Category Archives: Gratitude

Scripture Download

I downloaded a Scripture reading app to my smartphone. The goal was to get through the Letters of Paul in 60 days. I’m 58 days behind schedule – sigh! Nevertheless, on day 2, I read the second chapter of Acts – the story of Pentecost. You remember, the fire, the wind – BOOM – empowerment! Then Peter gets up to address the gathered crowd. Here is where I pick up the story.

“But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:” (Acts 2:14-16)

As many times as I have read this before, this time I saw something totally new. Something I found profoundly fascinating – OK, besides the fire, wind and BOOM – and challenging. As Peter stood to preach to the crowd, he recited a long passage from the book of Joel. Later in the same sermon, he quoted from the Psalms. He did this from memory! He didn’t have a bible with him. He didn’t pull out his Galaxy tablet to look up the passages. He knew them. He had spent a lifetime reading, studying, hearing and memorizing the Scriptures and these became a treasure chest which the Holy Spirit could pull from at the right time.

A few years ago when I was going through a particularly difficult time, the Lord brought back to me a verse I had memorized when I first became a Christian. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-24). During that dark time, I would read and say this verse daily. It became to me a source of hope and encouragement. I knew He still loved me and would take care of me. I even wrote that verse on a piece of paper and kept it in my pocket. Every time I reached into that pocket and felt that paper I was reminded of God’s goodness. My point is that by memorizing that verse so many years ago, the Spirit had a deposit from which to speak directly to my heart. Over the years, He has also used other passages to enable me to help, pray for and encourage others.

You see, I think we need to make every effort to build a reservoir of Scripture in our hearts, a treasure chest for the Holy Spirit’s use. It would be honoring to Him to spend time reading, studying and, yes, even memorizing portions of Scripture for Him to have at the ready. Not that we are going to go around spouting Bible verses at people or use them as a hammer to beat people, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a Scripture “pop to mind” as we are talking to a friend and our own words fail? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a little boost in our life when we hit a low spot? It’s not likely that we will spontaneously have to address thousands of people like Peter did, but if it happened wouldn’t it be great to be ready.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on you or create another “must do” rule for your life. I’m simply suggesting that we give the Spirit as many tools as possible to mold us into the image of Christ and make us more effective in our Kingdom calling. And what better way to do that than by depositing in our hearts the very words He wrote.

Dance Like You Mean It

My wife and I went on a short vacation to the western Pennsylvania area. We spent one night in a small, quaint town in the Ligonier Valley. What we didn’t realize is that the town was hosting a vintage car show and 50’s band and dance competition. The crowd gathered around the gazebo in the middle of the town square to listen to the band and where old and young couples danced swing (or whatever dance style they danced in the fifties). It was fun to watch and the young couples won first, second and third place. But the really good part started after the dance competition ended and this is what inspired me to right this post.

You see the music continued until well past nightfall and most of the young couples except for one had left. I supposed that since they had already won, there was no point in showing off the moves any longer. They had made their statement and went off to celebrate. Most of the remaining audience was an “older” crowd. Then something remarkable happened. The band began to play a slow, hold-your-girl-close song. The one young couple danced well at a respectable distance from each other. But the old folks… Ah, the aged married couples got up to dance too. And they DANCED! I mean they weren’t dancing to show off or to be seen, they danced because they were in love. They wanted to hold their darling close and look into their eyes and smile great big smiles. You could see it as they moved and twirled around the town square. They were in their own world and they didn’t care who else was there. It was just them expressing their love for each other. I have to tell you, it was a wonderful moment to experience and I thought about how this reflects our affection for the Lord.

There was one other woman there who even by that evening’s standard appeared really old. She shuffled along with her cane barely able to pick up her feet, but when the music started…watch out! Take a look at this short video my wife took (ignore the couple dancing in the foreground, focus on the woman in the back).

This woman was in the zone! She was feeling the music, celebrating the music and moving whatever parts of her body still moved. She danced with joy and abandon! We read in 2 Samuel the story of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. He was so happy, no, so JOYFUL to have the Lord’s presence among His people that he couldn’t help but dance. And David danced before the Lord with all his might (2 Samuel 6:14). He danced with abandon and joy! So much so that his wife Michal was embarrassed for him. It was “undignified.” David didn’t care he was more concerned about honoring his God than what people thought.

So as I reflected on these things, I thought to myself, “I have much more to celebrate than good 50’s music. Do I live my life with joy and abandon? Do I, like the woman in the video or even David himself, give my all before My Lord?” This was not a guilt trip but an inspiration, an encouragement. And like the older couples dancing close and lovingly, I also want to behold my Lover, my Lord, get lost in His presence and dance with all my might.

I Am Not A Worm

My son introduced me to a new term last week – worm theology. I had never heard this term below, so I googled it. I guess it’s been around for a while and it generally means having a very low view of oneself, believing that if we take on this “worm” mentality God will be more compassionate or merciful towards us. According to worm theology, we are to view ourselves as unworthy, undeserving, unfit and justly contemptible. We are nothing and deserve nothing. Worm theology is thought to be the same as humility. And this is how many Christians live – “wormy” – shoulders slumped, head bowed, shuffling through life, just another sinner barely able to lift our wormy head towards our Great and Majestic God.

I don’t think Christians should subscribe to this worm theology concept, but there is a place for it. Let me explain. Before we come to Christ, before we are saved, when we are in our “natural” state, we are, in fact, dead in our sin, enemies of God, slaves of unrighteousness, unworthy, unable to save ourselves, without merit to earn God’s love or grace. It’s a pretty bleak picture. Yes, we are worm-ish. And yet God looked upon sinful Man and chose to send His Son to save us. Even as worms, the Just One died for the unjust, the Sinless One died for the sinner. It can properly be said that we were sinners saved by Grace. If there is a time to apply wormly thinking it would be then – at our pre-Christian state.

But once saved by grace, a miracle happens in the life of this newly-minted Christian. The formerly wormy sinner is re-created as a child of God. A new creature has come into existence, one that reflects the image of God, a residence for the Holy Spirit. This new creature is called a saint – holy and set apart – a partaker in the divine nature. This new creature is promised glory in the future and freedom in the present. This new creature is guided, instructed, corrected and called into a wonderful life of Kingdom work by the King. It seems to me that such a creature is not a worm! And to view ourselves as worms is an affront to the work Christ as wrought in us.

Now let me be clear. It is completely appropriate to look back to our pre-Christ days and stand, or kneel, in awe that God saved wretches like us. His grace is amazing and undeserved. But we shouldn’t stay there. Instead we should stand, or kneel, in awe of what God did with this wretch. Look at the transformation! I am no longer a worm. I am a son! If that isn’t enough to cause us to worship our Father, I don’t know what is. Humility isn’t about constantly beating ourselves down. Humility is simply continually acknowledging that God did it all.

So dear Christian brother and sister, cast off your worm theology. Reject the false humility of worm-ish thinking and put on the “new man” formed by the Holy Spirit and being transformed into the image of Christ. That is how the Father sees you. That is how you can see yourself.

The Successful Christian Life

How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.

Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.

So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?”   Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.

A Donkey’s Tale

I know I am about a week off schedule, but the following story is a look at Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem from a slightly different perspective. I hope you enjoy it.

               ____________________________________

We stood outside the house, my mother and I, watching busy people go about their busy day. So much …Busy-ness, I don’t understand it. I’d much rather stay here and let the sun warm my face, feel the breeze brush my back, even entertain the tickling critters flitting about the yard.

                I barely noticed when the two strangers approached the house. There was a lot of rigorous negotiation, the men shouting, “He Needs them! HE NEEDS them!” Before I knew it, I was being shuffled down the road in the hands of the strangers. Who was “He”? I couldn’t imagine what all the fuss was about, and what it had to do with me.

                It wasn’t more than an hour of walking before we came into town. There were hundreds of them, swarming the market stalls, speaking into each other’s ears, shouting across the stone plaza. It was overwhelming! Dazed, I was guided towards the center of a small cluster of men. They seemed pleased to see me. One of them even looked me in the eye, and kissed my forehead. I liked him.

                Suddenly, I felt the weight of thick blankets being dumped on my back. Then the Man-I-Liked hopped on as well! I couldn’t stop myself from crying out, but nobody paid heed. They were too busy shouting at me, stomping their feet around me, throwing things on the ground in front of me. There was nothing to do but walk forward. I was being led again through the crowds, into the city where even more people joined in the…celebration? They didn’t seem angry. Were they cheering me on? What had I done? I felt a nervous shudder ripple down my spine. Then a hand pets my back. The heavy man was comforting me. I liked him.

                The people continued to roar around me, shouting something at me! I could almost make it out:”King”? “David”? ”Son of David,” I heard one man shout. “Hosanna!” cried another. But I’m no King. I’m certainly not a Son of David either. How confusing…

At that moment, one word pierced through the cacophony, and I understood; “Messiah!” Messiah…They were celebrating the Messiah. I was not the Messiah, but the Man-I-Liked was the Messiah. The” Son of David” they cried. The Son of David is on my back! I’m carrying the Messiah!

Why me? I’m just a donkey…not even a fully grown donkey at that. Why did the Messiah, the King choose me?

They led me further into Jerusalem, me carrying the Messiah on my back. The crowds swelled even more, tossing branches and cloth on the ground. The air thundered with the bellowing cheers of men, women and children who danced and celebrated the appearance of their King; the Man-I-Liked who was on my back! I could’ve sworn the stones I shuffled across were going to break out in song at any second. Even the Sun blessed the jubilee with dancing rays of warmth and golden light. Today was the greatest day of my life. I would be famous! I carried the King! The Son of David sat on my back while I walked into the city. Everybody would know who I am, and what I’d done.

I, the simple young donkey, was chosen to carry the King. He chose ME…me.

I felt another Kiss on my forehead…

               ____________________________________

We all, like that little colt, carry the image of Christ. Rejoice!

The Hinge Point of Salvation

As we enter this season leading up to the Easter celebration, it is appropriate to re-visit one of the key events in salvation history that, I think, is too often underemphasized.  For me the narrative of Jesus’ anguished prayer battle in the garden of Gethsemane is too important, too critical to miss.  Here is the story told in Luke’s gospel.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  (Luke 22:39-45 ESV)

Jesus asks the Father to “remove this cup.”  But to grasp the significance of this moment we need to understand what the “cup” refers to.   As Jesus faced his physical death by crucifixion, there was something far more difficult, more unbearable he was facing, something he was asking the Father to remove.  You see, Jesus knew that for the first time since before time began, he would experience separation from the Father.  The “cup” was the wrath and judgment of God on mankind’s sin – our sin.  Jesus was about to take the brunt of that judgment upon himself and it left him in near unendurable anguish, so much so that the Father sent an angel to comfort him.

We forget sometimes that Jesus was a man – human.  And as a man he had a choice to make at that moment in the small olive grove on a small mountain in first century Judea.  I believe that Jesus could have decided NOT to go through to his death.  I believe that Jesus could have stood up and walk away.  At that moment in time our salvation hangs in the balance.  This is the hinge point of redemption history.  If Jesus walks away, we, all of us, are left without hope and totally lost, condemned to face God’s judgment on our own. 

But in that moment, Jesus utters six words that changes the course of human history, “nevertheless, not my will, but yours.”  It is in prayer, in his relationship with his Father that Jesus willingly chooses to follow God’s plan.  He submits in obedience.  He does not claim divine privilege or succumb to human fickleness.  “Nevertheless” becomes for us the single most important word uttered in human history, because with that word we have hope of salvation.  This word fills our hearts with Joy, with Delight, Elation Exultation, Courage and Confidence.  We are rescued!  We will never experience the cup of wrath!

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.  (Romans 5:9)

 This moment, this word, fills us with wonder and drives us to our knees.  This is grace – undeserved.  This is the focus of our worship – not just at Easter – but every day.

Tools of the Trade

We place a lot of value on building relationships.  It’s important to us to have good, solid and meaningful relationships with the people in our lives, whether it be friends, children or significant others.  I was thinking about this process of building relationships to try to see how it really happens – what are the tools we need to do this.  And it occurred to me that I was probably other thinking it.  Relationships are something we just do, not think about.  It comes naturally – to most of us.  But if I wanted to be more deliberate in approaching someone or starting from scratch how would I build that relationship.

The tools are fairly simple.  We spend time with each other – we “hang out” and talk.  We share our thoughts, feelings, desires and dreams.  We listen to the other to learn what makes them tick, what’s important to them, what they care about.  Depending on the type of relationship, we may tell them how nice they look or how much we appreciate them or how much we love them.  When we are with them we try to think about what would make them happy or just enjoy their presence without being demanding or self-focused.  It’s really about sharing our lives with them and learning to receive back from them their affection and acceptance of us.

So these tools of relationship building are effective, powerful and common to all our relationships.  I think they also apply to our efforts at relationship building with God.  Now I’m not suggesting that God is on an equal footing with our best buddy.  I don’t want to underestimate His Majesty and “other-ness.”  He is not like us in many ways, but to develop a deep and genuine relationship with Him means using the same tools.  The problem is that when applied to God, we’ve given these tools names that are laden with expectations, guilt and toil.  Instead of sharing our thoughts, feelings and desires with Him, we call it prayer.  But it becomes a burden.  Instead of listening to learn what is important to Him, we call it Bible study and it becomes a duty.  Instead of telling Him how much we appreciate Him, we call it worship and it becomes a performance.  Maybe it’s time to rename these “power tools”, or, at least, remove all the baggage we’ve attached to them.

Our Father wants to hang out with us and show us how trustworthy and approachable He really is, if we would only use the tools we already have and used all our lives to build that relationship.