Tuesday, December 30, 2014

December 30, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we conclude 2014 and look toward 2015, I would like to encourage each of us to consider taking a page from a popular devotional strategy called "One Word".

The idea of "One Word" is to find a Biblical word or phrase that can capture your imagination for the entire year, and make it an emphasis in prayer and study toward developing one particular aspect of your life for the entire year.

Through prayer and contemplation, I have chosen a word, or should I say the word chose me.  I am not sure if it is a Biblical word, but it will be particularly relevant for me in developing as a follower of Jesus Christ.   The one word I will focus on in 2015 is "mindful".

Being "mindful" has lots of implications.   It will impact my purchases, my interactions with others, my awareness of my own thoughts, habits, and choices and how each impacts my witness for Jesus and my pursuit of His kingdom and His righteousness.

One choice I have made that should help me be "mindful" is to start each day with God's word, as I make my way through the "One Year Bible" on my iPad.  Each morning I will read some of the Jewish scriptures (what we often call the "Old Testament"), some from the gospels, Psalms and Proverbs, and the letters of the apostles.   I look forward to having my mind formed by God's word and allowing me to be "mindful" throughout my day as I listen for what God is saying to me.

I may have a few blogs in 2015 that reflect on my "one word", so be prepared.  I also encourage you to prayerfully consider finding "one word" and doing the same.  If you make that choice, I invite you to share your own "one word" as a comment to this blog.

This is a great way to start the new year, and to learn from one another as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

December 23, 2014 - Along the Way ...

"Seeing isn't believing, but believing is seeing" ... "Just because you haven't seen something, doesn't mean it isn't real" ... "Sometimes the most real things are the things you can't see" ...

These are quotes from movies like, The Santa Clause and The Polar Express, and I am sure there are similar quotes in other traditional Christmas movies.   So they got me thinking as we continue on this Advent journey in 2014 about the role belief in Santa Claus might play in our world today.

I will admit that for years I railed against the belief in Santa Claus as a distraction from the truth about Jesus.  Like a classic episode of South Park, I pitted Santa Claus against Jesus in a dueling death match.   But I am coming to a different opinion the more I consider the role Santa Claus, and the poem "The Night Before Christmas" play in the world today.

Believing in something we can't see is one of the most challenging obstacles to believing the good news about Jesus.  It's not just that we can't see Him now, and that we have to rely on the eyewitness accounts of His contemporaries, but it is that even many of His contemporaries refused to hear or acknowledge the truth as Jesus told it to them.

This morning I was watching part of the movie The Santa Clause with my children.  As I saw Scott Calvin being persecuted for who he had become (Santa Claus), and the things he said about his experience, I realized that Jesus was treated much the same way simply for telling the truth.  Only in both cases it was a truth that people were not ready to hear or believe.

Now I am not saying that Santa Claus is real, or that the movie The Santa Clause portrays the truth.  But what I am saying is that these movies, and the idea of Santa Claus, do offer a window into the fantastic world of faith.  

Consider these scriptures in light of some of the quotes I shared above.

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)
"For we live by faith, not by sight." (2 Corinthians 5:7)

These two quotes come from the same letter Paul sent to the church at Corinth, a church who was losing their faith and beginning to rely only on what they could see with their own two eyes.   To them Paul reaffirms the role of faith in receiving the wondrous blessings God has for everyone who is in Christ.

I pray that this Christmas, we will learn to see again with the eyes of faith, we will look with wonder  at the amazing events surrounding the story of Jesus' birth, and we see the fantastic world of faith revealed through the eternal Son of God, who took on flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you!   May there be peace on earth, and may it begin with us, as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 16, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we continue this Advent journey, today has me thinking about time.  Time is something we all experience, but most of us struggle to understand.  

First of all, we know that time is God's creation.   He invented time, and therefore He stands outside of time.  This is how the Bible is able to say in 2 Peter 3:8-9 ...

"Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  

Time is not as significant to God, as it is to us.  Yet there is always purpose to time.  We wait because God is patient, not wanting anyone to perish.  We wait, and we are called to be patient too, as we have been given the Holy Spirit who develops our patience like a fruit on a living vine.

But how does the Holy Spirit develop our patience?   

I have often said, "Patience is a virtue, but that does not make it easy."   It is hard to wait, yet we are called to wait, and during Advent we acutely feel the weight of our waiting.   So how does the Holy Spirit help us develop the fruit of patience?

Spiritual disciplines are the tools the Holy Spirit uses to develop His fruit in us.  And the Spiritual discipline we use together to develop patience is the church calendar.   

It was the same for God's people before Christ.   They had annual feast days and festivals, which helped them to remember the past as they lived in the present and looked forward to the future.  
Our church calendar functions for us today in much the same way.  

The church calendar begins with Advent, follows into Christmas, Epiphany (celebration of Jesus as the light of the world), Lent, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.  Each year we relive these moments in Jesus' life, remembering, finding strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow.   

Ultimately, we know that as we learn to wait, that God will one day bring an end to our waiting, and Jesus will return in power and glory!  He will come to judge the living and the dead, and to make all things new!   Our waiting will not be in vain, for those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength, as the prophet Isaiah says.   Those who wait on the Lord will never be disappointed.

I invite you to share your own thoughts about waiting and the ways the Holy Spirit develops our patience, as we journey together along the Way ... 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

December 9, 2014 - Along the Way ...

As we prepare for the coming of the King, we ought to examine our thoughts, our habits, and our choices.

This morning, in my devotions, I read Hosea 2:2-23.   I encourage you to read it as well.   You may be shocked, as God reveals His true feelings about love, faith, and obedience.   We do not often hear such graphic words of condemnation, but it is God's heart revealed through His word.

After reading Hosea 2:2-23, consider your thoughts, habits, and choices.   Are they pleasing to God?

Sometimes we misunderstand grace as permission.   Grace is not permission.  Grace is an undeserved gift.  God extends His mercy and love to us, even when we have done nothing to deserve it.  It is a gift, and though the awesome power of the Holy Spirit, grace is life changing.

None of us will ever be perfect this side of heaven, that is why we need Jesus.   Nevertheless, we should not resign ourselves as victims of our own inability.   We are God's children!  We have been called by name.  We have been forgiven, redeemed, and restored through faith in the blood of Jesus.
Every day we are being made new in the image of Christ by the Holy Spirit.   We are not victims.  In fact, the Bible says "we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!" (Romans 8:37)

Note that even in Hosea 2 at verse 14, God promises to bring His bride back and renew His love for her.  This is amazing grace!  God loves us, and His love restores us and makes us new!

So as we continue to prepare for the coming of the King, let us each examine our own thoughts, habits, and choices to see if there is something we ought to surrender to the grace of God.  Let us do so in preparation for the coming of the King, as we journey together along the Way ...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December 2, 2014 - Along the Way ...

Today, I want to reflect on Advent; the time of year in the Christian calendar when we remember what it was like for God's people to wait for the coming Messiah, as well as remind ourselves that we are now waiting for the return of Christ to make all things new.

So how should we prepare for the coming of the King?

In Psalm 24:4, we are told those who may ascend the mountain of the LORD (temple), and stand in His holy place, are those who have clean hands and a pure heart, who do not trust in idols and do not swear by a false god.

So we need to prepare ourselves in order to approach the King.

In Psalm 24:5, we are then promised that those who do will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God their Savior, and then verse 6 tacks on these words ...

"Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob"

So I ask myself, am I of that generation, am I seeking God's face?  

In order to answer that question, we must first ask what does that mean?   What does it mean to seek God's face?

The word "seek" itself implies that seeking requires effort.   It does not simply happen, it involves a clear decision, a commitment to pursue at all costs.   God's face is His entire being, it is His character, all that He is.  Knowing God is a lifelong pursuit.   We cannot know Him unless we invest time, seeking Him, reading His word, asking for understanding, wisdom, etc.  

So am I seeking God's face, am I preparing myself for His coming by exerting effort to really know Him?  

I will allow each of us to answer that question for ourselves, but as I do I also want to direct us to something Jesus taught while He was here on earth.  

(Read Matthew 25:1-13)

This is the Parable of the Ten Virgins, it is sandwiched between Jesus' words on the day of the LORD.  In offering these warnings, Jesus instructs us to "keep watch" for we do not know the hour or the day.  

Are we keeping watch?  Is there something we should be doing that would show that we are seeking, that we are keeping watch?  

These have been my thoughts, I encourage you to share some of your own, as we journey together along the Way ...