Tuesday, May 31, 2011

running with purpose

It's that time of year again when I merge two of my favorite things: running and raising money for missionaries. This year I am please to also involve a new one of my favorite things: Genevieve. On 9.10.11, Genevieve and I (her in the jogger and me pushing it) will be taking on the "Run to the Rock" 10k. It's a race to Plymouth Rock. This seems fitting as my family came on the Mayflower.

All donations will go to Speed the Light which is one of my favorite charities. Speed the Light provides transportation and communication equipment for missionaries around the world. This enables them to meet practical needs of people in need while also allowing them to share the Gospel. You can find out more about Speed the Light at www.speedthelight.com

If you would like to support this cause, you may make a donation by clicking the paypal link to the right. I also covet your prayers.

Thanks. God bless!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

relationship: Friend/friend

Description of the relationship

When we speak of friends in an earthly sense, we can be talking about a vast range in the depth of those relationships. A friend can be used to refer to our close, intimate relationships (like our spouse or best friend) and can also be used to refer to mere acquaintances or people we barely know. In the technology age, it's even possible to be Facebook or blog friends with someone you have never met.

When the Bible speaks about us being friends with God, it is meaning the close, intimate relationship. In Proverbs 18:24b Solomon says, "but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." No acquaintance sticks closer than a brother. No, only a close, intimate friend does.

In fact, when Jesus calls us (we'll get into who us is in a moment) friends in John 15:14, He does it while talking about His amazing love for us. I think it would serve us well to look at this passage together in the context of his discussion on love. John 15:12-17 (ESV):

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love on another."

A couple of things jump out to me in this passage:

1. The depth - As we mentioned, this is a deep friendship. In fact, Jesus says that the greatest love a person could show is laying down one's own life for a friend. As we've mentioned in previous discussions, Jesus died on the cross for us. Jesus laid down His life for us. This means that Jesus has shown us more love than any other friend, and, thus, is our closest friend.

2. Our standing - Jesus says that He no longer thinks of us as servants because we are His friends. Jesus says that a servant is not made known what the master is doing, but that He has revealed what the Master (God) is doing.

3. The initiation - Jesus tells us that we didn't choose Him, but He chose us. I think that this is an incredibly special fact. I mean, think about it. Many of us have gone out of our way to try to get someone to like us because we perceived them as cool or whatever. We almost take pride in the fact that someone wants to be our friend and approaches us instead of the other way around. Well, this is exactly what Jesus did to us. He chose us. He wanted to be our friend before we wanted to be His. I find this incredible.

Definition of the roles

Friend: The role for this is unique when compared with the other relationships we have covered. With all the others, there are different roles, but in friendship there are simply two friends. We have the same role in this relationship in terms of being a friend. All that said, even in our friendship Jesus is superior to us.

Let's look at how we become friends with God. There are two Scripture references that jump out to me with regard to this:

First, we can see what Jesus said in the passage we already read. In John 15:14 Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." So, we do see that there is a condition here. We must do the command of the Lord if we are to be His friend. Notice that it's not that He must do what we command to be our friend. The condition is only one-sided. We must do His will. We must be obedient to Him.

Second, we can see in James 2:23 that Abraham believed God (which was counted to him as righteousness) and he was called a friend of God. It would seem from this passage that Abraham was considered a friend of God as a result of his belief in Him.

I think these two passages actually speak to the same idea. It is out of our faith in God that we obey him and are called His friends.

Discussion of the reality

This relationship seems pretty clear cut. I mean, if we're Christians then we are friends of God. If we're not Christians then we're not friends of God. So, where can/does this relationship go wrong? I would like to look at two areas that people may struggle in:

1. Being the dominant friend - We can make this same mistake in earthly friendships. We always feel the need to talk, but never listen. We want to lay all of our problems on our friends, but never want to bear any of theirs. This is an incredibly selfish, ego-centric view of friendship. There are many verses in Proverbs that warn us against doing all the talking. We are supposed to talk with friends, not at them. Our conversations with friends should be dialogues and not monologues.

The same is true for our friendship with God! God desires to speak to us and not only have us speak to Him. God wants to have an intimate friendship with us. One problem with rushing our devotional and prayer time is that we only ensure that we tell God what we want to say and typical give God no time to talk back. As I mentioned in a previous discussion, we need to know God's voice if we are ever going to hear what He has to say to us.

2. Being the insecure friend - We are the timid friend. We don't feel good enough to be friends with God. We don't think we deserve it. Well, guess what: both of these statements are true...we aren't good enough and we don't deserve it. That said, God still chose us as His friends in His grace and mercy. It's not about what we deserve, it's about what He has freely offered us.

We can't play the role of the awkward junior higher when it comes to friendships. If we are Christians, then we are friends with God. Instead of spending all of our time with God telling Him how much we don't deserve His friendship, we need to accept that He's offered it and just be friends. A friendship that only discusses the state of the friendship is not much of a friendship at all. Just be His friend, and know that He wants to be yours.

Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor

Who am I that you are mindful of me
That you hear me, when I call
Is it true that you are thinking of me
How you love me, it's amazing (What am I Lord)

I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
I am a friend of God
He calls me friend

God Almighty
Lord of Glory
You have called me friend

2003 Integrity's Praise! Music Vertical Worship Songs

in His strength. for His glory.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

st. patrick's breastplate

In honor of St. Patrick's Day, I felt that it would be appropriate to share an old Irish hymn titled "Saint Patrick's Breastplate" (it is also sometimes referred to as "The Deer's Cry" or "The Lorica") with you. Although this hymn was not actually composed by St. Patrick, it is considered to be descriptive of his faith.

The hymn was originally written in an ancient Irish dialect and thus many translations can be found. I have selected the version that the Celtic Monks memorize and pray each morning (source: www.prayerfoundation.org). Although I enjoy nearly all of it, I find the final two verses to be especially powerful.

"Saint Patrick's Breastplate"

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation
His bursting from the spiced tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within.
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against all knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, and in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

I pray you all have a happy, safe St. Patrick's Day!

in His strength. for His glory.

Monday, March 14, 2011

relationship: Master/servant

Description of the relationship

The Master/servant relationship can also be called the Master/slave relationship. In this context, servant and slave is an interchangeable word (the Greek word used in the New Testament translates as "bondservant"). Before I describe this relationship with regard to us and God, I think it's appropriate to first discuss slavery during the time of the Roman Empire (though I will not go in depth with an explanation as that would require its own study):

Slavery during this time was not the same as slavery practiced in pre-Civil War America, so it's important not to think of this relationship in such terms. In the Bible time, slavery was practiced with rules in mind. People often became slaves due to poverty and not forced labor. Slaves were considered a part of the family in most cases. Slaves weren't looked down upon as they were in America, but were considered vital to Roman structure. We can see the affection showed toward slaves in Paul's letter to Philemon regarding Philemon's slave Onesimus. Slaves could go free and in some cases even be adopted by their Master (we'll come back to this point in a later relationship study).

During the "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus spoke of treasures. He mentioned how we should not lay up treasures for ourselves on earth, but we should lay them up in heaven instead. At the end of His point on the subject Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24 ESV)

The implication in this passage would be that we should be serving God as our master. This passage also says that the servant must be devoted to his master.

Jesus also makes this strong implication by his words in Matthew 10:24-25 after telling His disciples of the persecution they would face and in John 13:16 after He washes His disciples feet. In each passage, He tells His disciples that a servant is not greater that his master, clearly speaking of their relationship with Him.

This relationship is laid up much more explicitly by Paul in Romans 6:15-23 (ESV):

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Notice all the references Paul made to slavery in this passage. Notice the tenses used. Paul speaks of being slaves to sin in the past tense and being slaves to God (and righteousness) in the present tense.

We see further confirmation of this relationship in the following greetings from letters in the New Testament:

  • Romans 1:1 - "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus..."
  • Philippians 1:1 - "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus..."
  • Titus 1:1 - "Paul, a servant of God..."
  • James 1:1 - "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ..."
  • 2 Peter 1:1 - "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ..."
  • Jude 1:1 - "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ..."

Paul also calls a couple of other people servants in his letters (aside from the one with Timothy above). He mentions Epaphras in Colossians 1:7; 4:12 as well as Tychicus in Colossians 4:7.

The Master/servant relationship is exactly as it sounds...one where the servant surrenders his will to the will of the Master, serving Him completely and faithfully.

Definition of the roles

Master: I think the Scriptures above clearly show God as the Master in this relationship. God is the one who is in control. God is the one who has work to be done by the servants. God, as Master, is the one who provides for His servants.

One cool thing that we do see in Scripture, however, is that Jesus (the Master) humbled himself by doing a servant's task of washing His disciples' feet in John 13:1-20.

Servant: God is the Master and we are the servants. Jesus and Paul seem to make a similar point in the passages shown above. It seems that everyone is involved in a master/servant relationship. The only thing that changes is the identity of the master. We are either slaves to God or slaves to sin. We cannot be both!


As servants, we are completely dependent upon our Master!

Discussion of the reality

Often times, we want do what we want to do. We want to act as freedmen. How often do we choose our desires and our will over the desires and will of God. We should be daily surrendering to God. In fact, Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." We need to daily decide you surrender our will to God's will. In John 3:30, John the Baptist says of Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." This is true for us all. We must be careful not to fight being a slave to God, because as we read earlier, the only other option is being a slave to sin.

Not only can we choose to not to be a slave to God (and thus be a slave to sin) but we can also mix up who's who in the relationship. Sometimes we may be acting like the master, deceiving ourselves into thinking that God's simply there to serve us. This is pride and is incredibly dangerous. God is not our personal servant or genie who grants our every wish. In any master/slave relationship, the slave cannot start commanding the master around. This is especially true in our relationship with God. Don't get me wrong, God will provide for our needs. He is our Master and that is something that masters do. But God doesn't need us commanding Him around. (Just to clarify, I'm not talking about asking Him for His provision in prayer here; I'm talking about how some people actually command God around.)

Similarly, our work should glorify God instead of us expecting God's work to glorify us.

The servant is never greater than his Master!


in His strength. for His glory.

Friday, March 11, 2011

relationship: Shepherd/sheep

Description of the relationship

Jesus discusses this relationship in John 10:1-21. There is a lot to learn from this passage. I want to highlight seven key things that we learn about this relationship in John 10:

1. A thief does not enter the sheepfold through the door but climbs in by another way.
2. A shepherd enters the sheepfold through the door.

3. The sheep know the shepherd's voice and will follow him.
4. The shepherd's sheep will not follow another voice.
5. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
6. Someone who does not own the sheep will not protect them.
7. The shepherd knows his sheep and the sheep know their shepherd.

Although I think this passage may give the fullest picture of the relationship between the Shepherd and sheep, it is certainly not the only passage that mentions it. Let's look at a couple of others:

In Luke 15:1-7, we find the "Parable of the Lost Sheep." In this parable, Jesus describes another element of this relationship. Jesus says that even if only one sheep out of a flock of 100 went missing, a shepherd would leave the 99 still remaining to find the one. He then goes on to say that finding that one sheep causes much rejoicing.

In Matthew 10:16-25, we find Jesus discussing the persecution that the disciples will face. Jesus uses this description in verse 16: "Behold, I am sending you out at sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (ESV) It may seem that this paints a completely different picture, but I'm not so sure that it does.

Definition of the roles

Shepherd: Jesus is the Shepherd. In fact, He calls himself the Good Shepherd. While others came only to steal, kill and destroy, Jesus makes it clear in John 10 that he came to save us. Jesus is the only Shepherd. Jesus is the only Messiah (Christ). Jesus also says He is the door in John 10. Jesus is the only way to salvation. There is no other way, just as there is no other shepherd. Any other method will only steal, kill and destroy us.

So, how are we saved? Jesus discusses this as well. In John 10:11, Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus furthers this thought in John 10:17, saying, "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again." John 19:16-37 details Jesus death on the cross. Jesus died to save us. John 20:1-10 details the account of Christ's resurrection. (He did say, after all, that He lay down His life that He may take it up again.)

As the Shepherd, Jesus is the ultimate protector. He guards, protects and cares for all of His sheep. He proved His worth as Shepherd when He died upon the cross for His sheep.

Sheep: We are the sheep. As sheep, we need to know our Shepherd. We need to know His voice. If we do not know what the voice of God sounds like in our hearts, then we risk following a thief or robber's voice. We must be careful to follow Jesus. The Shepherd died for us, to save us.

How then are we saved? Romans 10:9, 10 says, "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved."

So, we need to know our Shepherd and know His voice that we might follow Him wherever He leads us. And we need to confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead.

We need to place our trust in the Shepherd. The reason that being sent out as sheep among wolves shouldn't concern us is that our Shepherd is the one who said it. We can trust that our Shepherd knows what's best for us.

Discussion of the reality

There are a couple of major areas that we can struggle with in this relationship and in our roles:

1. Sometimes, we might not know what God's voice sounds like in our hearts. This should not be so! We need to know the voice of God. If my wife called me and my response to her saying hello was to question who was calling, I would be in big trouble. That doesn't happen though because I know my wife's voice. I have an intimate (meaning close) relationship with her and hear her voice all the time. The same is true (and even more-so) when it comes to us and God. We should have an intimate relationship with Him and know His voice.

2. Sometimes, we might find ourselves taking the lead. We need to be careful not to take the lead. That's the job of the Shepherd. The sheep's job is to follow. We have been called to follow Jesus, not lead Him. Instead of creating our own plans, we should allow God to show us the plans He has for us. His plans will always be better than our plans. Things will always go better for us when we let Him lead and we simply follow. We need to trust the Lord.

It's also extremely important for us never to forget the sacrifice that our Shepherd made for us on the cross!

The ultimate sacrifice by a Shepherd (Christ Jesus) for His sheep (us)

in His strength. for His glory.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

relationship: Potter/clay

Description of the relationship

We see a picture of the potter/clay relationship painted in Jeremiah 18. In this passage, Jeremiah is commanded by God to go to the potter's house. While there, Jeremiah sees that the pottery the potter was making was spoiled in his hands so he reworked it into a different piece of pottery as he saw fit. Then God says that he is like the potter and the people of Israel are like the clay.

There are two important things to know about this relationship:

1. The potter does as he chooses to the clay. The potter takes the clay and envisions the pottery he would like to make. The potter shapes and molds the clay as he sees fit. If the piece of pottery the potter is making spoils, then the potter reworks it. The potter is in complete control.

2. As Isaiah 45:9 points out, the clay does not have any say in the process. The clay is unable to speak. The clay cannot tell the potter what to make or how to mold it. The clay is 100% at the will and mercy of the master.

Reading this description would seem to indicate that we have no say in this relationship. While it is true that God is sovereign and could choose to do with us whatever He wants, we do see a role we play in this relationship in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. Paul tells Timothy that we must cleanse ourselves to be a vessel that is holy and set apart for special purposes.

Definition of the roles

Isaiah 64:8 says, "But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand."

Potter: It is clear from the Scriptures we have looked at that God is the Potter. He decides how to mold us and make us. If He decides to rework us, then He is justified in doing so because He is the Potter.

Clay: It is also clear from the Scriptures we have looked at that we are the clay. We are the work of His hand. We don't have a say in how we are molded or made. The only responsibility that we have is to be cleansed. If we are not cleansed, we cannot be set apart for special purposes. So, we only choose whether we're cleansed or dirty. We have no say over how we're worked. And as clay, we do not have the right to question the Potter. God will always know what's best for us. We should never question His wisdom.

There are times when David questioned God in the Psalms. But these questions seem more rhetorical as he doesn't appear to wait for an answer. Not long after asking the question, he simply acknowledges that he trusts the Lord in His wisdom.

We must be careful to recognize our role in this relationship. We need to always trust that the Lord knows what is best and will mold us in exactly the right way.

Discussion of the reality

I know that I sometimes struggle when I don't understand why I'm going through a certain situation or when I am in a particular season. God often reminds me that I need to trust Him. There are no ifs, ands or buts here. Simply: trust God. Who are we to tell our Creator that He's making a mistake with us or that our situation is too hard for us to handle. God knows us better than we know ourselves. We need to be careful of this.

Some people try to shape God into the image they want Him to have. They pick and choose the aspects of God they like and discard the rest. The problem with this is that those people are trying to take the role as potter and trying to make God into the role as clay. This will never be met with success. We cannot mold God into what we want Him to be. When Moses asked God for His name, God replies in Exodus 3:14 by saying, "I AM WHO I AM." (also could be translated "I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.") The title YAHWEH is the covenant name for God which means "I AM." God's name is holy. What we also learn is that He is who He is. We cannot change or manipulate who He is. He is unchangeable. He is God. What more is there to say?

We need to be careful to always remember that He is the Potter, we're not; and He's not the clay, we are.

Here is my prayer today:

Please help me guard the things I say
Opinions, thoughts and questions are not for clay
Too often, as I'm being molded, I lift my voice
Though how clay is molded is the Potter's choice
Every time that I'm being molded and I begin to speak
Remind me that clay is silent and meek
Create with me whatever vessel you desire
Lend me strength as I'm kilned in the fire
A reminder for me today:
You are the Potter; I am but clay

in His strength. for His glory.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

relationship: introduction

God designed people to be relational beings. As such, He desires for us to have a relationship with Him. In fact, the Bible shows us a number of relationships we have with God. Over the next seven days, I want to take a closer look at the following seven of those relationships:

1. Potter/clay
2. Shepherd/sheep
3. Master/slave
4. Friend/friend
5. Father/child
6. Lover/loved
7. Redeemer/redeemed

For each post, I will provide a description of the relationship, a definition of what roles each party (God and us) should be playing in the relationship, and a discussion on how we often misunderstand the relationship and confuse the roles.

I pray that each post will encourage growth in your life in each particular area. I pray the same for myself as I write them and read them.

in His strength. for His glory.