Earthquakes Then and Now

I love those sections of scripture that point a finger directly at today’s problems and offer a ray of hope.

Today my devotional time took me to the story of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew 28. The second verse startled me with, “Behold, there was a great earthquake for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.” (ESV)

My astonishment came because just a day earlier I was teaching through Acts 16, in which Paul and Silas are put into prison for delivering people from evil forces. Acts 16:26 records what happened next: “There was a great earthquake so the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately, all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.” (ESV)

Don’t you think that when Paul & Silas were liberated by a great earthquake that they remembered the great earthquake that accompanied Jesus’ resurrection? These two “great earthquakes” have several dynamics in common.

First, both great earthquakes released God’s servants. The first earthquake announced the release of Jesus from bondage to death. The second earthquake liberated Paul and Silas from their bonds in a Roman jail.

Second, both great earthquakes overcame the power of the Roman Empire. Rome (as prompted by fearful religions leaders) humiliated Jesus and executed him. Rome (as prompted by commercial interests) humiliated Paul and Silas and imprisoned them.

Third, both earthquakes opened the door to salvation. Jesus’ resurrection opened the door of salvation for all people. Paul and Silas’ release opened the door for the salvation of the jailer’s household.

Today, a great earthquake is shaking the traditional church. Young people are asking questions at a more profound level than the church has faced in 500 years. They question the traditional approaches to the bible, to theology, and to church organization.

Nationwide, church attendance is declining. Giving is flagging. National polls indicate that the answers the church offers do not match up with the questions people today are asking. Society and government have dramatically shifted their ethics, and put relentless pressure on the church to change its ethics as well.

But God loves to use great earthquakes! Earthquakes free us from what have become bonds of traditional thinking and automatic acting.

When our values are put down by society, Christ-followers can raise up enduring values. When foundational knowledge is challenged, God’s knowledge can be mined. As society’s ethics evolve, the church can refine the presentation of a great biblical ethic. And when church structure is examined, God’s plan for a missional family can flourish.

PRAYER   God, change scares me, and tectonic change terrifies me. And yet I know that you remain untouched by all of earth’s quakes. In fact, you love to use disruptive change to shine a fresh light on your son Jesus.

Give me the courage and creativity to shine a fresh light on Jesus as well. I don’t mind leaving behind my traditions if my path leads to kingdom additions. In Jesus’ enduring name I pray, Amen.



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Schedule a Happy Break

“What’s your Happy Break for today?” is a question I’m starting to ask those I work with. “Do you have a meeting or an activity on your to-do list that will bring you joy?”

We can easily slip into a victim mentality, feeling that our life is out of control and everything we do is simply to satisfy someone else’s expectation. And I suppose that much of life does revolve around responding to external pressures.

However, I was challenged and inspired by Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey encouraged everyone to make regular appointments with a person that brought them joy, or strengthened them. We need energy for all the hard appointments, Covey observed. And to maintain that energy, we need to carve out time with those who replace our energy, rather than sapping our energy.

My application of Covey’s advice has been to schedule a daily “Happy Break.” I book 15-30 minutes with a person, activity, or Frappuccino that I know will restock my energy. Sometimes it’s a walk in the park during lunch. Often it’s a coffee break with a friend or colleague. Some days it’s sitting in my car, sipping my favorite drink or reading a book. (To be transparent, some days have no happy break, usually because I failed to plan one.)

No one will put a Happy Break on your schedule, but just about everyone has the freedom to book their own. The best part of a Happy Break is that the few moments doing some life-giving really does give energy for all the hard and boring tasks during the rest of the day.

What’s your Happy Break for today?

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Time Experienced Simultaneously

Today I’m mediating on God’s nature as everlasting (eternity). Since we are stuck in our time-space continuum, we struggle to grasp both the nature and the implications of God’s eternity.

We experience time sequentially: today I’m experiencing July 12 and nothing else, though I have fading memories of previous days. July 13 and 2019 are little more than romantic ideas. Yet God experiences time simultaneously. Christ is fully present in July 12, 2017, January 2 855, and February 10, 2055 all at the same time.

Devotionally, this inspires awe. My mind stretches and my heart rejoices each time I ponder God’s simultaneous touch of all times and all places. But there are practical implications as well.

When God challenges me to what seems impossible, God is aware of the assistance I will receive tomorrow. The Lord is also aware of the personal growth and satisfaction I will have next year, having conquered today’s challenge.

However, God’s awareness of the benefits of today’s challenge does not eradicate the Lord’s empathy for my struggle today. If the Lord is truly present in all times, then God is very much aware of how staggering today’s tasks seem to me.

And so the eternity of God gives my Savior compassion for my current state and passion for the growth I will experience as I follow the Spirit into the future. This gives me faith to follow Jesus today.

Inspired by “Elohenu Olam” in Tony Evan’s’ Praying Through the Names of God.

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God Defines “The Good Life”

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, ESV)”

This verse is commonly quoted, and for good reason: it answers one of our most penetrating questions. “God, what is my responsibility in maintaining a relationship with you?” This morning, I titled this verse, “how to get on God’s good side.” What we see is not the path to entering a relationship with God (conversion), but how to live with God in such a way as to maximize the power of his presence.

If I want to know that God is predisposed to respond to my prayers, I will live Micah 6:8; if I want to know that God is using me to change my world, I will live Micah 6:8; if I want to fan the flame of the Lord’s love, I will live Micah 6:8.

As I reflected on the three-fold lifestyle of the “good person,” I discovered that usually I interpret each one as “I should value these things.” This morning, I was convicted that God doesn’t want to me to value them or appreciate them; he wants me to actively live them.

“Do justice” means more than I like justice, or being repelled by injustice; doing justice implies that I am converting pockets of injustice into justice realms. This means changing my own unjust patterns, and then challenging the injustices I see around me. What injustice have you made right this week?

“Love kindness” seems to suggest a passive appreciation. However in context, I wonder if “loving kindness” reflects the opposite of justice action from “do justice.” If doing justice means I correct injustice, then loving kindness means rewarding kindness. Who have you thanked for doing kindness this week? Do you practice catching people doing good?

“Walk humbly with your God” calls me to the ministry of continual God-awareness. I go through my day, alternating between asking God for divine assistance and thanking the Lord for every blessing. How aware of you of the Spirits presence during the day?

As I challenge injustice, affirm kindness, seek God’s help and appreciate God’s goodness, I experience fresh outpourings of God’s spirit. While there is intrinsic value to each of the four activities, my experience is that together, they unleash a power of divine love that far exceeds the sum of the parts. God is actively present in those who actively live this “good life.”

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Day of Hope; Day of Warning

I have always appreciated the powerful promise of Joel 2:26-29:

“”And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.”
‭‭Joel‬ ‭2:28‬ ‭ESV‬‬ (

I have often preached to churches that God loves to pour his Spirit on all people  all kinds of people.

But today, I read the whole chapter, and the context gives much more complexity than a simple “God loves everybody.” In fact, Joel 2 is a key “Day of the Lord” oracle in which the prophet warns about the devastation which the Lord is sending.

The flow of the chapter looks a little like this this:

Warning that God’s arrival will bring devastation (verses 1-11)

Plea for readers to escape devastation through repentance and giving themselves to the Lord (12-27)

Promise of the Spirit for those who have returned to the Lord (28-29)

Recaptulation of earlier themes (30-32)

Taken in it’s context, then, Joel 2 is not a blanket promise that God gives his Spirit on all people. What we see, rather, is a promise conditioned upon our repentance.

So when we preach this passage, we do a disservice if we leave listeners with an encouragement that God loves them whether they are male or female, poor or rich.  Instead, we need to issue a call to wholeheartedly giveing ourselves to God.

As we give ourselves to God, God gives the Spirit to us, and we become ministers to those suffering devastation.




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Musical Prophecy

1 Chronicles 25:1 put two words together that I had never thought about as a pair: prophecy and music. “the sons of Asaph . . . prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.” Previously, the ministry of prophecy was self-contained and distinct from other forms of ministry. This verse challenged me to broaden my understanding of prophecy.

O – Observation

David is establishing the order for temple worship with a few base-line expectations. For instance, worship leaders must be skillful. This phrase (“prophesied with lyres”) means that musicians would also be evaluated on their effectiveness of helping people understand God’s message for today.

Prophecy, as a ministry thrust, challenges the listener with God’s word for today. Prophecy is not abstract, but concrete. In prophetic ministry, we hear how God’s presence, love and will impacts us today.

So prophetic music uses music to make God’s word concrete.

A – Application

This led me to think through how prophecy might be an essential element in all forms of ministry. All ministry should help people understand God’s message for today.

Preaching is not disseminating abstract truth; it is sharing God’s word for God’s people in God’s timing. Youth ministry proclaims God’s grace and truth to young in people in such a way that they know God is talking to them. Counseling allows hurting people to feel God’s presence and accept God’s healing.

My biggest challenge is considering my job – academic administration – as a prophetic task. Here is what I came up with: Academic administration connects staff to each other on the level of “here’s how we are fleshing out God’s mission today. This is today’s opportunity to put Jesus at the center of registration, recruiting, teaching, and preparing food.”

P – Prayer

God of the Universe:

You revealed yourself to us in the form of a baby so that we could see how all of God’s truth becomes concrete. Incarnate yourself in our actions today, we pray. May our jobs serve to make your presence, grace and will known to each other, our students, and the world. Thank you for the joy of making your truth evident in our world.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Convincing Evidence

“Follow me, and I will make you become . . .  (Jesus, in Mark 1:17).”

emerging-butterflyWhen we follow Jesus, we become. Yes, I know that Mark 1:17 specifies a definite becoming: Simon and Andrew would become fishers of people. However, I’m drawn to the theme that following Jesus changes a person – every person who follows.

When we follow Jesus, we become peaceful. We become loving, patient, kind, self-controlled. We become truly ourselves. We become more like God. We become that dream that God had for us when the Lord created us.

When we follow Jesus, we become better children, better parents, and better spouses. We become persons upon whom others rely. We become persons with vision; we become persons that like ourselves.

Verses that support this thesis are flooding my mind, but I will resist the urge to quote them now. I want to stay focused on two transformations: mine and yours.

How do I see Jesus in you? I see the change Jesus is making. I work at a Bible College, and every year we see students transformed. We talk about releasing their dreams, which intimates that they are becoming more centered in their life-calling. However, we also see them becoming more disciplined, less self-centered, and more confident.

I enjoy talking to people about theology, but you do not convince me you follow Jesus because I agree with your theology. You convince me you follow Jesus when I see Jesus changing you. When you face a challenge and use the challenge as opportunity for Jesus to change your attitude or activity, I sense you are following Jesus.

My confidence that I follow Jesus grows when I sense I am letting Jesus “make me become.” This is not so much a matter of salvation as it is gauging the degree that I experience the Spirit today. When I grow stale and can’t point to recent change, I begin looking for the new thing Jesus wants to do in me.

At age sixty-one, I still wonder what I will be when I grow up. In infinite love, God always has a new phase of becoming to which he invites me. “Oh Jesus! I pray that today I will seize every opportunity you make for me to become. Make me holy; make me useful; make me yours.”

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Answering Anxiety

I often allow anxieties to accumulate in my mind and spirit. This steals my joy and energy, and warps my perception of reality. For that reason, I experience deep longing whenever I read “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7, NIV).”

Flickr/Creative Commons

Flickr/Creative Commons

This morning I went on to read the rest of the paragraph, which depicts the devil as an adversary who should be resisted and who can be defeated. We defeat the adversary by refusing to give up our faith and reminding ourselves that God’s authority is eternal (1 Peter 5:8-11).

“Casting” is a pleasant term; it reminds me of a lazy morning at the lake, fishing. “Resisting” is an aggressive term which is often used to describe warfare or athletic competition. Both are pictures of spiritual warfare.

When I sense anxiety approaching, I can quickly assign the worry to God, confident of the Lord’s help. However, I also need to resist the the sense that God is no longer in control. Today, that seems to be the spiritual battle revolving around anxiety: “Are my emotions fully responsive to my belief that God is in control?”

Here’s what I plan to do to help my emotions line up with God’s reality: I’m going to list each one of my fears and for each one, remind myself that God’s control is greater than that fear. This way I aggressively resist the fear and lovingly look to God’s assistance.

What a relief to remember that God is in control, and I do not need to be. What a relief to respond to the invitation to cast my anxieties upon him.

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Appreciating Life

KestrelTony Evan’s book Praying Through the Names of God touched me deeply this morning. “Your life extends into mine, giving me the opportunity to experience your creation. . . Forgive me for not treasuring and taking care of the gift of life you have given to me (p  35).”

I was caught by the image of God’s life extending into mine. Without losing the truth of God’s transcendence, we must remember that our life is connected directly to God’s — first through creation, second through salvation. God extends physical life and spiritual life and I am the recipient. But Tony’s phrasing also carries the implication that God wants me to participate in the Spirit’s life.

I was challenged by the confession in the prayer: I have not appreciated the life that God has given me. Whenever we encounter struggle, we are tempted to resent life, or to want to escape life’s reality. Tony’s prayer challenges me to thank God for his gift, even when the gift is wrapped in stress, sorrow or pain. God chose to extend his life into mine, and this gives my life meaning and value. As I claim that meaning and value, I experience hope.

If God is the source of all life, then I have a kinship to the created world around me. I’m not thinking of this in pantheistic way, but it the sense of being grateful for the life I see God giving the plants and animals around me.

Thank you God, for sparking my existence with your Spirit, and for filling my day with your Spirit.

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Like A Child . . . Really?

Does an adult view of God get in the way of our kingdom participation?

I read this morning from Matthew 18-20. In this section, children were always hanging out around Jesus (Matthew 18:1-6, 19:13-15). He counted that as a good thing.

Trying to understand Jesus’ statements about children leads me to two propositions:

  • Greatness in the kingdom comes from child-like humility.
  • The kingdom belongs to those who come to Jesus, expecting that he will bless them.

I’m involved inIMG_0524 very dangerous occupation. Not dangerous to my physical safety, but potentially toxic to my spiritual safety. I work in biblical “higher” education.

The danger of an advanced education is that we begin to think advanced training is what saves, sanctifies, and qualifies us for service. Paul was a highly-education person, but clearly thought that his humble faith & obedience is why God used him. He lived up to Jesus’ instructions in the two propositions above.

Paul’s example suggests that while God can use faith alone, or use education combined with faith, he cannot use education alone.

I love to dig deep into scripture, and to research what all the experts think about it. However, I know how refreshing it is to encounter Jesus as a child does — simply taking the Bible at its most apparent meaning, fully expecting Jesus to fulfill his promises, and then quickly obeying his command.

If I hold the hand of my tasks today, the day will end with discouragement, for there is much I will not finish. If I hold the hand of learning today I will to bed jaded, because learning multiplies questions. If I hold the hand of Jesus, I will end the day with love, joy, and peace.

My Prayer: “Take my hand, Jesus and give me your love. Lead the way, Jesus, into those tasks you have prepared me for. Calm my heart, Jesus, when I encounter questions, conflict, and chaos. Move my heart, Jesus when I encounter the brokenness of the world. Remind me that I am part of your plan to bring wholeness to those around me. Make me an agent of your peace”

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