Saturday, December 20, 2014

Every Breaking Wave by U2

"...Every sailor knows that the sea
"Is a friend made enemy
"And every shipwrecked soul knows what it is
"To live without intimacy...

"You know where my heart is
"The same place that yours has been
"We know that we fear to win
"And so we end before we begin"

Hey Jude

Read the short New Testament book of Jude for my morning devotions today. This is a book for our times.

And it smacked me right in the face, reminding me again that my life as a follower of Christ--an imperfect, often haphazard, fitfully faithful one--is meant by God to be lived in simple response to His undeserved gifts of forgiveness and new life with my whole self.

Jude is upset with the scoffers within the Church, those who have come to regard the truth of God's self-disclosure in Jesus and in His Word, as dispensable. These folks in Jude's time saw grace as the license to do whatever sinful human nature prompted them to do. From Jude, as in other places in Scripture, we learn that that's simply false.

Grace isn't a license to ignore God; it's the freedom to be the person Christ died and rose to let us be...under Christ's lordship.

Reminds me of an old Randy Stonehill song: "He understands the human heart/His mercy is complete/But His grace was not intended as a place to wipe your feet."

I was talking with someone yesterday. I said, "Sometimes, God calls us to do things we don't want to do, things that aren't easy...Check that, every single day of my life, God calls me to do things that I don't want to do, that aren't easy." He also calls us--commands us--to not do things we want to do.

What Jude insists on is that when we follow our own ways, we are condemned.

When we travel the grace path following Christ, Christ sets us free for a deeper, more significant life. Often we can't see the depth and significance as we're unwillingly submitting, but submitting nonetheless, to Christ.

But we don't need to see. Only God does.

That, I'm learning, is where faith comes in. Faith is trust in Christ even when everything inside us chafes or doubts or fears or can't understand.

Faith says, "I'm no longer pretending to be in charge. Because every time I thought I was in charge, I know I was only pretending anyway. Despite my pretense, I surrender to the God of grace and love I know in Christ."

If you're like me, you'll have to surrender like that about a hundred times a day or more. Such surrender isn't natural to us. That's okay. When we surrender to Christ, we learn that grace, true grace, grace that is acceptance of us without approval of our sins, grace that is accepting of us and then rolls up its sleeves to change us into Christlikeness, is natural to Him.

If we're willing each day to part with our sins and our conceits of self-sufficiency and of having God and life and everything figured out and of being able to pick and choose what authority we will give God over our lives, Christ can help us.

If no such willingness exists, Christ can't help. He doesn't force His help on us. That's how grace works.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Yer Blues by the Beatles

Say I Won't by Lecrae

Lecrae teams up with fellow rapper Andy Mineo on this brand new video from Lecrae's latest LP, 'Anomaly.' When you follow Christ, you're "not afraid to be different."

3 Miracles of Christmas

From today's installment of Our Daily Bread:
Luke’s telling of the birth of Christ includes the shepherds, who lived apart from society in their lowly occupation, and the angels, who announced to those shepherds the arrival of the Messiah (vv.9-14). From the humble to the heavenly, the contrast of shepherds and angels pictures the journey of the Son who came from the highest place to be the Lamb of God.
There are many miracles associated with Christmas. Here are just three.

One is that God took on human flesh. This was and remains so scandalous to some that it prevents them from even considering following Christ. But it's a great comfort to think that God loves us so much that He's willing to become one us (John 1:1, 14). As an old Christmas song puts it, in Christ "the soul felt its worth."

Because God became human, "...we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

Another miracle of Christmas is that the baby was born of a virgin (Luke 1:30-35). God didn't do this because there's anything inherently wrong with human flesh or with sex, a good creation of God for use by a man and a woman in marriage covenant with each other (and with God). 

But when the Holy Spirit caused Mary to conceive a child, without involvement of human DNA, it was an instance of God the Father creating the new Adam, unfettered by the inheritance of inborn sin could establish a new, sinless race of human beings born anew, "born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 3:13). This happens not by our effort, but by God's effort, apprehensible to us through our faith in Christ alone. When we trust in Christ, we become a new creation

Another miracle of Christmas is what this Child came to do

He didn't come to teach new moral standards, except to teach the people of His Church to love each other as confirmation of His power working in their lives; rather, He affirmed moral standards God gave long ago in the Ten Commandments. 

He didn't come to be a miracle worker, per se, though He worked miracles as "signs"in which sin, death, disease, and natural elements were show as subordinate to His power as God in the flesh. 

He didn't come to offer an example of a nice life, though Christ does exemplify what it means to be truly human, set free from the limitations of sin and death that God never has wanted for us. 

Jesus Christ came into our world to do two things: 

(1) To die. "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 1:22). "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). "“Look, the Lamb of God,who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29) The death of sinless Jesus erases the power of sin and death over those who believe in Him.

(2) To rise. By His resurrection, Jesus became the pioneer who tore down the walls of sin and death and like Joshua, who led ancient Israel across the River Jordan to the promised land in the Old Testament, Jesus leads all who believe in Him into eternity with God. "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" (John 3:16).

These aren't the only miracles of the Christmas. But these three are enough so that, when apprehended by faith, melt our skepticism and self-will, building within us trust in Jesus Christ as our God, Savior, and King.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The 17 Year Old Who's Made $72-Million on the Market NOT

He's got a Beamer he can't drive yet because he hasn't gotten his license and he's got a Manhattan pad which he can't move into for another year, but this bright kid has amassed a fortune trading penny stocks.

It's an amazing story, but also a bit disturbing to me:

"It all comes down to this," Islam told New York. "What makes the world go round? Money. If money is not flowing, if businesses don't keep going, there's no innovation, no products, no investments, no growth, no jobs."
It's true that the flow of money can lead to innovation, new products, and new jobs. Those are important things. But money doesn't make the world go round. That distinction belongs to the One Who made the world, I think.

You might like to look at the following pieces:

Your Money or Your Life
"How Many Loaves Have You?"

[UPDATE: Turns out that the young man hasn't amassed a fortune.]

"Three Social Security Mistakes You Should Avoid"

From USA Today. The mistakes?
1. Signing up when you're below full retirement age and still working. 
2. Expecting more from Social Security than it will actually provide. 
3. Worrying too much about whether Social Security benefits will be taxed.
Food for thought.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

How Christmas Gift Giving Started

Shared by TobyMac on Facebook.

A Story of Giving

May God bless Jacob and Noah.

And commendations to Urban Meyer and the Ohio State football team. But I'm certain that you get much more out of your relationship with this family than you give. Giving does that to us.

Set Apart

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Advent is a season of anticipation. 

It recalls the centuries when God’s people anticipated the birth of the Messiah, the Christ, God’s Anointed One. 

In Advent, we also anticipate the coming of Christmas day. (Especially if you're about six or seven years old.)

But more than anything, Advent is a season in which we remind ourselves that we need to live each day in eager anticipation of Jesus’ return. 

One of the most ancient liturgical confessions of the Church is simply: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Over the past two Sundays, the first two Sundays in Advent, we’ve talked about how to anticipate, how to wait, for the return of Jesus, how to get ready to meet Jesus, either at the ends of our own earthly lives or at the end of this world, when He will, as we confess each Sunday, “judge the living and the dead.” We’ve talked about preparing through daily repentance and daily renewal through the forgiveness God gives to those who trust in Christ as their only God and King.

But in today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul gives us a different way of looking at how to anticipate the coming of Jesus. It’s one I like a lot and it can all be summarized by a single word: sanctification

The word sanctification is rooted in a Latin word, sanctus, which means holy. The part of the traditional liturgy in which we sing, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God power and might, heaven and earth are full of Your glory…” is called the sanctus. 

The word holy means set apart, special, different. It could even be translated as weird, odd, not like other things.

This book is called the Holy Bible or Holy Book, because out of all the books in the world, this one is set apart. It is the Word of God. No other book can make that claim. 

Holy Baptism is set apart and different from any other baptism, including John the Baptist’s baptism, because Holy Baptism is set apart, the only baptism in which God’s Holy Spirit comes to live in the baptized. 

Holy Communion is unlike any other meal in which people have community with each other because in Holy Communion, we have communion with God, we receive the very body and blood of Jesus, and through it, God's forgiveness and life pulsing within us. 

Now, we’ve mentioned before what the Bible scholars call inclusios or inclusions. An important theme of a particular section of Scripture is underscored when a particular word or idea appears at its beginning and at its conclusion. That signals the reader that everything in between those two markers is about a single idea. These bookends form what they call “inclusions.” 

Pull out a sanctuary Bible, please, and turn to page 825 and then look at 1 Thessalonians 4:3. We’re not going to look at the whole verse right now, just the pertinent start of it. It says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified…” 

Now, turn the page and look at a line that comes almost at the end of our second lesson for this morning, to chapter 5, verses 23. It says, in part, “May the God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through…”” 

So, the theme of this section of Paul’s first century letter to the Christians in the city of Thessalonica, including today’s second lesson is let God set you apart

Give God access to your heart, mind, and will so that He can make you over in Christ’s image. 

That’s God’s will for our lives, to make us more like the One Who died and rose to set us free from sin and death, set us free to be the people God had in mind when He formed us in our mothers’ wombs. 

We’re not supposed to look, act, sound like, or be like the rest of the world. We’re supposed to be set apart, different. 

In 1 Peter 2:11, we’re told, “ foreigners and exiles...abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” 

And in Romans 12:1-2, we’re told: “ view of God’s mercy...offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

It turns out that being open to the process by which God sets us apart from the world and makes us over into Christ’s image is precisely the way we prepare to meet Jesus

But what does that process look like? 

Please take a look at our lesson, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (page 826 in the sanctuary Bibles). Paul writes: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

Can you imagine anything harder than fulfilling the three imperatives that Paul gives in this one verse? 

"Rejoice always"? 

Even when the gift I’ve been unable to find at the first five stores also isn’t at the sixth? 

Even when my child is in the intensive care unit, his life hanging in the balance? 

Even when I’ve lost my wife or my husband? 

I think that we react in this way often because we don’t understand the difference between joy and happiness. (I know this is hard for me to remember!) 

Happiness is about the things that happen to us: We laugh at a joke, win the lottery, meet a friend. 

Joy is that deep in the bone sense of contentment that comes from knowing that because Jesus Christ died and rose and still lives and because I believe in Him, I have the forgiveness of my sins and life with God forever. 

Happiness happens to us because of our circumstances; joy is ours in spite of our circumstances. 

Joy can’t be taken from us even when we’re unhappy. (I have often found that an important truth to hold onto.)

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, for example, Paul talks about the difference between the grief of those who follow Christ and those who don’t: Those without Christ grieve with no hope; those who trust in Christ still grieve. It would be unnatural not to. But they have an eternity of hope. They have joy.

Back in our lesson, Paul says, to “pray continually.” (Some translations put it, "pray without ceasing.") 

I’d guess that in my years as a pastor, this is the passage about which I've gotten the second greatest number of questions. “‘Pray continually’ or ‘Pray without ceasing,’” someone will ask. “How on earth am I supposed to do that? Don’t I have other things to do in life?” 

Yes, you do. 

And so did Jesus. 

And it’s from Him that we can learn what this means. 

Jesus had intense times when He went off by Himself to pray, of course. 

He also prayed publicly with other people. 

But Jesus was also in continual fellowship with God the Father. In John 5:19, Jesus says of Himself, “...Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

Jesus remained prayerfully connected to God the Father all through His day. And if Jesus needed to pray constantly like this, how much more do we need to do the same thing? 

Trying to live the Christian life without the power God gives to us through prayer in Jesus’ Name is like trying to drive our cars without gas in the tank. It doesn’t work. 

The prayerless person simply isn’t prepared for the inevitable tough times of this life...or for the coming of Jesus. 

I once saw evangelist Billy Graham on a late night talk show. He amazed the host by saying that the whole time he was being interviewed, he was praying, asking God to help him say the right thing, to glorify God even in this interchange. That’s praying continually, even while hard at work.

Give thanks in all circumstances.” This passage has been the subject of maybe the greatest number of questions I've gotten as a pastor. 

It’s important to note that Paul says to pray in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Not all circumstances that come into our lives are blessings, you know. Evil things come from the devil, the world, and our sinful selves. Jesus makes clear that all disease is ultimately attributable to the devil. But even in the midst of life's difficulties, even horrors, we have reason to be thankful to a God Who understands us and has conquered for all eternity our enemies, sin and death.

An elderly man, deeply shaken by the death of his wife, told me that every night, amid tears of grief, he fell to his knees and thanked God for the years they’d had together and for the hope of eternity through Jesus Christ that they’d shared. Even in sadness, he was thankful and had God’s peace, what Paul calls elsewhere in the New Testament, a “peace which surpasses all understanding.”

Starting at verse 19 of our lesson, Paul continues: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all;hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” 

We live in a cynical time, a time too, in which people doubt the notion that there are any hard and fast truths. So, when people--even Christian people--hear others speaking in the Name of Jesus, claiming that what they say has the backing of God’s Word in Scripture, we tend to be cynical. We tend toward skepticism in the face of witnesses for Christ who display what one Bible scholar identifies as the key characteristics of John the Baptist: “public, certain, and humble.”

Part of our skepticism may be that we don’t know God’s Word well enough to know what “prophecies” spoken in Christ’s Name are true or false. 

A knowledge of God’s Word is just as important as prayer in helping us get through our days, living in hope, or anticipating the coming of Jesus. 

In fact, if prayer is conversation with God, reading and digesting God’s Word is essential to prayer. 

Our words of prayer to God are mere responses to the Word from God. 

We respond to its call to repent, to believe, to trust, to live in the assurance of His love, grace, and provision, to call on God and be saved, and to call on God in every time of need. 

When we know God’s Word, we grow up, no longer, in the words of Ephesians 4:14, “...infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” This is one reason why I hope that you’ll join the journey through the Bible in 2015.

Paul’s words for this morning end in a prayer. Verse 23: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 

May God grant these things to us as well. 

As we submit to God, allowing Him to set us apart and sanctify us, worship with His people, soak in His Word, thank Him in all circumstances, pray continually, and receive His body and blood, may you and I be ready to truly celebrate Christmas, be ready to meet our Lord face to face, be ready to face life and death and eternity. Amen