Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How to “Receive the Word”

From the words that spoke creation into being, to the declarations that will signal the New Heavens and the New Earth (Rev 21:1-5), God's Word brings things into being. Our spiritual life begins by God's word (James 1:18) and the only way we continue in our faith is through God's word.

So when we are told to "receive with meekness the implanted word" (James 1:21) we do well to pay close attention! But how do we do that? What does it mean to "receive with meekness the implanted word"? Let me suggest a few ideas:

  1. Seek out God's word. Put yourself in a place where God can speak to you by regularly, systematically reading and meditating on God's word. Listen to good teachers of God's word.
  2. Seek humility before God's word. Whatever the problem, humility is part of the answer! We humble ourselves when we acknowledge our need for the Word. We are not as smart as we think we are, so we confess ignorance and ask the Lord to teach you.
  3. We "receive" God's word when we allow it to be the authority in our lives. We do not stand over the word, it stands over us. We humble (and gladly!) submit to the authority of God's word.
  4. Don't disdain the delivery system that God chooses. You may think yourself wiser, cooler, and more "correct" than any given preacher/teacher/author/friend. But if you kill your pride and humble yourself to hear, God can speak to you through an old ass! (Numbers 22:21-31).
  5. Apply yourself to the word. Actively study the word for yourself. Don't rely on others to chew and digest the word for you. Step up to the table yourself!
  6. Apply the word to yourself. Actively ask the Lord to show you ways to apply the word to your live. Use the word to do a fearful and searching moral inventory. Look for ways to change because of the word.
  7. Just do it! (James 1:22)

If you are receptive to the word God "implants" in your heart and persistently follow through on its application you will be "blessed in all you do" (James 1:25)!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sometimes brevity is better

In our efforts to communicate well and get our message across the tendency is to over-analyze and over-explain. We want to unpack meaning and drive home application, so we pile on the words.

There is a time for tomes and a long thoughtful readings (like Psalm 119). But this morning I was reading Psalm 117 (the shortest psalm) which simply states:

117:1 Praise the Lord, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
(2) For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!

Nuff said!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Meditation/Prayer – Psalm 114

114:1 When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
2 Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

O Lord, where is your holy dwelling place? Where is your kingdom? When your people were on the move, when you were delivering them from Egypt – then, O Lord, your people themselves became your sanctuary, your people became your dominion! You dwell with your people, your church!

3 The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
4 The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

When you move with your people, when your powerful presence in with your people – then all obstacles flee before you! Insurmountable barriers melt like wax!

5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
6 O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

Your people can only, in joy, ask the triumphal questions – yes, taunts - of the victors!

7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8 who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water

O Lord, it is not your people, but your presence with your people that parts seas, moves mountains, brings streams in the desert, and transforms the wilderness! Yes, tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord – amidst His people!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Old Friends…

One of the benefits of reading through the Bible in a systematic way is that you come across "old friends" who have helped you in the past. An "old friend" might be a character from a Bible story, a word of wisdom to help you out of a jam, or a promise from God that you can sink your teeth into. The "old friend" I came across today was from Psalm 112:7 –

"He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord."

My "old friend" had helped me a few years ago when a string of disappointments had left me spiritually winded. I was dreading the next wave of troubles. But Psalm 112:7 reassured me that bad news doesn't have to be met with fear. Rather, my heart can be firm, trusting the Lord.

Time has passed and new troubles have come (don't they always!). Economic woes, surgeries looming on the horizon, friends with struggles we help bear, discovery of new skin cancer to be cut out, the need for church growth, and…, well – you get the picture. Sometimes I am tempted to cancel my "news feeds" of life because I don't want to read anymore "bad news"!

But there he was this morning, my "old friend" – Psalm 112:7. He told me that bad news was sure to come to everyone ("no bad news" is not the promise!). But bad news does not have to be feared ("He is not afraid of bad news"). Why? Because we have a loving, sovereign God who is bigger than our bad news. Our God is working all things (including our "bad news") for our good. So my heart can (still) be firm, trusting the Lord.

So thanks "old friend" for being there with a word I needed then. And a word I needed now!

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Friday, April 17, 2009

Psalm 107

Psalm 107 is one of my favorite psalms. The four "stanzas" (sandwiched between and introduction and conclusion) describe various types of struggles we find ourselves in, from wandering in the desert, in prison because of rebellion against God, in afflictions because of our own stupidity, and caught helpless in sea-storms through no fault of our own.

In each case the refrained is repeated: "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress". And in each case the deliverance perfectly meets the need of the moment.

This is good. We find ourselves in troubles for various reasons: our "lostness", our rebellion, our stupidity, and simply from the "storms of life". But even when I have dug myself into the pit myself, when I cry out to the Lord, he hears and delivers.

My favorite deliverance: "He satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things" (v.9)

So take some time to meditiate on this psalm. Which affliction are you in? Follow the counsel of the psalmist:

"Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD." (v.43)

p.s. Click on the link and you can listen to the psalm as you follow along.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Experiencing the Power of the Resurrection

Just because "Easter Sunday" has come and gone, we still celebrate the power of the resurrection. The season of Easter runs from now until Pentecost (May 31). Easter is the feast following the Lenten fast! But the power of the resurrection is more than a matter of calendar and liturgy.

The power of the resurrection is not simply a matter of looking back at the power that raised our Lord Jesus Christ form the dead. Nor is it a mere looking forward to the day of our own resurrection. No, the power of the resurrection is the moment by moment experience of the follower of Christ.

The Apostle Paul expressed his desire to know more of the power of Christ's resurrection like this:

"…that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11)

Do you catch the passion and hunger in those words? Paul was blood-earnest to know more of Christ and to experience more of the power of the resurrection. Are you as hungry for more of Jesus and his power? If you are – there is good news! There is more of Christ and his power to be had than you currently have.

How is this achieved? I wish I had a simple three-step answer. I wish I had a magic formula. I wish I had an Underdog Super Energy Pill!

No, I don't have an easy solution. But one thing I do know – the path to power lies with the passion expressed by the apostle –

"…One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Friday, April 10, 2009

We sang this awesome hymn tonight...

At the Good Friday Liturgy at Church of the Messiah. The tune is to "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence". It was written by Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus in about 569 AD. they don't write them like this anymore, so savor these words...

Part I:

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
sing the last, the dread affray;
o'er the cross, the victor's trophy,
sound the high triumphal lay,
how, the pains of death enduring,
earth's Redeemer won the day.

When at length the appointed fulness
of the sacred time was come,
he was sent, the world's Creator,
from the Father's heavenly home,
and was found in human fashion,
offspring of the virgin's womb.

Now the thirty years are ended
which on earth he willed to see,
willingly he meets his passion,
born to set his people free;
on the cross the Lamb is lifted,
there the sacrifice to be.

There the nails and spear He suffers,
vinegar and gall and reed;
from His sacred body pierc├Ęd
blood and water both proceed:
precious flood, which all creation
from the stain of sin hath freed.

Part II:
Faithful Cross, above all other,
one and only noble Tree,
none in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peer may be;
sweet the wood, and sweet the iron,
and thy load, most sweet is he.

Bend, O lofty Tree, thy branches,
thy too rigid sinews bend;
and awhile the stubborn hardness,
which thy birth bestowed, suspend;
and the limbs of heaven's high Monarch
gently on thine arms extend.

Thou alone wast counted worthy
this world's Ransom to sustain,
that a shipwrecked race for ever
might a port of refuge gain,
with the sacred Blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.

Praise and honor to the Father,
praise and honor to the Son,
praise and honor to the Spirit,
ever Three and ever One:
one in might, and One in glory,
while eternal ages run.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Argument Against Social Media


(Filed under: Technology)

Our own Brad Abare frequently muses on constant connectivity and social media over on his personal blog (e.g. Conundrums of Connectivity). And recently, Matt Haughey extrapolated some of these same lessons from his experience shopping for playgrounds. Here's the crux of what he said:

So maybe instead of getting your company on twitter, paying marketers to mention you are on twitter, and paying people to blog about your company, forget all that and just make awesome stuff that gets people excited about your products, hire people that represent the company well, and when your stuff is so awesome that friends share it with other friends, you may not even need "social media marketing" after all.

Zappos isn't great because they're on Twitter. They're great because they provide wonderful service, and Twitter is a part of that.

Your church will never be great because you figure out how to use Facebook and Evites. Your church will be great because you commit yourself to living the gospel in a radical way, and you can use social media as a balanced part of that gospel-centered diet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

“Getting into trouble, and out again”

James, the brother of Jesus, gives us a piercing look at the descent into trouble:

"But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death." (James 1:14-15)

We are all a familiar with this pattern: Misplaced Desire -> Temptation -> Sin -> Death. We have seen it in others. We have seen it in ourselves. Biblical scholar Daniel Doriani says, "When we indulge our sinful desires, sin becomes a pattern and eventually, a life dominating force." When we are caught in this death cycle it seems like there is no way out. But James also gives a promise to hang onto:

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17)

When we are caught in the snares of sin, God gives us good gifts to get us out again! Consider these seven gifts from God:

God's gifts to get us out of trouble:

  1. Surrender to the gospel. Getting caught is a great gift because it reveals the underlying truth about addictions: I cannot set myself free, I must be set free! I go to the cross to see my sin – it's guilt and it's power, destroyed. I preach the gospel of God's free grace to myself every day.
  2. Separate from sin. I cut myself off from sin's strongholds. That might mean using internet blocking and accountability software, walking away from gossipy conversations, or relationships that pressure me to compromise. Be ruthless with sin!
  3. Surround yourself with faithful & honest friends. I find friends who will speak truth into my life, even if it is hard to hear. I share my struggles and bring them into the loop. I invite gracious inspection and feedback.
  4. Study yourself. Know where and when you are weak. Investigate why you are tempted in that particular area and not another.
  5. Scour your soul for idols. What idols are fighting for attention from you? The idol of comfort? The idol of security? The applause of man? The idol that says "you deserve this!"? Make a fearful and searching moral inventory.
  6. Satisfy your soul in the Lord! To quote someone who says it better that I could:

    "Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason [sin] reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. Don't say, "That's just not me." What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy? Don't be fatalistic. You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart - more than you treasure sex or sugar. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don't have: "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is" – John Piper

The well wisher of your soul's happiness,

Pastor Tom

Collect of the Day: Holy Monday

"Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. "

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Let Us Sing Songs of Praise

Ps.95:1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, "They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways."
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
"They shall not enter my rest."

Thursday, April 2, 2009

National Day of Prayer

Okay - be honest - is this video motivating or too "flag-waving"? I am looking for a promotional video to send to area pastors to promote the YMCA National Day of Prayer Breakfast.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From Dan Parrot, CEO The Finishers Project

"This is really an issue of trust. We tend to 'trust' when things seem clear. That is not really trust. There is no risk involved. Risk is always present with trust. Listen to this excerpt from Brennan Manning's book, Ruthless Trust: "On the first morning there he (John Kavanaugh) met Mother Teresa. She asked, 'And what can I do for you?' Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. 'What do you want me to pray for?' she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the US: 'Pray that I have clarity.' She said firmly, 'No, I will not do that.' When he asked her why she said, 'Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.' When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, 'I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.'"