Communion With God – It’s Not A Chore. It’s Sweet.

From the time we know the Lord, and are bound to him by the cords of love and gratitude, the two chief points we should have in our view, I apprehend, are to maintain communion with him in our own souls, and to glorify him in the sight of men.   – John Newton

I like keeping things simple.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve got so many things I have to do and want to do I don’t know where to start. But Newton makes it simple – we only really need to do two things – maintain communion with Jesus in our souls and glorify him in the sight of men.

We don’t use the word “communion” much, except when we’re talking about bread and juice on Sunday. It’s a good old Puritan word that means hanging out with God. Spending time with him. Getting to know him. Abiding in his word. Meditating on it. Talking with Jesus – thanking him, praying, casting our cares on him.

At times I’ve looked at my devotions as a task or a chore to check off each day.  I can think along these lines:  Take out the recycling – check. Let the dogs out – check.  Read the Bible – check. Pray – check.  Okay, that’s done. Now I can get on with my day.

Think of communion with God as developing your friendship with him. Think of reading his word as reading his love letter to you or getting to know a good friend.  Think of “devotions” not as a chore, but spending time with Jesus.

Last week at our Youth Camp I spoke on abiding in Jesus the true vine.  Jesus said that a key aspect of abiding in him is to abide in his word.  We get to know people by spending time with them, and primarily through words.  I know how my wife feels about different topics because she’s told me. I know what she loves and hates because she has talked to me about these things. I wouldn’t know her if I didn’t spend time talking with her.

To make my point to the campers I picked out a young man from another church who I’d never met and announced I would become his best friend in two minutes. When our “timer” yelled, “Go” I began to pepper the young man with questions. “What’s your favorite book?  Favorite movie? What would you do if you could do anything you wanted for a day? Do you go on vacation? Where? Who’s your best friend?  Favorite food?  If you could be any animal what would you be?, etc.” After two minutes I said I proclaimed, “Now Matthew and I are best friends! I know everything about him and we never need to talk any more.”  Hopefully the kids got the idea – we can’t get to know someone if we don’t spend time listening to them and talking to them.

Maintain communion with Jesus in your soul. Not just when you spend time in his word and prayer, but all day long. Cry out for grace to when your children are melting down. Ask for wisdom when that difficult co-worker insults you.  Ask him to give you love for that weak sister who comes to you struggling with the same unbelief you thought you helped her with last week.  Cast your cares on Jesus.  Remind yourself of the gracious promises he has shared with you.  Communion with Jesus isn’t hard.  It’s not a chore.  It’s easy and it’s sweet.

My Interview With Mary, the Mother of Jesus

photo by Kevin Cole

What would it be like if Jesus first incarnation was today instead of 2,000 years ago? I tried to imagine what it would be like interviewing Jesus’ mother.

The strange events of the last three years began with a woman named Mary Ellen Reese.  It took me eighteen phone calls and twenty-three emails to get her to agree to an interview.  She lives in the tiny town of Idaho, Pennsylvania.

ME: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Would you mind telling me the story of how the baby was born?

MARY ELLEN REESE: You know I don’t normally do interviews.

ME: Why not?

MER: Because usually the requests usually are from blood-sucking tabloid journalists trying to get the “real story”. They want to know who I really slept with, or whether I was raped. They don’t believe the story I’ve told. They think I’m keeping a secret.

ME: So why did you agree to let me interview you?

MER: Because you seem different. Like you’re after something different. Like maybe you actually want to hear the real story. Plus you wouldn’t leave me alone.

ME: I do want the real story. I’m after the truth, not some trashy tabloid cover.

MER: I believe you. But if I see my picture on the front of a magazine, I’m going to hunt you down.

ME: I understand.

MER: The story starts, let’s see, thirty-four years ago when I was eighteen years old. I’ll let you do the math and figure out how old I am. I was just out of high school and engaged to my sweetheart, Joe Adams. I was working as a receptionist at a law office. Joe had just finished up trade school and was working on a construction crew.

Now you’ve got to understand something about me and my Joey. We were good kids. We grew up going to church and knew that sleeping together before we got married was wrong. Call us old fashioned, but that’s what we believed. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t make out a few times, but we certainly didn’t sleep together.

It was six months before the wedding that all the craziness started. One night as I was sitting in my living room, watching one of those stupid reality television shows, I suddenly felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I’m not one of those silly superstitious people who think that there are ghosts around every corner, but I swear, I felt my skin start to creep. There was something in the room with me, and I knew it.

I turned to my right and I saw it, just standing there, looking at me.

ME: What was it? What did you see?

MER: Well, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I saw an angel.

ME: What did he look like?

MER: Like a thousand fires blazing all at once. Like a bright hot firework that leaves spots in your eyes after it explodes. He shimmered and blazed and was slightly transparent all at once. I was absolutely terrified.

ME: What did you do?

MER: What would you do, get up and dance? I sat there, stock still, not moving a muscle. I tried not to look at it. I figured that if I sat still long enough he would go away.

ME: Did he?

MER: No. He spoke to me. I still get goosebumps all these years later as I think about it. His voice sounded warm and blazing hot all at the same time. Like a waterfall and jet engine and a lullaby. It’s hard to describe to someone who has never heard it.

ME: What did the angel say?

MER: I thought he was going to say something terrifying, but he didn’t. Instead, he smiled (actually smiled!) and said, “Hello, favored one.” When I heard that I was perplexed, and little bit disturbed. Favored one? What the heck was this angel talking about? I’m a simple girl from the tiny town of Idaho, Pennsylvania. I never was homecoming queen, never a sports star. What was all this “favored one” business?

Then the angel said, “Relax, it’s okay. Don’t be afraid. God is pleased with you. You’re going to have a son. And you’re going to name him Joshua, and he will be incredibly great.” Now when the angel said that, I about had a heart attack. A son? Didn’t this angel understand basic human biology? I had never had sex with anyone. I hadn’t slept with Joseph yet, and wasn’t planning on sleeping with him until we got married. Well, now that I think about it, he was an angel, so maybe he didn’t learn biology in heaven, or wherever it was that he was from.

ME: So what did you say to the angel?

MER: I told him what I told you. That I was a virgin. That me and Joseph hadn’t been together yet. That I didn’t know how it was possible for me to have a baby apart from having sex with a man.

ME: What did the angel say to you?

MER: He said that the power of God would come over me, and that I would conceive a baby by the power of God.

ME: Wait, hold on a second. Are you saying that…well, this is a weird question, but that somehow you had…sex with God…or something like that?

MER: No, no, no. Nothing weird or crazy like that. One morning a couple of weeks after the angel incident, I woke up and I felt terrible. Like everything in my stomach was trying to get out all at once. I ran into the bathroom and puked my guts out. That’s when I knew that I was pregnant. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. The night before I wasn’t pregnant, the next day I was. I took one of those home pregnancy tests to make sure, but I already knew.

ME: What did you say to the angel when he told you that you were going to have a son?

MER: What could I say? I said that I would do whatever God wanted. I said that if God wanted me to have a son, that I would have a son.

ME: And you never had sex with anyone?

MER: No. Never. I swear. I wasn’t raped, I wasn’t sleeping with somebody else in secret. I was a true virgin.

ME: When did you tell Joe?

MER: I told him three days after I found out that I was pregnant. I was so nervous. My hands were shaking as I told him, and I felt like I was going to throw up all over his linoleum kitchen floor.

I could tell as soon as I told him that he didn’t believe my story. He had a nice smile spread across face, but I could tell that he was torn up on the inside. And I don’t blame him. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t have believed it either. But it did happen to me, and I couldn’t change that fact.

ME: What did Joe do?

MER: In the kindest, sweetest voice, he told me that we should probably call the engagement off. Then he asked me who I had slept with. I tried to convince him that I hadn’t slept with anybody. I cried and pleaded with him, but he still didn’t believe me. He didn’t raise his voice, he didn’t curse at me. He just kept saying that we needed to call off the engagement. I left his apartment feeling depressed and like a piece of trash. I went back to my house and cried until I was all cried out. Then I went to sleep.

The next morning I was jerked awake by my cell phone buzzing away on my end table. I picked it up, still half asleep, and it was Joe. He said, “Good morning Mary.”

As you can imagine, I was awake pretty quick. Joe said, “Something happened to me last night. I had a dream.”

“What kind of dream?” I asked.

“Uhh, like no dream I’ve ever had before. Normally my dreams are crazy and scattered, but not last night. It was the most vivid, real dream I’ve ever had. There was an angel in my dream. A real, live angel. Not like those ridiculous things you see on TV. A real angel, and he was talking to me.”

“What did he say?”

“He told me that we needed to get married. That you were telling the truth. That this whole baby thing was real. As he was talking to me, I felt like my chest was on fire and like my lungs were about to pop. I woke up covered in sweat and breathing real heavy, like I had just gotten done running a long race.”

“So what does this mean?” I asked him, my heart beating fast.

“It means that we’re still getting married.”

I let out a little squeal of joy, then managed to compose myself. “Thank you,” I whispered. “Thank you Joe. I love you. Thank you for believing me.”

“I love you to Mary. I don’t understand all this, but I know that I love you, and that God wants us to be together.”

ME: And when was the baby born?

MER: Don’t tell me that you don’t know biology either! Baby Joshua was born nine months later, just like that angel said.

Don’t Call Jesus A Good Teacher, Call Him A Schizophrenic

I recently read a sad interview with a young man who had grown up in a Christian home but has since renounced his faith and become an atheist. When talking about Jesus, he said that he believed that Jesus was a good teacher and a good man. When I read that I thought, has this guy ever truly wrestled with the identity of Jesus? Does he really have the audacity to say that Jesus was a good teacher?

The reality is, Jesus was not a good teacher. No way. Just listen to the words that he said:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24)

C.S. Lewis famously said that Jesus is either the Lord, a liar, or a lunatic. Honestly, I don’t even think we can say that Jesus was a liar. Liars want to deceive people and to con them into believing something that isn’t true. Liars generally don’t make outlandish, ridiculous, “I can’t believe he said that” kind of claims. Liars spin their tales for the purpose of manipulating people and getting things out of people. Liars don’t usually invite people to eat their flesh and drink their blood. Liars want power and money. The things that Jesus said had the opposite effect.

The things that Jesus said about himself are so crazy that there are only two possibilities. He might be a total lunatic, possibly a schizophrenic. He might be the kind of guy who hears voices in his head, and is only able to function when he has high doses of Seroquel coursing through his body. He might belong in a mental institute, wrapped tight in a straight jacket so that he doesn’t hurt himself.

Or maybe he is the son of God.

You choose.


We Don’t Know What We Have

Believers in Jesus Christ are the richest people on earth.

We have every reason to be cheerful, optimistic, glad-hearted, generous servants, because we have been immeasurably blessed. In Jesus we lack nothing.  Though we may lack material goods and suffer affliction in this world, we look forward to an eternity of Christmas mornings where God will continually unwrap for us new riches in Christ, our Treasure.  As Paul worshipped God for our blessings in Christ, so should we:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:3)

Paul regularly prayed for those he served to be able to grasp more of their riches in Christ.  He prayed because they needed God himself to reveal his riches to them.

“Our problem is not lack of blessings, but lack of insight and wisdom to understand and use them properly and faithfully. Our blessings are so vast that the human mind cannot comprehend them. In our own minds we cannot fathom the riches we have in our position in Jesus Christ. Such things are totally beyond the human mind to grasp. Only the Holy Spirit himself can search the deep things of the mind of God, and only the Spirit can bring them to our understanding.” –John MacArthur, Ephesians

MacArthur recounts a Warren Wiersbe illustration:

William Randolph Hearst once read of an extremely valuable piece of art, which he decided he must add to his extensive collection. He instructed his agent to scour the galleries of the world to find a masterpiece he was determined to have any price. After many months of painstaking search, the agent reported that the piece already belonged to Mr. Hearst and had been stored in one of his warehouses for many years. –John MacArthur, Ephesians

How can I be discontented when I’m rich in Christ?
How can I be selfish when God has blessed me with every spiritual blessing in his Son?
How can I grumble when I know the Treasure of Treasures?
How can I be unhappy when I’m a joint-heir with Jesus?
How can I not want to serve others when God has been so lavish toward me?
How can I not praise God for his steadfast love and goodness to me in Christ?
How can I not marvel that he saved me?

Heavenly Father, thank you for your lavish, incomprehensible grace toward us in Jesus.
Thank you Jesus, for living, dying and rising again to make us joint-heirs with you.
Holy Spirit, thank you for opening our eyes to see the glory of Jesus.  Please show us more today.

photo by fringefalcon

Better Than A Big Brain

stephen-hawking-2

According to the Discovery Channel, British physicist Stephen Hawking is “the greatest mind on the planet.”

He believes in aliens, can teach us how to walk through time, and knows how the world will end.  So they promote their documentary called, “Into the Universe,” which aired on the Discovery Channel last night.

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational,” Hawking says, based on scientists’ belief that there are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe.

Hawking’s advice to us is to quit trying to talk to aliens. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” he says. Heck, I knew that back in the 60′s from watching Twilight Zone. I quit trying to contact aliens when I was 12.

I’d like to have a great mind. I’d take power and riches too. This world “boasts” in these things. But God tells us there’s something far better to rejoice in.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” JE 9.23-24

I’d rather personally know the infinitely wise God than have the biggest brain in the world. I’d rather be weak and know the all-powerful One than rule a nation. I’d rather be poor and know the God who showers us with riches in Christ, than have the wealth of Solomon.

We should rejoice in these things:

That we know our God is “the Lord,” sovereign over every molecule in the universe. What a blessing to know the universe is not random. That things don’t just “happen” to us.

The Lord delights to practice steadfast love. If he were sovereign but not loving, this would be a scary universe. I wouldn’t fear aliens – I’d fear an unpredictable God. But our King’s infinite power is motivated and guided by steadfast love.

He always acts in justice and righteousness. God always does the right thing. He never does us wrong. And he’ll use his infinite power to bring about justice in the earth and blessing for his blood-bought children.

Aren’t you glad you know the Lord who is sovereign, loving, just and righteous?

Would You Trade It All For Wisdom?

doors

Behind door number 1 is the thing that you’ve always wanted.

A wife. A new job and a boss that doesn’t treat you like cow poo. Money to pay off the staggering deficit you racked up in college. A sweet house that includes a flat-screen TV, a two-car garage, and a garden for puttering. A 401k package that isn’t flat lining. It’s all there in one glorious, shiny, jaw-dropping heap. And you can have it. If you want.

Behind door number 2 is something even better.

Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. (Prov. 8:10-11)

Study both doors very carefully. Behind one door is all you ever desired. Behind the other door is godly wisdom.

Which door do you choose?

Unless you have the sense of musk ox, you’ll choose wisdom. Why? Because all you desire can’t hold a candle to wisdom. Wisdom is a shield and a guardian (Prov. 2). It gives you years of life, peace, favor in the sight of God and man, honor, pleasantness, and sweet sleep (Prov. 3).

Only a moron of inter-galactic proportions would neglect wisdom. Unfortunately, I’ve been that moron. Many times.

But I’m seeking to grow. I’ve been praying that God would help me to increase in wisdom. I’ve been captivated by the idea that wisdom is more precious than diamonds. I want that kind of wisdom.

So help me out. How do we get this wisdom that is more precious than diamonds?

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+photo by anyjazz65

The God We Can Know

For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (Acts 17.23).

The Athenians worshiped an unknown God.  But Paul proclaimed to them the mind-blowing news that the High and Holy One can be known.

God so desires that we know him he sent Jesus to reveal him to us:

No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:18).

Because God is infinite, there will always be new vistas of his beauty and majesty to ravish our hearts.  After 10,000 ages in heaven, there will still be inexhaustible marvels of Jesus to explore.  We’ll never come to an end of delight!  And with each fresh revelation of the glory of God in the face of Christ, we’ll pour out fresh waves of worship and love to him.

Though much of God is shrouded in mystery, he’s given us much solid knowledge of himself.  Think about all we know of him through his Word: he’s three persons in one God: Father, Son, and Spirit; he’s infinite, holy, eternal, sovereign,  all-knowing, omnipresent, just, loving, good, merciful, faithful, kind and he never changes.  How would we survive the storms of life without this bedrock knowledge of our God?

But we don’t simply know facts about God, we can know him personally.  The Lord of glory lays bare his thoughts, joys, longings, griefs and sorrows with us.  He  whispers to us, “This is the way you should go,” and even leaks his plans for the future to us.

He reveals himself to us through his love letter, the Bible.  He communes with us when we’re praying and singing songs to him.  He speaks to us through preaching and teaching and prophecy and books and the encouraging words of our brothers and sisters.

Isn’t it amazing that our Creator delights in our knowing him?

photo by santa claus…!!!:)