Tuesday, November 22, 2011

John Stott's Daily Prayer

This morning - over another cup of coffeee - I read the daily prayer of John Stott. I was impressed again with the simplicity of prayer and a life of seeking God. This prayer wouldn't set the world on fire if prayed just once or twice. But imagine the impact on your life if this was your focus and passion that fueled you every day.


Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control

Holy, blessed and glorious trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.

Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of the universe, I worship you.

Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of the World, I worship you.

Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God, I worship you.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Selah

In classical music it is the silence between the sounds that takes a piece from technical to transcendent. Life is more than just a succession of notes without a pause. In the lives of people too, there must likewise be pauses that define and shape the nature of who we are. Today I enter one of those silences in which I believe God will shape and refine me in a new way.

The board of deacons at Meadow Creek Church asked for my resignation last week. On Sunday I announced my resignation to the congregation. It was a very sad day, but I sense the Lord in it. Although I am deeply saddened by this turn of events, I am not surprised. I affirm their decision and recognize that the chemistry is not there. There are no issues of integrity in any way. This is more of a parting over issues of values and vision.
As for Moe and I…this week we start a search for God’s next place of ministry. We have been afforded a severance that, Lord willing, will tide us over until a new place opens up. In the meantime, pray for us that God will use this time in our lives to stretch our faith and deepen our relationship with him. We don’t know where God will lead us, but it will be towards his heart.

This unintentional sabbatical may even allow me to finish my doctoral thesis on peacemaking. That sounds pretty ironic, I know. You just have to laugh sometimes.
There is a time for everything… “ a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;” (Ecclesiastes 3:7, ESV) This season is a time of silence between the sounds that God will use to create a transcendent moment in our lives.

Selah,
Randy

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Christians Get Depressed Too

In preparation for my message on July 10, I came across a very helpful book on depression from a pastoral perspective. I appreciate his pastoral (as opposed to academic) approach from a thoroughly biblical aspect. The book is called, "Christians Get Depressed Too" by David Murray. For twelve years the author pastored in a beautiful, but isolated, dark and wet part of the UK. He served in an area where depression is seemingly part of the landscape. He knows what he's talking about and provides help for Christians who struggle with depression.

Depression has many sources and this blog post cannot begin to enumerate them. However, they do seem to share a common element when it comes to the mind. When we face depression, our minds often are unclear and are vulnerable to doubt the present reality of things that we formerly knew with certainty. Our emotions can override our judgment and render us helpless against the internal onslaught of wrong thinking. It is that aspect (and it is only one aspect) of depression that I wanted to address from a biblical standpoint.

Psalm 77 is a biographical lament poem written by Asaph. It is fairly clear that he demonstrates many symptoms of depression – including the doubts that invade his thinking. As we face doubts (whether we are depressed or not) it is wise to turn to the pages of Scripture to allow God himself to remind us of his promises and to assure us tenderly of his grace towards us.

In your own journey I encourage you to write down your thoughts, fears, hopes, prayers, etc. in a personal journal. David Murray cites several journal questions in his book. I share them here with the hopes that they may help you (or a friend of yours) begin the long journey of healing and hope.

  1. My life situation (Time? Place? People? Events?)
  2. My feelings (Sum up your mood in one word if you can. Are you sad, worried, guilty, angry, ashamed, etc. You may want to rate the intensity of your feeling by determining what percentage of the time you feel that way.)
  3. My thoughts (What am I thinking of at this time? About myself? Others? The present? The future?)
  4. My analysis (Identify false or unhelpful thinking patterns such as false extremes, false generalizations, false filter, etc.)
  5. My behavior (Impact of 1-4 on me and my relations with others. Stopped helpful activities? Started unhelpful activities? Reduced activity? Hyper-activity?)
  6. My reasons (Why do I believe the thoughts I listed in step 3 are true? What evidence is there to support my conclusion?)
  7. My challenge (List evidence and reasons against the thoughts in step 3. Think of what God would point you to, to show you that your thoughts are not completely true.)
  8. My conclusion (Come to a balanced conclusion, which will also be truthful and helpful.)
  9. My new feelings (Copy some or all of the feelings from step 2 and rate them again.)
  10. My plan (How will I put the balanced conclusion into practice?)

God bless you as you work through these questions. "May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him. And may you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13, NIV)

Pastor Randy

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Church Fathers on Peacemaking

Today I spent a few hours working on some background research for my thesis and worked through what the Church Fathers said in regard to Matthew 5:9. What does "blessed" mean? "Who are the peacemakers?" "To what extent does peacemaking go?"

I came across a letter from St. Jerome written to Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria in 399 A.D. Apparently, St. Jerome and John of Jerusalem were having a tiff over various theological and ecclesiastical matters (that I won't get into here). What I want you to see is the beauty of Jerome's language and the vivid pictures he creates with his words.



St. Jerome in his study

"You have quoted many passages from the sacred books in praise of peace, you have flitted like a bee over the flowery fields of scripture, you have culled with cunning eloquence all that is sweet and conducive to concord. I was already running after peace, but you have made me quicken my pace: my sails were set for the voyage but your exhortation has filled them with a stronger breeze. I drink in the sweet streams of peace not reluctantly and with aversion but eagerly and with open mouth."

I wish that today's peacemaking could carry that same spirit. Sadly, the history of mankind is less one of generosity and more of selfishness and defiance between each other. Cyprian gives us the character of a biblical peacemaker in his First Treatise on the Unity of the Church.

"If we are fellow-heirs with Christ, let us abide in the peace of Christ; if we are sons of God, we ought to be peacemakers. "Blessed," says He, "are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God." It behoves the sons of God to be peacemakers, gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, faithfully linked to one another in the bonds of unanimity."

My wish for the church would be to take up the example of our church Fathers. Set your sails for peace. Be gentle in heart, simple in speech, agreeing in affection, and linked in the bonds of unity.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Seeds of Truth - 4/15/11

Scripture: Psalm 19:7-11

Observation:

The law, statutes, precepts, etc. are more than simple words, they are the words of God and they bring delight to the soul.

The poetic structure of this psalm goes beyond a few observations. I remember from prior studies that this section is part of the chiastic form of the larger Psalm. The first part of the Psalm draws attention to how God reveals himself to all people through his creation. The last verses deal with God's very specific revelation to the individual through his thoughts, meditations, and prayers. The focus of the Psalm is on these verses - which highlight God's unique revelation to all who have the Word of God.

Just a quick note here on why I love the Old Testament so much. At the time of this writing there was no New Testament. In fact, many of the prophets had yet to be born. But David speaks so passionately about the Word that you can't help but be drawn to it. He isn't just talking about the stories and the miracles - though they are there. He isn't just talking about the prophecies of Christ - though they are there. He isn't just reflecting on the promises of God's goodness - though they are there. He isn't meditating on the character of God through the wisdom literature - though that is certainly there. He is addressing the Laws of God as revealed through Moses.

As a king of Israel he was required to hand-write his own copy of the Pentateuch so that he would know its requirements. David is expressing here a first-hand love of this law, the precepts, the commands and so forth. It is the law that governs behavior and the precepts that provide the foundation for a just and generous society. The fear of the Lord is the basis for all wisdom and the way that we approach a holy God.

David drinks it all in and absolutely gushes in his delight in the words of the Lord. They are like water in a desert. They are light in dark places. They are truth in a world of relativity. They are life-giving morsels in a land of spiritual famine.

Oh how I love your law.

Application:

The Lord has still been impressing me with new thoughts as I meditate on all of the themes of plants that grow. Maybe it's the spring (sort of - maybe snow tomorrow), but I have been reflecting on so many thoughts of planting and harvesting.

The parable of the Sower and the Seeds (Matthew 13)

The Lord of the Harvest (Luke 10:2)

Oaks of Righteousness (Isaiah 61:3) and a garden (Isaiah 61:11)

The harvest as a sign of God's blessing (Psalm 67:6)

None of these themes were conceived ahead of time as I selected the verses for the 40 days. But God has been using them to remind me that what is sown will eventually be harvested. Where the seed is cast the fruit will last. (OK, that's a pretty bad rhyme...)

Prayer:

Today, Lord cultivate the soil of my heart anew. Turn over the earth and upset the compacted places of my heart. Freely plow up the weeds and break up the hard soil. Plant your word deep in my mind and heart today as I feast on your truth. Bring joy and delight to me as I follow your commands. May this day be one of planting new seeds and also a season of bearing fruit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.


 


 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Listening with your Heart – 4/12/11

Scripture: Romans 10:8-11

"...it is with your heart that you believe and are justified..."

Observation:

The word is near you - very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart. (see Deuteronomy 30:14). Jesus also said that the two of them are connected when it comes to my speech (see Luke 6:45).

The word that is planted in the heart bears its fruit through my lips. What I say is an indication of what is happening in my heart. If my heart is full of the presence of the Lord, then my speech will represent him. Here is a good indicator of the state of my heart.

Application:

I know that as a teacher my words mean a great deal. I also know that when words are public there is a good chance that I'll slip up and say stupid things. That's being part of humanity. But what is the overall tenor of my conversation?

Today I will watch my words carefully. Not to hold my tongue, but to try hard to evaluate the state of my heart through observing the words that I speak (and write).

Prayer:

Today, Lord, I surrender my words and my heart to your control. Overtake me by the power of your love and transform my heart. Cause me to love your word and your sovereign rule over me. May my words today be words of grace and mercy and truth. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Listening to God with your Heart


Hearing God with your Heart (John 17:6-8, 17-19)
""I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. " (John 17:6–8, NIV)
"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. " (John 17:17–19, NIV)

Listening with your heart is different than learning with your head.

Devotional Reading
The chief aim of devotional reading of the Bible is not to learn more information about God, but to encounter God in his Word. It is more for transformation than information.
Spiritual reading is slow, thoughtful, a conscious interaction with the Lord along the way.
Here are some of the important elements in devotional reading.
Listen to and Understand the Bible text. Read a short section several times slowly. Take your time and reflect. Watch for helpful indicators of what the text means. (look for repeated words or phrases, structure of the text, metaphors and images that may be helpful.) Invite God to teach you from his Word as you read it or listen to it with your heart.
Remember it – take the message deeply to yourself in terms of its implications for your own situation. This is entering into the world of the text, taking the Bible to be the script for your life.
Pray it – transform the Word of God into a prayer to God by praying its impact and implications back to him.
Live it out – submit to the Word by taking what you read and meditating on it throughout the day and praying over it throughout the day, living it plainly and humbly in your personal life and relationships. (Eph 2:10 living)
Share it – share its impact on yourself with others

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Now Reading: Pesherim, Companion to the Qumran Scrolls

Timothy H. Lim, vol. 3, Pesherim, Companion to the Qumran scrolls (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2002).


"The pesherim are some of the best-known biblical exegeses to be found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are scriptural commentaries named after the technical Hebrew term pesher (pl. pesherim) which characteristically appears in formulae that introduce an exposition of a biblical verse (e.g., 'the intepretation [Hebrew: pesher] of the matter is …')."

I purchased this book as part of a set through Logos. I read it last night in utter fascination. This book is more than an exegetical tool to unwrap the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), it is also a fantastic view into the second temple period and the community of Qumran.

Ever since visiting the DSS exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum last year, I am particularly drawn to the findings at Qumran and the studies that continue to pour forth from this extraordinary archeological discovery.

I love writing. Or rather, I love to study writing. There is something magical about ink and paper that excites me. I must have ink in my veins as a result of my dad's print shop. Or maybe it's from my early experiments in calligraphy. I'm not sure of the source, but I seem to have the sickness. Even today I buy fountain pens and use them on a fairly regular basis. As much work as I do on a computer, I love to step back in time and pen my thoughts with liquid ink.

When I visited Israel several years ago I spent part of a day at Qumran. We saw the caves from a distance. We toured a cheesy replica of the scriptorium (or whatever the Hebrew name is), and viewed the baptisteries and the foundations of buildings. I was interested but not overwhelmed.

However, we later went to the Shrine of the Book, where the actual copies of the DSS are stored and displayed. As I stood inches away from the copies of the writing and I read the words from the scroll of Isaiah I was moved to tears. Goose bumps formed on my arms and the back of my neck tingled as I stood so close to words written on parchment sometime prior to the time of Christ.

So it was with some real interest that I opened this book on the Pesherim and read with delight and fascination about a time and place when the study and copying of God's Word were the calling of the Essenes.

Lim's book has a lot of helpful background information on the Qumran community, the dating of the scrolls, how they fit together. There is an interesting piece on paleography and some comparative studies of the handwriting styles. Unfortunately I only have an English translation of the scrolls so I couldn't do my own comparison. (I know, you can go online to the database somewhere and see some recent digitalized photos, but haven't pursued that yet.)

The Pesherim are essentially short, highly personalized commentaries on the words of Scripture. Actually, in some ways these are similar to my own discipline of devotional journal writing (SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer), which you can read on this blog.

Each section begins with a recitation of the passage. (This helps validate much of the Old Testament Massoretic manuscripts, but also creates a lot of discussion. Are these copies of the actual words or are they paraphrases? For textual criticism, this is a very important distinction!)

Following the Scripture is an interpretation (Pesher is the Hebrew word that can be translated, "interpretation".) This is where my devotional writings and the Pesherim differ. The Persharim, according to Lim, offer a continuous revelation of prophetic speech rather than a merely contemporary fulfillment paradigm (p 24). The community at Qumran believed that the fulfillments of prophecies in Isaiah, Habakkuk, and Nahum, for example, were linked to events that were unfolding in their present day.

The role of the "Teacher of Righteousness" was that of interpreting the words of Scripture for the community. This example shows the pattern of the Pesherim as well as provides insights into this teaching figure. (The text of Habakkuk is italicized and the Pesher is normal font.)

I will take my stand to watch and will station myself upon my fortress. I will watch to see what He will say to me and how [He will answer] my complaint. And the Lord answered [and said to me, 'Write down the vision and make it plain] upon the tablets, that [he who reads] may read it speedily (Hab. 2:1–2) []. And God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end. And as for that which He said, That he who reads it may read it speedily (Hab. 2:2): interpreted this concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets (ll.1–2).

Other figures that are mentioned are "the wicked priest" and "the liar". These names are recorded in the writings, but are not necessarily identified with historical personalities. Like I said – fascinating glimpses into history.

I found myself drawn into the discussion surrounding Psalm 37, which is perhaps my favorite psalm. I have viewed this as David's autobiography in which he characterizes his life contrasted with Saul's. The Pesher on this passage links David with the "teacher of righteousness" and Saul with "the wicked priest". Not knowing about whom they were speaking leaves a gap in our understanding, but I can appreciate how they have personalized the text to their own setting.

As a 21st Century student of the Bible I struggle with their hermeneutic. It seems to make large assumptions of the text. Most of my work today is in uncovering the socio-historical-linguistic clues to understand the text and then bridge it to contemporary settings. They seem to circumvent the heavy lifting and get right to the personal application. That's sort of like the comments I always got from my math teachers, "Randy, show your work." Even if you get the right answer, sometimes it's helpful to know how you got there.

Although this text provides a wealth of background information into the time of Christ, it still is only from a small piece of the pie. It is a history seen through the eyes of a small sect that lived on the far outreaches of civilization at their time. They copied and wrote extensively, but only from a limited point of view. Very helpful, for sure, but it needs to be studied in the context of other extra-biblical material from the time.

In short, I loved it! I found it to be a captivating glimpse into a unique set of documents that reveal a lot about a unique group of scholars, writers, and devout followers of the Lord. I recommend that if you get it, you also have an English copy of the DSS. It is a technical book aimed at the graduate level, but not entirely unapproachable. I struggled at times, but even with my limited Hebrew, I got a lot out of it. And it sure beats nighttime reality TV.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In his love – 4/6/11


Scripture: Psalm 91:14-15
Observation:
The Lord's protection is for those who love him and show it by obedience to his Word. The protection is just one of God's blessings on his followers:
  • rescue (v 14)
  • protection (v 14)
  • answered prayer (v 15)
  • presence in trouble (v 15)
  • deliverance (v 15)
  • honor (v 15)
  • longevity (v 16)
  • salvation (v 16)
That's quite a list! It seems so strange to me that there are so many critics of Christianity who claim that God robs them of joy. I look at this list here and can only offer thanks to a generous God who pours out his blessings on his people.
These blessings are for those who: love him, acknowledge his name, and call on him in trouble.Jesus said that if we love him we will obey his commands. (John 15:9-14) He also indicated that if we remain in his love, then we God will hear and answer prayers (John 15:7). A final link between this passage in Psalm 91 and our John 17 passage is the reference to the name. John 17:11 tells us that our protection comes through the name (strength, might, power, care) of the Lord. Those who acknowledge his name are offered the protection afforded his family.
Application:There are three points here that apply to me today.Love him - I need to live within an abiding (Jn 15) relationship with Christ today. I need to invite his presence in every decision, every conversation, every relationship, every thought. Today I want to live in his love for me and to turn on every "love receptor" I have. I long to find encouragement and refreshment and grace from him and to dwell within his love.
Acknowledge his name - I belong to Jesus. First and foremost I am a follower of Christ. My deepest satisfaction in life comes from being united with him.
Ask for his blessing - I need to remember to come to him at appointed times as well as throughout the day. I need to ask him to help me admit my weaknesses and to see his strength.
Prayer:
Today, Lord Jesus, I acknowledge your name. I belong to you. As your child I come today to live in your presence and to be surrounded by your love. I am not alone. I am protected and sheltered by your love. Surround me today and shower your love upon me as I seek your face. ?May I find my greatest joy in knowing you and discovering the good works which you have laid out before me. As I study and write and listen and talk today, guide me and walk with me. I live today in your presence. Thank you for sharing your life and your love with me. I live today in the name of Jesus. Amen.

in his love - 4/6/11

(John 15:9-14). He also indicated that if we remain in his love, then we God will hear and answer prayers (John 15:7).
Scripture: Psalm 91:14-15

Observation:
The Lord's protection is for those who love him and show it by obedience to his Word. The protection is just one of God's blessings on his followers:
  • rescue (v 14)
  • protection (v 14)
  • answered prayer (v 15)
  • presence in trouble (v 15)
  • deliverance (v 15)
  • honor (v 15)
  • longevity (v 16)
  • salvation (v 16)
That's quite a list! It seems strange to me that there are so many critics of Christianity who claim that God robs them of joy. I look at this list here and can only offer thanks to a generous God who pours out his blessings on his people.

These blessings are for those who: love him, acknowledge his name, and call on him in trouble.
Jesus said that if we love him we will obey his commands
 Psalm 91 and our John 17 passage is the reference to the name. John 17:11 tells us that our protection comes through the name (strength, might, power, care) of the Lord. Those who acknowledge his name are offered the protection afforded his family.
A final link between this passage in
 (Jn 15) relationship with Christ today. I need to invite his presence in every decision, every conversation, every relationship, every thought. Today I want to live in his love for me and to turn on every "love receptor" I have. I long to find encouragement and refreshment and grace from him and to dwell within his love.
Application:
There are three points here that apply to me today.

Love him - I need to live within an abiding 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the source of blessing and joy - 04/05/11


Scripture: Psalm 5:11-12
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. 12 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.

Observation:
A strong link exists between dependence on the Lord and joy. The world tempts me to seek out and find my own happiness. God calls me to joy in Him. There is gladness and joy for those who take refuge in the Lord. The Lord is the protector of his people.

There is a difference for the person who knows the Lord and follows his commands. Theirs is a life of joy, gladness, protection, rejoicing, and blessing. The Lord surrounds them with favor.

Our protection comes from the Lord rather than from any other source. Human efforts at protection are mirages at best. They may seem to be impregnable fortresses, but are nothing but a house of cards. On the other hand - our God protects with his love and his strength.

Application:
Seek the Lord, obey his commands and priciples, and take refuge in him. It seems to be such a simple concept. Go to the Lord for joy rather than seek entertainment outside of Christ. Find protection in the name of the Lord rather than in human effort. This means that I need to present my requests to the Lord and let him provide the safety and blessing that I need. Trust and obedience are the paths to blessing.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I come before you as your child. I trust in your promises to watch over and pour out your blessing on those who love your name. Cause me to love your name more today. Cause me to walk in the path of your commands. Create in me a true spirit of worship and dependence on you. And may I see your blessings providing for my safety and my joy. Today I trust and delight in your name. Amen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

power to contain - 3/30/11

Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-19
"...that you might be strengthened with power..."

Observation:
This prayer is about power. Paul prays that the church might be strengthened with power.
The source of the power is the Holy Spirit. The placement of the power is in our inner being. The result of the power is that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.

I normally think of power as something that is used to do things. It is oriented towards action or activity. It is usually associated with motion. We think of power as the power to do. Paul thinks of power as the ability to contain.

In Japan this morning a fight is going on to contain an enormous amount of nuclear energy inside crippled reactors. Their prayer (and mine!) is that the facility would have the strength to contain an enormous power. I think that image helps me to understand what's going on here. Paul is praying that my body and soul would be strengthened because there is an unimaginable power at work within me though the living Christ.

A second thought comes to me this morning related to this power. It is not the power to do, but the power to know. Paul's prayer here is related to our ability to have a corporate understanding of the love of God. And as we are filled with an understanding of this love - that we may be filled with the fullness of God.

Application:
The Holy Spirit wants to unite the Church through an understanding and application of love. I only have a limited glimpse of the love of Christ. I have my experience and my study and I see Christ from a single perspective. I need you - the body of Christ in all of your glorious understandings of the love of Christ. I need to live outside my own sheltered view and learn from others in the body of Christ.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I unite with my brothers in sisters in Christ around the world. I thank you for our vast diffferences and I thank you for the incredible power that unites us. We need that power because the power of disunification is strong. We feel it's pull every day. Strengthen your church with power so that we may remain united...that you would dwell in our hearts...and that we would work together to understand the marvel and complexity of your immense love for us. May we be filled with the full measure of the fullness of you. In the powerful name of Jesus, Amen.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The importance of being Earnest - Journal for 3/29/11

Scripture: Psalm 63:1-4
"earnestly I seek you."

Observation:
There are times when pursuing God comes easy. I've had those. It is a joy to wake early and meet the Lord. To pour the coffee and spend what seems to be a leisurely hour in the Word and prayer. The thoughts pour forth from the pages and my praise seems effortless and grand. Those are mountaintop experiences to be savored.

But they're not all like that. David writes this Psalm from the desert. I have been there too. Nothing comes easy. I wake late and am distracted by everything. As hard as I claw, the words will not release themselves from the page and I am left empty and unfulfilled. These are the days when my soul thirsts for God. I go to the water, but when I arrive it seems to a mirage rather than an oasis.

It is at these times that David wants to teach us to seek the Lord earnestly. To seek earnestly (Hebrew: sahar) is a seldom used word in the Old Testament. When it is used it is primarily used of seeking God in a time of trial. That certainly fits here. There is probably no connection but I can't help but think that sahar and Sahara are so similar. We seek the Lord in the desert.

Application:
My seeking of the Lord needs to be earnest whether I am in the desert or the rain forest. Actually, this discipline of reading and commenting through the blog is helpful. I've never been very good at journaling, but I am enjoying this. It is more of a easy experience. Check back in a few weeks and we'll see how things are going.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I seek you. I'm not in a desert, but I'm not in a rain forest either. Teach me to follow you and to seek you regardless of how I feel and what my circumstances are like. Create in me a desire to find you and to pursue you relentlessly. Help me Lord to put aside all the things that distract me from a full-out pursuit of you. Amen.

Glorify the Lord with me - Journal for 3/28/11

Scripture: Psalm 34:1-3
"Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together."

Observation:
David moves from the first person singular in verses 1 and 2 to the plural in verse 3. Worship can do that. Every day I spend time in worship before the Lord, but that's mostly by myself. But there is something about private worship that creates a hunger for corporate worship. For me, worship is not just a solo sport.
I love to enter into praise and worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I'll be honest, it's hard on Sundays when I preach. It's a discipline to have to turn my mind from what I will speak to what I should be hearing.

Yesterday, however, was a phenomenal worship experience. Somewhere in the second service I just heard the Lord speak to me through an image and a simple sentence. I stopped singing and just listened and reflected on what the Lord was telling me. I don't think that would have happened on my own. It was in the context of corporate worship. Your voices carried me when my voice was silent.

Application:
For me this is a very personal verse. This verse reference is inscribed on the inside of my wedding band along with Moe's initials. It is our prayer that as husband and wife we will glorify the Lord together. For 29 years we have been doing just that. It has been at all times. It has been on our lips. It has been when were were afflicted and when we were rejoicing. Praise to the God of our strength and refuge has been part of our daily experience. I'm so grateful for the privilege of coming to the Lord in prayer. But even more grateful to have a partner in marriage who understands the value of a common spiritual faith that is integral to everything we do. I'm also very, very grateful for the body of believers with whom I have the privlege of worship every week. Something marvelous happens when we worship and pray together.

So what will be my personal application of this passage? I will plan to be part of the Vespers service on Sunday evening. For me personally, it's the most meaningful worship service of the month.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I am simply grateful. I don't come asking for anything. I just want you to know how valuable you are to me. And I am so grateful for the gift of Moe, with whom I get to share this life. I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of Meadow Creek Church. Thank you for allowing me to enter into this fellowship and to worship you, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Unity through Glory - Journal for 3/27/11

Scripture: John 17:23

Observation:
Jesus is praying that his disciples would share in the same unity that he has with the Father. It isn't a partial unity. It isn't a developing unity. It is a complete unity. Jesus isn't just hoping that we'll all just get along. Rather, his prayer is for a complete and mature unity.

Unity is based on Christ's unity with the Father. In verse 11 he makes a dramatic link between unity and glory. Here's how I see this at work (and is the thrust of my message on 3/26...some day I'll figure out how to link my sermons here.) 
  • Christ humbled himself and served others.
  • This glorified the Father.
  • The Father noted the humiliation and glorified him.
  • Their unity was preserved through Christ's humiliation because they chose to glorify one another.

Application:
This isn't hard to see where it's going. Want unity? Choose to glorify (honor) one another. When we humble ourselves and honor one another two things happen. God glorifies us and a watching world finally recognizes that God is truly at work in the church. When the church gives up it's squabbles over trivialities and begins to honor one another, Jesus said that the world will know Christ and his mission.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I choose to glorify you. I acknowledge that you are the master and I am your servant. You must increase and I must decrease. As I show your glory today would you bring me into greater unity with you? Today, Lord, I choose to honor others and to find ways to serve them. Help me to be patient and to listen. Help me to love with Jesus' love and to bear the fruit of honor. In the name of Jesus, the glorified One. Amen.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Lord is God - Journal for 3/24/11

Scripture: Psalm 95:1-7
"For the Lord is the great God."

Observation:
The Lord is our Shepherd. He is the One who created everything that has been made. All of creation sings his praise, and we are the loudest voice of that great choir.

Worship seems to be a very noisy practice. It is full of shouting, music, and song. It is the thunder on the mountains and the roaring of the seas. It is the sound of all nature giving praise to him.

In response to God's marvelous care for us, his sheep, we come and kneel before him in silence. Silence is another sound of worship. It is the true connection of the heart of the worshipper with the heart of the maker.
The psalmist uses both "God" and "Lord" as the names of God. The Lord (YHWH) is the Hebrew name that God chose to sign his covenants with his people. It refers to the caring, gracious, compassionate and loving attributes of his character. God (elohim) is the name God uses to refer to his majestic strength, particularly in creation.

In the combination of names here we see that the God, who is strong enough to deliver from any danger or peril is also the Lord, who is full of love and compassion for his covenant people.

Application:
I can know that the Lord hears and cares for me when I pray. I also have the confidence that he is the strong and mighty God who is the maker of heaven and earth. The one who cares is the one who is able to deliver.
How does this affect my prayer life?

It gives me great confidence that I don't come into the presence of a mighty God who is to be feared, but I come to one who knows me, loves me, and calls me his child. I am able to cry "Abba, Father" and he listens. But he doesn't have compassion only. He has the ability to make a difference in my life and circumstances.
It reminds me of the famous picture of the resolute desk in the oval office. John Jr. is playing under the feet of the most powerful ruler on the planet, but he is absolutely loved and adored. He is safe and confident because the man at the desk is simply "dad".


Strength and Safety

Prayer:

"Abba, Father" today I long to simply be safe in your presence. I am confident to come into your arms today because I know your love for me is infinitely greater than anything I have ever experienced. Thank you for being my shepherd and caring for me so well. I bless you and walk in your delight today. Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Knowing Christ - Journal for 3/22/11

Scripture: Philippians 3:7-11
"I want to know Christ!"

Observation:

As Paul relates his extraordinary qualifications he compares their value against the privilege of knowing Christ. Christ wins! To go even further, Paul says that those things are like rubbish (trash and recycling) compared to the sheer joy of knowing Christ.

His only desire is to be found in Christ with a righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. The phrase in Christ is a unique phrase in the NT. As believers we possess unimaginable blessings because of our relationship to Christ as being in him. In him we have all that we could ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21).

I love verse 10 where Paul says that his purpose in life is to know Christ. That is my passion as well. Of all the titles that I have (pastor, husband, father, friend, etc.) the one I treasure most is follower of Jesus Christ. I live my life to know him. Note: I'm not complete here and Paul wasnt either (check out Phil 3:12) but I press on towards that goal.

Application:

Knowing Christ is more than an intellectual exercise. I have a library of thousands of books that teach me about Christ. But only one that teaches me to know Christ. If you could take all of my resources, please leave me a copy of the Scriptures. From them I am learning to know Christ.

I have a BA and a Masters (and nearly a doctorate) to list as "profit". I would trade it all in a heartbeat if I could know Christ and share in his life and sufferings. I must continually discipline myself to direct my learning towards knowing Christ rather than knowing about Christ. I don't want to teach something that I don't live. I want to live the life Christ has for me and lead people to know Christ in the same way.

Yesterday I had the stitches removed from a minor hand surgery (to fix a "trigger finger"). Successful! But I now have a small, inch-long scar in my palm. I use my left hand for everything. Primarily, it is my writing hand. Figuratively, I can look at my hand as a symbol of my "profit": my education, my profession, and my experience. Or now I can put the pen aside and look at the scar that reminds me that I am crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. I want to know him.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I count up my profits and compare them to the value of knowing you. Christ wins! Forgive me for holding on to things that have little or no value and treasuring them above you. Create in me a desire to know you. I won't settle for all the world's knowledge about you. I want to know you and share in your life and even in your sufferings. As I follow you today, walk with me as you walked with your followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) and teach me about you. May my heart burn within me as I hear you speak of your amazing love for me. Today I want to know you and love you more and be found in Christ with a righteousness that comes through faith - not by works. In the name of the One I long to know more fully, Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

God's waiting room - journal for 3/21/11

Scripture:
 “I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; ” (Lamentations 3:24–25, NIV)

Observation:
The author tells us that his "self-talk" is intentionally focused on truth about who the Lord is. It is all too human to dwell on our problems, isn't it? As I read the verses prior to this text (to gain perspective on the context) I note that in verse 19 the author is remembering his affliction and his wandering. As a result (v 20) his soul is downcast. How true! When we focus on our problems they grow in size. When we focus on the Lord and his promises, they shrink.

The Lord is my portion. This phrase is used only a few times in the OT. It refers to the Levites, who were the only one of the twelve tribes who did not possess any land in Israel. They were the priests who relied on the tithes of the people to provide for their needs. They were dependent on God to provide first to the land, then to the land-owners, and then to the priests and their families. Through this they learned to depend on God and to wait for him.

Waiting is among the hardest things I have to do. There are things that I would love to see happen here and now. And even though I ask God for them, the response seems to be "wait". These verses are an encouragment to continue to hang in there, continue to pray, and continue to watch for God to show up and work.

The Lord is good to those who hope in him. Because I know this to be true it is easier to wait. David had to wait for God to fulfill his promises (Psalm 37:7). Moses had to wait 40 years to see the promised land (and then only from a distance). Paul had to wait for God to remove a thorn from his flesh (and he apparently never did). It is good to wait for the Lord. He blesses those who wait.

The real blessing of waiting is not that when the answer finally comes, it is a greater reason for celebration. It is the things that God teaches during the waiting process. While I persevere and while I depend on God I grow more patient, more understanding. My heart grows softer towards God and towards others. God is developing character within me when I endure hardship.

Application:
By this time, then, I should be an expert in patience and a saint in endurance. I wish that were true. Although I have a great environment for growth while I wait I too frequently waste a golden opportunity. God is teaching me through these verses to look above my circumstances and obstacles and look instead towards God - to find my delight in him and to wait for him.

Yesterday's personal devotions from Psalm 121 (yes, I'm still reading the Revised Common Lectionary on Sundays) tell me to look above the plain of the battlefield and raise my eyes to the hills. That's where my help comes from. It comes from the Lord, the one who made the heavens and the earth.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, lift my eyes to you. At those moments when I want to look at the problems that I face, teach me instead to look into your eyes. Give me patience to endure and to wait for you to come and help. Forgive me for taking too much on myself and for moving ahead of you at times. Come today and lead. You have laid out in advance of today the good deeds that I should walk in. Allow me to see them and to walk in the path that you have for me. Amen.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hope and Power – Journal for 3/19/11


Scripture: Ephesians 1:15-23
‎17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Observation:
Paul is giving thanks and praying for his friends in Ephesus. He begins with thanksgiving. That's a natural place to begin prayer. Thanksgiving is looking back at what God has done in the lives of people and in the course of history. When we start with thanksgiving we acknowledge that God has heard our prayers, seen our need, and responded in glorious ways.

Paul's prayer then moves to asking God for specific things on behalf of the Ephesian church. Grammatically the request is that God might open their eyes to see two things: their hope and God's power.

Paul is not asking that they recieve more hope and power. His conviction is that they have the hope that they need, but they aren't aware of it. Similarly, they have all the power they could ever ask for, but they are not experiencing it fully.

Application:
1) I should follow Paul's pattern and give God thanks before I ask for things I don't have yet. In other words, I should look at what I do have and recognize where it comes from. I am incredibly blessed, but like 9 of the 10 lepers whom Christ healed, I walk away healed and complete, but unthankful.

2) There are things that I already possess, but don't live like I have them. Why do I live so hopeless and powerless when I have access to God's hope and God's power? I am going to ask God to open my eyes to see what I have in Christ.

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I come to thank you for my blessings. I have a safe and warm home that is filled with the laughter and life of a fabulous family. I have meaningful work that fits my passions and brings joy. I live in abundance and freedom in this land. I have friends and health and choices in nearly everything.

I pray today for those who may not be experiencing those blessings. As I watch the news tonight that is filled with pictures of devastation in Japan and the beginnings of military action in Libya I pray for those people. They are precious to you. They are uniquely created by you and share the image of God in themselves. They are low on hope and long to see the power of God.

Dear God, please bring them hope of life. Bring them an opportunity to experience a new life with Christ at the center. Free them from tyranny and fear. Cause them to prosper. As they grieve what they have lost and as they anticipate what is to come, may they be filled with the hope to imagine a better future and may they be filled with the power of God to see it happen in their day. In the name of Jesus Christ, my hope and my power.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Highly esteemed - journal entry for 3/18/11

Scripture: 
Daniel 10:8-11 "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you."

Observation:
This is a rather odd passage in a sometimes confusing book. Daniel has seen a great vision from the Lord. The Lord sent an angel to assist and to explain the vision, but the angel had been delayed due to a battle with a one of Satan's most mighty demons. Odd indeed.

But on arrival, he helps Daniel to overcome his fear and awe with comforting words. "Daniel, you are thought of highly by the Lord." I can't help but hear similar words coming from the heavens at the baptism of Christ. "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased." (Matthew 3:17)

Application:
God is pleased with his faithful children and esteems them highly. Too often I see only my own faults, my faithlessness, my sin. I don't trust myself to believe that God might see something different. He just might see me as his child in whom he is pleased . But its not about me. As I identify with Christ, he takes off my spirit of despair and robes me in a garment of praise (Isaiah 61:3) and clothes me in a garment of salvtion (Isaiah 61:10).

I identify with Daniel in his initial fear and awe. I would fall to my face as well and fear for my life if I ever saw an angel sent from God. But I would also hope that I heard comforting words of grace and love. My confidence in prayer comes not from my own abilities or inherent goodness. My confidence in prayer is based on how God sees me. He sees in me the image of his own Son and he delights in me.

Prayer:
Today, Lord I put on the robe of your salvation. As I wrap myself in the person of Jesus Christ I look to you in awe. I am stunned that you might see in me something worthy of esteem. I recognize that it is nothing in me that merits this. I am only a simple man in whom Christ dwells through faith. Be pleased with me today. As I seek to know and follow Christ today allow me to see the good deeds that you have laid out in advance for me to discover and walk in. Allow me to sense the indwelling presence of the living Christ, in whom you are pleased, and to walk in his paths today. As you sent the angel to Daniel. And as you sent Daniel to the Persians. So you are sending me today to love my family, my neighbors, my church, and my community. Thank you for hearing my words and coming in response to them. In the name of Jesus, in whom is all of your delight and pleasure, Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Face to Face - Journal for 3/17/11

Scripture: Exodus 33:7-11
"...‎The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. "

Observation:
How amazing is it that God is willing to speak to his people face to face? This fact about Moses' prayer life is so notable that it is referenced three other times in Scripture ‎(Numbers 12:8; Deut 5:4; Deut 34:10). Imagine for a moment how incredible it would be to enter into the presence of the Lord, to look into his eyes, and talk, and listen. We are told that what we say represents only a fraction of the meaning. Far more is communicated non-verbally. In looking at the responsibility that Moses faced - leading a rebellious mob through the desert for 40 years, I now understand how valuable this time must have been for him. He not only heard God speak, but he watched his face and his motions for non-verbal clues that others would have missed. I believe that he understood the heart of God because of his face to face communication and his relationship to God as his friend.

‎Pānı̂m, translated "face" is also the most common word in the OT for “presence.” In Exodus 33:14-15 it is used in this way and could be translated, "My face (or presence) will go with you, and I will give you rest." Moses replies, "If your face (presence) doesn't go with us, do not send us up from here." Obviously, "presence" is a more natural and correct translation, but it does shed light on this play on words from the same chapter. Because Moses spent time face to face with God, the presence of God was with the people.

Application:
If I am to follow God and lead his people I must learn to pray "face to face" with God.  In a face to face conversation there is no room to hide. There is no place for shallow conversations about trivialities. But at the same time, I do not need to be concerned about inadequacy or measuring up. I am complete in Christ Jesus, who has called me his friend (John 15:15). Therefore, I can enter boldly into his presence (a translation of the Hebrew word "face").

Prayer:
Today, Lord, I come into your presence face to face to talk with you as a friend. This is not something that I take lightly. Indeed, I have no right or authority to address you that way. But I come at your invitation through Christ, my Savior. Meet me today and walk through this day wtih me. Laugh with me when we see things that seem humorous to us. Cry with me over the nation of Japan and the tragic loss of life and livelihood. Today, Lord, I am not content to simply hear your words. I want to see your face and to sense your love, your joy, your tears, and your grace. Speak tenderly to me (Isa. 40:2) and remind me again of the glories of my salvation. I choose this day to walk with you as a man and his friend. I ask this in the name of Jesus, my friend. Amen.