Entries tagged with “Religion and Spirituality”.


This prayer from Hebrews was recently brought to my attention and it was quite meaningful with all that is going on in our lives. I pray it is a blessing for you too.

May God, who puts all things together,
makes all things whole,
Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus,
the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant,
Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd,
up and alive from the dead,
Now put you together, provide you
with everything you need to please him,
Make us into what gives him most pleasure,
by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah.
All glory to Jesus forever and always!
Oh, yes, yes, yes.

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What is your deepest fear? We all fear something, tripping while on stage, having food in your teeth, or appearing over eager.  Fear is a normal part of life, but how we react to that fear says much about who we are.  In his newest book, Fearless, Max Lucado has this to say about how we handle fear (pg 5):

Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into prison and slams the doors.

Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?

Yes.  It would be great not to be imprisoned by fear.  This book actually came at a pretty good time – we are in the final stages of buying a house and it has been a nightmare.  Our fears are that we would end up homeless for a short period of time or lose the house and have to find a place to move into mid-month.  Yes, I still am anxious about this problem, but Fearless helped me regain some perspective.

This is another great Lucado book that provides direct application to your life and provides lasting value.  He doesn’t resort to simple platitudes but embraces his own fears while providing opportunities for growth.  Ok, he does throw in a few one-liners that we all probably know, but they felt genuine and thoughtful.  Lucado talks about a variety of different fears that we might be facing.  He develops a case for why we shouldn’t be afraid of those things or how we can see God’s provision through them.

Many people think Christians and Christianity mean a perfect life with nothing bad ever happening.  He quickly puts that to rest with this quote on page 8:

Christ-followers contract malaria, bury children, and battle addictions, and, as a result, face fears. It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart. It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ.

We face storms in our life.

Like most of his other books, Fearless, provides a section in the back for small group discussion or personal reflection.  My copy of the book from Thomas Nelson also included a shorter version of the book called, Imagine Your Life Without Fear, which also happens to be the subtitle of the book.

I’ll end with this great quote (pg 177):

There’s a stampede of fear out there. Let’s not get caught in it. Let’s be among those who stay calm. Let’s recognize danger but not be overwhelmed. Acknowledge threats but refuse to be defined by them. Let others breathe the polluted air of anxiety, not us. Let’s be numbered among those who hear a different voice, God’s. Enough of these shouts of despair, wails of doom. Why pay heed to the doomsdayer on Wall Street or the purveyor of gloom in the newspaper? We will incline our ears elsewhere: upward. We will turn to our Maker, and because we do, we will fear less.

Do not fear.

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A challenging story of how a successful Christian, CEO answered God’s calling reminds us that sometimes we have to do more than just sit in a pew.  Rich Stearns, is the current President of World Vision and is well respected within the international development community.  I had never heard his story before, but am amazed at how God worked in his life.

The Hole in Our Gospel, is more than just an autobiography though.  He critiques the modern church for missing a large part of the Gospel message Jesus shared.  Stearns sacrificed his lifestlye as the CEO of a chinaware company to become president of World Vision.  It is a cool story and one you should read.  But as he makes clear in this excerpt, he is not calling us to get rid of everything in our life:

However, I don’t want to also suggest that all true followers of Christ must forsake everything to bring comfort and justice to the poor. I
only propose that genuine concern for “the least of these” that finds tangible expression must be woven into the pattern of their lives and faith. That expression might involve small but regular gifts to compassion ministries, advocating on behalf of the poor to government representatives, or regular volunteering at a soup kitchen, the local nursing home, or the Ronald McDonald House…. Even Jesus did not spend every waking hour helping the poor.  He dined with the wealthy, celebrated at weddings and feasts, taught in the synagogue, and perhaps did a bit of carpentry.  Still, there is no question that His love for the poor found consistent and concrete expression in His life and ministry.

Yes, this book contains numbers and statistics that are overwhelming, even to me.  But his focus is more on telling the story about how God redeems us and redeems our brothers and sisters around the world.  Stearns will not allow you to get bogged down in the numbers, but will help you remember that each number represents a living person that Jesus died for.

Pick it up, read it, discuss it, share it with a friend.

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Hosea the prophet, Russian icon from first qua...
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As Seward Church continues its journey through the 66 books of the Bible we found ourselves learning about the interesting life of Hosea.  If you aren’t familiar with this story, it is quite intriguing as Hosea is told by God to marry a woman who would cheat on him, multiple times.

Usually with this story you hear that Hosea was told to marry a prostitute.  But Tim tried to clarify that Gomer isn’t a prostitute at the beginning of the story.   Hosea 1:2 says:

the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.”

So she was probably born out of wedlock herself and had some issues that made it likely she would be unfaithful.   Her name does make you laugh though.  Who would name their kid Gomer? The language in chapter 1 clearly indicates that only 1 of the 3 children actually came from Hosea.

In Chapter 3 God tells Hosea that he needs to go find his wife, who now is a slave prostitute and buy her back.  Can you imagine having to go pay a pimp to purchase your own wife back?  God says that this is a depiction of His love for us.   2:5 gives us a little insight into what Gomer was after – she was after material things that became so important to her that she would do anything to get them.

She placed those things above everything else and was willing to sell out to get them.  Does that sound familar? She began to idolize those things and then slowly that idolatry overcame her.  Often our sin begins as love, which can be healthy, but as it turns into idolatry we begin to displace God from His throne and worship the wrong thing.

Part of the problem is that we begin to define what it is that is loving for us instead of letting God define love. We don’t accept God’s love because it isn’t what we want. This leads us to create rules that will enable us to deserve that love and try to hide or change who we are.  We decide that if God (or another person) loves us they will provide this or that.  It would be like saying, “if you love me you’ll give me $1,000.” But maybe I want to express my love for you by strolling down the beach together.

As we begin to idolize things in our life, we start to lose perspective and slowly become enslaved to that which we idolize.  We become enslaved to our desires.  It becomes a slave-master relationship (2:12).

But there is GOOD NEWS! God says there will be a time when we will no longer be enslaved to our sins and we will no longer call Him, Master – but Husband. That is a huge relational shift.  Death will no longer reign, but life (13:14).  We will find freedom through Christ’s sacrifice.  You see we are enslaved to our sinful desires, but God sent His son Jesus to pay for our sin – through His death.  And by His resurrection, we are raised up as heirs in the Kingdom of God.

This payment (redemption) and the resurrection wipe our past clean. There is nothing that we’ve done that He can’t undo.  Just as Hosea accepted back the wayward Gomer, God will take us even as bastard children.

Isn’t that exciting?

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Lamentation of the solitude
Image by ` TheDreamSky 꿈꾸는 하늘 via Flickr

It has been awhile since I’ve written about one of the messages from Seward Church.  This week’s message was about the tough book of Lamentations.  Tough because it deals with the topic of suffering, but we know how the story ends – with the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Lamentations is generally thought of as a book of laments or sorrowful writings.  It tells a story of great pain and suffering.  We don’t like that because we really don’t want to suffer in our lives and if the Bible talks about it, then there is probably a good chance of it happening in our life – especially if there is a whole book devoted to it.  This should actually be reassuring to us as well though, because the Bible is willing to take on the hard issues of life that face us each and every day.

Tim offered some intriguing literary notes to about the book’s structure.  In the original Hebrew the book is written as an acrostic poem that repeats itself in each chapter.  The precision and structure took a lot of work and adds to the overall power of the book.  Wikipedia describes its structure:

The first four poems (chapters) are acrostics, like some of the Psalms (25, 34, 37, 119), i.e., each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet taken in order. The first, second, and fourth have each twenty-two verses, the number of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The third has sixty-six verses, in which each three successive verses begin with the same letter. The fifth is not acrostic, but also has twenty-two verses.

One of the most important points to  remember about suffering is that ultimately it is not eternal.  It is only for a finite time.  Yes the time might be your entire life, but it will end.  We may suffer alone, but we don’t have to (1:12).  Suffering can be processed through the community.  We should be willing to walk through each part of the suffering process together.  We ALL suffer and we can encourage each other.  As a community we can make sure that we don’t short-circuit the process but that we genuinely take each step towards peace and wholeness together.

Lamentations 3:22-33 (The Message) is a great passage:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,
in throwing roadblocks in the way:

Until you get to the last 2 verses which seemingly contradict each other.  Suffering sometimes is a result of sin. We are often rebelling against God and His “rules” or desires for our life. We often tell God that we don’t need His help in this or that area of our life.  We need to stop putting ourselves in the way (ie stop sinning) but since that isn’t ever possible we will have suffering (punishment).  Have you stopped and thought about the suffering in your life?

We often try to hide the pain in our life – saying “everything is fine” or something similar without truly embracing or accepting that things aren’t fine.  Our lives are a mess.  It is ok.  My life is a mess – just like yours.  Did you know that Jesus, when He died, experienced the worst pain/suffering imaginable?  For those 3 days he was dead, God actually turned His back on His beloved son.  Jesus accepted that responsibility so we wouldn’t have to.

At the time Lamentations was written, everything that the Israelites thought was important to God was destroyed. God never expected the Temple to last forever, from the beginning He knew about Jesus.  But think how that might mess with the minds of the Israelites.  Yet, at the end of the day “I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.” (Lamentations 3:24)

None of us (as Christians) have been infinitely abandoned by God.  Jesus alone stood abandoned, infinitely, bearing God’s wrath for us.  We are broken A-Z as deep and wide as the sea.  However, God loves us too much to be indifferent to our desire to be our own God.  He wants us to be blessed immensely, but like any good father provides discipline to help us understand the correct path.

We must rest in the promise that through Jesus’ suffering we won’t suffer forever, but will one day rejoice in the faithfulness of God and His great mercy.

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A drifter who appears at the time of your greatest need and offers you some perspective that changes you life.  This drifter is the main character in Andy Andrew’s most recent book – released today – called The Noticer.

The drifter we know as Jones “notices” things about people often deep dark secrets that know one else should know.  Throughout the book I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Jones and Jesus.  Both meeting a person in their darkest hour and providing hope and avenues for change, but never condemning or judging the person.

I struggled for awhile to figure out if this was a true story or not because Andy places himself in the middle of the story.  I’ve concluded that it is truly a work of fiction – unless we all somehow missed the second coming of Jesus – due to the miraculous appearances and disappearances of Jones.  Though Andrews’ website indicates that:

Based on a remarkable true story, The Noticer beautifully blends fiction, allegory, and inspiration. It provides simple, yet powerful distinctions about love, relationships, value and integrity and will inspire readers to take that first step towards a major life change.

This is an easy and quick read and offers some deep insights into how we should lead our lives and ultimately how our perspective on life alters its outcome.  Through Jones’ encounters with other people Andrews offers strong words of wisdom relating to work, marriage, and life in general.  Much like Jones’ disarming style you won’t really feel the jewels of wisdom being shoved down your throat or the apparent faith perspective that underlies the story.

I would recommend this book for a person who is at a moment of crisis or confusion.  Many of the ideas I mentioned above make it a better gift than a 5 step self-help guide, while providing a real tangible idea for change.

As part of this book Andrews is launching the Noticer Project, where he is encouraging us to “notice” or remember 5 people who have had an impact on our lives.  Throughout the book, people try to learn more about Jones’ story or wish they could thank him after a mysterious disappearance – but only a few really get that chance.

His blog highlights this about the Noticer Project:

This is a grassroots initiative that I hope will have a positive impact—however small—on our country in this uncertain time. I know that when I sat down to think about the five people who have made the biggest impact on my journey, it brought to mind so many gifts that I have been given along the way and reminded me how lucky I am.

You can find out more at thenoticerproject.com

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I reviewed this book as part of Thomas Nelson’s Book Review Bloggers program.

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I’ve struggled the last few weeks to stay focused during the message.  I’m pretty sure it has been more me than David though.  It seems like so much has been going on in life and so much is going on in my head – it is hard to sit quietly and listen to the Truth being presented.

That being said, this week’s message at Seward Church comes from Esther.

All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing. – Edmund Burke

The Book of Esther is full of evil messy stuff going on.  David referred to Psalms 12:8 for a good description of what was occuring during this time in the world.  The story of Esther going from a random virgin on the street to becoming Queen is also a messy tale of lust, violence, greed, and immorality.  Even as queen she still had to be very careful or risk being thrown out like her predecessor – Vashti.

David shared a little analogy of the past three books

Ezra can be related to the church, while Nehimiah is like an urban developer, and Esther is like the politician in charge.  Each has their own range of power and influence to create change.  At each level their is a different responsibility for their “people”.

Esther’s ascent to the throne was very much on the “inside”.  She asked around to see what she could do to win favor.  She worked within exsisting systems and structures to succeed – not creating her own separate ideas, even though she was an ethnic outsider.  We too need to work within existing structures and create change within the system – redemption and restoration comes from within.

If you know the story of Esther you know that she becomes Queen and then a short while later her husband is convinced that all the Jewish people should be killed.  He didn’t remember or realize that his “beloved” was Jewish. But you better believe her friends and mentors didn’t forget her Jewishness and quickly came to her for aid.   Esther tried to play them off saying I don’t have any power and oh by the way – remember Vashti?  I could lose my life if I confront the king on a matter of policy.

This line from Esther 4 is great:

Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.

Yes, maybe God worked out your life’s plan so that you could be in a position to save your people.  Maybe you should risk your life so that you can have life.  Esther was in a position where she could lose everything.

– If she did nothing, the King’s edict would ultimately kill her

– If she talked to the King about his edict, he could kill her outright

– Or, she could talk to the King and he could change his policy and she (and her people) would get the chance to live.

It seems like a no brainer right? But we often face a tough calculation like this and struggle to take the risk. I know I do.

The story does ultimately have a happy ending.  The Jewish people are saved from the king’s sword.  Esther is a precursor to Jesus.  He risked everything and ultimately died for our freedom.  He left the beautiful palace of heaven to walk among us and offer a free gift of salvation.

Esther became a person of greatness only after she was willing to risk everything.  David pointed out that she was called Queen Esther only 14 times in the whole book.  Once before she risked her life and 13 times afterwards.  We become great people of God when we are willing to lay down our lives for Him and the people He loves.

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