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Thursday, December 20, 2007

...and casts no slur on his fellowman. Psalm 15:3 NIV

I guess this is a great one to end with for 2007. That's right, you probably won't hear from me until after the New Year. I hear the crying now but I've pledged to enjoy the holidays with my family. That may or may not include a blog.

My first thought when I read this was our contemporary environment of "political correctness." Maybe you've heard the stink regarding political candidate Mike Huckabee's audacity to wish Americans a "Merry Christmas." (How dare he!!) This isn't about whether or not you like Mike or support his campaign. This isn't really about the commercial or the greeting. It's about the reaction that was created...a reaction that has grown all too familiar in our country.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, why can't we all get along? What is so hard about the command that Christ gave us to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourself. The man was offering well wishes to all who would receive them...not preaching an evangelistic message. For that matter, who cares if he was? What happened to the right of one man to hold his beliefs and to share them with others? You think Mike's not being slurred? Then how come Barack Obama wished a journalist Merry Christmas this morning after an interview and not one media agency has jumped on his desire to spread Christmas joy.

Now, bringing it closer to home. I have neighbors just like all of you. If you stand on my front porch, you can see one family that celebrates Kwanzaa, another that is Jewish, a couple that don't celebrate a whole lot of anything and then others who obviously celebrate a secular "winter festival." I celebrate Christmas with a capital C-H-R-I-S-T. There are several others in our area of the neighborhood who do as well. You know what? There has never once been a civil war in our neighborhood. There have been no political rallies. No marches in the street, no chanting or cross burning or tire-slashing either. The worst thing that has happened in our neighborhood is some rowdy kids pushed over some one's reindeer. (Deer slayers!!)

Why is that? Because political correctness did not get involved, loving your neighbor did. And common sense reigned supreme. I don't necessarily agree with the way my neighbors celebrate this season. They don't agree with me either. But that doesn't mean I can't value them as human beings and pray that they someday see the difference that Christ makes in my life. Maybe even through the way that I love them. After all, He is what this celebration (the Christmas one) is all about--irregardless of what CNN or People for the Separation of Church and State or the ACLU may say (another subject for another, very long day).

Since this is my last blog for 2007 (possibly) I want to take the time to tell all you guys who read...Merry CHRISTmas!! My prayer is that you and every one else who knows the meaning of Christmas may live that truth from this day forward through 2008. May you and your families have a tremendous Christmas and a blessed and full and growing New Year. Till 2008...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? 3...who does his neighbor no wrong Psalm 15:1,3 NIV

At first glance, this one may appear to be an easy one. You let out a sigh of relief as you think to yourself, "I've never really done anything to harm my neighbor. We live at peace and treat each other pretty well."

I could talk about a whole lot of things today in regards to how we treat our neighbors (understand here that neighbor means more than just the people that live on either side of you. Jesus made it clear that our neighbors were everyone who came in contact with us). We could talk about how we gossip (see yesterday's blog and quit whining about it). We could talk about jealousy or greed (you know you like that new car they are driving or the hot tub on their deck). Any one of these could fall into the category of doing our neighbor wrong. No, you don't physically harm them but any of these behaviors would definitely fall into the category of "doing them wrong."

Here is the thought that hit me as I re-read that verse this morning. What is the greatest wrong that I could do to my neighbor? I thought about the ones that I listed above--even the physical harm. Then, this thought struck me. Isn't it true that the greatest harm that I could bring to my neighbor would not be physical or emotional or financial? Wouldn't the greatest harm be...eternal?

Let me use an illustration to stir your thoughts. Suppose I drove home today to find that my neighbor's house was on fire. Worse than that, he was still upstairs in the house trapped by the flames crackling all around him. As I emerge from my car, I see my neighbor hanging from his upstairs window asking for help, struggling desperately for some way to escape the danger. I shrug, ask him how his day is going, how his wife is feeling today and, if he happens to escape to live another day, if he wants to come and watch the ball game on Saturday. All the while, I neglect to mention the ladder that is leaning in my garage. The one thing he needs is the one thing I don't talk about. I think we could agree that I would have done him wrong.

And, yet, we do. We do all our neighbors wrong when we fail to talk with them about the one thing that really is important. We will gladly talk about our hobbies, our careers, our families or current events. All of these are well and good as you work to establish a relationship with those that God puts in your path. But, if your relationship never opens the door to safety--if you never take the time to share with him the very thing that you know he is looking for--haven't you wronged him?

If you are a Christ follower today, in your heart there is an answer to an age old problem--what is my life all about? Though many would not admit it, people all around you are looking for answers to that perplexing question. Does my life matter? If so, for what? And how do I find what it is that I live for?

You know. And to keep it a secret or deny that you have it is to wrong your neighbor. It is to deny them the very thing that could save them from a life of fruitless searching, desperation and eternal endangerment. The best gift you could offer your neighbors this Christmas would be to open your "garage" and let them know where your peace comes from. A truly "blameless" life is one that cares enough to go that extra mile.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?... 3 Those who refuse to gossip... Psalm 15:1, 3 NLT

If you didn't think the psalmist was meddling to this point, he definitely dives into your personal life today. Isn't it funny that many churches like to talk about the "big" sins? We are all over abortion and homosexuality and adultery and smoking and drinking. But what about the others...the less obvious ones that are just as abhorrent to God? Gossip is one of those that comes to mind.

One reason no one wants to talk about gossip is that it's just not popular--you hurt everyone when you start preaching against it. That's right--everyone. Oh, we may couch the information in the form of a "prayer request" or the words of a "concerned friend" but the intentions of our heart will tell us something very different. Most of us fall prey to this game of words.

Gossip has hurt more people, ended more relationships and torn apart more churches than we care to admit. The problem lies with every one of us who have ever begun a sentence with the words, "I'm not supposed to say this..." or "Did you hear...".

The truth is, many times, the words can start out innocently enough or with good intentions. But, soon, we have slumped into negativity, criticism and cynicism.

...keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Psalm 34:13 NIV

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. James 1:26 NIV

Here are two keys to help you with "keeping a tight reign on your tongue:"
  • Ask yourself, would I share what I am about to say in front of that person if they were standing here? Are my words meant to heal, restore or build up? If you can't answer affirmatively to the two questions above, keep your mouth shut.
  • Gossip has never happened with just one person. If someone starts to "share" with you, feel free to change the conversation, move on down the road or ask them politely to shut the heck up.

Words can kill spirit, mind and body. It's no wonder that God places such a heavy emphasis on our willingness to speak ONLY the truth in love. And, it's no wonder that David felt compelled to include this in his guidelines for Godliness. Maybe that's why years later James would feel led to write:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:6 NIV

Let your tongue be filled with praise and honor today...lest you find yourself slipping into the trap that gossip provides.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The last portion of verse two in the 15th Psalm gives us a third guideline for a blameless life. It reads this way, "...who speaks the truth from his heart..." (NIV)

The Amplified Bible translates it this way: "...speaks and thinks the truth in his heart..." (Amp)

Truth, in this day and age, seems to be such an elusive thing. Have you thought about that? I think for many us, it begins at an early age as we watch older role models (parents, siblings, teachers) who "fudge" their way through life by bending the rules, telling half-truths and white lies, and conveniently leaving out all the facts.

Then, the problem is exacerbated by the age of technology that we live in. Computer generated images give Hollywood the ability to fabricate worlds we only picture in our mind. We can't tell real photos from doctored ones. The news is twisted to support one view over another or to sell ads. At the end of the day, it can leave you scratching your head wondering if anyone even knows the truth any more.

But there is still truth...and it can be found. That's something I keep trying to remind my kids. Truth is not truth unless it's ALL truth. Truth with only a touch of falsehood is still a complete lie. The Bible is clear that God honors those who keep truth in their heart and on their lips. Jesus goes so far as to say that the reason this is so is that truth does us good. It sets us free.

Don't believe it? Just ask me. I remember one time as a child (not the only time, I must admit) when I told a little lie. I promise, it was just a little one. Actually, what I did was tell my classmates that I was born on an airplane over the Atlantic. The truth was that I was born in a hospital in Columbus, GA--but that was just too boring. Now, in my elementary mindset, I justified it by the fact that most of the story was true. I was born. I did have a mother. I even called her by her correct name. That whole business about a trans-Atlantic birth was irrelevant to the story anyway. Or so I thought.

Then one friend passed the story to another who passed it to another and then on to a teacher. With each re-telling, the story got a little bolder and I got asked more questions. The problem is, I never denied the original lie NOR did I squelch the growing rumors that had attached themselves to the original story. By the time it had reached my home room teacher, it was a narrative on the scope of War and Peace. The biggest problem was that the teacher knew my mom and she knew the whole thing was a lie. I was caught--caught in a web of my own making.

I won't tell you the whole sordid story, particularly the very embarrassing ending once I was exposed. Suffice it to say, I love being free. I love knowing that my words are true even if they are sometimes hard to utter. Here's the key: honesty comes from a heart of truth. Truth comes from God's word. And the only way to ensure a blameless life is to be sure that God's word (truth) is buried in your heart. The psalmist put it this way:
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. Psalm 119:30

In Christ their is freedom because, in Christ, their is truth. Bury these things in your heart so that you may know a blameless life.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I want to get back to Psalm 15 today. On December 12th, we talked about the ten measures of character that David listed for us in this Psalm. The first was someone whose walk was "blameless." The next is found in verse 2 as well. David writes, "...and who does what is righteous."

That word "righteous" has always been kind of peculiar to me. It's a very "churchy" word. We sing and talk about it on a regular basis. Sadly, though, I'm not sure that very many of us comprehend what it means to be righteous.

A more secular understanding of the word is an adherence to some established standard of right and wrong. For example, those who obey the law may be considered righteous. I think the Biblical understanding of the word, particularly in the Old Testament (the first half of the Bible), is something a little deeper--more personal, if you will. Righteousness for them meant more. It meant the fulfillment of vows taken in efforts to honor a covenant. Most of the time this was between men and God but could also include any number of human relationships.

More plainly put, a righteous person was one who honored their commitments to God and their fellow man. Obviously, this would encompass a whole lot of things for a whole lot of different situations, but the word caused me to think of something in particular.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Proverbs 14:34 NIV

Most of us have heard this verse tossed around. It's an especially popular thing to do at election time or when one likes to combine their patriotism with their religion (i.e. Presidential candidates lobbying for right wing votes). But what does it mean?

Look at the verse again with our definition inserted for the word "righteousness." The fulfillment of your vows in order to keep your covenant exalts a nation...

A nation is known by right living--individually and corporately. In a day and age where our word means nothing, isn't it easy to see how unrighteous lives (failure to honor our covenants) eat at the fabric of a country?

Presidents, Enron executives, Congressional figures, athletes and heroes. Yes, even pastors. Here's my point. Righteous living changes everyone's lives for the better. Our kids need to see men and women of righteousness--adults who don't say one thing then do another (a la Bobby Petrino--my sports-minded readers will detect bitterness in that comment). Righteousness exalts a nation because God understand the value of community built on trust. Community that is built around lives that are steadfast, dependable and right. That's the place where healthy marriages are built, where leaders can be trusted, where education works and the welfare of every man is considered. A place where children don't have to settle in their choice of heroes.

It's no wonder that God desired this of the ones who would inherit His home. I look at my life and wonder where I have been double-minded, even hypocritical in my dealings with others. What damage did I do to my own character? How did I injure the cause of Christ? And how can I work to make my life what it should be in this critical area of righteousness?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hey. I wanted to get away from yesterday's theme for just one day. I'll try to get back to it tomorrow. The reason being that I had a really good friend who asked me a question about holiday traditions. Specifically, she wanted to ask how I felt about the fact that many people believe that most of our traditions were borrowed from pagan cultures. Here's my thoughts on the subject as I shared them with her.

Your questions regarding the holiday traditions are interesting but not new. Here’s my thoughts. Take them for what they are worth. The fact that traditions have been borrowed from secular parts of our society is not limited to just the Christmas season. The truth is that the free exchange of ideas between Christian and secular culture has gone on for a long, long time. I believe that God doesn’t care very much about our traditions. He cares more about our heart as we observe the season. I really believe that it bothers Him far more that we spend thousands of dollars we can’t afford on gifts for people we really don’t know in order to impress them than He does about whether or not we celebrate with or without a tree.

Let me give you an example. You and I both know that the rainbow was a symbol of God’s covenant with mankind that He would never flood the earth again. For years we have spoken fondly of the rainbow, sold it in our bookstores and sung about it at our kids’ camps. Now, it is a major symbol of the homosexual movement in America. Do we now abandon it as Christians because it has become associated with a movement that does not honor God? Or do we understand that we can still honor God with how we speak and act towards this symbol?

The Bible says that everything belongs to the Lord. The Christmas tree? God’s. The tinsel? God’s. The lights and bows and wreaths and songs? All God’s. But what God desires more than a “correct” Christmas filled with the “right” traditions is hearts that still seek Him and honor His Son’s arrival at this season.

One other note. You can read a whole lot about how many of our traditions extend from pagan practices. They may…or may not. There are some who argue that just as many were started by Christians. The date (December 25th) is not when Christ was born. The date, a pagan holiday, was taken from the secular world in order to reclaim the day for Christ. Maybe we should try to do the same with all those traditions that circulate around the holiday.

Hope that’s been helpful. Just amateur thoughts from a Christmas “junkie.”

Only 12 days remain. Hope your heart is ready for the season...whether your gift list is complete or not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The last two blogs seemed to strike a real nerve with many people. I have had more responses to these than to any other I've written. And, to this point, they have all been positive. Yeah, there have been a few wanting more clarification or asking me to "unwrap" this conversation further. Most have simply said they appreciated what we were talking about and what was being said. With that in mind, I want to offer some further thought today.

I told you in an earlier post (I think) that I had been challenged to start reading through the Psalms and meditating on the truths that are held there. I'm not rushing to get through them nor am I reading a "psalm a day". I'm simply taking them and pondering them and moving on as God has "released me" to the next. The last two days I've been on Psalm 15. Here it is in its entirety. I want to spend some time unpacking it a little bit today (and maybe in some days to come).
1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? 2Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. 3Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. 4 Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts. 5Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever. Psalm 15 NLT

Just five simple verses but there is some really good stuff in here for us think about. David (the king of Israel and writer of this passage) asks a legitimate question about who can stand in God's presence. He is asking the same question we referred to yesterday, "What must I do to stay as pure as possible?" Remember, I said yesterday that this was the right question.

Then, David begins to give ten "measures" as to how well we are doing in our quest for holiness and purity. Number one is someone who lives a blameless life. Now, we know from the Bible that no one is perfect. In fact, just one chapter before this (Psalm 14:1) David acknowledges that there is no one who does good. So how can anyone make it? The answer is that we can't on our own. A blameless life is out of our reach without Christ. Even our ability to do good comes from God.

What God measures our lives by is not the external activity of our bodies but the inward desire of our hearts. I can't live a completely error free life...but I am expected to try. And not just try out of legalism or obligation or instruction from others. He wants me to seek holiness out of love for him.

I close with this example. As an athlete, I was told by numerous coaches to give "110%"--a physical impossibility. There was no way that I could hit every patch or catch every throw and do it without error or loss of energy. I was, after all, human. All of my coaches knew that (well, there was this one whose grasp of the obvious could be called into question. We'll save him for a later blog). That didn't stop them from pushing me to give more and try harder on a daily basis. In aiming for perfection, I was made to be a better athlete.

In aiming for holiness, you and I are brought to a level of purity that we would not attain if we were not challenged to do so. And every day of "upright" living brings me closer and closer to the ultimate goal--being more like Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My thanks to the posters from yesterday, particularly the one who asked the question for further explanation. I always welcome the opportunity to dig further in conversations about what I write on here. Just glad the comments are continuing to stir this kind of dialogue. (And, no, you weren't rude. It's a legitimate question)
For those of you who have not seen the comment, the reader simply asked why it was bad to watch some of the shows mentioned in yesterday's blog as long as you know what you believe. Again, a great question.
Let me start with a verse that I used to challenge my teenagers when I was in student ministry.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23 NIV
This is just one of many instances where God's word challenges us to be careful about what we let into our hearts. Some of you who grew up in church as a child may have sung the little children's song "Be careful little eyes what you see." This song and verse (along with many others) speak to the reality that the things that come into our hearts are the things that "spill" out at later dates. In computer terms, we use the phrase "Garbage in, garbage out."
From a more positive view point, the reverse is true. The Bible is filled with this type of encouragement:
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11 NIV
It would seem that there is a heavy emphasis on this undeniable truth...we become what we watch, read and listen to.
Now, after saying all that, let me assure you that my blog yesterday was not a judgment of others. I truly believe that your decision to watch a show or a movie or listen to a song comes down to your personal decision before God. The problem is, most of us have a higher opinion of our ability to stand than we should. On the other hand, we deny our proclivity to sin and always believe that it "won't affect us." I could give you a hundred examples: the alcoholic that denies that the first drink was what hooked him, the teen who only smoked for fun to wind up hooked on even tougher drugs, the stay at home mom who cannot turn off the trashy content of soap operas or the young adult who will tell you the words of many of those "harmless" songs led them to poor lifestyle choices. We ALWAYS believe we can withstand more than we can.
Here's the principle I really want us to take away from the Scripture: why mess with sin? I used to talk with teens a great deal about sex and purity. Inevitably the question would come up from Christian teens, "How far is too far?" What they were really asking is, "What can I get away with and still be okay with God?" The correct question should have been, "What do I do to stay as pure as possible before a God who expects that from me?"
Apply that to my media blog of yesterday. Most of us (and I fall into the same trap myself. Again, I'm not standing in judgment. Just trying to guide us all to good answers) ask, "How much trash can I allow into my heart and still be good for God?" The correct question should be, "What do I do to stay pure and holy for God?"
Every single night, many of us invite murders, liars, adulterers, thieves, slanderers, atheists, etc. into our households and expose our children to the same. That's not what God wants for us. Not one of us would drive our families down to the seediest parts of town, unload the car on the street corner and eat a bag of popcorn while we watched prostitution, drug deals, murders, etc. So why do we pay the cable company to bring it into the comfort of our home? Does that somehow purify it for our viewing?
Let me end today (I know it's been long) by asking this legitimate question. So many Christians "defend" their right to choose what they watch, read and listen to. How would our churches and our country be different if we fought equally as hard for our right to read the Word on a daily basis and talk about it in our streets? Just food for thought. Hope it's worth chewing on.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The only reason I'm taking the time to talk about this today is because the subject came up not once, not twice, but three times over the weekend. I'm talking about the new movie creating all the furor in the theaters this weekend--"The Golden Compass".

It stars Nicole Kidman (I wish I could star in movie bust after movie bust and still get paid millions) and is based on the trilogy written by avowed atheist Phillip Pullman. Pullman, himself, has admitted his dislike of C.S. Lewis the author of the Narnia series.

A quick summary of the novel/movie is this: God is portrayed as a decrepit old man who eventually is killed in the last portion of the trilogy by the little girl (the heroine). She has entered this parallel universe in order to save the world from horrible villains--the church. Now, I'm not going to tell you to not go see the movie (which you shouldn't) nor will I tell you that it's a poor copy of Lewis' Narnia or J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (which it is). I won't even tell you that it's getting poor reviews (an average of 1 to 2 stars from most secular reviewers).

Here's what concerns me. How come the Christian community has made such a huge deal about not supporting this movie (a move that I firmly support) but we have no problem the other 11 months out of the year supporting the same garbage on our TVs, our i-pods or our car radios? (Dang, there goes that pastor meddling in my personal affairs) Pardon me for saying it, but the same anti-God message portrayed in The Golden Compass is delivered night after night on shows like Grey's Anatomy, Law and Order and The Office, is it not? I mean a message doesn't have to say "kill God" before it already supports that thought.

Don't believe me?

Then you and I haven't read very closely the words of the Bible where God calls for us to live holy and separate lives. We haven't examined the truth that's taught inside that Word--if a man breaks just one part of God's command, he's guilty of breaking it all.

Now, two things I want to make clear. I am not calling for boycotts of anything and everything. What I am calling for is consistency in the voice of believers. What I hear from many of us is, "Don't get involved in what Hollywood's selling...unless it's funny, good drama, an actor I like, gets good reviews, etc." We can't have it both ways. Pullman is simply guilty of stating boldly what many in America try to dance around--there complete denial of God and His claim on our lives.

Secondly, there is still grace. Legalism does nothing but turn off people to religion and religious tradition. God never sought either. He simply desires a friendship with you and me. What does that look like? It's actually very easy. Let me illustrate.

I used to have a friend, a very close one, who was allergic to nuts. He was badly allergic to even the dust from nuts. So, in order to be with my friend, I chose to put away all kinds of nuts--peanuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, etc. I even chose to stay away from places where there might be nuts so that he and I could hang out and develop that friendship. It was worth it for my friend. Did I miss boiled peanuts? You bet. Did I long for chocolate covered cashews? Like crazy. But I wanted the friendship with my buddy more.

God is "allergic" to sin (not really but the word works here to catch the analogy). I don't want any part of it. I don't even want to go where it lingers. Do I crave it? Some times. Do I think about it often? Yep. But I want the friendship I have with God more. Because of that, I am willing to realign my life so that God is not "hurt" by my poor choices. It's that important to me.

God loves me and you. He wants what is best for us all. He knows that this is found in a pure relationship with Him--not in anything this world offers. But, to get it, we have to live consistent lives that honor Him. What that means is must decide for yourself if The Golden Compass (or Grey's Anatomy or the latest Dixie Chicks CD or whatever) is something that's going to make your friendship with God stronger? Or will your choices place your relationship with God in jeopardy? For me, that makes the answers clear. Hope it does for you as well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm going to confess before I get started that I'm a little hungry. I'll leave that with you to decide how much of a factor that is with what I'm about to write--positive or negative.

Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be blessed. (Matthew 5:6). Several interesting things about this as it relates to my life (the spiritual part, not the part with the grumbling stomach).

First, both of those words in the original Greek are present active participles. That's a fancy way of saying that they are perpetual or on-going. The hunger and thirst never go away. They are new every day, maybe every moment. Quite a lot like the physical hungers we have. You and I sit down to a meal when we are hungry. We fill ourselves with whatever is put before us. But it's not long before we begin to feel the pangs of hunger starting all over. It is a renewable desire. We hunger. We eat. We thirst. We drink. We never reach the point where the desire goes away completely.

Righteousness is a fancy word for "what is right." Specifically, righteousness is a life that is lived for what is right. Jesus was saying that you and I will be more fulfilled if we desire what is right continually.

Now, let me make this personal. My wife has done a great job of making me a healthier person. I lift weights, walk and try to eat right most of the time. Why? Because I desire to be healthy. I want to live a long, productive life. I want to see my children grow, watch my grandchildren as they enter the world and I want to grow old with my beautiful wife, Lisa. That doesn't happen because one day I decide, "Hey. I think I'll be healthy and eat a salad. In fact, I think I'll go all out today and walk 2 miles, work out with weights and eat a low-fat dinner tonight." Nice start but it's not enough. (by the way, I've never done all three of those things in one day so don't be too impressed).

Neither is desiring holiness or righteousness for one day--or two or three--enough. Just as it is with my health, it must be a lifestyle. The problem is that many people begin a life with Christ--surrendering themselves to His leadership--and then three or four weeks later, they find themselves back in the driver's seat doing things their way. Change can only be productive as it becomes permanent.

The doctor looked at me in August and said, "Your lifestyle has to change. Your cholesterol is high. Your blood pressure is high. And you could lose some weight." (By the way, that doctor is no longer on my Christmas card list) But he was right. One or two workouts or a few salads would not make the difference. I had to change what I was hungry for. My lifestyle had to be different.

Spiritually, we must do the same. We can easily get caught up in living for the next spiritual high, revival or special moment. Those don't work--lifestyles do. And lifestyle changes mean you eat the salad even when you are craving the catfish sandwich and fries. You long for the "right things" when other things seem to be so enticing. It's the only way to truly satisfy your hunger.

Now...I'm off in search of a salad.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It seems like we are never satisfied. At least, if you looked at most of our Christmas lists, you would get that impression. Take my kids for example. I am the kind of guy who likes to get things done--no dilly-dallying (I am thoroughly convinced that some of you come here daily to figure out what new word I'm going to throw at you. Well, there it is.) I like to get my Christmas shopping done early. In fact, there have been years where I was done with my shopping by the end of August. That's right, not a typo, by August.

Then my kids got older (I'm coming back to my point about their Christmas list now). I learned that their "list" is constantly morphing. It may be one thing this week and a completely different thing next week, especially now that they are into technical things.

But you and I know that satisfaction doesn't come from always wanting more and never being content with what we have. Or do we? Maybe our lists aren't so different from the kids.

God taught us to be grateful and thankful in all things. Take Jesus for example. You remember the story where Jesus fed 5,000 (and you thought your Christmas parties were large?). The story goes that the disciples were in a panic because there were over 5,000 men and even more women and children. And they were hungry!! Jesus tells them to gather what food they have. As the disciples come back to Jesus with five loaves of bread and two fish, what do we hear them say, "This isn't enough. We need more." Instead of looking at what they had and being thankful, they looked at what they didn't have and whined.

Not Jesus. The Bible says that He gave thanks, broke the bread and fish, fed 5,000 plus people and then collected 12 bags of leftovers!! Now, you might say, "Well, of course. It was Jesus. Why wouldn't He be content? I would have panicked, too, with all those people there." But catch these two very important points:
  1. Jesus didn't pray to thank Himself for the food. He prayed to thank God the Father. God is still God. He is still in the business of providing. He has never left His children going without what they needed if they just trusted Him. God still does that for us today. Jesus knew this. Jesus practiced this and believed it with all His heart. Five thousand plus people (and 12 dumbfounded disciples) saw this truth displayed first hand. That leads to the second point...
  2. Mark 6:42 says, "They all ate and were satisfied..." Isn't that amazing? Satisfaction was found, not in wanting more, but in being thankful for what was already in hand.

Let me put it another way. Just this morning I was reading an article on millionaires in America and the lifestyle choices that made them who they are. You know what the number one suggestion of every one of these millionaires was? Stop spending! That's right. Stop spending. Stop wanting more. Stop believing that something else can bring more happiness. Being content.

I guess this is a long way of saying some really important things. Be thankful for what you have. Be content with what's in hand. Get great joy from relationships and not products. And be surprised by two things this Christmas--how quickly you finish your shopping and how full your heart really is the day after your Christmas is over.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I love this time of year for a lot of reasons (you'll probably hear that a lot over the next few weeks). One of those reasons is the Christmas cards we receive every year. Now, some of them are kind of goofy. They can even borderline on cheesy (some day I'll explain the difference between goofy and cheesy). But, in every case, it really is the thought that counts.

I guess one reason I love them so much is because it's an opportunity to hear from friends and family that I have not heard from since...last year's card. I love seeing the pictures that are sent and reading the notes that come. I love knowing what's happened with the friends and family that God has blessed me with. I really enjoy the (short) letters that come with some of the cards and finding out where some people have moved over the course of the year.

It reminds me that I have a special place in their hearts, just as they have in mine. I know it's not a lot but that little card or letter says, "I was thinking of you and took the time to let you know we care." I hope my cards say the same to them. I hope the letters I write down on paper say how much I wish I could see them in person and talk with them one-on-one.

Just like Jesus.

That's right. Just like Him. Every single morning I pick up His Word and read how much He misses me. How much He loves me. How much He desired that one-on-one with me. So He came...Emmanuel...God with us...Christmas card come to life. I love Christmas. Lots of reasons to love this season. But most of all, I love knowing that God left nothing to chance. He hand delivered His love letter to us so we would always know the special place we hold in His mind.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My wife has me looking for hidden things. No, Lisa has not lost her keys or misplaced her wallet. I'm talking about spiritual things here--hidden spiritual things. It began with an article she was reading this morning. The author made a "wow" statement that Lisa began to ponder: "Don't make the mistake of confusing the unseen for the unimportant." So Lisa began to unpack that statement a little bit. What is unseen or hidden? What was the author referring to?

Her search led her to this passage of Scripture:

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3 NIV

What does it mean to be hidden with Christ and why does the Bible use this terminology in regard to our lives. Digging a little further, Lisa found this definition of hidden:
“to put out of sight; to conceal for shelter or protection.”

For shelter or protection...Wow! This is good stuff. You see, many times the things that seem to be hidden or sheltered from us or for us are meant to protect us. The answer you have been praying for may be coming, it just may be delayed because you need protection. The trial that you pray would be relieved may not need to be because you need God keeps the solution hidden for now. Maybe that career change or new house you prayed for is not being given (it's hidden) because God wants to protect you from your own desires.

And, more important than anything is the verse itself. Your life is "hidden" in Christ because it's there that you will be protected from the attempts of the enemy--the evil one--Satan.

It reminds me of an oft-repeated story from years back (don't know if its true but it makes a very good point). It came out that just after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, some Park Rangers were surveying the damage from that violent event. They came across a bird lying underneath one of the many burned up trees. Dead animals were all over that mountainside so it was not unusual to see another dead creature. What was unusual was the way the mother bird's wings were spread across the ground. As one of the Rangers leaned over to remove the bird's carcass, he uncovered an amazing surprise. Underneath were several baby birds, some of which had survived the horrendous blast. The mother had literally sheltered her babies underneath her wings to protect them. Those babies never saw what was coming (the hidden) because the mother sheltered them. Brings to mind this comforting passage:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4 NIV

As you move through this day, think through the unseen things that God may be preparing for you: the blessings yet to be realized and the answers yet to be known. And thank Him for the unseen things He has sheltered you from. Without His shelter, we would have no hope.