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But I Deserve It!

How do you respond when you don't get what you have earned? Do you get angry? Do you hide and sulk? Do you get revenge? Our own sense of what we deserve is strong and often drives us to unexpected places when violated. We don't know much about Joseph. Based on what we do know, we can draw some conclusions and paint a picture of the man we think he might have been. Joseph was an unassuming carpenter in a sleepy town. He likely had no aspirations of ever leaving. Joseph eschewed the spotlight, he probably preferred a simple night at home sitting around the fire with friends and family. He was looking forward to marriage and a quiet life with his bride. He worked hard. He had earned a quiet life. He deserved it. Instead, his fiancé got pregnant. She claimed it was a miracle. He wasn't so sure until an angel visited Him. Her child was going to be the Messiah. He was going to save the world from their sins (Matthew 1:18-23). This was Joseph's new normal. His wif

Pray Without Ceasing.

Last February, Marianne and I cashed in some frequent flier miles and spent three days in Florida celebrating our anniversary. One evening, I pulled out my phone and opened the "find my friends" app. It was odd to see that we were so far from our children and they were so far from each other. Emma was in Indiana and Liam was in Oregon. All of us were thousands of miles from each other. Yet with a simple touch of the screen, I sent a group text and instantly the four of us were connected. It was as if we were sitting in the same room. Technology has created a level of connectivity our world has never before experienced. Along with texting and facetime, we can use a multitude of social media platforms to stay in touch with one another. I can go through my day, carrying on a constant conversation with friends in all parts of the world. We've come a long way in the past 50 years. We have always had this level of connectivity with God. Ephesians 6:18 says, "A

4 Bible Verses To Empower Election Reflection

Did your candidate win last night? Some of mine did. Some of mine didn't. The truth is that none of the candidates were really "mine". First and foremost, the election belongs to God and He is not surprised by any of the outcomes. Secondly, my primary allegiance is to a higher Kingdom and a greater King than any who could be elected.  Here are some verses to contemplate today as we bask in the afterglow of another election. Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Those with whom you disagree are not your enemy. Even if they mistreat you, Jesus' expectation is that you continue to love them, pray for them and bless them. 1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your cond

You Don't Need a CCP For This Weapon

The sun was beating down, the wilderness air was dry. Jesus was thirsty and hungry. For 40 days, as long as the sun was up, he didn't eat. He was fasting and focusing on the mission God had sent Him to accomplish. He was tired, weak and lonely. Satan chose this moment to attack. (he usually attacks when we are at our weakest) He tempted Jesus rely on Himself instead of God. He tempted Jesus to take a shortcut instead of following God's path. He tempted Jesus to doubt God's protection. These are the same temptations Satan throws at us. In Ephesians 6, Paul wrote that we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood but against the powers of darkness. He also wrote that we are to put on the armor of God so we can stand firm against Satan's strategies. One piece of our armor is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. This was Jesus' weapon of choice against the devil. Each time Satan unleashed a new temptation against Him, Jesus responded by quoting Sc

Honor is not earned. It is given.

When you think about the idea of "honor", you probably think about people who deserve to be honored because of what they've done. We honor our sports heroes who win championships. We honor the high-achievers who win spelling-bees and robotics competitions. We honor musicians who entertain us with hit songs. We rightly honor our veterans who were willing to give their all to ensure our well-being. It is good and appropriate for us to often honor the sacrifices made by those who served our country. Most of the time, we honor those who have earned it through their actions. However... God also expects us to honor people, not because of what they've done, but because of who they are! Paul writes in Ephesians 6:2: “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise). To honor is to: - prize - respect - value - view as worthy Paul expects people to honor their parents, not because their parents have earned it, but because they have b

Everybody Hurts. Yet Joy Can Be Found In Suffering.

It is a joy to serve God. If it isn’t, you’re probably just serving yourself by pretending to serve God. Being a servant of God means several things which on their own should bring enough joy to sufficiently quell any unhappiness. Being God’s servant means I am dwelling in the household of God. Although it isn’t Eden exactly, it is the closest we on the post-fall earth can come.  By serving God, I am willingly participating as a member of his family and community.  Being a servant of God means I have meaningful and eternal work to accomplish. God does not call us to mundane, repetitive work; but rather to the greatest, most important task imaginable; we are called to participate in his redemptive work.  Being a servant means I have security. I do not need to worry about my safety or my future. My master will take care of me. If I trust that God is more powerful than any force, I can be certain He will not be overpowered or surprised by anything that comes into my life. Thus,

Find Someone Who Will Tell You When You're Wrong

On Sunday, we talked about gaining wisdom. I thought I would make the most of this opportunity by diverting to Proverbs for a day. Since it's the 25th day of the month, my Proverb for today is chapter 25. Verse 12 says this: Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. I have only ever owned one gold ring. It is precious to me. Several years ago, I was on a youth mission trip and was playing an old African drum with my hands. Suddenly, my wedding ring flew off my finger... in two different directions. I was devastated. No earthly possession was more important to me and now it was destroyed. (read to the end for the conclusion of this story) A gold ring (or other gold ornaments) is valuable because it is created from a precious metal. The reason my ring was so important to me was because it represented my relationship with Marianne. Gold is not at the heart of this proverb. Value is the primary idea. Solomon (the author) is telling us th

Jesus won't unfollow you; So keep following Him

I remember sitting at the beach one day watching our kids play in the surf and build sand castles. As I scanned the beach, I noticed a father and son walking along the waters edge. The boy was probably only three or four years old and trailed behind his dad by several yards. What caught my attention was that the son was doing everything in his power to walk in the footprints of His father. He had to jump each step in order to land in the next step, but it was clear that more than anything else, he wanted to be like his dad. We are created to be followers. We follow our parents, we follow our friends, we follow our favorite sports figures. Growing up, I followed Isaiah Thomas because he was a short basketball player having great success in the NBA. I watched his games, I studied his style and I tried to imitate his game (in case you're wondering, it was a poor imitation). To follow someone is to watch them, study them and imitate them. This morning, my Ephesians study took me

I'm A Secret Agent...

I've been reading through Ephesians 4 repeatedly for the past few weeks. This chapter is full of lists and practical applications so I'm enjoying it. One of my observations has been that Paul is really focused on how our relationship with God changes EVERYTHING about us. In this chapter, he points out that it changes our words, our attitudes, our work ethic and our relationships. Everyone of these changes serves to make us more mature and to look more like Jesus. At the same time, all these changes are also beneficial for the people around us. When our words match His words, they are building up others. When our attitude matches His attitude, it is inspiring for those around us. The same is true for our work ethic, our generosity, etc... So the question I'm asking myself today is: Has God's work in my life made the lives of those around me better? If I think God is only interested in making my life better, I've missed the point. He is redeeming His ent

Thursday Thirteen: 13 Simple Tricks to Improve Your Bible Study Time

We all need a foundation in life. Some look to gurus for ultimate wisdom, others take their cues from celebrities. Podcasts are a new source for personal growth and ancient literature still informs the worldview of many. My foundation is God's Word. Everything starts there for me, so I want to know it as well as I can. Here are 13 different approaches I take to help me open myself to the insight of the Bible. 1. Pray first 2. Re-write the passage in your own words 3. Jot down the first things that come to mind as you read 4. Make a list of questions you have 5. Use commentaries, friends, and the internet to find answers to your questions 6. Consider if the passage brings to mind teachings of Jesus 7. Think about Old Testament stories which may apply or be similar to the passage 8. Identify several key words and meditate on them 9. Use a concordance to find and consider other passages which use the same and similar words 10. Consider every day experiences wh

3 Absolutely Unassailable Laws of Leadership

Proverbs 18 includes great advice for anyone who is trying to lead or influence people. Of course, everything in the Bible is really good advice for anyone trying to do anything. So, whether you are a leader or just someone who wants to be more wise (particularly in relationships), here are my three key lessons from Proverbs 18. I've included some of the specific proverbs so you can munch on them today: 1) Everything doesn't rise and fall on you; you are a part of a bigger whole. Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle. A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. 2) The most inspiring speeches are meaningless if they aren't preceded by big ears. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion If one gives an answer before he

Thursday 13: Lessons We Can Learn From Suffering

It's Thursday again. And 13 is still my favorite number. So here's another edition of 13 for Thursday. SUFFERING... 1. reveals our true identity 2. allows us to focus on our priorities 3. teaches us to rely on God and others 4. strengthens our resolve 5. proves our faith 6. develops our ability to persevere 7. teaches us what is truly important 8. enables us to be more in tune with the Holy Spirit 9. builds our strength 10. gives us a taste of the cost Jesus paid for our salvation 11. identifies our true loyalties 12. reminds us of the effects of our sins 13. fosters patience in our lives

13 For Thursday: Thirteen Lessons from the Book of Philemon

I originally wrote this 10 years ago. And since it's Thursday, it seems right to post a "Thirteen for Thursday" just for old-times sake. Philemon is one of the shortest books in the Bible yet it is overflowing with great lessons. Take a minute to read the book and see if you can glean some other lessons. Here's my 13: 1. Church ministry is team-oriented, not individual-centric. (vs. 1-2) 2. Our prayers should be laced with thanksgiving for others (vs.4) 3. Love should be the identifying characteristic of all our relationships within the church. (vs.5 and more) 4. As believers, our lives should be refreshing to other believers (vs.7) 5. Love chooses not to take advantage of an authoritative position (vs.9) 6. Spiritual children are evidence of a missional life (vs.10) 7. Faith in Christ revolutionarily changes our lives (vs.11) 8. God is in control of every situation (vs.15) 9. In Christ, there is neither slave nor free... (vs.16) 10. We are all partners i

Don't Be Defined By Your Past

Whichever translation of the Bible you use, Ephesians 2 begins the same way. It is a description of "you" (it's actually the Ephesians, but it applies to you). The different versions use different words, but they all have the same meaning: NIV - "As for you, you were" NLT - "Once you were" ESV - "And you were" NASB - "And you were" The opening thought is about the life you once lived, your past. The picture Paul paints of the past isn't pretty, he says we were dead in sins. Verse four is the exact opposite. Paul takes his eyes off us and puts them where they ought to be, on God" NIV - "But... God, who is..." NLT - "But God is..." ESV - "But God, being..." NASB - "But God, being..." The contrast is between how we acted (dead) and who God is (merciful). The lesson is obvious. No matter what evil exists in your past, God's mercy extends to it. No matter how much wrong

Rescued For Free -- But At How Great A Cost?

Have you been paying attention to the soccer team and their coach who are stranded in a cave in Thailand? As of this morning, almost all of them have been rescued and everyone is hopeful that the last two will be saved soon. This rescue operation has been incredible to witness as hundreds of people from many different countries have bonded together to find and retrieve this group of young men.   Professional divers are swimming through caves (sometimes so tight the have to remove their equipment and pull it behind them) for 4-6 hours just to reach the boys. One-by-one the boys are being carried out in a return journey which takes as much as 9 hours! I have no idea how expensive the entire effort has been, but I know there has been great cost. Consider the price for the hi-tech equipment, the diver's equipment, the vehicles, the vehicles, the communication devices and whatever other items might be used. In addition, the full amount of time being spent by professional divers, so

Give Me Jesus...

We just wrapped up week 2 of a new Ephesians series at The Gathering. During this series, I've been sending a couple emails out each week with some devotional thoughts on the passages we are studying. If you'd like to receive these emails, click here to sign up . Here are my thoughts from today: In the first 14 verses of Ephesians, Paul wrote the phrase "in Christ" (or something similar) at least 12 different times. Every time I read through these verses, I am impressed at how important Jesus was to Paul. I want Jesus to be that important to me. I want to understand every part of my life through the filter of Christ. I want my actions, my thoughts, my plans, my hopes, my hurts, my expectations, etc. to be wrapped up in Jesus. I am reminded of some of the words from a Jeremy Camp song: In the morning, when I rise Give me Jesus. You can have all this world, Just give me Jesus. I'm also reminded of an ancient Irish song/poem known as St. Patrick's Brea

Changing Diapers and God's Grace

*I wrote this many years ago (Liam will turn 19 this month). I came across it while doing some personal study on the topic of grace. The sentiments are still true. Grace is like changing diapers. No matter how often it happens, or how bad the mess is, I still change Liam's diapers. This, in spite of the fact that he has done nothing to earn it. The reason is because I look on him with favor. God's grace can be defined as his unmerited favor toward us. Being a recipient of grace (through Christ) means that God looks on me with favor, regardless of what I do. Liam's worst diaper cannot begin to compare to the stench of my sin before God. Yet, he continues to look on me with favor. He provides for me. He guides me. He has a future for me. None of this is merited, but it is all given me because I am in Christ.

Grace and Peace to You.

Ephesians 1:2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace In the New Testament, “grace” almost always is another word for “gift”. Everything God gives us is a demonstration of His grace toward us. We deserve nothing, yet He gives us everything. In the same way, grace should characterize all our relationships with others. We should be gift-giving people. Our gifts may not always be material, sometimes our gifts may simply be time or lending an ear to a friend. Even presence can be a great gift when someone is walking a difficult road. Peace We are at peace with God because of His grace to us. Once we were His enemies, now we are His daughters and sons. Likewise, grace is the key to peace in our relationships with those around us. When we are willing to look past the shortcomings of others (as God has looked past ours), we can experience full peace. You cannot experience peace until you’ve experienced grace. Today, because of Jesus, you

God's Will vs. My Will

Ephesians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Paul was sold out to God's will. He was willing to do whatever, go wherever and be whoever God wanted Him to be. As a result, he found himself traveling the world, sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone he encountered. Everything about his life was shaped by God's will rather than his own. One of the greatest temptations we face is to spend all our time and energy telling God what we want Him to do, how we want Him to provide for us and where we want Him to take us. Unfortunately, life never goes well when we are trying to impose our will on God. One of the best decisions you can ever make is to live your life according to God's will instead of your own. Read More about God's Will: Faith Is Focusing On God's Authority, Not My Own Ability Commandment One: Nothing Shall Compare To Me

4 Questions For Better Bible Study

Studying the Bible can be overwhelming. It's not always easy to know exactly what we should be learning when we read. We can become discouraged and give up  looking into God's Word. Before discouragement sets in, consider 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, Because Scripture is "God-breathed", we have confidence that it is truthful and we know that it is authoritative. Because we are promised that "ALL" of it is profitable, we must apply it to our lives. I like to use 2 Timothy 3:16 as a template for Bible study. Paul's four "profitable uses" of Scripture can provide us with FOUR QUESTIONS which will SIMPLIFY and ENHANCE our BIBLE STUDY. God's word is profitable for teaching. It tells us what is right. Question One: "What am I presently doing that I should continue doing?" God's Word is profitable f

Keeping Up With Your Neighbors Is The Path To Poverty

Twitter Proverbs 12:9 says, " Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food. " If I were going to paraphrase this proverb, I would say: It doesn't matter what others think if you are wisely saving your money. If you spend your money trying to keep up with those around you, you'll end up with nothing. Last night I was in a "tech" store just playing around with tablets. The salesman asked me a couple questions, pulled up my phone account and informed me that for a small cost I could upgrade to the latest and greatest iphone. I told him my current phone was only a year old and worked great. He said, but this is the iPhone 6! You'll be really glad you upgraded. Everywhere you look, someone is telling you to buy the newest and best. Whether you need it or can afford it means nothing. You may think everyone is impressed by your collection of gadgets and toys or by the size or your wardrobe, gara

What Does the Bible Say About That?

What if, in church, we made it our habit to begin our answer to every question we’re asked with: “Here’s what the Bible says about that…” I don’t mean that this should be done in a smug or snarky way, but in a way that makes it clear that we (particularly in the church) should approach every issue (particularly those pertaining to the church) by STARTING with the Bible’s teaching on that topic. Of course, some will read this and say, “But the Bible doesn’t speak to every issue!” To which I will respond, “The Bible may not answer every question you can ask, but it most certainly addresses any topic which may come up!” At first, this approach to question-answering, problem-solving, strategic planning, etc. may sound even better than a visit to Pablo’s Tacos on dollar-taco-Tuesday. After a little reflection, however, some may not be too happy with this approach. Consider some of the ramifications: 1) Our own personal opinions will be subjugated to a higher authority.  2)

Do you know the one word that can change your life?

One word, just two letters, can open a world of opportunity for you. The word is "no". I know we often think of "no" as a negative word and we want to be people who say "yes" more often than not. However, when you choose to say "no" to one thing, you create an opportunity to say "yes" to something more important. Every time you say "yes", you are saying "no" to something else. Every time you say "no", you are saying "yes" to something else. If you say "no" to that show on Netflix, you can say "yes" to time with your family. If you say "no" to 30 minutes of Facebook scrolling, you can say "yes" to 15 minutes of prayer and 15 minutes of Bible study. If you say "no" to that Swiss Cake Roll, you can say "yes" to a more healthy lifestyle. If you say "no" to complaining and worrying, you can say "yes" to joy and pe

Some animals were made to be ridden. And some were not.

Rarely does a day go by when I don't see an animal cross the road in front of my car. In Michigan, it is often a turkey. In Ohio, it is often a goose from Canada. Occasionally, this gets me thinking about how roads have impacted the population of animals like deer, rabbits (perhaps you've heard my sermon story about the indecisive rabbit and my old Honda Accord), turkeys, geese and squirrels. Without re-tracing my entire thought process, I'll simply say I've concluded that we may have gone wrong when we started harnessing animals. While the invention of the wheel was a great thing, The choice to use animals to pull us around (initially the two reasons were conquest and commerce; one could argue both are greed and self-driven) seems to have been where we really lost the symbiosis between human and creation (okay, so we lost it at the fall, and whole carnivore vs. human thing didn't help, but stay with me here) Now... what I'm NOT saying is that we should no

Is your team in a state of ANARCHY, ACCOMPLISHMENT or somewhere in between?

I wrote this blog post 10 years ago. I think it still has legs. The challenge facing anyone who leads any kind of team is moving their players from anarchy to accomplishment. Someday I'll write more, but for now, these three words: INFORM EQUIP UNLEASH

We Need A President Everyone Can Support

I was search through old files looking for some thoughts on Ecclesiastes. I came across this blog post from 2009. Nearly a decade later, it seems strangely appropriate and timeless. This was printed in the Fruitport paper. It's an essay by Liam entitled: If I Were President If I were president I wouldn't let people who aren't in charge fire people. Smoking would be illegal because smoking can kill. I might spend time experimenting and helping other scientists. And the Iraq war is over, but I want some Iraqi people to be happy for our help. I'd pray for them every day. I'd try not to make a second Great Depression. Soon, when I get the feel of being president I'd explore justice to my country. If there's a war, I'll try to settle it with kindness. Maybe we just misunderstood each other. But if we must have a war, I'll pick a general who is wise and honorable like George Washington, troops who will listen to their general and who will do their be

13 Reasons Your Vertical Relationship Is Not Independent of Your Horizontal Relationships

Your standing with God cannot be viewed as an isolated relationship, disconnected from the rest of your life. Your vertical life matters, however it is a great unbiblical error to ignore your horizontal life. Vertical Christianity is good, but incomplete. Here are 13 reasons why. 1. When we were saved, we were baptized into a body (1 Cor.12) 2. Christ's final command was to "love one another". (John 13) 3. Christ's one prayer for the church was "unity" (John 17) 4. Man was created in the image of God. Unity with diversity. (Gen 1-2) 5. It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2) 6. The mission of the church cannot be accomplished if we do not love one another (John 13,17) 7. The message the apostles taught new believers from the beginning was to "love one another" (1 John 3) 8. A mature church is a unified church. (Eph. 4) 9. Our "spiritual worship" is necessarily tied to our love for each other. (Rom. 12) 10. Jesus

Thoughts and Prayers

Thoughts and prayers are not the same thing. We need to stop acting as if they are. Thoughts and prayers do not go hand-in-hand. We need to stop acting as if they do. Every time you hear someone say, " Thoughts and prayers are not enough ", you are being manipulated and you need to understand why. THOUGHTS ARE NOT ENOUGH Unless accompanied by action, thoughts accomplish nothing. Your thoughts may be a step along the way toward an action, but on their own, they are ineffective and in many ways without consequence. Every person chooses not to act on their mind's thoughts hundreds of times a day. A person who always says or does whatever comes to mind is considered posses little to no self-control. The idea of "sending thoughts someone's way" originated out of a desire to not have to tell someone you were "praying for them." It is a tool used by those who desire to empathize or want to give words of comfort but are unwilling to do so in reli

How Jesus Demonstrated Leadership To His Disciples

If you aren’t sure what I mean by Leadership E-Words , go back and see this post about what every leader MUST do . A while back, I came across some verses in Mark that prompted me to think about how Jesus guided the spiritual development of his disciples. So I used the Leadership E-Words as a template and was able to very quickly identify how Jesus used similar concepts to prepare the disciples for ministry. These are all from the first half of Mark. I think you could do this exercise even better if you used the book of Matthew. It might also be interesting to look for similar patterns in Acts. I have no intention of doing either (unless some LifeWay editor is reading this and thinks it might make an interesting book, then I would be willing to write more… otherwise, probably not) Here we go: Jesus established a direction for his ministry. Of course it was more about just identifying and clarifying God’s direction for His ministry… but that’s what we should be doing as sp

18 Absolutely Incontrovertible Laws of Leadership

The three core components of leadership (especially “Christian” leadership) are character, courage and competence. Courage and competence are important, but without character neither matters. Beyond these three components, you can glean many leadership principles from many leadership gurus. Because my starting point is the Bible, my leadership principles might be a little different. Here are 18 of them: Leadership does not replace the Holy Spirit Leadership is a gift, not a position Leadership can be nurtured, but not created Leadership is a team sport Leadership "principles" do not trump Scripture Leadership is important, but not indispensable Leadership is not "the greatest gift" Leadership requires patience Leadership requires humility Leadership requires discipline Leadership requires discernment Leadership is not pastoring Pastoring is not leadership Leadership is not a dynamic personality Leadership is "giving away" Leadership h

My Four Week Preaching Template

I love crockpot cooking. Allowing the meal to sit in it's own juices for hours seems to heighten the flavor of every bite. I look for chances in life to add a crockpot mentality to my tasks. Taking the crockpot approach to sermon preparation allows me to let passages soak in my mind for several weeks before I present them. This means when I stand up to preach, the wrestling is done and the passage feels like an old friend. Most of my sermons take four weeks to prepare. That doesn't mean I'm working on one sermon for four weeks, but that every week I'm working on four sermons. Each week I have a specific goal to accomplish for each sermon: Week One: I need to understand what the text says. I have two study sessions set aside during week one in which I devote my efforts to exegeting the text. Week Two: I need to determine how this text applies to our church community. During week two, I work through several exercises to help me look at the passage from several

Immigration and School Shootings Are Not Problems That Cannot Be Solved

WHY DON’T THEY SOLVE IT? Most problems require more than one solution because it is the complexity of the situation that has made a problem. Most problems have a presenting and immediate symptom, a long-term pattern which is unhealthy and a mess that needs to be cleaned up. Over the next few paragraphs I’m going to tease out the three steps needed to solve most problem and then I’ll demonstrate how these three steps should be used to solve some of our countries most “unsolvable” problems. Finally, I’ll share some thoughts on why our elected officials often seem unwilling to address these difficult issues. This is a long post, but I think it will give you some mental beef jerky on which to chew if you make it to the end. STEP ONE: SOLVE THE URGENT AND IMMEDIATE PROBLEM. Imagine your boat is sinking. While you may decide it’s time for a new boat and you may realize a need for boating lessons so you can stop running into rocks, neither of these problems are urgent and immediate