Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A summary of our Christmas Experience (video style)

Here's a video that my totally awesome wife made for our family and friends to recap the Guaranteed White Christmas event hosted by The Weather Channel at our house on Christmas day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year-End, New Year Inventory

  1. Am I submitting to, and finding joy in God's sovereignty over all things?
  2. What are the recent evidences of God's grace in my life?
  3. Do I have an accurate view of God?
  4. Do I have any temptations or sins that are sinking deep roots into me?
  5. How are my closest relationships?  With Ginny?  Our kids?  The Church Staff?
  6. How am I doing with "temple care"?  Health?  Sleep?  Diet?  Exercise?  Energy level?
  7. What am I "feeding" to my mind?
  8. How is my dominion over technology?
  9. How is my stewardship of what God has entrusted to me?
  10. Who has sinned against me and how am I responding?
  11. Who or what is "filling" me?
  12. Who or what is "draining" me?
  13. What am I doing to advance the kingdom of God on earth?
  14. How is my flesh getting in the way of being an effective witness of God's grace?
  15. Do I love people?
  16. Is there a spiritual discipline I need to employ or focus on more this coming year?
  17. What was the most significant thing I read this year?
  18. What was the most significant thing said to me this year?
  19. What was my most significant answered prayer this year?
  20. What is one thing I'd like to say about 2011 next December?
The first 15 questions were posed by my friend Chuck Thomas.  I added the last 5 because those are good questions for me.  Hope it's all helpful.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sermon Notes from 12.26.10

We did an abbreviated service this Sunday and here are the notes from the sermon.  You can find the notes and audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  I like to end each year with some teaching on prayer and an exhortation to it.  I hope, before God, that this stirred people to it.

Prayer 2010
Ephesians 6.17-18

The imperative:  take up the sword of the Spirit.
Take it up personally
  • Ask questions of the text that will help you live it out.

Take it up prayerfully
  • The Scriptures are inherently relational because they reveal God to us.
  • Fueling our prayers with Scriptures puts our eyes on God.
  • The promises in the Bible incite our prayers and affections.

Take it up missionally
  • Pray with a sense of the warfare around you.
  • Push your prayers outward – begin with you but end with something global.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

But He HAD to...

This is probably the last post before the awesome insanity of the Guaranteed White Christmas from The Weather Channel starts around here.  So, Merry Christmas everyone!

A question:  is there something God has to do?

If you're an aspiring theologian, you can probably name a few:  He has to be truthful, He has to be pure, etc.  If you're consumed by American idiocy clothed in religious clothes, you might say He has to bless you or He owes you a good life (you might not say it that way, but you might say it nonetheless).

Here's one that's probably not on your list:  He had to be made like His brothers in every way (Heb. 2.17).  That is, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity and God the Son, had to become like us - a human.  It's a beautiful little Christmas truth smack in the middle of Hebrews.

But why?  Why does God the Son have to become like us in every way?  The rest of the verse answers that question:  so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

Jesus had to take on humanity, becoming incarnate (literally "putting on flesh"), in order to be a high priest and make propitiation for our sin.  If He were not human, He would not be a merciful and faithful high priest.  He would be unable to sympathize with us in our temptations, struggles, pressings, tribulations, and even our tears.  But clearly He can (Heb. 4.15).  If He were only God, hovering above us, He couldn't identify with us.

But also He, as a human, can make propitiation for us.  That is, He can become the sacrifice that takes away God's wrath and gives us righteousness.  Gregory of Naziansus (c. 329-390) said it this way:  "What is not assumed cannot be saved."  In other words, if Jesus didn't become a human He wouldn't be able to save humans.  If He didn't have a human body, a human mind, a human will, a human heart, a human ____________, He couldn't save humans who have those same things.

So Christmas is about God's saving work.  Don't forget that.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Church is Family (or it ought to be)

I said this before I started the sermon this past Sunday, but I couldn't be prouder and more grateful for our church family at Heritage Park.  During the past week, they have done exactly what Romans 12.15 says to do:  rejoice with those who rejoice.

We have received emails, notes, calls, Facebook posts, and shouts down the hall of congratulations for winning the Guaranteed White Christmas from The Weather Channel.  Their excitement for us has blessed us tremendously and ratcheted up our excitement even more.  And for all those not a part of the Heritage Park family who have done the same, our gratitude to God for you too.

And that brings me to this brief reflection:  church is family or it should be.  Yes, we have a Kingdom to advance like an army - but we don't shoot our wounded because they slow us down.  Yes, we're parts of the body and function differently - but adding body parts doesn't really compute (and yes, I know it's a scriptural analogy).  I like and advocate for the idea of church as family because...

God is our Father
Families are committed to one another
Families welcome new members with celebration
Families advocate responsibility and chores
Families laugh...hopefully a lot
Families cry when appropriate
Families do hard times together
Families party together
Families have...unique...personalities in them (which makes them fun or at least memorable)
Families gather regularly

Can you add to the list?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sermon Notes from 12.19.10

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, December 19th.  I wrapped up the Christmas series from Romans 5.6-8 with some thoughts on God's love for us in Christ.  I didn't finish the sermon via the notes, going off the outline in the third portion, explaining the difference between what you hear and what's on the page.  As always, you can find these notes and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  May the Spirit shed abroad God's love in all our hearts.

Christmas 2010
Love – Romans 5.6-8

The reason why this is Xmas:  God’s love doesn’t come to us apart from Jesus Christ.

Sacrificial love
  • At the right time, Jesus Christ gave Himself for us. 
  • In light of who we are apart from Him, it was the right time.

Unique Love
  • Part of what makes His love unique is its prior nature.
  • Part of what makes His love unique is its affect – it frees us to love Him. 
  • We have never been loved like this.

Demonstrated Love
  • His love justifies – saving us from wrath.
  • His love reconciles – creating relationship with Him.
  • My perception of His love determines my perception of His pursuit.
  • My perception of His pursuit determines my perception of His love.
  • God leaves nothing to chance by demonstrating His love in Jesus and pursuing our hearts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What a day...

First, it was announced this morning that we won the Guaranteed White Christmas from The Weather Channel.  Then, we got a call at about 11am or so that our local NBC affiliate, KPRC, that the weather man, Frank Billingsley wanted to show Jack around and do a piece for the 5pm news.  Well, this is what happened...



Unbelievable news.  We won the Guaranteed White Christmas event with The Weather Channel.  They're going to bring a snow blower, a portable ice rink, and a bunch of other stuff to our house on Christmas.  They'll also broadcast their morning shows from our house.

Crazy stuff!

Here's the winning video created by my amazing wife...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What kind of love?

So this week, at least at Heritage Park, is the 4th week of Advent which is the week we focus on Love.  As I said in an earlier post, I'm not sure we do it in the order everyone else does, but it makes sense to us and so we stick with it.

Here is an insight I'm working on for Sunday.  There appears to be a pretty consistent cycle in my life and in the lives of many I know.  The two-pieces of the cycle are (1) whatever I think a person is after determines my perception of the kind of love that person has for me and (2) whatever kind of love a person has for me determines what I think that person is pursuing.

You easily see #2 on reality TV.  Which bachelor or bachelorette has taken the kind one over the hot one?  And to my knowledge, only one of those couples is still together.  And #1?  Look at any relationship (good or bad) between a teenager and parent.  If teens succeed in keeping in mind that parents want the best for them, their sense of love and acceptance makes them pick up the phone and call when they run the new car into the pole at the gas station.  If teens think parents want me not to be a screw up and embarrassment, they hide and hide everything:  blemishes, grades, sexual struggles, hurtful conversations, etc.

And here's the beautiful thing about God's love - He demonstrates it and it reveals what He's after.  His love shows up in the death and resurrection of His Son.  It's free, unconditional, unique and transformational.  And it shows that He's after the hearts of men and women everywhere, capturing their allegiance and affection.

Can't wait for Sunday to preach this.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I simply cannot improve on this...

FBC Dallas has a Grinch website set up for those companies who do not say, "Merry Christmas," but opt for the more PC, "Happy Holidays."  I'm sure this makes Jesus, who has something to do with Christmas, look great to those watching.  And I'm confident it reflects well upon the people who claim to follow Him.

Okay, enough sarcasm.  My friend Tommy Kidd has a great article on the founding fathers and Christmas.  He's excellent on historical perspectives on Christianity in the public sphere.  I can't improve on it so I'm putting it here (from www.patheos.com, posted in its entirety)...

Christmas in 1776           EVPT_ThomasSKidd_100.jpg

By Thomas S. Kidd
‘Tis the season to argue about religion. Or more specifically, to feud about whether to say Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings . . . to call it a Christmas Village or a Holiday Village . . . or to allow a crèche or menorah to stand on public property.
What would Americans at the time of the founding think about all this?
They would have been perplexed. Perplexed, first, at the ways that we fuss about the public role of religion. The Revolutionary era was shot through with public expressions of faith, from the days of prayer and fasting declared by presidents, to the chaplains employed by the Continental Congress and Washington's army, to the faith principles undergirding the Revolution itself, especially the notion that all men are created equal. The concept of a public square stripped of religion would have been deeply unfamiliar to Americans in 1776.
But they would also find our kind of Christmas strange, and probably unpleasant. We are constantly warned by the prophets of our age -- Charlie Brown and Snoopy chief among them -- that we should not become obsessed with commercialism at Christmas. Yet this is like warning fish about the pollution in water -- a world of consumption is what we Americans live and breathe in.
Christmas in 1776 was very different. One difference, of course, is that America was engaged in a terrible war with Britain. That is why George Washington and his army spent Christmas night of 1776 crossing the Delaware River through a blizzard of sleet -- to attack the Hessians at Trenton, New Jersey.
Wartime or not, Christmas was not a big public spectacle at the time of the Founding. One searches in vain through the newspapers and almanacs of the Revolutionary War period to find references to Christmas. It was almost never mentioned, even on December 25th itself. When it was, the holiday was usually only cited as a reference point. ("General Washington hopes that the war will be over by Christmas," and such.)
But let's not be romantic about their simple, subdued Christmas, either. One reason that Christmas was downplayed in the New England states is because the Puritan fathers had banned Christmas for much of the 17th century. This was not because they were killjoys, but because they did not see how the Bible taught a December Christmas. They believed that the festival of Christmas was invented by medieval Catholics -- and this, if you were a Puritan, was never a good thing.
You did see occasional evidence of commercialism in Revolutionary America, too, especially after the war was over. In the Christmas Eve edition of Rivington's New York Gazette for 1783, there was a screaming advertisement -- almost reminiscent of our "Black Friday" ads -- for "CHRISTMAS and NEW YEAR'S PRESENTS," which included gold and silver watches; goblets fit for drinking "Porter, Ales, Punch, Sangree" and other holiday beverages; and assortments of stockings that the merchant pronounced "Monstrous Cheap."
Christmas at the time of the founding -- for those who embraced it -- was mostly a family and church affair. Lauren Winner's delightful new book A Cheerful and Comfortable Faith shows how Christmas occurred naturally as a part of the household devotion of 18th-century Anglicans in Virginia. Wealthy families there often had sumptuous feasts. At one Christmas dinner, the menu of the Fairfax family included "six mince pies, seven custards, twelve tarts, one chicken pie, and four puddings." Twelfth Night, the evening signaling the end of the Christmas season, saw even bigger bashes, which could sometimes turn into drunken brawls. Devout Anglicans also made their way to church for the Sunday of Christmas week, where they would hear a special sermon on the incarnation and receive communion.
In modern America, outdoor nativity scenes and other Christmas displays became common after World War I, encouraged by the advent of electricity to light displays at night. Some of these displays ended up on government property, a circumstance that predictably elicited lawsuits by secularists. The first major lawsuit on this topic sought to remove a nativity scene from the White House Ellipse in 1969. A number of contradictory court decisions have followed, fostering annual feuding and court cases regarding Christmas or Hanukkah displays.
Americans of 1776 had no particular need for public manger scenes. Christmas, when observed, fit easily in the traditional rhythms of home and church life. Obviously, they had no secularists screeching for the removal of Baby Jesus from the public park, either. His image was not there in the first place, nor did it need to be. Their society was already pervasively religious, even though not every American was a saint. They lived in a serenely religious milieu that we can only approximate today. We certainly can't recreate it on today's fractious courthouse square.
Thankfully, believers can still foster an indisputably Christian Christmas in our homes and churches. I guess that is where Christmas is the most edifying anyway.

Thomas S. Kidd teaches history and is a Senior Fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion, and is the author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution (Basic Books, 2010). Follow his writings viaFacebook.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

We're not alone and not designed to be alone

Galatians 6.2:  Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

I could be the most pure-hearted, well-intentioned person and not be able to carry this out.  Why?  Because this is yet one more of these commandments in the NT that you simply cannot complete without others.  We're not hatched on a farm when we become followers of Jesus, we're born into His family with a Father and siblings.

I sat with a lady yesterday who's in the midst of marital trials.  She knew there was no magic pill and no formula to fix the situation.  But she had shared with her small group and was sharing with me for prayer support.  Her statement was, "I just needed to tell someone."

That's exactly right.  We weren't made to go it alone.  We weren't made to bear things by ourselves.  God gave us a family with Himself as our Father.  Sometimes hiding the issue seems like a better path for prideful or social or even spiritual reasons.  We weren't made to go it alone.  None of us were.

And so we prayed and I gently reminded her what I try to remind people in the midst of trial:  God is for you and God is with you.  That's true for you too.


Monday, December 13, 2010

The Power of Words (Spoken and Unspoken)

So I did some conversations yesterday that included people asking me some questions and me engaging the people and their questions.  They weren't tricky.  They weren't goofy.  They were questions that needed answers.

And I answered them.  And this morning I was wishing I answered them differently.

I didn't say anything bad.  But I could've been clearer.  I could've been more precise.  I could've been even more engaging.  I could've talked about myself less and Christ more.  I could've...

Yes, this was after a great morning of worship with God's people and a great message from God from His Word.  Yes, this was after a fitful and short night as most Saturday nights are.  Yes, we were up early and had plenty of distractions.  Yes, it was the afternoon and I was already exhausted and knew we had another event that evening.   Yes to all of that.

But I still wish I would've been clearer, more precise, more engaging.

And then I have to rest in the fact that God is in charge and He knows what He's doing and there are plenty of opportunities for Him to do what He desires without me.  I'm not His spokesman, communications director, pitch man, or press secretary.  I'm just a guy.  And this guy needs to be humbled and humble himself more often.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Post #250 - and appropriately a sermon...

Today's post is the 250th post on the blog.  Thanks for reading along.  Appropriately, the 250th post is a sermon post.  Here are the notes for this week's sermon.  As always, you can get the audio and notes in PDF at sermons.heritagepark.org.

Christmas 2010

Romans 5.2-5

Rejoice:  you’re under only grace
  • Some think God relates to them on the basis of their performance.
  • If you are in Christ, you are under grace and only grace. 
  • Anything and everything that comes to you is Father-filtered and for your good.
  • We have a bedrock of firm footing:  God is for us. 
  • The realm of grace reminds us this isn’t all there is, leading to joy in what will be. 

Rejoice:  your trials have purpose
  • Endurance – the ability to stick to something.
  • Character – tested, hammered, proven that glorifies Jesus.
  • Hope – the same hope for what will be.
  • No matter our trial or reason for it, God is with us. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Heisman (?)

So I'm not usually one to follow a ton of college football.  Being a Baylor graduate, our football season tends to be the warm-up for the sports in which we're actually competitive.  My standard response to the Aggies and Longhorns and others who are football crazies goes something like this:  "Well, basketball season's coming."  This year was wonderfully different and we're bowl bound while the Longhorns sit at home.

But this leads me to Cam Newton, the Auburn quarterback.  He's the hands down frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, the award given for the outstanding football player who exhibits excellence with integrity.

And here's my question:  if you were a Heisman voter, would you vote for him?

Excellence he has, no doubt.  28 passing TDs.  20 rushing TDs.  Even a receiving TD.  I think he threw the ball enough to get it past the moon or something and Auburn's the #1 school in the nation in the BCS polls.

But what about integrity?  He apparently has none.  There is at least one scandal surrounding him and his recruitment process and how much he knew and when he knew it, how much he took and when he accepted it.  It's Reggie Bush all over again.

But Reggie gave back his Heisman.

And so we're in this cultural melee where "excellence with integrity" means, apparently, not as much as it used to.  My guess is that he'll receive the Heisman.  And then about 3 years from now he'll have it stripped from him or have to return it (a la Mr. Bush).

And if so, then it's not just the kid from Auburn who has an integrity problem.  It's all those who voted for him.  And they represent what we'll accept in society.  And therein lies my issue.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Spiritual Junk Email

I was thinking about the continuance of spam email that comes into my inbox.  I get a lot - some of it true spam, some of it junk from people who can't resist the urge to forward without going to Snopes.com first.  And then I thought about the spiritual junk that comes into my life.

It comes from quips and quotes that have their place in culture but can't be found in the Bible.  Most famously:  "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps" becomes "God helps those who help themselves."  The problem isn't with the quotes necessarily, it's that sometimes I believe the lie within them.

It comes from pressures that I don't need and don't want but are there.  Seemingly, they deal a lot with children.  Are they good enough, smart enough, reading at a high enough level, popular enough, involved enough?  Though I'd like to pass it all off on children, those (and many other pressures) are mostly about me.

It comes from a pace that tries to sprint through a marathon.  Get here.  Get there.  And hurry!  The organizing principle of life actually becomes a calendar instead of the calendar reflecting the organizing principle of life.  Love shrivels and the demands get more frantic.

I have to delete spam in my inbox.  Probably need to do the same in my life.  And replace it with something worthwhile.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Hip Hip Hooray - it's Cast Off Day

The title of the blog was the song our youngest and I were singing on the way to Dallas this morning.  Why were we headed to Dallas?  Therein lies the point of this blog entry...

When we adopted our daughter, she was born with arthrogryposis, which is the technical name for bilateral wrist drop.  Essentially, her arms were down by her side in the womb and her hands formed bent both downward and outward.  She hasn't really missed a beat in life and can pretty much do whatever the stink she wants to do because she's determined (like her mom) and stubborn (like her dad).

But we live in a wrist-neutral world, so setting them to neutral was an option that we explored.  Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children came across our radar and we applied for their care.  They are a Masonic charity organization that cares for orthopedic cases in children up to 18.  And their care is stellar.  We have never been treated so well.

They have high-quality staff and volunteers there.  One thing that struck Ginny and me the first time we were there was the nature of the volunteers who were there.  Certainly there were older folks around.  But at night, it was almost exclusively young people - collegians and young professionals.  I even asked why one guy helped out.  His reply?  "Well, I was in the hospital a lot when I was a kid and I know what it's like.  So I come by to try to make a kid's day better."  He was 19.  I don't know many 19-year olds who think like that.  But every Friday, that guy is there.

Answering a brief objection:  you don't have to be a Mason or even agree with them to receive care from TSRHC.  But I am grateful that God used them to minister His mercy to my family.

If you're in the Dallas area, I encourage you to check them out.  They're a worthy charity.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quotable on Tuesday

I read this during my study for the retreat I did over Thanksgiving weekend.  It's been with me a while and I figured it's a good time to roll it out.  O, for more God-knowers with pens like this...

A.W. Tozer on the Holiness of God

...A new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in.  We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of.  God's holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered.  We know nothing like the divine holiness.  It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable.  The natural man is blind to it.  He may fear God's power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.

I'm with Tozer here.  Nothing in our concept of God would dream up holiness.  And yet our hearts long for something "other."  Therein is the deep calling to deep.  We were made for admiring the beauty of holiness and worshipping the Holy One, yet sin twists our minds so that we would never create it on our own.  But it's there, built into our imago Dei and reflected in the yearnings and desires of our hearts that we may only sense when it's very still and the only thing moving at 3am is the ceiling fan.

But that's just me (and Tozer) thinking thoughts...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Spending, Wisdom, and a Small Insect

So I'm reading through the book of Proverbs right now, trying to live in the wisdom that it espouses.  At least once a year, I read through the book, one chapter per day for 31 days.  It's a practice I encourage you to adopt.  There are so many gems in here.

So on to today's reflection.  In 6.1-11, Solomon contrasts two very different financial situations.  They apply both to individuals and to nations (Congress, are you listening?).

The first person is the person who has pledged his goods to his neighbor to buy something he wants now.  I'm sure none of us are in that situation (to MasterCard or AmEx or the next generation...).  Wisdom says to run to the neighbor and work it out right then and to do so with intensity:  like a gazelle caught by a hunter and trying to get away and flee.  Dave Ramsey's "gazelle-like intensity" comes from 6.5.

In light of our Christmas and Congressional spending as of late, sounds like a good reminder.  Admittedly, our family is not a "no credit and no credit card" kind of family like Mr. Ramsey.  But we can write a check for every expenditure.

The second example is the Ant.  She works hard.  She saves.  She plans ahead.  She has plenty when it gets bad and plenty when it is good, though (honestly) probably not as much as others have when it's good because she's always putting away from when it's bad - and it inevitably gets bad.  The sluggard, in contrast, merely wants to nap.  But when snoozing, poverty and want come along and commit robbery.

Which do you want to be?  And equally as important:  how are you going to get there?  What practices do you need to change to get there?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 12.5.10

Here are the sermon notes from 12.5.  As always, you can find the notes in PDF and the sermon audio at sermons.heritagepark.org.  In this particular sermon on the Advent theme of peace, I tried to tie the cross to the incarnation.  May God grant us ears to hear and courage to obey.  Amen.

Christmas 2010
Peace – Romans 5.1

What does God give?
  • Peace = wholeness (shalom)

Why does God give peace?
  • Spiritual Fracture:  with God.
  • Relationship Fracture:  with others.
  • Nature Fracture:  with the world around us.

How does He give peace?
  • It is not by our earning peace.
  • Our best, most perfect efforts would only balance the scales.
  • Peace comes by righteousness that is ours by confidence in Jesus Christ.

Isn’t this Christmas?
  • Jesus had to become fully human for us to be saved (Heb. 2.17).
  • Gregory of Nazianzus:  What is not assumed cannot be saved.
  • The incarnation is essential to His saving work.

Friday, December 3, 2010

You probably have seen this...

So you've probably been passed this email or have seen it on Facebook or YouTube.  However, it's the Christmas season and I absolutely LOVE the Hallelujah Chorus.  And I love that, whether or not these folks are people of faith in Christ, they proclaimed incredible Truth at a food court in a mall, right beside a #1 with cheese and no tomatoes with fries for the side and a Dr. Pepper to drink...

Thursday, December 2, 2010


This is the second week of Advent.  I'm not sure we, as a church, do it in the order that everyone else does.  But this week is the week we think about Peace.

I have done a lot of thinking about peace this week for various reasons (not the least of which is I get to preach about it on Sunday).  God brings us His peace - shalom - wholeness and does so through Jesus Christ.

Why do we need it?

The answer (and a preview for Sunday's sermon) is clear:  we have no peace - shalom - wholeness.  We have brokenness.  There is the fracture of our relationship with God because of sin.  There is the brokenness in our relationship with one another.  And there is the cracked relationship between us and the rest of Creation.

Brokenness is everywhere.  So God brings peace - shalom - wholeness.  Right in the midst of the ugliness is this beautiful thought.

Enjoy that this week as we head toward Sunday.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

After such a crazy fall, I can tell you I'm ready for Christmas season.  One thing I'm noticing in my own heart after such a long couple of months is a tendency toward apathy.  I guess being tired can bring that kind of response.

Going to war for my own heart and joy includes hearing this morning from Solomon in the book of Proverbs.  "Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and have their fill of their own devices.  For the simple are killed by their turning away and the complacency of fools destroys them" (Proverbs 1.29-32 ESV, emphasis mine).

Did you see what I saw?  Apathy (complacency in the text above) destroys.  Turning away from the Lord, even by not pursuing Him, means that same Lord will let us have what we want - the fruit of our ways, the fill of our own devices.  Romans 1 has a lot to say about that.

So this is an exhortation to me and you and everyone else:  stay in the fight.

Christ is worth it.  He's the greatest treasure anyone could find.  His passion for us is not waned by our passion for Him or lack thereof.  His love has not stopped flowing toward us freely and fully.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Testament Tuesday: A Pitch for Pine Cove

Our family just returned from Pine Cove at Crier Creek.  I was preaching at their Thanksgiving weekend family retreat.  We heard about Pine Cove 5 years ago and have been involved with them for 4.  Every summer, our family spends a week with them in their Family Camp ministry.  It's worth every dollar and every day off.

At Family Camp, we have great Bible study led by high-caliber speakers.  Our kids have great fun and receive great encouragement from high-caliber counselors.  And we all have high-caliber fun on horses, zip lines, paddle boats, and other adventures.  It's a full week long (Sunday afternoon to Saturday morning) and while there, you don't touch a plate, a glass, or laundry.  They take care of everything.  Did I mention the high-caliber college students that are there, playing with your kids, spending time with your family, helping in the most servant-hearted ways, and generally wanting to make you take a few home with you when you leave?

The one thing that I personally love about Family Camp is the time it creates.  My wife and I have at least one year-shaping conversation while there.  That conversation is never planned - it just happens because we have time to sit and talk and think and reflect and be grateful and rest and reconnect and refresh ourselves from the well of togetherness.  Quality time happens in the midst of quantity time.  Family Camp helps us get plenty of both.

And throughout the year, Pine Cove hosts various conferences at their camps (located in Tyler and Columbus, Texas).  They do dad-son, dad-daughter, mother-daughter, mother-son, marriage, scrapbooking, holiday (like Labor Day or Thanksgiving or New Year's), men's, and women's retreats.  I probably missed a few too.  Outstanding folks put on great retreats with some of the same things as summer but not as intense.

This Thanksgiving retreat is the culmination of about three years' prayer.  We have asked the Lord for a way to give back to this ministry that has meant so much to us and this was the way He saw fit to answer.  I tell you that to say that we are connected with them far more on the receiving end than on the giving end and I'd be making this pitch if I never had preached for them or don't ever again.  We believe in them that much.

One quick note:  they're not the cheapest camp, it's true.  But they are by far the best I have experienced and I know they have helped folks out who needed payment options (me included).  There are other great camps out there, I know that (especially for the kids).  But if we had one week of vacation a year, we'd spend it at Family Camp.  Yes, it really is worth it.

But all of this explaining can't hold a candle to experiencing it.  I encourage you, dear reader, to check it out.  Just click here:  www.pinecove.com.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Ode to the Country Sky

We were out in the middle of the country in Central Texas over Thanksgiving weekend (more on that tomorrow).  Walking around without a flashlight in the middle of a field with a moonless and cloudless sky, my middle son unleashed this beautiful piece of poetry and thanksgiving to God, with that cool little 5-year old lilt in his voice:

"Daddy, we don't have this many stars in Houston, right?"

Enough said.  I'm grateful to a God who creates majestic skies that pulse with His glory (Psalm 19.1).

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Friday, November 26, 2010

NT75 Day 75! Revelation 19-22

You made it!  Congratulations!

I remember from yesterday's reading the wailing and weeping over the great city, Babylon, and how it had fallen (ch. 18).  And today, we see a lot of new city, better city, heavenly city.  The old had to go so the new could come.

And so it is with the rest of our spiritual lives.  And the truth is, the old wasn't all that great anyway.  The old city was filled with immorality and darkness and blasphemies.  The old man was too.  The new city comes full of glory and goodness and light.  The new man is a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5.17).

I hope these last 75 days have put it in your heart to stay rooted in the Scriptures.  Now you can take the next weeks and go back over, more slowly, passages that spoke to you, confused you, or convicted you.

Whatever you do, stay in the Word.  Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

NT75 Day 74: Revelation 15-18

My wife comes in, asks me what I'm doing, and hears this in reply:  "I'm reading Revelation for today's reading.  It's crazy stuff."

She responds:  "What part of Revelation isn't crazy stuff?"

Me:  "Good point."

All the pouring out or wrath-filled bowls on the earth, releasing plagues in Exodus-like manner, makes for quite the imagination as I'm taking in the words.  The part that got me was in 16.9 and 16.11, the people who received the wrath "did not repent and give Him glory."  Their hearts were so hardened and so calloused that they would not turn to God for mercy.  They were so darkened and so blistered by their sin that what should have been repentance was actually more sin - cursing God, hating God, blaspheming.

And right there is today's Trent moment.  How many times have I received the discipline of the Lord as punishment instead of love?  How many times has my first response been to get frustrated with my Maker instead of trust Him, especially when things don't go like I think they should.  So I continue to wrestle with my own heart.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NT75 Day 73: Revelation 10-14

Lots of symbolism (and confusing images) in today's reading.  Here was my takeaway.

The seventh trumpet blows and loud voices from heaven thunder:  "The kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (11.15).  First of all, I love Handel's Messiah and in particular the Hallelujah Chorus.  You'll note, if you're familiar with the lyrics to that song, that Revelation 11.15 was the inspiration for it.  Very cool.

But for me, I noticed the certainty of it.  There is no question in the statement.  There is no room for doubt. It's a very clear statement of victory.

Which leads me to the next bit.  The Accuser, Satan, is thrown down, having been conquered by the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony of those who follow the Lamb, those who didn't love their lives even unto death (meaning they loved Jesus more than breathing).  Again, certain victory even for those who died.  They may kill the body but they will not kill the person nor severe his or her relationship with Christ.  Victory.

And then the last piece:  perseverance as a result of certain victory.  In 13.10 and 14.12, John clearly states that this is a call for the perseverance of the saints.  It would be easy to turn away from Christ when times got hard in following Him.  It would be easy to turn away from Christ when others, especially loved ones, are following someone else.  It would be easy to turn away from Christ when it appears those not following are prospering and "really living" while those who remain faithful are struggling, hurting, oppressed, persecuted, and martyred.

But certain victory makes perseverance worth it.  And that urges me on to faithfulness and stick-to-it-ness with Christ.  I hope it does you too.  Amen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NT75 Day 72: Revelation 6-9

There are lots of things in Revelation I don't understand, so the next few days ought to be interesting to try to blog it.  Confession time:  I don't preach much from Revelation, in fact, hardly at all.  When I do, it's about worship from Revelation 4-5 or heaven from 19-22.  I guess I'm saying that to say this:  if you're confused about how things are happening or even what's happening in the texts you read, you're not alone.

In 6.9-11, we see the 5th seal opened and martyrs under the throne of God.  A couple of thoughts...

First, people in heaven seem to know what's happening on the earth.  The martyrs cry out for God to avenge their blood, which means they know it hasn't been set right yet.  So those country songs about holes in the floor of heaven and doors being left open have at least some ring of truth to them.

Second, and more poignant to me, is God's reply.  He tells them to hang in there, because their number isn't complete yet.  Read that again:  all the martyrs aren't there yet.  That says a lot.  It says that there is still serious ministry to be done that will cost some (if not many) their lives.  It says that there are things more valuable than staying alive - God is going to allow more of His witnesses to die at the hands of evil men because the Gospel is worth more than life.  It says that there will be a day of vengeance and victory for the Lord, who will right every wrong with justice.  Powerful stuff.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

P.S.  If you have questions along the way about Revelation, please feel free to ask.  I probably don't know the answer, but I'm willing to do some work to find out :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

NT75 Day 71: Revelation 1-5

In chapters 2 and 3 of today's reading, Jesus through John gives letters to seven churches in Asia Minor (now modern day Turkey).  Some have taken them as seven periods of church history.  Some have taken them with other meanings.  But first and foremost, they were letters to seven churches in Asia Minor.  Churches are made up of people, which is where I can personalize today's reading and let God speak to me as He spoke to them.

Have I lost the first love I had for Christ, the kind of fervor, zeal, and commitment that marks the beginning of relationships?  If so, I need to remember what it's like, repent of my hard-heartedness, and do the works I did at first (2.5).

Am I facing fear head on in light of what is coming?  If so, I can stand confident in what God has promised and who He has made me to be (2.10).

Do I tolerate bad sources of input in my life?  Do I find things entertaining that shouldn't be?  Repentance is my appropriate response if so (2.14-16).

Is there sin in my life that I just like having around, even though God has shown it to me faithfully and consistently?  It's like a pet copperhead - it's only a matter of time before it gets me.  I need God to do some severe work!  (2.20-22).

Are all my acts of righteousness one big act?  Am I alive on the outside but dead on the inside, a white-washed tomb like the Pharisees?  I must remember and repent (3.1-3).

Am I walking through trial, successfully and faithfully navigating the waters while clinging to Jesus?  If so, I can hear His commendation and exhortation to stay faithful (3.11).

Do I have "God and" Syndrome?  Do I add something to God or God to something, as if He's a secret ingredient?  Have I mixed my relationship with God and something else from the world?  I think I'm rich, but I'm poor!  I need to be zealous and repent (3.19).

How about you?  Where do those letters land on you?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NT75 Day 69: 2 Thessalonians

This little power-packed letter spends a lot of time talking about the end times and bringing encouragement for them.  I don't know how much you thought about the end of the world today, but remember that persecution and injustice tend to bring that longing into the forefront pretty quickly.  Be encouraged:  the Lord Jesus will kill the lawless one with the breath of His mouth and bring him to nothing by the appearance of His coming (2.8).  Bottom line?  Jesus wins.  Amen.

But some, in the name of waiting on the Lord Jesus to return, stayed idle and lived off others.  Call them moochers.  Call them lazy.  But whatever you do, call them sinful.

Paul didn't tolerate the over-spiritualized yet underworked.  Sitting around and waiting for Jesus to return while living off the hard work of others is sin.  It still happens today in one way or another.

So the Holy Spirit, through Paul, drops the hammer:  if you are not willing to work, you shouldn't eat.

It's not that you can't find work and need a hand.  It's not that you're unable to work because of a physical ailment or situation.  It's the person who's lazy.  Therein lies both compassion and responsibility.  Seems like a pretty good balance to me.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Friday, November 19, 2010

NT75 Day 68: 1 Thessalonians

There's a difference between preaching and pastoring.  Pastoring does (and should!) contain preaching, but it's more than that.

Paul says as much in 2.8, noting his band of ministers were not only ready to share the gospel with the people of Thessalonica, but also their very selves.  And there's the difference.

You can show up on Sundays and preach.  Killer illustrations.  Powerful arguments.  Careful exegesis.  People can be moved by the Spirit in a genuine work of the Kingdom of God.  But pastoring is more than that.  Pastoring also involves knowing the people, their fears, struggles, hopes, habits, tears, laughs, and idols.

The real temptation right now is for you, dear reader, to think about your pastor/preacher.  Wrong.  You have to think about YOU.  Are you the kind of person, called into ministry by God to your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, who shares not just a message but life.  YOU know their fears, struggles, hopes, habits, tears, laughs, and idols.  YOU love those around you with the message of the Gospel as well as with practical acts of service.

You are called to minister.  What kind of ministry will you do?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NT75 Day 67: Romans 12-16

We're under 10 days to go!  Stay with it!

Have you thought much about your rights as of late?  We voted a couple of weeks ago.  That was our right according to the Constitution of the United States.  When in England, I had several discussions about the rights of individuals to bear arms and the right of the government to capital punishment.  But in today's reading, I was struck about just how little rights play into life in the Kingdom.

Consider 13.14:  put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.

It might be my right to have cable television and internet.  But in order to make no provision for the flesh, I might not have those at all or not have premium channels or put on internet accountability software because I know my heart is inclined to lust.  It might be my right to own what I desire and can afford.  But in order to make no provision for the flesh, I might budget my expenditures and give away more to worthy causes than others do because I know my heart is inclined to greed.  On and on we could go.  It might be my right, but it doesn't make it right.

If I could give you one thing to think about for your spiritual health today, it would be that phrase:  make no provision for the flesh.

But the rights aren't limited to my own heart - they also extend outwardly.  That's the whole message of 14.1-15.7.  Paul advocates the laying down of rights for the sake of the conscience of others.  That's a foreign concept to most westerners, particularly Americans.  But we're no longer just westerners or just Americans.  We're also Kingdom citizens who have a responsibility to the King and to others in the Kingdom.

Take the use of alcohol.  Is it okay, for instance, to drink wine with a meal?  You bet.  In England last week, several of our Christian, God-loving, Jesus-following, Spirit-filled hosts had wine and beer in their homes.  I know all the Baptists just gasped, but breathe deeply and hang in there.  My hosts in particular specifically asked me on the ride from the train station to their house, "I don't really know how to approach this, but are you a teetotaler?"  They indicated that if I was, they'd be happy to put away all the alcohol from their house.  That's loving and gentle and kindness and Kingdom.  That's the way it should be.

Remember:  just because it's my right doesn't make it right.  The Kingdom matters far more than any individual's claim.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NT75 Day 66: Romans 9-11

Welcome, one and all, to one of the more difficult sections in the entire NT.

This passage is rife with controversy for some and confusion for many.  In an overly simplified, macro-level, bird's eye view (I'm trying to qualify this as much as possible), let me offer a brief chapter summary.  Chapter 9 reckons with the doctrine of election, specifically of individuals like you and me, and answers objections to that doctrine.  Chapter 11 has the same doctrine of election in view, but its content is dealing with the people of Israel as a nation and whether or not God had rejected them.  Chapter 10 sits in the middle with statements about faith and responsibility.

And that's where I want to focus.  I love the doctrine of election.  It's a precious truth to me that God is the One who chose me and set His love upon me freely and unconditionally before I did anything good or bad, making provision for me through Jesus Christ.  It glorifies God for mercy since I did nothing to earn His attention or affection.  It's pastorally helpful because I can look at the proud and challenge them and also look at the downtrodden and encourage them.  All in all, it makes God look big and beautiful and me look small yet valued.  That seems like the way it ought to be.

But some take the doctrine of election to an unbiblical extreme and, in ministry theory and practice, elevate it as the end-all and be-all of salvation.  As a corrective:  the CROSS AND EMPTY TOMB is the end-all and be-all of salvation.  And yes, I did say "is" because the Scripture speaks of the two events as one.

And this is where Romans 10 comes in.  No biblical doctrine of salvation is complete without a necessitated human response.  In other words, God clearly works through means to accomplish His purposes.  How is the message of the cross and empty tomb heard?  It is heard through the preaching of God's Word.  Who preaches?  Not an angel from heaven (most of the time), but a human messenger who bears witness to the truth of it as well as the truth of it in his or her life.  Through that witness, God brings light to darkened eyes so that the most rational and appropriate response by the hearer is to repent and put confidence in Christ's work at the cross and empty tomb.  When hearers do so, God saves them.

There is human action and responsibility all over Romans 10.  And I love that God plunked it down in the middle of two chapters on election.  And I love when people take up the responsibility to witness and minister in Jesus' name.  And I love when God, through their witness, saves people.

The question for you and me is this:  to whom do we need to carry the message today?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NT75 Day 65: Romans 5-8

I saw something this morning that I've never seen before.  I'm still working it out in my mind, so this blog entry will be as much me quite literally thinking thoughts as it will trying to say something or teach.  Here's what I saw...

In Romans 5.2, Paul speaks of boasting (rejoicing, praising, etc.) in hope of the glory of God.  Because of peace with God and access to grace (v.1 and first part of v.2), Paul boasts in hope of the glory of God.  What does it mean to rejoice in hope?  I think it's probably something like rejoicing in the certainty of an event that hasn't happened yet.

I remember my friend Steve and his wife Cindy sitting in our living room when Baylor won the women's national championship in basketball.  Steve blurted out, with a huge smile on his face, that he couldn't believe that we were going to win it.  This was with about 5 minutes left and Baylor was up something like 20 points.  That feels like rejoicing in hope.

Here's the connection I hadn't made before, though.  Paul also boasts/rejoices in sufferings because they bring about perseverance, which yields proven character, whose product is...hope.

And I think it's the same hope that he is referring to in v.2.  I think it's hope in the glory of God.  I think I had always put the hope in v.4-5 in a different category.  Hope that God is working through suffering.  Hope that God is producing character.  Hope that God will not forsake me in hard times.  I think instead Paul is writing about this hope as hope in the glory of God.  The suffering I endure will actually increase the acuteness of hope in the glory of God.  This seems to be the driving force behind Bunyan and Bonhoeffer and thousands of other saints through the ages who have struggled and suffered and maintained hope in the glory of God.  Bunyan even blessed the prison that held him for helping him see God.

Maybe that's because Bunyan's hope doesn't disappoint, because God has poured out His love in his heart by the Holy Spirit (v.5).

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, November 15, 2010

NT75 Day 64: Romans 1-4

This week, we'll cover the letter to the Romans and then both letters to the Thessalonians.  Romans is the most theological of all the letters of Paul but is written with his mission and desire to get to Spain in mind.  The Thessalonian letters carry some practical exhortations as well as Paul thinking about eschatology, a big word meaning what happens in the end times.

Today's reading contains what some have called the most important paragraph in the Bible.  After a brief explanation, you might agree.  And before some get their dander up, what's not being said is that the others aren't more important.  But in light of understanding the major thrust of the NT especially, this is one place to turn and get it succinctly and powerfully.

God's righteousness has come to us apart from the Law, though the Law and Prophets speak of it (v.21).  This is good news because both Jew (Law-oriented) and Gentile (no Law) are sinners (v.23) but can be made righteous apart from the Law through confidence in Jesus Christ.

This is possible because God put forth Jesus as the propitiation for sin (v.25).  Propitiation is a huge Bible word that means a sacrifice that pays for sin and placates God's wrath against sin.  So when Jesus died, He died in my place with my sin (2 Cor. 5.21 and 1 Peter 2.24).  His death counts for mine.  His resurrection is mine too.  I am no longer under God's wrath but under grace because my confidence (faith!) in Jesus Christ means God counts Jesus' obedience as mine, His sacrifice as a payment for my sin, His offering of His life as the placation of God's wrath against my sin, and His right-standing with God as my own.

In this way, God is both just - because He punished sin - and the justifier of the person who has confidence in Christ (v.26).

It's powerful.  It's succinct.  And it's probably as much a revelation of God's heart as anywhere in the NT - the place where His love is demonstrated and His righteousness defended.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sermon Notes from Sunday 11.14.10

Here are the notes from the sermon on 11.14 where we covered the story of the Rich Young Man in Mark 10.17-31.  To find the sermon audio and these notes in PDF, please visit sermons.heritagepark.org.

Jesus and the Rich Guy
Mark 10.17-31

Come to God (v.17)
  • When you come, come with humility.
  • When you come, come with the right questions.

Be Open to God
  • Expect Him to test your understanding (v.18-20).   
  • Expect Him to pursue your heart (v.21-22).
  • Expect Him to challenge your assumptions (v.23-27).
  • Expect Him to continually ask more of you. 

Receive from God
  • His goodness surprises us.
  • His love liberates us (v.21).
  • He offers reward to us (v.28-31).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NT75 Day 62: John 18-21

There was a song by an older Christian artist named Steve Camp called For Every Time.  It is a meditation set to music on John 21, in particular Jesus' interaction with Peter where He asks Peter about love in their relationship.  "Do you love me?"  Three times.  Peter responds each time, but each time he seems to be more frustrated.

The line in the song says, "For every time we've broken His heart..."

Three denials by Peter when it could have been costly, could have been a witness, or could have been faithfulness on display.  Three denials.

And three questions, each with the same content.  Three times Jesus pursues Peter.  Three times Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to affirm their relationship.

For every time we've broken His heart...

And then I think about Colossians 2.13-14, where Paul describes the beautiful truth of forgiveness for all our sins.  For every time we've broken His heart, we have provision through the cross of Christ.  Amen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

NT75 Day 61: John 13-17

One of the things that strikes me in today's reading is the breadth of the teaching of Jesus in these chapters. If you will allow the analogy, herein is the commencement address to His followers whom He will be leaving via the cross, resurrection and ascension.  What would be the last thing you say to your guys before the snowball starts rolling down the hill?

A reminder of how we are to treat one another, shown by Jesus and taught by Him (John 13).

An understanding of the importance of obedience to Him, even in His absence, so we don't confuse mushy experience-driven emotion with true love for Christ and the Father (John 14).

A powerful picture of what life after Jesus' ascension will look like, particularly about how dependent on Him we will remain if we want to do anything worthwhile (John 15).

A moving and challenging instruction on the nature and role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers as well as the watching world, appropriately coupled with the exhortation to pray and ask for things from the Father in the name of Christ (John 16).

A prayer for Himself, His apostles, and His followers (yes, even us!) as He readies to endure the cross and despise its shame before claiming victory over our greatest foes, sin and death (John 17).


But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NT75 Day 60: John 11-12

Lazarus comes back from the dead at the command of Jesus.  There are plenty of people surrounding that are stunned.  There are two sisters who believe.  There is a Savior who makes it all happen despite the objections.  He comes out of the grave with his heart beating, his brain functioning, his stomach gurgling for food, his muscles carrying his body to the entrance.  He is fully alive.

Yet in grave clothes.

And so begins the process of undoing them.  So it is with us.  The process called sanctification is the process of undoing the death of sin on us under the power and instruction of Jesus until we live in the freedom that He purchased for us.  True, in this life it won't ever be perfect, but He is readying us for the full expression of His Kingdom.

So the question for you and me is what our particular grave clothes are, sins and habits that reek of death yet are still present.  And how, under Jesus instruction and power, are we to rid ourselves of those?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

NT75 Day 59: John 7-10

A little late on posting today, but it's been a full day.  Apologies to all three of you who hoped for something earlier...

John Newton wrote in his hymn Amazing Grace these immortal words:  I was blind but now I see.  They come straight from today's reading.  In John 9, the blind man is made to see by Jesus.  The dispute that follows shows just how hard-hearted the Pharisees were and just how alone the healed man was.  Even his parents threw him under the bus because of fear.

But the guy reported what he knew:  he was blind but now could see.

Two very brief reflections on this:  first, that telling our story is a huge part of living life with Jesus.  Whenever we get opportunities and whenever we can make opportunities, we need to tell the story of Jesus' work in our lives.  That also means it needs to be updated enough to have something to say - that He actually needs to be active in our lives.

Second, that telling our story, as powerful as it is, will not convince everyone.  Some people are hard-hearted and determined to go their own way.  My story, though told, won't change their direction.  Tell it anyway.  The goal isn't to convince someone but to glorify Jesus through the testimony you give.  If they seek to follow Him too, all the better.  Tell it anyway.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NT75 Day 58: John 4-6 and Testament Tuesday!

Two things strike me out of today's reading.

The first relates to Jesus' words about God's Word.  We're in the midst of the NT75 Challenge, so it's worth hearing.  In 5.39, Jesus reminds people that life is not found in the words of the Scriptures but in Him.  I have to be really careful clarifying that, so let me make a run at it.  Life is found in Christ.  Christ is found in the Scriptures.  But a dead study that leads to nothing but textual knowledge does not lead to life.  The whole point of the Scriptures being "living and breathing" (Heb. 4.12) is that God is alive in the words.  We have to look into the actual letters on the page to see the God who walks among them.  Therein is life - in that relationship to God, the God revealed in the Scriptures.

The second thing was Jesus using present tense verbs in chapter 6 about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  No, He's not a cannibal.  He's a Savior who was trying to get people ready to see what was down the road at the cross.  Through trust in Him and His sacrifice, we have life.

And that leads me to Testament Tuesday.

I have had the amazing opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus a lot this week.  Several people have heard the story of Christ and His sacrifice for them, displaying God's righteousness and demonstrating His love.  All but one have moved closer to the Kingdom, some even coming back with more questions later.

I say that to say that the Gospel really is the power of God unto salvation.  I can't wait to see what all He does.  Amen!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NT75 Day 57: John 1-3

Perspective matters, especially when you're dealing with God and life with God.  The prophet John had it and was clear about it.  It's one of the things that made his ministry so powerful.

In chapter 3, John expresses this again (having already done so in chapter 1).  He clearly states he is not the Christ.  He clearly states that as Jesus comes baptizing, that means John's ministry is fulfilled.  He compares himself to the best man at a wedding:  never the center of attention but one who is there for the groom.

This kind of perspective is what gives life to this utterance:  He must increase and I must decrease (3.30).  That's the way I want to live my life.  That's the way I want every sphere of my life to go.  He must increase and I must decrease in my heart, my marriage, my parenting, my ministry, my friendships, my errand-running, my work habits, my exercise...everything.

Father, may it be so in my life today.  May Jesus increase and I decrease.  Amen.

As a brief side note, John the Baptist is not the same guy who wrote the Gospel of John.  The author of the Gospel was a follower of Jesus and later an Apostle.  Same name, two different guys.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NT75 Day 55: Titus

For any and all who might have thought that grace was merely forgiveness, today's reading corrects it.

And, honestly, you're probably not to blame for this misconception.  A lot of preachers and teachers talk about grace in the context of forgiveness and never another context.  They talk about grace and the cross and forgiveness.  That's GOOD.  We need more cross, not less.

But it's not the whole story.

Grace is more than forgiveness - not less than that, but more.  In Titus, Paul says grace...

  • Brings salvation for all people (those who trust Christ are indeed saved!  CROSS!)
  • Trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions
  • Trains us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives today
  • Prompts in us longings for the appearing of Jesus
I see forgiveness there.  I really do.  But I see a lot more than that.  Dallas Willard, a literary hero of mine, says that grace is help.  It's God's ability at the point of my inability.  I can't get forgiveness from God for my sin - GRACE.  I can't live the life I want to live that's holy and righteous - GRACE.  I can't say no to sin on my own - GRACE.

You get the idea?  

So the question I hope you're asking is how you get in on that grace?  The answer is the same for all in every circumstance:  by faith.  Confidence in Christ leads to His release of help to us.

So wherever you are, trust Him today.  Don't just trust Him for eternity (though certainly do that too), trust Him for everything.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Friday, November 5, 2010

NT75 Day 54: 2 Timothy

I've read this book several times before.  Each time, this particular part creeps me out:

Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.

Demas left Paul.  He was in his cadre, served alongside him as a fellow-worker in the Gospel effort.  Demas only gets three verses of press and the other two talk about his being with Paul in the work of the Gospel.  And then this bombshell.

He loved this present world.

He has deserted me.

Certainly we've all felt the pain of desertion (or we probably will).  For instance, divorce is desertion.  Or a friendship that led to a business partnership dissolved when the economy got tough.  Now your families don't even speak, much less vacation together.  Or folks you were tight with at church decide their needs aren't getting met and head across town.  On and on we could go.  I guess this verse in 2 Timothy haunts me for Paul's sake.

But it also haunts me for mine.  Demas didn't just desert Paul.  He deserted the Gospel work.  That's the part that really gets me.  He turned his back on ministry.  I've seen folks leave burned or bruised.  But Demas left for a different reason:  he loved this present world.  He wasn't willing to suffer for the Gospel.  Ease over Truth.  Compromise, not righteousness.

I don't want to be that guy.

But that's just me thinking thoughts (and saying prayers for perseverance in the work)...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NT75 Day 53: 1 Timothy 4-6

Discipline in the Christian life isn't optional - it's crucial.

Paul's words, inspired by the Spirit of God, to his protege' ring amazingly true in the me-orientied society in which we live.  Bodily discipline is profitable, but for this life only.  Godliness is profitable for this life and the life to come.  Mr. P90X and Mr. ShakeWeight don't tell you that.  24 Hour Fitness doesn't have that as their slogan.  Heck, even the YMC(Christian!)A doesn't frame it up that way.

So what if you spent as much time on your spiritual health as you did on your physical health?

Focusing on spiritual health and discipline doesn't rule out physical exertion and discipline.  In fact, if we were more spiritually disciplined we'd probably eat better too (ouch!).  But Paul reminds us that focusing on this life and body is an effort in vain.  Death comes calling to everyone.  Godliness helps us in this life and readies us for the life to come.

One quick application for those tracking along with our NT75 Challenge:  we're at the point where you might be so behind or have missed so many that you don't feel like it's worth it to hang in there.  But stay with it.  Discipline yourself to make time to read.  Discipline yourself to find a verse or thought that you chew on throughout the day.  Discipline yourself to mull it over and talk with your spouse, kids or friends about it.  You can do it!  And it's worth it.

Godliness profits us in this life and the life to come.

But that's just me thinking thoughts... (and being convicted)