Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Yule tide is upon us again, a time of gifts, merriment, and stress. The American Psychology Association found that 8/10 Americans anticipate stress over the holidays (apa.org). Not that we need a study to tell us this. Sadly too much stress makes us moody and argumentative. There is one pointless argument I hear every year, and I’m asking you to help me end it.

Here’s a familiar scenario:

On a snowy street corner a smiling stranger wishes a passerby “Merry Christmas” only to be met with an icy “Happy Holidays” as the stranger sneers and rolls their eyes in disgust. Our hero's smile vanishes and is replaced, for the rest of the day, with resentment towards the “secularization” of their beloved Christmas. This is a sad scenario, but to be honest I have never met a person who got angry that I wished them a Merry Christmas. I’m certain it happens, but it has never happened to me.

I have seen Christians get angry about being wished a “Happy Holiday.” No year goes by that I don’t hear rants, sermons, and tantrums about how the word "Holiday". Whether it is a politician, an advertisement, or a relative someone will provide an excuse to complain that “Christmas” is being replaced by “Holiday.” This complaint is not helpful. It does not spark encouraging discussions or begin any argument worth having. I would rather hear a pagan solstice hymn than another complaint about how folks are greeting one another incorrectly.

By all means please keep the true meaning of Christmas alive. This is the perfect season to remember that Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matt 5:39) Now if we can respond lovingly when evil people hit us, I’m confidant that we can respond lovingly when nice people wish us a “Happy Holiday.”

Here’s a neat idea if you feel strongly about wishing Merry Christmas, “Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Phil 2:14) Correcting people about their greeting is argumentative. Talking to other Christians about it is complaining. Please turn the other cheek, wish the Holiday Heretic a Merry Christmas, and praise God for the opportunity to love them. We’re not winning any hearts by carrying this argument any further.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Open Letter To Parents Who Deal With Rebellious Minds

Dear parent,

I understand that you're having problems with your teenager. He or she isn't Christian or isn't what you raised them to be. You find their beliefs, or lack thereof, disappointing and disrespectful. Their new outlook threatens what you hold sacred. How do you react? You can show them who's boss; you can fire back against their rebellion with restrictions and criticisms. Please don't; I don't think that will help.

Parent, I need you to calm down before you hurt yourself and hurt your kid. Remember, your relationship with your child is much more important than any disappointment you feel. Your adolescent is becoming an adult. You cannot discipline someone into having faith. A stronger approach is needed. Adolescents aren't children anymore, you're going to have to show them how adults act. Treat them like an intelligent adult you are trying to win for Christ, not like a misbehaving child. Their ideas hurt you, but please remember that your relationship with your child is more important than how they are making you feel at the moment. Treat them with love and maturity. Continue to express your faith while respecting theirs, and you'll win their respect. If you insult their beliefs, demean them, or punish them for their unbelief you will lose both their trust and respect. If they don't trust you, they are not going ask you for help when their schema fails them. Your teenager, is only a teenager. God willing, you still have decades left in which to love them into God's kingdom. If you focus on winning arguments instead of winning souls you will lose both. Romans 2:4 asks “. . . do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” May God's kindness work in and through you to lead your beloved closer to God.

Your brother,


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

RE: Psalm 22

This is about Christ’s ultimate sacrifice; he suffered God’s rejection so that we never would. God does not forsake us, but even faithful Christians sometimes feel that he has. Mother Teresa started humanitarian centers in over 100 countries, however she also wrote extensively about not feeling God’s presence. I believe this powered her attempts to “Share in Christ’s Sufferings.” Sadly, those attempts did not alleviate her doubts.

Faith cannot be worked up; it is God’s gift for us to receive or to reject. To share in Christ’s sufferings we only need to live life, which is full of suffering. Jesus suffered as you do. If he had not become a man, he would never have experienced suffering. Jesus chose to become a man to share our pain. Whatever pain you are experience, Jesus experiences it with you. He became a man so he could be close to you, to intimately share in your life. He is close to you. The pain you feel now is not the end. You are not alone.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:17

Thursday, September 22, 2011

RE: Psalms 21

Our enemies are not ancient Israel's enemies. Our enemies are the ones that would rob us of our freedom in Christ. Unforgiveness, hate, and anxiety all rob us of the freedom Jesus bought for us.

Lord, may we live depending on the your great love and on your spirit that gives us faith.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

RE: Psalms 20

God gives victory to his anointed(v6). The kings of the old testament were anointed with oil and afterward received power. The anointing of the new testament is not of oil, but of the Spirit of Christ. If you've put your faith in Christ then you too are God's anointed. This doesn't mean victory for each one of your plans but it does mean eternal victory over the devil, fear, guilt, anger, violence and every weakness in yourself.

RE: Psalms 19

The authors of the Bible write as though God's goodness and power are so obvious that they're practically written across the sky(v1-6). I do not always agree. I wonder often what God is doing. This questioning of God helps me learn, but questioning provides no release from anxiety. There has never been peace for my heart when I've insisted on figuring God out. Peace has only come to me after I've given up my doubts and fears. Then, once I put myself at God's mercy, I am free to clearly see his goodness and power.

Friday, July 8, 2011

RE: Psalms 18

What is God like? The Bible calls God a fortress, a father, a lover, and lots of other things. This chapter gives a strange picture of God: The mountains tremble at his anger(v7); smoke comes from his nostrils and fire from his mouth(v8) he soars on the wings of the wind(v10).

God is like a dragon. It is tempting to think only about God's gentleness, mercy, and love, but God's fierce features are wonderful too. This fierce God is same the loving God who fights for us, and if he's fighting for us then I want him to be as fierce as possible.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

RE: Psalms 17

How great would it be to pray the words, “My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not stumbled. (v5)” and feel confident that we were truly perfect and could expect God to listen. I have not lived perfectly. I have hurt those I love and I have held onto anger. Why should I expect vindication(v15)? Why should God listen to me?

Our actions do not and cannot earn God's favor. God sees as perfect those who put their faith in Jesus Christ's perfect love and not in their own imperfect actions. Through faith we are considered perfect by God, so we can pray with much confidence:

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. - Psalm 17:15

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

RE: Psalms 16

Verse 10 of this Psalm shows up again in Acts 2:27. This is awesome, and it is awesome because God's eternal truths written centuries ago are powerfully true across all of time and space. Pray this Psalm out loud, own the words and make them your own. May God be your refuge, your portion, and your cup. May you have a delightful inheritance, and may you hear as he makes known the path of life to you.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

RE: Psalms 15

This Psalm is about how God receives a perfect person. Once, knowing I could not be perfect, I was comforted that Jesus stood in God's presence for me. That was fine, but the gospel gives us much more than a mediator. Because of Jesus' perfect sacrifice I am redeemed and God sees me as perfect.

This Psalm is about how God receives me; this Psalm is about how God receives everyone who has put their faith in him. This Psalm is about how God receives you, not because of anything you've done, beloved, but because of what he has done.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

RE: Psalms 14

This Psalm does not resolve neatly. Not every poem, day, or season, will neatly tie up with God making everything better. Life is not a TV show. In these times when a good end is not nearby we can feel too overwhelmed to sing praises, and too doubtful to declare God's future victory. To you who are in such a season now I would like to write, “God loves you and he will prevail.” but these good, true words are still only words; you need more than words right now. You need to remember those things you know are true, those promises that give you hope so that you do not say in your heart that there is no God.

. . . .evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion . . . -Psal .m 14:6&7

May the Spirit of God remind you of everything Jesus has said to you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

RE: Psalms 13

When life hits you in the face and you don't know if you can take any more, do you know what you can do? You can praise the Lord. The Lord loves you; this is true no matter what. Worship the Lord when life sucks. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Praying this psalm in your own words is a good way to start. List your fears, your wounds, and your struggles. Then, instead of spiraling into self-pity, rejoice in God's salvation.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” -Jesus (John 16:33)

RE: Psalms 12

Psalm 12 reminds me of a friend of mine who believes the world was better when he was young. The complaint that “no one is faithful anymore”(v.1) is an ancient one and a modern one. This is why the Psalms remain relevant; they discuss immortal themes and immortal truths. It is true that at times the world seems like a dark and unforgiving place; this was as true in ancient Israel and is today. The truth of God's goodness is unchanged too. God still arises to protect the needy.

Pray today that God would act to protect the poor and needy. Be ready to be used by him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

RE: 1 Samuel 13

Feelings are lovely things that provide some of the most beautiful experiences, but they can get in our way. Feelings can be an excuse to do what we want, instead of what we know we ought. In 1 Sam 13, Saul is leading Israel to war. Imagine you're Saul: You have 3,000 men. The Philistines have an uncountable army, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen(v.6). You have no weapons(v.22). Frig.

The situation is awful. The men of Israel are terrified and hiding in holes(v.6). Saul was told to wait for Samuel, who would offer sacrifices and ask God what they should do(v.8). Samuel did not show up when Saul expected him. I imagine Saul felt God had let him down.

Sometimes we feel let down by God. Sometimes we need God to show up and we still don't see him. These moments when we feel let down are critical to growing in faith. Saul decided to take matters into his won hands. Saul was unwilling to be out of control, his excuse was that he “felt compelled” (v.12)

Saul would have been rewarded if he had been faithful in spite of his feelings(v.13). His reward went to David, who was faithful to God in a seemingly hopeless situation against a giant(1 Sam 17). Even Jesus had to be faithful in spite of his feelings in Gethsemane(Luke 22:42)

God calls us to be faithful in spite of fear, feelings, or desiring control of our lives. Pray that God increases our faith, and helps us to rely on him instead of on our limited knowledge or our feelings. God is sufficient. His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9)

Saturday, May 7, 2011

RE: Psalms 11

Sometimes things go horribly wrong. This psalm seems to have been written when David's life was awful, but somehow David could laugh at those who insisted that God abandoned him. I suppose if you live in the wilderness long enough, with enough people trying to kill you, you can learn that none of the trials you face are as big a deal as God is. In the midst of trouble, fix your eyes of God.

Psalms 11:4 The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

RE: Psalms 10

God may often feel far off; God never is far off. Feelings are temporary; God's presence is not. He is with you now. I believe the words of Ps10:1 are cried out by every single person at one time or another. Everyone, whether they believe in a God or not, does at some point feel that they have been abandoned by God. Our faith in God is tested by trouble in our lives. James 1 says that hard times produce perseverance. Like a workout or a class that pushes us to our limits, the trials of life that are the hardest to go through are the ones that make us strong.

How do you want to grow in faith? What trial will bring that growth about? Pray for and expect it.

Where are you being tried in your life right now? How will these trials increase your perseverance? Praise God for them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

RE: Psalms 9

This is the third time it has been mentioned that God is a refuge to everyone who trusts in him. I have always been told to close pay attention if the Bible says something twice, since it has been said thrice, please ruminate on v. 9 & 10

The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.

RE: Psalms 8

God is a big deal. He made all the things; he made them all AWESOME. Think about whatever blows your mind till that sinks in. Whether its the vastness of the universe, the existence of life, or of the smell of lilacs, take a few moments to dwell on whatever part of God's creation blows your mind.

This may help:

The World is Awesome

The God who made all that stuff cares about you. The dude who made oranges orange is mindful of you, loves you, and places us above the rest of his awesome creation. Take a lifetime to dwell on that.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

RE: Psalms 7

7 is a Psalm about God's judgment based on what you do. If this strikes you as a bit scary, it should. If this strikes you as over-simple, congratulations you posses higher level moral thinking. There are people, children and adults who decide questions of right and wrong based on what causes them harm or causes them pleasure. Since the Lord is the God of all people, he speaks in his Word to those who think about right and wrong in this simple way because God wants us to follow him and love justice, and it is good for us to do so.

Ask God to increase your love of what is right, and to forgive your shortcomings.

Friday, April 22, 2011

RE: Psalms 6

Here is David's 1st emo psalm. That's not to make fun of it, that's to drive home a point:

Sometimes David was whiny, and God was faithful and loving towards him anyway.

Sometimes YOU are whiny, and God will be faithful and loving towards you anyway.

If things are not lovely and you cannot see what he is doing right now you are in good company, David from Psalm 5 is right there with you.

RE: Psalms 5

Psalms like this are scary. If God “Hates all who do wrong”(v.5) then we have reason to be scared. Take a minute to think on that. Don't dwell too long though; it doesn't end there.

By his great love we can enter his house(v.7) Dwell on that, dwell in that. David confessed that only God's great love could bring him into God's house, and he did so ages before Paul wrote the words “It is by grace you have been saved” (Eph2:8)

You are welcome in God's presence because his love for you is great.

RE: Psalms 4

Spirituality doesn't have to be complex or impressive, it can be as simple as eating a meal that God provides. In the Lord's Prayer Jesus teaches us to ask for our “Daily bread”. God cares about your basic needs because he cares about you, not just what you do. David recognizes in this Psalm that he can lay down to sleep or bring in a harvest because God allows it. May you find Joy in what blessing God brings today.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

RE: Psalms 3

David wrote this Psalm after being betrayed by his son (2 Sam 15). Betrayal has not changed since then. Once upon a time I was new to a certain group, and after a time I discovered that one of my new friends had spread some hurtful words about me. It was heartbreaking because this was someone who had welcomed me and whom I had trusted.

The God of love calls us to trust (1 Cor 13:7) even though we are sometimes betrayed, and when we are, God promises that vengeance is his alone so we may repay evil with good (Rom 12:19&20). Sometimes we are the ones who fail and betray; when we fail ourselves, our friends and our God, God offers us an unconditional love to heal the hurt we've caused.

if we are faithless, he [God] remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself -2 Timothy 2:13

RE: Psalms 2

This Psalm appears to be a psalm of threats against anyone who rebels against the Lord. Yeah Gods wrath against evil is terrible, but we are invited to take refuge in his son Jesus. God the father has put all things under Jesus authority and it is his will that we should be welcomed into his arms. Whatever trouble you face, God offers himself as a safe refuge.

Take a minute to confide in him. Whatever is going on in your life, God cares about it.

RE: Psalms 1

Psalms is a book of poetry, self-reflection, anger, doubt, and triumph. Because it is separated into so many short chapters it's an idea book for opening to a random page and reading through, but the Psalms do have context that matter if you want to get the most out of them.

Psalms 1 used to strike me as a refreshingly clear cut picture of the universe: If you, Love God and do right, then you will prosper, but if you, do evil and reject God, you will be destroyed. It's a simple, childlike view of the world that the psalms will go on to appear to challenge. Latter in psalms there are verses from when David is chased by Saul, when Israel is in slavery again. In those latter, dark part of the psalms when the words of the psalter are full of fear, anger, and doubt, remember Psalm 1 God is in control. Regardless of what loss we are experiencing at any given moment, God's final victory is sure.

What is going on right now that makes you question God's goodness?

As God to give you his Holy Spirit to increase your faith, so that no matter what challenge comes, you may rest confidently in the certainty of God's love for you, and his victory over this world.

What is going on right now that makes you question God's goodness?

As God to give you his Holy Spirit to increase your faith, so that no matter what challenge comes, you may rest confidently in the certainty of God's love for you, and his victory over this world.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Gospel of Chopstick February

With the exception of its brevity there's not much I like about February in Michigan. If you share my locality you won't need me to tell you that it's a doldrum of sunless misery, mud, and false hope. February is the time when seasonal depression hits hard. February is when the sun teases us with her gorgeous face, only to vanish again. The hope she gave us will make the cold even more bitter. February is when valentines day saddles poisonous obligations on otherwise happy relationships. This is the month you abandon your new years resolution. We all gained weight over the holidays and we no longer believe we'll lose it by spring. That is February.

One February about six years ago a friend of mine had an idea to make February fun. We were skeptical of course, but the idea was a good one and the challenge was issued.

The challenge: To eat with only chopsticks for one month.

The rules: Anything may be used to cook, but prepared food my not be eaten from spoon, knife, fork, or spork.

Because human nature finds evil easy and because it's February, this challenge will eventually divide brothers and sisters into two camps The camps consist of puritan chopstick heroes and backslider. Those who've not forgotten their chopsticks at home will tease and exclude those who have. Eventually however, almost everyone will fail the challenge.

The beautiful thing that happens is when the chopstick puritan finally fails and to realizes s/he's not any better than those s/he's been looking down his/her nose on. The fallen chopstick purist, if they pick up their chopsticks again, they have a real chance of being a new and beautiful creature.

A person doing a hard thing is admirable but often obnoxious. A person who has failed and been forgiven, however, is the portrait of whom Christ seeks to make us. There's a misconception among Christians that we are a beacon of morality; we're not.

“No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl” -Luke 33:11

The light of the church is not Christians; it's not our goodness. The light we ought to be displaying is God's goodness, and God's light is Christ on the cross, not a rule. God's light is unconditional love, Unconditional love accepts and seeks to heal people who're hurt and who've failed. When Christians forget that we're only Christians because of what God has done we become like the chopstick puritan. Praise God he allows us to fall again from our pedestal and re-learn that he is the one who belongs there.

One that has failed, dropped their pride, and been helped back up, can become a powerhouse of patience, encouragement, and merciful love. That is the lesson of Chopstick February, and that is God's will for his people.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Love Romans!

Romans is so very much my most favoritest book in the Bible because it is about me. I fall into guilt and shame when I consider the good person God created me to be and then consider the creature that I actually am. I'm not alone in this shame. Romans starts off by talking about how people, like me and like you, choose evil instead of good. We choose selfishness instead of charity; we steal, kill, lie, and hate senselessly and constantly. These behaviors hold their own punishments and, for a time, God lets people destroy themselves.

Romans starts with that darkest picture of human villainy so that it is as unsurprising as it is heartbreaking when it goes on to say that we cannot fulfill the righteousness that God requires.

The Son rises on Chapter 8. After Paul has a tantrum of self-loathing frustration in chapter 7 which concludes with a cry of despair at his own inability to act righteously or wisely; it turns out God knew our condition and decided that since we couldn't get holy then he would make us holy.

This gives a full picture of a holy God giving everything he is to salvage unholy humans. Which is a mind-trip in and of itself but he goes on to say that since God died for us when we were impossibly lost, now that we are redeemed we're not on some sort of probation; we didn't use up our last chance. God's infinite love is still there for us, the only difference is that it is now there for us: “his sons and daughters” instead of us: “his rebelling enemies” leaving us to guess and gasp at the question:

If The God of the universe loves so intensely that he died for his enemies, then what will he do for his sons?