19 December 2008

CHRISTMAS 2008
A QUESTION ASKED ... AND A QUESTION ANSWERED

Years ago I heard a description of how The Old Testament and The New Testament both speak through two statements … one A QUESTION ASKED, and the other one A QUESTION ANSWERED … about the coming of Jesus Christ as our Messiah. First, A QUESTION ASKED

The whole Old Testament can be described with the QUESTION Isaac asked his father Abraham as they walked up Mt. Moriah to offer a sacrifice of worship and forgiveness to God. And as they trekked up the mountain, Isaac asked his dad, “Where’s the lamb?” They had the wood, and they had the fire, but they didn’t have the sacrificial lamb.

All the way through The Old Testament, from the Garden of Eden until the Manger in Bethlehem, the world has asked this same QUESTION, “Where’s the lamb?” Wanting to find our way back home to God, every human being ever born knows deep down inside that there’s no way we can get back home to God on our own. The lamb of God needs to be sacrificed to open the door up for us to have a restored relationship for forgiveness, grace and peace with God.

So that’s the QUESTION that defines life before the Jesus Christ, the Messiah came into the world … “Where’s the lamb?” But what about after Jesus Christ showed up? Well that’s here the QUESTION ANSWERED comes into play.

When Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist baptized Him in the Jordan River, God the Father spoke out of heaven and ANSWERED THE QUESTION, by saying, “Behold The Lamb.” In other words God was saying, “You’ve been waiting for the Lamb of God. Well here He is. He’s My Son, and by following Him, obeying Him, and surrendering to Him, you’ll have the opportunity to see everything change in your lives. Old things will become new and you’ll become a new creation. My Son’s sacrificial death will bring you life, and make a way for you to come back into relationship with Me.”

In The Old Testament
A QUESTION ASKED
“Where’s the lamb?”

In The New Testament
A QUESTION ANSWERED
“Behold the Lamb!"

Merry Christmas ... and Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg


02 December 2008


THE LOVE OF THE FATHER

Many years ago, there was a wealthy widower who, with his only child, a devoted young son, shared a passion for art collecting. Together they traveled the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many others adorned the walls of the family estate.


The man looked on with satisfaction as his son became an experienced art collector. The son's trained eye and sharp business mind caused his father to beam with pride as they dealt with art collectors worldwide. As winter approached, war engulfed the nation, and the son left home to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram that his beloved son had died while rushing a fellow soldier to a medic.

Distraught and lonely, the man faced the upcoming Christmas holidays with sadness. The joy of the season that he and his son had so looked forward to — would no longer visit his house. On Christmas morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man.

As he walked to the door, the masterpieces on his walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home. As he opened the door, a soldier greeted him with a large, wrapped package in his hand. He introduced himself to the man by saying, “I was a friend of your son. In fact, I was the soldier he was rescuing when he died. May I come in for a few moments? I have something to show you.”

As the two began talking, the soldier told the man how often his son spoke of their shared love of fine art. “I'm an artist,” said the soldier, “and I want to give you this.” As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man's son. Though the world would never consider it the work of a genius, the painting featured the young man's face in striking detail. Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture above the fireplace in his study.

A few hours later, after the soldier had departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went above the fireplace in his study, pushing aside paintings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. And then the man sat in his chair and spent Christmas gazing at the wonderful gift he had been given. During the days and weeks that followed, the man discovered that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy's life would live on because he had rescued dozens of wounded soldiers before he died.

As the stories of his son's gallantry continued to reach him, fatherly pride and satisfaction began to ease the grief. The painting of his son soon became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. The art world was in anticipation. With the collector's passing, and his only son dead, his paintings would be sold at an auction. According to the will of the old man, all of the art works would be auctioned on Christmas day, the day he had received his greatest gift.

The day arrived and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world's most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day; greatness would be achieved as many would add the new art to their collections. But the auction began with a painting that was not on any museum's list. It was the painting of the man's son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid and the room fell silent. “Who will open the bidding with $100?” he asked.

Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room came, “Who cares about that painting? It's just a picture of his son. Let's forget it and go on to the good stuff.” More voices echoed in agreement. “No, we have to sell this one first,” replied the auctioneer. “Now, who will take the son?” Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. “Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That's all I have. I knew the boy, so I'd like to have it.” “I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?” called the auctioneer.

After more silence, the auctioneer said, “Going once, going twice. Gone.” The gavel fell. Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, “Now we can get on with it and we can bid on these treasures!” The auctioneer looked at the audience and announced the auction was over.

Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, “What do you mean it's over? We didn't come here for a picture of this man’s son! What about all of the other paintings? There are millions of dollars of art here! I demand that you explain what's going on here!” The auctioneer replied, “It's really very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son … gets it all.”

And just like the people discovered at the auction, the message is the same today … God the Father’s greatest love and greatest joy came when His only Son stepped out of heaven and into the world, so that He could step into our hearts.

Jesus Christ gave His life rescuing others. And when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He paid the price for the sin of the world. The price for your sin and for my sin, and made it possible for us to come into a relationship with God.

And because of God the Father's love … whoever takes the Son, Jesus Christ, gets it all … abundant life in the here and now, and eternal life when we pass from this world. Blessed be the word of the LORD. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

JOHN 14:6 (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

Jesus said to him, “I am THE way,
and THE truth, and THE life;
NO ONE comes to the Father
but through Me. [emphasis added]


I believe that heaven is a great place to look forward to. But even if heaven wasn’t a reality, the freedom from the penalty and bondage of sin and the abundant life that God brings us into when we come into a relationship with Him … just those realities alone, make surrendering our lives to God worth it.

But we’ve got to make sure we know that Jesus Christ is the only way into this restored relationship with God, because as Jesus Christ says here in JOHN 14:6, “no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”


And as Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, He knew that the cross was just one day away. And when we think of the extreme suffering Jesus Christ endured in order to secure our freedom from sin’s penalty, our hearts should overflow with love for Him. Leslie Flynn who pastored one single church in Nanuet, NY for more than 40 years, told a story that illustrates this truth …

An orphaned boy was living with his grandmother when their house caught fire. The grandmother, trying to get upstairs to rescue the boy, died in the flames. The boy’s cries for help were finally answered by a man who climbed up an iron drainpipe and came down with the boy hanging tightly to his neck.

Many weeks later, a public hearing was held to determine who would receive custody of the child. A farmer, a teacher, and the town’s wealthiest citizen each offered the judge the reasons they felt they should be chosen to give the boy a home. But as each of them talked, the boy’s eyes remained focused on the floor.

Then a stranger walked to the front of the room and slowly took his fire-scarred hands from his pockets. As the crowd gasped at the severity of his wounds, the boy cried out in recognition. This was the man who had saved his life … the one whose hands had been burned as he climbed up the fire-hot iron drainpipe. And with a leap, the boy threw his arms around the man’s neck and held on for dear life.

The other three men walked silently out of the room, leaving the boy and his rescuer alone. The man’s scarred hands had settled the issue once and for all.

Many voices are calling for our attention. Among them is the One whose nail-pierced hands remind us that He has rescued us from sin and its deadly consequences. To Him, and to Him alone, belong our surrender, our love, and our devotion. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

11 November 2008

THE FRONT FELL OFF

For a good laugh go to ...

www.snopes.com/photos/politics/frontfell.asp

and watch the video embedded there. I needed to laugh yesterday and this came just in the nick of time! Godspeed
.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

06 November 2008

LOGOS BIBLE SOFTWARE

I can't believe it ... but it's almost here. Logos Software ... the Bible software long recognized by all Bible scholars, students, pastors, and laypersons alike as the best Bible software application available ... best searching, best interface, best resource tie-ins, best library add-ons, etc ... is finally almost available for Macintosh! Yippee! Check it out at ...

www.logos.com/mac

I just received an email from the Logos folks and they're now accepting pre-orders for it, and so baring the second coming, I have a feeling I know what's going to be under my Christmas tree! It's been a long time coming, and I smell the scent of 12 verbs a parsing in the wind! Good night and Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

03 November 2008


THE VINEYARD OWNER
AND HIS WORKERS

A JESUS PARABLE
MATTHEW 20:1-16

About four weeks ago now I went to a house I'd never been to before for a visit. My new friend who I hadn't met yet had been diagnosed with cancer, and had told his daughter that he was running low on hope and wanted to talk with her pastor. This is what happened between that day and now ...

Thinking and praying about what I should share with my new friend I was led to a Jesus parable found in MATTHEW 20:1-16.

And as I drove down their long driveway, I realized why this was the part of God’s WORD I’d been led to share as a way to give offer hope about life, eternity, and about being in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Here’s the Jesus story I shared that day …

vv. 1-7 – For the kingdom of Heaven is like a
farmer going out early in the morning to
hire laborers for his vineyard. He agreed
with them on a wage of a silver coin a day
and sent them to work. About nine o'clock
he went and saw some others standing about
in the market place with nothing to do. “You
go to the vineyard too,” he said to them, “and
I will pay you a fair wage.” And off they went.


At about mid-day and again at about three
o'clock in the afternoon he went and did the same
thing. Then about five o'clock he went out and
found some others standing about. “Why are you
standing about here all day doing nothing?” he asked
them. “Because no one has employed us,” they
replied. “You go off into the vineyard as well, then,” he said.


vv. 8-12 - When evening came the owner of the
vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and
pay them their wages, beginning with the last and
ending with the first.” So those who were engaged
at five o'clock came up and each man received a silver coin.


But when the first to be employed came they
reckoned they would get more, but they also received
a silver coin a man. As they took their money they
grumbled at the farmer and said, “These last fellows
have only put in one hour's work and you've treated
them exactly the same as us who have gone
through all the hard work and heat of the day!”


vv. 13-16 – But he replied to one of them, “My
friend, I'm not being unjust to you. Wasn't our
agreement for a silver coin a day? Take your
money and go home. It is my wish to give the
latecomers as much as I give you. May I not do
what I like with what belongs to me? Must you be
jealous because I am generous? So, many who
are the last now will be the first then and the first last.”


God is the vineyard owner and you and I are the laborers. And the silver coin represents the gift of the abundant life with Jesus in the here and now –the hope we have when we know Jesus, and the eternal life God gives to everyone who respond to His invitation and come into a relationship with Him.

Some people come to God early in their lives, and others later in their lives. But no matter when we come to God, it’s never too late, and God loves us just the same. On the day I visited my new friend, after reading this Jesus parable to him and talking about it, he told me that he wanted to come into a relationship with Jesus. Hope came. Three weeks later, he died at home.

I have a friend named Brennan who lives outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. Years ago Brennan sent me a story about something that had happened to a priest friend of his. And as I read Brennan’s words this past week I realized that while the story didn’t have anything to do with my new friend, that it actually had everything to do with him … and so here is the story Brennan sent me.

One day a woman named Ellie, whose family had a long-standing but seldom taken-advantage-of relationship with the Catholic church in her neighborhood came over to talk with the priest about her dad Tom … whom the doctors had just given days or weeks left to live.

After introducing herself to this priest, named Allen, Ellie said that her dad had asked her to ask him if he could come over and visit with him. Even though Allen had never met Ellie or Tom, he knew some of their extended family … and he told her that “yes, of course he could come over … and that he’d be there late that afternoon.”

And so around 4:00 p.m. Allen came over to sit with Tom … and to read Scripture with him and pray with him if he wanted him to. He’d kind of play it by ear.

When Allen arrived at the house, Ellie took him into Tom’s first-floor bedroom. She told Allen that because he was there to kind of keep an eye on her dad, that she’d run to the store, pick up a few things and be back in about 45 minutes.

Tom was about 55 years old, had Lou Gehrig’s disease and Allen could see that yes, indeed, he was very near the end of his life. Tom had been trapped in his bed for most of the past eleven months, except to get up and use the restroom. And during the past six months he hadn’t even been able to do that unassisted.

Tom was awake and looked uncomfortable. He was propped up on pillows at odd angles – trying to relive the pain of being in a bed too long. On his left side there was a little side-table with a pitcher of water, a CD player and a couple of different machines, beeping and chugging along … and on the right side of the bed sat an empty chair.

Allen walked over to the empty chair, but when he tried to sit down, Tom put out his hand to stop him, craned his neck to look out the bedroom door to see if his daughter had gone and said, “Thanks for coming over Father. If you don’t mind, can you pull up that other chair to sit on … the one over there by the desk?”

Allen didn’t know exactly why the chair next to the bed wasn’t available to him, but he obliged Tom’s request, grabbed the desk chair, pulled it up next to the bed and sat down. The room was filled with silence, but it was a peaceful silence, not an awkward one … the kind of silence that’s more relieving than irritating. Finally Tom said, “I guess you’re probably wondering about the chair?”

“Well, ya” Allen said, “I was a little curious about it.”

And then Tom told Father Allen this story …

“About 7 months ago an old childhood friend of mine named Nick came by to visit. We hadn’t seen one another for quite a few years. You know how it is … stuff just got in the way. But Nick had heard I was sick so he stopped by. I thought he would probably just visit one time, but he kept coming back … usually a couple times a week … in fact he’ll be here again Saturday.”

“One day while we were playing cards Nick asked me if I ever prayed. I told him that when we were kids I used to pray sometimes. But that mainly I’d ask God for things like that we’d have enough food to eat or that my dad would get a job … and then be able to keep a job … stuff like that. But that, no, I hadn’t prayed for a long time.

Nick told me that he hadn’t been much of a praying man either … and that in fact throughout most of his life he’d pretty much lived life as though God didn’t exist.

But then a couple of years ago his wife got sick with cancer and died … and that during that time Nick realized that when some really critical, important things in his life hadn’t turned out the way he thought they should, or hoped they would, he’d been majorly disappointed with God, and made the decision to shut God out of his life.

Then Nick went on to tell Tom that during his wife’s illness everything changed – and he came to discover God as his father and his friend, as his companion, his comforter, and his guide … and that ever since then he’d prayed quite a bit.

Tom asked Nick how he did it … how he prayed … did he bow or kneel? Did he close his eyes? Did he whisper, did he talk in a normal voice, did he yell, or did he just pray silently, with no words at all? And he said, that “yes, he prayed all those ways.”

But Nick told Tom that the way he liked to pray the most was to pull up an empty chair across from him … and then picturing Jesus sitting in the chair, he would just talk with Jesus, knee to knee.

Tom told Allen that when Nick told him the empty-chair-story he thought it was kind of strange, almost spooky … but that after Nick left, and the more he thought about it, the more he felt compelled to try it for himself. And so a few days later Tom asked Ellie to bring the chair into the room – the empty chair that now sat next to the bed.

He told her that he needed the chair to grab onto when he had to get up or change positions in bed. Then Tom told Allen that he didn’t dare tell Ellie why he really had her bring in the chair. No way. I mean she thought that her dad’s cheese had sled off his cracker a long time ago – even before he got sick – and that he didn’t need to give her any fresh ammunition to prove that her theory was right.

And then Tom said, “Father Allen, every day since Ellie brought that chair into my room, I’ve been praying 5-6 hours a day. I picture Jesus sitting in the chair and we just talk.

I can’t really sit up, across from the chair like Nick does, but I pull the chair around so that the chair seat is directly across from me and I just tell Jesus all my problems, all my frustrations, and also all the things I’m thankful for, and that I’m actually looking forward to being with Him face-to-face in heaven someday.

And then I wait and listen … and Jesus talks to me. Not with audible words, but in ways that soothe me, calm me and that make me realize that to not talk with Him … that to not listen to Him would be like not breathing. I’ve grown to love our times together. I’ve come to love Jesus. And maybe even more important than that, I’ve come to believe that Jesus loves me.

As Father Allen sat there listening to Tom, he was blessed and amazed. Tom was dying, but he was also living more fully than he had ever lived before. They talked a bit more, and Allen read to him out of some different passages in the Gospels and from the Psalms … and after about an hour, when Ellie got back from the store Allen told her and Tom that if they wanted him to … he’d be back in two days to visit again … and they assured him that they would.

The next afternoon Ellie came to the church to see Allen. She told him that when she went to give her father his breakfast that morning she found that he had died during the night. Allen was shocked that he’d been with Tom on his last day here on earth. But he also knew that Tom was ready to go home, and be with Jesus.

Allen told Ellie that he’d really enjoyed their time together the day before – that it had been an honor to meet her dad and hear him talk with him of his love for God.

He told her that if he could help with the funeral, to let him know – and that he just wanted to be there for them in whatever way they needed the most. Ellie told him that she’d be in touch the next day, and then as she turned to leave she stopped, turned back around and said, “You know, Father, it was kind of strange. This morning when I went into dad’s room he was almost halfway out of his bed.”

“You mean he’d fallen part-way out of bed during the night?” Father Allen asked.

“No,” Ellie replied. “It was the strangest thing. I’m not sure what happened. He hadn’t fallen. But he’d pulled that chair he kept next to the bed, up as close as it could get to the bed … and then he’d turned in his bed as much as he could, and he’d put his head over onto the arm of the chair. And that’s how I found him … with his head laying over against the arm of the chair. It was strange … but he also looked more peaceful than I’ve ever seen him.”

My new friend was a loving and faithful husband. He was a good father and friend. I know that he didn't have a chair like Tom’s next to his bed, but I know that three weeks ago he found the hope he was looking for, and he told God that when it was time to come home to Him, that because he’d found redemption, hope and eternity in Him … even though like the vineyard workers, it was at the end of the day, that he was ready. And for that, many people in his life are thankful.

You know, death has a way of putting life into perspective … it reminds us of our own mortality … it whispers in our ear a suggestion to get OUR house in order, to set OUR priorities straight, to see OURSELVES as people with a beginning and an end.

And that kind of perspective urges us to ask questions like “HOW can I move from today into tomorrow without regret over how I've lived?” “HOW can I make the most of my life, sometimes in the midst of hard circumstances, yes, sometimes even in the midst of death.”

Everybody here today has a different story – a different history – a different collection of victories and joys – different set of sorrows and pains. And our story and our history and our sorrows and our victories make us who we are. But you know what? None of us have to STAY who we are.

Author Clyde Reid once wrote, “Don’t wait, or you’ll end up waiting forever … jump into the now.” What wonderful words for us to hear and act on today. With God’s help you and I CAN change. We can take the leap of faith my new friend took three weeks ago when he came into a relationship with God.

In 1958 C.S. Lewis lost his wife Joy to cancer and during the next months he reflected and wrote on his feelings in a little book entitled A Grief Observed. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Joy’s absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

Each in our own way we can connect with Lewis’ words … and that the pain of losing someone we loved to death feels “like the sky, spread over everything" as the pain and grief we feel seems overwhelming, and/or numbing.

But in the days following the death of someone we love, and as we invite God to be our comforter and our counselor, a remarkable thing can begin to happen – and we’ll notice that for short periods the hurt will not be so great. And this will be the beginning of our healing. And so I encourage each of us in two directions …

FIRST don’t deny the pain we feel when someone we loves dies.

SECOND, don’t reject the healing God wants to
bring to us in the days and weeks after the death of someone we love.


PSALM 23 (KING JAMES VERSION)

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

God is good. God can be trusted. God loves us. Small steps. Big God. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

23 October 2008


SIMPLICITY AND TRUST

I've found that as my trust level in Jesus Christ goes up, my willingness and creativity about how to simplify my life and my life-style also increases. My ongoing struggle with greed is what usually keeps me from seeing the life of simplicity Jesus wants me to know -- and what tempts me to not make the choice to live with less so I can discover what it's like to know more of Jesus Christ and His plans for my life. Like the old Sunday School song says, "The Devil is a sly old fox."

For me, greed is wanting things I don't have -- buying into the lie that once these things are in my possession I will somehow be transformed into someone I am currently not. But real transformation comes only through Jesus Christ. And so to live a life of simplicity in greater measure means that I must crave, long for, desire, and seek after this transformation of my mind, heart, words, and actions more than I crave, long for, desire, and seek after whatever else I believe might make me more happy.

What author Sam Storms says about "holiness" in his book Pleasures Evermore I could easily adapt to say about "simplicity". And what he says about "sin" I could easily adapt to speak of "greed". Here's what Sam writes, with the words "simplicity" and "greed" added into the text ...

The key to holiness [simplicity] isn’t
trying
harder to hate sin, or avoid
sin, or be done
with sin.

The key to holiness [simplicity] is falling
deeper
in love with Jesus … I don’t believe
[as I once
did] that the power to turn
from “the passing
pleasures of sin” [greed]
spoken of in
HEBREWS 11:25 is the result
of a religious
Just-Say-No-Campaign.

How do you fight the pleasure of sin
[greed]?
I’ll tell you … with another pleasure.
Holiness
[simplicity] is not attained, at
least not in any
lasting, life-changing way,
merely through
prohibitions, threats,
fear, or shame-based
appeals.

Holiness [simplicity] is attained by
believing in, trusting, banking on, resting
in, savoring, and cherishing God’s promise
of a superior happiness that comes only
by falling deeper in love with Jesus Christ.

The power that the pleasures of sin
[greed] exert on the human soul will
ultimately be overcome only by the
superior power of the pleasures of
knowing and being known, loving and
being loved by God in Christ.”
[pp. 17-28 | changes/additions mine]


My heart's desire is to know more Jesus Christ more ... and in knowing Him more, to follow Him more nearly. Godspeed.


read.think.pray.live.

Gregg


WISDOM OF BROKENNESS AND COURAGE OF FAITH

I was remind today of a quote from C.S. Lewis in his book "
The Four Loves", and also of a verse in King David's fifty-first Psalm ...

C.S. LEWIS | THE FOUR LOVES

Those, like myself, whose imaginations far
exceed their obedience, are subject to a just
penalty: We easily imagine conditions far
higher than we have really reached. If we
describe what we have imagined, we may
make others, ... and make ourselves believe
that we have really been there – and so
deceive both them and ourselves.


PSALM 51:6 (THE MESSAGE) …

[God], What You're after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then – and conceive a new, true life.


In my life, I've discovered that truthfulness in word and deed has both a price and a reward. The price is that choosing to become a seeking servant of Jesus Christ unlocks the door to truthfulness.

And the
reward is that as I live this life of truthfulness with God, myself and others, I am presented by God with the gift of becoming more and more set free [or dare I say "compelled"?] in my attitudes and thoughts, in my words, and in my actions to live out the love of Jesus Christ to all who come across my path ... friends and enemies alike. Good gifts for sure.

God, may I have the wisdom of brokenness necessary
to live into and live out Lewis' words. And may I have
the courage of faith to say in my own words, and to
live out in my own choices what King David spoke of
in his fifty-first Psalm. Amen.

Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

22 October 2008


BETRAYAL OR LOYALTY?

I want to ask you a question: “This past week, did you BETRAY God with your thoughts, with your words, or with your actions? … OR did you stay LOYAL to God with your thoughts, with your words, or with your actions?”

ZECHARIAH 4:10 (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)
10 do not despise the days of small things.

SONG OF SOLOMON 2:15 (NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)
15 it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines.

Staying LOYAL, or taking the route of BETRAYAL … both ways of living involve you and me making “choices”. And all the steps of our faith (those we take FORWARD, and those we take BACKWARD) begin with small choices, small steps, and small course deviations. ZECHARIAH 4:10 challenges us through the life and words of this Old Testament Minor Prophet to “not despise the days of small things.

In SONG OF SOLOMON 2:15, King Solomon tells us that in a vineyard, “it’s the little foxes that spoil the vines” – in other words, that when we don't take the time and effort to heed THE SMALL THINGS IN LIFE, we’ll lose THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE.

So do you see how come you and I need Jesus to help us as we make all the day-to-day choices of our lives? And do you see how foolish it is to try and live life on our own! Because without Jesus at the center of our lives … without us submitting to His leadership in our lives … we’ll value the wrong things and ignore the right things – and our lives will end up off course in ways we’d never imagine.


It’s been said that filmmaker Walt Disney
was ruthless in cutting anything that got
in the way of a movie’s pacing. The story is
told that Ward Kimball, one of the animators
for Disney’s 1937 classic, Snow White, worked
240 days on a 4 ½ minute sequence in
which the dwarfs made soup for Snow White
and almost destroyed the kitchen in the process.
While viewing previews of the film Walt thought
that this scene Kimball had worked so hard
on was funny … but he eventually decided the
scene slowed down the overall flow of
the picture, and so he cut it out.


When the film of your life is shown, will it be as great as it might have been? A lot will depend on how many “good things” we made the choice to eliminate, in order to make way for the “great things” God wants to do through us. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

02 October 2008


OUR CHOICES

I've been thinking about the times of testing and discipline God takes us through as His followers. Satan would love for these chapters of our lives to cause greater pain, brokenness, and isolation from God. But I believe God has different goals in mind for us as His children ... greater freedom, greater healing, and greater partnership. Whose plans will we seek out and embrace?

Do not be deceived: The fruit of today (just as in any day of our lives) will flow out from whatever source we choose to let the "headwaters of our lives" flow from. When we choose to make the headwaters of our lives us (our plans, our agendas, our efforts, our way), the water of our lives becomes and remains bitter and undrinkable. But as we choose to make the headwaters of our lives God (His plans, His agendas, His efforts, His way), the water of our lives becomes pure and refreshing.

Ultimately, the ministries each of us have been called to and entrusted with have very little to do with us. We are called to be broken, teachable, faithful, servant leaders. And as we make the choice to partner with Jesus Christ to become these things, the fruit will be surrender to God and to one another, visible righteousness, restored relationships, and peace of mind and heart. I'm sure that you have found to be true what I have found to be true: That when it comes to fruit, we usually find what we are looking for, and we usually eat what we pick off the tree. Again, choices.

I am believing and praying that the life and ministry we put our hearts and hands to will be more centered in Jesus Christ than ever. More beautiful in their expression of worship, sacrifice and service than ever. More tender and confessional than ever. More fun than ever. More incarnational and sacramental than ever. And more encouraging and equipping than ever.

Yes, God is sovereign. Yes, God will do what God wants to do. But because God has chosen to define Himself by His love for us, and by His relationship and fellowship with us, therefore, much of what He chooses to do is predicated on
what we choose to do. Broken, teachable, faithful, servant leaders. This is the road we must travel with Him. Today and each day of our lives. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

28 September 2008


FATE OR DESTINY?

JOHN 12:27-28a
(NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)

27 Now My soul has become troubled; and what
shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour?
But for this purpose I came to this hour.

28a Father, glorify Your name.’

If any of us in this room were called upon to give up our lives for another person, it wouldn’t be an easy decision – no matter how much we loved them. And it wasn’t easy for Jesus Christ to do this either. v. 27 … "Now My soul has become troubled" … it wasn't EASY, but it was THE WILL OF GOD. And the work that would be accomplished by His death on the cross was Jesus Christ’s entire purpose in life. It was His DESTINY.

The cross wasn’t just the instrument God used so that Jesus could pay the price for your sin and for my sin … it’s also an example Jesus Christ left for all of us about how He wants us to live life as His followers. Here’s how Jesus talked about this truth in the middle of The Gospel of Matthew …

MATTHEW 10:38
(NEW LIVING TRANSLATION)

38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow Me,
you are not worthy of being Mine.


Which brings us to a FAITH LESSON

Friends, life isn’t about just chasing the definition
of “success” offered to us by the world … FUN,
MONEY, TITLE, and POWER.

All of life centers around the truth that Jesus Christ
wrestled with the will of God and gave up His life so
that our sins could be forgiven, so that you and I can
enter back into a relationship with God, and so that
we could learn a whole new way to be human. Jesus
Christ gave His life for us, and so we need to give
our lives up for Him.

And this means that while you might have plans to graduate from college and become a famous doctor, a famous artist, or a famous anything else – that it might be God's plan that you live a life of poverty ministering God’s WORD to people in Indonesia, Butteville, Oregon, Haiti, Flint, Michigan, or some other economically impoverished place.

Or this might mean that while you have plans to move into the dream home you’ve drawn over and over again in your mind, or even on paper – and then live a comfortable life of luxury – perhaps God's desire for you is to deny yourself that lifestyle, and make the choice to use your income to meet the needs of people who are suffering.

Or, perhaps, like God does with some people, maybe God will call you to be famous, or give you the ability to make loads of money – but then He’ll ask you to make the choice to live your life with open hands before Him and use your gifts of making money to invest into the things of this life that will last, that will make a difference, and that will serve His purposes.

The Apostle Paul willingly gave up everything for God – his career, his future, his gifts, his money, his freedom … and here’s how he joyfully talked about this choice he made in a letter he wrote to his friends in the Asia Minor town of Philipi ...

PHILIPPIANS 3:7-11
(J.B. PHILLIPS TRANSLATION)

7-8 Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered
lost for Christ's sake. Yes, and I look upon everything
as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing
Jesus Christ my Lord. For His sake I did in actual fact
suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless
rubbish compared with being able to win Christ.


9-11 For now my place is in Him, and I am not
dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness
of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness
which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are
my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power
shown by His resurrection: now I long to share His sufferings,
even to die as He died, so that I may perhaps attain
as He did, the resurrection from the dead.


Yes death is loss, but it’s also gain. What we give up in our life when we come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is nothing (PHILIPPIANS 3:8 … “rubbish”) compared to the value of knowing Jesus Christ. And when we make the choice to not live our lives for Jesus Christ, we'll never know the power of His resurrection, we’ll never have a deep and mature fellowship with Him, and we’ll never be completely conformed to Him.

And don’t think for a minute that there aren’t Christians who are actually losing their lives because of putting their faith in God. Don’t keep your heads in the sand. Go to www.persecution.com, and read about the hundreds of Christians who just this past week in India, who have had their homes and churches burned by radical Hindus, and who have lost their lives because of their public commitment to Jesus Christ.

But gang, as the followers of Jesus Christ, LEARNING TO DIE TO OURSELVES, and LEARNING TO LIVE IN HIM is the only choice that makes any sense. The choices about how we use our gifts, our time, our resources, and even our very selves.

But before you just click off from the notion that God wants you and me to trust Him with the parts of our lives that are central to who we are, and not just with the peripheral parts of what it means to be human … I want you to know that I wrestle with this truth in the same way that Jesus did, and that you are. I get it that in these times of economic downturn that it can be challenging to trust God with all these areas of our lives – and maybe especially with our finances.

It’s easy to be afraid that if we give God what He’s asking us to give … to the church and to other ministries He’s speaking to us about … that maybe God won’t keep up His end of the bargain, or that maybe that even if God wants to, He won’t be able to really meet all of our needs. But friends, nothing could be further from the truth.

PHILIPPIANS 4:15-19
(GOOD NEWS TRANSLATION)

15-17 You Philippians know very well that
when I left Macedonia in the early days of
preaching the Good News, you were the only
church to help me; you were the only ones
who shared my profits and losses. More than once when
I needed help in Thessalonica, you sent it to me. It
is not that I just want to receive gifts; rather, I want
to see profit added to your account.


18-19 Here, then, is my receipt for everything
you have given me — and it has been more than
enough! I have all I need now that Epaphroditus has
brought me all your gifts. They are like a sweet-
smelling offering to God, a sacrifice which is
acceptable and pleasing to Him. And with all His abundant
wealth through Christ Jesus, my God will supply all your needs.


Gang, it might be easy for you, as the sheep who make up the flock of 2nd Street, to maybe think that when I talk with you about your finances, that I’m just trying to line my own pockets. But it’s clear to me that you’re not here because of 2nd Street’s great building. And I know that there are other pastors here in town who can shepherd circles … and that there are other teachers here in town whose wisdom will make what I have to offer as pretty elementary.

I get that. But it’s because of those things that I also know that you’re not here at 2nd Street because of this building, or because of me, but that you’re here because you’re committed to 2nd Street’s Mission of being SPIRITUAL SEEKERS COOPERATING WITH GOD AND ONE ANOTHER TO BECOME DEVOTED FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST. I know that you’re behind what we’re behind, and that you want to go where we’re going as a flock. And as the lead pastor-teacher here, that’s more important to me than anything else. That God has called here together, not by accident, not without a reason, but with DESTINY.

It’s important that as we’re growing up in our faith, that we realize that what we do with our money, and ultimately who and what we put our trust into, is a critical part of what it means to be a Christ-follower. I mean, when we call Jesus “LORD”, what we’re saying is that ALL WE HAVE IS HIS, AND THAT APART FROM HIM WE CAN DO NOTHING. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg


03 September 2008

WHAT ARE MY TREASURES?

Remember Harper Lee's small-boned, big hearted book To Kill A Mockingbird? What was it about? Racism? Character? Justice? Family? Truth? Forgiveness? Discovery? Faith? Integrity? All these things and more flowed out of Harper's soul and pen as she scribed the novel of her lifetime. Scout, Atticus, Jem, Dill, Tom, and Boo showed us their vulnerability and their flaws, their losses and their pains, their hopes and their dreams. Real people living real lives, smack dab in the middle of real chapters of temptation, crisis, and testing.

And the character and integrity I was schooled in by looking into the stories of the people Lee introduced to me so many years ago, reflect much of what I want to see alive and straining for greater life in myself and in the people who make up the flock of seeking Christ-followers I serve in Newberg, Oregon.

Some sectors of society and culture say
character and integrity come from breeding, education, money, and title. Some religions say that they come from a faith based in works, or from hidden-until-you're-good-enough knowledge attainable by only the chosen few, while still others says they come from an obedience both blind and unquestioning.

So where do character and integrity
come from? I've come to believe that they come from what we cherish, from what we hold close, from what we treasure. Here's how Jesus put it in MATTHEW 6:21 ...

"The place where your treasure is,
is the place you will most want to be,
and end up being." (THE MESSAGE)


In
To Kill A Mockingbird Jem shares with Scout treasures he'd been finding (receiving?) and stashing in an old cigar box, making her promise "to never tell anybody." A crayon, an old pocket watch, marbles, a whistle, a spelling medal, and a pocketknife ... all things he'd found in the knothole of a tree ... things left for him in an unlikely place by someone he believed knew him and cared about him.

Eventually, in the knothole, Jem and Scout also find two carved soap figurines - one a boy, and the other a girl with a simple cloth dress. And it doesn't take long before they realize that the playthings they've been given resemble themselves ...

"Look, the boy has hair in front of his
eyebrows like you do ... Yeah - and the girl
wears bangs like you - these are us!"


Friends, let's be careful about where we find our treasures, from whom we receive our treasures, what we keep as our treasures, and how we live into and pass on our treasures. Our treasures will define us. May we find our treasures solely in the person of Jesus Christ.

And may it be His character, and His integrity growing inside of us and flowing out of us, that shapes our lives, drives our mission, transforms our priorities, and our builds our dreams. God knows us and gives Himself to us in spite of what He knows. Astounding. What defines you?
What's in your cigar box? Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg




30 August 2008

CONVICTIONS

It seems that convictions are curious beasts -- sometimes shoring us up and making us feel strong and protected while being embraced, and at other times costing us in ways that can be hard to measure at first, but which in the end have a cost greater than what we might anticipate. But the bottom line is that all of us must live by the convictions we hold, and that in a way hold us. Time tell us whether our convictions and the decisions they give birth to makes us feel ...

1. More shored up
in our relationship with others, ourselves, and God ... or ...
2. More dismantled in our relationship with others, ourselves, and God.


Strangely, I've discovered that sometimes when I think my convictions and decisions will result in # 1 being true, I then discover that they've left me standing squarely in front of # 2.

And conversely, when I've thought that my convictions and decisions will result in # 2, I've sometimes then discovered that I've been left holding onto # 1. Of course it doesn't always turn out in this flip-flop manner -- but it happens just often enough that I can really feel beat up by doubts and second-guessing what decisions. Neither of which are any good.


I am learning, however, that I can't allow my convictions and decisions to stand in the way of the relationships and friendships I have with the people I love ... and that when this threat looms on the horizon, that I must take the high road, lay down "my rights" to be heard, to convince, and even to even to some measure, to discuss ... for the sake of moral civility.

To use the old cliche, I'm not "willing to think I've won the war just because I've won one battle." Life is bigger, deeper, wider, and more complex than that. And I'm just trying to keep a hold of Jesus' hand while I walk through it ... manifesting His character, His thoughts, His words, and His actions. Easier said than done, right? Right. Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

05 August 2008

LIVING IN A POSTURE
OF GRATITUDE ...


One of the things that helps us keep our focus and our footing in life is to uncover and nurture an attitude of gratitude. Celebrate Recovery (www.celebraterecovery.com) is a ministry of healing discipleship that helps people move toward living in this place of thankfulness and surrender. Here are some thoughts about Principle 7 of Celebrate Recovery's 8 Principles ...

CELEBRATE RECOVERY'S PRINCIPLE 7 ...

Reserve a daily time with God for
self-examination, Bible reading, and prayer
in order to know God and His will for
my life and to gain the power to follow His will.


Why daily? Because we live life daily. Read more about this "Mana Principle" in EXODUS 16.

Why with God? Because God is our source and power.

Why self-examination? Because without honesty there is is no new growth … and without new growth there is stagnation … and with stagnation comes death.

No new growth = stagnation
Stagnation = death
Growth = fresh move of God
Maturity = fresh vision from God

Why Bible reading? Because it’s God’s primary way of speaking to us. If we don’t believe this we’re deluding ourselves and opening ourselves up to be hurt not guarded, lost not guided, and uprooted not grounded.

Why prayer? Because prayer is conversation … and without conversation our life with God grows distant and cold.

Why know God’s will? Because this is the path we’re to walk as His followers. And if we’re not taking on the character of Jesus Christ, we won’t be equipped to live into the will of God with consistency and power.

God’s power? Related to us being in the WORD, be
coming people of prayer, surrender and learning to stop depending on ourselves.

In JOHN 5:15 Jesus Christ says, “Apart from Me you can do nothing." And in PHILIPPIANS 4:13 the Apostle Paul says, “Through Christ Jesus I can do all things.”

To follow God’s will? There’s a very big difference between KNOWING GOD’S WILL and KNOWING AND FOLLOWING GOD’S WILL. Let’s learn to do God’s will, God’s way.

Without LISTENING there is no true SURRENDER.
Without SURRENDER there is no true SACRIFICE.
Without SACRIFICE there is no true WORSHIP.
Without true WORSHIP there is no true VISION.
Without true VISION there is no true POWER.

Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg

29 July 2008

WHO IS IN CONTROL OF OUR LIVES?

D.L. Moody (1837-1899), the founder of Moody Bible School in Chicago, was planning a campaign in England to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with thousands of people. Before Moody came to town it was said that an elderly pastor protested, "Why do we need this 'Mr. Moody'? He's uneducated and inexperienced. Does he think he has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?" To which a younger, much wiser pastor responded, "No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody."

Friends, wouldn’t it be great if these words could be said of you and of me? That the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on our lives, on our words, on our passions, on our gifts, on our hearts, and on our minds? In LUKE 10:38-42 and then six months later in JOHN 11, Jesus wanted both Mary and Martha to know the LEADING, the COMFORT, and the DIRECTION of the Holy Spirit during this crisis time in their lives. But they were so beat down over Lazarus’ illness, and then his death, that they started depending on themselves instead of on Jesus. And they learned the FAITH LESSON we all need to learn …

FAITH LESSON …

When we get our eyes off Jesus
Christ and start depending on our
own strength instead of the strength
of God’s Holy Spirit … discouragement
and depression won’t be far behind …
and usually we’ll end up trying to blame
God for the hard times we’re going
through.

Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg


02 June 2008

Sorry for the posting delays. With vacation, work, and the connecting with the needs of my mom since her stroke, my blog has bogged down. But I'm turning over a new leaf!

WHAT WE LEARN ABOUT OURSELVES FROM JOHN 9 …

FIRST, WE HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PAIN AND SUFFERING WE SEE IN OUR OWN LIVES AND IN THE WORLD.

This is natural. If we didn’t have these questions then we’d be living life with our eyes closed and our minds shut down.

Disease and all the other results of the fact that sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden … these things are experienced by everyone. Those who aren’t in relationship and fellowship with God, and those who are. All of us have sinned and live under the curse of sin. In MATTHEW 5:45 Jesus taught this lesson clearly when He said that the rain falls equally on the crops of the righteous and the unrighteous.

At times Jesus removes certain aspects of sin's curse – like in this story in JOHN 9 … the man was born blind, but God restored his sight. But even this man’s healing doesn’t automatically remove him from all the physical aspects of the curse in a fallen world as it relates to aging, susceptibility to sickness etc … but what it does give in this life is restoration of fellowship with God in the Spirit. And that’s priceless!

SECOND, GOD WILL GIVE US OPPORTUNITIES TO TELL OTHERS ABOUT HIM, ABOUT WHAT HE’S DOING IN OUR LIVES (THE INSTRUCTION, THE HEALING, AND THE DIRECTION HE’S GIVING US). WE NEED TO BE WILLING TO WALK THROUGH THESE DOORS GOD OPENS UP FOR US.

vv. 13-34 We don’t need to be afraid of this, even if we don’t have all the answers. We just need to be willing to offer the testimony of our mouths (our "story") concerning what Jesus has done and is doing in our lives. Here's a simple outline to use as you think about how to share your story ...
  1. My life before Jesus … what was missing?
  2. How I met Jesus … what He brought to me and filled up the missing places of my life with.
  3. How my life has changed and is changing since coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ … what I’m learning.
THIRD, IT CAN BE EASY TO TRY TO TAKE GLORY FROM GOD. WE’VE GOT TO STAY AWAY FROM THIS TRAP.

vv. 24-34Gang, God doesn’t share His glory with anyone.

FOURTH, WISDOM WILL COME TO THOSE WHO GIVE GOD THE GLORY FOR WHAT HE IS DOING IN THEIR LIVES.

vv. 30-34 Wisdom isn’t the “possession” of those with great “knowledge.” No way. Rather, wisdom is the gift of God to those with great humility, who exhibit great surrender, and who are willing to share the life of faith they have with God with the people God brings across their paths.

FIFTH, GREAT BELIEF IN GOD LEADS TO GREAT WORSHIP OF GOD.

v. 38God has hard-wired us to be in communion with Him. Rich Mullin’s wrote a song called “Screen Door” that talks about this. The main line says, “Faith without works is like a screen door on a submarine. Faith without works. It just ain’t happening!”

SIXTH, AS HUMAN BEINGS, WE’RE PRONE TO PRIDE AND ARROGANCE … AND BLINDNESS IS THE FRUIT OF BOTH OF THESE SINS.

vv. 39-41Getting to know Jesus, touching Jesus, obeying Jesus, and believing into Jesus this is where healing and the answers to our questions will be found.

Godspeed.

read.think.pray.live.

Gregg