Monday, September 19, 2016

We'll be Back

Genesis 22:1-15

Abraham Tested
22 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied.Then God said, “Take your son , your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you. ” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you. ” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied. 12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. ”  13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided. ”  15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Things to think about:
  • When God called Abraham, his immediate response was, “Here I am”.  Unlike Adam and Eve who tried to hide from God in their shame, Abraham shows no hesitation and announces his presence.
  • After many years of heartache and disappointment waiting for an heir, Abraham is asked by God to sacrifice his son. The parallels to God offering His Son whom He loves  as our sacrifice are apparent.
    • It doesn’t say that Abraham argued, cried, doubted, re-interpreted, or anything else. What it does say is that early the next morning, he got up and went.
  • I love how he tells his servants to wait there, they (not he, but they) will be back.
  • Isaac notices something is up when he asks where the lamb is. Abraham tells him that God Himself will provide the lamb. Again, no scheming or manipulating the circumstances, Abraham allows God to do what only He can do.
  • He then ties Isaac up and has the knife raised. As a parent, this is a completely unimaginable moment.
  • Then the angel of the Lord calls out to him and once again he answers, “Here I am”.
    • There is so much to be said for being where God has you and being fully in that place, not wishing or whining to be somewhere else.
  • Then God provides  the way for the sacrifice, while sparing Isaac’s life. In the case of Jesus, God did not spare His Son because there was no other suitable sacrifice.
  • The angel then speaks for God and reconfirms the promise to make Abraham the father of a great nation because of his OBEDIENCE

Takeaways –
  • Be ready, be obedient, be expectant, believe

Monday, September 12, 2016

Who's Plan is This Anyway?

Let’s look at 1 Chronicles 28:20-21. David had it in his heart to build a temple for the LORD but that wasn’t God’s plan. Instead, it was to be the work of David’s son, Solomon. In this passage, David is giving words of instruction to Solomon:
20 David also said to Solomon his son, “Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished. 21 The divisions of the priests and Levites are ready for all the work on the temple of God, and every willing person skilled in any craft will help you in all the work. The officials and all the people will obey your every command.”
Things to think about:
  •        David wanted the crowning achievement of his life to be a temple to honor God. That certainly seems like a worthy and admirable ambition but it wasn’t God’s will for him.

o   Have you ever had what seemed like a worthy ambition that didn’t work out like you hoped it would?
o   If so, how did you handle the disappointment in realizing it wasn’t to be?
  •        Solomon was pretty young and inexperienced at this stage of his life. His dad was world famous as a warrior and a king.

o   Have you ever had to emerge from the shadow of someone else? If so, what was that like and what did you learn?
  •        David instructs him to be strong and courageous. Solomon was raised in the house with the women and was used to a pampered lifestyle, not an outdoorsman and warrior like his father.

o   We too need to remember to be strong and courageous. We live in a culture of comfort and convenience so when things go slightly awry, we tend to fret and worry
o   Do you agree or disagree with that?
  •        The source of our strength though isn’t a better attitude or just trying harder. Rather, it is the LORD who is with us.

o   He will not fail you, He will not forsake you
o   Do you sense, do you know His presence?
  •        God has a plan for you, just like He had a plan for Solomon

o   He will be with us until His work for us is completed
o   What do you feel God is calling you to do?
o   If you’re still here, He’s still has more for you to do!
  •        God will provide the resources necessary for the completion of His work

o   The people around you are part of His plan. God has prepared them, just as He has prepared you

o   How can you see God’s hand in those around you?

Monday, September 5, 2016

Giving What You've Been Given

Recently I was feeling rather cheated because I had been helping a number of of colleagues get connected to potential client companies without getting much back in return. I was using my personal network for their benefit and didn’t really see much in the way of reciprocation.  While  I was having my pity party, I got to thinking about how would this story sound if it was in the Bible. What distinctly came into my mind was the phrase, “you are only giving what you have been given.” I was feeling quite possessive of the relationships I have and God gently but clearly reminded me that anything I have to offer someone else is a gift I myself have received from Him.

Matthew 10:8
Freely have you received, freely give
Things to think about:

  • Have you had a time where you felt like you were most the giving?
    • maybe it was in a relationship, at work, at church, a ministry/charity, etc.
  • James 1:17 is probably familiar to you, “Every good and perfect gift from above is from the Father of heavenly lights…”
    • Can you do an inventory of every good and perfect gift you have been given? 
    • It might be helpful to think of it in terms of your time, talents, and treasure
  • In my folly, I forgot Deuteronomy 8:17-18 - "You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6-11
    • Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
      “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
    •     their righteousness endures forever.”

      Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
  • We looked at Philippians 2:3-4 recently (which apparently I have already forgotten!) 
    • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
  • Why is it so important to develop the attitude and actions of being a generous giver?
  • What do you need to freely give today to give honor to God?
There is a PS to my story. The next day, my boss told me he was doing some account assignment reallocations and he assigned me to the single largest prospect our company has!


Monday, August 29, 2016

The Untouchable

Matthew 8:1-4 (The Message version)

Jesus came down the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and went to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, “Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.”
Things to think about:

  • Leprosy is a disease that attacks the nerves. Left untreated it causes damage to the skin, nerves, eyes, and limbs.  By itself, it does not cause body parts to fall of, rather that comes from secondary infections that are often left untreated because of numbness.  Because it was thought to be highly contagious, “The Untouchables" traditionally have lived quarantined lives away from the “healthy” population. 
    • I didn’t know any of this stuff. I thought it was flesh-eating disease that caused fingers, noses, ears, etc. to fall off.
    • interestingly, one can have the infection for up to 20 years before exhibiting symptoms  
  • while I don’t think any of us have leprosy, we all have a sin problem. This sin problem dulls our senses and sensitivities causing various parts of our lives to become unfit for their proper function.
    • depending on what the manifestation of one's sin is, a person can also be ostracized by society, family , friends 
    • I’m thinking of things like addictions (alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling), adultery, stealing
    • can you see the connection between an insidious disease like leprosy and the analogy to sin?
  • I love the leper! This sick man simply falls to his knees and says to Jesus, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”
    • He acknowledges Jesus for Who He is - Master
    • He appeals to Jesus’ gracious nature, “if you want to"
    • He asks for His healing power
  • Jesus is immediate in His  compassion - “I want to”
    • He is immediate in His action - He reached out and touched him
  • Who has God placed in your path who is an “untouchable”?
    • are you willing to befriend them?
    • is there an act of mercy or compassion that you could extend to them to make a meaningful change in their life?
      • e.g., offering forgiveness or being generous with your time or gifts
  • Then Jesus says a strange thing (strange at least to me), “Don’t talk about this…”
    • can you imagine in our age of social media??? This would blow up on Facebook!
    • Instead, Jesus tells the man to go to the place of worship and present himself to the priest (quite possibly an opponent of His)
      • notice I didn’t call him "the leper" this time? We are not defined by our shortcomings once we have met the Savior
    • He also tells the healed man to give an appropriate thanks offering to God
      • short of his very life, what would be an “appropriate expression of thanks to God”???
      • And that’s just what Jesus tells him - let your “cleansed and grateful life.. bear witness to what I have done."
    • We have been healed of way more than leprosy!
      • What is an appropriate expression of gratitude that God is nudging you with right now?
      • Why are mere words and religious ceremony inadequate?
  • Give thanks to God today today by living your gratitude “out loud” so that your very life bears witness to what He has done for YOU!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Study, Obey, Teach - in that order

Let’s look at Ezra 7:10. In case you don’t have this one already memorized, here you go:

10 For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Things to think about:
  • There are three things the prophet Ezra is modeling for us that bear closer examination
    • He studied the Law, he obeyed the Law, and he taught the Law
    • You can’t do right if you don’t know what’s right, and you certainly can’t teach what you don’t live (just ask your kids about that last one!)
  • So let’s start with Study
    • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
      • Notice it doesn’t say the seminary trained pastor may be equipped, but simply “the servant of God”
    • Psalm 119:11-12 “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.12 Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.”
    • How is your study time going today? If you’re on a roll, what do you attribute it to? If you’re struggling, what seems to be the barrier?
  • Obey
    • James 1:22-25 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
    • 1 Samuel 15:22 “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
    • Psalm 119:1-2 “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart—“
    • I like how James says to “look intently”. Maybe we would benefit from slowing down and not trying to gulp down too much spiritual food in one sitting (maybe I should reconsider all of the scriptures in this email!)
    • King Saul disqualified himself by trying to pass off “pretty good obedience” as good enough. God says, “Be holy as I am holy”.
    • It is likely that all of us at the table this morning have good intentions and want to follow Jesus. At the same time, it is for sure that all of us fall short of the standard. Even Paul in Romans 7 talks about this “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
      • Do we have to be perfect to be called obedient?
  • Teach
    • Matthew 28:18-20 “ Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    • 1 Corinthians 4:1 “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”
    • Are you actively engaged in teach (discipling) anyone today?
    • Is God putting someone in your life that needs to grow in their understanding of who He is and how much He loves them?
  • Which of these three is the hardest for you? Why?

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Red Letter Day

According to the dictionary, a red letter day is "a day that is pleasantly noteworthy or memorable.” But maybe there is a more important meaning to red letters than that. We’ll be looking at the words of Jesus which of course are found in many Bibles in red letters. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed but those words that appear in red letters certainly do seem to carry just a little bit more weight.

I have been reading the Book of Matthew and came to the famous Sermon on the Mount in beginning in chapter 5 .  There,  Jesus is expanding on what the listeners had traditionally been taught as “the Law”. He says that He did not come to abolish the Law but rather to fulfill it.  And yet, He holds out an even higher standard to His listeners than what was already unattainable. Whether it is murder versus anger, adultery versus lust, or loving friends versus enemies, there are many teachings He presents that are hard to come to grips with. But if it is in red letters then it comes from the highest authority and is therefore non-negotiable,  and as a follower of Christ it must be for me.

Things to think about:

  • There are six variations on the Law Jesus identifies:
    • Murder, Adultery, Divorce, Oaths, Eye for Eye, Loving Enemies
    • let’s read each one
  • Which of the six areas of contrast is most challenging for you intellectually, spiritually, or practically?
    • why did you pick that one?
  • The Pharisees were the “ruling party” at the time and they placed a great emphasis on the appearance of keeping the law
  • What is the distinction Jesus is making with topics like murder/anger, adultery/lust, etc.?
    • why does our attitude matter to Him and not just our actions?
  • Traps to avoid - Relativism, Religiosity, Rationalization
    • Relativism would be comparing our attitudes and actions to those outside of the church - “well, this is way better than what unbelievers are doing."
    • Religiosity would be comparing our attitudes and actions to those within the church - “well, I’m keeping the letter of the law (sort of)” or “this will look good to those who know what I’m supposed to be doing."
    • Rationalization would be comparing our attitudes and actions to ourselves - “well, it may not be perfect but it’s better than what I was doing.” or “God knows how I am and He knows I just can’t help it.”
      • are one or more of these excuses that might ring a little too true??
  • God has given us several tools to become the men He would have us be:
    • His Word to teach us
    • His Son to show us
    • His Spirit to help us
    • His Church to encourage us
  • May today be a red letter day for each of us as we take to heart the words Jesus has spoken so that we can continue to grow in His likeness 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Leading Lives of Quiet Aspiration

If you go on one of the famous life coaches’ web sites like Tony Robbins, you will see lots of advice for maximizing your personal success. In fact, for a fee of $650 - $3,000 you can learn about “Unleashing the Power Within”, "Life and Wealth Mastery”, and your “Date with Destiny”.  This is all about living big, living bold, and being exceptional. I’m not suggesting there isn’t merit in some of the curriculum but what does one of God’s life coaches, the Apostle Paul, say we should aspire to? 

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 we are given encouragement of another kind:

11make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Things to think about:

  • Well, that doesn’t sound very spectacular or world changing! In fact, in 21st century America “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” sounds like giving up.  Henry David Thoreau famously wrote that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation”. So a quiet life is a desperate life?
    • what does being ambitious mean to you? Do you have a different definition professionally versus personally?
    • what is your ambition? Have you ever articulated it to someone else?
  • What is a quiet life?
    • does that mean we should be disengaged or passive? why or why not?
    • in the Beatitudes, Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” and “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
    • How does a Type A person in our culture lead a quiet life?
  • “You should mind your own business”
    • In what ways do we not mind our own business?
    • when should we get involved?
    • why is gossiping so malignant?
    • Apparently Paul had some lazy folks on Thessalonica who weren't working but were busy being busybodies.  2 Thessalonians 3:11, " we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.”
  • Work with your hands
    • I thought I went to college so I wouldn’t have to work with my hands! 
    • Paul gives great nobility here to old fashioned hard work.
    • The idea here I believe is that diligent work, of whatever kind, is honoring to God. 
      • Colossians 3:23-24, "23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. "
  • God’s kingdom is built by men and women who lead quiet lives, working honestly and humbly
    • people in your sphere of influence are watching you
    • when we profess to be followers of Jesus, our lives go under the microscope of all the others who make the same claim and haven’t lived up to the standard
    • when folks outside of God’s family see genuine humility, coupled with honest work, it is winsome and respectable
    • when done well, we can be a blessing and not burden on others