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)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NT75 Day 52: 1 Timothy 1-3

Leadership is about character first and foremost.

Last night was interesting to watch unfold on TV.  For those of you asleep under a rock, the first Tuesday of November is election day in America and yesterday produced a much-debated result.  The Republican party took back the US House of Representatives while the Democratic party held on to their control in the US Senate.  Whatever any of this means for today or next week or 2012 was the subject of last night's debate on television.  My wife and I flipped between ABC News, MSNBC, CNN, and FoxNews and the differences were astounding.

The one thing everyone missed that I just wanted one person to say:  leadership is about character.

This is Paul's theme in 1 Timothy 3.  He doesn't address a single policy:  how church should be set up, whether or not we should support hymns and choruses or just one or the other, whether we should take donations online or via credit card, how many committees should be in place, how often the church building should be used and its fees, or any other church leadership issue.  I'm pretty sure I know why.

Leadership is primarily about character.

Yes, there are issues to be decided.  Those who lead know there are.  My professor and friend Bill Treadwell defined leadership as getting people from the ought to the done.  Character first determines what the "ought" is.  Then it determines how to get to "done" while valuing the people it's leading there.

So here's to prayers for Republicans and Democrats, moderates and extremists, incumbents and challengers who are taking their seats in January.  My prayer is not for their agenda to advance.  My prayer is for them to be men and women of character.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NT75 Day 51: 2-3 John, Jude, Philemon

Go ahead.  Seriously, go ahead.  You can bring it up in conversation today if you'd like, especially if you're at lunch and people are bragging about their spiritual life.  Just jump in:  "Well, in my time with God this morning, I read 4 books of the Bible."

On a more serious note, it's Testament Tuesday and I have a very cool story to share that aligns with something in 3 John.  John writes to Gaius and encourages him to continue being hospitable to those who are missionaries, taking the Gospel to places that Gaius will never go through his support of those who go. That's an old principle in missions:  those who hold the rope are as important as those who climb.  Amen.

Yesterday, I finished crunching the numbers for our Haiti mission trip.  For those who may not have known, we sent a team to Haiti in October to build a duplex for two families displaced by the earthquake, partnering with a group called YWAM.  They have a very cool strategy and plan for transforming communities, part of which includes these duplexes.  They cost $6000 each to build and we got to build the first one in this New Beginnings development outside of St. Marc.

My wife had this incredible idea to take pictures (a hobby of hers, found here) and proceeds would go to the funding of that building.  Several of you jumped on board.  Others heard about it and gave money just because they thought it was a great thing to do.  A friend from Oklahoma (who went on the trip with us) passed the plate in his Sunday School class and collected quite a bit too.  Another friend from Louisiana came along, brought a friend, and also collected money to help.  This is what John encouraged Gaius to do and to keep doing.  He was holding the rope.  Lots of people held the rope for Haiti.  $6000 to build a duplex?  Sure!  All in all, money came in and there was enough to build the duplex.

With $5486 left over.

Sounds like the makings of another duplex.  Only God...

Monday, November 1, 2010

NT75 Day 50: 1 John

The Gospel can be summed up in this phrase:  adoption through propitiation (props to J.I. Packer).

The New Testament gives us two ways to measure God's love for us.  In doing so, it talks about how great His love is and how He lavished it on us.  The first way is the cross.  The second way is sonship (or daughtership) through adoption.  In the reading today, we see both.

First, the cross is found in 1 John 4.10.  God loved us before we loved Him.  That's huge right there, because it shows just how not-in-the-middle-of-God's-story we really are.  We didn't wake up and decide to love Him, attracting His affection for us with our beauty and magnificence and splendor and faithfulness.  We were none of those things and God still chose to love us - in fact, in spite of who we were, God chose to love us.  And it wasn't some emotional belch as our culture knows love, but a demonstrative pursuit of the ones beloved.  Here, in the cross, God sacrificed His Son, Jesus the Christ, for us to demonstrate His love (cf. Romans 5.6-8).  John uses the word propitiation (in the ESV).  Propitiation is the sacrifice that expiates our sin, taking it away from us, and satiates God's wrath against that sin.  As a just and holy God, He had to punish our sin.  He did so, but did so in the person of Jesus Christ as our substitute, our propitiation.  That's a powerful demonstration of love.

Second, sonship is found in 1 John 3.1.  I appreciate the texture of the Message:  "What marvelous love the Father has extended to us!  Just look at it - we're called children of God!  That's who we really are."  We are objects of lavish love.  It's extravagant, embarrassing even.  We, the deceived rebels of the universe, are adopted into God's family as His children.  That is astonishing.  And it's so astonishing, John repeats it for assurance:  that is what we are.  It's not enough that God took away our sin and the wrath that accompanied it - He made us His kids.  Wow.

I hope you lived stunned.  I'm going to be thinking about this all day...