Monthly Archives: June 2015

Faith works


“Do you love me?” she asked. He replied, “I told you I did when I married you! And if that ever changes, I’ll let you know.”


We’d be astonished to hear such a conversation! Why? Because real love doesn’t express itself once. It keeps on loving and continually expresses itself in ever deeper ways. It may be bold and demonstrative or it may be gentle and quiet, but it is never passive. Real love is always active.


That is how faith should be also. Real faith is active.

Faith works…always.


That was evident in the life of Philemon. Paul says, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers because I hear about your faith…and your love.” (Philemon vs 4)  Philemon lived a “legacy life” that positively impacted others. There was something genuine and famous about the way he lived. Love and faith were the foundation upon which his reputation was built. We don’t know if he was a prominent leader or businessman. We don’t know if he had a great memory for sports trivia or if he was skilled with his hands. We don’t know if his lawn was always pristine and well-kept, whether he drove the latest model of mule and cart, or if he had a large account at The First Bank of Jordan. But we know he was known for his faith and love. Like a ripple that continued spread across the water, his faith touched and refreshed the hearts of others in his path. (V 7) Isn’t that the legacy you desire most?


We are called to be active in sharing our faith. It is our path to gaining real understanding of what it means to be Christian. Sharing real faith refreshes the hearts of others. And it’s a needed reminder to us of what we believe, to whom we belong, and what our purpose is this very day.


“Faith works” means it perseveres, it carries on, it doesn’t give up. Real faith is actively applied to the efforts and struggles of our day. We approach problems and trials, suffering and woes, doubts and fears, all through the working of our faith.


“Faith works” also means it solves problems, it succeeds, it wins, it is functional. When faith is placed in a Mighty God, faith becomes mighty.


And faith brings understanding. In fact, that was Paul’s prayer for his friend, “that you may be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (V 6) And the understanding of all we have in Christ leads us to love others as he loves them.


Real faith works and is active. It impacts others when it is expressed in love. In fact, faith expressing itself in love is the only thing that ultimately matters. (Galatians 5:6) Real faith isn’t obnoxious or hurtful. It doesn’t judge. (That is God’s job.) But it isn’t kept to itself. Real faith is active and loving.


How would you describe your faith? How would others describe it? Is it sedentary like the one who professed their love for another and decided to marry, but never acted on that love? Or is it a faith that is actively played out throughout the course of every day? Do you keep your faith to yourself in a way that others would be surprised to learn that you are a Christian? Or is it evident to all because your faith works?


Live a legacy life marked by an active faith that works. Be active in sharing your faith in a winsome and genuine way so that you gain a full understanding of all you have in Jesus.


Open doors


There are three types of doors that we encounter in life:

  • Some are wide open.
  • Some are closed shut.
  • Some are slightly ajar.


We talk about “open doors” as being opportunities that we should pursue. We even pray for God to “open a door” so we can pursue some endeavor that seems advantageous to us, for example to buy a certain house or get a desired promotion or something else we desire.


Some of the wide open doors lead us down the good path God intends. But just because a door is open doesn’t mean it’s his design for us to go through it. Some wide open doors lead us down a path of woe. Some will say, “If you feel at peace, go through the open door.” But our hearts deceive us and we’re best advised to seek wisdom from God’s Word, his Holy Spirit, and mature believers before making a decision to proceed.


Sometimes we keep knocking and pushing at a shut door, thinking it must be his will to open it for us. Try as you might to open it, it will not budge until God opens it. So many things seem right in our eyes, we can’t imagine why God would allow a door to remain shut. The ones that are shut tightly are not meant to be opened, at least not at this time, and perhaps never. He keeps it shut for our protection and to advance his perfect will.


Some doors are not completely shut; instead they stand slightly ajar. And if we apply enough of our own effort we can force them open, even if it isn’t God’s timing or will. He allows us – if we insist in having our way – to open doors that we shouldn’t. We might choose a job that isn’t intended for us, a house that is really too expensive, a purchase that robs us of the opportunity to use our money for something more valuable, or a relationship that leads to disaster. If you’ve ever succeeded in opening these doors, you know they are best left alone.


There is one door that may be shut or slightly ajar that we should always pray to be opened. In fact, if someone asks how they could pray for you, this might be a good response:


“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.” Colossians 4:3-4


As we review our to-do list for the day, our very best prayer may be this one for ourselves, that God would intentionally open doors for us to share his message. It might be an open door to share the gospel. Or it might be an open door to build or strengthen a relationship bridge that could later bear the weight of God’s message. Or it may be an open door to simply express God’s gracious love in a practical way – today.


“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Verses 5-6)


I wonder what doors God intends to reveal to each of us this very day. Look for them. Pray for him to open the ones that advance his message.


Lessons from the raspberry patch


Happy 40th birthday to our beloved daughter, Jenny! She is a delight to us and to many. We always know her birthday is near because the raspberries are ready for harvest. We’ve been berry pickers for years. The children would help us (or help themselves) and now the grandchildren have “picked” up the tradition of harvesting berries. It’s often occurred to me in the middle of the harvest that the raspberry patch is a lot like life:


1. You need to face the heat to get the fruit.
Most folk I know like to “pick” their berries from the air conditioned store. But raspberries ripen in hot and humid weather. If you want the ones that God provided for free, you have to bear the heat. Life offers much enjoyable “fruit” that is worth the effort of bearing the “heat” of difficult situations. Productive resolution of long- standing conflict comes to mind. Maybe you can think of some “heated” situations you’ve been avoiding too long.


2. You need to go where it’s buggy.
Mosquitoes, daddy long legs, and other creepy crawlies like the berry patch and you have to work alongside them to bring in the harvest. Relationships too are frequented by things that bug us. The best of relationships are those that have learned to deal with them fearlessly, openly, and honestly. (Believe me, I am quite honest with the mosquitoes!)


3. You need to focus on the goal.
The goal is harvesting the fruit. We get distracted by so many things in the pursuit of life that we forget our real goals. Jesus gave us just one final goal: bring in the harvest. What are you focused on these days?


4. Be willing to bear the scars.
Wild raspberry plants are covered with prickly thorns. Inevitably, there will be some scratches and scars. We’d like to avoid the scars of life but our most productive efforts are in thorny situations where we’re bound to be marked.


5. Maintain firm footing.
Wild raspberries often grow in uneven ground. If you misstep and go tumbling, you’ll end up tangled in thorns and lose your goods. God’s Word reminds us often that the key to enduring the tough parts is to stand firm, trusting on his whole Word, not just the comfy parts.


6. Bend low.
Many of the best berries are hidden from view under the branches. To find them you have to stoop down and look from a different angle. Often in life we also have to be willing to humble ourselves and look at things – and people – from a different point of view. God promises he will lift up those who humble themselves.


7. Reach for the goal.
Most the berries aren’t within easy grasp and it takes a long reach through the thorns to pick the good ones. It’s tempting to take the easy paths in life, to do what pleases us and brings us comfort. But we miss so many harvest opportunities when we play it safe on the sidelines of life’s patch.


8. Not all the good berries are big and plump.
Berries come in all sizes. Even the smaller ones add tasty juice to the jam. People come in all varieties too. Don’t miss the opportunity to harvest a relationship with ones you might easily dismiss.


9. Savor the fruit.
We enjoy fresh raspberries by themselves, in jam, and over ice cream. We trust them because we picked them ourselves. But much of our produce goes to others, because just like life, it’s more enjoyable when the harvest is shared.


It’s not a deep theological discussion but I hope you find the lessons of God in the simple things in your life and that the harvest of your efforts is full of goodness.


Playing both sides?


Imagine being selected to be in the starting line up of a major league sports team but then showing up on game day wearing the OTHER team’s uniform! Or imagine being a member of a choir but raising a megaphone to your mouth and singing something different from the rest of the group. Ridiculous, right? But how much more outrageous is it to become a Christian and then act just like the rest of the world?


That’s a vital point Paul makes in Colossians 3. Since we have been raised in Christ (joined his “team”) we should set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. Put to death whatever belongs to the earthly nature. Not only things like sexual immorality but also a greedy heart (“idolatry”) that always wants more of “something just for me.” Also anger, unwholesome talk, and lying of all sorts.


Research by the Barna Group consistently shows that American Christians adopt lifestyles that are virtually the same as nonChristians, the same values, and the same fears and insecurities. We fall asleep in the American Dream when we’re called to stay awake and vigilant. We gorge ourselves when others go hungry and don’t even blink an eye of concern. If we’re honest with ourselves, you and I likely fall in that group to some degree. It’s like we signed up for one team but our ambitions and desires are aligned with the opponent team!


Our daily challenge is to put off the old self and put on the new self. Change uniforms. Take on a new purpose. Being renewed in the image of our creator requires change, not living like everyone else, but set aside for God. There’s this deception that if we look like the world then others will be more attracted to Jesus. The likely reality is the more we look like the world, the less likely others will see him at all.


We belong to God, not the world. We can’t belong to both. It’s not enough to pray the team prayer at the beginning of the day and then spend the rest of the day pursuing the goals of the other side. If we’re going to call ourselves Christian, we need to wear our uniform all day long, pressing forward toward our goal of bearing the image of Christ, clothed with his compassion, kindness, humility, and gentleness toward one another; bearing with each other, forgiving, and responding to needs not just with prayer but in practical expressions of love; led by a peace that rules our hearts; and thankful.


“Christ is all and is in all.” Let us vow to be all in too.


What we need most


“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”

Or so go the lyrics of Dionne Warwick’s famous oldie.


Who would argue that we need more love in a world filled with hatred, greed, malice, and selfishness? Indeed, Jesus summed up the whole teaching of the bible in just two “love commands”: Love God fully and love others as he loved you.


On the one hand it seems simple enough. Be loving in what you do. But it’s not so easy in application is it? It took me decades to realize you can’t make someone love you in the way you want to be loved. Someone confided in me that they’ve spent decades learning how to love someone.


We need more than love. We need understanding of how to love. We need understanding to know how to love and respect each other and to live with each other in peace and in an understanding way. We need understanding on how to love our children. A child says to their parent, “If you love me you will give me what I want.” The parent responds, “BECAUSE I love you so much, the answer is No.” (Have you ever considered that God answers us with the same parental love?)


We need understanding to know God’s will and how to avoid being fooled and taken captive by smooth-talkers and vain philosophies. In the second chapter of Colossians, Paul writes to people he loves saying,

“I want you to know how much I am struggling for you… and for all who have not met me. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, SO THAT they may have the full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you through fine-sounding arguments.” (Colossians 2:1-4)


Understanding, wisdom, knowledge…the world offers it’s version of these. Have you ever wondered how much these versions of “truth” have influenced your thoughts and ambitions? Complete understanding is only revealed by God. Jesus, who bears the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:3), bears his full authority and power and wisdom in the lives of those fully devoted to him. Want wisdom? Turn to him. We can seek understanding and power in legalistic rules and rituals but they aren’t found there. We can search the philosophies of great thinkers but their wisdom is limited at best and powerless to transform us to live as we were meant to be. Smooth-sounding arguments, political promises, and advertisements may tickle our ears, but only God reveals to us the treasures of his wisdom.


Imagine a world needing not just love, but the understanding of God’s will and purpose. Not a world with more rules of “do’s and don’ts” – they will never free us from our slavery to selfish and destructive indulgences. What we need is an understanding of God’s wisdom in our lives. And he offers it for free to anyone who will ask him, “Lord help me to understand more of who you are, your will, and your purpose. Let me see myself and others through your eyes. Grant me wisdom, strength, and faith to love you and live with others in an understanding way.”




A more powerful way to pray


What do you pray when you pray for others?


Everywhere you turn people are hurting. Wherever you look people need the Lord. We all need the touch of his grace and blessing in our life. We bring specific requests to him just as he invites us: for healing, for reconciliation, and for meeting us in a certain need. And we’re assured that God hears our specific prayers and answers them according to his magnificent will and nature, even when it remains a mystery to us.


But there’s even more power in a different prayer. Consider Paul’s example in Colossians 1. He really loves the people to whom he is writing this letter. So much so, that he NEVER stops praying for them! And this is what he prays for them, that they would:


  • Know God’s will
  • Be filled with his wisdom and understanding
  • Live a life worthy of the Lord
  • Bear fruit through good works
  • Grow in the knowledge of God
  • Be strengthened by his power
  • Endure trials with patience and joyful thanks


Why does Paul pray this way and why should we pray this way for ourselves, our friends and loved ones…even our enemies? Because God is the one who rescued us from darkness. Because he is the one who holds all things together, even when to us it appears that life is spinning out of control. Because he has reconciled us, through his Son Jesus, who lives in the lives of those who are fully devoted to him. Because Christ in us is our hope of glory. Because God is enough! All this is possible because of the penetrating work of the gospel to transform lives that are receptive to him.


Our best prayers for others extend beyond the request to fulfill a specific need. Our best prayers are for others to be so filled with God’s truth and grace that they overflow with victory in the face of difficulty, joy in the presence of sorrow, and confidence in the face of fear.


Don’t hesitate to pray for specific needs when praying for yourself and others. But also pray a potentially much more powerful prayer… That we would be filled with knowing God’s will, his wisdom, and understanding so that we can live faithful lives worthy of him, by the power of his Spirit.


That’s my prayer for myself and that’s my prayer for each of you.





Rejoice … Always?


We love to be happy. We take special joy in happy celebrations. But we’re not always happy are we? There’s a lot of stuff in life that steals our joy. We don’t rejoice in disappointment. We don’t rejoice in cancer. We don’t rejoice in being mistreated or ignored by others. We don’t rejoice in hardships or injustice. But Paul says we can – and should – rejoice always… when we rejoice in the Lord. (Philippians 4:1)


Why can we rejoice in the Lord always? Because he is the ultimate authority over the suffering and difficulties we face. He is the one who:

  • Makes us able to be gentle with others
  • Answers our prayer with a peace that transcends all understanding
  • Renews our mind with thoughts that are true, pure, and praiseworthy
  • Teaches us the secret of being content in all circumstances
  • Gives us sustaining strength
  • Meets all our needs


We can rejoice in the Lord in the face of all trouble because he is constantly faithful, because his plan is infinitely wiser than ours, and because he offers hope we need and can’t find anywhere else. The world brings pain and disease but we can rejoice in the Lord because he restores our soul. The world is filled with turmoil and anxiety, but we can rejoice in the Lord because he gives us peace that transcends all understanding. The world is full of uncertainty but we can rejoice in the Lord because his faithfulness is constant.    We can rejoice in the Lord because he is strong when we are weak, because he loves us when we are most unlovable, because he calls us when we aren’t even looking for him, and because he never abandons us even when we turn our back on him. We can rejoice in the Lord because the headlines at the end of all time read, “God Wins!” and those found rejoicing in him win with him.



If you have nothing else except Jesus you may find that Jesus is all you need. I cannot imagine more or settle for less. Paul is not talking about putting on a plastic smile and pretending to be happy. He’s speaking from the personal experience of excruciating suffering and still finding the contented joy in rejoicing in the Lord…always.


Have you learned the secret of rejoicing in the Lord even in the toughest of times? Maybe today is the day to turn to him and ask him to reveal more of himself to you – more of his power, more of his love, more of his joy, more of him in your life.



Where is your confidence?


We put our confidence in a lot of things, don’t we? Even if you feel mostly insecure, there is something in which you place your confidence. It might be your intellect or work skills or maybe a hobby. Some are confident in speaking in public. Some derive confidence from their heritage. We place confidence in so many external circumstances: our abilities, our health, our home, our government, our strength, our wealth, our heritage… the list goes on. When things seem secure we don’t hesitate to “lean” on them.


I imagine Job felt confident in his success. He had family, property, livestock, wealth, and even so-called friends. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, things did go desperately wrong. He quickly realized all his “gains” were like a flower that blooms for a day and then withers, like grass that dries up in the sun. All was lost except one thing – his faith in God. Whatever confidence he had in his success paled in comparison to the confidence he placed in his God. And in the end, that was all that mattered.


Paul discovered the same liberating truth:
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11


I wonder if you’ve discovered what it means to consider everything loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus. Losing your job, your finances, your friends, your house, even your health…all these are formidable losses and we grieve them. But what are they to you compared to knowing Jesus?


Not just knowing about him. Not even in “just” knowing him as your Savior. But knowing and putting your full confidence in him alone, as the Lord and master of your life, the one you trust when everything else has gone wrong. Our troubles may define our circumstances, but they don’t have to define who you are.  It depends on where you place your confidence. Have you come to him in the confidence that his grace is indeed sufficient? Is your confidence in him evidenced by how you handle today’s struggles? I wonder if you’ve discovered the secret of resurrection power that frees you to live life fully even in the midst of suffering – to be like him not only in his glory but in his death.


We find confidence when we remember that our real citizenship is not here, but in heaven, and when we look at the concerns of this life through heavenly eyes. We find confidence when we remember that our life purpose is to live a life worthy of the Lord; not worthy because of our good deeds, but made worthy by his resurrection power in us.


Where do you put your full confidence?


Wedding day hopes


My nephew is getting married today. I hope the very best for him and his bride.


I hope they celebrate this special day for all the joy it offers. And may whatever planning and effort went into this one great day pale in comparison to the happy building of a great lifetime together.


I hope they have fun(!), that they laugh often, and enjoy the simple things that remind them every-single-day how special life is – together.


I hope they experience the depth of love that grows and abounds more and more, and in ever deeper ways; the love that drinks deeply from the well of cherishing, honoring, forgiving, and submitting to each other before our great God who first loved us; the love that keeps on loving when it doesn’t feel like being loving; the love that perseveres against all competing desires and abides when all else fades away.


I hope they learn quickly that marriage is not so much the efficient allocation of “yours” and “mine” as it is the creation and nurturing of a new being called “Us.” “Us” is not a 50/50 negotiation; it’s both giving 100% or more…ALL the time. “Us” is a fragile creation that needs constant protection all its life yet is as powerful as it is fragile. I hope they learn the power of “Us” is greater than the sum of “you and me.”


I hope they discover the exceeding greatness of finding “us” is more than just the two of them; that where “us” is powerful, “God in us” is invincible; and that where “the two of us” bond with others in mutual support and encouragement, the greater “us” can transcend the world.


I hope they find riches even in poverty, humility in success, persistence in challenge, guiding and sustaining faith in all difficulty, and secure hope in uncertain and threatening times.


I hope they create and nurture a great life of love and devotion together… one that never loses hope, the secure anchor for our love,


…the real hope we all need.


Finding what you’re not looking for


I like the story of the man who went into a barbershop for a haircut and a shave. As the barber worked, he and the barber talked about a number of things, eventually coming to the subject of God. “I don’t believe God exists,” said the barber. The surprised customer asked, “Why?” The barber replied, “If you just go out into the street you’ll see people who are sick, abused children, and suffering everywhere. If God existed, there wouldn’t be such a mess. I can’t imagine a God who would allow such things!” The customer didn’t reply but simply left the shop when his haircut was finished. A few moments later, he returned to the shop and told the barber, “I don’t believe that barbers exist.” The astounded barber asked, “How can you say that? I’m a barber and I just cut your hair!” But the customer insisted, “No, if there were barbers there wouldn’t be people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards.” The barber replied, “But barbers do exist. Those people just didn’t come to see me.” The customer smiled and concluded, “Exactly! God exists too! Because people do not look to God for help is why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”


It’s true, isn’t it? Sometimes we don’t find God in our day because we aren’t looking for him. We don’t come to him. But (thank God) God seeks us even when we’re not looking for him. He draws us to himself even when when we’re far away. “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.'” Isaiah 65:1


Discover how real God is today. Seek him and you will find him when you seek him with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)