Monday, May 30, 2016


The miracle of traveling by plane sometimes gets obscured by the less glamorous aspects of traveling (long TSA lines, delayed flights, crowded airports, etc.).  Last week while traveling back from being in Portland, one of the less glamorous elements was in the fore of my mind - having to fly all the way to Washington DC only to have to catch a second  flight back to Cincinnati (yes, I flew over Cincy only to have to double back from DC).  On the flight back home, I was really struck by the majesty of the sky, the clouds, and the beautiful aerial view of the ground below us.  The clouds were especially beautiful because of thunderstorms that were developing.  It occurred to me that a hundred years ago, people didn’t really know what the world looked like from 25,000 feet up in the air (sitting in a chair, in a climate controlled environment, being served the beverage of your choice).  If it was cloudy or rainy on Earth then that’s all they really had a perspective on.  But when you experience human flight, the cloudiness on the ground turns into amazing scenes of sun, sky, and and an endless array of clouds.  You’d never know it might seem dreary down below. 

Isaiah 55:8-11
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Things to think about:

  • Do you remember the wonder you felt on your first airplane trip? 
  • God tells us in His word that He doesn’t see the world only from the terrestrial vantage point. 
    • In many ways, we do not have the benefit of “rising above it all” to get a much more complete perspective on what’s really happening.
  • Can you think of a time when what felt like only clouds and storms was actually being used for your good by the One who lives and orchestrates His creation far above the cloud layer?
  • Verse 10 references rain and snow as instruments of His goodness and grace, as they nourish the earth so that it buds, producing seed that ultimately yields bread for the eater.
    • Have you ever cursed the rain (figuratively speaking)?
    • Sometimes we think we only want sunny days and cloudless skies but thanks be to God that He knows better
  • Verse 11 draws the comparison of the rain and snow to God’s word
    • it causes an increase and will always accomplish His purpose
    • interestingly, it is going back to where it came from
  • What message has God been showering on You recently that He is using to achieve His purpose?
    • Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, love your neighbor as yourself, do away with selfish ambition and empty conceit, God loves a cheerful giver, go and make disciples, do not forsake the assembling of yourselves, something else?
    • is it just falling in a puddle only to evaporate?
    • Or are you allowing it to soften the hard seeds in your heart, allowing them to produce new shoots of understanding and wisdom that will eventually be used as bread to feed yourself and others?

Monday, May 23, 2016

We have all been orphans

For our text, let's look at what the Apostle James has to say about ministering to orphans in James 1:27: 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Things to think about:

  •  I've been conditioned to think of "religion" as a bad word.  When speaking with non-believers who might ask if we are religious, we may have been coached to say we are talking about a relationship, not religion. Or it could be a set of rules and regulations one must abide by in order to be saved, to be in good stead with God, etc. Or it could be speaking incessantly about one's particular dogma or theology, try to win arguments with those who don't share the same views. 

o   The religion that God finds acceptable is wholly (holy) different
  •            Three of God's most important qualities are found in His definition:

o   grace - giving generously to those who have nothing to offer as repayment
o   compassion - seeing those in distress and taking positive action
o   holiness - good works coming from a pure heart
§  otherwise we can deceive ourselves and others; good works from an impure heart are filthy rags in His sight
  •  we must never forget that we too were orphans, separated from our Heavenly Father until adopted into His family

o   and each of these qualities was on full display when He rescued us
  • Our duty is then to live out these qualities for the sake of others and ourselves, all to the glory of God

Monday, May 9, 2016

In need of Wisdom

 James 1:5

 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

Things to think about:
 The context for this verse is going through trials. A number of us are wrestling with uncertainty and needing wisdom to make good decisions, to be in God’s will.
 o    What are you dealing with these days that requires God’s wisdom?
 We have talked before about praying over “small” stuff and we looked at Philippians 4:6 "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
 o    Our verse this morning tells us we “should ask God”.  There is definitely a place for things like advice from others, counseling from professionals, reading books, etc.
 o    Do you find that sometimes you turn to substitutes as you seek wisdom?
 o    Do you have a success story you can share about asking for and receiving God’s wisdom?
 Do you ever sometimes feel foolish asking God for help with what to do? At this stage in life, do you ever wonder if maybe you shouldn’t have more of it figured out by now?
 o    You’ll have to forgive me for projecting my own insecurities onto you guys but I’m praying somebody else feels this way too!
 o    Our verse here says He gives generously, without finding fault
 o    More than begrudgingly, more than the bare minimum, but with joy, liberality, and enthusiasm He gives
 o   2 Corinthians 9:7 - "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 then the promise – “and it will be given to you.”
 o    Numbers 23:19 says “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?”
 o    I’m sure we can all recount an occasion when someone gave us their word and then didn’t follow through
 o    So then, He is able, willing, generous, and committed to giving you what you need.
 In fairness, the following verses do come with a proviso for this promise
 o    “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
 o    Why do you think Scripture gives us this warning? What purpose does it serve?
 o    See Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:18
 Going back to our first question – assuming you are dealing with one or more circumstances or challenges that require God’s wisdom, how does our passage and discussion affect your course of action?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Judging Others by Appearances

I was in Chicago for work the other week and went to a trendy artisan soup restaurant for lunch with a colleague.  When we had finished lunch and were exiting the building, I saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk with his back against the wall.  He had a large blanket covering his legs and lap.  As I looked a little bit closer I thought I could see a pair of eyes peeking out from beneath the blanket!  I crouched down to get on eye level with the man to get a closer look and asked his name (Troy).  Troy is an African-American man in his late twenties.  I introduced myself and asked him if he had a child under the blanket which he confirmed.  He pulled it back a bit and I could see his beautiful two year-old daughter, Faith, looking innocently back at me. Troy told me he and Faith currently are staying at the Pacific Garden Mission. They provide a meal in the morning and dinner at night but they are on their own for lunch.  I asked if I could help him get lunch and he said someone was already helping him with that. I then asked him where Faith’s mama was.  He shared that she had been shot and killed when Faith was only two months old. Wow!  I told him how much I admired and respected him for taking care of his daughter the best way he knew how.  I asked him was he working and he said he wants to but he has a felony conviction for attempted murder when he was seventeen (tried as an adult) so employment options are very few.  Before I left him I asked him for his prayer request.  His simple answer was “a job.”  As I got up to leave I gave him some money and asked for God’s blessing on him.

1 Samuel 16:7b - “...The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Things to think about:

  • To be totally honest, I have an attitude about men who father children and then are rarely involved in their lives. I think it is weak and cowardly and it makes me angry with them.  
    • More often than not, out of wedlock births result in children being raised in single parent homes, usually by the mother
    • so with all of my preconceived notions and biases about this topic, I learned (again) a very important lesson - we don’t know someone’s story until we take the time to learn it.
  • So, am I the only one who has prejudices about the decisions people make?
    • who do you “have an attitude” about?
  • But God doesn’t look at the things we look at:
    • wealth, car, education, house, job title, clothes, appearance, role at the local church, giving
  • Rather, He looks at the heart
    • on its own, our hearts don’t have much to recommend us either since we are wired for sin
    • but through faith (not works), we find favor with Him
    • He knows if our desire is to walk with Him and please Him even though we don’t meet the holy standard (love the Thomas Merton quote the other week!)
    • Even if we can fool others (and to a great extent ourselves), God sees us very clearly
  • As you go from our meeting today, ask the Lord to give you eyes to see others as He sees them, the willingness to stop for a minute and learn another’s story, and to offer a cup of cool grace instead of the burning rod of judgement
  • My prayer request today is for Troy and Faith - that God would lift them up from the streets and bring healing and wholeness to their lives.  That Troy could get a good job doing meaningful work he likes and is proud to do.  That Faith could have a life rich in love and hope that can only be found in relationship with Jesus.