Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thoughts on grace by Pat Morley



Pat Morley wrote these words for the end of the year.  I thought they were extremely relevant for our day, our time.  These are days when we need more grace for each other than we have ever experienced or extended.  You don't have to fix everything, let God sort it out.  He is able.  Pat's words say it well.....

"Let's Not Make Christianity More Difficult For People Than It Already Is.
Many have left the Christian faith after being harshly judged for innocent or non-conforming behaviors. And many more will leave in the coming year. Here's how to be part of the solution, not the problem: Don't make it more difficult to be a Christian than it already is.
Some things in the Bible are specifically commanded or prohibited, but everything else is permissible – although it still may not be beneficial.
Where many of us get into trouble is to judge as disobedience and sin something Jesus does not. What, then, makes someone a sinner? Can a heavy smoker really be a Christian? How about disagreeing with your views on fiscal or social policy? What about someone who rarely reads the Bible?
The essence of "legalism" is to make a requirement out of anything that Jesus did not. To be "legalistic" is to turn our man-made traditions, rules, or regulations into a test of someone's spirituality. It's to "add" to the Gospel. It could be something risky like drinking. But it could also be something sacred like the spiritual disciplines that we hold dear.
You may not care for someone's lifestyle, mode of dress, or music but that doesn't necessarily make it sinful. Of course it might be, but only if Jesus said so.
Here's how we can make sure we're on the right track in 2015:
1. Let's care more about people's hearts than their behavior.
2. Let care more about helping people love God than obeying our rules.
3. Let's care more about showing grace and mercy than pointing out what we don't like.
Easier said than done, but it may be just the thing that restores someone's faith in 2015. Someone who might have otherwise walked away.
Until every church disciples every man…"

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reaching for the goal

"I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am on the way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back. So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it." -Paul, Philippians 3

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Last thoughts on the year behind

2014 has been a difficult year for me.  It seems each year is difficult if you think only on the hard days behind, but for me, as I look back, I find it to have been more difficult than years in the past.  It might simply be my view at the moment, but I can't remember a year like this one.  I will be glad when it is over and a new year begins.

I reflect on failures that I still struggle with in my life.  After knowing the Lord for 50 years you would think I would have overcome these weaknesses by now, but sadly I still struggle, still flounder with failures I have never overcome.  I know I have grown, have matured, but if I am honest I wonder when, if ever, I will overcome some of my fallenness.  I fully understand Paul's words in Romans 7 and rejoice in his words in Romans 8.

I reflect on choices I have made in the last year.  Some good, some sadly still woven to my fears and anxieties.  Choices are always affected by who we are, who we have become and it's a work of God that gradually moves us to choices made because of what God has said and not tied to our fears and anxieties.  I grieve over choices, many made over and over again, but I rejoice that God directs my path in spite of my foolishness.

I reflect on my "dark days", days of depression and despair when nothing was really wrong in the world I live in.  Dark days don't let you see that the sun still shines and so despair and depression overwhelm.  Psalm 23 gives joy for the days in the valley, in the shadow days.  Even as the dark days come and stay far too long I rejoice that God is with me.  He walks with me....if only I will reach out for his hand.

I reflect on missed opportunities and choices that can't be undone.  It seems that some of them are life and death issues but honestly even those choices, those opportunities find redemption in the work of God.  I rejoice that a good God oversees my finish even as I stumble on the course I run.  Hebrews tells me to run with my eyes on Jesus.  I'm so thankful he ran well and finished victorious so I can run with my eyes on him.  I will, one day, celebrate victory because of him...in spite of my choices, my stumbling and failed opportunities.

And, finally, I reflect on wonderful friends, glorious loved ones who have encouraged me, prayed for me and continue to do so.  It is those arms that hold me up and keep me going.  It is those prayers that help me endure my dark days.  It's the company of the saints, as we move to eternity together, that help those who are weak, care for those who struggle and pray for those who wander.  It's the love of Christ in our midst that makes the journey a joy instead of an ordeal.  I rejoice in the body of Christ and the love of God that comes from each one I encounter.

Another year ends.  In the scope of eternity it's really nothing, but in my short life it is an opportunity to once more reflect, repent and reconnect with the God who loves me.  

Last thoughts on the year behind?  How wonderful is the love and grace of God!  He takes even my feeble attempts at walking with him and brings glory to his name, victory to my life.  

How wonderful is the love and grace of God!  It makes each trial, each day, each sorrow an opportunity to trust him, walk with him and see him turn my failures into his glorious victories!*

*(If it seems I'm being a bit too honest, too transparent, I make no apologies.  It's a transparency badly needed in the Christian world...a transparency that admits we are all still a work in progress....still people under construction, becoming like the one who saved us. Heb. 10:14, 1 John 3:1-2)

All I want....

A young man I know and love wrote this yesterday, 



"All I want for Christmas is a new start to a happy life."

As I read it I thought about my own list, my own thoughts about what I want.  "All I want..." is common for all of us.  Children do it, we all do it when we told Santa, so many years ago, "all I want for Christmas is...."  And with our seemingly innocent statement we make a bigger one.  The bigger statement is this, "The list I'm about to give you isn't really 'all I want' but it's a start....and somebody better take care of it or I won't be happy!"

Somehow we have in our minds that there is a magic genie who is supposed to grant our wishes and if they do we will be happy.  "All I want is ________ and to be happy" is a way of saying I know what I really need and I know what will make me happy, but WE DON'T KNOW!  We don't know what we really want and we honestly have no idea what happy would look like if it showed up on our door.  Happy is as elusive as the Easter bunny or a Leprechaun.  

We think we know what we want, what happy is, but even if we got all we wanted we wouldn't be "happy" and it wouldn't really be all we want. We would each have a new thing to add to the list!

Our desires betray us.  Our minds, our flesh tell us what would truly make us happy, but it won't, it can't.  Happy isn't a destination, it isn't a place, it isn't a thing.  "All I want" isn't honest, it is never truly "all we want."

So how do we deal with these wants, these longings and the sense that happiness is available when we finally have what we want? 

It must start with our view of destinations.  We have to realize that happiness is never a destination, never a result of getting something, but it's a relationship with a person...one specific person...and it is never tied to things.  It can be found in the midst of suffering, lack, or loss.  It can be part of a life when all "I want" is missing and may never be realized.

Happiness is a person.  When we tie it to a place, a thing, a goal we never reach it, never find it....because it's not there.

Have you ever been to a third world country where the people have nothing?  I have.  In those places I find people living in mud huts with nothing, not even food for the day, who are happy.  How is that possible?  How did they find happiness apart from success, a goal, things?  Because when you strip away all the world around us you must come to a basic and very simple truth-  happiness can only be found in a relationship with God.  When that is realized then our desires morph and we find we don't really need a destination, that certain thing to make us happy....we can be happy with nothing!

David, in his journals we call Psalms, wrote about this as he worked through his own trials and longings.  It's a great way to respond to our frequent claims of "all I want..."

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart's desires.

-Psalm 37


Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Christmas morning prayer

I know you are wonderful and awesome...we read about you on every page of the bible.  

On this Christmas morning I remember the gift, the son you gave to give us life and I rejoice.  

I rejoice that life is available for everyone who will trust you.  

I rejoice that I have that life, that gift.  

I rejoice that daily I see more and more of what you have done and how wonderful your love is for us.  

I rejoice that throughout eternity I will be discovering more and more of what you have done and who you are.

You are most awesome...

....but today, I just sense the need to see a bit of you in my life, a bit of your "awesome" touching me.  On this day of gifts I simply ask for one....your presence and nearness and my awareness of it.  

Thank you for your great love that made life, hope, love, peace, and a relationship with you possible. 

You are indeed most awesome!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas

Christmas brought much more to us than we can ever unwrap!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas!

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday.  
It's a great time to pause and give thanks 
for a God who is with us, Immanuel.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Worthy

There is a question near the end of the bible that fascinates me.  It's a leading question that is answered in the verses that follow it, but it's asked to illuminate our core problem, our most basic need and the ultimate solution.  Here is the question,

"Who is worthy....?"


The question at the heart of it is this...who really qualifies to approach God, to be worthy of life, of all that God offers, and the answer was silence...no one was worthy.  


As the story unfolds the author is in tears to realize no one, not one, was worthy...not one had qualified...but then an angel stops him and says, "Wait, there is one...." 


And here is one of the most inspiring, amazing and profound passages in all of the bible, and with the words that follow I close my mouth, silence the keyboard and simply worship this amazing one, this worthy one,


 "Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”


Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.  He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.  And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.  And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth.”
 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”
 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”
 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped."  -Revelation 5

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Every act..."

“What you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support… and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.”  -N.T. Wright

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Rest


One thing I most need right now is rest.  You see I'm still suffering jet-lag from our trip back from Africa.  The lack of sleep, the need for rest is like hunger...it captures all your attention and screams, "I NEED SLEEP!"

Rest.  What a great word that is.  We were made to need it, to enjoy it, but few of us really experience it.  When I say that I don't mean rest for the body.  Often we can achieve that and wake refreshed.  

What I'm speaking of is the rest of soul, the rest of desire, of passion, longing...a rest from self criticism, a rest of contentment.  Few, if any, find a place of rest where the weary soul can truly find peace...peace with itself.  

For me it comes in waves in the night when I most need rest for the soul and body.  Waves of inadequacy, waves of failure, a splash of regret, a drenching of wishful thinking....I wish I could have,  I wish I would have...and rest is gone, and I'm soaking in mental, spiritual and emotional exhaustion.

Oh for a place where I can rest and be 'ok' with me, with where I'm at, with what I have, with who I am.  What I'm describing is truly the struggle of everyone of us.  We all suffer from a soul insomnia, a lack of rest in who we are, what we have achieved or haven't achieved.

Oh for a way to find a rest of soul. A rest from trying, from being, from feeling like we aren't enough.  There is a place like that...it's a place that finds us in the presence of the very one who made us and offers the rest we need.

You see he knows we are broken, wounded, never happy, never content, never at rest....because all of those things can only be found in HIM.  He is the key that unlocks the puzzles we are.  Without him we find ourselves on an endless quest for rest of soul...never finding it.

But when we finally weary, give up and admit, "I can't do this! I'm so tired, please help me."  We finally come to the rest we so desperately need and want.

"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God;  for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest..."  Hebrews 4

It available and it's in his presence.  The author of Hebrews describes the acquisition of this rest as we come to the one who made us, the only one who can give it.  If you are weary, tired of soul, come to him.  Rest is available, rest is waiting...he freely gives it to anyone who asks.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Playing the fool




There is a term in theatre and music that I want to borrow for my thoughts this morning.  It's an old term, but one rarely used as I will try here.  It's the term to "play the fool."  The dictionary defines it this way,  

play/act the fool-
1. to act in an irresponsible or foolish manner.
2. to behave in a playful or comical manner.

The fool is one who doesn't deal with truth or reality in a reasonable or rational way.  The idea of playing to fool is meant to describe someone acting silly, stupid when they aren't.  I find that term often describes me.  Let me explain.

There is a verse that I have often heard quoted in reference to a non-theist.  It's a verse we "use" to put them in their place and we are piously content to do so, but as I thought about it.....as I reflected...I realized this verse is really all about me!

Here it is,

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.” Ps. 14:1

And suddenly I realized this verse is not about a non-theist, although it does describe their choices, it's about me too.  
Here's what I mean,

When I worry about something I 'play the fool' and act like there is no God so I have to take things into my own hands. Worry will fix it all, won't it?  But there is a God who says, "don't worry about anything" and when I worry I'm really saying, in my heart, THERE IS NO GOD! so I have to fix the problem myself!

When I get angry about something I 'play the fool' and act like there is no God who will give me justice so I have to correct the injustice, fix the problem myself.  Anger will fix it, won't it?  But there is a God who says, "don't be angry" and when I'm angry I'm really saying, in my heart, THERE IS NO GOD! I have to deal with this wrong myself!

I've played this scenario out in a hundred ways in my mind and it all comes down to this-  when I sin, when I choose to do things my own way, I 'play the fool' and say to the world around me there is no God.  If I don't fix it no one will.

This verse is a dagger in the heart of my godless religion.  It forces me to deal with my foolishness and live like there really is a god in heaven fully able to care for me, deal with my problems, answer my prayers and soothe my wounds.

Frankly, as a Christian, the last thing I want to do is be the fool and say to a watching world "There is no God!" by how I live and respond.  Either he's there or he isn't and if he is really there the wisest thing I can do is defer to him, trust his love, rely on his ability to care for me in everything.....or I can play the fool.


Vivid choice, don't you think?


Monday, December 15, 2014

Hallelujah!

Dorcas


One of the sweet children in Kenya I get to see each time I go is Dorcas.  She's about 7 or 8 and the sweetest girl I've met there.  I'm praying for her....praying that she would find all that God has for her.  I took this photo on our last day to make sure I never forget to pray for this wonderful sweet little girl.

Reflections

Good morning.

I'm just up after returning from Kenya.  It was our final week with these pastors and then graduation.  What a week!  I think it was hotter than I had ever experienced there, but what a great week with these men and women!

We finished the week with graduation and then the long flights home.

This morning, reflecting on the trip and the four years, I am excited to see what God does with these men and women as they serve God in eastern Kenya.  I'm looking forward to seeing what he does with the men and women we took over there to teach and share.  It was an expensive, difficult, and challenging four years, but I think we will see great fruit from our time with these pastors.

And yet, I know, after we leave, just as Paul told the churches he met with, wolves will come in to divide, bring error and undermine the work....and yet, it's God's work.  I look forward to the day when we see what he has done with the little bit we have offered....but for now....for me....rest and some coffee.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

The shortest chapter


This evening we had dinner with friends before out trip back to Kenya tomorrow.  It's always great to eat and visit with close friends, but tonight we got on the topic of life and its brevity.  My friend said, "Life is so short."  And with that we began to discuss David's words in Psalms where he described our lives as a vapor, a mist that's only here for a moment.

It feels, if we are honest, as if life is far too short and then quickly over, but the comment came up, as we visited, that this life for the Christian is simply the shortest chapter in the story of our lives.  Our lives continue for many chapters to follow...it's just that this first chapter will take very few pages in the book compared to the chapters that follow.

And yet, as surprising as it sounds...what we do, what we decide in this shortest chapter of our lives will determine how the rest of the story unfolds.  All of life, all of eternity will flow from our very shortest chapter.

It would seem then that we would see the bigger picture of a life and its decisions that extend far into eternity, but most of us only live for the first chapter...as if this shortest of all chapters is all there is.

How sad that we, the authors of an amazing story would think that it's only a one chapter book.  

Life here is short, it is the shortest chapter in lives that will stretch far into eternity, and it does affect all the chapters that follow, but never imagine that life is only a one chapter book.  It's simply true that how we live out this chapter affects all that follow.....


Quote of the day

Secular culture says the meaning of life is happiness. 

If that's the meaning of life then suffering destroys your 

meaning.  -Tim Keller