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Cleaning Method

By |2021-07-03T09:06:03-04:00July 3rd, 2021|

At the sink, two little children happily sing the “Happy Birthday” song—two times each—while washing their hands. “It takes that long to wash away the germs,” their mother tells them. So even before the COVID-19 pandemic, they’d learned to take time to clean dirt from their hands.

Getting clean can be a tedious process, as we learned in the pandemic. Scrubbing away sin, however, means following focused steps back to God.

James urged believers in Jesus scattered throughout the Roman Empire to turn their focus back to God. Beset by quarrels and fights, their battles for one-upmanship, possessions, worldly pleasures, money, and recognition made them an enemy of God, James told them. Instead, he warned, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). As he said, “submit yourselves, then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (v. 7)). But how?

“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (v. 8). These are sanitizing words, describing the necessity of turning to God to scour away the soil of sin from our lives. James then further explained the cleaning method: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (vv. 9–10).

Dealing with our sin is humbling. But, hallelujah, God is faithful to turn our “washing” into worship.

Imagine This!

By |2021-06-23T09:06:05-04:00June 23rd, 2021|

During the course of a popular home renovation television program, viewers often hear the host say, “Imagine this!” Then she unveils what could be when old things are restored and drab walls and floors are painted or stained. In one episode, after the renovation the homeowner was so overjoyed that, along with other expressions of elation, the words “That's beautiful!” gushed from her lips three times.

One of the stunning “Imagine this!” passages in the Bible is Isaiah 65:17–25. What a dazzling re-creation scene! The future renovation of heaven and earth is in view (v. 17), and it’s not merely cosmetic. It’s deep and real, life-altering and life-preserving. “They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (v. 21). Violence will be a thing of the past, “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (v. 25).

While the reversals envisioned in Isaiah 65 will be realized in the future, the God who will orchestrate universal restoration is in the business of life-change now. The apostle Paul assures us, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In need of restoration? Has your life been broken by doubt, disobedience, and pain? Life-change through Jesus is real and beautiful and available to those who ask and believe.

Our True Selves

By |2021-06-06T09:06:02-04:00June 6th, 2021|

Inside my parents’ old photo album is a picture of a young boy. He has a round face, freckles, and straight light-blond hair. He loves cartoons, hates avocado, and owns just one record, by Abba. Also inside that album are pictures of a teenager. His face is long, not round; his hair is wavy, not straight. He has no freckles, likes avocado, watches movies rather than cartoons, and would never admit to owning an Abba record! The boy and the teenager are little alike. According to science they have different skin, teeth, blood, and bones. And yet they are both me. This paradox has baffled philosophers. Since we change throughout our lives, who is the real us?

The Scriptures provide the answer. From the moment God began knitting us in the womb (Psalm 139:13–14), we’ve been growing into our unique design. While we can’t yet imagine what we’ll finally become, we know that if we’re children of God we will ultimately be like Jesus (1 John 3:2)—our body with His nature, our personality but His character, all our gifts glistening, all our sins gone.

Until the day Jesus returns, we’re being drawn towards this future self. By His work, step by step, we can reflect His image ever more clearly (2 Corinthians 3:18). We aren’t yet who we’re meant to be, but as we become like Him, we become our true selves.

Walk, Don’t Run

By |2021-05-20T09:06:13-04:00May 20th, 2021|

I’d see her welcoming the dawn each day. She was our local power walker. As I drove my kids to school, she’d be there on the road’s shoulder. Equipped with an oversized pair of headphones and knee-high, colorful socks, she walked with an alternating movement of arms and feet, always with one foot in contact with the ground. The sport is different from running or jogging. Power walking involves an intentional restraint, a reining in of the body’s natural inclination to run. Although it doesn’t look like it, there’s just as much energy, focus, and power involved as in running or jogging. But it’s under control.

Power under control—that’s the key. Biblical humility, like power walking, is often viewed as weakness. The truth is, it’s not. Humility is not diminishing our strengths or abilities, but rather allowing them to be reined in much like the arms and legs and feet guided by the mind of an early morning power walker.

Micah’s words “walk humbly,” are a call for us to rein in our inclination to go ahead of God. He says to “act justly and love mercy” (6:8) and that can bring with it a desire to do something and do it fast. That’s fair since the daily injustices in our world are so overwhelming. But we are to be controlled and directed by God. Our goal is to see His will and purposes accomplished in the dawning of His kingdom here on earth.

Learning from Foolishness

By |2021-04-27T09:06:08-04:00April 27th, 2021|

A man walked into a convenience store in Wollongong, Australia, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of cash he got from the drawer? Fifteen dollars.

We all act foolishly at times—even if, unlike this would-be thief, we’re trying to do the right thing. The key is how we learn from our foolish behavior. Without correction, our poor choices can become habits, which will negatively shape our character. We’ll become “fools [who] lack sense” (Ecclesiastes 10:3). 

Sometimes it’s hard to admit our foolishness because of the extra work it requires. Perhaps we need to reflect on a particular character flaw, and that’s painful. Or maybe we need to admit that a decision was made hastily and next time we should take more care. Whatever the reason, it never pays off to ignore our foolish ways.

Thankfully, God can use our foolishness to discipline and shape us. Discipline isn’t “pleasant at the time” but its training yields good fruit in the long run (Hebrews 12:11). Let’s accept our Father’s discipline for our foolish behavior and ask Him to make us more like the sons and daughters He intends us to be.

Breaking the Cycle

By |2021-01-12T08:06:08-05:00January 12th, 2021|

David’s first beating came at the hands of his father on his seventh birthday, after he accidentally broke a window. “He kicked me and punched me,” David said. “Afterward, he apologized. He was an abusive alcoholic, and it’s a cycle I’m doing my best to end now.” 

But it took a long time for David to get to this point. Most of his teen years and twenties were spent in jail or on probation, and in and out of addiction treatment centers. When it felt like his dreams were entirely dashed, he found hope in a Christ-centered treatment center through a relationship with Him. 

“I used to be filled with nothing but despair,” David says. “Now I’m pushing myself in the other direction. When I get up in the morning, the first thing I tell God is that I’m surrendering my will over to Him.” 

When we come to God with lives shattered, whether by others’ wrongdoing or by our own, God takes our broken hearts and makes us new: “If anyone is in Christ, . . . the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Christ’s love and life breaks into the cycles of our past, giving us a new future (vv. 14–15). And it doesn’t end there! Throughout our lives, we can find hope and strength in what God has done and continues to do in us—each and every moment.

 

Curling Up with the Good Book

By |2020-12-22T08:06:04-05:00December 22nd, 2020|

The small country of Iceland is a nation of readers. In fact, it’s reported that each year it publishes and reads more books per person than any other country. On Christmas Eve, it’s a tradition for Icelanders to give books to family and friends and then read long into the night. This tradition dates back to World War II, when imports were restricted but paper was cheap. Icelandic publishers began flooding the market with new titles in late fall. Now a catalog of the country’s new releases is sent to every Icelandic home in mid-November. This tradition is known as the Christmas Book Flood.

We can be thankful God blessed so many with the ability to craft a good story and to educate, inspire, or motivate others through their words. There’s nothing like a good book! The best-selling book of all, the Bible, was composed by many authors who wrote in poetry and prose— some great stories, some not so—but all of it inspired. As the apostle Paul reminded Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” and equipping God’s people “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Reading the Bible convicts, inspires, and helps us to live for Him—and guides us into the truth (2:15).

In our reading, let’s not forget to find time to curl up with the greatest book of all, the Bible.

What’s Wrong with the World?

By |2020-10-21T09:06:04-04:00October 21st, 2020|

There is an oft-heard story that The London Times posed a question to readers at the turn of the twentieth century.

What’s wrong with the world?

That’s quite the question, isn’t it? Someone might quickly respond, “Well, how much time do you have for me to tell you?” And that would be fair, as there seems to be so much that’s wrong with our world. As the story goes, The Times received a number of responses, but one in particular has endured in its brief brilliance. The English writer, poet, and philosopher G.K. Chesterton penned this four-word response, a refreshing surprise to the usual passing-of-the-buck:

“Dear Sirs, I am.”

Whether the story is factual or not is up for debate. But that response? It’s nothing but true. Long before Chesterton came along, there was an apostle named Paul. Far from a life-long model citizen, Paul confessed his past shortcomings: “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (v.13). After naming who Christ came to save (“sinners”), he goes on to make a very Chesterton-like qualification: “of whom I am the worst.” (v.15). Paul knew exactly what was and is wrong with the world. And he further knew the only hope of making things right – “the grace of our Lord” (v.14). What an amazing reality! This enduring truth lifts our eyes to the light of Christ’s saving love.  

Slow, but Sure

By |2020-10-16T12:13:45-04:00October 16th, 2020|

I ran into an old friend who told me what he’d been up to, but I confess it seemed too good to be true. Within a few months of that conversation, however, his band was everywhere—from charting top singles on the radio to having a hit song pulsing under TV ads. His rise to fame was meteoric.

We can be obsessed with significance and success—the big and the dramatic, the quick and the meteoric. But the parables of the mustard seed and yeast compare the way of the Kingdom (God’s reign on earth) to small, hidden, and seemingly insignificant things whose work is slow and gradual.

The Kingdom is like its King. Christ’s mission culminated in His life, like a seed, being buried in the ground; like yeast, being hidden in the dough. Yet He rose. Like a tree breaking through the dirt, like bread when the heat is turned up. Jesus rose.

We’re invited to live according to His way, the way that’s persisting and permeating. To resist the temptation to take matters into our own hands, to grasp for power and to justify our dealings in the world by the outcomes they may produce. The outcome—“a tree . . . that the birds come and perch in its branches” (v. 32) and the bread that provides a feast—will be Christ’s doing, not ours.

Begin with the End

By |2020-10-05T09:46:46-04:00October 5th, 2020|

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I was often asked that question as a child. And the answers changed like the wind. A doctor. A firefighter. A missionary. A worship leader. A physicist—or actually, MacGyver!  (a favorite TV character.) .Now, as a dad of four kids, I think of how difficult that question must be for them. There are times when I want to say, “I know what you’ll be great at!” Parents can sometimes see more in their children than the children can see in themselves.

This resonates with what Paul saw in the Philippian believers—those he loved and prayed for (Philippians 1:3). He could see the end; he knew what they’d be when all was said and done. The Bible gives us a grand vision of the end of the story—resurrection and the renewal of all things (see 1 Corinthians 15 and Revelation 21). But it also tells us who’s writing the story.

Paul, in the opening lines of a letter he wrote from prison, reminded the Philippian church that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus started the work and He’ll complete it. The word completion is particularly important—the story doesn’t just end, for God leaves nothing unfinished.

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