When I am afraid, I will not fear

David of Bethlehem survived many near misses in life. It seems like people were always conspiring to harm him, but God consistently delivered him.

King David in Prayer - Pieter de Grebber

In Psalm 56, David begins with fear (everyone’s reality) and moves into trust (not always our response):  “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.  I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me Psalm 56:3-4, NLT)?

David knew from repeated deliverances that harm hatched over many months by people could be dispatched by the Lord in just a minute. This morning I read the story of Absalom’s rebellion. His act of treason took many months to mature. And in just 48 hours, God orchestrated the complete vindication of David.

When we face trying times, especially when we find our dearest values threatened by those around us, we need to move from fear to trust. “What can mere mortals do to me,” David asked rhethorically. And the answer is “quite a bit.” But the bigger picture is that what people labor to construct against us God can remove with a mere breath.

We put too much trust in the power of those who harass us. Let us strive to placing greater trust in the maker of heaven and earth. For “this I know: God is on my side (Psalm 56:9!”

 

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Is this your hope? I hope so :)

Overheard at Greek Devotions: “Hope is disciplined waiting with full expectation of receiving.” This reminds us that hope is much more than wishing, it is waiting. And hope pushes us to not only wait on occasion, but to discipline ourselves to wait always.

When I look at the way the New Testament heroes all joyfully persevered even in the darkest hours I must believe that NT hope is not just waiting for Jesus to return. NT hope is also disciplined waiting for my current conflict to resolve, waiting for my joy in worship to return, waiting with joy for my next job offer. What does “disciplined waiting” mean in all your discouraging phases of life?

Overheard at that same session of Devotions in Greek: “Hope is not me casting a life line up to God and the final future. Real hope is God casting back to us from the future what I will receive in Christ.”

May hope transform your heart today, and your reality for tomorrow!

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THE Secret to Christian Living

Usually, I like to hedge bets. I couch my claims with “in most cases,” or “usually,” or other qualifiers.

But here is one I will go out on a limb for. My pastor, Clyde Parker, summed up the secret for living a life that honors God. In this morning’s sermon, Clyde proclaimed, “Christ does not call us to do what is impossible for us to do. He only calls us to let him do in us what only he can do.” Thanks, Clyde, for walking us though Luke 6 and showing us how those last three stories all make this point

Allowing Jesus to live his live in us — the secret. It is “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life” according to Hannah Whitehall Smith. It is the source of spiritual power, according to Thomas Kelly in “Testament of Devotion.” The apostle Paul revealed this secret in Galatians 2:20: “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (NLT).

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Ordinary Churches Do Extaordinary Kindnesses

“When a refugee friend came to us to ask for a job, we called our church. They hired him as a janitor on the spot. When we found out that man’s wife made jewelry, our church bought the supplies for her to crochet these gorgeous necklaces.

“We watched that quiet woman become a leader and teacher for other Hill Country Hill Triber artisans within months; the money she earned and the respect that she felt from using her gifts to support her family made a difference in her life.

“And so, that Burmese husband and wife brought their friends to our church. Thirty to fifty Burmese refugees, dressed in traditional hand-woven clothes, sit in our mauve pews each week beside suburban Texas families in their Sunday best. We look at each other and wonder, ‘Who but God could have made this happen?’

The truth is, my church is pretty average”

So begins a blog post by Rachel Held Evans. There are two reasons I wanted to pass this story along (Evans’ posts goes on to make some important points, and is worth reading.)

First, church people from all types and ages of churches do some extraordinarily loving things. I’ll never forget the small church I pastored in Talent, Oregon. During the early 1970’s, Talent Friends Church sponsored three refugee families from South Vietnam. “Sponsoring” meant becoming responsible for their housing, food, and other basic expenses. It also meant training them to live in America, and helping them navigate the social services that were available to them.

A small church of 80 people became a new life of freedom for 20 people of different color, language and religion. Where does this happen except in a church?

Second, I like Evans’ post because it reminds us that when churches extend themselves to marginalized people, they position themselves for extraordinary growth. God wants to bring the poor and forgotten into his church. When we help the poor and remember the forgotten, we open ourselves to the very best of God’s future.

What extraordinary acts of kindness has your church engaged in?

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Digital Bibles Produce Living Disciples

Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish a print copy of its iconic encyclopedia. After 244 years, sales had dropped to such a low rate that changes had to be made. The cost of $1440 for the print copy couldn’t compete with the $70 price tag for the online version.

I like to hold a book in my hand, and I look to look at books on a bookshelf. I imagine I will always buy and own paper versions of books. However, anyone who can count can see bookstores going out of business while Amazon with its Kindle division of e-books thrives. The book of the future is certainly digital.

This is a great time for discipleship in the church. One of the last barriers to every-member ministry has been breached. Martin Luther wanted every believer to have access to the Bible so that the Bible could transform every believer. He translated the Bible from Latin into popular German to facilitate that goal. The printing press made books financially accessible.

Now, with the advent of cloud-based Bibles, the Bible is truly accessible all disciples, no matter where we are. I have Bibles in the Kindles on my smartphone, computer, and iPad. Over 35 million people use the Bible on apps released by LifeChurch.tv. My college students can do quality Bible research on www.blueletterbible.com, and I can read the notes to my NLT Study Bible online.

The wonderful thing about this is whenever I have a spare five minutes, I can read my Bible, or a Bible devotional. Small groups can meet and access study materials and group questions. Disciplers have another tool for ongoing mentoring through text messages, Google Docs and YouTube.

Here’s what I’m really thinking this afternoon: Our churches need to aggressively teach believers how to access the best information. The days when Christians needed to go the pastor or Bible teacher to gain access to Bible information are long gone. The days when believers need to carefully select online tools and use them for spiritual growth have just begun.

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Prayer for Lent

At this time of year, I like to repeat St. Ephraim’s prayer:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me a spirit of laziness, faintheartedness, love of power and idle talk.

But freely give to me, your servant, a spirit of soberness, humility, patience and love.

Yes, O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own faults and not condemn my brother, for Thou art blessed unto ages of ages.

Amen

 In the course I’m teaching on the Pauline Epistles, we recently examined Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 that exhort serious disciples to both put off the old way of life and put on the new way of life. Our formation into Christ-likeness accelerates when we both resist the pull of the earth-life and feed the seed of heaven’s life.

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Shaking A Little Salt Is Not That Hard

I have always believed that God calls the church to serve the world, and that every disciple is privileged to be part of that call. However, I’ve usually been too wrapped up with church life to have much contact with the world. When I was in high school, I was convicted by just the title of Rebecca Manley Pippert’s  Out of the Saltshaker & into the World: Evangelism as a Way of Life. I knew that salt cannot make the world salty when it stays in the shaker (when Christians never associate with any non-Christians).

Ever since then, I have struggled to get out of the church cocoon and actually get involved with my neighbors. My church friends and church meetings are important to me. I almost felt like I’d have to clone myself just to have enough time to meet people outside of my church circle. That is why I rejoiced when I stumbled onto an article by Tim Chester “10 Simple Ways to Be Missional…Without Adding Anything to Your Schedule.”

For instance Chester suggests, “Adopt a local café, pub, park and shops so you regularly visit and become known as a local.” I matched this with my love for morning coffee. For a year, I stopped by the same espresso shack three times a week on my way to work. The goal was not caffeine addiction, but to befriend the owner of the espresso shack.

All it took was alternating between sharing tidbits about me (“Oh no, I’m late to work again”), and asking simple questions (“How is business today”?). Within in weeks, my new friend began to ask me questions about my life.

After a month, my Barista buddy confessed, “My grandma is sick again – I don’t think she’s going to make it this time.” I felt honored to pray from my car into the shack, asking that God would prepare my friend for what faced him. As another missional Christian and I tag-teamed our friend, he started attending a Bible study and eventually surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

A second suggestion the article makes is, “Eat with other people.” Eugene Friends members Gene and Naomi Brown have been going to the local pool for exercise three times a week. After a while, they noticed that several of their fellow exercisers met at a nearby McDonalds for coffee after each session.

Gene and Naomi gladly accepted an invitation to join the post-swim coffee klatch. After just a few weeks, God gave them their first opening for ministry. One of their friends expressed concern about a family ninety miles whose health was failing. She wanted to visit this relative, but had no form of transportation. “Well, let’s pray that God gives you a way to get there” offered Naomi. “Uh, I don’t believe in God,” replied the friend. “Well, we do, and we believe God wants to show his love to you this way,” Gene and Naomi responded. Can you imagine their joy a couple of weeks later when the friend reported, “I got my ride, and I’m thanking God.”

I know several people who practice another one of Chester’s 10 ways to “get out of the salt shaker.” They walk around their neighborhoods, praying that God would bless each household in such a way that the inhabitants would know God loves them.

Obviously, this combines good physical health with good missional health. When you walk around a neighborhood on a regular basis, several things happen. First, people become comfortable with you. Second, you are out where it is natural to strike up conversations with a wide range of people. Third, you begin to notice changes that give you openings for conversation and ministry.

No one knows better than me how hard it is to make significant contact beyond all my Christian friends. But I’m working at changing bits of my routine so that I’m placed where I can truly become “salt.” It takes concentration, but I’m finding it’s also fun. And I find that when I open just a small window of missional effort, God shows me a whole world of people I already contact who yearn to share their lives with a caring person.

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The Job of Answering Questions

 

Gordon McDonald’s review of the biography of Steve Jobs challenged me. The whole article is good, and McDonald closes each observation with discussion questions that could inspire fruitful discussions with your family or church leadership team.

Apparently, Jobs was a church-goer when a child. Then one day, he asked his pastor to explain how God can know everything in a world where some children die of hunger. The story indicates that the pastor tried to end the discussion quickly, and that Jobs never returned to church.

Most churches are unsafe for question-askers. Like Jobs’ pastor, most Christian leaders feel uncomfortable when asked questions, and try to quickly end the conversation. Oh, we’re not rude, and usually do not try to make the question-asker feel bad. But those haunted by questions (or one persistent question) learn that few Christians will sit with them in their time of doubt.

This interests me because I’m preparing to teach about the Biblical Job, who raised many questions. Job’s questions were not always polite, and I imagine he voiced them rather heatedly at times. His friends literally gave up with sitting with him.

However, the strangest lesson of the Bible may be this: God endorsed the questioning, challenging, probing Job.

I hope I would have been a better friend to Job — that I would have embraced him while he blustered. I hope I would have been a better pastor to Jobs — that I would have encouraged him to explore his questions. I hope that I have enough confidence in God to encourage people to ask him every question they have.

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What is In in?

This morning I was privileged to participate in group devotions — in Greek! We studied the first fifteen verses of Ephesians with plenty of parsing, computer programs, and grammatical analysis.

However, the Greek is very much like the English (what a relief!). In both languages, the most repeated phrase is “in Christ.”

I was trying to figure out why this is such a prevalent phrase. “In” is such a boring preposition — nothing like “into” or “according to.” Yet Paul teaches about the Christian’s position “in Christ” like it is a big deal.

And then I got this insight. To me, “in Christ” is boring because I think of being “in Christ” like being “in” a room. When I say “I am in” a particular room, I have stated truth, but nothing exciting.

But Christ is not a room, not a spatial concept. Christ is the power of God. What if we thought about living “in Christ” like living “in” a powerful force? At first I thought of living “in” a hurricane. To say “I am in” a hurricane” is not a boring fact — it would sum up everything about me. When a person is in a hurricane, everything about their life is controlled by the story. To be “in Christ” is choosing to let Christ control everything about me.

But, I don’t like the image of a hurricane — too short-term, and too destructive. So what if we thought about being “in Christ” like being “in a stream?” We are still controlled by the stream, but not destroyed. In fact, it is taking us to a great destination. As we surrender the direction of our life to the force of the stream, that force frees us up to float along, to make minor adjustments, and to enjoy those going downstream with us.

We are “in Christ” and we should live as “in Christ” persons. Are we allowing Christ to carry us to his grand destination?

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Short-term Mountains

On Sunday, I taught about the transfiguration of Jesus (Luke 9:28-36).  What joy James, John, and Peter felt when they saw Jesus in all his glory!

Unfortunately, in the next story, they walk down the mountain and face a problem that seems impossible. What a let down! Peter wanted to stay on the mountain for awhile longer — this was part of the motivation behind “Let’s stay here and build three shelters.”

However, God’s will for Peter and his two friends was to go down the mountain, where they faced human need and their own inadequacies.

Aren’t we just like Peter? Don’t we relish the “mountain top experiences” where the glory is crystal clear and problems are hidden in a fog bank? And yet, in Jesus’ three years of ministry with the disciples, only 3 hours (at most) were spent soaking up his glory. The rest was slogging it out against suffering and sin.

I’m looking forward to heaven which (I think) will be all mountain top and (maybe) no struggle. But until then, I choose to be faithful in remaining content with where 99% of life is supposed to be — in the valley of need. May we all find find ways to make each other’s journey through the valley just a little less painful and little more fulfilling.

 

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