Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday March 26, 2014 - Along the way ...

Today I decided to take a hike; literally.  I hiked up the Sandia Mountains hoping to gain some encouragement from time spent alone with God.   Along the way ... God spoke to me in a still small voice, and this is the word He gave to me.

1) Keep going ... There is a country song that says, "If you're going through hell keep going".   I would not say I have been going through hell, but all of us I believe experience discouragement on life's journey, and we need to know that God says "keep going".   Don't give up!  Don't turn back!  Continue to fight the good fight of faith.   God will never leave us or forsake us, so no matter how we feel, we must know God is there and He is greater, so just keep going.  

2) Worship ... I went for a hike because I thought it was a good thing to do; a nice way to spend my monthly retreat.  However, along the way ... I discovered something.  My attitude in worship is not right.  I have not been maintaining perspective.   I think one of the reasons people in the Bible go up the mountain to pray or worship or meet with God is because it gives you perspective.

In Psalm 61:2, the Psalmist cries out, "From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I".  Climbing up the side of a mountain will give you perspective.  It is humbling, realizing that God has made everything; as the children's song says, "The mountains are His, the rivers are His, the stars are His handiwork too.   My God is so BIG, so strong and so mighty there's nothing my God cannot do."  God is so much greater, so much higher, so much bigger than I am and it is good to regain perspective.

Another thought that came to me as I climbed the mountain was how easy I approach God.   I come to Him in prayer, in worship, in song, and to be honest it does not require a lot of effort on my part.  On God's part, it required the death and resurrection of His son.  It was extremely difficult for God, and yet it is so easy for me.  Because my worship too often requires little effort, I lose perspective.  I forget how BIG God is, and how small I am.  I forget that apart from Him I can do nothing.  Worship which requires effort helps put things back in perspective.

3) Be honest ... Honestly, I wrestled with whether I should share my struggles in this blog or not.  Should I share or should I pretend everything is good?  And I am glad I chose to be honest.   It would not do you any good as you seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus to think that there are some people (pastors, especially) who never struggle with discouragement.  It would do you no good because you might never muster the courage to be honest, and you would continue to suffer in silence.

Being dishonest and pretending would have not done me any good either.  You would not know how to pray for me, and I would be tempted to deceive even myself by pretending everything is good when it was not.

Honesty before God is something we need to cultivate more in the church.   We are the body of Christ.  We, together, are one body.  So when part suffers, we all suffer.  Besides God already knows what's going on.  We cannot hide from Him.  So being honest puts us on the same page as we speak with God.  He already knows what's up, so why try to hide it?

These are a few thoughts God has given me for my journey.   I feel encouraged, and I hope you can relate to some of this as well.  If you want to share your own honest thoughts, please do so.   I and others would love to pray for you as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

... Along the way - March 25, 2014

So what do you do when you feel discouraged?  How do you handle it?

Well, as much as I like to point us to scripture passages that illuminate and guide us on the journey of life, today, I just can't seem to find the words.

Oh I know there are words.  I know God's word says, "Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33) and "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the majesty in heaven." (Hebrews 12:3) and "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near." (Isaiah 55:6) and "I have learned the secret of being content in all circumstances, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13).   And I am sure you can add some of your own.

I know the truth.  I know what God has said, and I believe it in my mind, but I still feel discouraged in my heart.  Why?  I really can't say.   There is not one thing to which I can point.   I know this past year has been one of transition and change.  I realize my dad died a little more than 5 months ago, and maybe I am stuck in some sort of unrealized grief pattern.  I don't really know.   I wish I knew, but I don't.

So what do you when you feel discouraged?  How do you handle it?

I imagine I am not the only one who feels this way from time to time.  The pressures of life, struggles and pain, setbacks and confrontations, all of it can leave us feeling discouraged.  So what do you do?
How do you handle it?  I would appreciate your comments, and your prayers as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 18, 2014 - Along the way ...

Last week, along the way ... I stumbled upon a verse in the Bible that absolutely blew me away!

"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John.  
Since that time the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, 
and everyone is forcing their way into it."  
(Luke 16:16; NIV)

This verse occurs in the midst of a number of parables and exhortations beginning at Luke 15 aimed at the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who grumble against Jesus.   Jesus highlights their inability to rejoice at the lost being found as an indicator that they, and not the tax collectors and sinners, have turned away from God.  

He continues by declaring the difference between kingdom values and the values of this world, especially the world's (and the Pharisees) value of money and things (mammon) over people.  Then Jesus states clearly that the Law and the Prophets are not replaced, but are fulfilled in the good news of the kingdom of God.   It's all very interesting, and I encourage you to read Luke 15 and 16 so that you can see what I mean.  

Nevertheless, for today I would simply like to focus on Luke 16:16.   What does it mean, and what are its implications for our life and faith as we journey together along the way ... ?

The first thing I notice is the similarity of the words "proclaimed" and "preached".   Proclamation and preaching are means by which God sends His word to His people.  So whenever these words are mentioned we should certainly sit up and take notice.  

The second thing I see is an abrupt ending point with John the Baptist.  "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John."  But what has ended?  Certainly the Law and the Prophets are not null and void meaning we no longer need to pay attention to them.   No.  What I think has ended is the religion mediated by the Law and the Prophets where personal behavior (obedience to the written code) was highlighted as the means to gain God's favor.   Jesus says those days are now gone.  

The third thing I see, and related to the second, is that something new has begun.  "Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached".   Note how Jesus distinctly describes His message as "good news" and the content of it is "the kingdom of God".   Jesus is the King, and as the King He brings the kingdom of God.

Finally, the fourth thing I see, is the urgency with which people are receiving the kingdom: "and everyone is forcing their way into it."  There is an urgency in those words.  People simply cannot wait to receive the kingdom.  Why?  Because it is good news!   The kingdom of God is the place where sinners are accepted and made new, welcomed as children rather than condemned as outsiders.  This is the place people simply cannot wait to go!

So this begs the question for us today.  Why are people not "forcing their way into it" anymore?  Around the globe we see folks hearing the good news and receiving the kingdom with urgency, but why not in the US?  Is there something about our proclamation; our preaching that is keeping them away?  I know salvation is God's work, but I also know that bringing Christ to people is our work.  
So are we bringing people a true picture of Jesus and His kingdom?   It's worth asking the question.  What do you think?  I invite you to share your thoughts as we journey together along the way ....

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Last week I had the opportunity to see the "Son of God" film in a theater with a friend.  All in all I really enjoyed the film.  It is always interesting to see how different actors/directors portray the events and words of Jesus' life.

As I have reflected on the film, I find two things most striking.  First, the reaction of the religious leaders to Jesus, and second the disciples' surprise that Jesus' life led to rejection and crucifixion before His victorious resurrection.

First, the religious leaders refuse to believe the truth.   They see the fulfillment of every promise God ever made revealed before their very eyes, yet they refuse to believe.  In the movie, as in the gospels, their refusal borders on ridiculous.  Yet when you see it acted out before your eyes their refusal seems even more incredible.  There is even a scene at the end where Jesus is on the cross and the religious leaders are praying in the temple praising God for His faithfulness and celebrating His promises.  The juxtaposition of those two events is no doubt planned, but the reality of it is puzzling to say the least.

Second, the disciples' surprise is equally notable, especially since Jesus told them time and again that His life would lead to rejection and crucifixion before His victorious resurrection (esp. Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:18-19, 26:2).  I guess it was just too unbelievable that this incredible ride would lead to such tragic events.  It also dulled their senses to hear the good news, "three days later I will rise again."  

I realize that the Holy Spirit is operative in these reactions; blinded eyes cannot see the truth until the veil has been lifted.   Yet it challenges me to consider my own blind spots today.  What am I missing?  What is God doing among us now that I am just too blind or stubborn or oblivious to see?

So during Lent and beyond I will pray God will open my eyes so that I can see where I cannot see, hear where I cannot hear, and feel what I cannot feel, and I invite you to join me in that prayer as we journey together along the way ...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Along the Way ... March 4, 2014

Today is "Fat Tuesday" (Mardi Gras) and tomorrow is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent; a season to remember, reflect, and recommit.

Fat Tuesday is an attempt to satiate our appetites before giving them up for Lent.   However I believe that pattern misses the point.  When Jesus showed up on the scene He preached good news.  This was the good news: "The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the good news!"
(Mark 1:15)

The good news begins with an announcement; a reality that has changed the course of history forever,      
"The kingdom of God has come near."  This essentially is the good news, and the only appropriate response is to repent and believe.

To repent involves change; not only change in behavior but also change in the way we think.  I have said before and I still believe it is more important that we change our way of thinking than that we change our behavior.  Our way of thinking is religion (our attempts to make things right with God), but religion can never make us right with God.  Only Jesus, the one true king, who brings the kingdom of God near can make us right with God.  This is why the command following repent is believe.

To believe in the Bible means to believe God; to take Him at His word and trust Him completely.  Only by believing can we be made right with God.

So enjoy Fat Tuesday if you wish and observe Ash Wednesday as well but never for get when the ashes are applied and the minister says "repent and believe the good news" that it is only by believing that we can be made right with God.

I invite you to share some of your own thoughts as we journey together along the way ....