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First Thoughts Blog
Monthly Archives: August 2015

Change Through God Via Community

How do people change? We talk often about going “deeper into Christ,” but it’s important to remember how it happens. How do people come to know Jesus, and how do those who know him get to know him better? How do we begin to see change in our lives, in our communities and in the society around us?

One of the most fundamental claims of the Christian Church for the last two millennia is that God’s revealed Word, the Bible, is the foundation for change in people, communities and societies. David writes these words in Psalm 19:

The Law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes.

He goes on to say that God’s Word is sweeter than honey and more desirable than gold. Why? Because God’s Word has the power to change us for the better. The New Testament echoes the same teaching. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3: 16 that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness…” And in Romans chapter 1, we read these wonderful words: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” The Power of God is in the Gospel! God’s Word has power to change us!

But there’s another piece that we also need to remember. As a preacher, I wish the formula looked like this—preach the truth and everyone will change. Unfortunately that is not always the case. We know that for change to happen, the Holy Spirit must be at work enabling that change. And what we see throughout the Bible is that the Holy Spirit most commonly works that change in community. It’s in people learning, working, loving, crying, questioning together that God’s Word seems to take the firmest hold. In his loving wisdom, the Lord created us to need each other, even in the process of Spiritual growth. So we can revise the formula to look more like this: The Truth, when processed and experienced in community, leads to change.

If this is true, what should we do? That part is actually pretty easy: we connect. First, connect to the Truth; read his Word, be active in gathered worship and focus your attention on the person and work of Jesus Christ revealed through the whole Bible. And secondly, connect to others; get into a group to study the Bible, pray or just fellowship. Connect to your neighbors and to those who don’t share your faith (God works through them as well) and welcome them in to the hope that you have come to know. And thirdly, look for gradual change in your life and the opportunities for change around you. Serve. Create. Empower.

That’s how people grow. The Truth of the Gospel at work in, among and through the community of God’s people. Truth. Community. Change. Amen!

Hit the Road!

How’s this for a planning a move:

“Grab the wife, stuff a suitcase, get in the car and drive out of town.”

“Where are we going?

“Just drive. I’ll tell you when we get there. By the way, it make take a few years.”

As crazy as that sounds, it happens all too often to parents who work in the corporate world. The company decides they need someone in another town, so they transfer your mom, or your dad, with no notice and no questions asked. Next thing you know, your whole life is on the move. It happens, too, when all of a sudden your folks announce you have to move because granddad can’t care for himself anymore. Or worst of all, your parents are splitting up and they can’t afford your home anymore. So your family and your house are being left behind. We can get yanked out of our lives with very little warning.

In of the wildest Bible stories, a man named Abram and his wife Sarai got sent packing far away from everything they knew and loved—by God! It was supposed to be part of being incredibly blessed. One day, the Lord suddenly spoke to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” The couple had to pack up and leave immediately.

Years passed before Abram and Sarai were able to settle in the land they were promised, the land of Canaan, and even more time went by before the child promised to them, little Isaac, was born. But in the end, everything worked out and the people of God multiplied in order to be a blessing to the whole world. From Abram and Sarai came all the great heroes of faith: Moses, Miriam, David, Esther and even Jesus!

The keys to success in the long move were Abram’s faith and God’s faithfulness. The words we translate as “the land I will show you” can also be translated as “the land I will provide.” God provides. Abram believed God would provide even though it took years to get to a place called home and see all the promises come true.

He hung on through all the miles and all the changes. God was in control. God had sent him on this journey. God had promised to provide. So Abram journeyed on in faith that God would be as good as his word, even when it seemed that word had gone silent for a long time.

When you have to move, especially when it’s not your choice, Abram and Sarai can be your travelling companions. They tell us that no matter what strange lands we get sent to, God is still there while we journey, and God is there when we arrive. We cannot be lost from God’s care nor travel outside the circle of his love. It just can’t be done. And we cannot be separated from the promise of God to us in Jesus Christ. God has promised, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13: 5). The Lord really does provide—not always the way we’d expect, but always the way we need.

That means all our moves and all our quiet days at home, all our journeys and all our routines, are adventures. For God is going to show up, and provide what we need. The adventure is discovering how God does it.

Next Day Stretch

Many of us have known what it’s like to have to go to a “foreign” place, whether we’re moving permanently or just travelling. Take a moment to consider what difference it makes whether you’re going alone or with someone. Consider what difference it makes when you arrive in a strange place if you’re with someone who knows where you are like the back of your hand. Psalm 139: 9,10 says “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand will shall hold me fast.” In your prayers today, invite God into all the strange and difficult places you must go. Remind the Lord of the promise made to Abram, “The Lord will provide.”

Posted in: Devotionals

Directing My Path

Recently challenged to give a testimony/devotional during staff meeting on a favorite or meaningful Bible verse, I discovered that I can’t really pick a favorite verse…I have different go-to verses for different situations. The above wouldn’t normally even make the cut as a favorite but I used it because it is the verse that has been a part of my life for the longest time.

The plaque pictured has been hanging on my wall since the third grade. I won it for memorizing the most Bible verses in a summer group called “Good News Club” that some kindly ladies ran for kids in my apartment complex.

In considering this verse in light of a devotional, I began to wonder why God would have this be the one verse that was in front of me for the bulk of my life? Somehow that plaster plaque has survived multiple moves, college, graduate school and the years I was a devout non-believer. It has always hung on my wall in whatever apartment, dorm room or house I was living in. Why did this plaque matter so much to me when God didn’t? When I won the plaque, I was already being asked to bear heavy burdens that most 8 year olds didn’t have to bear. So why this verse in all those difficult times? Why not the "peace that surpasses all understanding" or "he will be there through all the fires" or some other seemingly more relevant verse to my circumstances??

Now I know God was thinking long term…not just something for the moment. God knew how independent I was going to be. I was forced to be independent far too young and I desperately clung to that independence as I got older. It has always been about me.

When I think about this verse now, as a maturing believer, it gives me great comfort to know that from the beginning of my life, he knew me. He wouldn’t have put this particular verse in my life if he didn’t already know I was going to need it in my face, on my wall, day after day, year after year for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know him. He knew me. I’ve always found comfort in knowing that he knew me before I was formed, but the way this verse has been in my life proves that to me without a shadow of a doubt.

These days, I am always repenting of my independence idolatry. The crazy thing is, if I wasn’t a Christian, I would be applauded for it. Today's society is all about independence! However, I’ve had this plaque in my face telling me something different for years and years. Quietly preaching to me from my wall…quietly just there waiting for me to acknowledge it. To acknowledge him. He knew my sinful pride long before it began to rear its ugly head. For “your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139: 16)

Today it’s a discipline to ask for a spirit of humility and then yield to his will. I am freer to serve him, to receive him and to recognize the work he began in me before I was even conceived. Praise, and thanks be to God. 

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