Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Refiner

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap.
Malachi 3:2

fire When God comes to visit humanity, it is an awesome experience. I mean that in the most dreaded sense of the word awesome. God strikes fear and holy wonder in the heart of the person He touches. And He burns away sinful excess and purifies painfully to bring the soul to the place where the marvel of God's holiness enthralls it.

That is why the prophet asks this question. Who can really stand up to God? When He appears, our fallenness and lack of holiness is graphically apparent. We are beggars in the midst of royalty. We have nothing with which to compare ourselves to God, and unless He refines us and purifies us, we cannot stand next to Him. We need the refiner's fire. We need the washing of regeneration.

On this last day of 2008, I am reminded that I am in need of God. The more I serve Him, the more aware I am of my need of Him. The more I seek to know others who seek Him, the more convinced I am that redemption is what is needed, for we cannot make ourselves better people. Humanity is tragically twisted and in need of God to do something to our souls. He longs to repair us, to refine us, to burn off the tarnish and filth of sin and make us better in His presence.

I am praying that this new year to come will find me closer to God and more refined by Him. I pray that my dross will be consumed and my gold will be refined. I pray that I will be clothed with the fine garments of righteousness that He longs for me to wear.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Answer of the Almighty

backlit clouds Then Job answered the LORD and said:
"Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further."
Job 40:3-5

God answered Job's prayer. He gave Job an unprecedented audience with the Almighty. But it was not the kind of thing that Job had envisioned. He had hoped to defend himself and protest his circumstances. But God arrives on the scene with bracing questions. He warns Job that he had better be a man when answering God's questions.

The first reality that struck Job comes in God's clear statement that Job spoke and questioned only with a finite and limited knowledge of the ways of God. God then elaborates on what it is to be God by spending the bulk of His questions on mankind's inability to deal with the natural world and the forces of the universe. All of which are neatly in the control of Almighty God. Job cannot deal with even one of the questions that God brings to him, let alone the barrage of ever more complex natural processes about which God reminds Job.

Job's response is to make a simple promise: he would in human humility not say a word because he was so miniscule compared to God. He promises silence as God continues to drive home the point of His power. That was the lesson God had for Job in this trial: God is awesome in power, even in our losses. 

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Day for Planning and Prayer

and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.
Philemon 6

praying hands Today I am setting aside time for two very important things: ministry planning and prayer. I see Paul's prayer in this passage and it informs my efforts for today. I can come up with objectives or strategies or goals. That is not so hard. But in ministry, every one of those centers on the spiritual needs of people. So I must pray.

I will be praying for myself, that God will make my efforts effective and that I will be submissive to what He wants of me. I want to see God bring good things into the lives of people at Mill Creek. Some of them are really hurting (they may not even admit it yet) and will need the counseling ministry to step in and help them. Some will need to be discipled and the mentoring ministry will provide a relationship of new spiritual growth for them. Some will need to serve, and they will need to stop holding back, before God will give them such enormous blessings. I think there are some who will need to learn to live without some things. One of them is me. I believe the economic uncertainty will shake comfortable suburbanites to the core, and perhaps bring real need to us, which is exactly the culture the gospel will thrive in!

I will pray for those who need to grasp important biblical truths in the Discipleship Institute. Some people this coming year will finally understand and appreciate the need for a strong theology with a firm faith and a life that gives of itself exclusively to God for others. And they will find that in a classroom among humble servants and brothers and sisters.

Others will need the fellowship that only comes in a small group setting to help them be the followers of Jesus that He calls them to be. 2009 will be a year of change and the knowledge of every good thing that God has for us in Christ Jesus. I understand that is what God wants to show me. I know that is what He will give to me. I will pray the prayer of Paul and plan in ways that submits to its understanding.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The grace of God has appeared.

nativity creche For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
Titus 2:11-12

The grace of God has appeared. That is the reality of the Christmas message that we begin celebrating today. In Jesus, the grace of God fell on a rebel planet. God chose to give His Son to offer pardon for the sinful state of humanity. This is the best of all gifts for all people.

This grace appeared in Jesus and it brought salvation. Of all the gifts a person can receive, this is the greatest of gifts. Just as it is the costliest gift ever given, it is the greatest gift ever received. And this salvation is not just a pie-in-the-sky vaguery. It affects me in the real world.

This passage shows that salvation in Christ teaches the believer how to live. It trains us for a new kingdom. We renounce our rebellion, turn from the forces of selfish sin, and join the King's followers in a new allegiance. We are trained then to renounce what was once our basic training in rebellion: ungodliness and worldly passion. And we live under the King with new self-control, upright thinking and godly living AMONG the very rebels we once conspired with against the King.

This is what the Nativity brought to me. And this is the perspective on Christmas that I will carry with me this evening in worship, and tomorrow in celebration.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wisdom & Circumstances

winter stream God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.

And he said to man,
        'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.'
Job 28:23, 28

There is really only one source of all wisdom. God understands what true wisdom is. He knows what I need. This observation comes from the heart of a man who had suffered intensely, reasoned out a hard fought theology of suffering with antagonists who claimed to be close friends, and in the end could not recant one iota of his firmly held theology. It wasn't because Job had such a firm system of reasoning. It was because of what he absolutely knew about God. He knew that he had not lived in disobedience to the Almighty. And He knew that God was the source of wisdom and blessing.

To truly forge any philosophy of life worth accepting, I must begin and end with God. I must live a life that respects, rejoices in, and remembers God. That is the fear of the Lord. It is not fear in the sense of a paranoia. It is not fear in the sense of a phobia. It is not fear in the sense of a dreadful emotion. It is fear in terms of respect for an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-sufficient, and all-loving God.

When I know God in this way, turning from what is evil is a natural consequence. It is not a focus on DON'T, but more a focus of what I get to do with God. There is so much there. Job's words previous to this have set the wisdom of God of greater value than any precious gold or gem that men labor for to mine from the earth! And that is the observation of a man who was at one time extremely wealthy and knew the value of them all because he probably owned them all. And he valued God above all. That is why his integrity could stand the test of the loss of all things. God's wisdom and relationship of truly fearing God can never be lost when they are valued above all else.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Like a Breath

old man holding breath O Lord, what is man that you regard him, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.
Psalm 144:3-4

I will purposefully try not to be as morbid as my 45 years make me with a passage such as this one! But I have seen enough of my life whizz by to know that it is indeed like a breath or a passing shadow. It goes by fast. My kids are growing up, my own life is marked more by concerns of middle age than of my youth, and I see my kids becoming what I once enjoyed. So there is a mellowing that happens. I am not discontent. I am just sort of disengaged from what used to really get me revved up.

I used to worry a lot about my future. But now that I am in it, it is fine, not perfect or extravagant, but peaceful and content. I used to rail against all the powers that be. Now, I see that there is no way to eliminate the painful realities. That is what the gospel and the coming of Jesus is all about. Instead, I have learned to graciously look for the good, take a breath, and wait for what God will do. I am content in the knowledge that God has a plan, even when I don't see it, or like what I am currently experiencing.

My days are a passing shadow. That goes for the good stuff AND the bad stuff. The good stuff lasts all to briefly. But the bad stuff will pass as well. I just need to watch the sliding shadow to know this. And that is comforting and discomforting all at once! I feel a lot like the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. There is good and there is bad and it evens out so that life is bearable, enjoyable, and God is ultimately in control in a good way. So I regard these days.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Little Christmas Cheer

Just wanted to share the sights of Christmas at our home. Merry Christmas to all.

Windows Live: not bad for Microsoft

IWindows Live am posting this with Windows Live Writer. I recently switched over to Live Mail as well due to my employer switching to nasty Microsoft Outlook Exchange Server for e-mail. I can’t use Outlook 2007 for e-mail because our IT supplier created a fatal chain for me: Exchange Server 2003 with my Outlook 2007 running on my laptop with WinVista Ultimate. The hangup: employer’s provider refuses to write a certificate that WinVista recognizes as safe in this three-way combo/comedy of errors.


But Windows Live Mail has IMAP support. I set it up and bingo, it worked FIRST TIME with no issues. Just told me that the site certificate was “iffy”, I clicked OK, and moved on. Only downside is that I have to import in my Google Calendar to a separate Computer at work so that rest of staff can see my Calendar.


The Live version of Movie Maker (in beta) is to put it mildly, BLAND. You can do a few transitions and color effects (nothing like the real version), so I don’t recommend it. No titles, no graphics, just editing video down and a few rough stitches to hold scenes together. Not worth the effort in my opinion. Windows Photo gallery Live is pretty decent, and I have not been disappointed with it.

So as much as I resist it, I am again a MicroSlave to Windows.

Prayer is really submission.

Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on a level ground!
Psalm 143:10

This is the kind of personal prayer request that has intense spiritual impact. So many times it seems that my personal praying is gathered around my material comfort. I ask for God to make me "feel" better. I don't really pray much for Him to teach me His will. Most of my praying is an attempt to inform Him of how my life would be so much better if I could just somehow get Him to conform to what I want!

It means something that God is my God. One humbles pride before the great God that is worshiped. If the goal is to get Deity to grant wishes, then one worships no one and instead has a magical view of God as some sort of super-beneficial genie. That is not what prayer is to be. It is not asking for the granting of three wishes, commanding God to give me what I cannot get myself. 

Prayer is primarily a submission. It is a bowing down of the soul and of the pride of the person before an Almighty God. It is a surrender to the all powerful authority, asking that God might show us what we should do for Him. I must remember this.

May I surrender to Your leadership and teaching today. May I know that Your good Spirit is leading me to level ground. May I not be ashamed to be led by Your Word into simple but profound reliance upon You. You know my needs. You know what my heart wants. You know the relief I beg for. But You also know what is best for me and I submit to that no matter it what it means to my wishes or dreams.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Perspective on Pain.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,

and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 

And after my skin has been thus destroyed,

yet in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see for myself,

and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

My heart faints within me!
Job 19:25-27

The hope of a life after life with God is what gave Job any kind of perspective to keep him going. There is intense suffering. There is a suffering that makes us want to despair of life altogether. But there is no suffering that every takes away the kind of hope that Job is describing. He is able to sort through all the pains and the poor advice simply because he knew that his Redeemer lives.

When all around crumbles and decays, God is still Who stands on the earth. My life changes. I know this. I have had more medical concerns this year than ever. I have watched my own daughter suffer through depression and the agony of losing hearing in an ear. I have been powerless to help her. She has struggled to see God in any of her current suffering, and all I have are words right now. 

And I cannot help my own decaying flesh. Even now my degenerative discs are killing me as I sit and type. The only relief is to get up and walk around every five minutes or so.

But it is bearable in the light of eternity. Still I have to say, if I was a naturalist, I would check out, because pain is no fun! Yet knowing that it is momentary affliction brings hope and conviction. But the pain and the loss remain, and will probably always do so in the two or three decades that I have left (God willing).

God, I know my eyes will see you. And it makes all this worth it, I believe. Keep me focused with truth until that time. Amen

OK. I am officially moving my blog here.

I used to be located over at  Well for three days I have been unable to bring them up. I guess they went belly up. No reply to my e-mail to the site admin. So nearly four and a half years of blog archives are caput.  Very sad face.  But I am here. For good.