Tuesday, October 29, 2013


                I have seen a commercial lately that has really disturbed me. It shows people opening up their new iPhone and being totally mesmerized. The tagline at the end of the commercial says, “We know that you don’t want anything to come between you and your new iPhone.” How sad.

                Because of the commercial nature of our society, we are constantly being told that there is something missing in our lives. If only you buy this product, you will be happy. But that is a lie, because has soon as the next generation whatever comes out, you will be told that your old thing won’t make you happy. People are chasing an artificial happiness, fueled by promises that at best can bring a momentary lift. The outcome of this chase is discouragement.

                When we put our eyes on the wrong things, we find ourselves spending our energy, time and resources on things that don’t last. Jesus warned us against making the material stuff of this world our primary goal in life.  Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Luke 12:15 Solomon discovered this truth the hard way; he lived it out to the full. At the end of a life of indulgence, he came to this conclusion. Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. Ecclesiastes 5:10

                Solomon’s father, King David, knew the answer to true contentment in life. He let us in on the secret in Psalm 103.
                Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-- who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. Psalm 103:1-5

                First, David challenges us to get our focus in the right place. He calls for us to let God reign in the very depth of our being. The reason we chase after all the stuff of the world is that we are trying to fill a hole in our soul. We have a deep longing for meaning and purpose. Satan tells us that we can fill that hole with material pleasures, but they all fail. The only way to fill the hole is to let Christ be at the center of our lives. When we do that, everything else falls into place.

                Second, David challenges us to actively remember and celebrate all that God has done for us. We all tend to be like sports fans. We quickly forget the past and want to know, what have you done for me today? All that matters is the present. This leads to constant dissatisfaction on our part. When we are consumed with “the next thing”, we lose sight of both the past and the present. We cannot see the blessings that God is pouring into our lives, because we are already looking down the road. David puts up a huge, spiritual stop sign. STOP, and take the time to reflect. There is an old hymn that says, count your blessing. Name them one by one. Count your blessings. See what God has done. A good way to regain a positive focus is to take a blank sheet of paper and begin to write down all the blessings that God has given to you. As the list grows, your eyes will be opened to the abundance of God’s grace.

                Third, David challenges us to let God revive our soul. When we consider what Jesus did for us on the cross, how can we not be thankful. When we consider the inheritance that we have in Christ, how can we not be thankful. When we consider God’s active presence in our lives, how can we not be thankful. The blessings of God are for now and for eternity. It is the best both/and we can have. Right now Ford has a commercial where they declare that “and” is better than “or.” From a spiritual perspective, I can say AMEN! Through Christ we can experience God’s love, mercy and grace now AND for all of eternity. “And” is definitely better than “Or.”

                David makes a powerful statement at the end of this passage. “…who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.” I want to make two observations about this. First, when we are focused on Christ, the desires of our heart will line up with God’s will for our life.    Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 Second, God wants us to enjoy life and the material things of this world in positive, God-honoring ways.   Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
1 Timothy 6:17 God is not stingy or an ascetic. God created this world with innumerable pleasures for us to enjoy. He is like a parent, who delights in seeing their children enjoy the gifts he has given them.

                It is easy for us to fall into the trap of discontent and discouragement. Almost everything in our world is leading us in that direction. There is another path that we can take; the path of gratitude. Stop, reflect, and rejoice in the abundance of God’s grace.

Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits…


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

We Are God’s Masterpieces

                When my children were in elementary school, I volunteered to teach a simple art class once a month. It was called Masterpiece Art. It’s not that I’m an expert in art. The materials were all prepared in advance; I just had to make it come alive for the children. Each year we studying a different aspect of art. For example, we studied classic portraits, landscapes, and still life. We studied specific painters like Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Georgia O’Keefe.  One of my favorites was when we studied American western art.
                Much of what we studied would be classified as masterpieces. These were the defining works of particular artists. Each masterpiece bore the imprint of the artist. A Rembrandt is recognized by the style of the artist and is very different from a Picasso. Each masterpiece is unique. Although some artists painted the same theme over and over again, each painting had unique qualities that set it apart from the others. The untrained eye might think they were copies of one another, but the trained eye can clearly see the differences.
                We don’t often think of ourselves as masterpieces. We can see all of the flaws and the imperfections of our life. We look around and we don’t seem all that different from everyone else, at least on the surface. But the Bible tells us that we are God’s masterpieces. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephes. 2:10 The word workmanship can be translated masterpiece. I want to invite you to attend spiritual masterpiece art class. Let’s explore some of the amazing qualities of God’s masterpieces.

We were created on purpose and for a purpose.
                Few of the great artists painted mechanically. What makes their art stand out is that they painted with purpose and direction. God doesn’t create generic people. He creates each of us uniquely, with purpose. God created us to do good works. Not just any good works, but good works in Christ Jesus. He created us to move in a direction that will demonstrate his glory through us.

We were created to reflect God’s image.
                A number of artists have painted self-portraits. They hoped to capture the essence of themselves and preserve it for all time. That is exactly what God did when he created us. We are the only part of creation that bears the image of God. Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:26-27

 We were created to reflect God’s glory.
                Every masterpiece reflects the skill and the passion of the artist. We were created to demonstrate the glory of God. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18

We were created to live in relationship with God.
                Every artist has a particular bond with their work. For the best artists, a painting is not just a piece of work, but an expression of themselves. God created us to have a special bond with Him. His love for us is so strong that He sent Jesus to redeem us.

                There is a famous painting by Rembrandt called The Night Watch. It has been known by that name for centuries. Recently some specialists in the preservation of art endeavored to clean the painting. What they discovered startled everyone. The painting was not a night scene after all, but a morning scene. Dust, dirt and soot from candles had so darkened the painting that it took on a totally different look than the artist intended.
                Because of sin, our masterpiece has been marred. God’s glory has been dimmed by the soot of the world. God’s image has been twisted. Christ comes into our lives as the master restorer. He comes to clear away all the filth of sin and restore us to what God intended. In fact, he actually creates us all over again. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

2 Cor. 5:17 

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Friday, October 18, 2013

Running in the Dark

                During the fall of the year, the days begin to get shorter and darkness descends early. This poses a problem for the avid runner. It becomes a race against the setting sun to get a run in before darkness shrouds the trail. Soon the race is lost and what is left is running in the dark.

                I strapped on my headlamp, adjusted by reflective vest, and headed out into the night. There was no moon, so the darkness was complete. The thin beam of my headlamp could illuminate only a small space in front of me; just enough space for my next footfall. Ahead of me, I could see the cars rushing past on the highway, but the blacktop in front of me was invisible. I turned the corner at the end of my driveway onto the short, dangerous stretch of highway that would lead me to the trail. There, illuminated by the lights of passing cars, I was able to see more of the features of the road. After a short distance, I crossed the road and descended onto the bike path. Separated from the roadway, with no streetlights, the bike path lay before me dark and black. If it were not for my headlamp, this run would be impossible.

                It is scary running in the dark. My daughter and I tried it once. We just ran to the end of our driveway and back; a distance of half a mile. I knew the driveway intimately. I had walked it many times in the daylight. But in the dark it was transformed into something unknown. My running became more and more tentative. I was unsure of my next step. Not being able to see what was right in front of me, I stumbled; over nothing. The darkness transforms the familiar into the unknown. At the end of our driveway, we stopped and walked back to the house. Our feet glided forward with tentative steps, rather than striding forward with confidence.

                We are running the race of life in the dark. At best, we can see what is immediately before us, but no more. We cannot see what is around the next corner. We can speculate about tomorrow or next year, but in reality they are shrouded in complete darkness. We blindly push forward, hoping for the best. In the darkness we often stumble and sometimes fall. We are tripped up by real obstacles and imagined ones. In the darkness, reality is twisted and misshapen. Some attack the darkness with boldness, while others become tentative, and some are immobilized. Without some kind of light to guide our way, we are hopelessly doomed to stumble through life.

                Many people are facing the darkness with faulty headlamps. They may be trusting in politics, philosophy, religion or even science. These things give some light, but not enough. They are like dim headlamps, whose beam barely makes it to the ground. The illumination that they give, compared to the vast darkness around us, is barely enough to make it possible to take the next step. At best, they can illuminate what is immediately in front of us, but are hopeless the illuminate beyond that with any certainty.

                There is a source of light that has the power and intensity to pierce the darkness. The beam of this light illuminates the path before us, so that we can run with boldness. That light is found in God’s Word. King David expressed the power of that light when he wrote these words in Psalm 119:105. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” The word of God has the power to illuminate the dark corners of our world. It helps us to see life more clearly. It illuminates both good and evil. It alerts us to the obstacles in our way and gives us the confidence to face them. Like my headlamp, it allows us to see what is before us and run with boldness.

                The word of God is revealed in the Bible, but it is not limited to the pages of an inanimate book. The Word of God is personified in the person of Jesus Christ. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
                The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5, 14

                Jesus came into the word to invite us to come out of the darkness and live in the light. He demonstrated what it means to live in the light. He issued an open invitation for all who will to join him in the light. By putting our faith in Jesus, we can run our race of life in the light.

                This is a light that will not grow dim or burn out. It is an eternal light the remains intense and piercing, no matter how dark the world gets. In fact, as the world gets darker, the light grows brighter. Through the Holy Spirit this light becomes a very part of our being. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

                We have a choice to make. Will we keep running in the darkness, or will we run in the light? We enter the light by putting our faith in Jesus, but we run in the light by daily choosing to follow him. John clearly sets the choice before us. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

                Running in the dark is scary and unpredictable. Running in the light gives us confidence and hope. Jesus invites us to run in His light.


Thursday, October 17, 2013


                We live in a world built on discontent. Every day we are being told that whatever we have is not enough. The message that we hear is be dissatisfied with what you have. You deserve better. There is a commercial for a particular cell phone company that plays on this discontent. They show images of people enviously comparing their cell phones with the new phones of others. There is another commercial that shows two men grilling together. One has the latest smart phone, while the other has a three year old phone. The message is clear; be discontent with what you have. Whatever you have right now is not good enough.      

                The Bible warns us about falling into the trap of discontent. The quest for the newest, the best, the biggest robs us of the joy of life. Always striving for something new, we fail to appreciate and enjoy what we already have. Never being satisfied leads us into jealousy, greed, and pain.

                The Bible warns us that striving after more and more of the things of this world is an insatiable hunger. Solomon wrote about this in Ecclesiastes 5:10. Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. The gap between more and enough is infinite. As long as we are striving for more and more, we will never be satisfied with what we have.

                Living a life of discontent plagues us with self-inflicted wounds. We cause ourselves pain and then curse life for being unfair.  People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 Discontent clouds our perspective and causes us to make foolish decisions. Discontent can become a driving force that will temp us to compromise our values in order to get what we want. Discontent is a barrier to growing in our relationship with Christ.

                Paul gives us the antidote for discontent in 1 Timothy 6:6-8. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

                We can counter discontent by putting our trust fully in Christ. When we put Christ on the throne of our life, we can rest in his love and care. Jesus told us to not waste our time worrying about the stuff of the world. Instead he said to focus on trusting Him. So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:31-33

                We can counter discontent by holding onto the things of this world loosely. God has blessed us with material things for our good, but when we attach too much importance to them they become idols. Paul reminds us that everything we have is a gift from God. We can take none of the material stuff of the world with us when we die. So value it, use it, but hold it loosely. Corrie Tenboom was imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII for hiding Jews from the Nazis. She lost everything in that experience. Later she said this. “I have learned to hold onto the things of the world loosely, because it hurts so much when God has to pry my fingers off.” Good advice for a discontented world.

                We can counter discontent by rejoicing in what we have. So often in life we forfeit the present for some hoped for future. We fail to see the gift in our hands because we are focused on wanting something else. Paul said, be content with what you have. Enjoy the gift in your hand to the full. I know as a parent, I am more likely to give my children another gift, if they value the one I have already given to them. Paul lived out his own advice. He saw both sides of the stuff equation. He was able to keep his balance because he kept his focus on Christ. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

                The fight against discontent is a daily struggle. Each day we need to renew our commitment to trust Christ with the substance of our life. The best way to do this is to begin every day with thanksgiving to God. Each day is a gift. Each breath is a gift. Every good thing we have is a gift from God. By giving thanks we value the giver over the gift. That is truly the essence of contentment.

    Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18


Wednesday, October 9, 2013


    After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: "Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them--to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.
Joshua 1:1-3
                One of my many short-comings is that I tend to be timid. When others rush forward, I tend to hold back. I came to learn that my reluctance stems from a need to be given permission to act. That need was implanted in me back in elementary school, when I had to learn to raise my hand and wait for the teacher to call on me. Unfortunately, that lesson kept me captive for many years.

                I became fully aware of my reluctance to step forward a number of years ago. I was working on my doctorate. My cohort group was gathered for a group project. We weren’t making progress, and I was getting a little frustrated. The elder statesman of our group turned to me and said, “Dave, you are the leader of this group, so lead.” It was a wake-up call for me. Throughout my life God has placed me in leadership positions. Over and over again he has had to remind me,  “Dave, you are the leader of this group, so lead.”

                That was the situation that Joshua was in. He had faithfully served as Moses’ aid. Up to this point, he had lived in the shadows, watching and learning. God was preparing him for an important task. When the day finally came, Joshua was not sure he was ready. God told Joshua to move out of Moses’ shadow and lead the people into the Promised Land. God gave Joshua two amazing promises. He told Joshua that He had already given the land to Israel. He also told Joshua that it was up to him to claim the land. Everywhere that he placed his foot would be his.

                God reinforced His command with words of promise and challenge. Three times in the next few verses God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous.
    "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Joshua 1:6

    Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Joshua 1:7

    Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

                God’s message to Joshua is a message we need to hear today. In many ways the Church has become timid. We have allowed secular society to set the agenda for life. We have passively allowed ourselves to be marginalized. Our voice in the public forum is faint at best. We have been anything but strong and courageous. It is time to step forward and claim the Promised Land.

                One of my favorite characters in the New Testament is Timothy. I like Timothy because I can identify with him. He was Paul’s understudy. He traveled with Paul, learned from Paul and worked alongside of Paul. Then one day, Paul told Timothy it was time for him to lead. He left Timothy in charge of the church at Ephesus, while he continued his itinerant ministry. Timothy was a little overwhelmed at first, so Paul wrote to him to encourage him. In essence, Paul told Timothy that it was his time to lead, so lead. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he exhorted him to be bold. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 2 Tim. 1:7

                The experiences of Joshua and Timothy stand as a challenge and an encouragement to us today. We do not have to passively stand by and watch the world plummet toward hell. We have a right and a responsibility to step into the fray and claim territory for Christ. Here are a few of the lessons we can learn from Joshua and Timothy.

- Claim God’s promise to be with us wherever we go. We are not alone in the world. Through the Holy Spirit, the power and presence of Christ are always with us.

- Be strong and courageous. Be willing to take bold risks for the cause of Christ. Don’t hold back, but press forward in the power of Christ.

- Claim territory for Christ. We cannot do this from a distance. As God told Joshua, we need to put our feet into action. We can begin by claiming our family for Christ. Then our neighborhood, our community, our town, our state, our country, and finally our world. The early church had no political power, yet it turned the world upside down. We can do the same thing.

                God has given us permission to claim the land. He has promised to give us success. He has promised to go with us. The only thing that is holding us back is us. It is time to set aside our fear and apprehension and cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

    Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Matthew 28:18-20


Tuesday, October 1, 2013


                We have two apple trees in our yard. Some years we get many apples and some years hardly any. Some years both trees produce and some years only one. This year only one produced apples, and it was a bumper crop. The other day I spent a couple of hours picking as many apples as I could. I started on the ground, picking everything that I could reach. Then I got out the step ladder and went around the tree again. Finally, I pulled out the extension ladder and climbed even higher to get more apples. When I was done, I had eight grocery bags full of apples, and there were still more on the tree that I could not reach.

                While I was picking the apples, I noticed something that I had never seen before. I reached for an apple that had a small leaf draped over it. Where the leaf had rested, the apple was green. Where the apple was exposed to the sun, the apple was red.  I examined the tree more closely and discovered that the apples that were exposed to the sun were red on the side the sun hit. The apples that were shaded from the sun were more green, with only minor traces of red.

                This got me thinking about our walk with Christ. We are like those apples. We are the fruit of the Gospel. When we put our faith in Christ, we blossom and begin to be transformed into something new. But our development doesn’t just happen. It is dependent upon how much we are exposed to the Son. The more exposure we have to Jesus, the more mature we become. The less we are exposed to Jesus, our growth is slowed down.

                The Disciples are a prime example of this. There were many who spent a little time with Jesus. For some of them, this was a profound experience. For many of them it was a temporary thrill. But the disciples walked with Jesus every day. Over time, as they were exposed to Jesus more and more, their lives were transformed. After the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they became fully formed fruit for the Kingdom of God. These were ordinary, common men, yet their exposure to Jesus made them powerhouses for change. Early in the life of the Church, Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. They were put in jail for preaching about Jesus. When they were brought before the Sanhedrin, they gave a bold defense of their faith.  The religious leaders were astounded by the boldness of Peter and John. When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 These men had been with Jesus!

                Our maturity as followers of Christ is in direct proportion to how much time we spend with Jesus. There are many ways that we can spend time with Jesus.

We can let his light shine on us through His Word, the Bible. As we read and meditate on the Bible, we grow in our understanding of and love for Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim. 3:16-17

We can spent time with Jesus through prayer. Prayer is far more than saying grace before a meal or reciting a laundry list of requests before God. Prayer that transforms us includes honest confession, praise and humble listening. Prayer is allowing Jesus to take our thoughts and reorder them according to His will.

We are exposed to Christ through times of corporate worship. Jesus promised that whenever we meet in His name, he will be with us. Spiritual power is enhanced when Christians gather together to celebrate what Christ has done for us. If we want to grow and become mature in our faith, corporate worship is an essential. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:25

The apples that became the most mature on my apple tree were the apples that received the most exposure to the sun. The followers of Christ who mature the most in life are those who experience the most exposure to the Son.