Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Good morning -

"He really knows how to live it up." That's what we say about someone with a real zest for life and adventure. It's ultimately true in a realm that many wouldn't understand:

"for now we really live, if you stand firm in the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 3:8)

For Paul, "really living" consisted of the body of Christ standing firm in the faith. Paul was a strange "party-animal" if that was his idea of living it up! For him, real life was the life of other believers.

From a pastor's perspective I can tell you that there is no greater "high" than seeing growth and progress in the faith of God's people. Learning about new commitment to disciplines such as Bible study and prayer, or stepping out in an adventure in service is thrilling beyond words. Hearing also that, in the face of adversity, God's people stand strong is "really living" for servants of God.

A desire to "live it up" based upon the growth and progress in the faith of others causes us to pray as Paul did:

"may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints." (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)

Vitally important to a firm faith is genuine connectivity to other believers. Increasing compassion and love for believers as well as unbelievers is central to a life and conscience of holiness that pleases the Lord.

Those actively involved in a church can easily take for granted the blessings of connectivity with other believers. I've talked with numerous "isolated" believers over the years and heard their stories of pain and loneliness because of a lack of genuine Christian fellowship where they live (some of you reading this are in such a situation). Long-distance connections that are less personal than face-to-face fellowship have vital importance.

"Really living" is living for Christ and the body of Christ. I would "really live it up" to personally hear how you are standing firm in the faith.

May you find real life and joy today through genuine interaction with other believes at the deepest possible spiritual level.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Good morning -

It was an inside job; there could be no other explanation. All the evidence pointed to something from within. And what made it difficult to detect was that the changes were gradual and easy to overlook. Ultimately, however, the changes were radical; what it became was nothing like it was at the start. And that was good.

"we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs ." (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

God's word is uniquely able to do an "inside job" on all who believe. When we read, hear, and study the Bible it performs a hidden but radical work within. Like food and digestion, we don't fully comprehend the process but the results are evident. Like food, God's word must be internalized in order for it to perform its life-changing work.

I am firmly convinced that reading, hearing and studying God's word is an absolute necessity for spiritual life and vitality. One of life's tragedies is that of those who revere the Bible but seldom, if ever, read and study it. External appreciation of the Bible is no substitute for internalizing it through reading and study.

Several years ago it was vividly impressed upon me that my priority as a pastor was to "preach the word" (2 Timothy 4:2). Personal anecdotes, amusing stories, and the words of other writers are no substitute for God's word. Scripture alone "performs its work in you who believe."

The Apostle Paul previously stated, in 1 Thessalonians 2:12, "walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." If we are called to live in a particular way as present and future kingdom citizens, doesn't it behoove us to do what we can to discover that lifestyle? The Bible alone is the source of that vital information as well performing "its work in you who believe". Both the information and the power are available through the word.

The source of much of my greatest joy is in discovering truth from Scripture to clearly and plainly share with others. That joy is not found in having something to share that will make me appear intelligent (I'm certainly not!), but in knowing the effect that this truth will have as others internalize it. It's a bit like discovering a really good restaurant: I want others to enjoy the same delicious food that I've found.

My prayer today is that these thoughts have given you a greater appetite for God's word. Hearing about the food at a great restaurant doesn't begin to compare to actually eating it, and so it is with Scripture.

May you enjoy the nourishing richness of the most lavish banquet of all as you today feast of God's word.

Pastor Steve

Friday, October 26, 2007

Good morning -

I've said it more times than I can remember: Where is a cop when you need one? Whenever I see a reckless or overly-fast driver I long to see them get pulled over by the police because of their blatant disregard for the law (never mind that I'm usually breaking the speed limit at the time while keeping up with the rest of traffic). What's troubling is that it's not my zeal for the law that motivates me; it's a less-than-noble motive to see the wicked "get what's coming to them". Apparently I'm not alone in harboring such feelings:

"it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD and said, "Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity." (Jonah 4:1-2)

Jonah, the reluctant preacher, feared success through the message God called him to preach to the city of Nineveh. He knew that this enemy of Israel was a real threat, but if God destroyed them in judgment then they would no longer be a threat. He knew that a merciful and forgiving God would forego punishment for the genuinely repentant, and this greatly angered Jonah.

Still hoping for God's consuming judgment, Jonah took up position a safe distance from Nineveh "until he could see what would happen in the city." (Jonah 4:5). It was there that God shared His heart of compassion with Jonah and reasoned with him to have the same mindset:

"Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?" (Jonah 4:11)

God has little patience with the willfully wicked, but He has unfailing compassion for the "innocently wicked". He "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4).

Perhaps our desire for God's vengeance upon the willfully wicked has hardened our hearts toward the "innocently wicked", as perhaps it had Jonah. There are those in the world who would be repentant if they only knew truth. But how will they hear unless someone tells them? And how can someone tell them unless they are sent from God? Truly, "How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news" (Isaiah 52:7).

May our prayer and desire today be that the God of compassion direct us to the "innocently wicked" who will genuinely repent through knowledge of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus. That's where God's heart is, and where ours needs to be.

Seeking to overcome my "Jonah complex" through God's compassion,

Pastor Steve

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Good morning -

If we had heard the story first-hand I'm sure we would have said (pardon the pun), "that's a whale of a tale!" Jonah's story is unprecedented but apparently true. Jesus referred to Jonah's time in the belly of the fish as a sign of his death, burial and resurrection (Matthew 16:4; 12:40).

What are we to make of the story of someone who is called of God to preach a specific message to a specific people (Jonah 1:2); who chooses to flee "from the presence of the Lord" (Jonah 1:3); is almost overwhelmed by a storm at sea directly caused by God; and who ultimately brushes up on his prayer life during three days and nights in the belly of a great fish? Jonah had to be the most reluctant preacher ever to live and it seems as though he had no choice but to do as God said.

Regardless of what we might conclude about God's call and will, and our choice in the matter, the conclusions that Jonah reached in the depths of the sea are truly instructional:

"You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. While I was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. Those who regard vain idols Forsake their faithfulness, But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD." (Jonah 2:6-9)

In Jonah's most desperate hour he truly remembered the Lord. From the depths of the sea his heartfelt prayer ascended to the holy temple of God. He came before the Lord with the voice of thanksgiving and an attitude of willingness to do what he had promised (sounds like he had made a bargain with God even before God called him to preach). Ultimately he recognized the Lord as the source of true salvation.

Jonah's story reminds me of a movie that was popular several years ago. A despondent man begins walking out into the ocean, bent on suicide by drowning. A long way from shore he has a change of heart and wants to live and promises God that he will give him a certain number of years of his life in service if God will just make him a better swimmer. The better he swims and the closer to shore he gets, the less the number of years he promises to serve God. When he finally reaches shore his "bargain" with God is diminished to a mere "thank-you".

God desires wholehearted, undivided loyalty. As someone has said, it's not our ability but availability that He wants. He will do His greatest work through us when we take the simple step of just showing up before Him, empty-handed.

I've lately realized that I've been more consumed with God's business than with my all-important appointment with God. In my mind I know that being available before Him is most important, but my activities indicate that I believe otherwise.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got an important appointment to keep.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good morning -

An optimist is a realist. Optimists have a positive outlook concerning life and the future, and they have every reason. The future is brighter than any of us can imagine.

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, And they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them," Says the LORD your God." (Amos 9:13-15)

Few scenes produce peace and hope as do those of abundance and security. Never has there been a time of such abundant harvest that the fall harvester was overtaken by the spring planter! Sweet wine is the image of joy and celebration, and such will be God's future for His people. God's captive people will be restored in security to their land, and they will work productively in building their own cities and homes and planting their own vineyards and gardens.

I've enjoyed woodworking for several years but, like almost anyone else, I've always been restricted by money and time. I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to have all of eternity to work and no financial restrictions in building the home of my dreams. And what a joy to voluntarily help others with their homes as well.

Maybe working with your hands isn't your idea of a perfect eternity, but each of us find fulfillment and joy in some form of productive work. Whatever that is for you, imagine having all the time and money in the world to devote to it. Does that begin to give you a sense of excitement for God's future?

Perhaps what I've just described sounds self-serving and, of itself, it is. But in that age of perfection our motives will also be made pure. Our ultimate motivation will be God-pleasing, not self-pleasing. No longer will we work to gratify sinful and selfish ambitions, but instead all of our efforts will be for God's glory and the good of all His redeemed people. That in itself is unimaginable from the perspective of today's fallen world.

At the risk of taking liberty with God's word, I submit this thought concerning God's future and promises: His Kingdom will probably be far more advanced than the primitive descriptions we find in Scripture. God describes a future through Amos that people living a simple life then could easily relate to. Perhaps that image isn't quite as appealing to us today in our age of advanced technology. Maybe we yearn for a future in which we can serve and glorify God with today's tools.

Whatever God's future holds - and it's infinitely beyond our ability to imagine - it will ultimately offer unprecedented security, prosperity and productivity to a people made totally pure and complete. Is there anything in this life more appealing that we would forfeit a future like that for?

Seek first His Kingdom today because it's worth more than we can even begin to imagine.

Pastor Steve

Friday, October 19, 2007

Good morning -

The hike was well worth the effort just to see the beautiful waterfalls. It was a relatively easy trail in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, and it ended beside an energetic waterfalls. Standing on the rock shelf beside the falls, overlooking a deep chasm below, the rushing stream was clearly visible in the opposite direction; the white-capped waters rushing down the mountainside. That breathtaking sight flooded my mind as I read these words:

"But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)

God's words are both a picture and a plea. They are a picture of ultimate justice and righteousness in the coming kingdom, but primarily they were a plea for action to avoid judgment. The previous verse reveals God's extreme displeasure with His people:

"Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps." (Amos 5:23)

The sounds of worship and praise were loathsome to the God who ultimately desired justice and righteousness from His people. Music was merely noise devoid of these essential qualities.

A lifestyle of praise is characterized, not just by music, but by fairness and equity in our dealings with all people, and especially the family of God (Galatians 6:10). If justice and righteousness don't flow down from our lives then our songs are merely annoying noise in the ears of our God.

As we pray for God's kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as in heaven, we ask that we be used as instruments of justice and righteousness today even as look for ultimate justice and righteousness in the coming age. The causes that He leads us to are those areas where His heart and passion are. Perhaps He will lead us to be merciful to someone who is oppressed, or to help the homeless. Without question, He will lead us to bless members of the body of Christ and to extend justice to them.

I'm looking forward to the next time that I worship together with the body of Christ, but I want my song to be a sweet offering characterized by overflowing righteousness and justice in my dealings with others.

May the Lord freely flow through us to demonstrate the kingdom to others through abundant righteousness and justice.

Pastor Steve

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good morning -

You and I have an appointment. A date has been set for the meeting and the outcome is largely determined by decisions we make prior to the meeting. It potentially can be very positive and rewarding, but it also can be disastrous for the ill-prepared.

It was revealed through the prophet Amos that an appointment had been set by God to deal with disobedient Israel. This "heads up" message was designed to give them adequate time to reevaluate their lives and chart a new course, but the fact remained that the meeting was scheduled:

"Prepare to meet your God, O Israel. For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind And declares to man what are His thoughts, He who makes dawn into darkness And treads on the high places of the earth, The LORD God of hosts is His name." (Amos 4:12-13)

"Prepare to meet your God". The meeting is certain, and so therefore the preparations are essential. An important part of the preparation is knowing just exactly Who it is that we are meeting with. This One whom we have a meeting with "forms mountains and creates the wind". He is Master of all that He has created; infinitely mighty and powerful. He not only is supremely powerful; He also is perfect in knowledge and understanding. He "declares to man what are His thoughts".

Within our thoughts is the true essence of who we are. It is there that we savor hopes, dreams, and good intentions, but it is also there that we harbor dark and evil thoughts and desires. We expend considerable energy and effort in keeping our inner thoughts hidden, but our ultimate appointment is with the One who will clearly speak that which we think. Nothing will be hidden.

No one needs to face the ultimate appointment with dread and fear. The commitment we make and pursue today is the key determining factor. Developing a relationship with our Creator through His Son Jesus and pursuing the Kingdom agenda is essential. As we pray and surrender to the priority for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as in heaven, we step away from a self-serving agenda and in to the realm of a God-pleasing one.

Knowledge of the upcoming appointment that I have with God changes the whole course of my life. One the day when my thoughts are completely revealed I want it to be abundantly clear that my passion and priority was for His kingdom and righteousness, in spite of all my mistakes and missteps.

May our appointment dictate our lifestyle today - and always.

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Good morning -

He probably would have been labeled "Least Likely To Have God Speak To". After all, doesn't it make sense that the Creator of all would use the most powerful and influential people to get His message out? Well, not exactly ...

"The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa, which he envisioned in visions concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake." (Amost 1:1)

A lowly shepherd seems like an unlikely candidate to be the spokesman for God, but it wasn't without precedent. Remember David, the shepherd boy who killed mighty Goliath, the enemy of Israel, with a slingshot and rock?

God rarely, if ever, uses - to our way of thinking - the best P.R. tools and people to communicate His message. Instead of using the powerful and dramatic, He seems instead to prefer common people and subtle approaches. The force of His message certainly isn't seen in the methods and people He uses, but in the message itself. And therein lies the great secret.

From what we know of Jesus, He likely was not impressive in appearance (Isaiah 53:2). Contrary to legend, He probably did not have a commanding presence that distinguished Him from the crowd. And He had an annoying habit of communicating through simple little stories called parables that didn't seem to have enough substance to challenge the intellectuals. From all appearances he was a very ordinary and unimpressive individual - except for the amazing power and authority of the message that He communicated.

And so it was with Amos. A plain, ordinary man is distinguished from leaders and self-proclaimed prophets by the power and authority of his God-inspired message. And perhaps therein lies one of the great lessons to learn from Amos: how God displays His power and message through ordinary people.

Each of us are in a far better position to be used of God than the most powerful and influential people in the world. The record of the Bible indicates that, more often than not, God chooses people like us to communicate His Word. Perhaps the Apostle Paul summarized it best when he said,

"God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

The fewer the "bragging rights" we have, the better the possibility of being an instrument of God. May God truly work and speak through us, not for our own fame and name, but for His glory. Amen.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good morning -

I realized that it made a difference as I was driving to the office today. I had recently read an article in a popular magazine about a despondent man who chose to focus on sights that he was thankful for one gray day in New York, and it made all the difference in the direction of his life. So, I decided to do the same as I drove today. I found that being thankful for what I was seeing and experiencing had a calming, energizing effect. It is obvious that the repetitive practice of this discipline has the potential to have a powerful transforming effect.

"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2)

The "attitude of gratitude" is key to being devoted to alert prayer. It's impossible to search for reasons to be thankful and not reflect it all back in continuous, alert prayer. And all of this becomes the springboard for outreach with the Good News in word and lifestyle:

"praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person." (Colossians 4:3-6)

A desire to speak the good news of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus to others wells up from this "attitude of gratitude", and our heartfelt desire is to speak this message as clearly as possible. Wisdom in how we live and speak to those who need to hear is essential.

I'd like to invite you join me in practicing some simple but life-changing disciplines. Devote at least some segment of your day today to focusing on the sights and experiences that cause you to be thankful. Be aware of the sensation of energizing peace that you experience as you do so. And out of that experience be aware of a heightened desire to share the life-changing gospel that you have experienced. Focus that desire in prayer and ask the Lord to specifically direct you to share with others as clearly as possible.

I suspect that you and I are about to embark on a life-changing adventure. I've too often looked at the half-empty glass, but I see with greater clarity that the "attitude of gratitude" that comes from this simple discipline has the potential to infuse me with energy and life that explodes outward in evangelism.

I'd love to hear your stories of how this practice and discipline changes your life.

Anticipating a life-changing revolution through focused gratitude,

Pastor Steve

Friday, October 12, 2007

Good morning -

Distraction is deception's close ally. The easiest way for deception to trick us with the counterfeit is for distraction to turn our attention away from what is essential. Determined vigilance is essential.

"For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument ... See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:1-4,8)

The plan is incredibly simple, but perhaps the problem arises out of its sheer simplicity. God's plan - His mystery (something once hidden but now revealed) - is that we each live in vital relationship with His Son, Jesus. God has reserved His wealth of understanding and wisdom for this relationship, for He has "hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" in Him. All that God eagerly desires us to know of Him is found through Jesus His Son. Jesus is the Teacher who literally open our minds to understand the Scriptures even as He did the first disciples (Luke 24:45).

Perhaps it is our desire for things more complex that leads us away from God's simple plan. In our restlessness we are seduced by other things that take the rightful place of relationship with Jesus - books, entertainment, philosophy, even "religion". Such was the problem with the churches at Colossae and Laodicea that Paul writes to and prays for: they had moved from relationship with Christ to a legalistic system of "do's" and "don'ts".

I'm not likely to return to the old system of animal sacrifices and grain offerings, but I can easily worship at my own altar of "righteousness". A good way of reading and studying the Bible and praying becomes the only way. I all too easily become a rigid wine-skin that no longer flexes and stretches with the dynamic new wine of relationship with Christ. Rather than bending and stretching, I resist and risk loss.

There is much "philosophy and empty deception" that is packaged and promoted to subtly take the rightful place of relationship with Christ. Much of it even looks and sounds "Christian". The only way to avoid its deception is a vital relationship with Jesus in which He opens our minds to Scripture and reveals the Father to us.

It really is that simple but don't overlook the value of God's "mystery" because of its simplicity. May you live today and each day in awe of the power and effectiveness of God's simple plan.

Pastor Steve

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Good morning -

It's at least as much about "how" as it is "what". What we are to do is pray but how we pray isn't always clear. Fortunately, we've been given an excellent pattern:

"For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." (Colossians 1:9-12)

The key focus is that we pray for one another to know so that we can live. Knowledge is the foundation for lifestyle. When knowledge is the basis for lifestyle, it has a reciprocal effect: it produces more knowledge as well as good works. The end result is power to live a steady life characterized by patience and joyful thankfulness.

The great goal and objective before us is the building of character that makes us fit for the kingdom of God. We become powerful tools of transformation in the hands of the Author of truth as we are personally experience transformation. In this way the kingdom silently grows in and through us even as a mustard seed grows.

I well remember learning key Bible truth in the college classroom several years ago. I didn't honestly value much of what I learned because I saw it largely as an intellectual exercise. It was only when I began to find real energy and transformation that truth came to matter. That transforming truth has become life and vitality to me and hopefully is producing God-pleasing fruit.

My prayer for each of you reading this is the same as Paul's: that you literally be filled with knowledge that produces character, and that the forming of character produces even more knowledge. Through this process may your life bear fruit and may you experience abundant power that cultivates steadiness, patience and joyful thankfulness as you reflect upon the Father who is preparing you to share in His wonderful inheritance. Could there be any more important prayer than this?

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Good morning -

It's the easiest thing in the world to do but it's strictly forbidden:

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

"Be anxious for nothing"? What an outrageous concept! Who doesn't worry about something? If Paul were alive today, wouldn't he worry about healthcare, Social Security, unemployment, or global warming? Perhaps he would be concerned but he wouldn't be distracted through worry because he had discovered the divine remedy for such things: all-inclusive prayer. Rather than be self-absorbed with anxiety-producing situations, Paul mentally chose to surrender EVERYTHING through the practice of prayer. And, from personal experience, he could testify that this practice produced the incomparable peace of God in his life.

Perhaps there is no easier snare to be caught in than that of anxiety and worry. We don't have to look far to find anxiety-inducing circumstances. The real test is whether we choose to internalize them or truly surrender them in prayer.

Several years ago I learned about a "palms down, palms up" prayer experience. While sitting comfortably, with eyes closed, and in an attitude of prayer, turn your palms down to the floor as you are aware of anxiety-producing thoughts. Visualize those cares falling down from your hands as you name them before the Lord. Having done that, turn your palms up to receive the Lord's help for that situation. Continue this way until you have surrendered all that induces anxiety and you are "centered-down" and at peace.

We truly are what we think: "For as he thinks within himself, so he is." (Proverbs 23:7). The ultimate remedy for anxious thoughts is a healthy mental process. This is exactly what Paul outlines for us:

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Philippians 4:8).

As one who knows from personal experience, I am convinced that we talk ourselves into destructive and negative thoughts and habits. Each of us are constantly telling ourselves things about ourselves and our circumstances. With all of the negative and destructive messages around us, it is vitally important that we follow Paul's prescription for good mental - and ultimately spiritual - health.

May "the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension ... guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" today.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Good morning -

He is looking for a fulfilling lifetime relationship. No, it's not an ad from a singles column or web site, but it for real nevertheless:

"I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:8-11)

A relationship with Jesus Christ is not so different than a marriage relationship; both are exclusive relationships. A man and woman who choose to enter into marriage are choosing to "forsake all others." They deliberately choose a relationship so intimate that it cannot be shared by anyone else. And so it is in a relationship with Jesus: to choose to "know Him" is to pursue a relationship of such an intimate nature that it is not possible for it to be shared with anyone else.

As one who had spent much of his life zealously "doing", the idea of a personal and intimate spiritual relationship was a revolutionary idea to the Apostle Paul. Having meaninglessly pursued spirituality through works, Paul saw the aspect of relationship with Jesus as infinitely more valuable. His exclusive goal and pursuit became that of the most intimate relationship possible in which he knew both the person and power of Jesus. Yet he knew that it was not a relationship solely based on pleasure, but one based also on pain: identifying with His suffering and death as the means of ultimately experiencing resurrection from the dead.

The secret of Paul's life was this secret relationship with Jesus his Lord, and therein lies the ultimate secret of our lives as well. All of the most devout Bible reading and study, prayer, and personal discipline will not be of any value unless they all lead us to a deeply personal and intimate relationship with Jesus. This is the ultimate goal. From this relationship all else originates: service, devotion, love, understanding, wisdom, and power.

It is amazing how so many other things get in the way of this highest of all goals and pursuits. Not only does the busyness of life intrude, but even Christian service and activity can become an enemy. Doing so easily replaces the act of being.

All relationships require an investment of time and energy, and none more than our relationship with Jesus our Lord. We are willing to make that investment when we see the value of the relationship. Through Jesus the Bible is opened for our understanding and application, we are enabled to most fully know God our Father, and we are energized with power that enables all areas of life to work for us.

This day will be completely devoid of meaning unless some portion of it is devoted to cultivated a relationship with Jesus. May a deep desire for that relationship lead you today into fulfilling intimacy.

Pastor Steve

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Good morning -

"You're more important than I am." He didn't actually say that verbatim, but that's the message he conveyed in more ways than I can count. And the more I think about it, the more amazed I am. The appointed King of the most important government of all time has placed my needs ahead of His own, as he has yours. He chose to forego fame, fortune, and comfort in order to meet our needs. And He calls upon us to have the same mindset:

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Philippians 2:3-11)

Can you imagine the President of the United States looking you up and meeting with you, and putting an arm around your shoulder and saying, "Let's build a government together today. Let's go out and meet the real needs of people. Let's roll up our sleeves and work hard on behalf of the most underprivileged people we meet. Let's communicate to them - by word and deed - the good news of an administration that cares for them more than anyone could possibly care." What an outrageous scene! And yet that's essentially what Jesus did with and though His first recruits 2,000 years ago. They mingled with the desperately needy who offered no political advantage, and freely demonstrated truth and power. They unconditionally served and loved the unlovely. They captured the imagination of those who were willing to see, hear and begin to experience a government of perfect equality, health, power, and prosperity.

Our own kingdom is easily our real agenda. Nothing rubs harder against our human nature than the call of Jesus to humbly serve others and the cause of the kingdom of God. Every fiber of our human nature screams out against such an unselfish pursuit, and yet the powerful Spirit of God within lifts us up and away from our own self-serving agenda.

May you take flight and soar high above your own kingdom today as you pursue the agenda and pattern of the humble King of the Kingdom.

Seeking fullness through emptiness,

Pastor Steve

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Good morning -

Carpenters and contractors begin construction with the expectation that they will complete it. You don't see partially-built homes left to deteriorate because the builder decided they weren't worth completing. Flaws and defects are fixed along the way rather than abandoning the entire project.

We are a work in progress, and we need not fear that we'll be abandoned because of our many faults and flaws:

"For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

The solid work ethic that characterized my parent's generation was "a job worth doing is worth doing well" and "finish what you start". Thankfully, this is God's work ethic as well: that which He begins He brings to completion, and that which He does He does well.

My Christian life has at times been characterized by missteps and mistakes, as has every believer's life. At such times I've questioned the value of my life and the value of the Lord's investment in me. I'm delighted that the Lord never has nor ever will take that perspective. Whatever effort is needed to bring you and I to perfection never outweighs the value of the results.

A course has been plotted that will ultimately lead us to the Kingdom of God on the day of Christ Jesus. If the course could be represented by a line it might look something like the gains and losses of the stock market - ups and downs but a gradual increase. Amidst the advances and setbacks of our walk with the Lord is the gradual advance in maturity and Christ likeness.

The Lord's steady internal work in our lives is more comparable to a car's cruise control than an aircraft's autopilot. We can't just sit back and let His Spirit do all the work; we've got to cooperate like we do with our car's cruise control. Bible reading and study, the practice of prayer and discipline, and active participation in the body of Christ are all cooperative efforts with the Spirit of God. In fact, if we've surrendered to the Lord's internal good work we'll be led more deeply and consistently in these areas. His internal work will always manifest itself in fruit consistent with the Spirit.

The Lord's good work within is designed to lead to His good work within the lives of others. I'm certain that He eagerly desires to manifest a desire within each of us to move the good news of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus out into the world and into more lives. How he accomplishes that is as varied as our personalities.

May confidence in the Lord's work in your life encourage you today as well as inspire you to aspire to all that He wants to do in and through you.

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Good morning -

We're in the midst of a major downpour. The sun may be shining and there may not be a cloud in the skies as you read this, but trust me when I tell you that we are experiencing a downpour:

"It will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; And your sons and daughters will prophesy, Your old men will dream dreams, Your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days." (Joel 2:28-29)

I can picture the Apostle Peter standing before the large crowd gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost and explaining what was happening with reference to these words. A dramatic new act in the plan of God was unfolding as a cloudburst of Spirit "rain" was falling upon the early followers of Jesus. The rain continues today.

God's Spirit is freely poured out on His people to prompt prophesy, dreams, and visions. We have been enabled to declare His word and mysteries and to envision a community of believers living out the reality of the coming kingdom today. Even as the first church was, we are empowered to be a dynamic force to be reckoned with in the world as a display of God's amazing power. We are in no way deficient, but enriched in every way to be all that the Lord intends.

I'm often amazed at people with talents and abilities who don't see those things within themselves. What seems obvious to someone else is often elusive to us personally. If only we each could see just what we could be!

I believe that the church in its many forms in the world often has a deficient view of itself. If only we could truly see what we could be through the incredible power of God's Spirit! If we could more clearly see the authority to share the message we've been entrusted with, and the power to live as a loving, forgiving and accepting community of believers, we could "re-enact the Book of Acts".

Negative thoughts and the accusing words of Satan influence us to have a narrow, restrictive perspective. We see reality as an imposing brick wall around us and limiting us, when in reality God's Spirit enables us to move completely outside the restrictive brick wall.

Dare to dream today through God's Spirit. Allow His Spirit to open wide the possibilities of dreams and visions. Keep in mind the "magnificent obsession" of Jesus our Lord for the Kingdom of God, and spiritually imagine how the Kingdom cam be fleshed out in your life and church and the world.

I love the saying that Bobby Kennedy often quoted: "some people see thing as they are and ask, 'why?' I see things that never were and ask, 'why not?'". May God's Spirit fill you with dreams and possibilities today that inspire you to ask, 'why not?'

Pastor Steve