My soul exalts the Lord,

47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.

48 "For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;

For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.

49 "For the Mighty One has done great things for me;

And holy is His name.



51 "He has done mighty deeds with His arm;

He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart.

52 "He has brought down rulers from their thrones,

And has exalted those who were humble.


And sent away the rich empty-handed.

54 "He has given help to Israel His servant, In remembrance of His mercy,

55 As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and his descendants forever."

* She knew the Scriptures & the LORD of them. Note all the attributes
* A Lady of Worship: she loved & feared the LORD her God (Deut. 6:4-9)
* Knew her status was due to God’s mercy, not merit (humble)
* Saw herself as part of a People (Israel). Saw her role in its history
* She was indeed blessed of the LORD & a magnificent model for all.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Confronting our Unbelief & Hard Hearts

Relying on the Reports of The Resurrected One
sermon notes from Mark 16:4-14

Firsthand reports of eyewitnesses who were contemporaries of the event! We like to think that if we had that benefit we would believe with no trouble at all & never doubt again. Yet, the first ones to hear reports of the Jesus’ resurrection – His closest followers - responded unbelief & hard hearts. Jesus rebukes such refusal to believe – it is sinful.

Do you see a pattern, any repeated words or themes in Mark 16:9-14?

“Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. 11 And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.

12 After that, He appeared in another form to two of them as they walked and went into the country. 13 And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.

14 Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen.” (NKJV)

The Resurrection reports are reliable & the facts more than sufficient, leaving all people responsible, without excuse (vs. 14; Rom. 1:18-23).

Personal turmoil and life disturbance (mourning and weeping – vs. 10) does not earn a pass before God for unbelief (Mark 6:1-6).

The problem is not our I.Q., but “I will / won’t” (Matt. 16:1-4;)
- Unbelief is a decision, NOT a result of being not persuaded (Rom. 1:18)
- A hard or resistant heart stirs a rebuke, a reproach from the Risen Lord

Unbelief is sin & faith is blessed (John 1:10-13; 3:16-18, 36; 20:24-31)

An Irony: We should hope & pray people believe our witness, but not be surprised when they do not. We are asking them to make a dead / alive-again Jewish Rabbi from 2000 years ago their life boss and God. This is no small step and the consequences are huge – submission & repentance.

Jesus has spoken to us things He wants us to believe, live and obey, yet we doubt His word & dismiss His messengers. Which of His promises would Jesus rebuke your unbelief & hard heartedness?

Feed your faith with these texts: 2 Corin. 1:20; Eph. 6:16, 17; Rom. 10; James 1:5-8 Heb. 4:1, 2; 6 :7-20; 11:1-6, 39-40; Mark 4:1-20; 9:24; Psalm 119.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Reminder to Be Mindful of God

"Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts.

"Do not think only about things down here on earth. For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God" Colossians 3:1-3 (New Living Translation).

You never know when or where God will remind you of an important truth. A chance encounter at a hotel continental breakfast bar reminded me of God’s passion to teach us. It also reminded me of the need to be mindful of Him.

Our family was traveling back to Kingsport when my son and I met a kind retiree from Oklahoma. Coincidentally, she too who was on her way to Kingsport, to visit a daughter and family.

By the way, it is said that a "coincidence" is when God chooses to work anonymously. Lucky for us - yes, that was a joke- He does this often.

Having noticed that she looked Hispanic or Native American and that she had on a shirt saying "Mexico," I asked if she was Mexican or Cherokee. She was in fact first generation Mexican American and she then relayed an interesting life development.

Our new friend told how she used to think in Spanish as well as she could in English. But, in the past few years, she has noticed that skill slipping. At a recent reception, she was able to speak to someone in Spanish. Yet, much to her chagrin, she got stuck in efforts to communicate.

Having no one to speak Spanish to on a regular basis has made it harder to think in Spanish as easily as she used to. What used to be natural to her now takes effort due to lack of practice, less use.

Hmmm . . . With a long drive ahead and being a person prone to parabolize, and apt to allegorize, this got me to thinking about my thinking. (I will not be offended if you need to re read that sentence.) How fluent do I stay in my thinking about God, His word, His truths, His will and ways?

Can I, with Willie Nelson, sing to my sweet Lord, "You were always on my mind?" Being on the road again, I could not outlaw that line of thinking. (Tell me ya saw the puns...)

How consistently do I meditate on Him, His word, mulling Him over? How well do I think biblically? Have my skills and habits of thinking in God’s language – the Bible – stayed strong or have they slipped?

As God’s people, we have a dual citizenship, know a second language – His. We are to love God with all our minds, as well as our hearts, soul and strength. A lack of use of our language of re-birth can lead to one dimensional living and thinking - a life that is too earthy (see Psalm 1).

To my new friend, I say "mucho gusto, mucho gracias mi amiga y Dios Te bendaga." (I hope you are duly impressed, that is half of my Spanish. nd, yes, I had it double checked.)

To my Lord, who has provided cleaner, clearer thoughts for us to think, I say thank you for the reminder. Feel free to keep me mindful to keep you in mind.

"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." Joshua 1:8 (NKJV)

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Jesus' Burial - sermon notes

Jesus’ Burial - from Mark 15:42-47

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you… 2 By this gospel you are saved… 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corin. 15:1-4 emphasis added - NIV).

Mark 15:42 “It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath).

· Unburied bodies polluted the land & were a sign of God’s curse (Ezek. 39:11–16; 1 Kings 14:11; 2 Kings 9:36–37)

42b So as evening approached, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, (cf Simeon– Luke 2:25)went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.

· “a good and upright man” (Luke 23:50) & rich (Mt. 27:57)
· A secret disciple, feared the Jews (John 19:38-42; Mt. 27:57)
· did not consent to the Council’s “decision and action” (Luke 23:51)

44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. 45 When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
· Not uncommon to stay alive on a cross 2-3 days (leg breaking)

46 So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.
· Joseph’s family tomb & unused – no family buried in it yet (Mt. 27:60)
· Nicodemus helped him & brought spices (John 19:39; 3:1-16)
· Note the honor shown to the dead.

47 Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:1-3 - delivered by Jesus of seven demons)
and Mary the mother of Joses (Matt. 27:55–61)
saw where he was laid.” (NIV)

· Potentially, the saddest words in all history.
· Is He still dead to you?
· Have you died with Him (Rom. 6; Gal. 2:20)?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Back Home

Doing the wedding of two kids you saw grow up - indescribable.

Many thanks to all at GEFC who plugged holes & met needs while we were in IL

Dues to weather & lateness, we didn't drive through last night. We caught a room
in KY with a good breakfast, pool... ;-) & got in today about 3 PM. Kids missed school. Kudos to Kimsey & Karter for wanting to get home so they would NOT miss school.

A good trip: busy, encouraging & fun. Robin & I visited a critically ill dear
older friend on Thur. He went to be with the Lord Sat. AM. I was able to go and
be with the family Sat. AM as they waited for his body to be picked up (donated
to science). What an honor. He was a neat, godly, "salt of the earth"
man (a WWII vet).

Wedding went well (yes, I cried). Preached in both Sun AM services from Mark 14
- deja vu for the family - they cried ;-)

It is good to be back home.

I am proud of how GEFC ( stepped up, owned it, did it... I am not sure I can totaly say why, or describe how, but they seemed to step up, own it in a new way. Very encouraging.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Trust God for the Impossible (i.e. Ridiculous)

God's great desire for us, His “Grand Scheme” is to make us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-39). One incredible way He does this is by putting us in impossible situations so He can teach us to trust Him and He can show off His greatness.

If you're not in one now, you have or will be in impossible situation that only God can handle. A pinch in which God Himself has clearly put you: family crises, financial stresses, marriage difficulties, health scares...

When God places you in faith-stretching spots, remember who He is: the LORD, the sovereign I Am. Recall what He's done in the past, has promised to do and what He is able to do since He is God. Seeing Him for who He is, helps us trust and obey (read Isaiah 40).

A great prompt towards this is an episode in the life of Prophet Jeremiah (read Jeremiah 32-33). God called him to do what seemed absurd, utter nonsense. As Jeremiah laid out his concern before Lord in prayer, we hear God ask: I'm the LORD, the God of all flesh, is anything too hard for Me?

The setting is rich and interesting. Jeremiah was a Prophet to southern kingdom – Judah. He faithfully proclaimed God's word: Judgment is coming because of the gross sin of the people & leaders. Give up your resistance, God will cause the enemy to win.

The King – for some odd reason - did not like this message, so he put the messenger, Jeremiah, under guard. While there, Jeremiah is told by the LORD that his cousin was coming to offer to sale him some land - family property he had first legal right to buy.

Small snag: it was not the best time to buy land. The nation is about to be overthrown and the people scattered to winds. Buying land before a successful invasion of an enemy is... trying to be nice here... unwise.

This was an overthrow Jeremiah had prophesied for years. Investing in real estate seems odd, at best. Yet, God called him to do just that.

Despite his own reasoning and doubts, Jeremiah faithfully obeys God. He purchases the land in a very public way and gives a copy of the deed to his scribe / helper Baruch, instructing him to seal it up for that day in future when God would bring His people back to land.

After making this odd deal, Jeremiah prays. It is a great prayer - full of faith, rich in remembering what God has done (Jeremiah 32:16-25).

Finishing his marvelous prayer, Jeremiah brings up the odd thing God's asked him to do. Lord, I know you're great, powerful, merciful and awesome. Lord, I know you have done great signs & wonders. But, the signs seem to be pointing backwards and I'm wondering what You're up to. About this land deal...

Sound familiar? Ever wondered or dared to ask God what He was up to? Lord, I know you want me to spend more time with family, but these bills, responsibilities... You want me to keep myself pure, but the temptation's too great. Besides, You put these feelings and desires in me.

I know you don't want me to marry an unbeliever, but You can't want me to stay single. I know you hate divorce, but you can't want me to stay married to this insensitive jerk. I know you want me to give, serve, forgive, love, help, but... You are expecting the impossible.

The Lord responds to us the same way He did to Jeremiah. The LORD quoted Jeremiah back to him, saying: Behold, I'm the Lord, the God of all people, is anything to hard for Me?

Yes, Jeremiah, I am asking you to do the seemingly absurd, but remember who I am, what I can do, and what I have promised. Yes, I'm going to discipline My people by sending them into captivity but, I'll re-gather them, return and replant My people in the land. They will again serve Me and I will be their God.

History tells us some 70 years later, God did restore His people to Land (see Haggai, 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1, 2).

Here's the Point: if God is leading you to do what seems absurd, the most absurd thing is to forget who God is. He's the LORD, the great I AM, the God of all flesh - not a local deity, a regional god, a created idol.

He is the God who has revealed Himself to us. The God who loves and saves His people, makes and keeps His Covenants and overthrows those who oppose Him.

Yes, He is the God who sometimes calls us to invest in the impossible, trust for the ridiculous and wait for the miraculous. He says to you too: Yes, My child, I am calling you to do that which I've shown you. It seems impossible, but remember who I am - the LORD.

Take Heart! If God's calling us to do impossible, He must be in it. If our plans are do-able - who needs God? Yet, God is calling for us to call out to Him to show us the impossible (Jer. 33:3). Obeying God in seeming nonsensical acts is not dumb, but a sign of humble obedience – and its smart too!

Okay, I admit it, in the abstract, objective realm, we agree without hesitation that nothing is too hard for God. Yet, on a personal, subjective level, when it has to do with our daily lives - well, we're not always sure He can pull if off. Or that He will for us. Others maybe, but us?

A warning here: beware of a sneaky, backward pride here. We think we will be the first exception in all of history. God will think US so special – or vile - that He'll break His promises to disappoint us. Let’s not flatter ourselves! God's not going to blow His perfect record just for you.

When in impossible situations that God has orchestrated, the best place to look is not at the situation, but God. Focus is everything. God gets our attention so that we'll look at Him.

When God calls on you to do the ridiculous, realize He wants you to remember Who He is, what He's done and to trust. He is the God who does more than we think or ask (Ephesians 2:20). This is what it means to be a person of faith.

God is looking for chances to show off; to the world and us. So, He occasionally backs us into Red Seas, let’s us step out of the boat on the water. When He puts you in such binds, He can and will get you out. Why? Because He is the LORD, the God of everyone and everything, nothing is too hard for Him.