Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Much Strength?

How much strength did God give you today? I ask you this because Paul says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

According to this, Paul could handle the stress of getting a tent made in time for his customer. He could contain his frustration and temper. He could make good judgments. He could see and seize the opportunities God put in front of him throughout the day to bring God glory. Through Christ he was able to keep his thoughts captive and at the same time set his heart free to love unconditionally. He could be content in every situation! Through Christ, Paul says he could do all things!

But how!? It’s one thing to know and even believe this declaration, but it is something entirely different to share in it. How do we tap into this super-human strength that took Paul beyond the limits of our own experience?


(Phil. 4:4-6,10,19) Paul says…“Rejoice in the Lord always I will say it again: Rejoice ...The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God…I rejoice greatly in the Lord ...And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

(Col. 3:17) "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Paul learned that being thank-full makes us self-less. Giving thanks to God the Father in whatever we do keeps us focused on Him, who is our strength, enabling Him to take us beyond our selfish limits.

There is no room for stress when the One who controls the universe is continually on our mind. Frustration and all selfish anger die with thoughts of a dying savior, crucified on a cross for my sin. And, what greater motivation or reminder to love without limit than this very visage! There is no room for unholy thought or deed when our minds are filled with “the great things He hath done.”

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. And so can you! It starts with being THANKFUL.

Nehemiah 8:10b

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Was Blind, But Now I See

A blind girl hated life because of her disability. Her hatred extended to others around her, because they could see and she could not. The only exception was her boyfriend, who was always there for her and had won her heart through love and devotion. When her boyfriend brought up the subject of marriage, she would say, "If only I could see, I would marry you."

One day, her doctor informed her that a pair of eyes had been donated to her. The operation was performed and when the bandages were taken off, she was able to see! She could see the world, she could see her surroundings, she could see her boyfriend. To her horror, she discovered that her boyfriend was blind also. She was shocked to see his closed eyelids.

He asked her, "Now that you can see, will you finally marry me?"

She declined, stating that she hadn't expected him to be blind, and she didn't think she could go through the rest of her life caring for him.

Her boyfriend left in tears and days later composed a note to her saying, "Take good care of your eyes my dear. Before they were yours, they were mine."

It's funny how the human brain works. When our status "changes", few of us remember what life was like before, who our friends were -- and who was always by our side.

One faithful church member told the preacher, "If I were a rich man, I would surely give much more to the church for the sake of the gospel." Shortly thereafter, oil was found on his land and he became a millionaire. As the money began to roll in, his attendance at church services became more sporadic, to the point that soon he failed to attend at all.

The minister went to visit him. "Brother," the preacher said, "you were always so faithful in your attendance and your involvement before you made all this money. We have all noticed that you are not coming to worship with us lately. You're not taking part in church projects. What's happened?"

"Preacher", the newly made millionaire said, "Before I had the money, I had the desire. Now that I have the money, I don't have the desire anymore."

Where is your commitment level to Christ? Has something changed in your life that has distracted you? Turned you in another direction? Provided you with different priorities?

Our Master said to "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt. 6:33). Regardless of our status in life, our disabilities, our challenges, or our privileges, it is His will and way that we are to seek.

Will you consider joining us at the Open Door church of Christ in seeking to live as Christ has directed? As a community of Christians, we're devoted to one another and to truly living the life Christ wants for us, regardless of economic status, job title, or the challenges of life. Of course we each have our emotional "ups and downs", but it is surprising how helpful it is to have a family member to talk to and share life's challenges with.

We'd be privileged to share with you also. Come and see.

[Photo: Copyright 2008 Faye White. See this image at http://www.pbase.com/fayewhite/image/67254848]

Today I See A Tree

Today I see a tree. It’s standing in front of my window. Its leaves wave hello to the Maker of the dawning sky and the gentle morning breeze. It’s been standing there for longer than I know. It’s never moved. I’ve never seen it in the backyard or over at the neighbors’. It’s never even tried to come into the house or sneak into our car in an attempt to discover new things or places. It’s always just stood there…content.

It’s not that this little birch has never changed. No, in fact it clearly has a longing to be more. Occasionally, when I stop, I notice it reaching. Not straining, as if it were trying to become a great oak or anything, it looks more like it just wants to be all that its Maker made it to be.

It has more leaves this year than I have ever seen. Its roots are longer and seem to have deepened and tightened their grip, drinking in all its Maker provides. Its reach is at its highest point yet. And quietly, ever so quietly, it’s trying to shed another set of old clothes.

And God says, “Dan, that’s all I’m asking for.”

Today I see a tree. God showed me.

Psalm 1

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Calls to Action

John's lesson today created a lot of thought. The primary message, it seems to me, is that God - in appearing to individuals throughout the Scripture - always included two "calls to actions": a call to repentance and a call to service.

His appearance to Saul on the road to Damascus is a good example. The Lords asked Saul to quit persecuting the church, turn away from a lifetime of Judaism, and serve Him in the spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The example of Abram stirred my thinking the most. In Genesis 10, God asked Abram to pick up and leave his native country along with the bulk of his family - without telling him exactly where he wanted him to go or what his specific mission would be. Although God did promise Abram that there would be blessings for him, the Scripture doesn't indicate that Abram had any more details upon which to make a decision.

This, however, is not our nature. It certainly isn't MY nature. Yes, I want to do God's will, but I want all the details! I want to figure out if God needs my help with His plan. I want to weigh the pros and the cons, and I definitely want to know where I will wind up...

However, God has called me just like He called Abram: he has asked me to pick up and go; he has asked me to keep my eyes open along the way and do those works He has prepared for me (Ephesians 2:10); and, He has asked me to look at people much differently - to love them as He loved me (John 13:34). And, he has promised me enormous blessing, just as He did Abram...

Such is the nature of faith - as Paul told the Corinthian church: "We live by faith, not by sight" (1 Corinthians 5:7). I suspect that God knows the journey will require effort, even sacrifice, on my part, and it is in my best interest not to know the destination until I have arrived. I suspect that our Father is probably teaching me that the journey itself is just as important as the destination.

"Thank you, Father. Give me strength for the journey - and the faith to repent, to go, and to serve."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Little girls

My wife and I have two little girls, as I’m sure you guys are aware.

I'm not sure when I first realized it, but little girls have become something of a frame of reference for me, an interpretive guide: I see the world in terms of pigtails, PB&Js and stuffed puppy dogs.

I covered a story this week about a local soldier returning from Iraq to his family and small community. As a surprise, his friends and church had his old run-down 1973 Plymouth Barracuda restored while he was gone, just to show their love and appreciation. They’re presenting it to him this weekend. He still doesn’t know. It’s a nice heartwarming story about people doing good things for each other, the kind everyone likes to read.

The soldier and his wife have two little girls, ages 5 and 4, very much like my own. That’s the best part of the story: Two little girls get their Daddy back. That’s what I noticed most because, as I explained, I see the world in terms of little girls.

God knows I wish I could end this post here, with everything right with the world. But I can’t because the world isn’t all right. Fact is, this world is hard on the innocent. That’s one thing about my job. I see that side of it more often than I would like.

I covered another story this week – I won’t go into the specific details – about a father who was stabbed in the back by a convicted felon recently released from prison. His spine was severed and now he’s lying in the hospital in a coma and quite possibly will never wake up again. He has a wife and yes: Two little girls. Ages 9 and 4.

So just as two little girls, God bless them, are getting their Daddy back from Iraq, two other little girls may have lost their Daddy forever.

I see the world in terms of little girls -- what blessings they bring to it and how it treats them in return -- and it doesn’t make my job any easier. In a world where little girls can lose their Daddies for no good reason at all, there’s only one hope and it begins and ends with one name: Jesus Christ.

Please pray for the children tonight, church family. Pray for them every night.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Simple Struggle

How do I become the man of God I want to be? How do I live each day as I long to live, escaping the temptations, attaining the righteousness both God and I want for me? I don’t understand why I fail. Do I not love enough? Is my faith too weak?

Marrying our spiritual life with our “every-day” is a battle. There is no question about it. The apostles, Peter, Paul, John, and all the others, they struggled the same way. Just read Romans 7! These guys wrote with empathy, not condescension. Paul even writes,
Not that I’ve already obtained this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Phil. 3:12)

First, what beautiful, comforting words! Not so much the confession, but the proclamation “that Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Paul means that not just for himself, but for you and me, too! He’s got us! Jesus has taken hold! What a wonderful thought!

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1a)

Second, listen to these words of the Psalmist…

The unfolding of your words gives light;

it gives understanding to the simple.

I open my mouth and pant,

longing for your commands.

Turn to me and have mercy on me,

as you always do to those who love your name.

Direct my footsteps according to your word;

let no sin rule over me.

Redeem me from the oppression of men,

that I may obey your precepts.

Make your face shine upon your servant

and teach me your decrees.

Streams of tears flow from my eyes,

for your law is not obeyed.

(from Psalm 119:130-136)

Look at the bold words. On whom are you relying?

God has tremendously high expectations for us:

Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt. 5:48)

”...be holy, because I am holy. (Lev. 11:44; and echoed in 1 Peter 1:16)

But, God never planned for us to do anything alone. Our job is to seek Him and His word. He means for the rest to come out of the overflow of our time with Him. That’s it! That’s the secret! It is that simple.

The truth is, you know this, and so do I – and so does Satan.

Father, give us understanding of the simple. Please help us. And let us find the joy you’ve prepared for us there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Peace Beyond Harvest

Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?”

Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord.

You have filled my heart with greater joy

Than when their grain and new wine abound.

I will lie down and sleep in peace,

For you alone, O Lord,

Make me dwell in safety.

(David, from Psalm 4)

Laced through the chronicles of David, where we are currently reading, are many of David’s Psalms.

At first, I was struggling with them. What did they mean? Not just what did they mean, but what do they mean for me? Honestly, David rants a lot. And, I was growing weary. But then, as my heart softened, I started to hear his honesty, and faith, and love for a God that was too much for David…too good, and too gracious, and patient.

Then David’s heart started speaking to mine, and suddenly I was feeling David’s words. I was sharing his longing and awe for God.

This is the miracle of God’s living Word: He writes it on our hearts!

We are still asking, “Who can show us any good?” We spend much time looking to the better time – the time to come – when things won’t be so hard, when our harvest of grain and new wine, which might be for us that new job, or the end of a project or activity, or a raise, or whatever -- will come and bring us peace and joy.

David’s thought is that while others spend their time and energy looking for what will bring them peace and joy, David spends his time with the One who is peace and joy.

So "tonight" -- every night -- David slept well, because God is, and David knew Him. (2 Tim.1:12)

How are you sleeping?

More of Him is your answer. You have to give Him time -- time to let the light of His face make His impression on your heart. And that will make all the difference.

Note: Many at Open Door are reading through the Bible this year. We’re using The Daily Bible, arranged by F. Lagard Smith. He has organized the text chronologically to give readers the sense of scope and sequence of God’s work for the world through the generations of the Hebrews. Why don’t you join us and share in our blessings...?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Spirit Gum

Have you ever tried pushing a string? It’s old imagery, but the picture is so clear in our minds. The challenge is seeing and knowing when and how the metaphor applies to us personally!

The idea is that we are at the wrong end of things.

Here is some Spirit gum……a little something to chew on.
“He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:24

What is the goal of your faith?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

DIY Sanctification

The post on Tuesday, April 29 got me to thinking:

We know there’s nothing we can do to earn justification from God. He declares us guilt-free as an act of sheer grace, not because he’s obligated to us or because we deserve it.

I have to wonder, though: Once we’re saved, do we revert to do-it-yourself mode? Are we in some sense trying to earn our sanctification? I don’t think it’s intentional. But I do think it’s the natural consequence of our traditionally conflicted attitude toward the Holy Spirit.

We concede the Spirit has a role to play in principle, but let’s face it — in practice, we’ve been at best reluctant recipients of this gift. At worst, we’ve effectively shut Him out altogether, I fear.

Divine mysteries don’t fit so well in the fixed easy-to-follow formulas we crave.

But if the Spirit’s not driving us, a state of arrested spiritual development is the best we can hope for. We can go through the motions, do the overt acts of service which in themselves are good. But if the Spirit isn’t generating them, do they point to real internal transformation?

Don’t we often wonder why we don’t love more, give more, why our assemblies seem perfunctory and joyless, why our numbers are declining, why the truths we hold dear seem increasingly irrelevant to the culture at large, why we search our souls for answers but they elude us — why we demand lockstep allegiance on doctrine and yet so readily ignore the weightier matters when somebody, God help him, disagrees.

Maybe it’s the best a spiritually stunted people can do.

A Kingdom of Priests

I went to a Catholic high school, even though I wasn't a member of the Catholic church. I received a quality education and got to be the only "protestant" quarterback in the school's history. In my three years at this school, I met some very fine "Priests" and "Sisters", who served as teachers, administrators and in other capacities that helped shape my educational path.

I didn't know the Bible very well then, but as I grew in my knowledge, I became confused at the difference in the way the term "priest" is used by Catholics in contrast to how it is used by the writers of the New Testament.

For example, the Old Testament is full of references to the priesthood that God set up through Moses for the nation of Israel. This priesthood came from a certain family (the Levites) and the duties and responsibilities were clearly set out for the people to follow.

"...you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood,
offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. "
1 Peter 2:5

In the gospels and in the book of Acts, we see Christ and his disciples interact with this same priesthood in various discussions and confrontations. I used to wonder about what happened to this priesthood until I read some of the historical accounts of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. In that catastrophe, the temple was torn down, the genealogical records were destroyed, the city was razed, and surviving Jews were scattered everywhere. Since that destruction nearly 2,000 years ago, there have been no priests, no sacrifices and no temple worship.

The writers of the New Testament explain why. In numerous references throughout the book of Hebrews, in the epistle of 1 Peter and in the Revelation, it becomes clear that the nature and composition of the priesthood has changed under Christ. With the end of the Old Covenant and the fulfillment of the law of Moses, there has been a dramatic change: Christ has assumed the throne of a new kingdom (1 Tim. 6:15); He has become the Law Giver; He is the new high priest (Heb. 4:14). With these changes has also come a change in the composition of the priesthood: All believers are priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6).

You see, God never intended for the fleshly, Levitical priesthood to go on forever. The intent of Christ is that His followers serve under Him as ministers of the gospel to a lost and misguided world. The ministry of some of us is to teach the gospel. For others it is to share the gospel. For all of us it is to LIVE OUT the gospel.

I have no idea why the Catholic church has retained a specialized priesthood that is separate and apart from the members. But I do know this: restoration congregations (communities intent on restoring first century worship and practices) stand in danger of replicating this flawed model if we insist on distinctions between members and the leadership with regards to our common responsibilities to know, share and live out the gospel message.

An active shepherding program, constant and loving teaching on the responsibilities we inherit when we become members of the New Testament priesthood, and continual accountability to each other on our words and actions will help us avoid this pitfall. It is a liberating thought to understand that God sees me as an important part of His grand plan to save the world. That I could serve others in the gospel of His Son -- sinful man that I am -- is a sobering, but energizing thought. That I could do it with a group of like-minded people who will help me is comforting indeed. We are truly a "kingdom of priests."

At the Open Door church of Christ, there are plenty of opportunities to grow, share and serve. Check us out.