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Archive for May, 2009

Examples or Exceptions?

May 29th, 2009

“Be an example . . in the way you live.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NLT

“As followers of Christ, let us be adjectives describing the Noun.”

My thoughts today ask, “examples or exceptions?”

In life, you learn better by what you see rather than what you are told. A fashion designer creates people’s desire to wear their clothes by displaying them on a beautiful, fashion model. An architect displays the unique beauty of his architectural design for a business client by building a scale model, a replica that accurately represents what the architect has envisioned.

You know my love for architecture. Recently, when in our nations’ capital, friends arranged a behind the scenes look at the magnificent Washington National Cathedral, officially the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, an Episcopal church and impressive structure described as “English Gothic in style, with exquisite architectural sculpture, wood carving, gargoyles, mosaics, and more than 200 stained glass windows. The top of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower is the highest point in Washington, DC.” I love that this glorious house of worship sits in prominence over the apparent seat of government’s places and power.

Taking 83 years to complete, the first stone was laid in 1907 as witnessed by President Theodore Roosevelt and the last finial was placed in 1990, witnessed by President George H.W. Bush. A friend who works there took us where visitors are not usually allowed to go. In the attic, my eye was caught by an exquisitely detailed but dusty, deteriorating scale model. That old model had served generations of artisans and stone masons to understand how their individual skills and efforts would ultimately accomplish the overall beauty and design at the completion of the Cathedral that many of them would never live to see, but generations after them would.

People often live as they please, not knowing or not caring that they are a model, or not careful of what kind of model they are. A professor of mine in college was heard to pray, “Lord, help me to make of the timber of my life a temple, not a tavern.” His words shaped a life-long desire within my young, impressionable heart to be an example of the right things, not the wrong.

You are an example God intended for others to see more clearly His design and skill in building lives for now and eternity – to see and believe what their lives could be in Christ. You can almost hear his joy as Paul writes, “In this way you imitated both us and the Lord. As a result you yourself became an example to all Christians . . and now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere.” 1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 NLT.

Would you be hesitant for others to “imitate you?” Yet someone is copying your words, habits, values, priorities, lifestyle, or beliefs, or spiritual life in ways large or small. To someone you are a role model – to a friend, spouse, child, neighbor, or acquaintance, at times you may be unaware and even when you do not wish to be.

In a devotional book by Chuck Swindoll, he describes Christ-followers “as being adjectives describing the Noun.” What a wonderful description! Your life and mine an everyday example of Jesus. Jesus was clear and certain, “Anyone who has  seen Me, has seen the Father.” John 14:9 NIV.

You should try be the best adjective possible, accurate and descriptive, reflecting a beauty and color and flavor of His attributes and grace. You can make yourself an example or an exception. The first changes lives; the latter confuses them. Which will you be?

My prayer for you today is to be exceptional in all you are and do, not an exception.

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Undisturbed Peace

May 28th, 2009

“You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You.” Isaiah 26.3

The answer is simple and clear. Where Christ governs, there is peace.”

My thoughts today are about “undisturbed peace.”

Our world is much like the world into which Jesus was born. Armies, hostilities, occupying forces, political and religious divisions, were all the order of the day. Rulership was imposed by the strongest and the most brutal upon the weakest and most vulnerable, as it is today. Yet, into exactly that kind of world, Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. At His birth angels declared, “peace on earth, and good will toward men.” Luke 2.14. There will never come peace on earth by armies and political alliances, however hard nations try.  Man cannot produce peace; he can only disturb it.

Peace is most precious to the one who is without it. They search in vain for better circumstances thinking peace will be found there. Peace is elusive for many, because although they long for it they do not know where it can be found.

The Bible speaks about a “peace from God,” that comes through Jesus who said, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27 NLT.  God supernaturally places peace within your heart.

There is also the “peace of God” when men experience an unexplainable measure of well-being and contentment that is the fruit of the Spirit that is unexplainable by their current circumstance. “You will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7 NLT. Don’t try to examine or explain God’s peace; just enjoy it.

But those are only available to the one who has accepted the invitation of Jesus to live at “peace with God,” surrendering to live life on God’s gracious terms, and living without hostility toward His Law and will. That’s where real peace begins. “Therefore since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us.” Romans 5.1 NLT.

Imagine a time and place where it can truly be said there is undisturbed peace. When will that time come, and where will that be found? Isaiah foresaw such a time, “And of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.” Isaiah 9.7 NIV. The answer is simple and clear. Where Christ governs, there is peace, and only peace! Until a man is at peace with God, he will not find peace of mind, will not be at peace within himself, nor can he always live at peace with others.

Peace is more than the absence of trouble, nor is peace the promise you will not have trouble. Peace is the living presence of Jesus whatever the circumstance or dangers that surround you at the moment. Peace starts in a man’s own heart, when he makes all things right with God. “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You, because he trusts in you.Isaiah 26:3.

My prayer for you today is: that you will have peace that cannot be disturbed.

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Boundaries and Liberties

May 27th, 2009

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.” 1 Corinthians 10:23 NAS

Choose wisely the bounds you have chosen and friends who respect them.”

My thoughts today are about “boundaries and liberties.”

Everybody needs rules. Almost nobody likes them. God gave the Ten Commandments, not the ten suggestions. He gave them out of love for you, not love for law. In athletics and academics, as in life itself, rules allow everyone to compete fairly, and provide a means for achievement to be measured and compared. That’s why there are rules and referees, grades and graduation requirements, right and wrong.

Rules establish boundaries. My Dad believed in rules, always clear but fair. They made me wiser and better than I would otherwise have been. Boundaries are for your benefit, not to limit or restrict you. They protect and keep you safe. Maybe it would help to think of boundaries rather than rules. I see three occasions for boundaries.

There are times you need people to set boundaries for you. That is the value of parents, teachers, friendships, and civil and governmental authorities. They set boundaries that are to benefit all. “For government is God’s servant to you for good.” Romans 13.4. Respect and appreciate them for doing so. Laws are to protect the lawful and restrain the lawless. “Obey your leaders, and submit to them for they watch for your souls as those who will give account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17.

Sometimes you will need to determine boundaries for others. True liberty is not without limits, never without restraint. I had a fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Cook, who taught our class a simple principle about boundaries and liberties, “Your liberty to swing your fist without restraint ends at the tip of another’s nose!” Friends often set boundaries for one another. Often it is more kind to say no, not cruel. Choose wisely the bounds you have chosen, and friends who respect them.

At all times, you must set boundaries for yourself. The best decisions you make were made before the situation needing a boundary presented itself. The right decision is never too late, but it’s best when made early. Paul wrote, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. Everything is permissible, but not everything is edifying.” I Corinthians 10:23 NAS. God’s boundaries mark the places where you will find your greatest liberties, and others find safety.

When I was first preparing for ministry, my Dad taught me something very valuable about boundaries for pastoral ministry, “Those you lead will likely exceed your liberties, so be wise. And others who follow may stop short of your disciplines, so be careful, seeking to excel.”

Someone is always following you, even when you do not think so. Many years ago, a man made this observation of me, “Pastor, you are not hard to follow because you do not make sudden turns.” I am not sure that he meant that as a compliment, but I accepted it as one. I want to be easy to follow for my family and for those who trust my leadership. I want them to know where I am going, who I am following, and how to get where God is leading.

My prayer for you today is: know that boundaries are to protect you, not confine you.

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How It Works

May 26th, 2009

“When faith is tested . . your endurance has a chance to grow; so let it grow.” James 1:3 NLT

“You only grow when you change, and you only change when your faith is tested.”

My thoughts today are about “how it works.”

Got to Barnes and Noble and you will find shelves filled with “how to” books – instruction on about any topic you can imagine. You have probably seen the extensive series of books “for Dummies” with their distinctive yellow covers. Google revealed 320 books in the published series available at amazon.com.

Do you ever find it amazing that people have such a need and curiosity about everyday things and so little interest to know how life works, or attention to the Bible which best teaches exactly that? Maybe someone should print a Bible with a recognizable yellow and black jacket with the cute little nerd and titled, “Life for Dummies. All -in-one Desk Reference”

Is life working for you? If not, maybe you are trying to make life work the way you wish it would, rather than the way God says it will. You want life to work, don’t you? Of course you do! You want your relationships to work well. You have every hope that your marriage and family will be harmonious and loving. You desire to make choices and decisions wisely. You want to handle your finances successfully. You intend for life to be meaningful and fulfilling.

That’s how you suppose life should work, but you struggle to get it right. The Bible tells you how it works. Jesus explained the problem and the solution, “Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life. Yet you will not come to Me, that you might have life.” John 5:39-40 KJV. God is the creator and author of life; don’t you think He would best know how it works?

You will never become what God wants you to be, as long as you insist on remaining as you are. Too much energy is wasted by people trying to change circumstances in order to improve their life, when letting God change your life would a wiser use of your time and effort. That’s where real change has to first happen. You only grow when you change, and you only change when your faith is tested.

“Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.” James 1:2-4 NLT. Trouble and joy used in the same sentence and context? Now that’s how it works, though foreign to the way most people live.

James is simply stating that every challenge gives you the chance to change, but to do that you need wisdom and perspective you do not naturally possess. “If any man lacks wisdom, he should ask of God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and wisdom will be given to them.” James 1:5 NLT. Wisdom is best described as the ability to see life from God’s perspective. When you have true wisdom, you will understand how life works. See John 10:10/1 John 5:11-12/James 3:13-18 NIV.

My prayer for you today is: seek and have Godly wisdom to know how life works.

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Fragile, Handle with Care

May 25th, 2009

“The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” 2 Corinthians 1:3 NIV

“God holding you in His everlasting arms is the practical and tender picture of comfort.”

My thoughts today suggest “fragile, handle with care.”

Have you ever watched a mother comfort a sick or fussy child, or a father gather a frightened child into his arms? You were watching God at work. It’s amazing to see. The child may be sick, or restless, or frightened. Nothing or no one seems to help until that mom cuddles the child in her arms, holding it close to her heart, whispering words or just soothing sounds – comforting softly and closely, sometimes by her presence, sometimes her words, sometimes her touch. The crying stops, the child settles and rests quietly and safely in her arms.

That’s a practical and tender picture of what God does for any child of His. God comforts them. I have watched elderly saints struggling with pain that no medication seems to help until God invisibly takes them in His arms and whispers words of peace and assurance. I have witnessed a graveside where hearts are aching and tears flow, until God touches broken hearts and they begin to heal. “The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you.” Deuteronomy 33:27 NLT.

Jesus comforted His disciples when He promised, “And I will pray to the Father and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever . . the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name.” John 14:16-17/26. The word can be, and is also translated, “helper, counselor, encourager.” Isn’t that wonderful? Comfort is more than something God does; the Comforter is who God is.

You may have seen this warning label on a package, “Fragile, handle with care.” People can be fragile; life can be painful. God handles people with care. Life will hold its share of bumps and bruises. When life is uncomfortable, when difficulties multiply, when you think you cannot make another day, when problems overwhelm, when your heart is breaking – that’s when you need to know and trust the God of all comfort.

Run quickly to “the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV.

My prayer for you today is to personally know God’s care and comfort.

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