Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Do whatever he tells you."

"His mother said to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'"
(John 2:5)

Jesus is at a wedding with his disciples... and his mother.  Weddings in those days were a week long (well, the celebration was a week long!).  Unfortunately, the host family didn't plan well enough (or maybe there were more than a few 'wedding crashers'?!?)... and they ran out of wine before the celebration was finished.

So Jesus' mom mentions this to her son.  Jesus kind of brushes her off, and hints that he's not inclined to do anything about it.  "What is that to me?  My time has not yet come," he says.  Nevertheless, Mary says to the servants, 'Do whatever he tells you.'

Is this her way of not-so-subtly telling Jesus that he really DOES need to do something after all?  Or did she know that despite his initial reaction, he really would help?  As if he says that sort of thing all the time, but always comes through (something a mother would know!)?  Which is, actually, what eventually happens.  Jesus instructs the servants to fill 6 large stone jars (used for ritual purification) with water.  Then somehow the water is transformed into wine.  Good wine.  Really good wine!

But I can't let go of Mary's statement: "Do whatever he tells you."  So true.  That's our call as disciples, isn't it?  To do whatever Jesus tells us.  (Of course, not in some sick, deranged, 'Jesus-told-me-to-hurt-you' way that some mentally ill purport!)  But to follow the words found in Scripture.  Life-giving words that are meant to bring hope & grace to all.  Are we prepared to "just do it"?  To follow those words & instructions in our own walk?

Great question, isn't it?!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

4 (poignant) sentences.

"Honor everyone.  Love the family of believers.  Fear God.  Honor the Emperor."
(1 Peter 2:17)

It's just one verse.  But four sentences.  Short sentences.  Poignant sentences.  And it covers all: believers, God, the Emperor, & everyone else in-between!  The author of 1 Peter sets out simple instructions:
  • LOVE the family of believers... As Christians, we're called to love those within the church. Not just our church.  All churches.  Not just within our own denomination.  All denominations.  All believers everywhere.  Even those we don't share 100% agreement with theologically.  Why? I believe it's because Christ is our Head.  We must shower love abundantly upon all believers.  Period.
  • FEAR God... Fear in this setting means "awe" and "reverence."  It's having a realistic awareness of the majesty, power, and authority of God.  We are not in charge or control.  WE are children of the Almighty!  We must live in reverent fear of the Creator of All.  It's a "fear" that will evoke great devotion from us.
  • HONOR the Emperor... Give honor to the supreme political leader of the land.  Whether that be the Emperor or the President, either way.  Too often our own political feelings (or party lines) tend to trump our ability to honor our own leaders.  Shame on us.  We don't have to agree with our leaders all the time in order to honor them.
  • HONOR everyone... What would it mean to show honor to everyone we came in contact with?  Can we be known for being honorable and extending honor with all?
 One verse.  Four sentences.  Short sentences.  Poignant sentences.  May we learn from all four.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


"Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food & clothing, we will be content with these."
(1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Enough.  It's a human quest, isn't it?  To get enough.  But the quest varies, depending on the situation, and where one lives in the world.  We int he "developed" areas have a different perspective on "enough," compared to millions upon millions of others around the world.  When WE think about "enough," what comes to mind?  Money... security... transportation (ie. car, trucks, minivans, etc.)... houses (and mortgages!)... clothing & jewelry... hobbies... vacations... health... happiness... sexual fulfillment... the list could go on and on.  What we we longing for when it comes to getting "enough"?  And how much is enough?!?

Paul recognized this universal quest about 2,000 years ago.  He called his disciple, Timothy, to find contentment.  Godliness + Contentment = Great Gain!  Pursue the basic necessities, he writes.  Be content with your "stuff" and focus on the work of the Kingdom (rather than your quest for more stuff!).  Work to help others get enough - especially those who who struggle with basic needs.

LORD, help me to be content.  Break the chains of "more!" that call out to my heart!  Let me find my contentment in you... and work to help others get enough.  AMEN.

For me...

[From 2/9/15]

"Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders."
(1 Timothy 4:14)

When I read the Bible, I'm constantly looking for short passages & phrases to grab hold of.  My eyes (and heart!) are drawn to these.  Today I found another one: "DO NOT NEGLECT THE GIFT THAT IS IN YOU..." (1 Timothy 4:14).  My mind immediately raced to think of all the talents that folks may have within them, that maybe they haven't been actively pursuing (ie. singing, dance, painting, poetry, photography, writing, etc.).  I knew I'd write today about encouraging folks to JUST DO IT!

Then I read the 2nd par of this verse... and realized that Paul wasn't talking about people in general.  No, this was referring to those who've been consecrated, ordained & set apart for ministry.  This is a very direct message to pastors, shepherds & other ministry leaders to encourage them (us!) not to take our ministries for granted.  Don't rest on our past practices.  Keep growing, stretching, training, learning & practicing.  It's easy to move from week to week, Sunday to Sunday, service to service, sermon to sermon, etc.  The bigger challenge is to keep looking for ways that God is calling us (me!) to keep honing our skills as church leaders.  

So don't settle for routine.  Push past mediocrity into new opportunities to grow in ministry.

I guess this was a word for me today.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Abundantly Far More!

"Now to him why by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church & in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen."
(Ephesians 3:20-21)

For much of my life I've been an over-achiever.  From a young age, I've had the desire to not just finish, but excel at whatever I undertake: school & studies, athletics, photography, art & creative expression... heck, even things like fantasy football!  I'm sure part of it is the environment that my parents raised me in... part due to how I'm "wired" by God... and part due to the choices I've made over the course of my life (and the opportunities I've been afforded).

Paul reminded me today, as I was reading his letter to the church in Ephesus, that as gifted, motivated and accomplished we may think we are... it's nothing compared to what GOD CAN DO IN US!  His power at work in us is able to "accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine."

Wow.  Let that sink in for a minute.

God is able to accomplish ABUNDANTLY FAR MORE in us.  Not just a little bit more.  Not just more.  Or definitely more.  Or even far more.  Nope.  Abundantly far more!

That tells me two things:
1) I'm dreaming too small... for my life, my family, & my ministry.
2) Success is not dependent upon me.  I may be gifted in some ways.  But God is abundantly far more gifted & able than I am.  So I should relax & trust God's power to do its thing.  And try to align my life with what God is wanting to do in/through me.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Avoid them!

"I urge you, brothers & sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching you have learned; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ..."
(Romans 16:17-18a)

Life is filled with choices.  One of the choices we have to make every single day is how we spend our (limited) energy.  How do we spend our physical energy (time during the day) & our mental/emotional/spiritual energy (what preoccupies our hearts & minds)?

As Christians, we believe the Bible holds the key to living a life of meaning & purpose.  Jesus, Paul, the prophets, and the Patriarchs have all shed insight on what God desires from us and for the world around us.  A lot of it involves grace, peace, joy, hope, love, & mutual upbuilding.  When asked so sum up all of the teachings of scripture, Jesus said: "Love God.  Love others."  Period.

Not everyone chooses to live this way, however.  Paul knew some folks are so caught up in their own feelings/thoughts/desires that they fail to see the bigger picture of what God is calling them to.  Oftentimes these folks "cause dissensions & offenses" within the church.  This can lead to stress, pain, frustration, and a lot of wasted energy.

Paul has some very simple advice to the church in Rome: AVOID THEM!  That's it.  Don't try to argue with these people.  Don't try to change them.  Don't waste energy worrying about their complaints or charges or attacks.  Avoid them.  Love them, but avoid them.

To borrow a phrase from a current Taylor Swift hit song, "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate!" Avoid them.  Use your creative, life-giving, God-honoring time and energy elsewhere.  Life is too short to spend it fueling the fires of dissenters.

PS. Of course, it's always important to check in with the Holy Spirit to make sure there's nothing from the dissenters that God isn't wanting to teach you.  Sometimes there's truth even from the mouths of those trying to take you down.  Allow God to guide you here.  But don't get sucked in to the negative energy and morass of the haters.

A plethora...

[From Feb. 3, 2015]

The goal of scripture journaling is to read the Bible "devotionally."  It's the act of looking for just one insight... one interesting word, phrase, concept, image or passage... and then writing about it.  95% of the time I'm able to do just that.  Occasionally, I hit a dry spot and nothing really jumps out at me.  So on some days I close my journal and come back the next day to start over.  Other times, however, there's a LARGE section of scripture that emerges as pertinent to my heart and life.  

Such is the case today.

I stumbled upon this wonderful passage from Romans 12:9-18... And instead of journling about each phrase that has meaning to me (that are way too many to do that!), I'm going to let the passage speak for itself.

"(v.9) Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; (v.10) love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. (v.11) Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. (v.12) Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  (v.13) Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (v.14) Bless those who persecute you; bless & do not curse them.  (v.15) Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  (v.16) Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are... (v.18) If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."

Monday, February 2, 2015

Set free!

"Do you not know, brothers & sisters - for I am speaking to those who know the law - that the law is binding on a person only during that person's lifetime?"
(Romans 7:1)

One of Paul's more memorable statements in the book of Romans (and there are many memorable ones!) is "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin & alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11).  I've heard that many times.  I thought I had a decent grip on that.  Just as Jesus died & rose again, when we put our faith & trust in him, we share in that death & resurrection.  It's a metaphor, right?  But today, while reading through chapters 5-8, I discovered something new that challenged the depth of my thinking.

At the start of chapter 7, Paul reminds folks that the law only applies while one is alive.  Like the law of marriage... a husband who decides to live with another woman (while still married) is committing adultery.  The law of marriage still applies (even if he doesn't like it or think it fair).  But if is wife dies, then he's release from his marriage bond & is free to marry someone else.  (Okay, so far there's nothing new here...)

So now apply that same line of thinking to faith.  The Old Testament "law" (contained in the first 5 books, the Torah) is a good law.  Like marriage, it has its place & purpose.  It helps maintain right living, justice, compassion, devotion, & equality (amongst other things).  But once we share in Christ's death & resurrection, we're no longer bound to that law.  Why? We've died.  Our old life is gone.  We've risen anew with Jesus!  Faith sets us free..  We're no longer responsible for the past sin in our life.  We're no longer bound to the death sentence that our actions had incurred on us.  Jesus has willingly taken over that responsibility for our lives.  We are set free.  We have new life.  New hope.  God's grace!  What a gift!!!

Wow.  That's a huge "game changer," isn't it?  It's not that we don't have to "obey the laws" found in Scripture anymore.  The admonitions about love, faithfulness, compassion, mercy, righteousness, etc.... they all still are great laws set up to help us live well with each other.  But we're not limited by our inability to fully keep those laws, either!  Grace has set us free!  Wow.  Praise God.