Monday, November 30, 2009

Search for Satisfaction

Ecclesiastes 2:1 I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”

Sunday, we began our Advent series, Eternity in our Hearts—Longing for More. Christmas is one of those times that raises our expectations for more even when we don’t want our expectations raised.

Solomon decided that he was going to seek out as much pleasure in his life as possible. The word “pleasure” is most often translated as “joy” or “gladness” in the Old Testament. Solomon sought pleasure through parties, projects, presents and prestige (see Eccl 2:1-11). The Bible talks about many “under-the-sun” people, things and events that give joy. They are gifts of God. Knowing our tendency to make under-the-sun pleasures our ultimate pleasure, satisfaction and joy, Solomon reminds us that under-the-sun pleasures are very, very temporary and very, very fragile.

At the end of the service, I gave everyone a Christmas present—a Ghiradelli chocolate. Bad Sunday to miss church! We had a moment of joy as we ate our chocolate and took note of how temporary and fragile it was. I asked everyone to put the wrapper in their Bible as a reminder of the temporary and fragile nature of under-the-sun pleasures.

The interesting thing about this word pleasure (or joy) is that it is most often used of God and His salvation. Isaiah 9:2-3 says “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their JOY; they REJOICE before you as people REJOICE at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” In verse 6, he tells who will make this possible, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” During Advent we are reminded that Jesus brings joy. The angel said in Luke 2, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.

Let’s Pray Together
Father, thank you for the many under-the-sun pleasures I enjoy. Knowing that my heart is an idol factory, show me where I am attempting to make your good earthly gifts my ultimate joy and satisfaction. Teach me to find lasting, unbreakable joy in Jesus.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving is not a holiday.

Luke 17:15–18
15 One of them (lepers), when he saw he was healed, came back, glorifying God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner?”

Did you notice that giving thanks for the grace of God we have received is akin to giving glory to God? By the way, the word for thanks in the Greek means “to have grace.” Paul brings these two ideas of thanks and glorifying God together in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

One of the practical ways we glorify God is by giving Him thanks. It’s why David says in Psalm 69:30-31 “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. 31 This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.”

Thanksgiving is not a holiday; it is a practical way for us to glorify God for the grace we have received. Thanksgiving is not a holiday; it is a spiritual discipline critical for our mental, emotional and spiritual health. Thanksgiving is not a holiday; it is a critical step in the rehabilitation of those suffering from the epidemic of entitlement in which all the sick think they should be treated as a god. Thanksgiving is not a holiday; it is an outlet to express our gladness of heart. Thanksgiving is not a holiday; it is something God immensely enjoys.

What benefits have you seen from giving thanks?

P. S. Don’t forget to give thanks.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Prayer for People Pleasers

John 12:42–43
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

I read this in my time with the Lord this morning. Knowing that I am a believer in Jesus who struggles with people pleasing, it caused me to ask, “Jesus, is there anything I am saying or not saying because I love the praise of people?” I don't like the thought that this sin can keep me from faithfully serving Him. I do like the thought that His love at the cross covers a multitude of sins.

Let’s Pray Together
Jesus, free me from the fear of people. I confess this is both a sin and a major hindrance to living according to Your will. I want to know Your perfect love to cast out fear in my life. May my life be a constant confession of belief and dependence on You. In my life be glorified today.

How have you seen "the fear of people" keep you from speaking of Jesus, keep you from obeying Jesus, or creating problems for you?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Do I know His voice?

John 10:4-5 (NIV)
…and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

A defining characteristic of the people of God—they hear His voice. It is striking how many times God calls His people to hear. From Old to New Testament they are commanded to hear His voice specifically through the Word coming from the prophets and the Holy Scriptures. Take some time to read His word for the specific purpose of hearing His voice. Here is the prayer I wrote in my notebook today and prayed for myself, family, elders, staff and friends.

Let’s Pray Together
Lord, I want to know Your voice. I want to put myself in a position to hear from You. I want to know Your voice when it comes to the truth about You, others, and me. I want to not even respond or react to the lies of the world, the flesh and the devil. Speak to me through Your Word.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What is the Father’s heart toward me?

John 8:19 If you knew Me, you would know my Father also.
John 14:7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.

I have felt some sadness lately as I have talked with many Bible believing, long time church going, good people. Over and over I hear things like, “I rarely if ever pray, read my Bible, or sit quietly with God.”

I think one huge reason for this is that we are busy entertaining ourselves to death and gorging ourselves at the table of the world. However, as I have talked with people I realize that many struggle with something I have struggled with. The struggle goes something like this, “I know Jesus loves me and want to be my friend. I know He has compassion on me. I’m just not sure God, the Father wants anything to do with me. And if He does, He probably just wants to correct me or make life harder than it already is.” Who wants to spend time with someone you think of in that way?

We all have lots of reasons for thinking these kinds of thoughts. No earthly father is perfect. I know I haven’t been perfect. I desperately want my own children to look beyond my faults and frailty to a Father in heaven who is completely holy. Some earthly fathers have done some awfully evil things. Yet God puts us in this position to deal with Him as Father. When Jesus says, If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also,” I am reminded of the Oneness of the Triune God. I am reminded that all the wonderful pictures of Jesus’ heart for people are a reflection of the Father’s heart. If you are wondering about the Father’s heart toward you, know this—the heart of Jesus is the heart of the Father.

Let’s Pray Together.
Holy Spirit, show me the Father’s heart. Help me to believe the abundance of direct statements in the scriptures about His loyal love. Father in heaven, holy is Your name, compassionate are Your ways. By faith, I will take time to spend with You and allow You to reshape my picture of You, me and our relationship. I want to know the fullness of joy that comes in Your presence.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It doesn't all depend on me.

John 5:6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

When I was in college, a friend of mine was paraplegic. When someone prayed for his healing, he was not healed. He was accused of not having enough faith. I disagreed with that assessment of the situation. However, I find in my own life I tend to think that if I prayed more consistently, believed a little more, and worked a lot harder then my emotional, physical, my work and ministry problems would go away. In other words, I think I tend to think it is all on me.

Yesterday I was reading about the sick man by the well in John 5. He was sick for 38 years. It seems like he was hoping for a magical cure if someone would just help him into the pool. Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?” The man’s answer seems more like an excuse. At best he just doesn’t have the awareness in the moment to say exactly what he wants. It definitely wasn’t one of those demonstrations of faith that Jesus affirms in other places in the gospels. And yet, Jesus heals him.

What a great reminder that life with Jesus doesn’t start with me. Life with Jesus is not totally dependent on me. Emotional, spiritual, and physical healing isn’t about me figuring out the right words to say, sins to confess, or principles to apply. Life with Jesus is first and foremost dependent on Him. He is the great healer and transformer of lives. He knows all our needs before we even ask Him.

Let’s pray together.
Jesus, thank You for holding me together by the word of Your power. My life is in You. I acknowledge that You are the prime mover in our relationship. I come to You for rest for my soul. Bring healing into life in those places that I am not even aware of. Heal my hurts I refuse to acknowledge. Bring transformation to those things I have asked for many times. Help my unbelief. In Jesus Name.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pray for teens

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Read this headline in the Dallas Morning News metro section yesterday morning, “Five teens charged in fatal beating.”

A 28 year old man was beaten to death by his 16 year old neighbors in Wylie, TX. Sometimes I want to just quit getting the paper and listening to the news. I know this is just a drop in the ocean of the heatbreaking stories of people made in the image of God killing others made in the image of God every day. These stories of teens abusing and killing others just seem to get me.

Let’s Pray Together
Father, it is hard to know how to pray when the needs seem so overwhelming and the situation seems so out of control. We believe You are on Your throne. We believe that Jesus died for every hateful action we commit against each other. We long for peace. We ask that Your kingdom of righteousness and love would come. Your good will be done today on our earth as it is heaven. Bring comfort to families who are the victims of violent crimes. May the transforming power and love demonstrated at the cross renew those who hate enough to kill another person. Raise up a generation of young people who are captured by Your love, who carry the love of Jesus to the world. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Focus Part 2 Learning from John the Baptist

John 1:29 (NIV)The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

The characteristic that draws me to John the Baptist was his laser-like focus on calling others to look to Jesus. (I also like that he enjoyed camping out.) John did not give a rip about the size of his following, what the people with money and power thought about him, or maintaining anything (even his own following of disciples). The first time he says, “Look, the lamb of God,” two of His disciples peel off and start following Jesus. One of those guys was Andrew, a good recruiter, the kind of person you need to help your ministry grow.

As a pastor, I am painfully aware of the distractions that grow in the soil of ministry maintenance. The nagging questions of the trade: Who’s leaving the church? Why aren’t more people coming? How was the offering? How was my sermon? Who’s mad? Who’s glad? What’s falling through the cracks? How are we improving our leadership? Why is their church doing better than ours? I know that some of these real life questions can’t and should not be ignored for the health of the church. I also know that these questions don’t get ignored. In fact, they often become an irresistible magnetic field in my own mind sucking energy, time and hope.

I long to operate in the real world focused on constantly calling those who God brings my way, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away this sin of the world." I know that doesn’t happen unless my own heart, soul, mind, and strength are captivated by looking at the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of Neil.

Pray for me and our church to embrace a laser-like focus on the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


John 1:8 John himself was not the light; he came ONLY as a witness to the Light.

What do think about John the Baptist? Surely some thought he was crazy camping out in the wilderness all the time. I wouldn’t want to live on his diet-locust and honey. I like more solid food. He sure wasn’t setting any fashion trends. However, it is clear some thought he was a prophet. The more he spoke, the more they believed.

Whatever you think about John, you can’t deny the guy was focused and had a clear sense of call. When asked about who he was, he said without hesitation, “I am not the Christ, I am not Elijah. I am the voice of one calling out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord. I am not worthy to untie His sandals.”

It seems to me we talk a lot about focus and calling. We are always in process of trying to get it, clarify it, hold on to it, or get back to it. We tell ourselves and each other to refocus and to recalibrate. As churches, we are regularly trying to get back to the basics, find our core, and live out our values. It doesn’t seem like John needed much of that those days in the wilderness.

In John 1, John’s ministry is set in the context of the glory and excellency of the Word who became flesh, was the light of the world, and the glory of God. John was clear, he was ONLY a witness to the ONE who was so excellent and glorious, he wasn’t he even worthy to serve Him by doing the job of the lowest of slaves—untie His sandals. For John, clarity of focus and calling didn’t come from any handbook on managing or leading. It came from knowing, seeing and experiencing the excellency and glory of Jesus. Do you think that could be true for you?

Let’s pray today for ourselves individually and our church.
Father, we confess that we are people distracted, confused, torn here and there by a multitude of voices screaming at us from all sides. We confess that we have indulged ourselves in the pleasures of this world. Holy Spirit, move us to daily read the revelation we have of Jesus. As we read, open our eyes to see the glory, beauty, and excellency of Jesus. Show us who we really are in light of who He really is. Give us one glorious ambition for our life, to know and follow hard after Jesus.