Food for Thought

The Selfless Season

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As the year 2013 comes to a close I find myself running from holiday party to Christmas shopping, to more holiday parties, with barely a moment to spare. Besides the busyness of the season, one of the reasons I don’t have much extra time could have something to do with the upcoming adoption of my son which has definitely turned my world upside down – in a good way. In a season that is usually very focused on ourselves, my wife and I have found our perspective radically changed. To put it mildly, my focus has shifted. It has shifted from me to my new son. To a life focused on self to a life…well, a little less-focused on self (I still have a long way to go before I’m entirely selfless).

As a Christian one phrase I’ve often heard said during this time of the year is “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Christmas is a time to remember and celebrate his birth, a birth that would ultimately lead to the most important and selfless act, as Jesus later willingly gives his life. The challenge we face in our consumer driven society today is to actually keep the real meaning of Christmas at the center of our celebration. This is always difficult for me as I can get so focused on buying stuff and giving my family ideas of what to buy for me that I lose sight of what this the season is supposed to be reminding me of.

It’s no coincidence that two areas that are the biggest focus this time of year- gifts and relationships- are also the same ones that can cause people to dread the Christmas season the most. While gift giving will always be a main focus of the season, there are many people in our community that barely have enough money to buy food, let alone presents, for their kids. For them Christmas can be a time where the overwhelming commercialism serves as a constant reminder of their shortcomings.

Many amazing people and organizations in our community reach out during this time of the year to make Christmas special and help meet the needs of those in our community – selflessly giving and taking the time to serve those who have fallen on hard times. Because of their effort we also have an opportunity to partner with them. Whether it’s donating a gift or just dropping spare change in a bucket, your selfless act of giving has the potential to bring light and hope to someone’s life this year.

The second area that can be a struggle this time of year is in our relationships. For many of us this is a time of reuniting with family and friends and enjoying the blessing of the relationships that we have. Unfortunately this time of year also brings to the surface the pain of relationships that have been lost. Whether because of death, estrangement, or other circumstances – intense loneliness and even mourning is often a byproduct of the Christmas season. Our ability to fill the relational void in people’s lives requires more intentional individual action than simply donating a gift or money. Giving of ourselves and our time can be a far more sacrificial act. It may mean inviting someone to a family gathering that isn’t family, sharing a meal, or just listening to and acknowledging the challenges and hurts of life. I often find the hardest part of my life to be selfless with is my time. But giving time can be a gift far more valuable than a wrapped present.

As the hands and feet of Jesus, let’s take the time this season to let the universal message of Christ’s love speak through the commercialism and self-centeredness of our society.  Imagine what this season could like if we did?

 

Thoughts on Completing a Year-Long Bible Reading Plan

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By Guest Blogger: Mitch Claborn

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Just the other day, I completed a year long Bible reading plan, using the Bible Study App from Olive Tree.  For this trip through the Bible, I used the M’Cheyne reading plan.  Each day, there are 4 reading selections.  Upon completion of the plan, one has read the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice.  Here are some of my thoughts as I look back on my year-long journey through God’s Word.

God’s Word is Consistent

Some people don’t or won’t read the Bible because they claim that it is inconsistent.  These are people who have never read through the Bible completely, or who take small passages completely out of context in order to support their claim.

The truth is that God’s Word, expressed in written form in the Bible, is wonderfully, marvelously consistent.  From start to finish it is a story of God’s love for humanity.  Throughout the story, mankind rejects God again and again yet His love for us never fades nor falters, never dwindles nor diminishes.

Again and again in the Old Testament, God sent prophets to try to talk some sense into His people.  In most cases the prophets were ignored, or even persecuted and killed, but God never stopped trying to get Israel’s attention.  (See 2 Chronicles 36:15 – 16.)

Finally, when the time was just right, God sent His son Jesus.  The Law, with its system of ritual and sacrifice was inadequate for salvation, but Christ was the perfect substitute.  Christ’s coming to earth, His death on the cross for us and subsequent resurrection from the dead remain the ultimate demonstration of God’s love.  One simply cannot read through the Bible without seeing God’s love in action, demonstrated time and time again.

A Process, Not a Task

There was a point in this past year, about midway through the reading plan, where I started treating the reading as a task to be completed.  For a while, I started reading two days’ assignments every morning, so that I could finish sooner.  The Holy Spirit was quick to point out the error in my thinking.

Reading the Bible should be a process to experience, not a task to complete.  It it the process of reading God’s Word that is valuable, not the completion of the book as if it were simply a novel or a historical piece.  The value is in the journey, not the destination.  I will never be finished reading the Bible.  This is an especially difficult lesson for me to learn, as I am a very task oriented person, but I’m getting there.

Daily Reading is Crucial

In the middle of Job’s excruciating trials, he didn’t fail to place a high value on God’s word.  Job 23:12b I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.  For a Believer, God’s word is spiritual sustenance.  It is absolutely crucial for Christians to feed every day on the wisdom found in the Bible, to absorb into our minds and our hearts the truths that await us there.  Reading God’s Word should be as much of a part of our daily routines as eating breakfast (or whatever meal it is that you never do without).

Knowing That I Don’t Know

As I read God’s word, I constantly discover things that I’ve never noticed before, even in passages that I’ve read many times before.  Grasping a previously unknown truth brings a joy like no other.

This in no way implies that I understood everything I read as I went through the Bible this past year.  There are many places that I read through more than once trying to understand just what was going on, and some of them are still a mystery to me.  This might seem like failure to some, but I consider it a blessing.  The more I read and understand about God’s Word, the more I discover that I don’t know.  I’m perfectly OK with this.  On my next trip through the Bible I’ll understand more and find yet more that I don’t yet understand.  Comprehension of God’s Word is a continual, ongoing process.

What’s Next?

More Bible reading.  And after that, still more reading and studying of God’s Word.  I plan to go though some of Olive Tree’s shorter reading plans, starting with “14 Days on Love”, and then start up another long term plan, probably Prof. Grant Horner’s Bible Reading System.

Keep on reading!

 

I am an IT nerd by trade, a husband of one, father of four and grandfather of six.  I drink decaf coffee and work in various ministries, in and outside of the church.  You may find more of my writing on my blog: http://www.mitchclaborn.com/ or follow me on Twitter @MitchClaborn.

3 Simple Ideas for your Devotion Time

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man and bible bw“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says,” James 1:22 (NIV).

James wrote these words long ago but his challenge still resonates strongly today. The words echo what Jesus himself taught in John 14 that whoever loves him will obey his teachings.

We live in an amazing time where – thanks to technology – we have access to numerous Bible translations, libraries of biblical wisdom, and can listen to thousands of sermons from preachers all around the world. The challenge for us in the Western world isn’t getting access to this information, it’s what we actually do with the information we have. How do we apply it? Let me offer three simple ideas to you that have the potential to breathe new life into your Bible reading.

Pray
After Jesus’ resurrection and before he ascended into heaven, Jesus promises that the church won’t be left alone, that the Holy Spirit will come and be the one to guide the believers into all truth (John 16:13). As believers, that same Holy Spirit lives within us, so while you read God’s Word, ask the Holy Spirit to guide, reveal, and help you apply his word in your life.  It’s a prayer that he wants to answer.

Meditate
The word ‘meditate’ may generate a specific response or picture in your head – either good or bad. Many religions use meditation in one form or another. One of my favorite pictures of what it means to meditate is the idea of ‘chewing.’ Many of us approach reading God’s word with the goal of getting through it in a set time. In contrast, the idea of meditating is to slow down, imagine, consider…or chew. If you’re a ‘get it done’ type of person by nature, try a different approach to reading God’s word. Use your imagination as you think about the setting of Jesus’ teachings or the surroundings of the desert that the Israelites lived in for 40 years. Chew on the implications of Paul’s teachings for the people living in pagan Ephesus – both for them in the first century and for you today. As you meditate, you’ll find that God’s word sticks with you throughout the day.

Questions
Sometimes the simple questions you ask every time you read through the Bible can help get the wheels turning on how to apply God’s word. Here are a few easy ones:

  • Who was the original audience of this passage?
  • What are the timeless truths in this passage?
  • What does this passage show me about who God is?
  • What do I need to study further in this passage so I can understand it fully?

You may not be able to answer all of these questions easily, depending on the passage you’re reading but asking questions will help ensure that your daily reading is applied to your life and can challenge you to go deeper.

As someone once said, “Proclamation, without application, can lead to stagnation.” I trust that these simple ideas for application can become a normal part of your study and that for all of us, the long distance from our head to our heart will become shorter and shorter as the truth of God’s word bears fruit in our lives.

The Father’s Heart

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A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.
Psalm 68:5

No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.
John 16:27-28

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
1 John 3:1

God has the heart of a father.
It’s unavoidable.

The verses above are just three of the many passages that specifically reference God’s father heart. From the beginning of time, God’s father heart is displayed. Like a good dad, he gave Eve in marriage to Adam. Like a loving father, he adopted a people (Israel) as his own and changed the name of Abram to Abraham as a sign of his new relationship/covenant with him. Time and again, we see God’s heart on display. We rebel, he forgives. We forget, he remembers.

Eventually God has enough of this horribly broken, impossibly dysfunctional relationship, so he sends his son. Jesus – God in the flesh – lives, dies, and rises again so that we can all be adopted into God’s family. Through faith in Jesus we can be heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ – his children.

God is our Father.
But this can be a problem.

Since we all have a father, we can’t help but transpose our relationship with our dads onto God. It’s almost impossible not to.
Was your dad distant? That’s probably how God feels.
Did you only get love from your dad when you did the right things? That must be how God is.
Did you only see your dad on the weekends or holidays? God’s really only present at church on Sunday.
Did you even know your Dad? God can’t really be known.

This is the problem we all face. If God is like a father, we naturally assume he’s like our own dad – for better or worse. Satan knows this, too. So he tells us things like, “God doesn’t really love you” or “You’re not doing enough for God to love you.” And we believe it, because it feels true.

But it’s not true. Not even close.

The father’s love that God displays can only be found in what the Bible says about his character and what Jesus did (and still does today). His is a perfect love, present in an imperfect world.

The truth is that “God demonstrates his own love for us – this way – while were still sinners Jesus died for us. “ (Romans 5:8) And God “…gives generously without finding fault.” (James 1:5) It’s never God who withdraws from us when we sin. We’re the ones that run from him. He’s not Santa Claus checking his list to see if you’ve been naughty or nice. He went looking for Adam and Eve in the garden and he was the loving father welcoming the prodigal home. And someday he’ll be the one that welcomes us into his amazing presence.

In order to fully walk out in the plans, purposes, and mission that God has for us, we have to know his heart. God has a perfect father’s heart that loves us unconditionally. It changes our identity and causes us to live like are a part of his family. This kind of love causes us to run toward God, not away.

 

How has your picture of the father heart of God informed your faith and impacted your relationship with him? What passage of scripture has illustrated this for you?


Who Am I and Why Am I Here?

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“It’s Not About You, anyway!” globe

Read Part 1 HERE.

Remember Moses and the burning bush?  Remember my question to you, “What’s your burning bush?”  Well, I have some news for you: it wasn’t really about Moses, which means it’s not all about you, either.  But before you “click” out of here, let me explain the overwhelming affirmation from God in this.

Go all the way back to Genesis 12, and 15.  Genesis gives us the original covenant between God and Abram, verses 2-3 “I will make you into a great nation” and, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”.
Then later in chapter 15:13-14, God reassures Abram of the covenant and adds this:

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions”. (NIV)

We usually read the passage about Moses and the burning bush as being Moses’ calling.  Where he received his purpose, call and direction from God.  Sure, this happened, but is this why it happened? I think not.
Isaiah had a vision of God in His throne room and overheard (I stole that from Oswald Chambers, in “My Utmost For His Highest”.) the call for someone to go on His behalf (Is. 6-1-8).  Esther was made queen, but for what purpose (Est. 4:14-16)?

Now look at Exodus 2:23-25.

23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. (NRSV)

God saw the plight of the Israelites and remembered his covenant with them (through Abram), and for all the nations that would be blessed as a result.

Four hundred years later, enter Moses …Exodus 3.

We too often read and interpret the Bible in an egocentric manner: all about me.  Sure, God wants to communicate, lead, and empower us, but He also wants to bless others (even accomplish His greater plans) through us!  Moses was called, but it was so that we could be here, part of the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ, today.

What’s your burning bush?  What could that call mean for the Kingdom of God and all of mankind?  This shows overwhelming faith …in us!  God believes so much in us, as we respond to him, that he is willing to use us to create HIStory (HIS-story, get it?).  Be looking for the little things that keep drawing your attention, and never take for granted the power that God wants to unleash through you. Sure He’s speaking to us. But really, it aint about us at all… it’s SO MUCH BIGGER!

 

Jeremy West has been on staff with Youth With A Mission since 1995.  He teaches and runs training programs globally in the fields of discipleship and leadership development.

 

12 Years Later

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On September 11, 2001 I was in Tema, Ghana.
It was the end of an international missions conference and as I arrived for the final session that evening I immediately knew something was wrong. Instead of being inside the meeting hall several of my American friends were sitting outside on the steps, talking, crying, and praying. The next few hours were a whirlwind of conflicting information about what was really going on back home in the United States.

The ensuing three days in Ghana would consist of watching the international news from my hotel and emailing friends and loved ones. With plans changed (my original plans had me going to Lebanon from Ghana) and many questions still unanswered, I boarded a plane on September 14 in hopes of going back home.

Arriving at Heathrow Airport from Ghana I had no idea how long I might be there. Some people had been stranded in the airport for three days and while the packed terminals resembled something more like a refugee camp there was also a strange calm.  After several conversations with exhausted airport personnel I found an empty corner and sat down to wait.

A short time later I heard an announcement over the airport intercom system inviting people to an interdenominational chapel service hosted in a nearby terminal. Curious about what a chapel service in an airport might look like, I went.

I don’t remember what scripture was shared or song was sung but I remember the people. In this small chapel room in the airport, people from different denominational backgrounds, countries, and cultures had all gathered together. In that moment there was a sense that we all had the same central desire – to focus on the hope that only God can bring in a time of crisis.

I’ll never forget this sense of belonging and unity as we prayed together and shared our stories. To this day that little chapel gathering in Heathrow airport was one of the most powerful – yet simple – church gatherings I’ve ever been a part of. I will never forget the lives lost on 9/11 but I will also never forget the hope that only God can bring when his people look to him in times of crisis.

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