Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Both great & small...

"To this day I have had help from God, and so I stand here, testifying to both small & great..."
(Acts 26:22)

Paul is imprisoned and needing to state his case before rulers.  He's reiterated his story numerous times to different authorities.  Now, before King Agrippa, Paul goes into a bit more detail about his mission & ministry.  Among the things he says comes this little tidbit from Acts 26:22...  a simple statement that he testifies to God's help - "both great & small."

It's easy to testify to and give thanks for the BIG THINGS that God does... recovery from a major illness, healing of relationships, protection during an accident, etc.  But how often do we testify to the little things God does in our lives?  Those things that others might classify (or dismiss!) as "random," or "insignificant," or "mundane"?  It's different if we are looking for them through GRATEFUL EYES!

Prayer: Lord, help me to see the little things you do in my life... and when I do, to give thanks and tell someone about You!  For you are my Help and my Fortress!  AMEN.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


"While they were worshipping the LORD and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas & Saul for the work to which I have called them.'"
(Acts 13:2)

There were 5 of them.  Luke describes them as "prophets & teachers."  I'm sure they were also friends.  Were they a regular "small group" who'd gather together, or was this a one time thing?  I'm not sure.  But they were worshipping together "...and fasting."

"...AND FASTING" isn't something you hear much about anymore these days.  In this world of fast-food, take-out menus, and snack-sized easy-to-carry treats, we in the US have an obscene amount of food available to us.  Sure, there are some folks who struggle financially, so are not able to access that food like the rest of us.  But for the most part, we can eat anytime we desire.

That's why fasting seems so foreign.  Jesus taught that we "do not live by bread alone," but we've been weary to embrace that truth.  Some have continued the ancient art of fasting (as a spiritual discipline), but the rest of us seem too reluctant to give up our appetites (or at least put them on hold for a bit!).

And yet, could it be that God speaks more when we're living sacrifically?  Our passage today from Acts 13 seems to indicate so.  Fasting (if even for a meal or two) opens our spirit to receive more of God's grace & communication.  Maybe this is a "gift" I can give myself this Christmas Season... sacrificing a meal (or two) to spend time seeking a word from the Lord.

Want to join me?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Awake, my soul!"

"Awake, my soul!"
(Psalm 108:1)

I've become a big fan of MUMFORD & SONS recently.  This group from the UK has a very compelling sound... but with even more compelling lyrics!  Their project, "Sigh No More" is an amazing album.  One of the songs on that recording is called "AWAKE MY SOUL." 

The song starts rather choppy & syncopated, reflecting the inner condition of a person who is troubled, conflicted & uneasy.  The chorus changes, however. It's grand, sweeping & uplifting.  "Awake, my soul!  Awake, my soul!  Awake, my soul!  You were made to meet your maker.  You were made to meet your maker."

Usually we think of the phrase "meeting your maker" as an expression of death.  But I see it in this song as an expression of LIFE!  We were made to be alive... to life, love, and to God!  Too often we're content to "get by" or "cruise" through life... sort of like autopilot.  We need to be reminded that our souls need to be awakened.

So when I read Psalm 108 today in my devotions, these three simple words wrapped their hands around my heart: 'AWAKE MY SOUL!'  I need to hear that.  I'm guessing you might, too.

There's one other line from Mumford & Sons' song that I wanted to share.  "In these bodies we live, in these bodies we die / Where you invest your love, you invest your life."  May we invest in the One who Created, Redeemed, and Sustains us!  Awake, my soul!!!  AMEN.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


"When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, 'You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?'"
(Acts 3:12)

Peter & John are on their way inside the temple and they see a lame beggar.  They offer him healing in Jesus' name, and he is healed!  He then follows them inside, praising God.  It causes quite a stir (as you could well imagine), because everyone knows this guy from passing him all the time!  Peter uses the attention to preach.  He begins by making sure God gets the credit.  "Why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we made him well?"

How humble & insightful.  It's not our power, but God's!  And we're not "all that and a bag of chips," either.  We're not "holier-than-thou."  We're not super-believers.  It's all God.  It's all Jesus.  We're just the instruments God chooses to use.

We pastors have a lot to learn form this (and it's not that we can heal like Peter & John, if only we'll have enough faith).  I think it's human nature to want to take credit for all the good stuff we're a part of.  But really, it's all God.  Seriously.  I'll try to do a better job of giving credit where credit is due!

Simple Gifts

[From 12/15/10]

"40 years you sustained them in the wilderness so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell."
(Nehemiah 9:21)

Ezra is recounting God's saving history - from the beginning of creation to the present.  When he gets to the Exodus story he makes an interesting insight.  Most recall the plagues, crossing the Red Sea, the pillars of fire & cloud, and manna.  But Ezra adds one more blessing: "their clothes didn't wear out and their feet didn't swell."  What an odd thing to say.  Why even mention it?

My wife tells me how frustrating (and painful!) it is when her feet swell (on airplanes or after a long day's work).  All she wants to do is kick off her shoes and get a foot massage.  With all the wandering the Israelites did in the wilderness (40 years worth!), it should have led to much "feet swelling."  But it didn't.  God gave them a simple gift.

We have 24-hour stores like Wal-Mart today, should we ever need something.  We order off the internet anytime we feel like it.  We shop the "after-Christmas sales."  It's no big deal when our clothes wear out.  The same thing could not be said for the Israelites in the wilderness.  God's simple gift of clothes that didn't need replacing was a gift of grace!

What "simple gifts" have God given you lately that you need to give thanks for?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bad advice... ignored!

"Then I sent to him, saying, 'No such things as you say have been done; you are inventing them out of your mind" - for they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, 'Their hands will drop from work, and it will not be done.'  But now, O God, strengthen my hands."
(Nehemiah 6:6-8)

Nehemiah is coordinating the Jerusalem wall rebuilding project, and it's going great!  Word spreads.  People outside Israel get worried.  Some send a deceitful letter asking to meet somewhere.  Nehemiah sees through it and politely declines.  Three more times they asked to meet with him.  Three more times he refuses.  Then they send a letter saying they're about to report to the king of Babylon Nehemiah's plan to rebel from his rule, and appoint himself king!  But they'd be open to "discuss the matter" before alerting the King.  Nehemiah knew it was another ploy to deceive.  He again declines.  Finally, when visiting a "prophet" in Israel, he's told that his life is in grave danger.  He was told to flee to the inner sanctuary in the Temple for protection.  He did not.  He knew that was the wrong thing to do, no matter how serious things were (only priests were allowed to go into the inner sanctuary in the Temple!).  It was another attempt to get to Nehemiah.  Through it all, Nehemiah asked for God's strength.

Talk about opposition.  Nehemiah did a great job of staying focused on his God-given task without being discouraged or side tracked.  He was polite but firm.  He was wise.  We can learn from his example - especially those of us in positions of leadership.  Sometimes there's a fine line between being open to constructive criticism, and being easily manipulated.  Beware of bad advice couched in "helpful" advice.  Through it all, God can be the anchor for us to hold on to.  We need to ask for God's wisdom & discernment...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Heart Set

[From 12/9/10]

"For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach the statues & ordinances in Israel." 
(Ezra 7:10)

There's ambition... desires... and having goals in life.
There's drive... aspirations... and a plan for one's future.
And then there's the instances when that coincides with God's will & purpose for one's life.
Such was the case for Ezra.

Ezra was an Israelite who grew up in Babylon.  His family was part of the "exile" group - the best & brightest who had been taken away from Israel when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.  For two generations these Hebrews lived in a foreign land.  Then one day, the new King (Artaxerxes) decided to let a remnant return home.  Ezra was to lead the group.  He had the King's full blessing.

The author tells us that Ezra had "set his heart to study the law of the LORD..." and to live it out & teach it, too!  God must have given him that desire, for it proved to be just what the people of Israel needed!  His return to Jerusalem helped revive the Temple & got worship started again in earnest.

What a gift it is to have it in your heart to do something that God created you to do... whether it's teach, help the needy, play soccer, sing, or any number of things.  How do you know if it's God's will for your life (good question!)?  Well, in my personal experience, I've come to see three good indicators:
  1. Does it bring you joy (does your heart "sing" when you're doing it?)?
  2. Does it bless others (God always gives us gifts/passions not only for ourselves, but to be a blessing to others!)?
  3. Are you making God "famous" with it (are people drawn closer to the Lord when you do what you do?!)?
May you be able to set your heart on what God has created you to do!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Duty or Reward?

"So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
(Luke 17:10)

There's a curious parable in Luke 17.  Jesus talks about how servants 'do their job' and what's expected of them.  Their master doesn't offer them regular opportunities to be served.  No.  They know their job and they do it.  Willingly.  Then Jesus directs this parable to the disciples.  What's curious, however, is the phrase "worthless slaves" that he uses.  To a 'modern' audience, it sounds kinda harsh & uncaring.  But I think Jesus was simply stating the current reality of servants.  Nothing more.

A note in my Oxford Study Bible says this means our devotion to God is a "duty to be fulfilled" and not an occasion for reward.  This makes sense!  How often do we see "going to church," or serving the poor, or reading scripture, or praying as a "noble endeavor"?  Like it's a big sacrifice we've made to do these things, and we expect to be rewarded somehow (or at least complimented & congratulated).  NO, Jesus says.  You do it because you're supposed to.  Period.  It's what's expected of us as followers of Christ.  Holiness & devotion should be the NORM, not some kind of "extra credit."

That kinda changes how we should look at things, doesn't it?

A (Worthless) Pastor

[FROM 12/3/10]

"For I am now raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for the perishing, or seek the wandering, or heal the maimed, or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.  Oh my worthless shepherd..."
(Zechariah 11:16-17a)

God is upset.  Big time!  Not only have the people let Him down (which happens ALL the time throughout history!), but the very leaders He's chosen to shepherd the people have let him down.  They've changed their description from a "good shepherd" to that of a "WORTHLESS SHEPHERD."

They do NOT:
  • Care for the perishing...
  • Seek the wandering...
  • Heal the maimed...
  • Nourish the healthy...
To me this seems like a pretty good job description of what a PASTOR should be about (these 4 jobs).  And yet, I wonder... how active am I in each of these areas?

God help me avoid being a worthless shepherd...