Archive for September, 2005

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her motherinlaw—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’

37 “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 10:34-39

These words of Jesus are among some of the harshest he spoke during his years on this earth. They are words I am sure the people of his day did not want to hear and they are words we do not want to hear today. Yet they are very important words we need to understand. People dislike the idea that they would need to somehow turn against their family to follow God. There are some cases where this may actually be the case. Think of the muslim or hindu who becomes a Christ-follower. They literally must turn their back on thier family because their family will not accept the choice they have made. In our western culture we do not seem to have such a drastic choice to make, but it is real just the same. In fact, it is often more sublte for us. We have family who do not understand our choices and try to bring us back into the fold of family tradition. Yet, we must refuse and put Christ first. The very last line gives us the promise that whe we lose our life for Christ we will find it. We must never forget this promise.

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for giving me the ability to turn my life toward you regardless of outside pressures. Thank you for giving me correct priorities so that you will come first. Thank you that my immediate family also seeks to serve you. I love you Jesus. Amen.

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43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43-48

Matthew 5:43-48 gives us a perfect lesson on foreign relations. As a nation we have all to often been eager to go to war thinking it would be the best thing for our national interest. However, I believe God sees it differently. Regardless of your view of current wars or war in general, it seems like God is telling us that we would be better off by loving our enemies. What would it look like for us to love the Palestinians (What would it look like for the Jews to love the Palenstinians.) What would it look like for us to show unconditional love to all Arabs or other “enemies” of the United States. I am not sure I actually have an answer to those questions, but I do know we would live in a very different (and I believe better) world.

Dear Jesus,

Just as you loved the hated Samaritans, help us to love those we now call enemies. Just as you loved the pagans so much that you died for us, help us to love those who do not agree with our faith. Help each of us to be ambassadors of your love and mercy. I love you Lord. Amen.

Pedigree – Matthew 1-4

18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. – Matthew 4:18-22

I have often had discussions and heard sermons about how Jesus chose those without degrees and the “proper” upbringing to be his original twelve disciples. At the same time, we don’t act the same way. We require people to have certain educations before we will allow them to lead a church. I am not against education (I have a masters degree from a seminary), but I am against educational bigotry. Last night I was leading my small group through its study. We began to talk about specific prophecy and where it came from in the Old Testament. When that happens, I (as well as the rest of the group) look to one lady in our group that knows the Word of God better than anyone I have ever met. She does not have a degree in Bible and Theology. She does have a life of commitment to being in God’s word. I would trade her education for mine any day. Jesus understood that we needed to look for leadership all around us, not just in the “educated” places.

Dear Jesus,

I thank you for picking people to follow you who were simply ordinary. I thank you for empowering them to do extraordinary things – literally planting your church. Help my eyes to always be open to those you have chosen for leadership. I love you Jesus. Amen.

An Altar – Joshua 22-24

21 Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: 22 “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. 23 If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account.

24 “No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you�?you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD.

26 “That is why we said, ‘Let us get ready and build an altar�?but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.’ 27 On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, ‘You have no share in the LORD.’

28 “And we said, ‘If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the LORD’s altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.’ Joshua 22:21-28

Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built and altar as a symbol their promise to worship God and God alone. However, they did not build this altar for God, but for the other tribes of Israel to see their promise in physical form. This is a great lesson for us to learn. How often does God help us overcome a major lifobstaclesce. This could be an addiction, a bad point in our marriage, or some others life defining moment. Just like these tribes, it may be a good idea for us to build an altar to symbolize what God had done for us. It also serves to remind us and others that God showed up and is worthy to be praised. This altar can be many things. In my wallet a keep a copy of the “Footprints” poem because it reminds me of a time I was far from God, but God was not far from me. This may not seem like a very public altar, but if I took it out of my wallet my wife would know something was wrong. In this case she is the only other person who needs to know (and the only other person that is allowed to snoop through my wallet.)

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for giving us altar to remind us of your love and sacrifice. Thank you for giving us altar that help us to remember landmarks on our spiritual journey. Thank you for loving me so much that you are always with me. I love you Lord. Amen.

Have you ever felt like you and God were going toe-to-toe? You know from the very beginning that God is going to win, but you also know that your on an intense period of your spiritual journey and the only way to come through it is fight and argue with God. That is what I have been going through.

I have really been questioning this whole idea of church planting. I have been questioning if it is the right thing to do. My questioning is not because I don’t think I am called, it is because I don’t think I was being true to my calling.

I am not a creative person in general. Often, I will take what others have done and tweak it to fit the particular situation in which I find myself. That is what God and I have been wrestling about. I have been planning to plant this church in partnership with New Thing Network (www.newthing.org.) When you are part of New Thing all of the sermons, curriculums and other ministry support materials are co-created and used by all churches involved. Each of these church also look very similar in regards to their services, philosophy of ministry and other features. In fact, if you went from one church to the other on Sunday morning you might think you were in the exact same church (effectively you would be.)

One of the main components of my vision for this new church has centered around the idea of EPIC. It stands for:

Experiential – People experience real faith, real time.

Participatory – all facet of faith are participated in, not just watched – worship, service, fellowship, community etc.

Inclusive – all are welcome regardless of where they are at on their spiritual journey.

Connected – authentic community.

I know that the New Thing Network churches would say they try to accomplish these four goals, but they simply are not designed to do so like God has given me a vision for. I am not sure how, but somehow I will find a way to truly create an EPIC Community.

Authenticity

This is another installment in the “What is the church” series.

Today, I am thinking about authenticity. Specifically, what makes a church authentic.

As I have studies churches, church growth and success, I have become more and more concerned about what it means for a church to be authentic. When I look at many very large churches, I see them growing and reaching people, but I also see them as more orientated toward programs than people. I have seen people become more and more connected to a church, but not because of relationship. They are connected because they become involved in a program. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think programs are bad. In fact, programs can be good and provide good results. However, I begin to think about how many people at my church I truly call friends. There are very few. I stay because I am entrenched in the program. I stay because lives are changed and people are affected for eternity. Yet, I feel like I am missing something.

I feel like I am experiencing great teaching, but I am not growing in community with others. I wonder if it is possible to truly have a place focused on community. I have to admit, I have never experienced it. Then I wonder if it is me. I have never been the type of person to have a lot of friends. In fact, I can count true friends on one hand. I don’t regret this, it is just me. This makes me wonder, is it possible to really start a new church that avoids becoming focused on programs? Is true community possible?

43 The LORD gave the Israelites the land he had promised their ancestors, and they captured it and settled in it. 44 There still were enemies around Israel, but the LORD kept his promise to let his people live in peace. And whenever the Israelites did have to go to war, no enemy could defeat them. The LORD always helped Israel win. 45 The LORD promised to do many good things for Israel, and he kept his promise every time. – Joshua 21:43-45

These last three verse in Joshua 21 are so profoundly wonderful. While they specifically discuss the Israelites, they also tell us something about the personality of God. The very last words about God say, “…and he hept his promise every time.” I think back to the promises of God in my own life. God promised to take care of my wife and I while I followed his will to go to seminary. He not only did that, but he allowed us to adopt three wonderful little girls. God promised that he would use me in ministry if I just continued to follow him. This is a wonderful promise that is now and not yet. I have spent the last few years learning a great deal about what true ministry means. I am just now starting to see the vocational fulfillment of ministry (This is not to downplay the non-vocational ministry. I believe with my whole heart that God has plans for each of us that include his work.) God has promised to take care of the needs of my family so that we would always have what we needed. This has not been an easy thing as we have often wondered how all of the bills would be paid, but we have never failed to pay our bills, put food on the table and even give away money beyond our tithe. God does keep his promises.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for keeping each and every promise. Thank you for keeping the most important one – providing a way for us to reconcile with you. Thank you for loving us so much that an unkept promise is not a possibility. I love you Lord. Amen.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings to delight you;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
– Psalm 51

We have so many reasons to be grateful to God. We can be grateful because he created us and this world. We can be grateful because he provides for our need each and every day. We can be grateful because he walks with us (and lifts us up) each day. Most importantly, we can be grateful because of God’s mercy. When it gets right down to it, this is the most important thing that we receive from God (maybe his Love could be placed in this category, but really his mercy and live are so intertwined that they are as one.) Nothing else we receive from God matters without his mercy. Nothing else we receive from God would be possible without his mercy. God provides for us because he loves us.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being merciful. Thank you for loving me. I can never earn your mercy and love, yet you give them freely. I can never live a life worthy of your presence, yet you are here each day. Forgive me once again. I desperately need you Lord. Amen.

6 Now the men of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the LORD said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. 7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, 8 but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. 9 So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.’

10 “Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” – Joshua 14:6-12

Scripture often reminds us that we need to be patient when it comes to God’s promises. It is not easy for us to understand that God’s time is not necessarily our time. One of the major problems is that our lives fly by so quickly that we want everything to happen yesterday, but God does not work that way. Caleb was a man who understood the need to be patient and wait on God. At thirty-nine years of age, God gave him a promise that the land he was walking on would be an inheritance for his family. However, he was required to wait in gain this inheritance. In fact, he was require to wait forty-five years. Just think about this. He is thirty-nine years old, so he is being required to wait more than double his current age. Of course, he did not know the exact number of years he would have to wait, but he did know that all the people (except for himself and Joshua) of his current generation over twenty years of age would have to die before this inheritance would take place. Even when that time finally passed there was still another five years of waiting. This has really made me think about my own impatient for things to happen. Can I wait on God?

Dear Heavenly Father,

If patients is a virtue, it is one I do not have. Help me to wait on you with contentment. Help me to serve you in the here and now even as I wait on the future. Help me to rely completely on you. I love you Lord. Amen.

God’s – Psalm 50

1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.

2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.

4 He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:

5 “Gather to me my consecrated ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for God himself is judge. Selah

7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, and I will testify against you: I
am God, your God.

8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices
or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,

10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.

11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine.

12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?

14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,

15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

16 But to the wicked, God says:
“What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?

17 You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.

18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.

19 You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.

20 You speak continually against your brother
and slander your own mother’s son.

21 These things you have done and I kept silent;
you thought I was altogether like you.
But I will rebuke you
and accuse you to your face.

22 “Consider this, you who forget God,
or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
and he prepares the way
so that I may show him the salvation of God.”
– Psalm 50

Every once in a while we all need a reminder that everything in this earths belongs to God. We get the attitude that what we have is our – our home, our automobiles, our education, our money. However, Psalm 50 makes it clear this is not true. If you think about it, even those of us who are committed Christ-followers fall into this often. We hear teaching that say we are to give back 10% of what we make as a tithe. The truth is that God is gracious enough to let us use (not keep) up to 90% of the funds he blesses us with. When we teach or are taught the idea that we are giving God 10% then we are not hearing complete Biblical truth. Verses 9-12 of Psalm 50 make it clear that we are simply stewards of what God has entrusted to us and he can (and does) ask us to use it for his purposes.

Dear Heavenly Father,

All too often I have not been generous with what you have entrusted to my care. Help me to loosen my grip on the resources you have placed with me. Help me to never see myself as an owner, but only as a steward. I love you Lord. Amen.