Wednesday, February 29, 2012


"To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever.  AMEN."
(Revelation 1:5b-6)

I was all set to read the first 4 chapters of Revelation today for my Scripture Journaling (morning devotions), and I got stopped a mere 6 verses into the first chapter. It's one of those "Christianese phrases," the likes of which we've heard countless times before... but today I actually paused to consider its implications.

"To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood..." (v.5b)

It wasn't the "God loves us" part that got me.  It was the next part: "(who) freed us from our sins by his blood."  We usually think of having been simply (or maybe not so simply) forgiven of our sins.  But the author of Revelation talks about being FREED from our sins.  Wow!

The sins of our past... left unforgiven... have deep ties into our souls.  They gnaw at us.  Remind us of our failure.  Pummel our feelings of self-worth.  Even if we've made peace with those we have offended, a dark trail remains.  But  as Christians, we believe all of that can be forgiven.  All of it!  By Jesus' death & resurrection ("blood"), not only are we forgiven, but we're set FREE from the hold sin has on us.  (And who can't use a little more freedom like that?!)

That four letter word...

[FROM 2/26/12]

"Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."
(1 John 3:18)

"I LOVE YOU!" It's everywhere.  In movies... in books... on cards... in songs... in gifts... in letters & notes... on our lips.  We have countless ways to SAY that we love someone.

The author of 1st John acknowledges this fact.  But s/he takes it a step further.  Love is most powerful when expressed "IN TRUTH AND ACTION."  The action part is easy to identify - it's what we DO, not just what we say.  It's the time we spend with others.  It's the acts of service and caring - especially to those in need.  It's how we use our resources.  That's love in action.

Love in truth - that's a bit trickier, isn't it?  As I reflect on it this morning, I'm drawn back to our words.  Sometimes we say things because it seems like the right thing to say... or we know someone wants to hear it... or we think it'll benefit us.  But these don't always equate with truth, do they? 

What would it mean to speak the truth in love to each other?

The ONE distinguishing mark

[FROM 2/23/12]

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
(John 13:34-35)

It's not whether we wear a cross around our necks... or have a "fish" bumper sticker on our car... or the size of the church we attend... or whether we carry around a bible in our backpack (or have a Bible app on our smartphone)... or listen to a certain kind of music.  The one & only mark that Jesus says is THE INDICATION that we're following him, is if we love one another.

One way of looking at this is seeing it as a call to love everyone, everywhere.  That's not what I want to focus on in this reflection, though.  I want to focus on the perspective of "loving one another" within the church.  Not just the one particular church we happen to attend.  Not just the denomination our church is a part of, either.  But all Christians.  Everywhere.

Too often we say and do things to "distinguish" us from other believers.  Usually it involves some kind of judgmental statement on how they're so different from us.  According to Jesus, there's no place for that.  LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Genuine, authentic, down-to-earth love.  For all Christians.  No jealousies.  No "I can't believe they call themselves believers."  No theological righteous indignation.  Just love.  Period.

Now, should we (or any other Christians) sin... wait, reverse... WHEN we sin, we need to be held accountable (and hopefully, with repentance, forgiven!).  Loving one another does not equal blessing everything ever said and done.  But love should be the foundation, the bedrock, the first response form our heart.

To all my brothers and sisters in the faith, forgive me for all the times I've failed to respond to you in genuine love.  I pray God will continue to refine and reshape my heart to be more and more like Jesus.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Tag, we're it!"

[From 2/21/12]

"Jesus said to them, 'My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.'"
(John 7:6)

He was already a marked man.  The Jewish authorities were very upset at Jesus and would have loved to see him "taken care of."  His friends knew this.  They also know that if more people saw what he could do (his acts of power!), they'd be believers too!  So they encouraged him to go to Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths.

Jesus' reply was interesting.  "My time has not yet come," he said.  We've heard him say this before - to his mother in Cana at the wedding.  Scholars have come to see this expression as alluding to Jesus' passion, death & resurrection, when all would see who he truly was.

But Jesus doesn't stop with that phrase alone.  He continues by saying, "...but your time is always here."  I'd never noticed that before.  "Instead of trying to tell me what I should do," Jesus seems to be saying, "why don't YOU go and tell others about me?"

OUR TIME IS ALWAYS HERE.  Wow.  No wiggle room there.  No uncertainty at all.  Maybe instead of trying to plead, beg and manipulate God into changing this world, WE are called (by Him!) to make a difference in the lives of others around us... not on our own power, but in His name!  


The Marks of Wisdom

[From 2/16/12]

"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of hypocrisy.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace."  (James 3:17-18)

It's one thing to stand up for your convictions.  It's another thing altogether to insist on getting your way - or that others accept your beliefs as theirs.  The author of James remarks that divine wisdom has at least seven components...
  • PURITY... no evil, ill will, or selfishness here...
  • PEACEABLE... harmony & grace, not "winners/losers" should frame our conversations & interactions.
  • GENTLENESS... Be aware of how our words/actions impact others!
  • WILLING TO YIELD... True wisdom means we don't always have to get our way, we can yield when necessary, because we're secure in our faith.
  • MERCIFUL... Deeper compassion & grace for others, especially in their weakness.
  • BEARING GOOD FRUIT... let others see that we live what we believe.  Our lives should bless others.
  • WITHOUT HYPOCRISY... very difficult (since we're all hypocrites!), but be sincere, transparent, and straight-forward in everything.
When we live like this, God's wisdom abides in us.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Father's Prayer

"For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God."
(Colossians 1:9-10)

My son is a senior in high school.  He's in the process of deciding on which college to attend for the next 4 years of his life.  He's a soccer player and is being recruited by 10 schools right now.  I'm helping him along the process, but ultimately it will be his decision.  One of my regular prayers is that God will help him choose the best school for his future - not only in terms of the soccer program, but the larger "life picture" as well. 

As I was reading the book of Colossians this morning, I was reminded of an ever greater prayer that I could be praying for him (and for my daughter, too).  It's a prayer that Paul prayed for the church in Colossae... he was their spiritual Father.  But it seems to be equally relevant for a young man soon to leave home for the first time.  The prayer is that he may come to know God's will for his life, having spiritual wisdom & understanding, and lead a life that honors God and is a blessing to others.  Ultimately these qualities will lead to a very fulfilling life.  May it be my prayer for him (them!).  AMEN.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wants vs. Needs

"And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
(Philippians 4:19)

Comedian Jeff Allen has a wonderful bit in his DVD "Happy Wife, Happy Life" about his son's desire for new sneakers.  While shopping together at the mall, his son identified some basketball shoes that he said he "needed."  The price tag?  $100!  Jeff replied, "Son, let me teach you the difference between wants and needs.  You want these basketball shoes.  But I'm only going to pay $60 for your new shoes.  So let me tell you what you really need: forty bucks!" 

We humans (at least those of us in the United States) often confuse "wants" with "needs."  There are a lot of things we want and desire.  What we actually NEED, however, is often quite different.  My two trips to the Philippines with Compassion International have helped me gain a greater perspective on what basic human "needs" actually are.  Food, decent shelter, love, faith, hope, education, access to health care, etc.  Much of what we spend a lot of time (and money) on, really isn't that important in the Big Picture.

So I read with new eyes Paul's prayer (promise?) to the church in Philippi: that God would satisfy their "every need."  Not their "every want"... but they're needs.  I believe God wants to do that.  Often God uses us (the Church) to accomplish that.  To help provide others' needs.  May we be faithful stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us... and may we be eager to answer God's call on our lives as he leads!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Is it greed, or just...???

"The LORD is my portion..."
(Psalm 119:57)

Are we inherently greedy, or just socialized that way?  Deep in my heart, I know I'd like the biggest slice of the pizza, that extra piece of chicken, a new and improved multi-media system, a better equipped computer, more songs in my iPod... the list could go on and on.  Of course, over time, I've come to condition myself to refrain from grabbing all that I want.  Sometimes it's easy.  Other times it takes a lot of self-control.  But I do wonder... are we inherently greedy?

In Psalm 119 (that epic of all Psalms!), 5 words grabbed my attention today.  One phrase.  Half a verse.  "THE LORD IS MY PORTION" (v.57).  Immediately, I thought of the Levites and the distribution of the promised land for the 12 tribes of Israel in the Old Testament.  Every tribe got their own place.  Everyone, that is, except the Levites.  They were the priests.  God decided that the priests would not have any specific area that was "theirs." Instead, they'd be evenly distributed around all of the 12 tribes (everyone needs priests, I guess!).  Then God said, "I will be your portion."  Wow.

That got me, in turn, thinking about wills and inheritances.  Imagine an attorney's office with a family gathered around for the reading of a loved one's will.  One by one, each member of the family gets a share of the deceased one's estate.  But the last one (let's say she's a favorite granddaughter) is left with nothing material.  Instead, the woman leaves her granddaughter, "My strong relationship with the LORD!"  Would she feel cheated?  Disappointed?  Confused?

If God is our portion, then we only need to look to Him to be our support and strength.  If God is our portion, we don't have to worry and fret over our future security.  If God is our portion, our hearts are released from the entangled ties to material goods (and human approval!)... and we are free to live the abundant life God created us to live!

I, for one, earnestly want the LORD to be my portion.  But I have such a long way to go...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Just look around...

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power & divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made."
(Romans 1:19-20)

My father was a National Park Ranger, so I grew up with a love of the outdoors.  Mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, oceans, skies, flowers, animals, birds (and other assorted critters), sunrises & sunsets... I love it all!  In fact, being outdoors in God's amazing Creation is really a kind of worship for me, a spiritual experience.  My heart is stirred.  My creativity is inspired.  It is wonderful!

The apostle Paul understood this, too.  In the very first chapter of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul notes how God has revealed himself to the entire world through the glory of his creation.  Whether you call yourself a "religious person" or are a part of any type of faith community (or not!), you can know something about God just by looking around.

So keep your eyes (and heart!) open today!  God's glory is everywhere!