There are seasons of life when it seems as though God is a long ways off, as if he is out of earshot. We might remember the Scriptures that say that God hears every cry. But where is he? Why isn’t he responding? I’m not so certain that God isn’t responding every single day. Knowing myself, I’d say that I usually am not listening attentively. If you are anything like me, you might be too busy trying to figure things out on my own or maybe you are looking for answers in all the wrong places. Jesus told the crowd “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). So how do we listen to his voice? How does God speak to us today? In this message I share just a few ways that God speaks. May we be people that listen to his voice.
Habits really need to be driven by a higher purpose, something more than to “be better.” Too often, habits both good and bad determine the identity and the story. The successful person identifies the dream and the plan and then establishes habits to achieve that result. That dream or plan may be concrete or conceptual, yet fulfillment is the result of small habits over time.
Habits are the means by which we reach our goals. Here’s an example: retirement funds are never the result of a single investment. Instead, the retirement investment is a long series of small deposits over a very long time. That is why it is critical to start early, even if it is only a few dollars at a time. What is your dream or vision? What is the desired result? What habits will move you in that direction?
The first foundation stone of the Cologne Cathedral in Germany was placed in 1248. It had been dreamed of years earlier to honor the Three Kings (or Three Wise Men, depending on your background) that brought gifts to Jesus shortly after his birth. Work continued until 1473. The original plans were rediscovered in the early 1800s and a renewed passion in the community inspired an effort to complete the massive project. In 1880, 632 years after the first foundation stone was placed, the cathedral was completed and celebrated.
The old gothic cathedrals were dreamed of by people who would never see the finished masterpiece. That didn’t stop the dreamers from dreaming. They dreamed. They planned. And then they implemented. The dreamers took the first small steps and placed the cornerstones. They passed along the vision to the next generation. They worked and worked. And then they pass along the vision to the next generation. Today, we enjoy the work of multiple generations. What is the modern equivalent? Trains, highways, democracy, a family recipe. What else?
It seems as though we have forgotten how to honor past generations and to leave something of value for the next generation. Let’s change this. There are stories worth repeating. Let’s identify the inheritance that is ours. Let’s put effort into leaving a worthwhile inheritance for our children’s children.
Here are two verses for reflection on the subject:
Proverbs 13:22a (NIV) “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children…”
Joel 1:3 (NLT) “Tell your children about it in the years to come, and let your children tell their children. Pass the story down from generation to generation.”
What old stories do we need to tell? What stories are forming today that we need to pass down? Perhaps equally important, what story are you writing today?
We live in a generous community. I’ve always known this and yet this year I saw generosity redefined. While the month of December is always filled with the usual flurry of activities, programs, and fundraisers, there is the usual emphasis on giving. It is the season of giving, after all. In the midst of all the commotion, one example of generosity really stood out to me. With his permission, I’ll tell you part of his story.
A friend of mine works full-time yet the pay is barely sufficient to meet his basic needs. I will tell you that he is a responsible man, but circumstances largely out of his control mean that he is living month-to-month, paycheck to paycheck. There are many in our community that can identify with that. Yet the financial limitation did not hold him back from being generous this year. He found ways to serve others by volunteering his time with different organizations. I thought that was very commendable. Then one afternoon I got a text from him saying, “Let me know if there is a family in need. I’d like to help them have some gifts.” As God’s timing would have it, a very short time later I was able to match him with a family. He blessed them with gifts given not out his abundance, but out of his poverty. And I believe he received the bigger blessing.
I know there are so many stories like this. I could fill today’s paper with them. There are lots of great organizations and individuals blessing others, sharing everything they have. For the Christians, we do this as an expression of the generosity Christ showed us when he lived, died, and rose again on the third day for our salvation. This is a response to the hope, love, joy, and peace that is now ours through Christ the King.
Let me share another illustration of generosity. Many churches have a Christmas Eve candlelight service. At some point during the service, the lights are dimmed down and the congregation takes a moment to reflect on the Christ candle, the white candle lit at the end of the Advent season. A team will then light candles they are holding from that Christ candle and turn to light more candles that the congregation members are holding. Pretty quickly the room goes from dimly lit to surprisingly bright. Many of you witnessed this just a couple of days ago.
This is a beautiful picture of the church being the light of Christ in a broken world. Jesus talked about light and generosity in Matthew 5:14-16: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. ‘You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.’”
This is the generosity that I saw so much of this year – a generosity with the purpose of glorifying Christ. What I described was not generosity because of Christmas, but rather generosity because of Christ.
So here is my challenge to the church and to this community (and to myself). Let’s make generosity a habit. Let’s always be aware of the needs around us. Let’s not wait until next December. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution for 2020, let it be, “I will make generosity a habit.”
This appeared in The Sheridan Press on December 27, 2019. (https://thesheridanpress.com/117546/make-generosity-a-habit-for-2020/)
In sharing about God’s justice, I made a statement that many Christians share a hesitancy in talking about how God expresses justice. Following the service a friend came to me and said, “God isn’t timid about it; we shouldn’t be either.” My friend is absolutely correct. God’s justice is expressed throughout Scripture, literally from beginning to end. The world has every reason to be fearful of this all-consuming justice, and yet this justice is the very thing that leads us to the cross.
In a word, we can define justice as “Jesus.” God the Father has appointed him to be judge of all the earth (John 5). This King descended from his throne in heaven and took the seat of Judge in the courtroom. Hearing and seeing the evidence he pronounced me guilty and sentenced me to death and eternal separation from the One who breathed life into me.
That could have been the end of the story.
This King and Judge descended again from his rightful seat of authority. He walked up to me, face and face, and then pushed me aside to take my place on the cross. All the things I did, all the guilty verdicts, all the times I was an enemy of God became his cross to bear. Not only that, I was there to nail his hands and feet to the cross, my cross. Justice was served, and the wrong criminal took the fall. He died on that cross for me.
That could have been the end of the story.
How is that fair? Why should my King die in my place? Who am I that God would be mindful of me? What is a criminal worth to the Lord of all creation? Apparently everything. That’s not fair. Sometimes I still hang on to my “stuff.” Sometimes I try to take ownership of everything he took. I try to make things “fair” in my eyes. Don’t you?
The story continues.
This King and Judge and Sacrifice rebuilt the temple in three days. He is taking back everything that is his. His Kingdom is expanding and he is asking us to join him in his good work. The world needs to hear this message about justice, his justice. This message is that yes, you are guilty, and yes, this King and Judge took the punishment so that we might have new life.
This message of justice changes everything. All the revenge that we think we are entitled to take, we hand back to the King, for it is his to take. All chains that were rightfully ours are now broken as we walk in the freedom that comes in and from Christ. We praise our Father for the hope that is now ours. We are the evidence that God changes everything.
For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” (Romans 1:16-17 NLT)
This is a reflection on a message I shared at Cornerstone Church on October 13, 2019.
Podcast: The Real God // The Justice of God
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
I heard this many, many times growing up in church. The pastor would call out and the congregation would respond enthusiastically. I remember thinking that this was such a corny exercise. I always watched the reactions of the new people, wondering if they thought it was as strange as I did. Fast forward to today – now I’m of the opinion that we should recite this over and over until we really get it. The core of the Christian identity stands on this truth.
Moses had the audacity, or maybe the courage, to ask to see God’s glory and goodness. God honored his request. As God passed by he described himself – the Lord, God of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. And beyond his character, he added a couple action words: “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” God went on to describe his justice, as well, and the impact on generations. There is no doubt that God’s justice is significant. And there is no doubt that God’s goodness is more significant. The justice impacts a few generations, the blessing impacts a thousand more!
The theme of God’s goodness extends throughout Scripture. We also see God’s goodness in creation. Psalm 145 states that God is good to all. Romans 1:19-20 says that God is so obvious in nature that mankind is without excuse. However, instead of worshipping the glorious, everlasting God, people create idols as a vain substitution. What keeps “them” and “us” from seeing God as he really is? What would compel people to build a false god instead of worshiping the Real God?
Our lack of faith is often rooted in the false idea that maybe God isn’t good. This was the deception in the Garden – the serpent planted the idea that maybe God wasn’t as good as he said. And throughout the history of mankind this deception continues, resulting in fear that leads to a lack of complete faith.
If God is good, then everything changes. We have freedom. We are forgiven. We can worship the living God. We can approach the throne of grace with confidence. We have no reason to fear, because God is good and he lavishes us with his unfailing love to a thousand generations.
God is good, all the time.
This is loosely based on a message I shared at Cornerstone Church on September 15, 2019:
“Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?” (Proverbs 20:6)
Loyal friends are true treasures. David and Jonathan shared a deep friendship. These two had a lot in common. They were young, successful warriors, with enormous potential, and even bigger faith in God. Both had a claim to the throne of Israel, Jonathan by birth and David by God’s anointing through Samuel. These two could have easily been enemies as they both had a right to the throne. And somehow they valued their friendship more than any position of authority. Each set aside rights and privileges for the sake of friendship. Jonathan even made a pact with David by giving him his robe and sword, both symbols of royalty and authority that were rightfully his (1 Samuel 18). This is a model of loyal friendship for us to emulate today.
Jonathan is the picture of a true friend – loyal and selfless, surrendering rights for the sake of friendship. S.E. Hinton said, “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.” Similarly, Henry Adams said, “One friend in a lifetime is much; two are many; three are hardly possible.” A friend like Jonathan is a true treasure. Who is your Jonathan?
While these types of friends might be challenging to find, it is certainly worth the search. At the very least, we can do our part to be a good friend to another. Proverbs has much to say about friendship. Here are a few key points:
- Friends build each other up. “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)
- Friends are genuine. “There are ‘friends’ that destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
- Friends do NOT gossip. “A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends.” (Proverbs 16:28)
- Friends forgive and friends don’t let conflicts go unresolved. “An offended friend is harder to win back than a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with bars.” (Proverbs 18:19)
As we look for good friends and as we exemplify good friendship, let’s remember the words of Christ in John 15:13-17. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
I’ve always been surprised by the word choice here. “You are my friends if you do what I command.” What kind of friend talks that way to another friend? But then I realize the context of the statement. A friend is loyal even to death. A friend builds up another. A friend knows your past and loves you anyway. A friend knows your potential and helps you get there. A friend wants what is best for you. And all this is exactly what Christ did and continues to do for us.
Let’s take what Christ did for us and show that to others. There is no better friend than Christ. Let’s show the world what Christ has done for us by doing that same thing for others. Let’s leave an impression that our friends will not be able to shake.
This is based on a message I shared at Cornerstone Church on July 28, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6bn-SlemWg). This summary appeared in The Sheridan Press on August 9, 2019 (https://thesheridanpress.com/110862/loyal-friends-are-true-treasures/)
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Always avoid clichés, except on December 31. “I can’t believe this year is already over!” Anybody else there? Of course you are, because each year seems to go by faster and faster. Just like the last 85 years (more or less).
I’ve been encouraged recently by seeing so many articles, blogs, and podcasts speaking of slowing down. Or at the very least, living more intentionally. That has been my goal – to breathe – for the past couple years as I explored the merits of minimalism and as my family has taken concrete steps towards simplifying our lives and creating margin in everything from schedules to finances. It has all been a breath of fresh air. I can’t say enough about how much it has helped me personally. (I’ll likely write more on this subject in the future.)
So often this time of year we are looking ahead, setting goals for the upcoming year, and generally lamenting over how things are not where we want them to be. Of course that is the case. We have not yet “arrived.” As long as we are still breathing, we are growing and changing and adapting and learning. I don’t mean to imply that it is bad to set goals or to look ahead. It is probably not good to beat ourselves up too badly over where we are currently. And that’s where the review of past goals is so helpful in providing good perspective.
Last week I took an early morning before everyone woke up to review some of my goals for 2018. It was a surprisingly worthwhile endeavor. As I looked over some of my goals for 2018, I realized that I was far more successful than I gave myself credit for. When I initially wrote out these goals they were “goals” because they were things I wasn’t doing yet. Looking back I realized that many of these goals were easily achieved. And I realized that some of my goals were just impossible.
Learning from the past will help me establish better goals for the future. There are some goals from 2018 that I need to keep on the list. Some goals need to be re-written to allow a shot for success. Some goals need to be abandoned altogether. Had I not reviewed the previous goals I might foolishly write down some goals that I’ve already accomplished. And that would then consume time and energy, possibly even keep me from doing something even bigger and better than before.
So here is my first goal for 2019. “Look back on occasion to do an honest assessment. Celebrate success. And don’t get trip up over failures, whether that be poor execution or poor verbalization.”
May you find space to breathe in the coming days. May you find True Peace. May you have right ambitions. May you continue to learn and grow and create and achieve.
“Now, my son, may the Lord be with you and give you success as you follow his directions in building the Temple of the Lord your God.” — 1 Chronicles 22:11 NLT
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