Monday, November 20, 2017

Revelation 3:7-13

Revelation 3:7-13
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  We put ourselves in the middle of the story --- we like to be the heroes of our stories.  We like to be the ones who work out the solution, who save the day. 
  When we come to Scripture, though, it is God who is the hero of the story, and he is saving us from an enemy over which we cannot prevail on our own strength.  He is the one who has opened the door, and he is the one who will keep the door open.  I love here how the letter mentions that the people in Philadelphia have little power.  Note that it isn't a bad thing -- it's simply a fact, and it doesn't change the story.  Their little power does not prevent them from serving God -- they can still be faithful and stay true to the name of their Savior.  They are working with their situation, whatever it may be, serving faithfully in the present.  In the same way, we are called to serve faithfully, no matter the circumstances, no matter our situation.  If we have power or if we don't, if we have influence or if we don't, we can be faithful, patiently enduring whatever challenges we face, so that God's glory may be proclaimed.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Revelation 3:1-6

Revelation 3:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The last few months have been a sad testament to the difference between public lives and private lives.  Many figures that were once held in high esteem have been brought down due to allegations of how they acted in private.  They lived a double life for a time, but eventually, the truth came out.  It almost always does.
  God sees through when we try and cover our private sins with a veneer.  That's why confession is so important -- we acknowledge our sins, both public and private, and trust in the forgiveness of God.  God is calling the church in Sardis to recognize that many in the congregation do not have a heart that matches their reputation, and so they are offered the chance to repent, to turn from sin and trust in God.  There is healing for brokenness and a balm for our souls if we accept the offer of forgiveness, but we first must stop denying our sins and confess them before God, who is faithful and just to forgive our sins. 
  We who are broken have quite a story to tell, of a God who forgives and of life restored!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Revelation 2:18-29

Revelation 2:18-29
English Standard Version (ESV)

  As a parent, I'm not always great about praising my children.  I'm usually quick to criticize, but it's much harder for me to give them the praise they often deserve.  I'm trying, and I think I'm doing better, but there's still a long way to go. 
  God notices what we do.  That's an important thing to remember -- it matters how we choose to live.  So often, we act like much of our lives don't matter.  We compartmentalize our lives, and the ones that fall outside of the 'church' part are ignored, or we think that God doesn't care.  God notices.  God cares.  It's important how we live, both inside the church building and when we go out into the world as the church.  We should choose carefully, paying attention to our words and deeds in each and every situation.  We have a constant opportunity to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom by holding fast to joy and hope, pointing to love and extending grace.  God is paying attention -- this need not strike fear in our hearts, for God has proven himself to be merciful and patient, but it should encourage us to lead lives that would be praised.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Revelation 2:12-17

Revelation 2:12-17
English Standard Version (ESV)

  There's an old Jonathon Edwards sermon about sinners in the hands of an angry God, and it captures a lot of popular theology -- that we are all sinners and God is looking for any excuse to cast us into the pit of eternal fire.  It's based on fear, and we all fall prey to this line of thinking in some small way.  Sometimes we are paralyzed by the fear that we aren't good enough for God, while other times there are nagging doubts as we wonder what grade we get on God's report card at the end of it all.
  I don't believe for a second that God is eager to condemn.  To my reading, Revelation paints a picture of a God that wants people to turn from sin and towards God.  These letters are invitations to turn away from sinful thinking, and the plea is that a sinful people will repent.  God comes with an invitation to find grace and conquer.
  So do not let fear rule your heart and mind.  Take courage in the grace of God, and find comfort in the invitation extended to each of us.  It is true that we are all sinners, but it is a greater truth that God has conquered sin and invites us all to dwell with him through the power of forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Revelation 2:8-11

Revelation 2:8-11
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  I've run a few 5ks, and that last 0.1 is always fascinating.  I'm usually exhausted, and that last mile has taken twice as long as the first one.  My sides feel like they're going to explode and my legs ache, but knowing that the finish line is near stirs up something within me that allows me to push forward, usually much faster, and finish strong.  (I then collapse, but hey -- I finished!)  Once we know the end of the race is near, we can push forward.  The hardest part is in the middle, when the rush of starting has faded and the finish feels a long way away. 
  In those times, when we're in the middle of the struggle, the church needs to gather around one another and remind each other of the crown of life.  When relationships are strained and finances are tight and cancer knocks at the door, we gather together and remember the promised crown of life -- while we will have tribulation for a little while, if we are faithful to death, we receive a prize far greater than what we could imagine  We will conquer because He has conquered!!! 
  So press on, and remember your brothers and sisters in the race with you.  Encourage one another, and do not forget about the crown of life that awaits!!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Revelation 2:1-7

Revelation 2:1-7
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I love the letters to the churches that are included in Revelation.  They're a glimpse into what God has to say to real-world churches, both how they are praised and where they are rebuked.  There is much to celebrate, but there is still room to grow in faithfulness.  For each of us, this is a helpful reminder that we are never all the way there on this side of heaven -- God is  always going to push us toward a growing edge, no matter how uncomfortable it may be for us.  We still have room to grow closer to God.
  The church in Ephesus endures trials patiently, concerned about the faithfulness of its leaders.  This is good, and John leads with this -- but there is still more work to do.  Over time, their love and passion for the Gospel has faded, and God is calling them back to this, reminding them of how deeply they loved God. 
  Just as the church in Ephesus has room to grow, so do we.  Set aside time to listen and consider your growing edges, that we may each have a faith that pushes deeper and leads us closer to God.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Isaiah 40:27-31

Isaiah 40:27-31
English Standard Version (ESV)

  When I get to the end of the day, I'm usually pretty tired.  Whether it's a long day at work or a day spent hiking in the woods, it feels like there is often a limited supply of energy that dwindles down.  By the end of the day I'm tired, and I'm unable to pay attention like I could in the morning.
  God is not like this -- God does not grow weary.  God loves the world and has loved it from the start, and the love God feels for us does not decrease at the end of the day.  God is ready to forgive the 70th sin just as eagerly as the first, for God is the everlasting Father, rejoicing as his children come home to him. 
  We learn from God  We who put our hope in the Lord are promised renewal in Him.  Isaiah paints a vision of what the future looks like, and it is one in which we are caught up in God's boundless energy, surrounded by his love and carried forward by his grace.  It is a beautiful picture, and we are wise to hold it fast in our minds and to live with that eternity in our hearts.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Exodus 24:9-11

Exodus 24:9-11
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Sometimes things in life are incredibly complicated to explain.  Maybe you had an experience that defies words, or you were someplace so beautiful that you can't hope to capture it in words.  You might try and take a picture, but sometimes even that falls short.  I remember being out in the woods not too long ago and simply being overcome with the splendor of it all -- there were no words to describe how I felt, and no picture could capture the experience, but the joy and fulfillment in my heart were amazing.  I'd describe it... but words fail.
  So often in Scripture, when the authors are trying to describe an experience with God, you can tell that words simply don't do justice.  Here in Exodus, one of the most interesting passages in Scripture to me, the elders of Israel go up to the mountain and dine with God.  The ground beneath God's feet, we're told, is like a pavement of sapphire stone, like heaven.  You can tell that there simply isn't a word in the human language to convey what it was like.  The author tries to paint a picture, but ultimately, we simply don't have the ability to talk about it, because it's so different, so other than what we are used to, that we can only do our best to try and get close.  (The reason I find this passage so fascinating is that the elders of Israel ATE DINNER WITH GOD and then, just a few short weeks later, were busy creating idols when Moses didn't come down off the mountain.  Dinner with God wasn't enough to convince them that they should devote their lives to the worship of the one true God.  Sin is real, and sin is strong.)
  So when we talk about God's love, realize that we simply run out of words to describe how powerful and amazing God is.  We just can't describe God, because our words cannot capture God's greatness.  Just the same, our words fall short when we try and describe how much God loves you.  There aren't enough words to say how far God would go to save you from sin.  God loves you with such depth that the English language cannot capture it.  Give thanks!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Ephesians 5:1-2

Ephesians 5:1-2
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's intimidating as a parent to realize that your children often turn out just like you.  Children watch their parents to see how they act and react, and that's the behavior they show to the world, good or bad. 
  As Christians, much of what the world learns about God is from our behavior.  When we treat others with love, we demonstrate that we are imitating our loving Father, who selflessly gave himself up for us, not counting the cost but only focused on how much he loves us.  When we think of our friends and neighbors, do we count the cost, or do we love selflessly, as God loves us?  What does our behavior teach others about our heavenly Father?  How do our lives proclaim Christ, and what kind of Christ do they proclaim?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mark 7:14-23

Mark 7:14-23
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  We're always looking for excuses.  We want someone or something to blame -- if things are going poorly, it can't really be our fault, right?  Wouldn't it be great to blame that mean thing you said on something you ate?
  In this passage, Jesus tackles the dietary laws head-on.  He tells the people that it's not how you eat that makes you a good person, but it's the condition of your heart.  Where you focus your thoughts, what you think about when you have free time -- if you're focused on what is pure and good, then that will overflow and your interactions, your words, will be good.  However, if you spend your time thinking on things that are selfish and hateful and evil, that, too, will overflow.
  We can't blame our wicked impulses on other things or people or influences.  We have to take responsibility for our character.  We can then confess our sins to God, trusting in his forgiveness, and asking him to guide us to be the kind of people who selflessly love others and build up one another. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

John 19:38-42

John 19:38-42
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's Monday morning -- a new week is beginning, filled with hopes and dreams and uncertainties and anxieties, but you can take comfort in one thing -- Jesus Christ ascended the cross and went to the tomb so that your sins might not burden you into this week.  You don't have to spend a single second of your week worrying about a sin that is in your past.  You don't have to fear if God loves you, because God has proven it, once and for all, when he willingly entered a tomb and died the death that we deserved.  Christ died for you, and because he died, you shall live.  The world closed the tomb, thinking that was the end of the story, but a new beginning was on hand.
  So as you go into the day, picture a new world, lit with the love of God, is before you.  Live like that's what matters more than anything else. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

John 6:16-21

John 6:16-21
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Being in a boat at night is a fascinating experience.  It's often calm and quiet -- it can be a very peaceful place.  It is also intimidating -- you feel very small, and if your mind starts to wonder, you realize how much trouble you could be in if you fell out of the boat.  So if the water is rough and the night is turbulent, it sounds like a terrifying time to be in a boat in the middle of a sea. 
  But the disciples weren't afraid then.  They were only afraid when they saw Jesus walking on the water, probably because they thought he was a ghost.  Until Jesus walked out to them, they don't seem to be afraid. 
  The more time we spend around Jesus, the less afraid we are.  When we get the mindset that nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that even death doesn't have power over us, that can be wonderfully freeing.  There is nothing to be anxious about when we realize that eternity is in God's hands, and that we dwell there in safety.  There are other times in the Gospels, including times in a boat, when the disciples are afraid for their lives, just as there are times when we will take our eyes off of Christ and fear for ourselves.  But when we focus on him, we need not fear, for the mountains can collapse into the sea and he is still with us.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Matthew 28:16-20

Matthew 28:16-20
English Standard Version (ESV)

  A restaurant can spend millions on marketing, but that money is not as effective as satisfied customers telling their friends and family about the great food.  A brand can have the best marketing, but if those who use the product aren't satisfied or impressed, the brand will struggle to find success.  The ability of a message to spread depends on how excited the people are to be part of the movement.
  Authority has been given to Christ, but he then invites us to be a part of his kingdom, to participate in the expansion by inviting others.  We who have been blessed to come to know Christ as King and Savior are invited to be a blessing to others by sharing the news of a Savior who loves without qualification and extends mercy without merit.  If we are transformed by grace, we can then invite others to come, to taste and see, and experience the love of God.
 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
English Standard Version (ESV)

  If you're Catholic, today you are marking All Saints' Day, a remembrance and celebration of those who have died and dwell in Heaven.  Many Mexicans are marking the Day of the Dead, a multi-day remembrance of those who have died. 
  We stand in a long line of faithful believers.  Those who have gone before us sought to live faithfully, and their lives were joined to the church universal in praising Christ.  Their lives continue to praise Him now. 
  I don't know exactly what it will be like when Christ returns in glory.  He has promised to, and considering that God has kept every previous promise he has made, I am completely confidant that he will keep that one as well.  We will experience the promised fulfillment of the promises and dwell in the heavenly city, where there will be no more pain or darkness, only light and life. 
  So let us wait actively, living into our hope, seeking him above all else, and trusting that whatever is in store for us will be better than we can ask or imagine.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Joshua 1:1-9

Joshua 1:1-9
English Standard Version (ESV)

  So often when we are called to something new, we focus on all the things that intimidate us.  Our eyes and our hearts are fixed on what we cannot do, and as a result we tremble and wonder what might go wrong.
  Think about Joshua -- he was called to fill the shoes of Moses.  Moses led the people through the wilderness for 40 years and communed with God -- they often had to cover his face with a veil because it glowed after Moses spent time with God.  Joshua was the next leader of the community -- he could have spent his life intimidated, thinking about how he would never live up to Moses.
  God called him to be strong and courageous, focusing on the most important thing -- that God would never leave nor forsake him.  Joshua was not on his own, and we know that God works through our weaknesses to show his glory.  If we meditate on God's Word and trust in him to lead us, drawing closer to God each day, we need not be frightened.  The Lord your God is with you wherever you go!

Monday, October 30, 2017

1 Peter 1:22-25

1 Peter 1:22-25
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I'd be a little nervous to live just below a dam -- if water overflowed from the dam, it would surely go beyond the banks of the river and inundate my house.  It would be a powerful outflow that would greatly change my life.
  In the same way, how we treat one another is out of the overflow of our hearts.  If we allow the love of God to shape our hearts, treasuring the unconditional love and grace and mercy of God and meditating on his law and love, that will overflow out of our hearts and change the way we treat everyone.  The more time we spend with God and his Word, the more challenged we will be to love and serve our neighbors.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Hebrews 6:17-20

Hebrews 6:17-20
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  I read with great sadness of the passing of my friend, Dewey French.  One of the kindest people I've had the blessing of meeting, he stopped by the church office at least 3 times a week, sometimes just for a cup of coffee.  Seeing Dewey was often the highlight of the day. 
  In the midst of the storms of life, the idea of an anchor is so appealing.  When the rains pound and death knocks at the door, the anchor holds fast, a certain hope that has the resurrection of Jesus Christ to secure it.  There is no power in life, no power in death, that can take us from him, and so while I mourn, I give thanks for the hope we share in Christ -- we have a way through the curtain, beyond the veil, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As sorrowful as death is, there is a greater hope that holds to me now, and I give thanks for that eternal peace that is promised.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Isaiah 66:12-14

Isaiah 66:12-14
English Standard Version (ESV)

  As a father, I understand the feeling of uselessness well.  There's nothing quite like the sensation of holding a crying, hungry baby, knowing that there is nothing I can do -- that's a problem only mom can fix.  I do what I can to soothe and assure, but it's limited.
  In the same way, there are so many problems with humanity that we struggle to fix.  We long for peace, for the end of hatred and violence, for the earth to be restored.  While it's important for us to work to do our part to work for peace, for shalom, we can only do so much -- there are certain things we cannot do.
  The complete restoration, true and lasting and complete peace, can only come from God.  Only God can do this, and so while we join in his efforts, we ultimately depend on him to bring about lasting peace.  As a child resting at peace on his mother's lap, so too are we in the hands of God, at peace with someone who can wholly provide for our needs and restore us to peace.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Exodus 3:7-12

Exodus 3:7-12
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We often suffer in silence.  We think that our problems don't matter, or we take a position of pride and struggle through them without letting anyone else in on the hardships we are facing.  We put on a brave face, and so often we tell those around us, even those closest to us, that we are OK, even when it seems like our life is often falling apart. 
  We sometimes even do this in prayer, assuming that we don't want to burden God, or that we need to hold it together when we approach God.  Maybe we feel shame because our problems of our own making.
  Whatever it is, God has surely seen the affliction of his people.  God notices our pain, and God cares.  The message of Scripture is that God intervenes in our brokenness so that we might find healing.  Here in Exodus, God sends a messenger to remind the people of his love and provision for them.  There is a path forward, however unexpected it may be, if they want to trust that he has heard their cries and that God cares.
  So cast your cares upon him.  Our afflictions and hardships matter to God, and if we as a community are going to love others the way God loves us, may we be willing to be vulnerable and willing to listen to those around us who are in need.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Deuteronomy 34:1-4

Deuteronomy 34:1-4
English Standard Version (ESV)

  It's good to set goals, but sometimes we don't make it all the way to our goals.  They drive us, motivate us, but eventually, they prove to be just beyond our reach.  Maybe they are not ours to grasp?
  Throughout the journey of the Israelites, Moses is their leader, directing them and chiding them and trying to keep the community together.  For forty years, he has surely thought about the Promised Land.  He's directing the entire community there.
  But even if it is Moses' goal, God doesn't intend for him to make it to the Promised Land.  That doesn't mean that Moses is a failure or that God doesn't love Moses, it just means that life doesn't always turn out just like we plan.  Sometimes, God has another vision, and it's important for us to remember that when our plans don't work out the way we intend, all this means is that we don't have a full working grasp of God's plans.  We don't get the final say, and we have to trust God's wisdom and love. 
  Don't be discouraged if goals are beyond your reach.  Keep walking in faithfulness with God, and trust in Him and the bigger picture.  God has always pushed us forward to grow and develop in faith, and he will continue to do so, even if that doesn't look exactly like we anticipate.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Proverbs 1:1-7

Proverbs 1:1-7
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Graduation is a glorious day!  No more tests, no more assigned readings, no more lectures.  The achievement of school has passed, and greater things await.
  Proverbs offers us a helpful reminder -- if we are wise, we recognize that our learning doesn't stop.  If we want to continue to grow as Christians, it's vital to continue to find a place where we can learn.  We need to find Christians willing to teach us, and we need to be humble enough to admit our need to learn.  Growth only happens when we gather with people more mature than we are, and they pour into us, just as we should be pouring into other Christians.  To be wise means we recognize how little we know.
  It's not very popular to admit that you don't know everything.  It seems like our political landscape is filled with people who grow in stature the more brash they are -- to engage in humble conversation and engage from a position of vulnerability isn't wildly popular right now.  So it's a different way -- a different lifestyle.  What's it mean for you to continue to learn, to continue to grow in faith?

Friday, October 20, 2017

1 Peter 1:1-5

1 Peter 1:1-5
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Know what's great news?  A living hope.  Not a hope that was declared thousands of years ago and is still a moment in history.  Our hope is alive, having shattered the bonds of death.  Our hope is alive, and it's living in us, calling us forward into God's marvelous future, a future that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading.  I can't tell you exactly what that future is like, but the hope that lives within us pulls us towards us, reminding us of its power each and every passing day.  When the beauty of the world around us overwhelms us, when the love of a fellow human surrounds us, when the peace of God dwells richly in our hearts, these are moments in which our living hope is stirring us up to gaze forward, to waken our hearts to the reality of God's great love and the coming Kingdom of God.  Now is not the time to sit back and wait -- now is the time to live along with our hope, to let it form and shape us, to let it guide us into the kind of people God has called us to be!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Romans 8:18-19

Romans 8:18-19
English Standard Version (ESV)

  This is the hardest thing about being human.  My 6 year old son likes waiting as much as he likes broccoli.  They could be handing out ice cream at the front of the line and he'd get anxious waiting.  We don't like waiting, and so what we often do is choose the easy way out -- we look at distant promises and think they are too far off, and so we settle for something that offers more immediate gratification.  A long way down the road, we may regret this decision, but in the meantime we are grateful that we don't have to wait any more. 
  Christianity urges us to discipline ourselves to be patient, to trust in slow discipleship that takes a lifetime to develop, to focus on spiritual practices that don't feel like they are yielding immediate fruit but will develop our character in the years and decades to come.  It's hard to wait, and there are so many temptations to stop denying ourselves immediate pleasure, but Christianity points to abundance that waits down the road.  It's not 'Your Best Life Now', perhaps, but God has always promised that it would be worth the wait, and God is a promise keeper, so let us keep our eyes and hearts focused on the future glory.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Revelation 3:15-22

Revelation 3:15-22
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I've been to a few concerts that are general admission, and I'm always amazed by the people that get there early to reserve a seat near the front.  They give up significant amounts of extra time, all to squeeze forward uncomfortably for the experience of being closer to the band.  I find space in the back, hearing the same music, but having a very different experience.  Mine is probably much more comfortable, but more subdued as well.  At least I'm in the concert, right?
  It's pretty easy for most of us to hang back, finding a comfortable spot and waiting for what we consider to be the perfect moment.  The problem is that those perfect moments to engage are often only clear in hindsight.  It requires a risk in the moment, and it can be uncomfortable.  It's much easier to get lulled into the idea that we are in need of nothing, not realizing how much we are missing by preferring our comfort over fully engaging with the Gospel.
  Christ comes to us.  The amazing truth of the Gospel is that the Savior comes to us, knocking on the door and seeking a path into our lives.  We don't have to figure it all out -- we have to accept the gift that comes to us, but the next step isn't to sit back and wait to figure it all out.  We are then charged to go forth with passion, with energy, and let the Gospel transform us.  We must recognize our total need for grace and let our gratitude for God's love and mercy guide every word and action.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hebrews 13:7-9

Hebrews 13:7-9
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Walking Caleb to school this morning, it's noticeably colder than it was last week.  There is frost on the ground and leaves blowing in the wind.  Everything around points to the seasons changing, as kids on the playground are bundled in coats and parents assume the posture of trying to keep warm, with hands in pockets or collected around a cup of warm coffee.
  The world around us is in constant flux.  The weather changes, the global political environment changes, storms and political leaders rise and fall.  If we look to the world around us for certainty, we will be sorely disappointed.
  Jesus Christ, however, never changes.  His grace and his love and his mercy are everlasting, and the characteristics of God are unchanging.  Just as God was yesterday, he is today and will be forever.  The promises of God are not based on emotional whims, but eternal truths, and those of us who choose to live by these can take assurances that the things God promised in the Bible will be true because has promised that they will, and just as Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises that were made about him, so, too, will the promises about the future one day come true.  That means that there is an eternal city prepared for us, and that we are to live in today's changing world with one foot anchored in eternity and hearts prepared to love the people around us enough to tell them about the love God has for them.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Psalm 139:13-16

Psalm 139:13-16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  On Friday, we welcomed a new life into the world.  It's an amazing process, what God does, and simply to catch glimpses of it brings one to wonder.  There are so many miracles about the process of birth, and in the end there is a new life, filled with possibilities.  Who knows what God has in store?
  For so much of life, we should be filled with wonder.  We easily forget that -- we get accustomed to whatever is around us, and we forget about the miracles.  Having a child is a good reminder for me to sit back and wonder.  God is at work in the world around, and part of my life as a Christian is to be in awe of what God is doing, both inside of me and around me.  The world is singing God's praise, and sometimes it is enough to sit back and enjoy the wonder, to listen to the song, and give praise for God's good provision.

Friday, October 13, 2017

John 3:27-30

John 3:27-30
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Everything truly good in your life is a gift from God, and it all points back to God.  The parts of our lives that show true and selfless love -- that points to God.  The moments of pure beauty are windows through which we catch glimpses of the one true God.  The laughter we share reminds us of God's eternal joy.  The times of peace we experience give us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is like.  These things are all gifts from God, and we are right to celebrate them with grateful hearts.
  For a life that spreads the Gospel good news, it shouldn't be all about us.  We're not looking to build ourselves up -- the goal is to let God increase, so that our lives might have more of these moments and let others see a glimpse of the Kingdom at work within us.  When God's hope and peace and grace and love shines through, then it's not about us, it's about God, and as we are decreasing, God is increasing.  This is the faithful journey -- it's hard work, but the more God increases, the more we find ourselves at peace, resting confidently in the supreme grace of God.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

1 Corinthians 3:18-23

1 Corinthians 3:18-23
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The wisdom of the world teaches us about scarcity.  It teaches us that in order for us to succeed, someone else must slip further down the ladder, because there is only so much to go around.  This creates an urgency in us to get there first, and it also teaches us fear -- for if someone else is getting ahead, then there is only so much left for us.  We fear outsiders due to this mindset, because they are going to consume some of the limited supply, increasing the uncertainty in our own lives.  Scarcity motivates us.
  The wisdom of God seems foolish in comparison.  The wisdom of God teaches us that we can relax, because there is enough.  We don't have to be afraid -- God's favor exists in abundance for each of us, so that even if we were the only ones, there would still be more than enough.  All things are ours, no matter who we are.  Death cannot prevent such blessings, and the richness of God overflows for all, so we can welcome others into our lives and share our abundance with them, because there is enough.
  One of these paths sows fear, while the other spreads life and love.  May we choose to rest in the abundance of God, following it out into the world to announce that the richness of God is enough for us all.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Colossians 4:2-6

Colossians 4:2-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We always keep one foot rooted in heaven, reminding ourselves that God is sovereign and that we ultimately belong to him, and one foot rooted in earth, remembering that we love and serve our neighbors, constantly on watch for opportunities to weave threads of the Gospel into conversations.  Our prayers are for wisdom and courage and boldness in evangelism, that we as a church might be equipped to proclaim the Gospel news, recognizing that the proclamation of the Gospel is the single most important thing in our lives. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Matthew 6:19-24

Matthew 6:19-24
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Treasure doesn't only change us once we find it -- it changes us in the process as well. 
  Think of a pirate with a treasure map, where 'X' marks the spot.  He isn't changed once he finds it -- the second he gets the map and his treasure is defined, everything else in his life rotates around seeking the treasure.  He plans, he prepares, he packs.  He makes choices based on whether they will help him reach the goal.  He might become ruthless, his very behavior changed by whether or not he intends to share the bounty.  He is driven.
  So what is your treasure?  Many of us are chasing financial security or independence.  We think it will bring freedom, and it does offer some degrees of freedom, but the pursuit of it can bind us in ways we don't recognize, and the desire for it can change how we behave, how we interact.  Others may be chasing popularity or acclaim, and that, too, shapes our lives.  Whatever the treasure is, life will not be the same once it is defined.  Some people may not be chasing anything, which is a treasure of a sort as well.
  Jesus invites us to seek the greatest treasure of all, the one that leads our heart deeper into the relationship it was created for.  The quest, while challenging, will ultimately fulfill us in a way nothing else can.  There is abundance and peace for those who seek treasure in heaven, but seeking treasure in heaven means not seeking other kinds of treasure above all else, and if we don't make this a conscious choice, it will be made for us. 
  So the invitation is two-fold.  First, pay attention to your life, to the rhythms of it.  Watch what excites you.  Pay attention to where you spend your time.  What do you think about in your idle hours?  What do you plan for?  That is likely your treasure.
  Second, seek Christ above all else.  Spend time with your Savior, and then make your other choices revolve around that.  Make God first, and the other treasures will be secondary.  They'll no longer motivate you like they used to.  You'll likely recognize that many of the promises made by financial independence or acclaim are empty.  When we lead our heart to seek Christ first, we discover the riches of grace God has in store for us.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Psalm 131

Psalm 131
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  This is one of my favorite Psalms.  I'll admit that my mind often runs far, far forward, worrying about things that I shouldn't even be thinking about.  It's taken me over a decade to find the best ways to calm myself, and this is one of the best resources I have.  I often stop, and imagine myself immersed in the arms of God, awash in his love, surrounded by light.  Like a child in the arms of a loving parent, so are we each held in the arms and presence of God.  As Augustine says, God loves you as if there was only one to love.  There is nothing we need more than the love of God, and so when I get anxious, I try and focus on how the love of God is holding me up, sustaining me, carrying me through.  It calms my mind, it calms my soul, and God is enough.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Malachi 3:6-12

Malachi 3:6-12
English Standard Version (ESV)

  We love the thought of revenge, of getting even.  The internet seems to be a happy place when someone gets what is coming, and when they do not, there is a loud outcry for justice.  It seems to be human nature for us to want to see punishment.
  Here, God accuses the people of robbing him by not bringing their full tithe to him.  I doubt this passage is read very often on stewardship Sundays, but the Bible is consistent about calling us to give a tithe to the church.
  What I love about this passage is that God isn't using this as an opportunity to rebuke or punish the people.  Instead, God is teaching them about God's character.  The flaw is pointed out, and then to answer the question about why they should follow the Law, the reward is pointed to.  God isn't motivating us through threat of punishment -- rather it's through encouragement.  God is pointing to the abundant life that comes when we choose to live according to his commands.  God isn't eager to punish, he is eager to bless.  This is what is so frustrating to me about people who try and threaten others to come to church -- we should want to come to church because we want to experience the wonder of God's grace and love, the kind of God who invites people to follow him by pointing to the blessings that come with discipleship.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua 24:14-15
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Here's the choice, today and every day.  We all have a choice to make this morning -- we have a past that lingers over us, and we can be enslaved to it, remaining in sin because it's what we know, or we can choose grace and mercy, opting to serve the Lord who offers us abundant and eternal life.  It's an easy choice in some regards, but to live into it is the single most challenging thing we can do.  I believe it's worth it, over and over again, but it's not easy.  So choose life, choose grace, and take up the delightful challenge of living in grace every moment today.  The narrow road leads to abundant life.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Exodus 40:36-38

Exodus 40:36-38
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  I don't really know what to say.  Scores have been killed, hundreds wounded, and there seems to be no explanation given.  Not that an explanation is going to make any of this better -- the deaths will still be senseless tragedies, lives stolen too soon, leaving behind friends and families to grieve what once was and what will never be.
  The Scriptures assure us that God will never leave nor forsake us, that our presence in the depths of the valley of the shadow of death will not be without God at our side.  It's hard, though, to sense the presence through the tears and the heartache, and we so deeply long for understanding that we struggle to grasp the presence of God in the midst of tragedy and chaos and death and pain.
  The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years, and throughout that time they were led by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day.  For the Israelites, it was surely a comforting reminder of the presence of God, as well as a useful guide in a time well before the advent of GPS and smartphones and maps.  The pillars served as a visual reminder of the presence of God.
  A stranger, however, might just think that it was a cloud.  Someone unfamiliar with what the cloud meant might think that this was just a mist, a shroud to confuse people caught in its midst.  They might wonder why someone would follow a cloud when it was easier to see away from the cloud.
  It's easy to wonder what God is doing in the world.  It's easy to question what the end goal is, and how we're going to get there when there is so much violence and heartache.  It feels as though there is a cloud of chaos sitting upon us, and it's challenging to hope for the fog to clear.  So much seems senseless right now.
  The Israelites, too, had their moments of weakness, when they wondered if God was still with them.  He was, and he is now, I believe.  I'm hoping for a reminder of the mission of the church, of the promise of healing, of the redemption that is found in Christ.  I need a reminder that the God who endured the cross continues to be present in the ambiguity, in the clouds of today, and that there is certainty in the resurrection, in the hope of tomorrow.  The chaos of today will not break our hope, but we as the church will stand firm and certain in the assurance of resurrection and proclaim our common hope that God is with us and that he rushes into the pain. 
  It's a hard thing to grasp, especially in the midst of so many heartbreaking stories, but I will continue to believe that even though I cannot see through the clouds.  Often the Israelites had to remain in one place for days, waiting for God to signal a way forward.  So I will sit and wait, trusting in God that he will continue to speak and will, one day, signal a way forward that will make things clear and continue the journey.

Monday, October 2, 2017

2 Timothy 2:8-13

2 Timothy 2:8-13
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Christ has died, proving that there is no power able to bind him, and as the Word of God, he goes forward into the world, unbounded by human constraints.  Paul grasped this, and he understood that there was nothing the Roman empire could do to prevent the spread of the Gospel.  Every chain, every soldier, every sword the Romans possessed were powerless against the work of the Holy Spirit, spreading like wildfire from one life to the next.  They would try and stamp it out in one place only to see it rise somewhere else, and everywhere believers stood tall, confidant that the God who overcame death would elevate them to new life in Christ.
  So when you go out into the world today, whatever it is that awaits you, trust in two things. 
  The first is that nothing can stop God's power.  Trust that his grace is sufficient, that his purpose will be achieved, that the Gospel will spread.  Do not see the powers of the world as obstacles to the spreading of the Gospel, but rather recognize them as powerless, holding a place in the world until God returns in glory.
  The second is the comforting fact that God is forever faithful, even if we are faithless.  God's faithfulness is not determined by our sinfulness. When we get distracted and stray, God remains true.  His love is a constant, and we cannot change this.  May we rejoice in the love of God and the grace of our King!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Psalm 23:5-6

Psalm 23:5-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  When we read that goodness and mercy will follow us, our first instinct can easily be to notice all the things that don't seem to fit into the categories of goodness and mercy.  We point to areas where there doesn't seem to be goodness and we wonder where God is in this.  We ask God why we can't sense his mercy.
  There are no easy answers for these questions.  I believe that God is good, but I also believe that there is still evil and chaos in our lives, and the presence of these often overshadows God's goodness in our lives.  The fact that you can read God's Word in a house tells of amazing wonders, of gifts of life and love and shelter and other gifts, but we gloss over these.  We forget what a miracle life is.  As Rachel is about to give birth to a third child, it's always amazing what God is doing -- life itself is a miracle, and each breath is a gift from God.
  So let us keep our eyes peeled for signs and reminders of God's goodness, and may our hearts look forward to the house of the Lord, that we may dwell and dine with him in heaven forever!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Psalm 23:2-4

Psalm 23:2-4
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Most people in the world have a certain degree of selfishness.  When someone calls and offers us a free lunch, there is something inside us that is suspicious -- we wonder what is in it for the buyer, right?  We're often curious if someone does something generous for us, because we think that they must be getting something out of it.
  Here in Psalm 23, we're reminded of God's selfless love.  When he could abandon us in the valley of the shadow of death, he abides with us.  When he could leave us on our own, he chooses to lead us beside still waters, to stay with us no matter what and lead us into the ways of abundant life.  God is always choosing to be with us, to remain with us, to stay with us and point us towards hope, towards peace and towards joy.  God doesn't abandon us, no matter if we deserve it -- God remains, and God does so selflessly, not out of self-interest but rather out of selfless love.  God loves you and wants you to experience his abundance and peace, and so he walks with us, every step and every day, so that we might be enveloped in his love and wrapped in his peace.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23:1
English Standard Version (ESV)

The Lord Is My Shepherd
A Psalm of David.

  On every beach vacation I've taken, I always wonder if the vista would get old.  If I up and moved there, would I one day take it for granted, stop being in wonder at the sound of the waves, complain about the seagulls and how sand gets everywhere?  Would I stop bothering to watch the sunset, which was the same as the one before?  Would it get stale?  (I'd like to move and find out!)
  Scripture can be the same -- we can come to a familiar verse and read it out of habit, ceasing to wonder at the truth buried within.  We can miss what's incredible when it becomes familiar.
  The 23rd Psalm is one you've probably heard hundreds of times if you've been a Christian for years.  It becomes a rhythm, and when you finish reading it, you can sometimes wonder what you just read.  But the first verse amazes me -- what's it like to not want?
  When you're a Christian, you realize that the truth and love and mercy and grace of God are truly all you need.  There is nothing else that you need for life and for abundance.  When God cares for us, that is enough.
  Our souls and brains are often so caught up in wanting things -- be it material things or simply more time or rest.  In God, when we rest in him, we want for nothing.  That is what the promise of heaven is -- no more restless yearning.  We are complete in him, and we lack for nothing.  We can finally rest, at peace.
  And so I pray that you may get a window into what it means to want for nothing.  To see the things around us and be at peace, knowing that you are enough, that you have enough, that Christ is all in all.  May we experience that grace fully, tasting to see that the Lord is good, getting a glimpse of heaven for a moment to wonder at the life to come when God is enough and more.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

James 1:12-15

James 1:12-15
English Standard Version (ESV)

  If you stand by the ice cream stand long enough, eventually you'll buy an ice cream.
  It's the pathway of sin that we all have walked -- we have a desire, and we allow our minds to dwell on it.  We flirt with it, always believing that we are stronger and able to resist.  We wouldn't give in to it, but we'll play with it, entertain it, and the more time we spend with it, the more our resistance weakens, the more tempting it becomes, and eventually we give in.  Our desire gives birth to sin, and sin leads to death.  It's a slow process, and it would be certain were it not for the grace of God, who intercedes to disrupt the pathway to death.
  In Jesus Christ, we have a pathway out of sin, we have a path to life.  In paying the ultimate price for sin, he accepts the punishment we deserve and creates another option -- one that leads to eternal life.  It is a free gift, an invitation to us all.  Accept the grace and love of God, and we will walk with him and receive his peace, avoiding the path from sin to death and instead choosing to receive abundant and eternal life.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Revelation 4:1-8

Revelation 4:1-8
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  When John was an old man, he was granted a vision  of heaven that overwhelms the senses.  He was grasping for ways to describe it, but it clearly exists beyond what our minds can grasp.  What translates, however, is the sense of awe and wonder one gets from the throne room of God.  The only response is to worship the God who sits upon the throne and rules with mercy and power.  It's a transforming place, one words fail to describe.
  To aim our lives at the presence of God, we can't rely upon rules to guide our lives.  I once listened to a preacher describe a situation he encountered in Australia.  There, they don't have fences for the cattle -- instead, they dig deep wells, and it turns out that creating life-giving wells in the middle of the Outback is enough to keep the cattle near, and it's far more effective than creating boundary fences.  The wells keep them close.
  To follow God, the most important thing we can do is to seek to love God more than anything else.  I've been praying for this -- for the Holy Spirit to teach my heart to love God above all, that my love for God may lead my heart, and then my heart may lead my actions to honor and glorify God.  If we love God, we will seek to honor him with our choices and with our words and with our actions.  We shape our lives around what we love, and so loving God will shape how we interact and how we choose to spend our time.  God has poured out his love on us, so let us choose to love God in return for all that God has done, and may this love be the guiding light for our lives.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Romans 8:1-4

Romans 8:1-4
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Do you feel free?  Do you feel like you walk according to the Spirit?
  If you're like me, you probably don't.  And I think this is a critical point for Christians to know and understand -- it's not about how you feel.  What happens to a lot of us is that we focus on ourselves -- on our thoughts and our actions and our lives, and we let those feelings make judgments about what kind of Christians we are.  We feel compassion fatigue when we see the third wave of hurricanes sweeping across the lives of the vulnerable, and we feel guilty, and we decide that we aren't good enough Christians, and we beat ourselves up.  We do this over and over -- I'm still thinking about whether or not I responded faithfully to the homeless guy who hit me up for money on my walk to the car.  We get these thoughts and questions into our heads and they rattle around in there and pretty soon we feel terrible about ourselves, right?  Or am I the only one?
  What Paul is teaching us here is that our worth is not determined by our inner feelings.  Our value is based upon what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  In Him, there is no condemnation.  In Him, we have been set free.  That's it -- it's not conditional!!!!  We are free because God has sent his own Son, and our lives are forever changed because of Him!!!  So let us give thanks, because our worth isn't dependent on how we feel -- Paul doesn't say that there is no condemnation for those who feel good about their walk of faithfulness.  Paul says that we who are in Christ are set free due to his amazing love  Let us give thanks with a joyful heart for the steadfast love and faithfulness of God!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

1 Timothy 1:12-17

1 Timothy 1:12-17
English Standard Version (ESV)

  I'm convinced that you could spend the rest of your life plumbing the depths of this paragraph and likely never reach the bottom.  Just when you think you can grasp the beauty and wonder of God's love for us, there is more.  That's how I understand heaven -- a place where there is always inexhaustible beauty that continues to astound.
  Here is Paul, a self-admitted blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent.  Take a moment and think of all the negative labels you can hang on yourself.  I know I have plenty with which I can describe myself.  And all those labels -- they have not determined our fate, because Christ's purpose is to save people exactly like ourselves!!!  Christ didn't save us by accident.  He didn't come for the perfect people only to be disappointed that there weren't any and revert to us as plan B!  He came expressly to save sinners, and when he found us, he used us as an example of his perfect patience!  God showed up and was gracious towards us, knowing that we weren't going to get it right the first time, knowing we'd need a lot of help, and through his patience he continues to express his love and is encouraging us to move towards grace and away from sin.
  This is the God we worship, and due to his patience and grace and love, he is due all the honor and glory forever.  When we slow down enough to realize that God came precisely to save people who had turned against him, it is astounding to think of the depths of his love and patience that pursues us wherever we are!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ephesians 4:1-7

Ephesians 4:1-7
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Paul lists a group of traits that don't seem like they're in popular demand these days.  Humility.  Gentleness.  Patience.  Selfless love.  Seeking unity above all else.
  In a culture of pride that seeks to create a memorable persona so people will know who you are, these aren't traits that are admired.  In a social-media dominated culture that defines popularity by the number of followers and the ability to create a brand that others will follow and imitate, these aren't the types of qualities people will seek out.  But when building authentic community that will require people to be vulnerable and build trust, this is what you need.  When you reach the depths of life's valleys and need a companion to walk with you through the darkest chapters of life, these are exactly the type of things you look for.  When you need a friend and the world has turned its back, this is what you're looking for.
  In summary, authentic relationships are built on our willingness to be humble and consider the needs of others, to selflessly serve the community and think not of our own needs first.  When we build relationships and trust, we are able to share the Gospel effectively, out of genuine love for the other.  We are stronger when we think of another first and ourselves last.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Colossians 1:3-8

Colossians 1:3-8
English Standard Version (ESV)

  When you pray, who are you celebrating? Are you praying that those who are serving well might continue to be strengthened by the Spirit?
  When you go out today, are you remembering that your ultimate hope is in Heaven, allowing you to keep the day in perspective?  Do you cling to your hope in Christ, recognizing that all else will pass away and one day, only the Kingdom of God will remain?  Are you giving thanks for the day when you heard the Gospel and came to understand the grace of God in truth?  Do you give thanks for those who continue to faithfully go into the world to proclaim the Gospel to those who have not heard, and do you support their ministry?
  There is so much Good News in the Gospel, and so many ways that we can be encourage and then encourage and support others.  The Gospel is hope and joy and peace and grace -- and may we pray for the message to go into the whole world and continue to bear fruit and increase!

Monday, September 18, 2017

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Hurricane Irma yielded some interesting photos of the freeways in Florida -- everyone is streaming north while the southbound lanes are barren.  No one wants to head into the storm.
  In Christ, God enters into the storm of human sin.  He doesn't have to, but he chooses to, because he knows that entering into sin is the only way to save us, and he loves us too much to allow us to continue down that path.  For our sake he became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.  It's an amazing trade -- he takes the pain and brokenness and agony of sin, while we receive the glorification that rightfully belongs to Christ.  It's completely unfair in our favor.
  Paul makes this case in Corinthians, urging the Corinthians to live as ambassadors -- to go out into the world and carry the message of hope and peace of the Kingdom of God to the corners of the world.  We are charged to go out in love, carrying within us the joy of a people set free by the love of God.  He entered into our storm and gave us hope.

Friday, September 15, 2017

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

2 Corinthians 1:18-22
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  All the promises of God point toward Christ.  And what do we find in Christ?  Unlimited love, unmerited favor, endless grace, forgiveness and peace and abundance.  All of the beautiful things in this world point to Christ, the Word made flesh, the one who shows us what true love and beauty are.  Christ is the one who poured out himself on the cross to teach us how God's love has no limits.  Christ was the one who rose from the grave to demonstrate his power and invite us into his kingdom, where death cannot touch us and there is no place for hatred or sorrow or fear.
  Everything points to Christ, and so we pray for the wisdom and courage to orient our hearts towards Christ, to let our lives show our love and devotion, to give all in the hopes of gaining life with him.  There is nothing better, nothing greater, nothing worth more than the unsurpassed love of God, shown fully in Christ.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Romans 12:1-2

Romans 12:1-2
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Someone once said that the problem with living sacrifices is that they keep trying to crawl off the altar.
  This is such a wondrous and challenging verse --  it defines our call as Christians, to somehow live a life that is fully dedicated to God, seeking him above all else, trying to follow his will, which is better than our own.  It involves our bodies and our minds, resisting pressure to conform and always seeking the most faithful way at any cost, trusting in the Lord our God.
  But the world tells us to do otherwise, and so often we would prefer to take the easy route, to go away from faithfulness and seek easy happiness or pleasure.  We want to be comfortable more than we want to be faithful -- we have a hard time trusting that God's will can lead us to ultimate fulfillment and abundance, so we choose what offers pleasure here and now.
  So we take up the challenge day after day, praying for the wisdom and strength to be faithful, to pursue God's will and to find a way to use our body and mind for his glory.  This is a lifelong challenge, and God promises that it is worth our dedication!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Acts 28:23-31

Acts 28:23-31
English Standard Version (ESV)

  For two years, many people came, in great numbers, to hear the words of Paul.  And as we read them, we realize that these weren't always easy words Paul was proclaiming -- they were often tough messages.  Paul was telling them that their hearts had grown dull and that they weren't listening to God.  Paul was telling them things they probably didn't like to hear, but he loved them enough to proclaim the truth to them.  He loved them enough to be honest and give them the truth they needed to hear.
  So let's not sugarcoat the Gospel.  Paul's experience shows us that we don't have to deliver easy news to bring people.  We can say the tough things that we need to say, as long as we do so in love, trusting that serving the other selflessly will lead the closer to grace.  Let us tell the whole truth of God's great love, and let us not be afraid to speak of sin, and we will engage with society selflessly, graciously, listening and loving, and sharing the Gospel with boldness and without hindrance!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Acts 28:17-22

Acts 28:17-22
English Standard Version (ESV)

 How many items are competing for your attention at any given time?  It's likely that there is a television and a phone and several people, all of them vying for your limited attention.  In these busy times, the quicker we can make decisions, the better we are -- if we can quickly disprove or approve of something, we can turn our attention towards other, more pressing matters.
  Here, the local leaders do the opposite.  They've heard lots of negative things about the sect, but they want to hear from Paul what his views are.  And this, I believe, is the opportunity for the Gospel.  The great thing about the Gospel is that it is the single greatest Truth in the universe -- there is no argument that can prevail against it, for everything else falls short.  And so when people open themselves up to consider it, to hear the Gospel message, there is a chance for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth and beauty of the grace of the Gospel.  But people have to be willing to hear it, rather than to just listen to the various bad news and discard the opportunity.
  The Good News for you and I is that the truth of the Gospel doesn't depend on the speaker -- it shines through us, no matter how sinful we may be.  God uses clay vessels to deliver this wondrous message, and so we are presented with a great opportunity -- to be used by God to deliver the message of God's great love to the world around us.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Acts 28:11-16

Acts 28:11-16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  September 11 will forever be a strange day in our nation's history, a day filled with haunting memories of the tragedy that struck and wars launched as a result.  So many lives have been forever changed by the actions of a few that day, and we are surrounded by reminders of their hatred -- every time we go to the airport, our travels will never be the same.  The impact of hatred lingers on.
  What's dangerous is that we begin to live out of fear.  We see threats lurking behind every corner, so we hide, changing our lives to avoid the unknown, afraid and trying desperately to protect what we have.  We're afraid to reach out and encounter others, because we begin to see threats.
  God calls us to engage with the others, with the unknown.  God reminds us that we once were lost, strangers, foreigners in a strange land, and that through the work of God we have been reconciled and redeemed.  Not through out own work, remember, but through what God has done.  Our life is a gift, and our salvation cannot be taken from us.  So not only do we have no reason to fear, but also we have been given a gift, and we are to share the amazing news of that gift, in the hopes that others might come to know the giver as well.
  So we should not fear, but rather trust -- the God who has brought us this far, buying us with a price, will continue to carry us home.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Acts 28:7-10

Acts 28:7-10
English Standard Version (ESV)

  You and I have journeys that face detours every day.  We have a certain idea as to where a path is leading, and suddenly there is an interruption that leads us down another road.  Often, we go down that road with frustration, wondering what might have been or regretting the change that forced us to alter our path.  (Which makes me think of another point -- I think smartphones/social media are reducing serendipity in our lives.  We're so plugged into our individual lives that there isn't much room to meet someone unexpected anymore.)
  When our path changes, how do we greet it?  Do we recognize that the Spirit may be at work, leading us into a new place with fertile soil where we might be used for the glory of God?  Or do we sulk because we didn't get our way, waiting until this chapter is through and we can get back to what we think is important?
  Scripture is filled with examples of people who were willing to be flexible, going with the Spirit's direction into new situations, trusting that God was at work.  So today, when your will is frustrated and you end up on another path, look for opportunities to point to what God is doing.  Trust in Him and look around to see how you might spread the Gospel message.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Acts 28:1-6

Acts 28:1-6
English Standard Version (ESV)

  There's an old saying in football that you're never as bad as people say you are after a loss, and you're never as good as people may say after a big win.  The truth is often somewhere in the middle, and believing the first can lead to despair while the second can lead to an overinflated ego.
  In the same way, Paul escapes from a shipwreck only to have a viper grab hold of his hand.  At the time, the locals assume Paul was a murdered and had some pretty nasty karma working against him.  But it wasn't this bad, but Paul also isn't as good as the god they assume him to be when he survives.  He's in the middle -- a sinner redeemed by the blood of a Savior, redeemed by the Lamb and made whole by the grace of God.
  We, too, are not as bad as the devil tries to tell us we are.  We are not lost and hopeless.  We are not alone or forsaken, and God loves you as you are.  Never give up on yourself, never despair -- we are not beyond the grace of God.
  We are not, however, gods.  We are not perfect, and we must be wary of the sin of pride, of assuming that we are better than we are.  We are still sinners who turn from God and pursue our own will, our own gods, our own interests at the expense of our relationship with God and others.  We have far yet to go, and we are not there yet.
  We are in the middle of a beautiful story -- saved by grace, and yet God is still at work in us.  Believe in God, trust in him, remember from whence we have been saved and the future that lies before us, and cling to our hope in Christ to carry us forward.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Acts 27:39-44

Acts 27:39-44
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The Gospel is an amazing story.  The Word of God, the long-awaited Messiah, comes to us as fully God, fully human, offering us the hope for which our souls have longed ever since we were separated from God in the Garden.
  And just as we're starting to see the beach, as we think we are saved from our sins, Good Friday happens.  The religious leaders of the day, with Judas' help, intervene to snatch victory away, crucifying Christ on the cross and thinking he is locked safely in the tomb.
  The great joy of the Gospel is one of reversals.  The lame walk and the poor are rich in God.  The sorrowful laugh and the despairing rejoice.  When death looms, life breaks through.  Resurrection changes everything.  Just as the centurion intercedes to save Paul and the others, God breaks through and saves us from death, offering us eternal and abundant life through Christ.
  And so it is that we are brought safely through the storm

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Acts 27:33-38

Acts 27:33-38
English Standard Version (ESV)

  What makes the sea so terrifying to many is the unknown.  You can't see what's down there, and there are a few creature who aspire to do more than just nibble on your toes.  Being in a small boat in the midst of a storm in the dark and chaotic ocean fills the heart with uncertainty -- what will happen to me?  Can I make it to shore?  Are the waves too much?  Can I endure?
  These are questions we ask of many situations that face us.  Do we have the strength to persevere in the face of trials?  Do we have the resources, the energy, the ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other when the waves of life are crashing?  Is there hope beyond the next wave?
  To the 250 souls in the boat, Paul assures them that they will not perish.
  To the depth of your soul, God assures you that you will not perish.  Through the power and love of Jesus Christ, who established that death itself cannot hold him, you have seen that God is stronger than violence and Christ is stronger than death.  We worship the Victor, who not only triumphs over darkness but also abides with us in the midst of the storms.  When the darkness surrounds us and the waves crash upon us, Christ is with us, reminding us of the power of the Spirit and pointing us towards the hope within and beyond us.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Acts 27:27-32

Acts 27:27-32
English Standard Version (ESV)

  There are always people interested in getting out early.  Unconcerned about the community, they notice an alternative that seems like an easier way and seek to slide out under some pretense, perhaps slipping out the back door never to return, unwilling to be a part of a solution to whatever problem the community is facing.  Unfortunately, what often happens is that these people end up in peril as well, just as these sailors who were trying to slip away in the small boat would likely have ended up in greater peril in a small boat in the storm.
  So it's worth noting here that we are called to remain together in difficult times.  God calls us into community, and we work together to move forward through problems. It's certainly not easy, but it makes us so much stronger, and gives a more complete witness to the community.  We have to be selfless and gracious and humble, and we don't always get our way.  It's easier for a time to be on our own, but we miss out on the richness of learning other points of view.  We miss out on the love and support that comes with a community, but this comes with a cost.  People are complicated, but God is always teaching us that we gain far more than we lose by being richly involved in one another's lives and learning and growing as we deepen our sense of community, learning more about how God interacts in the Trinity, which is constantly filled with selfless love.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Acts 27:21-26

Acts 27:21-26
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Sometimes, the way out doesn't seem all that appealing.  Here's the ship, in grave danger, with the passengers fearing for their lives.  You hope for a grand parting of the waves and a pass to freedom, but instead you have Paul telling them that they need to crash the ship onto a nearby island.  You start to wonder if there isn't a better Plan B...
  As Christians, there is something in our hearts that is always looking for Plan B.  We don't like the reality of sin and our guilt, so we convince ourselves that it's not so bad, that there is some easier way out, that God isn't really all that upset about sin.  But the truth is that we cannot be in the presence of God with our sin, and so it must be wiped clean.  The only way to do this is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and so we must kneel before the cross and submit to his Lordship.  We try and stash away our guilt, preferring not to confront it, but to confront it is to allow God to heal and to forgive, to make a way forward through death and despair into new life.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Acts 27:13-20

Acts 27:13-20
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  At what point did you give up?
  Think of your life as sailing a ship.  We navigate through whatever is before us -- sometimes this is calm waters, a pleasure to sail.  Often, there are turbulent storms, rocking us this way and that.  Sometimes the breeze disappears and we aren't certain what comes next, waiting on God to give us direction while we twist in uncertainty.
  At a certain point, we realize that we can't bring the ship into port on our own.  We realize that all of our strength and all of our wisdom and all of our energy can't save the ship.  At a certain point, the storms are too strong and the waves are too high and the night is too deep -- and we realize that we cannot save ourselves.
  At this point, we recognize the sovereignty and love of God.  At this point, we bow the knee to Christ.  Some are wiser and do so before the height of the storm, allowing them to brave the storm with the confidence that there is one stronger than the storm that protects them.  Others wait until the depths of night in the thick of the maelstrom to realize that only God can save.  All of us come to the realization at one point or another -- we must give up control to our God and King, and he alone can bring us safely to port, to finish our journey and lead us home.
  How long will you run in the storm, fearful and worried, before letting the peace of God calm your heart?  How long will you fight with the rudder and battle with the sails to try and do on your own what only God can do?  When will you acknowledge him as Lord and rest in his arms, at peace with God?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Acts 27:9-12

Acts 27:9-12
English Standard Version (ESV)

  The other week I was out riding my bicycle with the kids in the trailer.  There was a sign on the path that said 'Road Closed', so I read it and then went around it, seeing no obvious danger ahead.  Sure enough, in about 150 yards there was a fence across the road.  The detour was up a steep grassy hill to the right, so I obviously decided not to turn around and go back but instead unhitched the trailer and started trying to pull it up the hill.  You can guess how well this worked out in the end...
  The lesson here is that we don't always pay attention to warning signs.  Unless there is obvious danger, we often proceed as we want, assuming we can deal with whatever shows up later.  We neglect doing small things now and often end up paying  larger consequences later on.  We think we know better, just as the centurion does here -- Paul warns him, but his warning falls on deaf ears.  We can all think of plenty of examples.
  What small sins do is lead us down a path that isn't ideal for us.  We ignore the dangers of small sins and seemingly innocent flirtations with temptation, thinking we can handle them, and later on, we discover ourselves in far greater danger than we realized was possible.  We ignore the warnings about them, thinking they aren't that dangerous, and they end up consuming more and more of our time and energy.  We often look back and recognize the folly of our short-term thinking, but it's usually too late by then.
  So when God tells us he wants complete submission, he's trying to help us avoid these situations by keeping our attention on the little things.  By avoiding the small sins, such as not telling little lies that lead us into bigger lies later, we learn to be obedient and recognize how much greater life is when we serve and follow God in all things.  God desires us to experience freedom in Christ, and calls us into discipleship so that we might enjoy that freedom in the here and now.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Acts 27:1-8

Acts 27:1-8
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  At times, our journey takes to the sea, leaving behind what we know and finding ourselves in the midst of something far bigger than ourselves, something that we cannot control.  If we have lived with the idea that we will be in control of everything possible, these legs of our journey can be shattering to our worldview, because you cannot look out at the sea from the midst of a boat and feel like you are in control.  You cannot look at oncoming clouds or an endless channel of waves and believe that the world revolves around us.
  At time, the chaos of the larger world ensnares us.  It is hard to believe some of the pictures coming out of Houston, the nation's 4th largest city, as immense amounts of water continue to flood the streets and freeways and houses and businesses there.  What has taken decades to construct is being pummeled in a weekend, and for many, life will never be the same.
  As the church, it is our job to recognize that our brothers and sisters in Houston need us.  We have a responsibility to remind them that the light still shines in the darkness, that the chaos of this world is a reminder that things are not as they ought to be, and that our God will one day set things right.  Financial gifts are the most immediate -- World Vision is the resource I trust to serve in the name of Christ.  Our prayers are important.  Mostly, I believe its important to keep the eyes of our hearts open so that we might hear when God calls us to action, so that we might be the kind of people ready to assist one another when the chaos of the seas comes crashing into the lives of the vulnerable.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Acts 26:30-32

Acts 26:30-32
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Paul is brought before them in trial, an accused man, and yet he leaves with the best wishes of the ones who had heard his case.  What they heard from Paul did not match the accusations, and he left a positive impression.
  As Christians, we go out into the world, living as part of it.  I think we all go forward as missionaries, letting the light of Christ shine through us.  May we relate to others wish love and peace, in such a way that we leave the same impression -- that others wish us well.  In doing so, perhaps they may see the grace of God shining through us.
  The Christian church doesn't always have the best image in the world.  People say and do things in the name of Christ that don't always line up with the Gospel, and the entire church is tainted because of it.  While we can't control our brothers and sisters, we can relate with humility, loving and serving all regardless of their race or creed or nationality, and love as Christ loved, freely and sacrificially.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Acts 26:24-29

Acts 26:24-29
English Standard Version (ESV)

  This is the power of the Gospel -- that a man in chains, a prisoner of the Law, might be able to tell a King that the King is enslaved and the prisoner is free.  There is no greater power than the Gospel that sets prisoners free and brings the dead to life.  Each and every one of us is enslaved by sin and death -- it binds itself around our necks and around our souls, and no physical chain compares to it.  The Gospel of grace promises us true freedom -- freedom that extends beyond the grave, freedom that goes beyond our external circumstances.  It is the great leveler, in that we all bear the same chains and have the same opportunity for freedom.
  So what does this power mean for you?
  It means that your circumstances should not define you, for in Christ, you are rich beyond measure, and your wealth cannot be torn from you.  You are loved beyond compare, and no force in the universe can separate you from this love. You have been redeemed by your God, who sent his only Son to suffer and die so that you might be set free for life.  You have been destined for life, and the chains that bound your soul have been severed from you forever.
  So do not believe for a moment that whatever trials and tribulations you face define you.  May you have the same boldness as Paul, setting aside the struggles in life and being defined by love and grace, and having such compassion for others that you do not hesitate to extend the offer to all of eternal life and grace and peace.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Acts 26:19-23

Acts 26:19-23
English Standard Version (ESV)

  CS Lewis said that it's not the parts of the Bible that he doesn't understand that scare him, it's the parts of the Bible he does understand.
  When Paul heard his commission from God, he followed it.  It meant turning his back on everything he had known and following a new path, one that would be very costly to him, ultimately costing him his life.  He believed it was worth it, because he had the chance to proclaim the greatest Truth, that the promises of the Old Testament had been fulfilled in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross.
  So we, too, are charged.  We're charged to go forth and serve, to love and humbly reach out to those around us.  We're called to proclaim the Truth of the Gospel in word and deed, and to give out of our abundance, to give sacrificially, and to recognize that everything we have belongs to God.
  Jesus makes this all clear, but we twist it because it's a hard challenge.  We're not interested in offering up everything, so we convince ourselves that the call of the Gospel isn't on everything, just on some parts of our lives.  We opt for an easier disobedience.
  The amazing thing about the Gospel is that there is grace for us.  We are given a new day to fall into the grace of God, to confess that we fall short and to be reassured by the promises of God.  You are infinitely loved, and you are called into a life of discipleship.  May we have the wisdom and courage to follow today.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Acts 26:12-18

Acts 26:12-18
English Standard Version (ESV) 

  And with this message, lives were changed.
  Just think of how different the world is -- Paul takes the message of the Gospel, the hope of life beyond death and joy beyond desolation, and proclaims it across the known world.  His letters are read for centuries, and today we still read his words and take hope, because he was willing to listen and obey, to humbly admit that he was wrong and that the Lord's will for his life was greater and wiser.
  How many missionaries have followed his example?  How many pastors, how many faithful servants have been willing to heed the call, to recognize the light of the Gospel and to follow wherever it may lead?  How many lives have been changed by the light of the Gospel, piercing our darkness and pointing towards a better way?
  God's hope and light and joy and life are on the move, and we have the chance to join them, to follow them, to let God lead us.  I don't know what God has in store for me or for you, but I do know and believe that it is greater and more abundant than what we would plan for ourselves, for God knows our hearts better than we, and he wants greater things than we can ask or imagine.  We serve, and in our serving the Gospel we find ourselves richer than we can imagine.
  Let the Gospel lead, and may the same Spirit that spoke to Paul call you deeper into discipleship today!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Acts 26:1-11

Acts 26:1-11
English Standard Version (ESV)

  Who likes to admit that they're wrong?  I certainly don't, and when I discover that I am wrong, I'd much rather just ignore it and hope nobody remembers what I said or did.  That's much easier on my pride.
  But here is Paul before the King, openly admitting that he was wrong in persecuting the followers of Jesus.  He had grown up deeply entrenched in Judaism, and he assumed that these new followers were deviating from the Truth.  But he found out on the road to Damascus that he was wrong, and he didn't hide the fact, didn't hope that everyone else would forget who he had been -- he owned it, because only through admitting his brokenness could he explain how he had come to new life in Christ.
  In the same way, when we pretend before God that we have it all together, we miss out on the chance to God to heal our deepest hurts.  We are all broken, each of us uniquely struggling, and God wants to heal us completely, redeem us from our sin.  But it's up to us to let go and admit that the sin is there, that it has power over us, and to let God heal it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Acts 25:23-27

Acts 25:23-27
English Standard Version (ESV)

 Isn't it amazing where Paul's journey has taken him?  He was on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, and now he's in Rome with the chance to talk about Christ before kings!  He wouldn't have predicted this, couldn't have expected this, and yet God has used his life in wondrous ways to proclaim the truth of the Gospel.  Now, 2,000 years later, we read his words and marvel at the love of God.
  So don't give up.  Don't ever think God is finished with you.  Don't believe for a second that you know how your life will turn out.  We have no idea what God has in store for us, and his plans are greater than we can ask or imagine.  Our lives are but a blip on the timeline of history, but God can use them for amazing purposes if we entrust him with all that we are.  Trust in him, fix your eyes on Christ, and let him guide you into the eternal journey of faith.