These are socks…Hope

29 10 2014

In my last post I shared about how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice. He started off each season by teaching his team how to wear their socks stressing the importance of protecting their feet. Getting a blister on your foot makes you ineffective on the court. Bottom line remembering the basics helps you win the game.

What are the Christian’s socks? What are the basics we have to remember to be effective? I believe there are three; faith, hope and love. Today I want to focus on hope.

Hope is a well-grounded confidence that allows us to face reality. Let that sink in.

The two most common verses I use as a Chaplain are Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4. Both of these passages talk about what can happen during hard times. In Romans “we rejoice in our suffering” because we will gain perseverance, our character will be revealed and we will see where we have placed our hope. James wants us to “consider it pure joy when we face trials” because the end result will be full and complete maturity.

Two people can go through the exact same circumstance. One person comes out stronger and one person comes out weaker. What was the difference? I believe it is often perspective and choice. We have to choose to become stronger and we need the right perspective to overcome our circumstances.

For Christians I believe life is a win-win situation. When we don’t have bad things happen, it is a win. When we do have bad things happen, it is also a win because we can grow and become stronger as a result of those difficult times. There is a practical truth to this. When we look back on what helped us become a better person, many times it was a difficult circumstance. There is also a profound spiritual truth to this.

As Paul mentions in Romans, our hope comes alive in suffering. If we truly believe that Jesus overcame both sin and death and one day will return, everything we are experiencing here is temporary. This does not mean I want to go through hard times. It does mean when I go through them I can have confidence this is not the end of the story. I have hope.

This hope actually allows me to face the situation for what it is. I am so thankful Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11. Why? Jesus knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He knew this was not the end of the story. He also knew people were hurting. They loved Lazarus and watching him die was hard and painful. He was able to connect with them and share in their sorrow. He faced reality but was not overwhelmed by the situation. He had confidence in the rest of the story.

When my socks of hope are on, I face reality with confidence. If there is injustice I can stand against it and call it injustice. Why? Because I know Jesus will one day return and make the final judgment. If I have sin in my life I can deal with it effectively. Why? Because I know Jesus died for my sins and conquered sin therefore I can overcome this area of sin in my life. When I see suffering or death I can cry and mourn with those who are mourning. Why? Because this life can be hard however I will not be overwhelmed by grief and sorrow because I know the rest of the story.

Christian hope is not simply being optimistic. It is grounded in the reality of who God is and what Jesus has done. When we let this reality settle all the way down into our socks, we have a profound hope that anchors us. We face reality boldly and we impact our world radically.

Is there something you need to face? Is there a situation you are avoiding or minimizing because your socks of hope have holes in them or haven’t been put on properly? This is when a mentor is really helpful. Talk with someone you respect who has hope in spite of difficult circumstances. They will give you wisdom and insight that will inspire you. You will need to be in prayer and take the time to really learn what the Bible has to say. God will lead and guide. The result will be a confidence to look at reality and see…hope.





These are socks…Faith

22 10 2014

Coach Wooden was a legendary basketball coach for UCLA in the 1960s and 70s.  He won ten NCAA Championships in twelve years including a streak of seven.  He knew how to win.  Coach Wooden always began his first practice by teaching his team how to wear their socks stressing the importance of protecting their feet.  Getting a blister on your foot makes you ineffective on the court.  Bottom line remembering the basics helps you win the game.

This got me wondering.  What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I think there are three; faith, hope and love.  Today I want to focus on faith.

As Christians we believe God does the work and we respond by faith.  This is foundational to the Gospel.  We believe Jesus died for us and we are saved by God’s grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8).

Living by faith goes back to Abraham.  His faith was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  In other words, Abraham’s righteousness was based on trusting and following God.  Abraham was human.  He did some good things and some bad things.  His relationship with God was not based on his work but on his faith.

Most Christians understand this intellectually.  However, it is hard to do.  Why?  Because living by faith is scary.  Faith leads to action.  The actions are directed by God.  Living by faith means God can lead us anywhere.  If God wants me to go to Africa, I go to Africa.  If God wants me to forgive someone, I forgive that person.  If God asks me to give up something, I give it up.

What does the Bible say about this?  Noah built an Ark.  Abraham left his home.  Jonah went to Nineveh.  Daniel prayed even with the threat of being feed to lions.  Jesus told a rich young man to sell everything.  I could go on but you get the point.

Not living by faith is much easier.  Some become legalistic.  In other words, they come up with the list of rules to keep God in a nice safe box.  Others just reject or ignore the things of God.  They never let themselves slow down long enough to actually hear God’s voice in their life.

However, if we put our socks on correctly and live by faith two incredible things happen.  First, we become less busy.  We serve as God leads and we say no to things that are not a part of God’s plan.  We focus on the right things.  Second, our thankfulness increases.  We become grateful for the work God is doing in our lives and we have peace because we are in step with God.  It is a great place to be.

Are you living by faith?  Can God truly ask anything of you?  The first step is to slow down and really listen.  This means spending time in prayer, reading your bible or talking with a respected mentor.  God will show you areas where you are not in step.  It will be an opportunity to change and truly follow where God is leading.  Take the opportunity to thank him.  The more you see God working in your life the more thankful you will be.  Before you know it you will be living out your faith…by faith





Being Human

14 09 2014

Welcome to the human race!  How do you know you are a human?  Do you say, “I don’t care what other people think” but secretly do?  Do you feel like everyone else in the group “clicks” except you?  Do you have something you are ashamed or embarrassed about?  Do you feel you have to live up to an image instead of just being yourself?

I most likely hit the mark with one of those questions proving you are human.  What a relief!  We can all say “I am screwed up just like everyone else!”

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it (of course with God’s help).

He wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Paul thought he was the worst sinner out there.  That is a very honest assessment.  Each one of us could say the same thing and believe it.  I often say the only reason Paul wrote he was the worst sinner is I wasn’t born yet.  We truly know just how bad we can be.  We are there for every single sin we commit.  We also know our thoughts and intentions.  We know what we are thinking and to be honest we can think about some pretty bad stuff.

Bottom line: Paul was human

His realistic perspective gives us hope.  If he can be redeemed.  If he can have a right relationship with God.  Then, we can be redeemed and have a right relationship with God.  This is critical because one of the most common misperceptions I hear is “I have blown it so bad there is no hope for me.” Paul reminds us there is always hope.

There is another amazing reality in this passage.  Paul does not list a whole bunch of things he has to do.  Instead he points to God’s mercy and Jesus’… patience.

You have to let that sink in.  God’s response to us being human is to give mercy and be patient.

No wonder the very next thing Paul writes is:

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 17)

He had a moment of worship.  I am also humbled by the reality of these verses.  In our culture (the United States) we tend to focus on things we have to do or labels we can give.

Philip Yancey wrote a book called “What’s so Amazing about Grace.”  He shared a story in which a person is challenged to describe the gospel in a sentence.  I have modified the language but basically he said: “We are all screw-ups but God loves us anyway.”

Where are you today?  Have you bought into a lie that you are so screwed up you can not be redeemed?  Paul would disagree.  Do you believe you are redeemed but now are working so hard to maintain your relationship with God you have no joy or peace?  Paul would invite you to accept God’s mercy and be thankful for Jesus’ patience.

I love the picture of Jesus smiling and telling his Dad just how much he loves us as he shakes his head, takes a deep breath and is…patient.





God is Brilliant

15 08 2014

How would you paint a picture of yourself that could be understood across time and not be limited to one culture? What if it was critical for people to know who you are because…well you are God?

You would have to start with an anchor. You created the universe. You are sooo big that you cannot be confined and put into a box. However, you need to set some boundaries and create a shared understanding. So you begin with stories handed down generation to generation until they can be written down. Then, after you accomplished the greatest feat in human history by conquering sin and death through Jesus’ death and resurrection, you close out the written revelation and entrust it to your followers.

You don’t just let your followers fend for themselves. You give them your Spirit to lead and guide them. You also established the Church. The Church is global and has a diversity in understanding who you are to avoid people making you look like them and limiting yourself to one culture and one group of people. You can do this because you have provided an anchor…the Bible. In the midst of the diversity some core themes and understandings come to light. You are good. Jesus is amazing and the importance of his work is validated. Love, hope and grace come to life. Righteousness and justice take their proper place calling us to live for something bigger than ourselves. You make yourself known to each generation. They are able to draw upon your timeless truths. Your followers are able to make an impact in their communities and around the world.

It is an incredible balance. If we leave the boundaries of the Bible we miss the mark. If we try to limit God to just words on a page we also miss the mark.

It is amazing. People a thousand years ago could know and follow God and if Jesus does not return for another thousand years people in the future will also be able to know and follow God.

Let’s make sure we are reading our Bibles with a focus on understanding it. Let’s not do it alone. We need to have conversations. First with God and then with one another to keep us balanced and focused on who God truly is. Then, we will know God and be able to make an impact in our communities and around the world. I have to say God is brilliant.





Thanks Facebook

6 07 2014

There has been a lot of discussion about the study Facebook conducted. They were able to manipulate our moods by managing what we saw in our news feeds. They could cause us to post in either a negative or positive way simply by changing an algorithm.

When we step back, we realize this happens in various ways all the time. Advertisers look for ways to shape our view of a particular product. Magazines airbrush their models to distort our understanding of beauty. Politician try to get us to care about an issue by highlighting a person impacted by a problem rather than just giving us facts and figures.

The reality is we can be manipulated easier than we would like to admit.

Another reality is that content matters. We will tend to feel more aggressive after watching violent content. We will be more sexual after watching sexual content. Are we surprised that we were negative after viewing negative content and positive after viewing positive content?

As Paul was giving his final advice to Timothy, he warned of a struggle that Timothy would face. In 2 Timothy 4:3 he says:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

I think Paul was on to something. He may not have known about Facebook but he did understand we can be manipulated by our environment. If we are not grounded in truth with a healthy understanding of reality, we could find ourselves being led down a road where we only hear what we want to hear and ignore sound doctrine and ultimately truth.

The Bible paints a very realistic picture of the human condition. We are fallen and separated from God. God provided a way to restore our relationship through Jesus. God is truth and grounds us in reality. God helps us stay balanced. The truth helps us turn Facebook’s experiment into a lesson we learn from.

So thank you Facebook. You have reminded us that we need to be aware of the content we are consuming and just like we should have a balanced food diet we should also have a balanced viewing diet. You also reminded us to be aware of how others want to manipulate us. We need to be grounded in the truth. The Bible helps us have a healthy view of ourselves and a proper view of God.

I think I will go read my Bible and check Facebook later. Will you join me?





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





Talk, talk, talk, #talk

16 04 2014

Do you ever feel like everyone has something to say but no one is really listening? We can have a hard time listening especially if we are talking to someone with a different point of view. I am guilty of formulating my response and just waiting for them to catch their breath so I can start talking instead of really listening and trying to understand them. Of course social media does not help. Just as you are scrolling down the news feed or tweets you get the little icon that tells you there are new stories and new tweets.

We keep talking but are we slowing down to listen? This weekend we will celebrate Easter. This is the central story of the Christian message. There will be lots of tweets and posts. There will be stories on the news and shows that will put their spin on the story of Jesus. Some of us will go to church and participate in special worship services. We will eat lots of chocolate (hopefully) and then Monday will come and we will be back to our normal routine. In all the busyness what will we hear?

In Matthew 13:15 Jesus quotes the Prophet Isaiah right before he explains a parable he told in verses 3-9. He says, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (NIV)

Easter is the most incredible event in human history. We believe God came and walked with us. In order to have a right relationship with us, God took our punishment upon himself. He died for us demonstrating how much he loved us. He rose from the dead demonstrating his power over sin and death. He did all the work and asks for us to put our faith in him.

It is a simple but profound message.

My prayer is that we will take time to truly listen to the story of Easter. We may have to be honest about areas of our heart that have become calloused. Do we have areas of our lives where we have stopped listening to God? Have we closed our eyes to things that we need to look at? As we soften our hearts, open our ears and eyes we will receive the healing that comes from the power of who Jesus is and what he did.

If you need a starting point read the parable Jesus shares in Matthew 13:3-9. He explains it in verses 18-23. Pray and ask God to reveal the condition of your heart. I have a chapter dedicated to this in the Discipleship Curriculum I have on my Discipleship/Mentoring page.

This devotional is as much for me as it is for you. We all need to be mindful and slow down to listen. I hope you have a great Easter and we are refreshed and healed as we listen. He is Risen!








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