“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:15 (ESV)

Peace.  It is a word that goes beyond the absence of struggle or war or trouble.  According to Stromg’s Lexicon, the Greek word εἰρήνη (eirēnē) means quietness, prosperity of one’s soul.  It also refers to being joined as one.

Think about that as you look at the words “peace of Christ.”  What does that mean to you?  It says to me, “Be so at one with Jesus Christ that He rules and reigns over your heart, and there you will find stillness and rest.” 

Likewise, and the verse continues, we are to be unified with Jesus as the body of Christ.  It is corporate as well as individual.  We are called to live at peace in unity with other believers, in the common bond of love through Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite promises for our life on earth is, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, ESV).  Let me ask you: what is robbing you of peace today?  What has you unsettled?  Whatever it is, remember: the peace of Jesus Christ is yours.  It belongs to every believer.  Have faith and rest in Him. 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8a, ESV).  Don’t give in to the temptation to worry, doubt or be anxious.  Accept in faith that God is firmly in control.  Let go of the troubles that draw you away from the Lord.  Drop them, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:7-9, ESV).

Do it tonight.

Do it now.

And be thankful.

You are loved.

You are loved.


“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5 (ESV)

Today I noted on my Facebook page that the word for the day was logos.  I had a friend ask why.

Here is my woefully inadequate answer:

There are passages of Scripture that are so rich in depth that I hold them in absolute awe.  This is one of those passages.  As I consider just exactly what John is saying, the words sink deeper into my soul.  The Bible is absolutely astounding in it’s richness, if you stop and take time to let the Word soak into you. 

“The Word” is translated from the Greek term λόγος (logos).  Logos is a word found throughout the Bible.  According to Strong’s, it can refer to a thought or idea, or reasoning (Strong’s, G3056).  But, when John uses the term, it takes on a much deeper meaning.

Let’s look a little further into John 1:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” – John 1:14-18 (ESV)

When John speaks of the logos, he is referring to Jesus Christ.  In these two passages, John is sharing with us the uniqueness of Christ.  He is, with one Greek term, telling what it means that Jesus is God Incarnate – God humbling Himself enough to be trapped in flesh and walk among His people. 

I love how John begins his gospel in terms that would resonate loudly with the Jews, harkening back to the creation account of Genesis 1 with the words “in the beginning.”  Likewise, the word logos would have held special meaning to the Greeks as well.  It was a term coined some 500 years before Christ that referred to “the reason of God.”

As the logos who was there from before creation, Jesus – God Incarnate – has always existed!  (And, by inference, we can conclude always will!)  He was there at the beginning, not merely with God but God Himself as part of the Trinity.  That means the way of salvation was there before man ever existed. 

And Jesus wasn’t merely a passive witness to creation.  “All things were made through Him.”  Consider the repeated motif of the Genesis creation account: God spoke, and it was; God spoke, and it was.  The term logos refers to the words, thoughts, creative works God would have expressed.

We also see Jesus as the overcomer of sin, the result of the fall.  He is “the light that shines in the darkness.”  Jesus is the embodiment of holiness.  Just as the day and night separated light and darkness in Genesis 1:3-5, Jesus also separates the light (the essence of God, which is good in every imaginable form) from darkness (the essence of sin, which is evil).  It is in the Light that we find life, and in sin, death (“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” [John 10:10, ESV]).

By referring to Jesus as the logos, John is also telling us that Christ is the very essence of God Himself.  This is an idea Jesus Himself bore out several times in Scripture (“I and the Father are one” [John 10:30]; “…the Father is in me and I am in the Father” [John 10:38]; “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” [John 17:11]; “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” [John 14:9, all ESV]). 

Now… just let this marinate for a while.  God – Creator of all the universe, Holiness Himself, almighty, all-knowing, ever-present, transcendent of time and space – became man so He could walk with us, empathize with His creation, provide a way for us by sacrificing Himself in an unimaginably horrific, painful, shameful fashion (an undeserved, publicly humiliating death by execution). 

Wisdom walked with us.

Perfection walked with us.

Purity walked with us.

Love walked with us.

And He did it all because He loves us.  He didn’t have to.  He’s God! 

Jesus is the logos – the very essence of God Who because of His great love came to earth to die – and overcome death – as the perfect sacrifice and propitiation of our sins.  Jesus was not the leader of some new first century Jewish sect.  He is the fulfillment of Old Testament Jewish Scripture, the coming Messiah they have so long awaited…

I could go on, but I have to stop somewhere.  I feel like I’m stopping short.  When I try to wrap my mind around the great, amazing depths of God – His will, His love, His Word – it’s difficult – no, impossible – to fully grasp.  I pray that I always find great wonder and amazement when mining His Word, knowing none of us has any hope of ever reaching the bottom of it all.  How wondrous is our God!  And how amazing (and humbling) to rest secure in the knowledge that He would love me – a wretched sinner like me – enough to send His Son, the logos, to die for me that I may live eternally.

Praise God!!

Maundy Thursday: Lessons on Authentic Love

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” – John 13:1-18 (ESV)

The term “Maundy Thursday” – the day we remember the Last Supper – derives from the Latin word mandatum, translated to English as “mandate,” or “commandment,” as in:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35 (ESV)

This is exactly what Christ exemplified throughout His life – in His every action, every word, every deed, every step… Jesus Christ personified authentic Love (after all, God is Love and Jesus is God Incarnate).  And, as we all know, authentic love is not the stuff of poems and pop songs.  It is a verb. It is agapē, which is also translated as “charity.”  Strong’s defines it as “affection or benevolence.” 

How telling it is that Jesus chose to begin saying His earthly farewell to the disciples by performing such an act of authentic love, showing them – and us – the way to live our lives, and then teaching them the meaning behind it, as well as promising provision for their (our) eternal future!

By washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus is showing us in a very meaningful, tangible way, what love is: it is service to others, regardless of status.  Peter was aghast at the notion of Jesus – the Only Son of God Almighty – daring to stoop to wash his feet.  Peter felt himself unworthy, and also felt it was beneath Christ to perform such a lowly act.  But, Jesus set Peter straight.  Which brings us to:

Lesson #1: Authentic Love Makes Us Worthy

Sometimes we need to swallow our false humility and accept the love of God.  Christ died for our sins, which is why we celebrate the Easter season.  None of us deserves salvation.  Be grateful God does not give believers what we deserve (eternally speaking).  So often we sound like the two characters in “Wayne’s World” when some rock star has stumbled into their Aurora Illinois basement: “We’re not worthy!  We’re not worthy!”  Truth is, we’re really not worthy – in and of ourselves.  It is Jesus Christ Who makes us “worthy,” makes us clean, makes us whole, makes us alive! 

Lesson #2: Authentic Love Doesn’t Hold a Grudge.

Whose feet did Jesus wash?  Those of the disciples.  Including Peter who, within a few short hours, would fall from professing a willingness to die for Jesus (John 13:36-38) to publicly, vehemently denying any association with Him.  Also included: Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus.  And Jesus, as John 13 makes abundantly clear, was well aware of exactly what Peter and Judas were about to do.  There shameful actions were imminent.  And yet, Jesus still washed their feet.  He still exemplified love for these sinful men.  If that doesn’t give us hope…

Lesson #3: Authentic Love Knows No End

Take a look at John 13:1. Jesus “loved His own… to the end.”  Which, as John 20 shows us, was less an end and more an eternal beginning! 

Lesson #4: Authentic Love Has No Strings Attached

Jesus didn’t need the apostles to understand Him in order to love them.  He didn’t need a reason to love them.  They didn’t earn it.  They didn’t have to.  Jesus loved them – and loves us – because He is Love.  We can’t earn authentic love. 

Lesson #5: Authentic Love Shows Us We Need A Bath

My four year old son does not like bath time.  He holds a (very mistaken) belief that one bathed, always bathed.  However, try as he might, after a hard day of playing, the evidence is clear: the boy needs a bath.  He’s dirty.  He smells like a musty squirrel.  He just might leave a crud ring around the bath tub.

Oft times we, too, hold a “once bathed, always bathed” approach to our spiritual lives.  Try as we might, after a hard day, the evidence is clear: we need a bath.  We’re dirty.  Spiritually, we smell like a musty squirrel.  We just might leave a crud ring around our souls. 

We need to take time every day – every day – for God.  We need to pray.  We need to be in His Word.  We need to ask, seek, knock.  Daily.  And we need to be there for others, serving, listening, reaching out in authentic love.  Authentic Christianity requires both inward and outward components – learning, growing, and reaching out.  Let the authentic love of Jesus into your heart, but don’t just keep it there.  Let it out!  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, ESV).

Can you think of a better way to celebrate “Maundy” Thursday?


“After saying these things, Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and testified, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he spoke. One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus, so Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So that disciple, leaning back against Jesus, said to him, “Lord, who is it?”  Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I will give this morsel of bread when I have dipped it.” So when he had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the moneybag, Jesus was telling him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.” – John 13:21-30 (ESV)

They make an interesting comparison.  Peter and Judas, two very different men who ended up at opposite ends of the passion story.  For Peter, he would go on to fulfill his God-given call: “…you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, ESV).  Judas, however…  his fate was far less noble.  His name will forever be an epithet that means “betrayer.”

In essence, Peter and Judas were guilty of the same sin: both turned their backs on Jesus Christ.  Both would feel great shame for their actions.  But that is where the similarities end (at least within the framework of the events of Holy Week).  The reason boils down to what so much of what we learn in Scripture comes down to: heart, motive – why did they do what they did?

All the evidence seems to point to Judas having a weakness for money.  He was, after all, the treasurer for the twelve.  And he traded his eternal reward for around half-a-year’s wages – enough “blood money” for the temple officials to buy a plot of land to use as a cemetery (see Matthew 27:3-10).  Judas felt great remorse for his actions, and dealt with his guilt and shame the only way he knew how: he returned the silver to the temple priests, then went off alone and hanged himself. 

I sometimes wonder if we are too harsh on Judas Iscariot.  Granted, he put pay to Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all evil (not the money itself, but that’s another lesson for another time).  The greed that Judas harbored was the weakness the enemy needed to slip in and do his work.  (John makes sure to point out twice – in 13:2 and 13:27 – that this was the work of Satan done through Judas.)

We will later in the week take a closer look at Peter and his denial of Christ, but – here comes the spoiler – there is an essential difference between the two men that I want us to see today.  While Judas and Peter both felt remorse and shame, their reactions were very, very different.  We see both men sidelined by what happened to Jesus.  Judas fell victim to his sin. 

But Peter repented.  All through the gospels, we see the repeated Petrine motiff of trying and failing, trying and failing… He loved Jesus.  He didn’t understand it all, but he was faithful.  He believed, despite his triple-blunder in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial.  Both men messed up – big time.  But it comes down to heart.  Peter was faithful.  His actions didn’t save him.  His love for the Lord and acceptance of Christ brought him salvation. 

Judas succumbed to greed.  “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24, NLT).  Peter and Judas each chose their master.  And each received their due reward.

A cautionary lesson for all of us as we go through Holy Week. 

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15 (ESV)

Palm Sunday–Holy Week Begins!

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,

“Fear not, daughter of Zion;

behold, your king is coming,

sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” – John 12:12-19 (ESV)

This isn’t an original sentiment.  Far from it.  Still, it bears repeating: we have our holidays backwards.  Culturally speaking, everybody loves Christmas (or, as the world prefers to call the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, “the holidays”*).  Christmas gets celebrated with great abandon and historical inaccuracy that makes the notion of Columbus discovering America and George Washington chopping down an cherry tree look like fact.

By comparison, Easter seems to come and go without as much notice.  But – as Christians – shouldn’t Holy Week be commemorated and celebrated with an even greater fervor than Christmas?  I mean, talk about gift giving…

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:16-21 (ESV)

You can’t buy salvation at Amazon.com, ship it, wrap it up and toss it under a tree.  “Billy, what’d you get for Christmas?”  “A new fire truck!  What’d you get, Tommy?”  “Eternal Life!”  “Cool!  Is that for PS3 or Xbox?”

The problem (as if we have only one problem) – and I am speaking culturally here – is the same problem that existed 2000 years ago. 

We just don’t get it.

If you roll your eyes upward from your Bible a bit when reading the opening passage, you’ll see John 12:9, where we learn why “the large crowd of Jews” had gathered in the first place.  “They came not only on account of (Jesus) but also to see Lazarus” (ESV).  They came to see the formerly dead guy, and the man who had raised him.  They were amazed, they were astounded.  They were looking for a Messiah who would overthrow the government and take over.

But they just didn’t get it.  These were the same people who, by week’s end, would be calling for Christ’s execution.  Some came for the curiosity.  Some came for the show.

Many of us come for the show.  I believe God calls us where we are.  Our problem, as I said, is the same as the first century Jews’ problem: we come with our ideas, our preconceived notions, our God-in-a-box, our hopes of Who we want Him to be.  And then discover that he is Someone quite different than our creation of who God should be.  In truth, He is far greater than we could ever imagine. 

Take a moment and read John 12 for yourself.  These people could not see Jesus for Who He is.  They declared him King of Israel.  We get so wrapped up in our earthly lives that we do not truly stop to see Jesus in eternal terms.  Not like we should.  We understand the concept (to varying degrees), but we want to simply apply what we know of God to our pains and needs in the here-and-now.  And – do not misunderstand me – we need to do that!  We need to see God at work in our lives, meeting our needs and the needs of others, caring for His people, loving us, guiding us, directing us… But we also need to have an appreciation and right understanding of the eternal God.  This life is a blink of the eye in comparison to eternity.  And God spans all of eternity!!

Here is my point: I am thankful there is no Easter tree.  I’m not prepared to skin the Easter Bunny, but I think we need to be far more thoughtful and reflective about Holy Week.  Not just the celebration of Easter, but the events of the week.  Try to figure out the depth of what it means that God became man, walked amongst us, and died for our sins that we may have eternal life.  Understand how, in less than a week, the palm-waving throng of admirers would turn on Jesus.  Understand how Peter, who had walked intimately – perhaps most intimately of the twelve – with Jesus for three years, could turn his back on His Savior by denying Him three times in one night. 

I’ll be prayerfully spending the week in the last 10 chapters of John, asking the Lord for a deeper, more meaningful walk with Him.  This week more than any other, I sense a deeper desire – need – for more of God in my life.  This week is the perfect time for us to seek Christ in our lives, and seek a deeper understanding of what Jesus did for us, what it means to be a Christian, and what we each need to surrender in order to see Him more clearly.

*By the way, this week (Holy Week) is also Earth Week.  Anyone else see the irony there?

Safety in Numbers

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” – Hebrews 3:12-14 (ESV)

There is a reason wild animals often travel in packs (or flocks, or gaggles, or schools, or what have you…)  Simply put: there is safety in numbers.  The first Christians clung together because they had to.  It was a survival tactic – safety in numbers.  These people knew persecution, particularly from the ruling Romans.

Here in the United States, we do not truly know persecution on the scale the early church experienced.  We are free to worship where and how we please, comfortable in the knowledge that our government is not going to crack down on us for openly praising Jesus.  (Please… no political comments.  Not gonna go there…)

However – and can we be blunt here? – being a Christian isn’t always easy.  We meet plenty of opposition from the enemy on many fronts in many ways (and, as a side note, we must remember that ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” [Ephesians 6:12, ESV]).  At home, when we don’t let the kids watch the trendy TV show or wear the trendy clothes because of the immortality of it all.  At work, when we refuse to laugh at the dirty joke or get involved in the office gossip or – forbid it! – we slip up in a moment of stress and say something we otherwise would not have uttered.  At social functions, when we refuse to tip a drink like everyone else.  At any setting where we dare to mention Jesus to an unbeliever who is less than receptive to the Truth.

Folks, true Christianity is tough.  Our values are completely at odds with those of the world.  And, get ready, because stepping up in your faith is going to bring some opposition your way.  Be prepared to be treated differently.  Accept that there will probably be some who call you a “Jesus freak,” “hypocrite,” or “narrow-minded” (some openly, but most behind our backs). 

This is why it is so important to be part of a community of believers.  By this, I do not mean merely attend church services on Sunday.  I mean plug in.  Get involved.  Serve.  Get involved in a small group and build meaningful relationships.  We need one another – for growth, for support.  If we’re going to follow Christ – in reality, not just playing lip-service to the notion of being a “Christian” –  we need to be surrounded by people who have our backs.  We need to “exhort one another every day.” 

I love that word “exhort.”  It comes from the Greek term παρακαλέω (parakaleō) which Strong’s defines as “to call near.”  As brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow believers in community with one another, we are called to draw near to one another as a support system, to help keep one another on track.  And with all the opposition and temptation we face as Christians – and, trust me, the enemy is not going to let up until his defeat is complete – we need each other.  We need to be in community with one another.  We need Godly influence and help on a daily basis.

Today, I want to encourage you – to exhort you – if you are not plugged in a church somewhere, get plugged in – involved, active in the community of believers, serving the body of Christ.  The blessings of being plugged into a small group or other ministry within the church far outweigh the stuff that is stopping you.  Don’t let past hurts or hang ups or busyness stop you from getting involved.  Make being an active part of the body of Christ a priority in your life.  Rephrase: the priority.  After all, when everything else is gone, what is left?  God.

Don’t Be a Marshmallow Stick

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” – John 15:5-7 (ESV)

I love a good campfire.  And I love toasted marshmallows.  There is just something about a sticky lump of processed sugar stuck on a dirty stick and burnt to a black crisp (on the outside) over a smoky, open flame that just makes my mouth water.  That’s great for me.  And, really, I would think the ultimate destiny for a marshmallow – outside of its usefulness as a yam topping – would be to find fulfillment as a child’s campfire snack, only bettered if used as the essential binding element of a Smore. 

But, the stick…. that poor stick…. This wasn’t what he had in mind.  The stick used to be a branch.  It used to support life, hold leaves, maybe fruit.  It was once part of something greater.  Now, its kindling.  It’ll end up broken and burnt, sticky with marshmallow resin.  In the morning, it will be ash. 

We can do nothing apart from Christ.  For some, that is an easy truth to accept.  But for many – I would argue most – the truth of that statement can be difficult to take.  After all, we’re only human.  We want achievement.  We want accolades.  We want to be somebody.  Isn’t that what we were taught as kids?  “You can be anything you want if you just work hard enough and succeed!”

The problem is simple: we put the responsibility for results on ourselves.  The outcome, in our minds, is entirely dependent upon our performance.  If we succeed, we feel pride, elation, a sense of inner well-being.  But. when we fail…

I was listening to a sermon by James MacDonald last night and he commented that a branch removed from its vine is a stick.  And John 15:7 tells us what happens to sticks.  They become tinder.  They are kindling for the fire.  It strikes me that this is exactly what happens when we are success-driven.  We push and push and push, shoving our agenda ahead, making goals, working hard, plugging forward. 

Then comes the inevitable burnout.  We become self-reliant and blinded by ambition and drive.  And we drive ourselves right into the ditch.  We get sidelined by something we never even saw coming.  We took our eyes off Christ (if they were ever really there) and start drowning.  We fall off the vine and end up a marshmallow stick.

Today, as we start a new week, I want to encourage you: don’t be a marshmallow stick.  Don’t end up roasted and tossed in the fire.  Abide in Christ and trust Him with the results in your life.  Abiding is simply following, staying connected.  So abide in Christ and stay connected to The Vine.  This is where true success and life are found.

Home Sweet Home

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” – 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (ESV)

My four year old loves to travel.  His big thrill: he likes to stay at the hotel.  We’ll be driving along the freeway, he’ll see a Holiday Inn or Comfort Inn (or what have you) and yell out, “Someday I go to hotel!”  It’s an experience we all enjoy: the pool (my son’s favorite part of the stay), not having to make the bed, coffee available 24/7, the continental breakfast… even just the newness of staying somewhere with different scenery.

But, ask just about any business person who spends a lot of time traveling and they will tell you: the hotel experience gets old.  The chlorine burns the nose.  The bed is not as comfy as yours at home, nor is the coffee as good.  And, really, who wants a dried up donut and half a banana for breakfast?  The newness dulls, and you realize how much you miss home.  Family.  Love. 

As Christians, we are sojourners on this earth.  This isn’t home – we’re just traveling through.  Maybe that’s why it can feel so awkward and ill-fitting, even “at home.”  Our values aren’t the same.  Our goals don’t mesh with those of the world.  We are strangers who have grown tired of the continental breakfast and long to be home, where we are surrounded by love. 

No pain. 

No sorrow.

No worry. 

No greed. 

No grieving.

No privation.

No selfishness.

No anger. 

No anxiety. 

No loneliness.

No hunger.

No homelessness.

No hate.

No war. 

No death. 

No sin. 

It is the stuff of countless Christian songs.  But it is reality.  God even guarantees His promise of Heaven with the Holy Spirit, who guides and enables us through this life.  We have a great and precious promise to hold tight to, secure in it’s truth:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” – John 14:1-7 (ESV)

This we have to look forward to: as believers, we will all be home one day.  But, for now, we are weary travelers, on the road and far from home.  And longing – deeply longing – for the day when we can be “at home with the Lord.”  This is why evangelism is so important: this promise is to precious not to share!  This is why small groups and church involvement are so important: we need each other, we need to build the body, we need that encouragement for the road ahead.

Today I am grateful for the great and precious promises of God.  He owes me nothing.  I deserve nothing.  And yet, His love for me is so great that He has made a way to rescue me and bring me eventually home – to a home I cannot fully imagine with my limited human mental faculties, but I take on faith in Jesus. 

C’mon guys.  Off to the next stop.

The Essence Challenge

Monday, April 4, 2011

5:00 am

I don’t know about you, but I have had it.  I am tired of all fluff and stuff, the detritus, the unimportant junk that litters my life.  So much busyness, so many distractions, all that time and talent and treasure that gets wasted on the meaningless, the useless.  I no longer care to major in the minors.  I have no desire to be so concentrated on things that have no eternal value.  I am ready to prioritize and rightly align my life.  I need to build my spiritual muscles.  I need to chuck the junk and get down to what is important, what is vital – in God’s eyes.

Personally, I need the spiritual equivalent of chef Emeril Lagasse’s “BAM” factor.  And I’ll bet I’m not the only one who feels that way.

So… I’m tossing out this challenge – the Essence Challenge – a chance for a bunch of us to strip away the old debris, toss out the garbage and waste and get to the heart, the essence, of what is important: God, spouse, kidlets, job – in that order.  This is an opportunity for us to find true meaning in our lives and begin growing ever deeper in our relationship with Jesus, and others.

How does the Essence Challenge work?  Well… I’m not 100% sure.  We’re going to start with small steps. 

STEP ONE: Set your alarm clocks 30 minutes earlier than you normally would.  (I know… ugh…).  Yes, that may mean cutting the “Friends” marathon on TBS short by one episode.  And, yes, it may be tough if you have a kidlet like my little man who refuses to go to sleep before 11pm that night. 

Now, how to spend that extra half hour before the sun rises?  Prayer.  Scripture.  Repeat.  Specifically, ask God to show you the areas in your life you need to ditch.  Where are your priorities askew?  How can you impact others by changing your life?  Most importantly, just seek God.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, ESV). 

STEP TWO: Now, this one may hurt a bit for some of us, but here goes… turn off the TV.  For one week, beginning next Monday (April 11), turn off the TV.  And leave it off.

For one week.

No “Sports Center.”  No DVDs.  No VOD or TiVO or Internet streaming episodes of “30 Rock.”  Only turn the tube on in case of an emergency where you need to find out info vital to the safety and needs of you and your loved ones (i.e.: is the tornado heading toward my house?).  No, Charlie Sheen updates do not qualify as an emergency, despite how the media treats them.

How do we spend that time with no television?  Read the Bible and pray with your family.  Spend time with your spouse.  Serve – help others in Christ’s name.  Be creative.  The most important thing is to seek God – how would He have you spend the time?  At the risk of sounding cliché, act as if Jesus were in the room with you (after all, He is). 

The goal of all this is to act as a bit of a reset: to rejuvenate our spiritual walk, realign our priorities and remove the useless from our lives.  And these two steps – rising 30 minutes early and turning off the television – are just the first two steps, the clearing of the deck. 

So… how about it?   Are you up to the Essence Challenge?  C’mon… it won’t hurt that much.  And, we’ll all be doing this together.  Drop me a quick e-mail at: christophercourtney@comcast.net and simply say, “Yes!  I am up for the challenge!”

Each day, I will post little encouragements and updates on this blog, readable via Facebook and Twitter as well on the blog website – https://bouvillediarist.wordpress.com/.  You can also receive them via e-mail by subscribing to the blog (see the website for details – it is really quite simple!)

Join me in taking the Essence Challenge!  Let’s grow together and see what God has in store for our lives as we seek His will for a greater impact on the lives of those around us.

When Disappointment Strikes (or I Don’t Remember Ordering All This Lemonade)

“Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.  The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.”  Proverbs 16:3-4 (ESV)

“…God is love.” – 1 John 4:8b (ESV)

The past few months have been a bit of a struggle, with more than one disappointment dropping onto my path.  It hasn’t been any one big event as much as a series of smaller discouragements.  Now, I write this very cognizant of the fact that what I’ve been facing is miniscule when compared with what a lot of other people I know have been dealing with.  Still, I find no comfort in the old line, “Buck up – there are people who are going through a lot harder time than you are!”  Come to think of it, there are a lot of lines I’ve heard over the weeks and months that really did nothing to help:

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”

“It’s gonna be alright.  Where is your faith?”

“Why are you struggling?  Didn’t you get a degree in studying God?”

“Don’t sweat it.  God is in control and He has a plan for you.”

Okay, that last one I should have stopped and listened to.  It is one of those facts that most believers know, and tell others with ease. But, when we have to apply this truth to our own lives… that is a different matter all together.

The truth is God is actually in control.  The Bible points it out.  Everything – every created, tangible thing – is created with purpose.  In God’s economy, nothing is wasted.  Even God’s Word is incredibly economical – there is not one idle, useless word in all of the Bible’s 66 books. 

And what is God’s most prized creation?  We are. 



And what is our created purpose?  The simple, corporate answer is this: to bring glory to God.  While that is our ultimate purpose, I believe each of us is created with a specific, God ordained purpose as well.  We are each blessed, gifted and talented in special ways, and wired in a manner that makes each and every person unique.

Consider trees.  What is their function?  Trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and replace it with oxygen, which we need to breathe.  They are remarkable air cleaners.  But, specifically, some trees also perform unique functions.  Some provide fruit and nuts for nourishment.  Some provide shade.  Some provide lumber.  Some provide a nesting place – and nesting material – for birds.  Some provide syrup.  And on and on…

Here is my point.  You are created with a purpose.  And it is easy for us (easier moreover for some) to get sidetracked with our own plans and ideas and goals and strategies.  We have to remember to “dedicate” what we do for God, without concern for the outcome.  We have to be willing to fail – even fail big – because, as the apostle Paul wrote:

“(Jesus) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV).

When disappointment and discouragement come, don’t sit around drowning in lemonade.  Let God work through the hard times to make you stronger and bring Him glory.  Keep doing what God has called you to do, knowing that God is omniscient (He already knows everything, including the struggles you face – He is able to take care of every detail [Psalm 147:5, Isaiah 55:9]), omnipresent (He is always with you, wherever you go, and will never abandon you [Hebrews 13:5]), and omnipotent (there is nothing too hard for God! [Luke 18:27]). 

Most importantly, God is love.  You can’t lose God’s love by messing up or falling short (or by any other means).  If God’s love was fickle, hanging on our worth or work or merit, it wouldn’t be love.  It would be earnings.  It would be works. 

But God’s love is a gift of grace.  And God’s love enables us to set aside the embarrassment of failure, the fear of imperfection, the pain of disappointment and the exhaustion of discouragement.  In faith we can see that God can and will do great things through each of us.  What we need to do is be faithful, and commit our ways to God.  “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21, ESV).