Thursday, December 18, 2008

Traveling to the Crib

Based on Matthew 2:1-18

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Judea and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”…After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.—Matthew 2:1, 2, 9-12

I’m intrigued by two simple sentences in Matthew 2

“We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (v.2)

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (v. 11)

The Magi seem to live with a singular focus in life. They want to worship. They orient their lives around their desire and, as a result, they receive the fulfillment of their desire: they find the one they were seeking and they worship him.

Solomon, widely known for his wisdom, tells us that God “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We were created for worship, for the eternal, for something greater than ourselves.

The wise men recognized signs of the eternal, of the divine, in the Jewish prophecies and writings they found. They took the information they had and followed it until it led them to the One to which the prophecies pointed.

The desire for the eternal was so pressing that they went out of their comfort zone to a totally new land. They persevered in their quest—traveling for several years, asking questions when they needed help, following the light that they had until it led them to their destination.

When the star stopped, when it shone its light steadily at their destination, they accepted God’s answer to their quest, as unlikely as it might have seemed. After all, the king of the Jews housed in a common home, unknown to neighbors or political or religious leaders? How likely must that have seemed? Yet they accepted him as the One they had been seeking, the king of the Jews.

The Magi experienced joy as their heart’s desire was fulfilled in discovering God’s chosen One.

They offered the Christ child their gifts and treasure. They weren’t just seeking knowledge; they were intent on worship, on offering their lives to the object of their worship. They weren’t casual sightseers, coming to inspect or gawk at what they saw. They were pilgrims, devoted to seeking God in response to His guidance and leading.

As the Magi left, they received guidance from God that protected them and sent them back along a different route. On the way to Judea, they had a story of being on the quest to discover God’s chosen One, to search out the truth, of seeking the eternal, planting seeds for others to follow.

On the way home, they had a story of finding the fulfillment of the prophecies, of joy, of discovering eternal truth in a child born to a virgin, of God’s intimate guidance and protection, planting new seeds in new lives as they shared their story.

What grabs your attention in the Magi’s story?

What direction are you traveling? Are you seeking spiritual truth?

What are you willing to do to find spiritual truth?

Who do you go to for help when you need spiritual direction?

Have you accepted Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies?

Having found Him, are you satisfied with God’s answer to the longing for the eternal in your heart? Or are you continuing to dabble in other philosophies and religions?

What gifts are you giving Him as an act of worship? What level of devotion do your gifts reflect?

How is worshiping the Christ child changing you?

What stories are you telling others as you journey? How are you pointing them to Jesus?

To view the worship celebration related to this study, go to

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missing the Crib

Based on Matthew 2:1-18

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born….Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared….When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.—Matthew 2:3, 4, 7, 16

Have you ever missed the crib? I’m not using missed as in feeling sentimental, experiencing a sense of longing or loss, about the crib. And not missed as in never meeting the infant God/man who was placed in the manger at birth, either, although that may be something for you to consider.

I’m talking about missed as in ignoring the crib, specifically the Holy One who was laid in the manger, overlooking the implications of the crib in living out a life of faith in Jesus. I think it’s easy to knock Herod when we begin thinking about missing the crib, but I wonder if we understand how easily we miss the crib as Christ-followers.

Consider that Jesus’ birth meant that God was intersecting human history in a new and unique way. No longer could it be claimed that God was far removed from His people. In Jesus, God came to be known as Immanuel, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus shared in our humanity, that we are of the same family, and that Jesus was made like us in every way, to the point of suffering when He was tempted, so that He understands our suffering and is able to help us when we are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18) In other words, Jesus "gets it" when we struggle to live the life Scripture talks about, and He is able to help us live by the Spirit's power.

So, here are some of the questions that I’ve been wrestling with

What are the circumstances in my life in which I am being tempted to live as if Jesus had never come to that manger crib? Where I don’t really give a rip about the babe in the manger, where I prefer to give in to the temptation to live my life as it the world revolves around me? Succumbing to “feel good” philosophies? To emotions like hopelessness, despair or anger?

Where am I tempted to live like Herod, misusing people to feed my own ego, instead of serving them? Taking out my emotions on them? Using them instead of caring for them?

Where am I misleading others, pretending to seek out spiritual truth, but only so that I can twist it for my own purposes? So that I can boastfully throw around Scriptural truth like the Pharisees without every humbling myself to the God who gave that truth?

Where am I mistreating others, attacking them with abusive or slanderous languageif not outright killing them by the swordin order to protect myself or build my own case, instead of seeing others through His eyes and speaking words that build them up?

For me, these have been hard questions this Christmas season, not just theoretical, abstract questions.

Do I really believe that Jesus came to the manger to usher in God’s kingdom, God’s rulership over all creation?

If so, then I have a responsibility to live my life in a way that reflects His presence within me. Maybe it means actually seeking to live so that it is evident that the Holy Spirit is at work within me, shaping me, transforming me into the image of Christ. Simple things like being characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and oh, let’s not forget, self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23)

Do I really believe the angel’s announcement of “on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests”?

If so, then I have a responsibility to work for reconciliation in the broken relationships in my life. (Matthew 5:9)

Do I really believe that Jesus gives me the power to live differently and that my life will reveal what I really hold dear, what I believe?

If so, then I have to wrestle with my spiritual condition this Christmas as it is revealed not just in the words I say, but in the things I do. (Matthew 12:33-35)

Like us, Herod was surrounded by every opportunity to find out about Jesus. He ruled in Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith, surrounded by religious leaders and faithful people. But Herod wasn’t interested in the spiritual things.

Like us, Herod thought he had more important things to think about—he was caught up in the pull of power and position and making a name for himself. As far as he was concerned, other people existed only to serve him.

God’s plan broke through into Herod’s life through the Magi’s arrival. All of a sudden, Herod was aware that his ordered world was not secure.

In what way is God using unexpected circumstances in your life to get your attention? What is your response revealing about your faith?

How do you respond to Jesus’ arrival? Does His presence in the crib reshape your life, your relationships, your future? What difference does He want to make in your life and in the lives of those around you?

Or have you been missing the crib?

To view the worship celebration Bible study related to this article, go to

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Just Sit Right Back and You'll Hear a Tale

Based on Luke 2:14

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”

Okay, take a moment and finish humming the theme song from Gilligan’s Island before we get started. Funny, isn’t it, how familiar that song is for those of us who watched the TV series?

Does the Christmas story fall into the same category for you, so familiar that it brings a smile to your face and you walk around humming it, even though you may have forgotten the words? Have you heard it so many times that the words of Luke 2 seem like a good friendfamiliar, expected, welcome, maybe even a little too familiar?

Maybe you even start to zone out when you hear the beginning of the story, just listening for your favorite part and perking up again when you know the end is coming.

Tale. The word itself conjures up thoughts of fairy tales, make believe, fantasy, children’s stories. When stories, even true stories, become overly familiar, we tend to go on auto-pilot in reading or hearing them. This story, this tale, over 2000 years old, is no fairy tale. It is amazing, supernatural, unexpected, yet predicted and documented in history.

Maybe we’ve just heard the story too many times. Could it be that we’ve allowed the familiar words to lull us to sleep so that we miss the power and significance of the tale of Jesus’ birth?

Take a moment to talk to God, asking Him to open your eyes and ears to the story of Jesus’ birth, then read through the following excerpt from Luke 2—

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

What stands out to you as read the story about Jesus’ birth?

The simplicity of the first Christmas belied the wonder of what God was doing at that moment in history. Bethlehem was filled with the hustle and bustle of crowds, of frantic, travel-weary, crowds finding a place to spend the night. In the midst of it all, a baby was born, new life came into the world. In that everyday occurrence, the sacred intersected the ordinary.


Did you catch it? The wonder? The awe? The mystery? The sacred? The divine moment?

At that moment, angels worshiped

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

They proclaimed peace to frantic, harried, stressed, burdened men and women

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

They affirmed God’s love and care for us

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Try reading this simple phrase aloud, slowly, repeating it and each time, emphasizing a different word

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

As you celebrate Christmas this year, this day, all year through, don’t miss the sacred, the divine, the wonder, the mystery. Don’t let the frantic nature of life, the everyday stresses, the hustle and bustle of living in the 21st century mar your ability to glimpse the sacred reality that God has become one of us, that His glory is revealed, that He has blessed us with peace, that He loves us, He really loves us.

Not just the generic “us” that is humankind, but the “us” that is you, and me, and the others all around youin your house, at your school, in your workplace, in the stores, and on the streets.

As you walk through your days, allow the angels’ message to permeate your life and soul. Whisperto yourself and to a listening world

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

You’ve memorized it by now, and you’ve prayed it as you’ve meditated on the angels’ words. Let it become your prayer as you move through your days.

Like the angels, take time to respond to God in worship this Christmas. Tell the tale to those around you. Proclaim the good news that, in Jesus, God is for usand live it out!

Let your life tell a tale of worship, peace, and love this Christmas.

Now that’s a tale worth listening to!

Which part of the angels' message do you need to hear this Christmas? Wonder and worship? Peace? Love?

Which part do those around you need to hear, not even necessarily in your words, but in the way you live and celebrate Christmas?

What will you do to make the angels' message part of how you prepare for and celebrate Christmas?

How will your life proclaim the wonder, peace and love of Christmas to those around you?

To view the worship celebration related to this article, click

Monday, November 24, 2008

Planting a Thanks-Living Tree

Based on Psalm 71

Quick, name 10 things you are thankful for—


Was it easy? Difficult? Was ten a stretch? Or can you keep on going?

The problem with celebrating Thanksgiving one day a year is that the fourth Thursday of November catches us at a different place in life each year. Some years things are going great, some years life has taken a nasty turn. That’s life.

It’s easy to praise God, to give thanks, to have a thankful heart, when things are going well. But what about when things aren’t going well? How easy is it for you to give thanks when things don’t look good?

Jesus gave thanks to God even when there wasn’t much to give thanks for—a very small amount of food to feed a very large amount of people—

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.—Matthew 14:19

Where do you feel like you don’t have very much to be thankful for? What is the “little bit” that you can thank God for?

A danger of ignoring God’s basic gifts and not thanking Him is that this kind of lifestyle results in clouded, futile thinking and causes people to become fools—

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…
—Romans 1:20-22

Where have you stopped giving God credit for your life and the gifts He has given you? How has that affected your thinking and attitude?

Thanking God even in the midst of anxiety allows God’s peace to transform our perspective—

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:4-7

What difference do you think focusing on thanksgiving when you are anxious could make in your life?

What are you anxious about? What do you want God to do about these things? What can—and will—you thank Him for in this situation?

The Next Step is easy—begin a practice of thanking God as a way of life. Use the Scriptures above and the categories Jeff suggested in the worship celebration to guide you.

Each day, thank God for—
Who you are
What He has done for you
What He is doing for you moment-by-moment

As you read Scripture—
• Look for descriptions of God’s character and thank Him for who He is. Look for His promises and thank Him that His promises are true and dependable.
• Look for descriptions of His power and thank Him that His power is more than enough to meet your needs.
• Look for instances of His protection and care for His people and thank Him that He protects, sustains, and cares for you in ways of which you may be unaware.
• Thank Him that all that He is, He is for you.

Allow this habit of thanksgiving to transform your life into thanks-living, 24/7/365.

Why not start now by continuing that list you started earlier?

To view the Worship Celebration related to this study, click

Saturday, November 22, 2008

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape”

Based on John 21:15-21

“If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.”Proverbs…oops!

Oh yeah, this isn’t a scripture reference, it’s one of those pithy sayings that you know is true the moment you hear it, whether you’ve ever chased a rabbit or not. Ask Elmer Fudd and he’ll tell you that chasing one rabbit is enough to keep you busy for a lifetime.

(Permit me to start with a personal confession, if you will. I’ve owned a rabbit, two of them, actually, just not at the same time. I know that chasing one rabbit alone is a challenge, they’re quick and they turn on a dime. And I’ve actually chased multiple rabbits at once, given that once upon a time I worked as an attendant for an Easter promotion called Bunnyland. I’m guessing you can figure that one out.)

John 21:15-21 isn’t about rabbits. The passage recounts Jesus’ conversation with Peter after the cross and Jesus’ resurrection. Take a listen—

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?”

"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”

He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."

Jesus is very specific with Peter. Loving Jesus is an all-consuming activity that shapes a person’s whole life.

There is no looking for success (although there were successes in Peter’s life). There is no looking around at other people to compare your life with theirs. There is no room for self-promotion.

There is only loving Jesus so much that your life begins to be shaped by the things that are central to Him—loving God and serving others on the Father’s behalf.

How has your love for Jesus reshaped your focus in life?

From the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 through His final talks with the disciples before the cross, Jesus speaks of living life with the single focus of loving God and serving others. (See Matthew 6:19-24; 31.)

In Matthew 22, Jesus inseparably links loving God and loving others.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Matthew 22:36-40

After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus gives them a new command

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."John 13:34, 35

Jesus’ words cut across our very human and self-centered natures. He asks us to take all the energy we spend on our own lives, focusing on our personal needs and wants, and aim it upward to God and outward to others, as He did.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”—Mark 10:45

New Testament writers continue this theme

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love….You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.—Galatians 5:13

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.—1 John 3:18

Where is your faith and love for God spilling over into action so that others actually experience God’s love through you?

Serving others took Jesus into the messy reality of people’s lives. Serving others took His first followers out of their comfort zones. Servants don’t get to chose the who, what, when, and where of serving.

While serving others on Jesus’ behalf is a noble cause, it is often less than glamorous. Even Jesus’ most noble and significant moment of serving us on the cross was filled with agony, sweat, pain and tears.

Jesus’ servants serve as He did, where God sends them, as He needs us to serve.

“Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.”
John 12:26

How does your love for God enable you to keep serving when the going gets tough?

Keep your focus on the single focus that Jesus calls us toloving God and loving others as an expression of our love for God. Allow Him to pour His love into you so that you can draw from the inexhaustible wells of His love.

People are difficult to love. Jesus knows that. You aren’t limited to loving and serving others out of your own supply of self-centered love. As you allow God’s love to permeate your life, it will begin to reshape you, to saturate you, and to overflow from you into the lives of those closest to you.

How are you deepening your love relationship with God, to allow His love to permeate your life, so that He can love others through you?

Who do you need God’s Spirit to empower you to love? What would that look like?

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.—Ephesians 3:17-19

Jesus is askingDo you love me?

Who are you serving and loving in Jesus’ name?

To see the worship celebration linked to this Bible study, go to

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Half Time Talk

Based on Acts 1

What’s your favorite halftime speech? Was it one you heard as a player on a sports team? Maybe a scene from a sports movie comes to mind.

Halftime talks come right in the middle of the game. Whether your team is up or down, you’ve been struggling to achieve a goal, to win, and there’s more to come. You aren’t done yet, this is just a brief break in the action to help you catch your breath and regroup before heading into the next phase of the game.

Acts 1 is that halftime place between Jesus’ victory on the cross and the viral spread of His message through the followers He commissions to go back onto the field. They’ve experienced tremendous things as they walked with Jesusmiracles that defy human explanation; teaching that amazes, astounds, and confounds human logic; and love and forgiveness that creates an intimacy they’ve never known before.

After Jesus’ amazing and seemingly unbelievable resurrection from the dead, they’ve spent 40 days in His presence. It’s been a time unlike any other they’ve ever experienced. As Jesus points them to the future, He promises them power from on high, supernatural power, the ability to do even more than He has done.

Now comes the bombshellHe’s leaving. He won’t be with them in person as they move out of the locker room and back onto the field. Initially, they misunderstand.

“So, is it time, then? Are you calling the game? Is it time for the post-game party?”

No, that’s not the plan. The game will continue. With the score unchangeably in their favor, they need to go out and play, giving it all they’ve got, confident that they will prevail.

Where are you in the game of life, in the struggle to live out your faith in God in the midst of your personal circumstances?

Are you sitting on the bench, waiting to get in the game? Maybe you’re dirty and bruised, limping a bit. Maybe you’ve had some great plays and you can’t wait for more. Maybe you’re tired, even discouraged.

Halftime is a time to pull aside and hear what the coach has to say. He’s committed to you, he knows your strength and ability, and he has a game plan. He wants to motivate you for what’s to come, to get you re-energized so you can give it all you’ve got until the very last second of the game.

Discouragement always steals hope, energy, focus, and courage. Discouragement is never from God, it is a tool used by the enemy of our souls to cause us to doubt God’s love and ability to work in and through us.

Jesus had times of discouragement and fatigue that caused Him to turn to the Father for the encouragement He needed to keep going. Because He received encouragement from God, He was able to pass on that same encouragement to His disciples.

What tends to discourage you?

I’ve always enjoyed the fact that the word courage is at the heart of the word encouragement. When I am encouraged, I find the hope and resolve to move forward, to commit myself anew, and to see the possible steps I can take to move ahead as I envision a future characterized by life and hope.

How does encouragement affect your ability to live life?

How does God encourage you when you’re discouraged?

Where do you need encouragement right now and how do these Scripture passages encourage you to get back in the game?

John 14:16, 17

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Romans 1:11, 12

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong—that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith.

Romans 8:26, 27

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.

Romans 8:34

Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Romans 12:6-8

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

Romans 15:4-6

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Philippians 2:1-4

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

If you’re in need of a halftime talk, I hope you’ve found words of encouragement here, words that reinvigorate you and give you the courage you need to get back in the game.

One final word of encouragement

Great halftime speeches are meant to be remembered and shared. Ask God to send someone your way who needs encouragement, and then encourage them with the encouragement He has given you. Point them to Him, the Great Encourager.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Whatta Comeback!

Based on 1 Peter 5:10

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Peter’s two letters in the back of the New Testament are often overlooked. It’s easy to do, I guess. They’re short, hard to find, and they are, after all, near the end of the Bible, tucked away between Hebrews and Revelation.

Peter himself has a larger-than-life reputation, mostly centered on his early days. We remember him as a fisherman, bold and confident, proclaiming Jesus as Messiah before contradicting Jesus’ plan; walking on water before sinking and calling out to Jesus to rescue him; refusing Jesus’ offer to clean his feet before asking Jesus to wash his hands and head as well; proclaiming his loyalty before denying and deserting Jesus…and the list goes on. (Try doing a word search at on “Simon Peter” to skim through Peter’s life in the New Testament.)

Peter’s successes are recorded for all to see, along with his failures. As hard as it is for us to have others know how we’ve failed, Peter’s failures help us relate to him.

Where do you identify with Peter’s failures?

We find common ground in the shared reality of knowing that, even with the best of intentions, we all fail—and sometimes we fail spectacularly, as Peter did.

When you stop to think about it, Peter’s failures, in and of themselves, aren’t really what draw us to him. I think it’s actually the way Jesus meets Peter in the midst of his failure that gives us hope.

While we might be tempted to write off someone who fails as often as Peter did, Jesus never does. Jesus doesn’t overlook Peter’s failures, nor does He abandon Peter in the midst of his failure; rather, Jesus confronts Peter’s failures and restores Himtime and time again.

Where are you in need of a comeback?

God’s restorative nature is revealed early in His relationship with His people. In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve disobey God in the Garden of Eden, God comes looking for them, refusing to leave them isolated and trapped in their sin. His question to themand to usreveals His heart: “Where are you?” God’s desire for relationship with His people is so great that He humbles Himself to meet us at the point of our need.

The theme of restoration stretches throughout the Old Testament, finding some of its most poignant expression in the Psalms.

Which of the following Psalms speaks to your need for restoration today?

Psalm 23 speaks of the LORD’s intimate care of us

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

Psalm 51 is a heartfelt cry for mercy and restoration

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts;
you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Listen to the last part of Psalm 71 as the writer declares his hope that he will see God’s restoration in the midst of the troubles in his life

19 Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God,
you who have done great things.
Who, O God, is like you?

20 Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.

21 You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.

22 I will praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—
I, whom you have redeemed.

24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
have been put to shame and confusion.

Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah, God’s anointed one, spoke of one who would bring restoration for God’s people, which many of Jesus’ followers interpreted as political restoration for the nation of Israel. In contrast, Jesus brought restoration to individuals, restoring withered bodies and sight to the blind, restoring dignity and worth to those who had been cast aside, and restoring broken relationships with God.

What kind of restoration are you longing for today?

As a follower of Jesus, Peter experienced His restoration firsthand. Peter wrote to brothers and sisters in Christ in 1 Peter 5:10, sharing his personal testimony that God will not leave us at our point of failure, that there is hope beyond failure, that God is a God of “comebacks.” He meets us in our brokenness, restores us, and calls us to move forward in faith, living out of the overflow of relationship with Him, in the power of His Spirit.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

What personal testimony of restoration can you share with others to encourage them?

Timothy, one of Peter’s contemporaries, reminds us that Jesus is wholeheartedly committed to us

if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
—2 Timothy 2:13

Our brokenness, the point at which we acknowledge our failure, is not the end of the road, it is the starting point for the restoration and hope that Jesus offers us. Let your brokenness lead you to hope in Christ, not your own efforts; then let that hope find its fulfillment in Him and let your life become a living work of restoration that draws others to Christ.

It’s never too late and you’re never too far gone. Just ask Peter.

Brokenness is realizing He is all we have.

Hope is realizing He is all we need.

Joy is realizing He is all we want.

—Larry Crabb

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It’s Time to Make Your Move!

What holds you back from moving forward in faith?

If an answer to that question immediately pops to mind, you’re not alone. Many people in the Bible struggled to step forward in response to God’s call. Moses responded to God’s clear call with questions and excuses about why he couldn’t do what God was asking him to do, before becoming the great leader of Israel.

After Moses’ death, Joshua finds himself in the position of following in the footsteps of his mentor, now charged with completing the task of leading God’s people to enter the Promised Land. Imagine what it would be like to step into Moses’ shoes!

Joshua 1:1-5
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. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you."

It might be easy to dismiss Moses and Joshua as potential role models for our lives. Few of us find ourselves in the position of leading millions of people out of slavery and into a new land. Few of us find ourselves called to lead the charge in massive change efforts. Even those of us who find ourselves in leadership positions are not often the topic of news headlines.

But each of us has the same choice in front of us: Will I follow God today?

Success comes from following God faithfully in the small things of life, by responding faithfully to what God places in front of us in this moment.

What are you facing today? What is the situation in which God is calling you to display your faith in Him today?

Today. Today is the only time we have in which we can obey God. We can’t go back and relive yesterday. We can’t live tomorrow until the sun rises. Today is the moment in which we decide to trust Him with our yesterdays and to follow Him into our tomorrows.

Out of the 203 verses where we read the word “today” in Scripture, the very first time it appears is revealing—

Cain said to the LORD, "My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me."—Genesis 4:13, 14

Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, tries to avoid responsibility for his behavior and accuses God of being unfair toward him. Cain portrays an all too human tendency to blame God for our circumstances instead of taking responsibility for our lives.

Some of us may struggle with a sense of injustice and suffering over our past, either over injuries inflicted on us by others or from guilt over personal choices. Others of us may be mourning the loss of past success or loved ones. God is able to take our pain-filled yesterdays and redeem them if we will trust Him with them today.

Where are you tempted to live in light of yesterday instead of today?

What encouragement do you find in these passages as you reflect on the past in light of God’s presence today?

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
and comfort me once again.
—Psalm 71:20, 21

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.—Psalm 147:3

Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed;
save me and I will be saved,
for you are the one I praise.
—Jeremiah 17:14

"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.”
—Isaiah 43:18, 19

Have you come to the point where you can look at the injustices that have been done to you and say, like Joseph—

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."—Exodus 50:20

If you carry burdens from your past—sins that need to be confessed and forgiven, hurts that need cleansed and healed, grief that needs to be mourned and comforted—today is the day to leave your past with God and move into the future He has planned for you. God’s truth will set you on the path toward healing, if you will allow His Spirit and truth to penetrate your soul.

As you bring your past to God, you are increasingly free to focus on what God has for you today—

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.—Philippians 4:8, 9

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it,
when it is in your power to act.
Do not say to your neighbor,
"Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow"—
when you now have it with you.
—Proverbs 3:27, 28

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.—Matthew 6:33, 34

As you move into the future, you can be confident that the God who redeems your yesterdays, the “God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13), this same God holds your future and walks with you into the future He has planned for you. His promises are true and His promises await you in the future.

“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. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 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 1:7-9

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.—Hebrews 13:8

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.—2 Corinthians 1:20

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.—2 Timothy 1:7

It’s time to make your move into the future God has planned for you since the beginning of time. The world is full of broken and hurting people who need the promises and touch of God as desperately as you do. You are part of His plan to touch and change the world today.

What are you waiting for? It’s time to make your move!

Life’s Too Short…To be Negative!

Based on Numbers 13-14

In last week’s Next Step, we talked about combating an attitude of entitlement that, at its most basic level, believes that God owes us.

This week’s Next Step deals with another common attitude, excusing our negative attitudes and behavior by claiming “that’s just the way I am,” which translates to elevating ourselves beyond the realm of God’s ability to shape us to be like Christ, in essence, blaming God for our sinful attitudes and behavior.

Are we powerless to change our attitudes and behavior?

Thinking that we are powerless to change might hold up if Jesus simply died on the cross to forgive our sin, and then stayed dead. Then we would have forgiveness, but no hope of ever breaking free of sinful patterns that bind us.

That isn’t how the story ends in my Bible. How about yours?

In my Bible, Jesus refuses to stay in the tomb. Three days later, He actually rises from the dead to new life. Then He offers His life to us in exchange for our sin. Just as death could not hold Him in its power, sinful patterns of death have no power over us.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—Paul, writing in 2 Corinthians 5:21

Paul says that we are not simply forgiven; we are given the righteousness of God in exchange for our sin. Christ took on our sin, accepting God’s punishment for sin on our behalf. At the same time, Jesus made His righteousness available to those who received His sacrifice on their behalf, and clothes them in God’s perfect righteousness.

Our power to live lives that reflect God’s righteousness flows from His Spirit. Writing to the Galatian believers, Paul reveals the secret to breaking sin’s hold in our lives—

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.—Galatians 5:16

To the Ephesian believers, Paul put it this way—

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.—Ephesians 4:22-24

It is possible, Paul says, to break free from the power of sin and to live changed lives that reflect new life in Christ. When we do sin, John shows us the way to move forward, reminding us that God’s response when we own up to our sin goes beyond forgiveness to include cleansing and renewal:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.—1 John 1:9

“Wait a minute,” you might say, “that’s all fine and good, but my negativity isn’t a sin. It is simply part of who I am. I see the world as it really is. I see the obstacles that other people choose to overlook. It’s my God-given nature and responsibility to point out the problems I see. My negative attitude is simply part of the discernment God gave me.”

Do you see negativity as sin? If not, what evidence can you point to in the life of Christ that negativity honors God?

As you consider the attitude you bring to life, reflect on Philippians 2:1-5 and ask yourself how your daily attitude reflects the presence of Christ in your life.

How do we overcome negativity?

The first step in overcoming negativity is to recognize it in our lives. Let’s take a look at the dictionary to help us get a clear picture of what negative attitudes and behavior looks like.

“Characterized by habitual skepticism and a disagreeable tendency to deny or oppose or resist suggestions or commands”
—"negativity." WordNet® 3.0. Princeton University. 22 Oct. 2008. .

“Lacking positive or constructive features: unpleasant, disagreeable; gloomy, pessimistic; hostile or disparaging; malicious”
—"negativity." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 22 Oct. 2008. .

Where do you tend to resist God’s power to remake you, claiming that it’s impossible for you to change?

Which of the words from the dictionary definitions of negativity could be used to describe you?

How does this negativity manifest itself in your life? Has it become habitual? In what specific situations or toward which specific people do you tend to become negative?

How is your negative attitude getting in the way of God’s ability to you us to touch and change the world for Christ?

Where does your negative attitude reveal a need for you to humble yourself before God, confess your sins, and allow Him to purify your thoughts, attitudes, and actions? Are you ready to do that?

Who do you need to confess your negativity to and ask for their forgiveness?

God will forgive our negativity, and He stands ready to remake us in the image of Jesus. However, we don’t combat a negative attitude by simply focusing on removing it from your life.

The next step in overcoming negativity is to refocus on living by His Spirit, to be made new in the attitude of our minds, allowing God’s thoughts to reshape our thoughts and the patterns of our lives. This positive focus will fill the void left by asking God to remove our negative tendencies.

Romans 12:2 echoes Paul’s thoughts in Ephesians 4:23-24, telling us that it is possible to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that our lives reveal God’s design for how life is to be lived.

Which of the following character qualities will you begin to develop in place of the negative qualities that have taken hold in you? Pick one to start with.
Trust in God

You can use to find verses in the Bible that focus on the quality that you want to develop, and meditate on those verses. Pick one and memorize it over the next week to help you focus your mind on a God-shaped positive attitude.

Finally, personal change is either enhanced or undermined by relationships.

Who encourages your tendency toward negativity? Who encourages your desire to live a life that reflects God?

How can you build more time into your life to be with people who encourage you to focus on God’s life-changing power?

Who will you encourage by your positive, God-focused attitude this week?