Fix It

breaking-worldTechnology is great, except for when it isn’t. The other day, my iPhone acted up and some app wouldn’t work properly. I had uploaded some meeting notes into the cloud and the app kept crashing. And, I got frustrated. I tend to do that when things break. My frustrations aren’t limited to the tech world. Leaky pipes, sticky garage doors, and touchy automobiles frustrate me too. Things are supposed to work the way they’re designed to, and when they don’t, it’s aggravating.

My guess is that you share in my frustrations. Most of us can only handle so much brokenness. We want things right. We want things to work properly. We want things fixed. And, our desire to address the broken is not limited to our gadgets and gizmos. We want the same thing for our culture and our world. A simple look at the headlines reminds us of the brokenness of our world and our collective desire for things to be right. Social unrest. Corruption. Lawlessness. Disregard for life. Division and discord. The list goes on and on. We want these things fixed. We want these things to be right. We want things to work the way they’re supposed to.

At its most basic, our desire for things to be right is a desire for justice. When my iPhone doesn’t work properly, I want Apple to fix it. After all, they made the thing. They can make it right. Fixing the technologies in our lives are one thing. Fixing our world is something else. Where do we go fix it? Our governments? At best, their solutions are short-lived. At worst, they compound the problems. Our collective sense of right and wrong? The problem here is that we are fickle. Today’s right is tomorrow’s wrong. We shift with the wind and the tide. Social media? Right. Ranting on Twitter and Facebook really solves things. No, none of these are real answers. We’re going to have to go the One who made us. Only He can make things right. Only He can fix it.

The Bible assures us that one day, Jesus will come and right every wrong. He will fix what’s broken in our world. As believers, we long for that day. We long for His justice to reign and the corruption caused by sin to be completely overcome. But, what about the gap between then and now? More importantly, what do we do when we realize that we are as corrupt and broken as the world around us? We have to look to the One who made us because only He can fix it.

When Jesus died on the cross, He satisfied God’s justice. He bore the judgment we deserve. And, because of that, we are free in Him. While we still bear the scars and the struggles of this broken life, we know that God’s grace has lifted us. We are able to move forward and persevere in a world filled with things that don’t work right. Grace works like that. It deepens our understanding of our own brokenness and the brokenness of the world around us. We grieve more as we mature in our faith. Our heart aches more and more because of the reality of sin and the impact it has in our lives and in our world. But, in the midst of our sorrow, there is the strength to go on and the hope to look ahead. Jesus is indeed coming again and He will right every wrong. Justice will be served. He will fix this broken world and He will reign in righteousness. He will fix it. Until then, His grace is sufficient. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

 

 

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Bug Control

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One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn’t belong. If you have ever paid a visit to Sesame Street, you’ve heard that song. It’s a catchy little jingle. So catchy in fact that I still recall it to this day. I imagine that if you’ve ever heard it, you do to. As a matter of fact, it’s probably playing in your head right now.

Back in the day when Oscar, Grover, and the gang sang about differences, they did so to help children learn to compare similar things. And, as we sang along, we learned that one bowl was bigger than the other three. A triangle was different than a square. Blue was not green. So on and so forth. We learned to compare.

In some ways, comparison can be a good thing. We compare products before we purchase them to determine the best deal. We read reviews and take test drives before we buy a new car. We check out the blogs and the online reports before we pick up a new computer. We compare neighborhoods before we buy a new home, and we visit colleges with our kids before we send them off to campus. Comparisons can be a good thing.

But with that said, comparisons aren’t always good. As a matter of fact, there are times when they can be downright unhealthy. We see this when our young girls start comparing themselves to the idealized women of movies and magazines. We see it when our young athletes start taking shortcuts and put themselves at risk because they are comparing themselves to mature, world class athletes. We see it when we start looking around at everyone else and what they have and become dissatisfied with our own lots in life. And, we see it when we start comparing ourselves with others in a way that devalues who we are.

It’s easy for us to let comparisons rob our sense of worth. And sadly, this happens to us more than we like to admit. We look at supermom and all she does for her kids and we feel like complete parental failures. We see that guy at the gym and determine we’ll never be anything more than a slightly more attractive version of Jabba the Hut. We visit with friends and hear of their trips and see their new cars and we sink into despair because we’re such losers.

The destructive power of comparisons gone too far impact our ministries too. I’ll never be as good a teacher as that guy is. I can never sing like her. My devotion life is nowhere near theirs. I’m such a failure. Sound familiar?  Even pastors and ministry leaders get in on the action. I can’t preach like that guy. My church will never be as good as their church. I’ll never be as smart or as talented as that person is. I could never write or get published like they did.

We’re not the first people to do this. In the book of Numbers, the children of Israel sent spies into the land God had promised them to check it out. When the came back, they said,

“And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33, ESV).

In other words, they said, “They are so great and we are tiny little bugs. We’re nothing compared to them.”

Now, here’s the problem with their assessment. All they saw were people bigger and more capable than themselves. They had forgotten who they were. More importantly, they had forgotten whose they were. The belonged to God. He had created them and set them apart as His people. He had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. He had provided for them every step of the way during the exodus. And, He had promised to be with them as they claimed the land He had promised them. Simply stated, they had taken God out of the equation.

When you and I look around at everyone else and we take God out of the equation, we too will see ourselves as grasshoppers. Like the Israelites, we forget that God created us and set us apart as His people. We forget that He has delivered us from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:6-7). We forget that He has given us everything we need in Christ along the way (Ephesians 1:3). And, we forget that He has promised to be with us until He fulfills His promise to us (Philippians 1:6).

In Christ, you are not a grasshopper. You’re not some tiny insignificant bug less valuable or less cherished than someone else. You’re not inferior to someone who is bigger or more successful. You’re not worth less because you have less. So, quit with the unhealthy comparisons already. It’s fine to look around and let others inspire or help motivate you to grow or improve in some way. But, stop letting your comparisons to others rob you of the worth you have in Christ.

Perhaps you’re not like the others and maybe you feel like you just don’t belong. That’s okay. So, you’re not as big or as talented or as popular. Forbes doesn’t know your name and you’re not going to make the cover of Sports Illustrated. You won’t be leading any seminars on managing an unruly preschooler and the Ivy League isn’t calling begging your kids to come. Your church isn’t the most prominent in your state or your city…or your street for that matter. Your house is small, your car is old, and you weigh more than you did in high school. It doesn’t make you a grasshopper. It doesn’t mean you lack worth or value in God’s eyes. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. The Scripture is filled with ordinary people who are loved and used by an extraordinary God. Let Him count you among that group.

Getting There

20120930-201318A couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting in a place that was new to me. I typed the address into my iPhone and let that digital voice lead me to my destination. When I left, I tapped home on my maps app so my digital guide could get me home. I was surprised to find out that I was going home via a different route. I’m not sure why my phone made the change. I don’t know if the traffic patterns changed or the second route was slightly quicker than the first or what. All I know is that I got where I needed to be by following the directions, even when they took me to a route I did not expect.

Life is like this. It seldom goes the way we plan. It’s filled with twists and turns and unexpected routes. We plan on going one way only to find ourselves headed in the opposite direction. Circumstances change. Stuff happens. Detours abound. Our direct route ends up looking like some obscure geometric design with a name no one can pronounce.

When life hits us with its inevitable route changes, we can respond in a number of ways. We can get agitated and lash out. We can pout and just pull over. We can stubbornly take control and try to forge our own way. Or, we can trust that God is guiding us and He knows more than we do.

The Bible tells us “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:2-3 ESV). It is far more productive for us to surrender to the guiding hands of a loving God than to defiantly insist on following our own directions. We do not know what lies ahead, but He does. He has far more insight to the productivity of His path and the peril of ours.

Years ago I was asked to take someone to the airport. As I dropped him off at his hotel room the day before, he asked me if I knew how to get there (this was before the days of smart phones and GPS). “I don’t,” I said, “but I’ll find out.” The next morning I picked him up and he told me he had gotten directions to the airport. When I told him I didn’t need them, he said to me “You’re a real man. Not only will you not ask for directions, you won’t follow them when you get them.”

Many of us are like that. We stubbornly hold onto what where we want to go in life despite the fact that God may be leading us in a different direction. Let go. Listen to His guidance. Surrender to His direction and commit your way to Him. He is far more knowledgeable and far more able than we are. He is the one that weighs our spirits and establishes our plans. We can trust Him to take us the right way.

Just Keep Running

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The other morning, I went for a walk around my neighborhood. As I made my way down the street, I noticed a couple of runners coming towards me. I stepped aside as they passed and I noticed they were teenagers. I didn’t think anything of it until a couple of minutes later when three more headed my way. I again stepped aside and put two and two together and realized it must be track practice or something. As I kept walking, I noticed one last runner. He was a bit behind all the others and all by himself. His running was much more labored and his facial expressions revealed his struggle. For a brief second or two I felt bad for him. But then his dedication inspired me. Although he wasn’t as fast or as smooth as the others, and even though he lagged behind his teammates, he kept running.

As I passed him, I couldn’t help but see a picture our lives in his morning run. As we run the race of life, many run faster than we do. They run smoother and more eloquently than we ever could. They seem to stride effortless and keep moving forward while we stumble and stagger around. And, as they glide ahead, we labor and struggle as we try to keep moving forward. We fall way back of the pack all the while wondering if the race is worth it. But, we have to keep running.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV).  His words remind us that the Christian  life calls for endurance. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s a cross country race with hills and valleys and twists and turns. The terrain is difficult. The challenge is real. Our lungs burn and our legs ache. But, we must keep running. Don’t worry about how far behind the others you are. Don’t give up because your pace is slower. Don’t quit because your form isn’t as good or your stride isn’t as graceful. Don’t stop. Dig deep. Breathe hard. Put one leg ahead of the other. Just keep running.

I Am Barabbas

gavelIn the classic movie Spartacus, Kirk Douglas plays a slave who leads a revolt against the Roman Empire. When he and his men are finally caught, the Roman authorities want the ringleader of the rebellion and they ask who is Spartacus? As Douglas stands to identify himself as the leader, man after man stands saying “I am Spartacus.”

The New Testament tells us of another insurrectionist…a man by the name of Barabbas. He too had broken Roman law and rebelled. He had revolted against the Empire, robbed, and murdered for his cause. He had now been caught, tried, and found guilty. He was condemned to death because of his transgressions. No appeal was left for him. It was only a matter of time and time was running out.

Inject into that equation, a man by the name of Jesus. He also had been arrested, but the Roman Governor Pilate found no guilt in Him. Torn between political pressure and his own investigation, Pilate attempted to placate the angry mob by offering them a choice between Barabbas and Jesus. The crowd called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified. Many suggest that Jesus would be hung on the cross prepared for Barabbas. An innocent man died in the place of one guilty and condemned.

I am not Spartacus, but I am Barabbas. I have rebelled against the sovereign Creator of the universe. I have revolted against Him and gone my own way (Isaiah 53:6). I have taken what is His and used it for myself. I have murdered in my heart by being angry in unjust ways (Matthew 5:22). I too am guilty, and my guilt justifies my condemnation. Death is a certainty. But thankfully, Jesus died in my place. The innocent bore the punishment of the guilty.

The Bible says, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18, ESV).

I am guilty. I am condemned. But, Jesus took my place. He paid the price for my sin. He died that I might be set free. I am no longer dead in the trespasses and sins in which I once walked (Ephesians 2:1-2). I am alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5).

I am Barabbas. And so are you. We are all guilty and condemned. Yet, God in His great love for us provided a substitute. An innocent man died in our place. Our debt has been paid. Our crimes have been paid for. Justice is done and the sentence has been carried out. We have been released from the power and the penalty of sin. In Christ, we are free. In Him, we are alive. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

Getting Things Done

7e67fc67bcfd578da574731d43df9dd5Business leaders talk about productivity. Politicians talk about advancing their agenda. Students talk about finishing their homework and parents talk about just getting through the day. At heart, they’re all saying the same thing. They’re talking about getting things done.

When it comes to this idea of getting things done, I was struck this morning while reading my Bible by the contrast between the stories I read. Three stories about three different sets of people separated by time and contexts. Yet, all of their stories intersected in my mind at a single point.

In the book of Genesis, we read the story of Joseph. He was a young man sold into captivity by his jealous brothers. Upon arriving in Egypt, he became the household manager of a man named Potiphar. And, despite his circumstances, Joseph flourished in that role. The Bible tells us why. It says, “His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3, ESV).”

Moving forward several pages and hundreds of years, we come to the book of 1 Samuel. There, Samuel tells us the story of David, a young shepherd boy who was anointed the future king of Israel. In between his shepherding and reigning, David served Saul, the present King of Israel. And, like Joseph, David was very successful at it. The Bible again tells us why. It says, “And David had success in all his undertakings, for the LORD was with him” (1 Samuel 18:14, ESV).

Moving forward yet again, we come to the life and times of Jesus as presented in the gospel of Mark. While Jesus was revealing His glory as God to Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, His disciples below were failing to heal a young boy. As Jesus came down from the mountain, He did what His disciples could not. They later asked why they had failed to do something they had been called and equipped to do. Jesus tells them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:29, ESV).

Three sets of characters in three different times in three different contexts, yet one recurring theme. Our successes come from God. When we live yielded and surrendered lives, dependent upon God and His power, we achieve far more than we can in our own power and strength. Joseph prospered because God was with him. David succeeded because God was with him. The disciples failed because they relied too much on themselves and not enough on God.

So, let us rest in the power God provides. Let us lean on Him for guidance and strength in the daily affairs of our lives. Let us look to God rather than trust in ourselves. After all, He is far more able than we are, and it’s through Him that we really get things done.

 

Tips to Improve Your Prayer Life

prayer20on20rock20silhouetteWe see throughout Scripture the importance of prayer. It is called for and modeled by Old Testament saints and prophets alike. Likewise, Jesus not only calls us to prayer, He also teaches us to pray and models for us a life of prayer. The early church was filled with praying believers.

So, with that said, let’s take a moment to look at some simple steps that can help strengthen our prayer lives.

Establish a time and place so you can get alone and eliminate distractions. It’s best if we can carve out some time each day to spend alone with God free from distractions. So, find the time that works best for you. People are seen praying throughout the Bible at different times and in different postures. God is more concerned that we spend time in prayer than what time we pray and He’s more concerned with the posture of our hearts than our bodies. Whatever hour might work best in your life, set it aside and make it a priority. Turn off the television and put your phone away. Try to eliminate as many distractions as possible so you can spend some time connecting with our Heavenly Father.

Remember that prayer is communication. It’s a conversation with God. For many of us, we try to find a balance between conversation and reverence/respect. Because we do, we tend to drift into “prayerspeak.” Through the years I’ve heard many people talk one way and then pray another. It’s like they’re speaking an entirely different language. Try to avoid this.

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original carton can be found here and is from the site Adam4d.com

As you pray, spend some time in silence. Allow God to stir in the stillness of the moment. It’s often in our quiet moments of reflection that God brings things to our mind to challenge and comfort us.

Speak openly and honestly with God. Don’t try to impress Him. He knows our feelings and emotions. He knows if we’re afraid or anxious. He knows if we’re angry. Acknowledge to Him and ask Him to help you move through those feelings. When we read the Psalms, we see the struggles of the psalmists. We also see the struggles of the prophets as they confessed they didn’t understand what was going on around them. Let’s strive to avoid the dangers of pretentious praying (Matthew 6:5-8). As we do this, it is helpful to remember that the Spirit prays with us and for us (Romans 8:26).

If we’re honest, we know that sometimes our prayer life becomes stale. We run out of things to say or we just repeat the same things over and over. Here are a few suggestions that can help us move beyond this.

  • Use the ACTS acronym – Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication
  • Follow the pattern Jesus puts forth in The Model Prayer (Matthew 6:9-15)
  • Pray Scripture, particularly Psalms – Donald Whitney has written a marvelous book on this entitled Praying the Bible (as a matter fact, anything by Donald Whitney is worth reading).
  • Perhaps it might help you to write our your prayers or to record them in a journal. You can do this in a hard copy or digitally. Day One, Evernote, OneNote, or any word processor (Word, Pages, Google Docs) can be a great tool for this.
  • Learn to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Take advantage of the moments here and there and pray whenever something…or someone comes to mind.
  • Pray through your calendar.
  • Prayer walking. Walk through your neighborhood praying as you go. This is a great way to pray for the people around you. Pray 4 Every Home is a great resource you can use in this endeavor.

Whatever method or plan, time or posture, tool or resource, the important thing is to pray. So, spend some time today connecting with God through prayer.

How to Study the Bible

We all want to grow in one way or another. And, many of us look at the new year as an opportunity to make a some changes in our lives. So, with that said, it seems like a good time offer a few suggestions to help us grow in our spiritual walks.

A great place to start deepening our relationship with God is by spending time in His Word. We know that the Scripture provides what we need for spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the pages of the Bible, we learn about Jesus and the plan of redemption (Luke 24:27). We learn how we need to live and move forward in life (Psalm 119). We grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:17-18). We learn to distinguish truth from error and we see more clearly the areas of our lives that need changing (Hebrews 4:12).

First thing to do is to get a Bible. By that, I mean get a Bible you will use. Get one with print big enough you can see. Get one you can understand. There are a number of really good translations available. I usually recommend the English Standard Version (ESV) or the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). In addition there are a number of digital options that are good as well. Olive Tree, YouVersion, and the ESV app are all great tools you can use on your phone or tablet. Furthermore, you may find a study Bible a helpful resource and once again the ESV Study Bible or the HCSB Study Bible are hard to beat.

Second, get a plan. You can find a number of reading plans tailored to your goals. You can read the Bible through in a year or over the course of two years. You can read the New Testament through in a month or two. There are no limits to the suggestions. A month or so ago, Justin Taylor wrote about a number of great options on the Gospel Coalition Blog.

Third, set a time where you can minimize distractions and invest your time in reading. Find the best time for you whether it’s morning, evening or late night. To start, the length of time is not as important as the consistency.

Fourth, pray to seek the Lord’s help in understanding and applying what you read. The Holy Spirit is our helper as we spend time in the Word (John 16:13; 1 Corinthians 2:12).

Fifth, read. As you read, interact with the text. Ask questions like who, what, when, where, why, and how as you move through the text. Underline things and take notes. Jot down your questions, observations and insights. Converse with others about your readings, including your questions and insights. Get their input and seek their prayers about what God has laid on your heart.

Finally, live out what you learn. Reading the Bible is not primarily an intellectual exercise. By God’s grace, we are to apply the things we’re reading to our lives every day.

 

Grace Upon Grace

abundanceWe hear quite a bit about the “prosperity gospel” today. That’s the belief advocated by many (particularly on television) that says God wants you to have health and wealth in abundance. And, if your faith is strong enough, He will bless you with those things. You name and you can claim it.

This is simply a false teaching. Yes, every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). Yes, God meets our needs (Matthew 6:33), both physical and material. Yes, He is the One who brings healing to our lives. But this view that God is nothing more than a cosmic ATM is simply wrong. It completely ignores the fact that Jesus died naked and penniless. His closest followers were martyred for their faith. The early church was characterized by its spiritual power, not its material wealth. Sadly, this false teaching presents a corrupted view of God and dismisses the reality of the trials we face in life.

We could talk at length about the role suffering plays in our lives as believers. And, perhaps we’ll look at that another time. But for now, I do want to highlight one thing God does give to us in abundance. It’s far greater and far more needed than health or wealth. It’s grace. The Apostle John writes, ” For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16 ESV).

God gives grace in abundance. Abundant grace to cover our sin. Abundant grace to move us through trials. Abundant grace to raise us above yesterday’s hurts and failures. Abundant grace to move us confidently into an uncertain tomorrow. And, abundant grace to deal with all the circumstances of today. Let us be thankful  for that fact that through Jesus, we have received grace upon grace. For grace is definitely something He gives in abundance.

Drop Your Blanket

 

linus-van-peltI love the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Fifty years ago, this tale of one follicly-challenged boy’s quest for the true meaning of Christmas debuted on national television. My favorite part is when his pal Linus explains to him what Christmas is all about. What I love about the scene is that Linus drops his faithful security blanket as he quotes the biblical account of Jesus’ birth and explains the true meaning of Christmas. It is a subtle reminder of the hope the season offers.

The passage Linus quotes comes from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. It says:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

Christmas is indeed good news. Many scholars would suggest that Jesus was probably not born on December 25. Before we react too harshly to their assessment, it’s worth noting that it doesn’t really matter when Jesus was born. What matters is that He was born.

It does seem strangely appropriate, however, that the early church chose the darkest time of the year to celebrate the coming of the light of Jesus. In the midst of the cold, dark winter we remember that there’s hope. God has invaded our world. A child is born and this is good news. It’s a message of hope for all people. God has fulfilled His promise and the Messiah has come. The darkness won’t last forever. The cold winds will one day cease. The brokenness and heartache of this life will come to an end. The bleak harsh reality of sin and death has been overcome. This news brings us great joy. How can we not help but join in with the angels and sing “glory to God in the highest?”

Don’t let the darkness of life’s winter overwhelm you. Take heart. There’s good news. A savior is born and His name is Jesus. Light has come into the world. Deliverance is nigh. So, let go of your fears and doubts. Stop being anxious. Instead, drop your blanket and rejoice!