Saturday, March 31, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 91

There is a constant tension between who we want to be and what we want to do. People will do terribly things while maintaining that they are not a "bad person." People will express what kind of person they want to be, but do nothing toward that end. Even people of faith will lament, while doing all the appropriate things, that they are not the person they want to be.

Jesus said, "The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45) Your marriage, your parenting, your ability to maintain friendships will never improve until your heart changes. The way you handle money, stress, and temptation will never improve without a heart change. Don't think that by doing a bunch of new things, or better things, that you'll magically change. It will certainly help, but it won't make the difference without a change of heart. You will have to stop acting, sit still, risk being alone with your thoughts, and pray like David (139:23)for God to doing the work of revealing what lies beneath the facade of the public self. The habits won't truly change without the heart change.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: 1 Samuel 15-17




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Friday, March 30, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 90

Saul is one of those Bible characters that I relate to and despise. He had the knack for making the wrong decisions because of hastiness, but at times he seemed genuine. The thing you can consistently say about Saul is that he liked to operate ahead of God. He acted rashly, often jumping into action without giving serious consideration. At other times, as in with the Philistine champion Goliath, he seemed paralyzed with indecision even though God was clearly with them. Not pausing to pray when something big is on the line is a critical mistake for anyone; especially leaders. And failing to act upon what God has clearly said is just as big of a mistake. Two saying come to mind for any leader considering the life of Saul. The first is "fools rush in." The second is "the paralysis of analysis". Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes is where we want to be.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: 1 Samuel 13-14




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Thursday, March 29, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 89

"One of the greatest weaknesses of contemporary evangelical Christianity is our comparitve neglect of Christian ethics, in both our teaching and our practice. In consequence, we have become known rather as people who preach the gospel than as those who live and adorn it. We are not always conspicuous in the community, as we should be, for our respect for the sanctity and the quality of human life, our commitment to social justice, our personal honesty and integrity in business, our simplicity of lifestyle and happy contentment in contrast to the greed of the consumer society, or for the stability of our homes in which unfaithfulness and divorce are practically unknown and children grow up in the secure love of their parents." John Stott

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: 1 Samuel 9-12




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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 88

Felt like I needed to pray more than I needed to write today. So here is a prayer:

Father, I am so grateful for all the things you done for me.
Thank you for your Son Jesus, your Holy Spirit, your holy people the church, and your Holy Word the Bible.
Father, I am blessed with an abundance of possessions,
help me be satisfied with what I already have and not covet what others have.
Father, give me mercy in the areas of my insecurity and temptation,
and help me give mercy to others who are struggling.
Father, I trust you because there is no one else to trust,
but help my trust...my faith...to increase.
Father, shine ever before me so I may see the way,
and help me shine my light before others so that they might see the way.
Father God, you are the Lord over me...
Son Jesus, you are Savior of my soul...
Holy Spirit, fill me up...
Amen.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: 1 Samuel 4-8




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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 87

Remembered something I had read a while back that is really good:

"Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it be only the bedroom (for a while I retreated to the furnace room for want of a better place). Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God’s presence envelops you… Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it. Stop trying to compete with others. Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think… Learn to pray inwardly every moment. After a while you can do this even while you work… Read less, but more of what is important to your inner life. Never let your mind remain scattered for very long. Call home your roving thoughts. Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your soul. Practice spiritual concentration. All the above is contingent upon a right relation to God through Christ and daily meditation on the Scriptures. Lacking these, nothing will help us; granted these, the discipline recommended will go far to neutralize the evil effects of externalism to make us acquainted with God and our own souls.

A.W. Tozer
The Best of A.W. Tozer, Baker Book House, 1978, p. 151-152.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: 1 Samuel 1-3




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Monday, March 26, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 86

I suppose that each generation supposes that the subsequent generation is flaky. I'm not sure why, it just seems true. "Kids these days" is something I've heard many older people say and more recently I've caught my self thinking such things. It seems to me that, most of these claims center around the issue of commitment. "They don't keep their word", "they don't have integrity", "quit too easy." I think it's more reasonable to say that every person, and every generation, is committed to something; but it may not be what the previous generation was committed to. That's what keeps us old guys grumbling!

I was reading this morning in the book of Ruth and was pleasantly surprised to rediscover an amazing passage on commitment. The young widow Ruth wants to head back with her mother-in-law to Judah. The mother-in-law (Naomi) tells her to go on back to Moab and let her die (essentially). "Don't ruin your life for me" is kind of the sentiment she expresses. But read Ruth's response:
Ruth 1:16-17 "But Ruth replied, "Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. I will die where you die and will be buried there. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!"

In what situation, or to whom, could you see yourself making such a commitment?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Ruth




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Sunday, March 25, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 85

Yesterday I got to attend a wedding vowel renewal for a couple in my church that has been married 60 years. It was a beautiful ceremony but not like many I'd seen before. These two people had over 40 years of dysfunction before they go to the 20 years of bliss. Battling through alcoholism and co-dependency was a long arduous path. They came to Christ as a Celebrate Recovery program in a little church called Saddleback; maybe you've heard of it. They actually were part of the first Celebrate Recovery program and have since sponsored over 150 people and helped others save their marriages. After 60 years of marriage they aren't as spry as they once were and the hair color has changed. Their kids aren't kids anymore. But their love for each other is going strong. Some might be tempted to say "what a shame" regarding the rough start to their marriage. But I propose that it's not how you start but how you finish. And they are finishing strong!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 19-21




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Saturday, March 24, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 84

Been rolling this quote around all week. A new friend shared it with me:

“Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” (G.K. Chesterson

What do you think?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 16-18




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Friday, March 23, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 83

Have you ever ordered clothing online? Let's just say it's hard to get a good feel for what you're buying when you can't touch it, see it up close, or try it on. Some of us experience faith feel that way. We want to believe but we can't touch God. We haven't seen the miracles of Biblical proportion up close like the saints before us. We can't completely prove what we believe is true; but we CAN try it on. We can give it a shot, see how it fits us, how we like it.

That may sound good at a glance, but it's problematic. The Christian faith isn't something that we try on. It's something we consider, practice, and commit to. You can't really test drive the faith. Here's why: because all the guidelines, teaching, truths and practices are predicated on faith. Doing Christian things without faith cannot give you the true Christian experience. You can't try "faith" for a season. I can testify that the principles work; but the power behind them is accessed through our faith in Christ. I wonder if you've considered lately where your faith comes from? How did you find faith? What keeps your faith strong? Post your thoughts, I'd love to hear them.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 13-15




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Thursday, March 22, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 82

I was thinking this morning of Matthew 7:13-14. Jesus said, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it."

It's not easy towing the line. It's not easy holding yourself to a higher standards when the people around you are not. It feels restrictive sometimes when you're trying to walk down the narrow path. But the narrow path leader us to through the Gateway of Life. It's a bit ironic when you think about it. The world says, "Don't give me a bunch of rules, I want to live my life!" Jesus says the exact opposite, "Living it up is the Highway to Hell" (which is also a cool AC/DC song for you 80's mullet rockers). The world says, "Life is a highway I want to ride it all night long". (which is also a cool song by Rascal Flatts) But Jesus says, "Real life, eternal life, is discovered off the beaten path."

It's hard to walk the narrow path but the pay off is huge!!! Don't lose heart.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 10-11




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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 81

I had a snowy winter drive to Albany this morning. I love the snow and really don’t mind driving it, but we never…I mean never…have snow in the valley the week before Spring Break. Crazy! I know nothing about Albany; I know I’ve been there before but I have no sense of the town at all. I had a Google map which is helpful about half of the time and of course…I ended up lost. Typical me. Fortunately my wife was home today and could go online to feed me directions.

If you have ever driven around in circles wondering where you are and what you should do next you know what it’s like to be lost. How do you decide which turn to take next? How do you decide the next new strategy that you hope will lead you to your destination? What makes this way better than that way when you are lost? Nothing. It’s all subjective. Its guess work. It’s random at best and aimless at worst. And yet, would I pull over to ask for directions? Nope. Stop for a moment to look at a roadmap? Who has a roadmap in their car anymore? So the search goes on, and on and on. And that is how people who are lost operate spiritually.

What should I believe? What should I do? Which direction should I take my life? What decision should I make? Wandering. Aimless. Guessing. Fumbling their way through life. Ironically, one simple call to the Father could set things on a different path. Pulling over to check the road map before making a decision. Stopping to ask people on the same path for directions. We call these things prayer, Bible reading, and wise counsel. But the unbeliever doesn’t have those resources yet. So they wander and wander until they’re lost enough to ask for new directions. And hopefully, there is helpful believer who is willing to take the time to help them read the map. Be that man or woman today. Be the street sign, the road map, the friendly stranger whose ready to point people to Jesus.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 8-9

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 80

One of my favorite lines from the book of Judges is when the angel of the Lord says to Gideon, "Mighty hero, the LORD is with you!" (Jdg 6:12) I wish I could have been there because it seems like Gideon looked behind him to see who God was talking to. Gideon was hiding from the Midianites when the angel appeared to him. He questioned God's blessing because of the current suffering his people were enduring. He asked for two different signs because he wanted to be sure. When the time came for battle God said if you're scared go listen to what the enemy camp is saying. He went and listened which tells me he was scared!

We could easily defend Gideon as human; he was facing a massive army after all. But what strikes me as ironic is that God calls him a "hero" (or warrior). He honestly strikes me as the opposite...a weenie! But that's why I love this verse. God sees us differently than we see ourselves. We see ourselves as a weakling; he sees our God-given strength. We see our limitations; he sees our potential. We see all the obstacles; he sees opportunities. We see ourselves as damaged goods and he says, "My son" or my daughter". God sees us differently than we see ourselves. What false image of yourself have you bought into? What has the enemy reduced you to? Why couldn't God tap you on the shoulder and say, "mighty hero"? He may never do it, but HE IS WITH YOU!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 6-7




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Monday, March 19, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 79

I have a friend who just underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He had been feeling weak and lethargic for quite a while. He did something that is common, especially in the age of "WebMd"; he self-diagnosed. He just figured he was old and out of shape. Some friends pointed out that there could be other things and when he went in his found that his heart had some serious blockage.

How many times is this story repeated in our spiritual lives? We think one thing is wrong but in reality we've got a heart condition. We are looking at other things, blaming other people, sinking into self pity...we've self-diagnosed. It's not our problem, it's their problem...which by the way excuses me from all responsibility. That's why it's so important to have solid Christian people in our lives. They are the ones that could point out something we're oblivious to. They are the ones that might see what we're missing. They are the ones that might help us see where we are to blame; or they may help us stop blaming ourselves for something that isn't our fault.

Please feel free to comment below. I love the feedback when you leave it!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 3-5

Sunday, March 18, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 78

I can honestly say that my deepest fear centers around something that I am not in control of. My deepest fear doesn't keep me awake at night but it has tortured me on certain days. This is not a fear of snakes, spiders, or heights...it's a fear of a more spiritual nature. My greatest fear, is that my children might grow up and not love Jesus. I can imagine the reassuring words of friends and family. I also could imagine busybodies wondering what's wrong. Let me assure you my kids are doing fine.

The reason I bring this up has to do with the book of Judges. There is a famous line in 2:10 that I've always remembered. Here it is: "After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel." What a travesty. Joshua's generation is the one being referred to. They did things, saw things, and experienced things that were unbelievable. They moved mountains by faith and took hold of the Promised Land. But somewhere in the press to build a nation, the faith of their children was forgotten. What else are we to think? After the generation of men and women who led by faith had all died, their faith died with them.

I'd love to hear your thoughts below on how you're passing your faith on to your kids. Just click comment and write!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Judges 1-2




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Saturday, March 17, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 77

There is a story in Joshua 23 that I smile at every time I get to read it. It has taken the Israelites almost 50 years to claim the promise land. And just when it seems the fighting is over a rumor spreads; apparently the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were building their own altar. Here is the response of the other tribes:

"11 When the rest of Israel heard they had built the altar at Geliloth west of the Jordan River, in the land of Canaan, 12 the whole assembly gathered at Shiloh and prepared to go to war against their brother tribes."

Have you ever done this? Decided to go to war because of something you heard? Decided to confront without getting all the facts? Ever decided to go in with a pointed finger instead of asking humble questions? We all have. And, usually that end poorly. The Israelites were ready to wipe out three of their own tribes; they had assembled the people for war! But cooler heads somehow prevailed and verse 13 says:

"13 First, however, they sent a delegation led by Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest. They crossed the river to talk with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh."

And guess what? When they actually took the time to talk with their brothers they discovered something that disarmed them. The people of the suspect tribes weren't building an altar to make the holy sacrifices on. They were building it as a memorial of their relationship with God. They wanted to make sure their descendants remembered who they were and who they worshiped. They were innocent.

Thank God the delegation was sent before the army. Next time you're ramping things up for a battle you might just stop...and send a delegation!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 22-24




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Friday, March 16, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 76

I was the designated babysitter today for my friend's 5 year old boy. It was their anniversary and apparently they are hard up for sitters! I am probably not a very good babysitter. But I did my best; we played the following:
-"Cut, cut, timber" (which I learned is outlawed at his home)
-"Mandolin" (i was informed that I needed to play Christmas music)
-"Make a mess eating lunch" (my personal favorite)
-"Trim the tree out front before the city fines me" (not my favorite)
-"Blocks" (we built an entire city!)
-"Knock down the blocks" (it was hurricane Ethan)
-"play cars" (you apparently have to drive cars through the rubble of a hurricane)
-"Ants" (we found an ant and were playing with it, until it crawled into his shirt and he did the boogy dance)
-"Stall" (make up dumb stuff to do till the parental units return)

It truly is not a surprise that Jesus said the Kingdom belongs to children. Their innocent minds, playful spirits, and genuine curiosity is something that the best and brightest adults really struggle with. They have an inner purity, and innocence, that Christ esteemed and we should cherish. Yes, I babysat for a friend which may have been a blessing to them, but seeing a 5 year old play for a couple hours was a blessing to me. "“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mtt 18:3)

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 19-21




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Thursday, March 15, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 75

You ever wonder what you're accomplishing? Everyone does sometimes. We all tend to think that our jobs are different. We like to tell ourselves that our jobs are more difficult than everyone else's jobs. If you're a physical laborer you think your job is tough physically. If you're in customer service you feel like your job is a slow drain all day while attending to customer's problems. Cops have tough calls. Nurses have tough cases. Pastor have difficult people. Road workers have rainy days...like today.

We all tend to think that we are special...our mommies told us so! But the truth is that we're all very much the same. There are difficult parts to every job. No one's job is always good or always bad. Some days are better than others, some days are worse. Can I suggest that this is just life. This is how life goes. The same is true in your marriage, with your kids, with you church, and with every other part of your world. But our work seems different because we have to do it. We feel stuck doing this thing which we depend on for our sustenance and survival. Solomon asked "So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless."(Ecclesiastes 2:22-23)

Why is it meaningless? For several reasons. First, it's meaningless because most of what we do won't last. We'll work and sweat and worry and stress for years and then retire and then die. (I realize that sounds fatalistic but Solomon was like that!) All the things that we accomplish, even if we are someone famous like Solomon, are mostly forgotten once we pass. None of the things we work for (pay, promotion, and prominence)are lasting. And yet, we get so wrapped up in our meaningless jobs. If all that stuff is meaningless, what is meaningful? Our relationship with Christ. Our families. Our friends. The work we do for the Father. Time spent in the Word of God. Fellowship with Christ's church. Memories shared with wives, kids, and grandkids (someday!). Those are mine, what are the meaningful things you can concern yourself with today that might be more beneficial/productive that the monotony of a meaningless job?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 16-18




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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 74

Chew on this statement by Joshua...it really spoke to me today. Joshua is looking back toward the end of his life and says, " For my part, I followed the LORD my God completely." (Joshua 14:8) What a legacy of faithfulness. That's a statement you can only make after many faithful days...one faithful day at a time.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 12-15




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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 73

Yesterday a pastor friend and I were talking about something which most of us don't think much about. The conversation centered on how the previous generations of Christians have influenced our understanding Christ, the Scripture, and the church. For example; most protestants don't practice confession of sin to each other though it's clearly taught in the Scripture (Jms 5:16). This surely comes from a Reformation reaction to the confession of the Catholic Church. Similarly, our American obsession with work, which has crept into the church, is rooted in the Puritan's work ethic. This isn't to say that all the traditions passed down to us our bad. Nor should we suspect that we've somehow duped. But this realization should point us back to the word of God. We know what our pastor's teach but what did Jesus teach? We know what our church's practice but what did the first church practice? There are many things that the modern church does right, but there are many things that fall into the "needs improvement" category. Perhaps a good question for us to have in our back pocket is this: "where did this attitude or practice come from?" Is it something that the Bible teaches? If so, we'd better cling to it. Or, is this something handed down from a tradition rooted somewhere in church history? If that's the case we take it or leave it.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 9-11




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Monday, March 12, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 72

I laid awake last night listening to wind buffeting the side of our house. There is something ominous about gusting wind, driving rain, and darkness. Big trees creak behind our home and sometimes I wonder if they'll go kamikaze and remodel my roof for me. I'm reminding of the cliched move line, "it was a dark and stormy night."

Most of us have had nights like that. They can really drag on and there is something about them that makes you feel vulnerable. Perhaps it's because you're laying in bed trying to sleep, or perhaps it's because you have no control over what is happening outside. But you know that whatever happens the sun will rise in the morning. Eventually the winds will subside. And the rain will stop...unless you live in Oregon!

Our lives are like this sometimes. The winds howl, the rain beats down, the darkness surrounds us but the Son is coming. Matthew 24:30a-21 says, "And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from all over the world—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven."
The Son is coming when he arrives the "dark night of the soul" will be abruptly ended and shattered by his glorious presence. So let the wind blow. Let the rain come. Look fiercely into the darkness and say with confidence, "the Son is coming."

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 5-8




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Sunday, March 11, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 71

In the very beginning of the book of Joshua there are some great stories. One of my favorites is when the people of Israel cross over the Jordan river. Just like God parted the Red Sea for their ancestors, God here parts the Jordan river for the Israelites. The interesting detail is that God parted the water upstream at the town of Adam. Catch this because it's important: the miracle was happening so far upstream that they couldn't see it; but they were experiencing the benefit of it down stream. Has it ever dawned on you that God is out there working ahead of us? That when obstacles are right in front of us God has already been on the job? Has you ever realized that God is working upstream in your life? Take heart! Don't give up! Miracles may already be happening upriver!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Josh 1-4




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Saturday, March 10, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 70

I was reading this morning about the end of Moses' life. Deut 4 says there was never again a prophet that interacted with God face to face. That's pretty high praise. He was God's chosen man to save a nation. He performed signs so amazing they're still talked about today! He lead an obstinate people through their darkest hour. He was arguably the author of the most important section of the Old Testament. And..he talked to God face to face. Some even think that God buried him because of an elusive reference to his burial ("no one knows the exact place" Deut 34:6). But for all that Moses said and did, he failed to enter the promise land.

In one moment of weakness Moses compromised his integrity and his punishment was exclusion from the land flowing with milk and honey.(Deut 32:51-52) That always saddens me. I don't question the justness of God, but I feel sad for Moses. Sad that he never got to enjoy the fruit of his laborious journey. He still went to heaven, he was still revered, but he missed the big finish. I don't want to go out that way. Most of us are certainly not on par with Moses, but we'll all have a finish line to cross. I don't want to falter at the line! I'd rather not stumble as I cross! I don't want to die in the ditch after passing out from exhaustion...ok you get the point. But we must never become so confident in ourselves, or our track record, that we think we're beyond faltering. Better men that I have gone out with regrets. Let us strive to be counted among those who finish well. Grant us this request Lord Jesus as we look to you each day for strength!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 32-34




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Friday, March 9, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 69

This is why you read the whole Bible...for little nuggets like this from Deuteronomy 30. We've all had times when we were really frustrated by a brother or sister in Christ who just don't seem to get it. We want to plead with them, reason with them, say something eloquent that will convince them. It seems so clear to us, and so foggy to them...what do we say? Listen to what Moses told the people of Israel:

11 "This command I am giving you today is not too difficult for you to understand or perform. 12 It is not up in heaven, so distant that you must ask, 'Who will go to heaven and bring it down so we can hear and obey it?' 13 It is not beyond the sea, so far away that you must ask, 'Who will cross the sea to bring it to us so we can hear and obey it?' 14 The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart so that you can obey it. 15 "Now listen! Today I am giving you a choice between prosperity and disaster, between life and death. 16 I have commanded you today to love the LORD your God and to keep his commands, laws, and regulations by walking in his ways. If you do this, you will live and become a great nation, and the LORD your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy. 17 But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, 18 then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy. 19 "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, that you and your descendants might live! 20 Choose to love the LORD your God and to obey him and commit yourself to him, for he is your life. Then you will live long in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

Isn't that great? Cut and dry. Truth or lies. Blessings or consequences. Here are your choices! Tuck this one away for that wayward friend...or for yourself!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 30-31




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Thursday, March 8, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 68

Yesterday had a chance to go hiking for about an hour and a half. I was alone but I wasn't by myself...because God goes with us! Right? I was listening to what he might be saying, trying to be open to his leading. The trail I took ended at a huge vineyard. I was kind of dumbfounded because I'd been thinking I was in some remote wilderness and I was actually just a stones throw from a huge wine making operation. But as soon as I saw that vineyard, a passage jumped in my mind.

John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." I repeated it over and over and then went back and read it from my Bible. I won't taint your impressions of that verse with mine, but what does it mean to you? Roll it around and post something in the comment box if you'd like.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 28-29




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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 67

Today I'm doing something that should be a joy but it is for me a discipline. We read in the gospels that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray. I'm doing that; I'm going to a nearby monastery where the monks are part of a silent order. For several hours I will be silent, cellphone free, and completely available to hear from God. Again, I should enjoy this and I will...but I don't find it easy. I find it easy to pray a long list of requests, to do things for God, tell people about God, but listening is a whole different game. I'm pushing myself this year to have regular scheduled times of being available to listen to God. What would that look like for you?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 24-27

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 66

When I was in jr. high I had a paper route for a small local paper that only delivered twice a week. I remember fondly the days when my father would greet me early and offer to drive me in his car. I'd bundle up the papers I folded and dad would drive me through the neighborhood where I could chuck paper on people porches. Of course it went much faster with the car than the trusty ten speed. Afterwards my dad would take me to breakfast at some restaurant where I'd always get hash browns and fried eggs. During those drives, and at other times, my dad taught me about being a man. He expressed his views on certain issues and asked me mine; he helped shape my values and my faith. I would not trade those times with my father for anything.

I was thinking this morning about how my time with the Heavenly Father is so critical as well. It's that time spent listening, reading, and praying that helps me become the person God wants me to be. And yet there are so many occasions in my life when I've gladly traded time with God for something meaningless. Just like that time we spend with our kids is vital to their formation, the time we spend with the Father is vital to our spiritual formation. So where can you carve out time for the Father? Be honest with yourself! Don't just say, "I'm so busy". What good thing, or worthless thing, could you take from your schedule and replace with...time with the Father? I just wish God took me out for hash browns!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 21-23



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Monday, March 5, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 65

I'm doing a memorial service tomorrow for the father of my friend. I cannot tell you how classy these people handled the passing of their loved ones. They were compassionate but resolved, hopeful but not unrealistic, sad but not bitter. They loved, prayed, and gathered around to help their loved one pass. I believe that attitude came from an understanding about life. I'm reminded of Ecclesiastes 3:

1 For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

There is a rhythm to life. It is good, it is godly, it is universal. No one escapes it. You can fight it, hate it, kick against it but it goes just the same. There will be trouble for all, and blessings. There will be bitter times and sweet times. Everyone will live and everyone will die. Realizing that, excepting that, expecting that makes it easier to embrace when it happens. And for those who follow Christ it's not the end! I never really knew the man that I'm burying tomorrow, but he knew Jesus. At the end of his life, that was all that really mattered.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 17-20




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Sunday, March 4, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 64

It catches me by surprise each year when the sun comes back around. Those dark days of winter can be truly dreary. You get up while it's dark. While your working the sky is gray and the rain just keeps coming. You get home and it's dark by dinner time. Sometimes it seems endless! But everyday in February there is two more minutes of sunshine. By the end of the month there is one full hour of additional sun (or rain as the case may be!). Then in march the cycle continues and pretty soon you're complaining about the sun waking up the birds that in turn wake me up!

How many times is our spiritual life like this? We go through some dark times. Sometimes the darkness seems all encompassing. It seems like those dark times will never end. But slowly, steadily, over time we come out of those dark times into the light. And the light is glorious! When you're in the darkest of times don't despair! Don't give up! Don't quit prematurely! The light is coming. Better days are ahead.

The LORD, the Mighty One, is God,
and he has spoken;
he has summoned all humanity
from where the sun rises to where it sets. (Ps 37:6)

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 14-16




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Saturday, March 3, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 63

I was telling my son about Deuteronomy 8:7-20 today where Moses warns the people about forgetting God once they become prosperous. Here's the passage from the Message paraphrase; enjoy!

"If you start thinking to yourselves, "I did all this. And all by myself. I'm rich. It's all mine!"—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.

If you forget, forget God, your God, and start taking up with other gods, serving and worshiping them, I'm on record right now as giving you firm warning: that will be the end of you; I mean it—destruction. You'll go to your doom—the same as the nations God is destroying before you; doom because you wouldn't obey the Voice of God, your God.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 11-13




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Friday, March 2, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 62

I found out yesterday that a beloved and faithful pastor in our community has a very serious type of cancer....pray for his healing. It strikes close to home because another pastor, a close friend, was taken by cancer a few years back. It is always difficult to lose people you love, especially when they are taken young. It feels tragic, it feels unfair, it raises doubts in our minds about what God is doing. Some say, "it is the Lord's will." Some say, "Good will come of it." Others question the goodness of God, or even his existence. People turn to pastors for comfort during these times, but that doesn't mean that we aren't human. I assure you that the same questions which enter the minds of others certainly cross mine as well. People want to argue fine points. Did God "allow it" or did he "cause it"? Does that really matter? Either way the God who has the power to stop bad things from happening does not always intervene. That's the gritty truth about our Heavenly Father.

When my friend the pastor died I wondered why God would let the most faithful and kind pastor I'd ever met be ravaged by cancer in his 50s. I wondered selfishly why God doesn't give pastors some extra consideration; after all we work on his team! I could offer some words of comfort or give some theological insights which may or may not help. But I'd rather share the words of Job, a man who endured more suffering than most. He said, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10) He also said, "The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21) Instead of rationalizing it all out, theologizing it to death, turning it to apologetics, he simply kept his faith. Things got worse. He held on. Things got unbearable. He bore it anyways. Things seemed hopeless. He hoped just the same. Things seemed unfair. Job kept going. Job's story is 41 chapters of suffering and a happy ending paragraph in chapter 42. But in the midst of mind blowing trouble he never turned his back on God. God grant me the faith to endure whatever life throws my way.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 8-10




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Thursday, March 1, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 61

This morning I read the words of Moses when he was recounting some of the highlights (or lowlights) of the desert wanderings. When the Israelites heard God speak from Sinai they were overwhelmed and asked not to hear from God because they were terrified by his awesome presence. And interesting line follows that description of their fear. God said, "Oh, that they would always have hearts like this, that they might fear me and obey all my commands! If they did, they and their descendants would prosper forever." (Deuteronomy 5:29)

Why do our hearts change? Why do we revere God one moment and struggle with rebellion the next? Why is it so hard to string together several days of faithful behavior without succumbing to some petty thinking, carnal sin, or faithless doubt? Why is it so hard to simply obey the commands of the Lord? That kind of faithfulness even comes with rewards; we would prosper! Our descendants would even prosper! But alas, we're only human. We fail. We're flawed. WE are prone to do the things that we know hurt us and offend our Heavenly Father. We don't accept that fatalistically and go on sinning. But neither can we simply will ourselves to quit sinning altogether.

So what are we supposed to do? We're supposed to remember that the Israelites were the proof that people can never live up to God's glorious standards. But we don't have to. We have been accepted in the grand New Covenant because of who know and not what we've done. Ironically, it seems easier to have hearts for a God who accepts us by means of his own grace! Instead of trying to earn his favor through faithfulness, we should strive for faithfulness because we already have his favor! Stop and praise him today; Oh, that our hearts would desire to obey in response to this divinely given prosperity in Christ!


Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Deut 5-7