Becoming the Transforming Presence of Christ (3.31)

Today, June 12, marks the liturgical celebration of Pentecost – the festival celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christian believers (Acts 2), fulfilling the promise given by Jesus in John 14.  In terms of church history Pentecost marked the beginning of the Christian church as we understand it – in terms of theology the implications of God giving us His Spirit are unfathomable.

This past week at my early-morning men’s Bible study we were looking at Acts 2 and the miracle that took place on that day.  As part of my preparation for our meeting I read through our daily devotional and was hit square in the face by the following statement:

“Peter wants all who hear him to know that the Spirit, when poured out upon the people, makes prophets of sons and daughters, visionaries of young men and women, and dreamers of the elderly.  Prophets, visionaries, and dreamers comprise an odd lot.  They are the ones who seem out of step because they are one step ahead of the rest of us.

“Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead.  He had now ascended into heaven.  No longer is he a physical presence on earth.  Who will carry on?  How will they carry on?

Ordinary men and women will become the transforming presence of Christ.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit will empower and equip [us] for the missionary effort that will change the world as [we] become the prophets, visionaries, and dreamers.” (emphasis mine)

Do you see what it says?  That we – you and me – are God’s plan to reach the lost.  There is no backup-plan, no alternate, no “Plan B” – we are it.  If we don’t follow God and share his love with those around us no one will.  I left our meeting that morning asking (and I’ve been asking myself every day since then), “How do I act as the transforming presence of Christ in others’ lives?”  To my shame, the answer is that too often I allow fear to inhibit my playing of the part.

Read what Paul wrote to the Romans in Romans 10:11-17:

“Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”

“But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it?” (The Message)

As we depart for the summer I challenge you to find a way to be that person who shares Jesus with people you meet; I challenge us all to never fear following Him and sharing Him with a lost and hurting word.  Because if we don’t who will?


Living the Word (3.30)

This past week at my early morning mens’ Bible study we were talking about living in the presence of Christ every moment of every day – something that’s easy to talk about but, ashamedly, hard to do.  Apparently, this is a common struggle between Christians from long ago as well as for today.  Read what Paul wrote in regards to his prayers for the Ephesians:

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Chris, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.  I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to use who believe….I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge, so you may be filled with all the fullness of God…Therefore I..urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received.” (1:17-19, 3:17b-19, 4:1b-2, HCSB)

Wow – go back and read that again (seriously: do it).  Do you see what Paul said he was praying for for the first century believers in Ephesus?  During our conversation Friday morning we talked regarding the importance of knowing God’s will – how do we know if what we feel God is telling us to do is really God speaking and not our own voices or the voice of other spiritual powers?  The first thing we talked about was being “rooted and grounded” in the Word.  For if what we feel God is calling us to do is contrary to His word then it’s not him doing the speaking.

And that’s basically what Paul is praying for here – that the believers would grow up and know God’s word, that they would know Jesus and live him out.  But do you see what occurs first?  The knowledge of Jesus – and as our minds are “enlightened” and spirit grows in “wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” then we can “walk worthy” of our calling.

Think of it this way… This past August I gave each of you a recording of demo songs from our repertoire for the year to listen to – a CD I know many of you listened to as we learned the music.  And knowing what the song sounded like in whole allowed us to better prepare the songs and learn them when we were together – you had a reference point to compare them to.  That’s kind of what Paul is talking about here: knowing the Word and living it is like knowing the song and singing it – they go hand in hand.

So this prayer has become one I prayer regularly not only for myself but for others – and I encourage you to pray it as well.

Resting in Daddy's Arms (3.29)

Every night I rock Celeste before she goes to bed and we listen to her lullaby CD.  One of the songs is entitled “Safe in Your Daddy’s Arms” by a Christian artist named Peter Penrose.  The chorus goes as follows:

Safe, safe, in my embrace

You’re safe in your Daddy’s arms

Safe, safe by God’s grace

You’re safe in your Daddy’s arms

Every night when this song comes up both Celeste and I will sing the chorus together (actually, she doesn’t get out much more than “Safe” and “Daddy’s arms”).  Yet every time I sing the chorus I also realize that even though I work hard to keep her safe there are things in this world from which I can not protect her.  One of the hardest things for any parent is accepting that there are hurts we can’t fix; one of the most influential moments in every child’s life is when they realize there are things Daddy’s can’t fix – or protect them from.

Fortunately, the song doesn’t end by focusing on human strength.  Read the last few lines of the song:

 Now you can rest snug in your bed

Here where it’s safe and warm

All through the night

You’ll be held tight

In your heavenly Daddy’s arms

Safe, safe in His embrace

You’re safe in your Daddy’s arms

Safe, safe wrapped in God’s grace

You’re safe in your Daddy’s arms

Perhaps it’s cliché to say so, but I think this is one of those songs that we as adults need to hear and put into practice.  Every night my little girl will snuggle into my shoulder and rest – trusting me to take care of her.  When  she wakes up scared in the middle of the night you’ll hear her cries for “Daddy! I want Daddy!” coming from her room.  When I get home from work every day some of the first words out of her mouth are “Daddy, bike ride?”  And every day at work I will eventually get a call with a little voice on the other end that says, “Daddy, I love you.”

Now this is not to diminish Melissa’s influence on the girls at all or their love for their mother, because there are plenty of times one of them will say to me, “I want Mommy.”  I’m simply trying to illustrate a point – and that point is the love and trust children have in their Daddy.

I can’t help but think that as much as I love to snuggle with my girls, go on bike rides, push them in the swing, and hear them say, “I love you much, Daddy” God loves to experience that with his children even more.  And I think this is what Jesus was talking about  when he told us not to worry about tomorrow but to trust God to provide for us:

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God.  And you count far more to him than birds.

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:25-34, The Message)

What Happened to Easter? (3.28)

Easter was two weeks ago, but it feels like it was a lot longer than that.  One of the things I appreciate about my more liturgical friends both here in town and around the country is the connection they have with the larger church outside the four walls of their local congregation.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a host of reasons I attend a non-liturgical church, and I do so by choice, but just as I believe my liturgical friends have much to learn from us I believe that I have equally as much to learn from them, and this whole church-year thing is one of them.

See, in the church calendar Easter isn’t a day – it’s an entire season – and a long one at that (8 weeks – second in length only to the season of Pentecost).  Our culture is so “busy” and fast-paced that it seems as if holidays are gone before they even happen.  Take Christmas, for instance, the after-Christmas discounts seem to start before December 25th as stores try to get those last-minute shoppers.  And as soon as Christmas is over our stores are decorated and prepared for Valentine’s Day.

Easter was here two weeks ago, but it seems like a distant memory to most people I speak with.  We’re already preparing for Memorial Day weekend (because we’ve just passed Mother’s Day), which is the start of summer.  Some churches in the area are already planning an extra mid-week service (on Thursday night) so that when people travel out of town for the weekend (generally to the river or the beach) they can still attend church before they leave!

But the liturgical calendar – the church calendar – helps us take a pause and remember what really is important.  Easter isn’t something to celebrate once a year but once a week – it’s why we worship on Sunday, after all!  During Holy Week Melissa and I did a special devotional (by special I mean different than our normal one), and I attended some extra worship times with friends and family to help me focus on the work Christ accomplished on the cross.  And then when Easter came it came and went.

In my Friday morning men’s group this past week we were still talking about it, though.  As we looked at examples from scripture of post-resurrection yet pre-ascension appearances of Jesus, we studied and discussed ways to see God in everything we experience and do.  For this group of men – all from traditions that follow the church calendar – Easter wasn’t over; it had just begun.

Which brought up the question we discussed that morning: how can we live every moment of every day in the light of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection?  What difference does the fact that Jesus rose from the grave make in our lives every day?

The answer should start with words like “everything” or “transformational.”  In order to answer the question we need to remember we live in a post-resurrection world – a world where death has been defeated but where evil still reigns.  That means we’re at war – a war that will ultimately be won, but a war none-the-less.  Let us not take treat Easter as just another holi”day”, but live it everyday.  Don’t be afraid to encourage others in their faith, reminding them of the resurrection of Jesus.  Celebrate Easter – sing songs of Easter and read Easter stories, because Easter isn’t done and over with – and it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.  No, Easter is just the beginning.

Too bad we don’t treat it that way.

The Student Becomes the Teacher (3.27)

Note: This devotional is an adaptation of a blog post I did on Reflections of a Christian Daddy

Celeste is not an affectionate child by any stretch of the imagination – if I ask for a hug or a kiss I’m promptly met with a curt “No.”  She is not a big cuddler and has only recently started to allow me to rock her after reading her stories at bed time (but I still have to put her down before she falls asleep).  For the record, yes, she is a Daddy’s girl, and yet she still sometimes treats me like the plague

This past week, though, two special moments happened.  She has, in the past couple of months, allowed me to rock her for a little while after we read stories and before she goes to bed.  One evening I was rocking her with the lullaby playing and she rolled over and said, “Shoulder, Daddy, shoulder.” (translation: “Daddy, I want to lay my head down on your shoulder.”)  So she promptly rolled over and put her head on my shoulder.  We rocked for several minutes listening to her lullaby and she looked up and gave me a kiss on my cheek – out of the blue.  I said, “Lestee, did you just give me a kiss on my cheek?” and she replied, “Yes, Daddy.  I wuv oo much.”  Then she did it a second time.

The other new thing that happened this week is that twice (read that again – TWICE) she fell asleep while I was rocking her.  Both times she told me, “Shoulder, Daddy, shoulder.” and the next thing I knew she was fast asleep.  So I just continued to rock her for another few minutes and enjoyed my daughter resting in my arms.

Now she doesn’t do it often – I can count these incidents on one hand (and still have fingers to spare!) – but when she does it is very special.  As I sat there today I realized that part of the reason she can rest like that in my arms is because she trusts me: trusts me to protect her, care for her, treasure her, and not to harm her.  And within that trust she can lay down and rest.

Isn’t it interesting that God told the Hebrews to call him “Abba”?  The best English translation I’ve heard for “Abba” is “Daddy”.  Mark Driscoll once said in a sermon that if we want to understand prayer we need to listen to how a toddler talks to their Daddy.   If Celeste can rest in my arms because she knows I will protect, care for, and treasure her and never harm her – me, imperfect Tom – then why is it I have so much trouble resting in the arms of my Daddy – my perfect Daddy?  Surely He will protect, care for, and treasure me infinitely more than I do Celeste, and surely he will not harm me.  Why is it my little girls can talk to me about the most mundane things – and I love it when they do – but so often I treat God as nothing more than the Cosmic Santa Claus who is there to grant my “wishes” and then I get upset when he doesn’t?

Check out these scriptures:

Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15)

And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” (Gal 4:6)

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. (Matt 7:11)

I believe this is one of those examples where our kids teach us more than we teach them.  What’s that saying?  “Out of the mouth of babes?”  Well, in this case, it wasn’t out of the mouth of babes, but it was certainly from the actions of one…

A Mediation for Holy Week (3.26)

The last two weeks I’ve shared devotionals written by members of a2 Church, in Alabama.  From what I can tell, their church is not a liturgical church by any stretch of the imagination.  But they decided to observe the liturgical season of Lent and, in so doing, have posted daily devotions for people to read on a special blog they created.

This week I want to try and draw this together, for we are also not a liturgical church as many of us think of the term: we don’t follow the church calendar (accept for Christmas and Easter), and we don’t observe the church seasons or follow the daily readings of other Christian denominations.  But this week is a unique week in not just church history but over-all history.  This week commemorates the passion of Jesus – his last week on Earth.  Jesus came to “seek and save” the lost, he came “to serve, not to be served” and “to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Certainly it is important to remember and honor his last week.

Today is Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday – two terms often used to describe the same day.  In short, it is a reminder of Jesus entry into Jerusalem the week he was scheduled to die, and it is also to prepare us for the journey ahead this week to the cross and the empty tomb.  So I ask you: what are you doing special this week to focus on the gift of God’s grace, love, and mercy through Christ?

When I was young Holy Week was a big deal – I mean a BIG deal.  We went to church almost every evening of the week (except for Monday & Tuesday, if memory serves).  Throughout my life I have pretty much continued that focus – if the church I happened to attend wherever it was I was attending did not do Holy Week services I found one that did.  It has always been a source of strength and comfort for me to go through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter AM services.  Several years ago I came to the realization that Good Friday is, at least for me, perhaps the second most important day of the Church year – more important than Christmas even (and second only to Easter) – for it was on Friday that Jesus died to redeem me.  Fortunately, Good Friday is one of the few religious observances/holidays that has not been hijacked by our consumerist culture (we may have Santa and the Easter Bunny, but it’s hard to find a good way to sell a bloody cross)

I would challenge you this week to do something special – something unique – to focus you on what God has done in and through Jesus.  Perhaps it’s finding a place to attend a special service, or reading a special book, or going on a private, spiritual retreat.  A great resource (one I’ve used for years) is to read through Jesus Final Week by Max Lucado, a book that is divided into reflections on each day leading up to the Easter.  This year Melissa and I are doing something new, and that is reading through 3:16 by Max Lucado – which offers reflections on John 3:16.  Another thing I’ve done is downloaded a sermon series entitled Christ on the Cross from Mars Hill Church in Seattle that looks at different aspects of Jesus’ crucifixion.  If you need suggestions for some specific resources please email or talk to me (or Pastor Bill), or check out the links on the blog to a2 Church, because there are many, many guides for this week.

Spend time this week praying and meditating on what it is God did on Good Friday and Easter; consider what it was like on Thursday night for Jesus to know he would suffer and die the next day and be ripped apart from his father.  And then ask yourself, “How should I respond?  What do I need to do to appropriately live like what Jesus did is true?”  Too often we live as practical atheists – attending church on Sunday but then the rest of the week people would have a hard time telling we’re anything (or anyone) more than just a “good person”.  Spend time this week meditating on what Jesus did and what it meant to him – and what it now means to you.

It will change your life – if you let it.