Thursday, January 11, 2018

Daily S.O.A.P. - Slip of the Tongue (Matthew 12:36-37

S - "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."" (Matthew 12:36-37 ESV)
O - This is a profound and perhaps grossly overlooked passage of Scripture. It tells us that, in the final judgement, we will be judged and either justified or condemned based on the words that we have spoken. It follows then that every single word we utter is being recorded. And it stands to reason that everything we post on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and SnapChat is being logged as well. In light of this truth we should probably pay more attention to the words that we speak and communicate through every other medium.
A - I need to take this very seriously. Just prior to these two verses Jesus explains that what we say is the overflow from what is in our hearts. Judging by some of the things that escape my lips, I have to conclude that there is a mixture of good and evil residing in my heart. According to Scripture, it's my responsibility to pursue the grace of God in rooting the evil from my heart. I'm told to 'pursue holiness', to 'put off the old man', and to 'put to death our members which are on the earth'. There's no way I can do this on my own. Stuff comes out of my mouth before I even think! But the strategy isn't to manage my words, but to uncover and submit to God's transforming grace the heart issues from which my words are formed.
p - Father God, I thank you that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. But I know that your end game isn't merely to cancel my debt so that I qualify for entry into your Kingdom, but to totally transform me so that I will 'belong' in heaven and so that I will be a witness, through both words and deeds, in this life to the transforming power of the risen Savior. Please, by your Holy Spirit, help me to identify the root issues from which the evil words that sometimes come out of my mouth proceed. Give me the courage to confess my sin to my brothers and the grace to be transformed by your love through the power of the Holy Spirit. Thank you that you will, in your faithfulness, accomplish this in me. Amen!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Shadow Missions

Listened to a session from the 2013 New Canaan Society conference in SF by John Ortberg about 'Shadow Missions'. He used the book of Esther as his text and talked about how we can, if we're not careful, be distracted from our godly calling to pursue things that are unworthy of our attention and will not lead to the purposes and fruitfulness for which we were created. In the biblical narrative Haman's shadow mission, according to Ortberg, was 'more'...more wealth, more power, more influence, more recognition. John described his shadow mission as lounging on the couch, watching television shows and engaging in destructive sexual activities.

At first I was having trouble identifying my shadow mission. It's much easier to see the character defects or 'unfruitful works of darkness' (Eph. 5:11) than it is to see our own. But as I pondered it, the Spirit faithfully helped me to zero in on the area where I'm at risk of being drawn offside: the need to be liked and admired. Much of what motivates me and underlies the things that interest me and that I feel drawn to is the desire for recognition. I manage my image through the way I dress, the things I own (or yearn to own), and how I converse with others in order to be noticed and to impress others with how cool I am.

The yearning for significance is, I believe, universal and fundamentally a good thing. It is by God's design. We were created for purpose: to be in an intimate relationship with our Creator. Within the context of that relationship we have been entrusted with a stewardship through which we find significance and abundant life as we invest our unique set of talents and passions in the lives of others and co-manage the portion of God's universe that falls within our God-assigned sphere of influence.

Although it's nice to get props from our fellow human beings (and we are commanded to honor, respect and encourage one another), there is only one person whose acknowledgement is of ultimate and eternal significance: the Lord God Almighty, our Creator and Heavenly Father. It's OK for me to look cool and have cool stuff, but coolness must never take on such importance that it detracts from the things that are most important: to love God, others and myself.

So be it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Staying On Track

Vacations have typically been times of mixed blessing for me. Although it's always fun to get away from my normal routine and surroundings and experience new environs and meet new people, I've struggled with keeping myself consciously centered in God and led by his Spirit. Instead of coming back enriched and refreshed, I've found myself feeling the need to re-engage in my regular spiritual disciplines and work through some regrets at having allowed myself to stray in my devotion to stay connected to the Spirit.

Today, on the morning of the 4th day of our Boise, Idaho Adventure, I'm feeling blessed and centered in God. I am excited about what God is doing and has in store and am staying faithful to Bible reading and prayer. I also, though tempted, have not given in to my desire to drink. My spirit is in listening mode and excited about what God will reveal and what doors might open to us in preparation for our eventual move to this area. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Daily S.O.A.P. - The Good, the Bad & the Ugly (News)

Scripture:
"So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people." (Luke 3:18 ESV)

Observation:
I find it interesting that the summarizing description of the message that John brought to his audience is labeled here 'good news'. Especially considering that he begins his message by addressing his audience as "a brood of vipers" and intimating that the consequences of ignoring his warnings will certainly result in God's wrath and eternal banishment to the fires of hell! He further warns them that the remedy that will shortly arrive on the scene (in the form of their Messiah) will only provide relief if they are appropriately prepared through a radical reevaluation and reversal of their way of life. What part of this spells 'Good News'?

The 'Good News' is, for those of us who are willing to humbly acknowledge our desperate condition and become willing to turn from our open rebellion against God's benevolent rule and reign, there is a Savior who not only purchased our redemption with his blood (for those in this story it will be a near future event), but ushered in a 'new and living way' into the Kingdom of Heaven through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Application:
The gate is small and the path difficult that leads to eternal life...the Good News is that genuine faith in Jesus that leads to repentance and a life of ongoing obedience to his commandments comes with the promise of supernatural power for holy living and good works through the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is "Christ in [me] - the hope of glory"!

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I praise you and thank you for your Gospel of eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Thank you that you did not leave us helpless, lost and doomed to eternal punishment. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who comes to dwell inside of us and for the many promises that we have of his amazing work on behalf of those who by faith have become, by your grace, obedient to your message of salvation. Please help me to keep my eyes on you, Jesus, and to hear, moment by moment, the still, small voice of the Spirit directing my steps. Help me to trust you with all of my earthly needs so that I can stay focused on the mission that you have invited me to join you on: to seek and to save that which is lost, and to make disciples of all nations. Give me a heart of love and compassion for my fellow man, especially my brothers and sisters in Christ. Use me to win as many as possible to Jesus and to live a life that conforms to yours so that I can confidently say like the Apostle Paul "follow me as I follow Christ". Amen!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Daily S.O.A.P. - The Wisdom of Preparation

Scripture:

"And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared."" (Luke 1:16-17 ESV)

Observation:

Wisdom according to Google is "the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement". But experience, knowledge, and even good judgement, as important as they sound are like the pieces of a puzzle: unless we are familiar with the picture they belong to, it is almost impossible to put them together in a meaningful way. Experience and knowledge are not bad things, but without a good reference point, they can just as easily be used for evil as for good.

John the Baptist was on a mission from God: to turn as many of his countrymen as possible back to God. His assignment was to prepare them for the arrival of their Messiah, Jesus. To accomplish his goal he was set apart and given a message designed to shock people out of their complacency and get them to face the frightening reality of their bankrupt spiritual condition and what that would mean on the great and terrible Day of the Lord if they didn't repent and seek God's mercy and forgiveness. Grace and Truth were right around the corner, but unless we are prepared by being brought face to face with our profound need for grace, we are most certainly doomed to deny the truth.

Application:

 "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand"...but I can easily miss it if I simply focus on trying to deal with the endless stream of problems and tasks that present themselves day by day without fail. I have been offered the promise of abundant eternal life which Jesus defines as "to know you the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you sent" John 17:3

This year I have resolved to seek above all else to 'know God'. Not to get busy (I'm already too busy!), but to get still. Not to spend more time in prayer so that I can bend God's ear with all my endless needs and wants, but to be intentionally more quiet, listening for the 'still, small voice' of God. I will pray more, to be sure; but I will pray that the Spirit will help me know how to pray and what to pray for. Also to know what things I have been assigned to do...and what those things are that are not to be my concern. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me...but I'm only called to do a few things...well.

Prayer:

Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you for your mercies which are 'new every morning'...and every New Year. I am weary and weighed down with stuff and busyness and sins that have tangled themselves around my ankles like kelp in the Monterey Bay. I long to see your church come alive and my neighborhood, city, state, country and the world get whacked with the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. But I sense that, in this coming year, I need to slow down and make it job one to abandon busyness in favor of a simpler, less distracted life that is focused on seeking your Face. Please help me to make this a reality. Help me to get rid of stuff, say 'No!' to the unnecessary, and put the things that are truly priorities on my calendar...in INK. And then help me to remember to consult my calendar BEFORE I get distracted by some noisy little emergency designed by the enemy to steal my serenity, kill my joy and destroy all of the good works that you have prepared in advance for me to walk in.

In Jesus' name...AMEN! 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Striking It Rich

October 24, 2015

What if you suddenly discovered that you were fabulously wealthy? And I don't mean just along the lines of Bill Gates, Sam Walton, Rupert Murdoch or Mark Zuckerberg...I mean REALLY wealthy! 

What if you found out that somehow you had a credit card that had no limit, and that you would never have to pay off the balance. In fact, the balance would be paid in full by someone else, regardless of the amount. It's a crazy thought, but let's just imagine that it really happened and right now you're holding that piece of priceless plastic in your hand. And, just to keep you from veering off track, you don't have to worry about any eventualities that might put a damper on seeing your wildest dreams fulfilled (in as far as money is able to achieve them). None of the negative side-effects that immediately begin to come to mind are a possibility. All you need to do is point and shoot. Bam!

What would you do?

I'm assuming that as a Christ-follower (or even as a reasonably decent human being) your mind would begin to focus on all the good you could do in the world rather than on all the cool stuff you could buy to make your life cushy. There would be no problem in the world that you couldn't address, provided that the only hindrances to solving the problem are ones that money could overcome. Given that you would have no worries whatsoever about 'running out' of resources, I'm sure you would become prodigally magnanimous. It would be insane (as long as you really believed that the unlimited line of credit was really real) for you to give a second thought to being selfish or miserly.

But, leaving the orbit of fantasy, and re-entering the atmosphere of reality, we find that we are back in the world of limited means, where we judiciously consider whether a person or cause is worthy of a chunk of the finite resources that have been entrusted to us. And thus, we find ourselves often arbitrating as to whether, if we give in to our consciences that tell us that as followers of Christ we should be generous, we will have enough to meet our own needs. We know that some Christians give a 10th of their paychecks. Some even tithe on the gross amount of their earnings. And some go even further than that. But many of us, because we're "not under the law, but under grace" choose to give only sparingly. We seem to only have enough to meet our own needs, and it would be irresponsible (our reasoning goes) to put our families at risk since the Bible tells us that we are to provide for our families and "anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

However, life in the Kingdom of Heaven, is not subject to that brand of 'reality'. Life in the Kingdom is upside down. The problem with us 'believers' is that we often fail to believe! Even though we are told "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back". (Luke 6:30 ESV), we somehow justify not obeying Jesus' instructions. Or maybe we are quick to whip out a dollar for the homeless guy, but when the offering plate comes around we treat it like the homeless guy! :-p

But we are the children of the King of kings and Lord of lord!. Everything in the universe (and beyond) belong to our Heavenly Father. And we are his heirs, co-heirs with Christ! 

For all things are yours, whether ... the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's. (1Co 3:21-23 ESV)

Therefore, Jesus tells us that we should imitate God, who out of his love that is beyond comprehension, sent his own Son to earth to experience all of the trials, struggles and temptations to be selfish and stingy that we experience, and then to die on the cross in our place that we could be set free from the distorted reality of a life of limited means that results from choosing to live it apart from the rule of the Benevolent King and Creator and Owner of the Universe...and beyond! 

"give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you." (Luk 6:38 ESV)

God promises that if we seek to imitate him in our generosity toward others that he will ensure that our resources never run out. But that requires faith, because in the natural world, unless you are very fortunate, no one is going to give you anything you don't earn yourself. In fact nearly everyone in the world and most institutions and organizations are trying to get a piece of what you have. And if you squander it or otherwise use it up, it's on you to figure out how to replenish your coffers, and it's usually by the sweat of your own brow.

But that's not how it works in the Kingdom of God. Our Heavenly Father is fabulously wealthy and ridiculously generous; and not just to those who are righteous and deserving (as if there were any who are).

"But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Mat 6:33 ESV)

The point I'm trying to make is that this is the Gospel. It's the good news about the Kingdom of God. We need to ask ourselves whether we are truly in the faith. The Apostle Paul challenges us to do this because of the very real possibility that we have veered from the authentic Good News of the Kingdom and have built our faith and practice on a false one. The Gospel that Jesus and his disciples preached was "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand". It is available here and now. Eternal life, abundant life is not in the future. It is here...NOW! In fact, it's ONLY available here...and now. If we don't take it here and now, and invest it in the world around us, we won't have it when we transition into eternity. Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom way of life by healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, and bringing the Good News of God's prodigal generosity to the poor.

We so need to understand and receive the love of God, which is beyond understanding, deep into our souls. It needs to become as real to us as the things that we can see, touch, smell, and hear around us right now. When we are overcome with how much we don't deserve God's goodness, kindness, mercy and generosity, and the reality of the availability of all of it to us right now, we will begin to live differently. We will understand the urgency of bringing the Good News of the Kingdom of God to every creature. We will understand why Jesus left us with the command: 

"And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."" (Mat 28:18-20 ESV)

God has generously offered ALL the resources of his Benevolent Kingdom, here and now, to 'whosoever will' and it's our job to live in and promote that reality to an impoverished world. May it be so in my life...and yours.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Who You Callin' a 'Fool', Fool?!!

Just try to use the Bible to establish a code of righteous behavior that will get you into heaven. Just try to use the Bible to establish a code of righteous behavior that will get you into heaven. Actually don't... you'll fail miserably! 

For example: Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:22 that calling someone a fool can send you to hell. But in Luke 12:20 he tells us that God calls someone a fool. And here Paul (for no reason I can discern) calls the hypothetical person who would ask a simple and, in my mind, understandable question, a fool.

It's clear that a dogmatic approach to sorting out Biblical truth can be problematic at best and lethal at worst. Jesus himself told the Pharisees, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me," (John 5:39 ESV)

The more I study Scripture and try to be a genuine disciple of Jesus, the more I realize that following Jesus is a heart and soul thing. 

"...you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 4:29 ESV)

"And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."" (Luke 10:27 ESV)

The bottom line is LOVE and without a divine intervention none of us has it. 

"We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19 ESV)

In John 5:39 Jesus warns us that trying to make the Bible into a step by step guide to getting to heaven only produces a hell-bound self-righteousness. If you get two people in the same room who are taking this approach you'll soon have a fist fight over some finer point of biblical interpretation. "...Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1 NKJV)

'Having' Jesus is the only sure path to eternal life. Knowing him...abiding in him...eating his flesh and drinking his blood...loving him above even our own lives is the path to heaven. And that is not attainable without God's supernatural intervention in our lives. The Good News is that it is available to 'whosoever'. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world and God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the Truth (Jesus is THE TRUTH). But though it is offered freely to 'whosoever' it must be actively received. There is no such thing as 'Irresistible Grace'. If there was, there would be no sense to the many exhortations and admonitions in the Bible to act decisively regarding our spiritual condition and the eternal destiny of our souls.

"Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to CONFIRM YOUR CALLING AND ELECTION, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall." (2 Peter 1:10 ESV)

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

"STRIVE for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which NO ONE will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)

""Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, BUT THE ONE WHO DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'" (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

"And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation TO ALL WHO OBEY HIM," (Hebrews 5:9 ESV)

"Yet you have still a few...people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'" (Revelation 3:4-6 ESV)

The free gift of forgiveness and abundant, eternal life is offered to 'whosoever' but only those who will humbly acknowledge their profound need for it and daily reach out and actively make it their own can receive it.

"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And WHOSOEVER WILL, let him take the water of life freely." (Revelation 22:17 KJV)