About four years ago, I took my family to Lake Tahoe. We packed my little Honda to the brim with everything we needed for a week of hiking and biking. From LA, we took the 395 up the east side of the Sierra Mountains.
What fascinated me, other than the sheer beauty of that country, was how empty it was. Seriously, we passed through two decent size towns in a period of 400 miles. Other than that, there were no people. Occasionally there was a random gas station with a Subway that was jammed packed with over-heated travelers. We didn’t see any other signs of civilization, just untouched desert and granite adorned peaks.
Honestly it made me feel very small. Here we were, driving through the most populous state in the Union, and we didn’t see a soul. America is big…really big. And sometimes it’s difficult to conceptualize its size.
In Psalms 103 it says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” In other words, God has separated us from the sin that caused separation in the first place. Not only that, but God separating our sin is so complete so thorough that our sin is far away from us as east is from the west. What makes this a powerful image is that east and west are not places; they are undefined general directions. In other words, no one can remotely fathom the distance between the two.
This illustration is important because we do the human thing where we struggle to really believe that Jesus has dealt with our sin. We have never seen ourselves as truly sons and daughters of God, so we have to keep that old-self close at hand. But God says no. He says no to all of us. Our sin, our old-self, our jealous, spiteful and fearful selves have been separated from our inmost beings. We are new. We are clothed in royal robes. We sit at a table which God has prepared for us. Do we believe that? How different would we be and act if we truly knew our old-selves are gone?Read More
As a dude, I have a very clear belief about time: when something is supposed to happen at a certain time, it should happen at that time. Crazy right? Luckily everyone shares my sentiment…not exactly.
Jesus talks with the Pharisees and Sadducees about time. They are asking for a sign from heaven (presumably to add validity to Jesus’ teaching). Jesus instead tells them they are very bad at knowing what time it is. Essentially, Jesus is saying that they are demanding a sign from Jesus, yet ignoring the signs of the time. It would be like going to a candy store and asking the owner to prove that the store in-fact sells candy. The owner would say, “look at all the candy surrounding you”.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were not wrong because they asked Jesus for a sign. They were wrong because the signs were right in front of them and they could not see them.
What about us? What are the times saying to us right now? When evaluating the state of our world, we can quickly become overwhelmed with how bad things can get. But our world isn’t more chaotic than it was during the time of Jesus.
Our times are saying the same thing the times were saying when Jesus walked with his disciples: the kingdom of God is near. If we cannot see that, than we are insulating ourselves from what God is doing.
If the kingdom of God is near, what does that mean for us?Read More
Part of my sermon last Sunday included a series of pictures on PowerPoint. They included chocolate layer cake with peanut butter filling, crunchy, salty, potato chips, an ice cream cone of 4 scoops (all different flavors), warm chocolate chip cookies, a tray of yummy pastries and one of a glass of ice-cold Coca Cola. The purpose of the pictures was to illustrate the principle that “knowledge is not enough to deter us from sin.” I was certainly not saying that eating chocolate cake, having a cheese danish or enjoying a Coke was sinful! The point of the exercise was to illustrate that knowledge is not an automatic protection against sin.
The apostle Paul used an example from the 10 Commandments. The 10th command is “You shall not covet.” In Romans 7:8 Paul writes, “I would never have known what it means to want to take something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, ‘You must not want to take your neighbor’s things.’ Sin found a way to use that command and cause me to want all kinds of things I should not want.”
After seeing all the things that were not healthy, did the congregation have a stronger commitment to be healthy? Or were they hungry? Yup…you’re right. They were hungry!
You live in a world of stimulation. From every direction, from every device – phones, radio, computers, tablets, TV – you are bombarded with images and sounds that can shape you, if you let them. And they can shape you in ways that aren’t exactly holy. What can you do?
Romans 12:2 says that first you can RESIST. “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.” You have a choice. You can choose NOT to allow certain things to shape you. At the same time you can choose TO allow other things to shape you instead.
The second thing you can do is REFOCUS. Writing to the church in Philippi, Greece, Paul summed up his message by saying “you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things (that are) true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
These portions of Scripture are good words to live by. Grab a handful of grapes and read them over again!Read More
Jesus observes the rich and the poor putting gifts into the temple treasury. His comments focus on a poor widow, who has given all that she has. He takes a sharp contrast between the gifts of this woman and the gifts of those who have much. What he says is startling. He says that this woman has put more in than any other because it costs her so much.
For Jesus’ statement to be true, it would mean that the value of the gift is more about what it costs the giver. In other words, any worldly value is inconsistent with heavenly value. From Jesus’ perspective, the heavenly value of this Widow’s gift far outpaces any gift from the wealthy individuals that day.
What that means for us is simply this; poverty is the best place to find our true bearing. Only within poverty can we see our absolute need for God. Only within poverty do we recognize our sheer inability to control our own destinies.
In Luke 6, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kinddom of heaven.” How can poverty lead to anything good? In any form, poverty is like a pair of glasses that help us see what we really are … poor. In the presence of a Holy God, what is the difference between the rich and the poor? They are both equally in need of his grace, yet one is aware of that truth and one is not.
So who is really blessed, the widow or the wealthy? The one who’s every fiber knows their own poverty is blessed. The blessed one knows their dependence on God is total.
This past week I was privileged to lead a group of teenagers on a mission trip to Vermont. One of our goals for this trip was for our students to be challenged in new ways. The importance of being challenged is simple: in our weaknesses the power of God is revealed. In other words, if we are never taken outside our zones of comfort, we can never experience the life changing effect of God’s power.
For our group this played out a number of different ways. While many of us were looking forward to a summer of couch potatoing, we built mountain-biking trails in the Green Mountains. While most of us limit our relationships to friends and family, we were pushed to have meaningful conversations with the elderly (many of whom suffered from sever dementia). While most of us like the comfort of mom and dad within earshot, we left home to love a place that we had never known. Within all these challenges, we found God pushing us deeper.
What is really fun is when you are in my position and get to see our students get it. I was able to see hearts softened, love given and spiritual growth.
But don’t think this trip was just for the students, it was also for me. Through out our time in Rutland, God impressed upon me once again how much I depend upon other things rather than God. To put it bluntly, I depend on security. I want the future of my family to be as secure as the rising sun. The problem is of course, there is no such thing as security apart from my relationship with God.
Psalms 23:1 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
When was the last time you felt as though you lacked something? Five minutes ago? Yesterday? All the time? This is the problem with the human heart. We sense we are missing something and yet we have accesses to the only thing that really matters…God.
I dare you to thoughtfully consider what it is that you “need” to live a contented life. Seriously, what things or people or activities do you “need”? Write those things down and reread Psalm 23.
Friends, what can we possibly lack?Read More
My email inbox is constantly full of messages I don’t read. Several times a day I find myself deleting scores of emails, most without even looking to see what they contain. Some are from vendors with whom I have done business in the past, hoping to lure me with some “best deal” to make another purchase.
Others are newsy, wanting to alert me to the impending doom of our world, while others implore me to sign some petition which I should then send to dozens of my friends. In the mix are also those often cheesy viral forwards that seem to cycle every few years, along with a plethora of e-newsletters, wanting to educate me on everything from the latest “super food” to the best way to clean my bathroom. Their frequency varies: Some come once a month, others once a week, many more than once a day.
As a stay at home, homeschooling mom of four, I have come to the realization that my time is precious and God calls me to use it wisely. So, several weeks ago I began a quest to eliminate the unnecessary from my inbox. Rather than spend valuable minutes deleting emails I don’t want, I rather started to “opt out” of each one as they came in. The process has been somewhat laborious, but I have already begun to see my daily mail shrink to a more manageable size.
The hardest part has been realizing that even though I now experience less frustration when I check my email, and I have noticeably more time on my hands, there is a part of me that misses receiving so much mail! Even though it was communication that wasn’t meaningful to me, there was something about looking at my phone and seeing that I had an email that got me excited. Someone, somewhere in the world wanted to connect with me, even if it was merely to guilt me into buying something I didn’t need.
As humans we crave connection. God has placed in us a deep desire to be in communion with Him, but oftentimes we try to fill that void with the things of this world. Rather than dig deeper into our relationship with our Lord and Savior, we settle for taking pride in the number of friends we have on Facebook or the people we follow on Twitter.
My challenge to us this week is that we take a moment to ponder how we are filling our need for connection. Are we striving to get it from the creation, or from the Creator? Your honest evaluation may surprise you, as it did me. It is my prayer that as a church we will use discernment in our connections and that we will work to eliminate those that take us away from our relationship with God. For it is only in communion with our Heavenly Father that our insatiable need for connection can truly be filled.
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness…”