Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Sin Feels Like

I was in a meeting yesterday and heard two descriptions of people battling ailments and disease.

The first person, a friend of mine, had been stung by a wasp...3 times!!

One of the stings occurred near her eye. (An interesting note, my friend is a beekeeper. And though she has been stung by bees, she has never had the type of reaction to bee stings as she did with the wasp.)

She said at first she couldn't see what the foreign object was and she simply tried to brush it off her face. But as she clued into what was happening, she noticed the wasp.

"It was angry!" she told us. It stung her two more times before she was able to finally kill it.

And then she said this:

"I could feel the venom spreading through my face. My eye started to swell. My lips started to go numb. My throat began to close."

Thankfully my friend made the wise choice to go to a neighbor's house and ask for a ride to the emergency room of the Chelsea Hospital. (In another interesting, even Providential note, the neighbor, who wasn't planning on being home that day, changed her plans and was available to help my friend.)

The second story I heard was different but equally problematic. I heard a mother share about her daughter's acquiring Hepatitis C. This mother has now become a fanatical fundraiser to help find a cure for this currently, uncurable disease.

She shared that a person who acquires Hepatitis can take up to 20 years to show the symptoms.

Think about it. Something that happens when you are 6 (like a blood transfusion), may not show up till you have graduated from high school AND college, become married, and started a family!

Or, something that happened to you as as a young person in your early 20s might not reveal itself until 2 decades have past and you're in your 40s.

As different as these situations are, they BOTH have the same potential deadly results.

I was reading Romans 6 this morning. If 1 Corinthians 13 is "The Love Chapter", Romans 6 could be called "The Sin Chapter". "Sin" is mentioned seventeen times.

And in the middle of the chapter we read this:

The death (Christ) died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives for God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (Romans 6:10-12, NIV)

Sometimes we feel the sin rising in us like my friend's venom. We can "feel it spreading". Sometimes that fast-acting symptom comes from lust.

Or anger.

Or bitterness.

Or gossip.

Or greed.

And the moment we begin to give into it, we feel something in our life get pulled out of joint.

At that moment, we have a choice.

1. Continue on and let the venom keep spreading.

2. Fall on our knees and ask God to help us stop the action or attitude or the words. Change directions. Get to God's ER room immediately. (See Joseph's response in Genesis 39:12 when confronted with temptation. He ran!)

Other times it takes a little while for the effects or symptoms of our sin to become obvious to us. But our choices are the same.

1. Ignore it, hope it will go away

2. Get to the Great Physician ASAP.

Is there a place in your life today that symptoms are making themselves known?

Don't ignore it.

May we have the courage and the passion and the sense to ask for Help to deal with it right away.

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Americans' Idols

A friend of mine recently shared that she was in a group where the topic of The 10 Commandments came up. Another person brought a challenge, "I bet no one here can come up with all 10!"

My friend took and shot and didn't do too badly. She named seven of the ten. (Check out Exodus 20:1-17 for yourself and see the whole list.)

This morning as I was reading them, verse 4 halted me. It reads,

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything...

If you're like me, you're wondering how such statements apply today. And our initial thought might scream, "Nobody around here makes idols. Nobody I know does any smelting of gold, silver, or other precious ores. Nobody carves the image of a deity with the intent of living their life for that hand-crafted god. Nobody around here makes idols."

But the next verse reads,

You shall not bow down to them or worship them...

That got me thinking.

While we don't "bow down" physically to hardly anything or anyone, we do bow to lots of things and ideas.

- We bow down to the idea of being famous (What other culture could make a cliché out of "fifteen minutes of fame"?)

- We bow down to pay for the new vehicle or new clothes. And we feel the pain every time we make a sacrifice (known as a payment) to our credit card company.

- We bow down to the promise of having our wants met immediately. (How many cell phone calls and text messages really are emergencies that just can't wait? Yet how often are we perturbed that "they aren't answering!"?)

- We sacrifice our lives to things that will keep pain or difficulty far away from us.

- We bow down to being entertained. We sacrifice time with friends or family so we can sit in front of a screen and watch people who've never heard of us and don't care at all about us, catch a touchdown or pretend in a movie, while we neglect spouses or children or parents who want a little time with us.

The other morning my wife and I sat down and talked. Spontaneously.

Shouldn't be a big deal. But I felt stabbed with the conviction that too often there is an electronic device on somewhere that has my attention instead of the person most important in all the world to me. Too often I'm running here or there putting out fires or working on projects, rather than looking into the eyes of one individual I've committed to spend the rest of my life with. Sitting down to talk for no real reason ought to be the rule, not the exception.

Yeah, I'm afraid we have our idols as much as any people who've ever lived. We're just not as good at seeing them as other people are. Or maybe we're less honest about it.

We look for gods that will help us escape boredom or allow us to avoid dealing with the real issues of our lives: lack of self-control, below-the-surface-anger, past disappointments, broken relationships.

In his book Living Simply through the Day, Tilden Edwards writes, "Maybe TV will help settle us down - or the newspaper - or some work - or sex - or a big snack. Less seems to gnaw at us then. Life stays put for a moment. We feel in control again - we're 'doing something' - anything."

He goes on to tell us that while the "aftereffect of the doing leaves us less anxious" he also tells us those sorts of outlets leave us "more drugged. We've exchanged a gnawing anxiety for a dulled sensibility."

Our "idols and gods" don't really provide the solutions for which we were looking.

Where do we look for freedom from our idols?

The opening words of Exodus 20 were a reminder to the Hebrew people. They used to be slaves to a foreign king. They were now liberated to serve God.

I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

May we remember that we were once slaves but God freed us.

May we remember that we are always tempted to go back to serving other gods.

May we remember that there is One who speaks living, liberating words into our lives if we will "have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying".

May we ask Him to free us from our idols and gods.

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike & the Epistle of James

I received the following from Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. It describes difficult circumstances for our brothers and sisters who have been in the path of Hurricane Ike.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

Grace & peace

Hurricane Ike Raking Cuba, Leaves Trail of Destruction
At this moment, Hurricane Ike is raking across Cuba. This category-3 storm has challenged forecasters earlier in the week as it was predicted to make a turn to the north and directly hit South Florida. However, what may seem good news for the U.S. is bad news for the people of the Caribbean. After smashing into the Turks and Caicos islands this weekend, Ike swept across the southeastern Bahama islands.

The storm system also dumped its deadly rains on an already devastated Haiti, where it is being blamed for the deaths of an additional 61 people there (in addition to the hundreds who died as a result of Hanna). Then hurricane then continued west Sunday night, straight into Cuba. The Miami Herald reports, “Hurricane Ike continued on its destructive journey Monday morning, ripping through Cuba. Winds, a massive storm surge and heavy rains have destroyed hundreds of homes and toppled trees in the island nation. … There, it could possibly cause up to 20 inches of rain in some areas, flash floods and mudslides. Ike could also cause a storm surge of up to 12 feet, the National Hurricane Center advised."

Today is the day to pray and act on behalf of the people in the Caribbean.Follow-up on Gustav, Hanna and Ike Haiti- Bill Dawson, French Field Director, reports, "Hurricane Gustav dumped major amounts of rain on the South, affecting three districts heavily. The Southeast, South (Jacmel) and South Districts [we have 11 Nazarene districts in Haiti] all received major amounts of rain and wind. Heavy crop damage, loss of gardens and animals were sustained. A few days later Hanna struck from the north, passing north of the Dominican Republic coast and then stalling and turning south and tarrying a couple of days, then moving north again. Hanna's intensity caused additional storm cells to develop over the already saturated southern portion of the island. Hanna also put huge amounts of rainfall onto the already water-soaked island.

Now, major flooding has washed out roadways and bridges making it impossible for our workers to even go northward to check on our people. Gonaive has lost some 500 people, only found after the flood water is receding a bit. It is a really sad situation. The district superintendent on the North Central District reports some of our people have been on a mountainside trying to wait the flood and rain out without food and water for four days now. We are trying to get emergency funds to him to assist our Nazarene family in Gonaive."

"On behalf of the 108,000 Nazarenes in Haiti I want to ask you to call your people across the districts in prayer for the family of Nazarenes in Haiti. These storms have affected some 8 percent of our worldwide membership. Eight percent of our family is waiting and praying that someone will remember them in this hour of need. I cannot even imagine what that is going to mean to our people." Bahamas - Rev. Antoine St. Louis of Nassau, himself in the path of the storm, called for prayer and assistance for the Palmetto Point Church of the Nazarene on a different Bahama island.

Palmetto Point, on the island of Eleuthera, was hit hard. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are enduring the storm at this moment. We won't know for a few days the extent of the damage in the Bahamas.Dominican Republic - Devastating loss of crops, livestock and property have hurt the people of the Dominican Republic. Click here to view and download a video that shows the aftermath.

Paquita Bido de Balbuena reports, "The Parsonage in Lecheria, Central district (Pastor Jose Luis) was damaged when a tree fell on it yesterday. The DR South district superintendent lost his plantain crops for the third year in a row due to the heavy rains. There are lots of roof damages in churches and parsonages. There is still much rain and damages, and due to the devastation many people have lost their source of income. The people are deeply affected emotionally and are very afraid when more rain in announced.”

Cuba - Because the storm is occurring now, news from Nazarenes is not yet available. Please check back at for regular updates.Resources - The Caribbean Communications Office wants to offer a video from this week. Click here to view and download this video. Please feel free to use it in your services and to promote prayer for Caribbean Nazarenes. is the official website for news and updates about Nazarenes affected by this round of storms. You can help: Pray for the safety of our Nazarene brothers and sisters, as well as people the local churches can help through this trial.
Persons and churches wishing to contribute to the relief efforts can mark their checks

“International Hurricane Relief ACM2006” and send them to Global Treasury Services, 17001 Prairie Star Pkwy, Lenexa, KS 66220. In Canada, checks should be made payable and sent to the Church of the Nazarene Canada, 20 Regan Road, Unit 9, Brampton, Ontario L7A 1C3.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wasting Away or Renewed Day by Day?

Therefore we do not lose heart.
Though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)

I've been thinking about "wasting away" recently. The one-car accident that put one Chelsea youth in the hospital and took the life of another is one ingredient.. I noticed too high a percentage of people filing into Cole Funeral Chapel yesterday were under the age of 25.

Getting older is another ingredient. I had several friends wag their fingers at me and warn, "Once you hit 40, physical problems start popping up." Metabolism slows. Sight troubles often make their appearance. Joints begin to ache. Injuries take longer to recover from.

We can't help "wasting away".

We try and slow it. We eat right. We exercise regularly. We get the amount of sleep we need. We reduce the level of stress. We drink plenty of water.

We may waste away slower, but we're still "wasting away".

But what about the other part of the equation?

"(Y)et inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

That's the "power" of God at work in these "jars of clay" (v7).

Think about it.

Renewed strength to complete long, difficult tasks.
Renewed vision for a dream that doesn't come quickly.
Renewed faith for a life that is floundering or floating along.
Renewed passion for a family that needs a fresh jolt of the Spirit.
Renewed sense of purpose for a person that feels unwanted or unneeded.

God longs to renew us. Let's ask Him to help us cooperate with Him today. Let's ask Him to give our church a longing for that renewal.

Grace & peace

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Music Man & Born Again

Born again.

The phrase brings all kinds of images to mind. I'm guessing both Christians and non-Christians alike have strong reactions to the phrase.

Some non-Christians (or non-church folk) may react violently against the words. Possibly because they have come in contact with people who wore the "born again" label with great pride, but lived in a way that was anything but Christlike.

Some followers of Christ cling to the phrase because it describes an awakening or breakthrough in their life. A promise of what can be for everyone. Many can only compare event to becoming a brand new person.

Where does "born again" come from?

Like many of the great truths in life, there's a story behind it. This story occurs in the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

A man comes to see Jesus. The man's name is Nicodemus. Nicodemus, which means "conqueror of the people", is a member of the Pharisees, a religious and political party in New Testament times.

According to commentators, the Pharisees were known for "insisting that the law of God be observed as the scribes interpreted it". They were also known for "their special commitment to keeping the laws of tithing and ritual purity".

Sounds like a real fun group, right? They've developed a reputation as being "holier than thou".

So this "conqueror of the people" comes to see night. He appears to be inquiring about what makes Jesus tick.

Jesus' response is: "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."

Nicodemus finds that phrase as strange as many of us do. "How can I be born when I am old?"

Good question. Ever wonder how your life can be knew when you're half-way through it?

Ever wonder how you can be reborn when you're closer to death than birth?

Ever long for life to be radically different?

Is this even possible?

Is it too late?

Jesus says we can't "see the kingdom" without it. The Kingdom, as I understand it, is anywhere that God is in charge; anywhere life is being lived as He intended it to be lived. The places where the Spirit is at work are places where the Kingdom is breaking in.

Think about it. Our poets, artists, and theologians have known there must be something more "out there".

Reminds me of the musical, "The Music Man". In one scene, after a long battle between the upstanding Marian the Librarian, and the scamming traveling salesman "Professor" Harold Hill, they fall in love. They sing that there were "birds" and "love all around". But "I never heard them at all...till there was you."

I recently read an author who mentioned we don't need to go somewhere we've never been before in order to see things new things. We only need new eyes.

Is it possible that new possibilities are right in front of our eyes? That a new song is playing all around our ears?

If there is something in you that wonders about all of this, my hope is that you pursue it with all your being until you find what (or Who) it is you are looking for.

Grace & peace

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mindfulness of God

"Mindfulness of God arises slowly, a thought at a time. Suddenly, we are there." (Man's Quest for God, by Abraham Joshua Heschel)

That may not always be true. The Bible gives some pictures of people who are JOLTED by an immediate awareness of the Immanent God. (Saul on the Road to Damascus and Moses at the burning bush are two that come to mind.)

But much of human experience and Scripture suggest "mindfulness of God" often does "arise slowly" and need continual nurturing on our part as we cooperate with the Spirit.

In Psalm 139 the Psalmist reminds himself (and us):

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down...
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (139:1-3, 8 NIV)

He asks "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" (v7)

Of course the implied answer is "NOWHERE!"

Yesterday we talked about the commitment our church wants to make to the growth of people in our congregation. At the end of the service, several people made commitments to their own growth and to the growth of those within their sphere of influence.

If you were one of those, I want to encourage you to make today the first day of fulfilling your commitment. You were in my prayers this morning. I asked God to send His Spirit to you and help you carry out your promise to Him.

May God continually bombard us with thoughts that make us "mindful" of Him.

May we nurture those mindful thoughts through faithfully setting aside time for windows and doors where we welcome God into our lives. Windows like

- reading scripture
- spending time in prayer
- getting together with other believers
- giving ourselves to God in times of worship
- blocking out all noise and distractions in times of silence
- filling our ears and hearts with music that draws us to Him
- giving up for God things that we value through fasting
- journaling our thoughts and impressions

These are a few of the "means of grace" that saints who have come before us have found to be valuable as they draw closer to Him.

Let us commit this Fall to times and acts that help us be "mindful of God".

Grace & peace

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Why Wait?

"I know Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he." (John 4:25-26)

Waiting can be OK.

We want our kids to wait to cross the street until they have looked both ways and determined it is clear.

We want our cars to wait to move until everyone is buckled in.

We want people to wait to get face to face with us until they have brushed their teeth in the morning or popped that after dinner breath mint into their mouth to cover up the garlic and onion.

Sometimes waiting is OK.

.But sometimes waiting is procrastinating. Putting off until later what would be better done immediately.

Jesus met a woman at the well of Sychar in Samaria. He started a conversation with her that would change her life and the lives of many in that little town.

Several times in the conversation she was wanting to put off a real, meaningful, life-changing interaction with him. She had already tried to point to the differences between her people (the Samaritans) and Jesus' people (the Jews) as a reason not to find agreement. "We worship in different places," she proptested. Jesus knocks down the protest.

Then in verse 25 she throws up her last attempt to put off a decision. "I'll wait for the Messiah. We'll know for sure when he arrives on the scene." Seems reasonable. Except....Jesus is the One.

"I who speak to you am he."

We read the passage, shake our heads, chuckle to ourselves, and think, "Silly gal. He was right there in front of you and you wanted to wait."

However, we often leave the story and think to ourselves, "If only God were that real and close right now."
At my workplace. At my school. In my family. In my relationships. In the midst of my difficulty.

And all the while the Spirit of God whispers to us, "I who speak to you am he."

I wonder...

What great work does God want to begin today in or around us?

Where is He trying to WAKE US UP to the fact that He is already miraculously on the move?

May we have our eyes opened to His movement and our ears unstopped to His voice today.

May we confess, "You ARE here. I AM ready to respond."

Grace & peace

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What's the Missing Word?

What word is missing in the verses below?

But whatever was to my profit I now consider ___________ for the sake of Christ.
What is more, I consider everything a __________ compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have ___________ all things.
(Philippians 3:7-8a, NIV)

See the answer below.

Over the weekend the news coverage was all about Hurricane Gustav and how New Orleans would fair in its path. Many people wondered if once they returned home everything they owned might be lost.

During that same weekend, we were repairing the drywall in our basement. We had covered up a crack in one of the walls. We hoped not to lose any more items, such as carpet or furniture in the future.

Have you ever owned an automobile that was in a wreck? Sometimes when the car is beyond repair, when the cost of fixing it is more than the value of the vehicle, the insurance company considers it a total loss.

We will do nearly anything to keep from losing things, losing face, losing our dignity, losing a game, or losing items we've paid for and worked hard to acquire.

So how countercultural is the passage above, where the Apostle Paul is telling us that he considers EVERYTHING a loss for the sake of being in relationship with Jesus. Nothing else matters. Not his comfort. Not his safety. Not what would make life pleasant for him.

He intentionally loses everything!

His words are a wake-up call to those of us looking for the me-first, easy road of Christian faith. Ultimately, this passage tells us, everything in my life needs to be laid down, set aside, lost for His sake.

Can't you hear His call? "Nothing else matters. Lose your life for my sake and you'll save it. Try to save it and you'll lose it."

I'm mulling that one over today because the words are so challenging and difficult.

I hope you give some thought to that one too.

ANSWER: The word is "loss" (the first two times and "lost" in the third space).

Grace & peace