What's the Point

Deuteronomy 11:18–19 - “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

I was sitting at lunch the other day beginning to realize that my day was slipping away from me. I instinctually lifted up my wrist to check the time and found myself staring at my bare arm, trying to process what, exactly, I was trying to accomplish. My watch had broken a couple of months earlier, and now as I sat at the table staring at nothing, I found myself confused that I’d even bothered to check a watch that I knew would not be there.

There are probably a lot of habits that you have that you don’t even know that you have. Things like setting the coffee before bed, brushing your teeth, always preparing your lunch the same way, or the way you put your dishes in the dishwasher. Simple acts that you have done the same way for so long that you don’t even realize you are doing them–until they are no longer there to do. Suddenly your habits and routines become immediately obvious to you and you are reminded why they were important to you to begin with (or you discover that they weren’t that important).

God has something like this in mind with his word. God does not give us his word in vain as if some things were not necessary to say. What God says matters, and He expects that when he speaks to his people they will remember. The best way to remember is to make a habit out of it. For his people in the Old Testament, that meant keeping his word front and center at all times, teaching it daily to themselves and those around them. Of course, the danger is that when you’re doing it every day, or you’ve heard it from a very young age you begin to forget whythe thing you are doing is so important. You can begin to take even something as valuable as God’s word for granted.

One of the ways this forgetfulness was counteracted in church history was through the use of Catechisms, which are a set of questions and answers about God that are intended to be easy to remember summaries of the Christian faith. They were originally used as a means of helping pastors and congregations learn and properly teach God’s word. Unfortunately, like God’s word itself, it is easy for us to take the beautiful simplicity of these catechisms for granted. Sometimes keeping things front and center leads to looking right past them and forgetting they are there.

This summer, I’m going to start a summer sermon series on the Heidelberg Catechism. We’ll only get through a small portion of it this summer and will continue on through subsequent summers. My hope is that as we open up this ancient text together, we’ll remember why it was written in the first place and why saints before us made it part of their routine. I hope we’ll rediscover its truth and warmth, and most of all, I hope we’ll grow closer to Jesus–which was the point of the catechism all along.

Signifcance

Psalm 8:3–4

            When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
                        the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
            what is man that you are mindful of him,
                        and the son of man that you care for him? (ESV)

How would you respond if someone asked you whether you were significant?

I think that most of us would say that we are not very significant. We’d look at all the metrics of success–career influence, economic status, community influence, social media followers–and conclude that we really haven’t made much of a mark on the world. If we wanted to be extra pious, we could even quote a few Bible verses to back up our theory. My guess is we’d mention Job.

Job’s story is that he endures what appears to be some unjust suffering. He can’t figure it out. He wants to confront God about it. His friends give tell him it’s probably his fault and Job disagrees. Finally, God himself responds and turns the tables back on Job, essentially asking him, who do you think you are?Job gets the picture and acknowledges that he may not have had a full grasp on the situation. Paul even quotes from the book of Job in his letter to the Romans asking the rhetorical question “who are you oh man to question God?” Obviously, the moral of the story is that we are insignificant.

Except it’s not. It’s actually just the opposite.

There is no question that the story of Job and Paul’s quotation of it in Romans are intended to put a stark contrast between who God is and who we are. Our understanding of why things are a certain way is limited, God’s is not. Our capacity is limited, God’s is not. Our reach is limited, God’s is not. Acknowledging that we are not God, however, is not the same thing as saying that we are insignificant. In fact, it is in our acknowledgement that we are not God that we receiveour significance.

This is what David is getting at in Psalm 8. We are nothing in comparison to God, and yet God pays attention to us. He listens to us and is mindful of us. Despite our humanity and our seeming lack of anything that would make us special, God treats us as if we are incredibly significant, because we areincredibly significant to him.

Don’t miss the fact that God respondsto Job. Job needed correction because Job is not God. The fact that God gave it to him reveals just how significant Job actually was.

The next time you wonder whether you are significant remember that the God of the universe thinks you are.

Party Invitations

Matthew 22:8–10 -Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

I want to tell you up front that what I’m about to say may seem pretty harsh, but I think it’s worth pondering. You’ve been warned. Ready for it?

Most Christians would probably not have liked Jesus very much.

Not too long-ago Christi came across an article in which the author pointed out that American Christians tend to try to “keep the peace” by avoiding difficult topics. This mindset ends up producing the very division it is seeking to avoid because issues are buried rather than worked through. One of the consistent themes of the Bible is that more often than not peace only comes when we are willing to walk through conflict.

Jesus wasn’t afraid to step into conflict, particularly when it came to the religious people of his day. In Matthew 22 he tells a parable that is specifically designed to send a message to the religious people: God is having a party, and you are no longer invited. Not only are they no longer invited, but the people who will be taking their place are effectively random. The servants are asked to invite anyone they can find, regardless of their personal credentials.

This is why I don’t think we’d like the real Jesus if we met him. We’d be offended if Jesus was going around telling people they weren’t invited to God’s party, let alone if Jesus said it to us. That’s just not how good, decent people talk. In fact, if we saw Jesus walking around talking that way, it’s likely that we’d want to remove him from our communities, which is exactly what the religious leaders ultimately tried to do.

Some people loved Jesus, even as they met him and walked with him and saw the way he confronted things that were wrong and spoke bold truth when necessary. Those people were the outcasts, the marginalized, the people who also were kicked out of the community, the people just going through life as if they were walking up and down the main road. The reason they loved Jesus is because they realized that they were the ones who received an invitation to God’s party, even though they knew that they didn’t deserve it.

How we would have felt about Jesus is dependent on what we think about ourselves. Do you think you deserve an invite to God’s party, or are you overjoyed that a messenger found you on the road and brought you to the feast?

Presents to Open

When I was a kid, I made an amazing discovery. I discovered early birthday presents. At Christmas, I was accustomed to opening presents on Christmas Eve, and to some that constitutes ‘early.’ However, birthdays were a whole new ball game! 

I could not wait to get my presents. I would beg, bargain, and plea with my parents for an early birthday gift. Maybe you were more patient when you were young and if so, you were better than me. Could you imagine being at your birthday party, sitting next to a pile of gifts and NOT wanting to tear into them?

At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul encourages us to “desire earnestly spiritual gifts.” Later on, in verse 12 he writes, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” When it comes to spiritual gifts, do you have that same eagerness? Compared to any gift you’ve received; God’s gifts far outlast and outshine. Why do we seem to neglect or take for granted these gifts? 

If we stay with the Christmas and birthday theme, have you ever found the perfect gift for someone you care about? Think about how you feel when you give the perfect gift to someone. How did it feel when they opened the gift? What did you think when you saw the look of joy on their face? THAT is how God looks at us when we use our spiritual gifts. As you unwrap and examine your own spiritual gifts, the gifts God has given you, ask yourself a question. Am I pursuing the one who has given me these gifts? We know God is pursuing us! 

God created us for good works. He also has equipped us to carry these out. You are uniquely gifted to operate in this world; to bring order to chaos. This charge is exciting and seeing God’s plan carried out in the world is exhilarating. “But you are…a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Well, that makes sense!

When we talk about gifts, or talents, or abilities we often forget that God has given them to us. We can hone these abilities and grow in our mastery of them, but let’s also remember who those gifts came from. Our individual gifts are an expression of different aspects of God and when you understand that you also understand that when we all come together with our unique gifts, we are able to operate together.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

Peter is giving believers context for the use of our gifts - to serve others. We need to be vigilant and not allow our gifts and talents to be primarily about self-fulfillment. Our gifts are intended to reveal God and to serve one another. In addition to assessments, like the one we all received a couple weeks ago, another good way to identify your gifts is to ask yourself how you like to help others. What brand of service flows out of you most naturally? Ask those who know you best and fill out the assessment if you haven’t already. Get engaged!

Since we started our ‘Engage’ series here at church, I have had a number of great conversations. People are excited to see where they fit with the abilities God has blessed them with. To be honest, I have not heard much surprise when people see the results from their assessments. Most people see confirmation, like they were hard-wired to lean towards certain gifts. Knowing where the gift came from should give us confidence that we will be able to thrive in it. When God’s people are engaged, it is amazing what can happen. There is a lot of excitement when we find purpose.

Let your prayer today be that God helps motivate you to bless and encourage the people that He has set into your life. We are empowered to use our unique gifts to serve and to help bring peace to the chaos of this world.

Climb Like a Duck?

A story is told about a group of animals deciding to improve their general welfare by starting a school. The curriculum included swimming, running, climbing and flying. Duck, an excellent swimmer, wanted more so he focused on climbing and running—much to the detriment of his swimming. Rabbit, a superior runner, spent so much time in other classrooms that he soon lost much of his famed speed. Squirrel, who had been rated an A+ climber, dropped to a Cbecause he spent hours trying to swim and fly. Eagle was disciplined for soaring to the treetops, when he had been told to learn how to climb, even though flying was most natural for him.

This parable circulated for years in educational circles as a reminder that we are different people with different gifts and abilities. That’s the genius as well as the frustration of being a human being. Some of us go through life banging our heads on the wall trying to have success in areas we simply are not meant to be. Others of us exploit our gifts to the neglect of those whom we could serve.

The apostle Paul, writing to the specific mindsets and habits of the Corinthian church, shares insights just as relevant for us today.He observes a community fragmented by those who had elevated their particular gift in a way that belittled the gifts held by others. They viewed themselves as more important. 

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”

As we continue through our Engage series, and as you fill out your gifts survey, pray that the Holy Spirit guides you to where you can use your unique qualities to serve.

Challenges

1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m camping is get the fire started. To be clear, I’m not saying have a lit fire. What I’m saying is that I enjoy the process of taking random scraps of wood, pinecones, or whatever else I can find, and use it to create a campfire. I have the most fun when the challenge is the greatest: when the logs might be slightly wet, when I don’t have enough small sticks, or when I don’t have paper or dry pine needles to create my starter.

This challenge is also unnecessary, though. I’ve had people watch me try to light a fire under less than optimal circumstances with less than optimal resources and they’d question whether I knew how to light a fire at all, or whether I even knew how fire worked. They question why I’d make things more complicated when 9 times out of 10, I had access to the proper tools to get the job done quickly and efficiently. They make a valid point.

Too often in our lives we attempt to accomplish tasks that we are not properly equipped to take on. We try to get by without the proper resources or tools. You may enjoy the challenge when you are trying to build a campfire, but it’s almost never enjoyable when it happens in real life.

The main idea of the sermon from this past Sunday was that we need to “arrange the wood” of our lives to give God the opportunity to show up. If I can press the analogy a bit further, we must also know what kind of wood we are working with. Our goal with the Engage series is to get you thinking about that second question: what gifts, skills, and abilities do you have that you can arrange to have maximum engagement in the mission of God?

I want to offer you a resource to help you discover how you are wired, so you can have that sort of maximum engagement. The New Testament tells us about spiritual gifts that all Christians have to help us accomplish the mission of God. Sometime in the next week, everyone at Restore will receive an email inviting you to take an online quiz that will help you discern which of these spiritual gifts you have received, and which ones you might not have received. My hope is that having a better understanding of those gifts will give you greater clarity on which challenges you should pursue, and which ones you may not have the resources to accomplish.

Together we will discover where we fit in the mission of God.

Many Other Things

John 21:25 - Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The week post-Easter in the church is generally one big sigh of relief.

The Sunday when we celebrate the day that everything began anew, Easter Sunday, is the pinnacle of the church calendar. In some ways, Easter is the culmination of everything that we’ve been working towards. We anticipate one of the biggest crowds of the year to celebrate the most important event of the year. That can also make it the most stressful Sunday of the year; when church workers say “hallelujah” after an Easter Service, it’s just as likely they are celebrating the resurrection as they are thanking God that Sunday is over. Monday comes, and everyone exhales, and it can feel a little bit like, well, a letdown.

The four accounts of Jesus life have a sense of that, as well. Every one of them ends with the resurrection, with only a few notes wrapping up some loose ends. The earliest manuscripts of Mark’s account, for example, end with the disciples running away from the tomb, scared out of their mind that it was empty. Matthew ends with Jesus final words to the disciples. Luke includes a couple of witness-events of the post-resurrection Jesus. And John closes his account with a significant reminder of how Jesus changed a group of fishermen into fishers-of-men. All in all, it feels like a bit empty.

Wouldn’t it have been way better if Jesus rose from the grave, had big muscles, long hair, maybe a hammer to reign down swift justice on his enemies, okay, I’m describing Thor. The point is, if the resurrection is everything it’s supposed to be, shouldn’t Jesus have done moreafter his resurrection than before? With the newfound power of the resurrection, shouldn’t Jesus have walked into Jerusalem and declared himself eternal king, sending his enemies running? Now thatwould have been an ending!

Actually, now that I think about it, that is the ending. We’re just not there yet.

I think the reason the Gospel accounts end with his resurrection is because in the next phase of the story Jesus is going to send out average, not-yet-resurrected messengers into the world to tell everyone that the kingdom of God is here. Luke is the only one who comes close to telling us about this phase in his account of the early church called Acts. For the most part the message was spread through unnamed, unrecognized voices who we never read about in our Bible.

Maybe the post-Easter problem is that the everyday messenger-work of the Kingdom doesn’t look all that exciting. It doesn’t look like huge crowds and important days. It probably looks more like the “many other things Jesus did” that John mentions as he closes his account. But that is precisely the way that the kingdom of God spreads until the day Jesus returns to complete the victory that was announced at the Resurrection.

Trembling at the Thought

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

One of my favorite Holy week songs is called Were You There. In addition to being a Good Friday staple, the song has been popularized by many recording artists throughout the years. No doubt many of us will be humming the melody of the song in our heads as we think of it.

I have always believed that the song was intended to get me thinking about my own sin. This was the cause of Jesus’ suffering after all. I imagined myself standing there as they “nailed him to the cross”, recognizing that he was taking on a penalty that I myself deserved. This is certainly reasonable to consider, but there is more to the story.

Were You Therewas likely written by African people who were enslaved in America in the 1800’s, which gives an entirely new dimension to the song. The perspective would have been standing in awe at the fact that the savior of the world would join with them in their own suffering. In the midst of their own oppression they remembered that Jesus was also oppressed. While later versions of the song inserted the idea of the empty tomb into the final verse, the original conclusion was that the “sun refused to shine”. The final thought is the darkness that often accompanies suffering.

If we really want to consider what it would be like, had we been there, this is probably the right place to conclude the song. Darkness. Sadness. Oppression. Suffering. On Friday night when Jesus was crucified, there was no empty tomb in view.

In a few days, we’ll remember the crucifixion at our Good Friday service by considering this “cup” that Jesus was given to drink. As you prepare your heart this week, don’t gloss over the darkness of that moment. Don’t miss that God himself had to share so deeply in our suffering that it would cause even the oppressed to tremble! tremble! tremble!

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

One Calling

Ephesians 4:1-3As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 

Paul said that the Ephesians needed to live in light of their calling. Paul is talking about the call to live in Christ and to do good works. Paul lists some of the traits that come when we walk in Christ. When we live with humility, gentleness, patience, and helping others, we walk in Christ.

Ephesians 4:4-7, 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Paul mentions a number of “ones” that unite us. He says we have one: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father. Paul emphasized “one” because that is what we are supposed to be. We are to be united as one as we walk in Christ, helping and serving one another.

God has given us the ability to be the people that go into the world and share what we’ve been given. Even when our natural tendency is to do nothing. Doing nothing is the easiest thing in the world. We are champions of ignoring problems and convincing ourselves that it’s not really that big of a deal. Thankfully, we have a God that’s interested in that.

God saw a world that needed saving and he sent Jesus. Through Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection we have been given a second chance. We have been given a gift. It is not something anyone could earn. It’s not something any of us deserve. 

Think of the big moves or sacrifices we are willing to make for the people that we love. 

John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

You are loved by the God of the universe. Your life has value. You must fight the voice that calls you to be lazy or to be apathetic. This should energize us to go out and do great things for God, even if that great thing is simply encouraging your neighbor.

Two Are Better

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

Last week Wednesday was a cold day on the Outer Banks, and we were looking for something to do. So, I became a card-carrying member of the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island. When we showed up at the aquarium, we did some quick math and realized it was cheaper for the Mulder family to get a family membership to the aquarium than it was to pay for each individual person. Now we can all go back as many times as we want this year free of charge. It’s only an 8 hour drive each way, and if anyone wants to join us, guests get a 10% discount on admission with a member. All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Then I read last week’s Restore devotional. On the same day that I was having a good day, Chris was having a bad day. As soon as I read it, it hit me…I was supposed to send Chris a devotional for last week’s email before I left, and I completely forgot. I hoped that wasn’t the reason for his bad day (he assured me it was not).

I immediately thought of the passage from Ecclesiastes that two are better than one. The author gives a couple of reasons for that statement, but one of them is that when you fall down you have someone to help you up again. You could expand on that “falling down” to include dropping the ball on an assignment, messing up a task at work, forgetting an appointment, not to mention literally tripping and falling on your face. Two is better than one because you need someone to have your back–and it would be a pity if you didn’t have anyone there to help.

The question is, “who has your back?” And the quick follow-up, “whose back do YOU have?” If you aren’t sure of the answer, it might be something to start working on now, before you need someone to lend you a helping hand.

Perfectly Weak

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.– 2 Corinthians 12:9

I’ll be honest with you, I’m having kind of a bad day. It’s something that can be hard for us to admit to one another. Too often, in Christian circles, we feel guilty if we don’t say everything is fine. At times there’s this weird pressure we feel to make sure everyone knows that we have it all together. I don’t know where it comes from, but I think we’ve all been there.

Paul’s main theme throughout all of 2 Corinthians is strength in weakness. Paul takes our natural expectations on how life should go and flips them all around. In our modern world, and especially here in America, we long for strength, power, and control. It is so rampant in our society that I don’t even need to give you an example of people who would do anything to get a little bit more authority.

Paul doesn’t mind sharing his weakness. In verses 7 and 8 he talks about a “thorn in his flesh,” a messenger meant to keep him from becoming conceited. It’s a mystery to us what this thorn may have been, however we know that it is something Paul saw as a burden. He didn’t just pray for it to go away he “pleaded with the Lord.” And this is where expectations get flipped around, instead of having the thorn removed Paul is reminded that God’s grace, His lovingkindness, His mercy is enough.

In the Church, a life centered around Christ is sometimes falsely portrayed as pain-free happiness. The truth is that Christians face the same troubles that any other human on planet Earth faces. We just have the grace of God to lean into. If you’re having a bad day, that’s okay because you have a God that loves you and wants to hear about it.

When we face troubles, when there are thorns in our flesh, we can remind ourselves that God wants us to fulfill our purpose. If you feel strong, run hard after God. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. No matter what, boast in the great work He has done even through our weakness.

Springtime

Spring is officially here! The flowers aren’t really blooming yet and the birds aren’t really singing, and it’s still a little chilly, but despite that spring starts today. Around here I think we have an extra appreciation for spring because it closes the door and says winter is officially over, warmer weather is coming, and, if you choose, it might be 8 months before you need to pick up another shovel.

Spring is an expectant time. We expect the weather to get warmer. We expect the plants to grow greener. Some of us expect breathing to become an issue as our allergies awaken. After a season of cabin fever and trying to stay warm we are ready to be unleashed on the world. We are freed from the prison of winter.

During the winter we long to be free of those things that drag us down. We are meant to be free. It’s like what Paul says in Galatians 5, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Through Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection we can let go and be unburdened. Many times, we hold on too tightly to the things we know we should release. This can be the pain of loss, anger after a disagreement, or any number of other things that hold us back from true freedom. 

There’s a story that describes our spiritual life being like a house. We do our best to maintain it, keeping it tidy and clean. From the street it looks almost perfect, if you enter the front door everything seems to be in order. We want to share this house. Well, we want to share most of it. There’s that one closet that we keep tucked away, we know it should be cleaned it out, but the idea of dealing with it is almost as scary as what’s inside. 

This is where Jesus comes in and tells you that he wants you to be freed from the fear. He wants to know what’s happening and he wants you to know that no matter what you are loved and can find your rest in Him. He tells us in Matthew 11:28-30,  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

As the seasons change, what burden can you release?

Anticipation

During this season we keep an eye to the future. Soon spring will start, the snow will melt, and the flowers will grow. Soon it will be Easter and we will mourn the crucifixion and then celebrate the resurrection. This eager anticipation helps form the rhythm of our year. As the seasons change, we are reminded of the renewing of the world.

It is far too easy to get lost in the routine of life: we drive the same car, work the same job, and see the same people day after day. It’s like when little kids want to watch the same show over and over; they don’t do it because of the riveting cinematography or superb storytelling. Their little brains are still learning to how to deal with expectations. So, when Nemo gets scooped up by the diver they have learned, “this is the part where I act shocked,” and when he gets reunited with his dad, “this is the part where I celebrate.” 

We think we grow out of this at some point. We don’t. Our routines just become more complex than is contained in the 100 minutes of Finding Nemo. We like the routine, it makes us feel safe when we know what to expect throughout our day. 

Even Church can become part of our routine. Instead of seeking deeper truth it becomes something we check off our weekly to do list. Nevertheless, if we can pause for a moment and think about all that is to come, all that God wants to do, we can feel the excitement of anticipation wash over us.

Isaiah 40:28-31 says, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

Easter is coming soon, and my hope is always that you take the time to reflect on what that means in your life. Through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection all our sins are paid, and we can walk in the newness of life. Jesus shook up the routine of the world giving us something to look towards.

What are you looking forward to?

Think Fast

Today, March 6th, is Ash Wednesday the official beginning of the Lenten season. Lent is the traditional name for the forty days (not counting Sundays) leading up to Easter. There is a long-standing tradition in Christianity to use this time to fast and pray and reflect on the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. If you’ve grown up in the Protestant church talking about fasting during Lent may hit a little sideways.

The truth is we have numerous examples throughout the Old and New Testament of people fasting as a spiritual discipline, a path to grow closer to God, or to aid in their decision making. When we fast, we intentionally abstain from something that we enjoy which causes us to feel those pangs of desire when we notice it’s missing from our day. And the way we desire that thing we are missing should be a reminder of the desire we should have to be close to God. Fasting isn’t magic, you can’t say, “I didn’t eat chocolate for a month, so now I love Jesus more.” It’s not about proving your faith by enduring pain. Fasting is a determined effort. First, for the self-discipline to actually deprive yourself of something you love, and second to constantly remind yourself why you are doing it.

These days we can have just about anything we want any time we want it. Gone are the days when you couldn’t get some fruit or vegetable because it was out of season. Now, someone will gladly ship it half way across the world for you. But with so many conveniences, we can start thinking about God the same way. We mistakenly see God as a vending machine or an emergency room. We only check in when we need

It doesn’t need to be a show, in Matthew 6:16-18 Jesus says, “16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Fasting is between you and God I hope you’ll try it as we move towards

Should you choose to fast you don’t have to go the full forty days (if you’re fasting from food please don’t go longer than is healthy). Maybe you skip lunch on Tuesdays and use that time to pray. The important thing is to pick something that you will notice is missing from your day: food, drink, social media, TV, sports, etc. I once did a week long fast from music, it was awful, but I learned a lot because it made me take time to be silent and

What can you take a break from that could remind you to desire God more?

What is Comfort?

What does comfort mean to you? Sometimes we use the term to define an ideal of some sort. For example, when someone asks how much money is enough and we answer, “enough to be comfortable.” 

Where do you seek comfort when you face tragedy or disappointment? There are many examples throughout the Bible of men and women who have been able to find comfort in the midst of pain and tribulation. These stories can be helpful for us. 

Psalm 13 is probably one of the darker psalms written by King David. It begins, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” I admit that I have cried these words in my life, I think we all have. David was at a point where he felt God was absent. 

Have you reached the point where you expect comfort to mean God solving your problems rather than walking with you through them? When tragedy befalls you and you don’t see God intervening you wonder where He is. You are not alone. We need to get back to the meaning of comfort in these moments. 

The word comfort is from the Latin and combines com, which means together and fortis, which means strength. So, comfort was originally together strength. This evolved into the word confortarewhich came to mean, “strengthen much.” Then we arrive at the 17thcentury and the word represents physical ease. And today we hear comfort and immediately think of fluffy blankets and junk food. We went from ‘together-strength’ to ‘pain-barrier.’

God will never leave us or forsake us. With God we can be together-strong.Jesus reminds us that we will face tribulation in John 16:33, and these troubles are nothing new. If you find yourself questioning God, answer this question: how are you looking to experience His company? We must not forget the second part of the verse from John. Jesus ends with the encouragement that we can take heart He has overcome the world. 

That should give us real comfort.

Cleared for Landing

Are you fighting a cold? Have you encountered the flu? Whether it has hit your household this year or in the past, cold and flu season is miserable. Equally miserable is worrying about it. You take every precaution—getting a flu shot, constantly washing your hands, upping your vitamins—but ultimately, we have little control over what we catch. If you’re like me, you don’t put yourself in danger, but you also don’t let a preoccupation with sickness cloud your thoughts. However, it is not always easy.

Anxiety is a real affliction these days, and the frequency with which we hear about it seems to be increasing. Jesus calls us to not be anxious about anything (Matt. 6:25). Paul echoes this sentiment in his letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:6). The arguments are sound but are often easier said than done.

I recently read a great analogy for anxious thoughts. Max Lucado wrote a book titled, Anxious for Nothing. (He also created a five-day devotion and reading plan you can find in the YouVersion Bible app) (bible.com/r/1By). The illustration is that of airplanes. If you can picture your thoughts as airplanes and yourself as the air traffic controller you can, with work, decide which thoughts land and which ones fly away. Our real challenge ends up being how we think about the trials that we face. So much of our life is out of our control. The thing that we can learn to control is how we respond when difficulties arise.

The anxiety in our lives plants seeds of lies and creates well-worn paths in our thinking. If we’re not careful, it influences the way we perceive our struggles. Anxiety wants to master our thinking. We need to remember that anxiety is not the master of our minds. We need to remember that we have the power of the Holy Spirit alive inside us. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

When that anxiety threatens to crush you simply call on God, “cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7) This is how you can deny your struggles the platform and influence over your mind. Cling to Christ and abide in Him. When you do, you bear fruit and you disarm your enemy. Remember that as the air traffic controller YOU decide which thoughts are cleared for landing.

How do you spell ‘Love’?

Think about when you were a kid. What was one of the ways you felt loved by the people that raised you? One common answer is, “They always provided for me.” Most of what we do as parents is trying to provide for our families. We do this because we love them.

I was recently asked to speak at a high school chapel. The theme of the year was ‘Names of God.’ My particular talk was to be on 1 John 4:16 ESV which reads, so we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.God is love. Sounds can sound cliché. However, it is true and one of the ways we know this is that God provides.

When I was in youth group, we sang a song, ‘Jehovah Jireh.’ The lyrics were: Jehovah Jireh, my provider, His grace is sufficient for me. My God shall provide all my needs according to His riches in glory…Jehovah Jireh cares for me. This song by Don Moen is referring to a name given to God in Genesis chapter 22. Here we find the story of Abraham being asked by God to take his son, Isaac, to be sacrificed on the altar. Abraham obeys and just as he is about to plunge the knife into his son, the angel of the Lord stops him. When Abraham looks up, he sees in the bushes a ram. God provided a substitute for Isaac.

I want to go back, however, as this is not the first time God has provided for Abraham. In Genesis 15 one of the most fascinating examples of provision is found. God has promised Abraham that he will possess the entire land that God has shown him. Abraham wants a contract. 

God asks for Abraham to bring five sacrificial animals, cut the animals in half and sets up what is known as a blood path covenant. In this covenant each party would walk through the middle of the slaughtered animals wearing a white robe and splashing the blood up onto their clothes. The whole point is both parties agreeing that if they did not hold up their end of the bargain, that they would be killed just like the animals.

After Abraham sets this up, he would be the one to walk through first as the lesser party. But he doesn’t. God has Abraham fall into a deep sleep and God walks through the path twice. God knew Abraham couldn’t possible hold up his end of the bargain, so God did. God knows that we couldn’t save ourselves. He provided for us in the person of his only Son, Jesus. We deserve to be Isaac on the altar or the slaughtered animals, yet we are in right standing because God provided a savior for us. 

If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

Best Day Ever

Psalm 18:1-3“I love you, O Lord, my strength. 2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.”

I hope that you’re having the best day ever. All your traffic lights are green, your work day is easy, your family is all getting along, and you got to pet that cute dog. I hope you ate delicious food and spent time with the ones you love. When you’re having an awesome day it is easy to praise God. It’s easy to agree with these words from Psalm 18 when it feels like the warmth of the sun is shining on every aspect of your life. When you have a day like this remember it, mark it down, because we know that the other kind of days are going to happen too.

We have those days when all the lights are red, your boss is mad, and the kids won’t stop bickering. David knows how that feels all too well. He continues in verses 4-6, “4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; 5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. 6 In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.”

David, like most of us, had a complex life. He was far from perfect. Even though he was remembered as one of the great heroes of the faith much of the story that we see in the Bible is on his bad days, and he had a LOT of bad days. However, no matter how hard and no matter how far he fell God was always there when David was looking for Him.

I hope you have many good days. Nevertheless, when you do have a bad one, I hope you know that there is a God that loves you and is always there for you. I hope we can thank him for the good days and remember him on the bad ones.

Self Reflection

Romans 8:15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Does the name Stuart Smalley mean anything to you? If you are…of a certain age…it likely rings a bell. Stuart Smalley was the name of a satirical character on Saturday Night Live who had overemphasized confidence in the power of positive thinking. He would look at himself in the mirror and repeat to himself his famous catchphrase: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

The joke in the sketches (in addition to poking fun at the self-esteem movement) was that Stuart had some deep-seeded doubt, despite his attempts at convincing himself otherwise. So too did his guests, who were in reality successful (like NBA player Michael Jordan) but came on the show to learn about Stuart’s self-motivation technique. Good satire always opens our eyes to a truth about reality that may be difficult to expose in any other way.

Stuart and his personal affirmation came to mind recently as I considered my own life. I was doing some self-reflection and realized that in some ways the spirit of fear is more present in my life today than it was twenty years ago, despite the fact that twenty years ago I really had nothing to show for my own confidence. I was probably confident for the same reason that Stuart was: I looked in a mirror and told myself I should be. Twenty years later, after wins, losses, and everything in between, maybe I’m just a bit more realistic. Or maybe I’ve just been using the wrong metric.

The metric Paul gives us in Romans 8 has nothing to do with our own successes, failures, or whether we can convince ourselves that we have what it takes. Our reason for confidence and courage and self-esteem is that the God of the universe has adopted us and allowed us to call him Dad.

If we find ourselves slipping back into a spirit of fear, we don’t need to tell ourselves how great we are. We need to remind ourselves how great God is, and that he has allowed us to be his children. It’s not something that needs to be repeated; instead, it’s a truth statement that remains with us, no matter what we think, feel, or accomplish. And, doggone it, that’s really good news.