Wednesday, April 30, 2014

GOD'S BEST VERSION OF YOU

To love someone is to desire and work toward their becoming the best versions of themselves.  The one person in all the universe who can do this perfectly for you is God.  He has no other agenda.  He has no unmet needs He is hoping you can help Him with.  And He knows what the best version of you looks like.  He delighted in the idea of it, and He is already working on it.  The apostle Paul said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”  Romans 8:28

Which means God is at work every moment to help you become His best version of you.

-- John Ortberg in The Me I Want to Be


#3425

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SHARING THE GOSPEL

Quig Fletcher has chaired the board of directors meetings at Willow Creek for more than twenty-five years.  But before he became such a faithful part of our church, we crossed paths at the Bueller YMCA in Palatine, Illinois.  He and I played racquetball almost weekly, a habit that led to a deep friendship.

In those days, Quig wasn't a very religious person by his own admission.  He thought that since he couldn't seem to stop sinning, there was no hope of heaven for him.  The first time I crossed that locker room to talk to him, I had enough collateral in the relationship that he was actually open to talking about spiritual things.  When the time came for me to tell my story, I remember feeling a little insecure because there was nothing flashy to it.  I wasn't a reformed serial killer.  God hadn't had to rehabilitate me from some thousand-buck-a-day cocaine habit.  My story just wasn't dramatic by most standards.

So I walked Quig through my plain-vanilla journey to faith, and soon afterward he began attending church…  Many, many years went by, but one day at the age of forty-six, he met Christ and his life was radically changed.  Because of the work of the Spirit in his life, Quig no longer saw himself as career sinner but instead as freshly anointed saint -- from hopeless to heaven-bound.

"Looking back," Quig recently told me, "I probably would have accepted Jesus Christ much sooner if someone had explained the gospel to me.  I had the heart for it but never really had the opportunity."

-- Bill Hybels in Just Walk Across the Room


#3424

Monday, April 28, 2014

DOUBT CAN DO GOOD IN US

Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it in My side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:27-28 NRSV)

Sometimes doubt can do good in us. It can motivate us to study and learn. It can purify false beliefs that have crept into our faith. It can humble our arrogance. It can give us patience and compassion with other doubters. It can remind us of how much truth matters. Martin Luther, who was the champion of the importance of faith but wrestled with doubt himself, insisted that pride -- not doubt -- is the opposite of faith.

-- John Ortberg in Faith & Doubt


#3423

Friday, April 25, 2014

PLANT A TREE

Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if he knew that the world was coming to an end tomorrow, and he said: “I would plant an apple tree.” In other words, Luther, trusting in God’s gracious, unmerited mercy would live life just as he had been living it. When John Wesley was asked the same thing, being an obsessive-compulsive type, he said that he would arise at 4:00 AM, preach at 5:00, visit the sick at 7:00, go to communion at 8:00...etc., until the questioner realized that that was exactly what Wesley had planned to do tomorrow anyway! Because we believe that God is like Christ, we can dare to live in faith and hope and love now; trusting God for whatever the future holds, because we believe that God holds the future, and that God’s Name and God’s Nature are love.

-- Donald B. Strobe in Collected Words


#3422

Thursday, April 24, 2014

THE TOMB IS EMPTY

A number of years ago retired U.M. Bishop Don Ott was the guest preacher at our Easter services. In his closing benediction he related the story about a pastor who was giving a children's sermon on Easter Sunday. The pastor asked the children what it meant that the tomb was empty. The pastor was expecting the liturgical response, "Christ is risen." Instead one little girl replied in a loud voice for all to hear, "Jesus is on the loose!"

That says a lot, doesn't it? Jesus is on the loose in this world seeking to transform it into His kingdom. And He's doing it one soul at a time. Is Jesus on the loose in your life, your family, your work or school, your community?

Please, God, don't let us re-nail Jesus to the cross or re-seal Him in the tomb. Let us allow Him to run loose in our lives.

-- Rev. David T. Wilkinson


#3421

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE MESSAGE OF EASTER

I have heard that possums are smart animals. You wouldn’t think so because you hardly ever see one except when it’s dead on the road. There’s a joke that goes, “why did the chicken cross the road? To prove to the possum that it could be done!” But possums, it turns out, are smart. They won’t enter a hole if there’s just one set of tracks going into it. They know there’s something in there. But if there are two sets of tracks. The possum will enter and not be afraid.

The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave - we don’t have to fear death because there are tracks leading out of the tomb. Paul preached the proclamation of Easter - "'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the message that we need to hear at Easter! Jesus is risen!

-- Author Unknown


#3420

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

CONCERN FOR EVERY LIVING CREATURE

I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyards, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.

-- John Wesley, as quoted in The Green Bible


#3319

Monday, April 21, 2014

THE FULL AFFIRMATION OF GOD'S LOVE

The resurrection of Jesus is a hidden event. Jesus didn't rise from the dead to prove to those who had crucified Him that they had made a mistake, or confound His opponents. Nor did He rise to impress the rulers of His time or to force anyone to believe. Jesus' resurrection was the full affirmation of His Father's love.

Therefore, He only showed Himself to those who knew about this love. He made Himself known as the risen Lord, only to a handful of His close friends. There is probably no event in human history that has had such importance, while remaining, at the same time, so unspectacular. The world didn't notice it; only those few to whom Jesus had chosen to show Himself, and whom He wanted to send out to announce God's love to the world just as He had done.

-- Henri Nouwen in "Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring," Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 4


#3418

Friday, April 18, 2014

REALLY, LORD…

Really now, Lord Jesus, is our sin so serious as to necessitate the sort of ugly drama we are forced to behold this day? Why should the noon sky turn toward midnight and the earth heave and the heavens be rent for our mere peccadilloes? To be sure, we’ve made our mistakes. Things didn’t turn out as we intended. There were unforeseen complications, factors beyond our control. But we meant well. We didn’t intend for anyone to get hurt. We’re only human, and is that so wrong?

Really now, Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, we may not be the very best people who ever lived, but surely we are not the worst. Others have committed more serious wrong. Ought we to be held responsible for the ignorance of our grandparents? They, like we, were doing the best they could, within the parameters of their time and place. We’ve always been forced to work with limited information. There’s always been a huge gap between our intentions and our results.

Please, Lord Jesus, die for someone else, someone whose sin is more spectacular, more deserving of such supreme sacrifice. We don’t want the responsibility. Really, Lord, is our unrighteousness so very serious? Are we such sinners that You should need to die for us?

Really, if You look at the larger picture, our sin, at least my sin, is so inconsequential. You are making too big a deal out of such meager rebellion. We don’t want Your blood on our hands. We don’t want our lives in any way to bear the burden of Your death. Really. Amen.

-- Will Willimon in The Best of Will Willimon


#3417

Thursday, April 17, 2014

GOD'S PLAN OF REDEMPTION

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit…” (1 Peter 3:18 RSV)

The cross has become the central symbol of the Christian faith. It is truly amazing that such a symbol of torture devised by the Roman Empire to inflict cruel punishment on common criminals would become the most recognizable symbol of love and grace in the world. However, for God’s plan of redemption to be complete, it was not only necessary for Jesus to live and walk among us, but also that He die for the sins of the world. He had to become the perfect, sinless sacrifice which could atone for sins, once and for all.

-- Timothy Tennent in 30 Questions: A Short Catechism on the Christian Faith


#3416

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

PAYING A SACRIFICIAL PRICE

There is a classic story... about a little boy who built a sailboat and did too good a job of it. When it was all finished, he took his new little craft down to the lake, set it down in the water and waited for a breeze to set it in motion. He had not long to wait for it was such a beautifully designed ship that almost immediately it began to move and rapidly gather speed. Realizing that it was getting away from him, he frantically tried to catch it. However, it quickly sailed beyond his grasp and it was gone.

A few weeks later as he was walking downtown, he looked in the window of a second hand store. And yes, there it was, unmistakably his boat. He rushed into the shop and shouted at the proprietor, "That's my boat in your window!" He picked it up and started to walk out with it.

"Hey, sonny, you can't do that," said the proprietor. "I bought it from a young man who brought it in just yesterday."

"It's my boat," the little boy kept repeating. "See." And he pointed to the bottom of the boat where he had carved his initials.

"You want the boat, you have to pay." Tears gathered in the little boy's eyes and he begged the owner of the store to hold it for him until he could save enough money to buy back what he had worked so hard to build. It would take a lot of sacrifice, but he had created it and to him it was worth whatever it took to save it.

As finally he walked out of the store holding the boat close to him, he was heard saying, "You're my boat. Twice you are my boat: first when I created you and second when I bought you with my sacrifice."

…First God created us and then He paid a sacrificial price to redeem us. He did it because He loves us and could not, would not, have it any other way.

-- Rev. V. Neil Wyrick in a sermon titled "Out of Tune, Out of Sync -- What to Do?"


#3415

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ALL HAVE SINNED

There are only two kinds of people in this world: sinners who believe themselves to be sinners and in need of a righteous savior; and the rest, sinners who believe themselves to be "not so bad" and in no need of a savior.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, who God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by His blood, effective through faith." (Romans 3:22b-25a)

The sacrifice of atonement, then, is a gracious gift we must receive through faith.

-- Rev. David T. Wilkinson


#3414

Monday, April 14, 2014

FOUND AT THE CROSS

Daniel T. Niles gives us a penetrating illustration.  The Hindu temple, he says, is built in the form of a man.  The outer court is the human body.  The inner court is the mind.  The shrine is man's soul.  Man moves inside himself to find God.

The Moslem mosque is built in the form of a man.  The central dome is man's head.   The minarets are hands upraised in prayer.  Man comes to God through prayer.

The Buddhist dagoba is built in the form of a man.  The erect body, the legs crossed, the head unmoving symbolize withdrawal from the world.  Man reaches God through meditation.

The Christian Church is built in the form of a man.  The man is on the cross.  All traditional Church architecture, Romanesque, Gothic, even Byzantine, is based on a cross.  All worship centers in that cross, the place where God and man meet.  Man, therefore, approaches God through the One who died. (D.T. Niles, Upon the Earth)

To the Hindu, Moslem and Buddhist, God is removed from the human scene.  He is approached through meditation, prayer and quietness.  To the Christian, God is touched with our infirmities.  God knows the meaning of suffering.  God experiences the cross.  He is not far away.  He is there.  He is found at the cross.

-- H.S. Vigeveno in Jesus the Revolutionary


#3413

Friday, April 11, 2014

THE FACT OF CHRIST

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you know Me, you will know My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”  (John 14:6-7 NRSV)

All the ideas of the Christian faith are guaranteed by the fact of Christ. They have taken shoes and walked. We not only hear them -- we see them. And what we see are so good, so beautiful, so true that they become the Good, the Beautiful, and the True. His ways become the Way, His truths become the Truth, and His life becomes the Life.

-- E. Stanley Jones in A Song of Ascents: A Spiritual Autobiography


#3412

Thursday, April 10, 2014

SOMETHING DEEP INSIDE US

Something inside cannot quit hoping. Something inside keeps drawing us back to this rabbi. Something about His life, His works, His faith. Something about His belief that the universe is run by the kind of Father Jesus described and loved. Something about His power. Something about His peace draws us to Him as it has drawn people all over the world to Him for two thousand years and draws them still.

Something deep inside tells you that you are standing alone on the edge of a cliff, and the only alternative to Jesus is illusion or despair.

We can't see and know everything about hope now, but one day we will. Maybe it's like this, as written by a preacher named Bruce Thielemann:

"Imagine a colony of grubs living on the bottom of a swamp. And every once in a while, one of these grubs is inclined to climb a leaf stem to the surface. Then he disappears above the surface and never returns. All the grubs wonder why this is so and what it must be like up there, so they counsel among themselves and agree that the next one who goes up will come back and tell the others. Not long after that, one of the grubs feels the urge and climbs that leaf stem and goes out above the surface onto a lily pad. And there in the warmth of the sun, he falls asleep. While he sleeps, the carapace of the tiny creature breaks open, and out of the inside of the grub comes a magnificent dragonfly with beautiful, wide, rainbow-hued, iridescent wings. And he spreads those wings and flies, soaring out over those waters. But then he remembers the commitment he has made to those behind, yet now he knows he cannot return. They would not recognize him in the first place, and beyond that, he could not live again in such a place. But one thought of his takes away all the distress: they, too, shall climb the stem, and they, too, shall know the glory."

-- John Ortberg in Faith & Doubt


#3411

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

THE BURDEN OF WORRY

Do you feel that your small anxieties, cares, and concerns cannot measure up to the world’s collective prayers to God? People are dying from flood, famine, earthquake, and fire; yet you worry about getting to an appointment on time. It seems almost presumptuous to expect God to care about your worries, doesn’t it?

Nevertheless, hear the truth of the Christian faith: God loves you. God has concern for your life. Your greatest triumphs, your smallest sorrows, God knows and cares about them all.

The scriptures tell you to “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The key word here is all -- not only the big stuff, but also the little worries and doubts that assail you throughout an average day. …

God of love, I’m tired of carrying this burden of worry. I want to believe that You will take it from me, but I find it hard because ____________________. Today, help me to cast all my anxiety upon You. Lift me up if I stumble; forgive me if I fall. I ask this humbly. Amen.

-- Patricia Wilson in Freedom from Worry


#3410

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

THE VALUE OF GOOD WORKS

"But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:4-10 NKJV)

A Christian should always remember that the value of his good works is not based on their number and excellence, but on the love of God which prompts him to do these things.

-- St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)


#3409

Monday, April 7, 2014

BEARING FRUIT

Jesus said, "This is to My Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples." (John 15:8 NIV)

In all cases, fruitfulness refers to what results from what we've received, the change wrought within us and through us by the Holy Spirit, and the impact we have with our lives.  The quality of effect God has on our inner lives and the resulting outward impact we have on the lives of people around us--these comprise spiritual fruitfulness.

When Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches," He reminds us that all our fruit derive from our relationship to God in Christ.  Our fruit is God's fruit.

The word fruit refers to the way plants reproduce.  Fruit contain seeds that multiply and create life apart from the original plant and yet related to it.  Through fruit, life passes along to another generation.  Fruit is new life.  Fruit is growth.  Fruit is future.

-- Robert Schnase in Five Practices of Fruitful Living


#3408

Friday, April 4, 2014

YOUR HEART'S DESIRE

Christianity is not an invitation to become a moral person.  It has a powerful effect upon our lives, but when transformation comes, it is always the after-effect of something at the level of our hearts.

At its core, Christianity begins with an invitation to desire.  During Jesus' ministry, He came along and started appealing to desire.

To the weary, Jesus speaks of rest.  To the thirsty, of living water.  To the lost, He speaks of finding your way.  Jesus takes people back to their desires.  "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

Jesus provokes desire; He awakens it; He heightens it.  When the religious watchdogs accused Him of heresy, He says, "Not at all.  This is the invitation God has been sending all along."

-- John Edlredge in The Journey of Desire


#3407

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

SEEING GOD IN YOU

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.." (Colossians 1:27 NIV)

I am weary of celebrity religion. I have had my share of honors, but when I die, unless my family can say, "There is something of God in that man," then I will have failed.

-- Stephen Olford


#3406

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

CANNOT DO IT FOR THEM

In Christian community, we teach about the ways of the faith with Christ at the center. We point out what is different about following Christ, and how the truth of the gospel is different from any other truth. We offer experiences of Christ through our worship and other spiritual practices. Then we teach participants to follow Christ on their own through their practice of the disciplines. Their transformation depends on them making their own connections with the God of Jesus, whom we worship. We cannot do it for them; we can only teach them how to do it for themselves.

-- Cathy Townley in Missional Worship


#3405