Archive for February, 2012

How Will They Know?

As believers, we should understand that we have something that others are missing.  That should not make us proud – it doesn’t make us better than anyone else.  In fact, it makes us obligated.

We are obligated to share what we know.  We are mandated to spread love and truth and hope everywhere we go.

Paul wrote to us in Romans about this very fact.  He asked how anyone would know about Jesus unless we tell them.  You can read it here.

The question I have for you today is a little more personal.  Could the person standing behind you at the store today tell that you are a believer?

Something to think about.

Be a blessing today.

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A Time to Return

Yesterday, we began a discussion on the meaning of Fat Tuesday and Lent.

Today, in some of my readings, I ran across a very insightful statement about Lent.

Ruth Haley Barton is a recognized author and spiritual director.  In her blog post for today, she said that the most common question asked at Lent is a question of what one is giving up.  However, there is a better question.  Here is what she said:

The real question of the Lenten season is: How will I repent and return to God with all my heart? This begs an even deeper question: Where in my life have I gotten away from God and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?

This should be our focus as we enter into this season of Lent.  It should be a time of self-examination and a time of repentance.  We must focus on the cross event and the sacrifice Jesus made for us and in light of that sacrifice, we should turn inward to look at where in our lives we have moved our attention away from God and to other things.

Lent is a season to return.  Return to God.  Return to a life lived for Jesus.

Today, God is saying, “I am here – come back to me!”

How will you return to Jesus?

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Fat Tuesday and Diet Coke

This morning, I made sure that I had my Stripes cup in the car.  Let me explain.  Stripes is a regional convenience store.  They have a policy that once you buy a fountain drink, you can then return with the cup and get a refill at a discounted price.

Now the reason this is important is that one of my biggest vices is Diet Coke.  I drink my weight in the stuff over the course of a week.  I know it is not healthy for me to do so, but it is one of the indulgences that I allow myself.  So for me, saving fifty cents each time I go for a Diet Coke can be significant.

Now the reason that I wanted to make sure I had my Stripes cup today, more so than any other day, is this:  today is Fat Tuesday.  The day before Ash Wednesday – the day before the season of Lent begins.  So today is the day that I need to drink my fill of Diet Coke, because tomorrow I begin my Diet Coke fast.

You see, Lent is a time when we think about the sacrifice Jesus made for us.  Part of the practice of Lent is giving something up that we enjoy as a means of focusing on that sacrifice that Jesus made.

So even though it is a little thing and may seem trivial to some, I am foregoing Diet Coke for the season of Lent.  There, it is public.  Now you can hold me accountable.

What will you be doing to remember Jesus’ sacrifice?

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I Believe But . . .

This morning the devotional reading was in the book of Mark.  It was the story of a man’s son that had been possessed by a demon since birth, to the extent that the disciples could not cast it out.  The father approached Jesus asking him to do something.  Jesus responded with a comment about a lack of faith.

It would seem that the disciples, who had been able to do this before, could not handle this problem.  The idea is that even though they believed and knew the power of God, they were facing something that shook their faith.

It would be easy to snicker at the disciples and say, “they should have known better – they had seen Jesus do this and should have known God’s power was sufficient.”  But stop for a minute and think about it in your own life.  You have seen God work in your own experience and in the lives of those around you.  And yet, how often do we come face to face with a situation that rocks our world and we turn and run?

For me, I often find myself thinking, “I believe, but . . .”

I believe but why isn’t God doing something about this?  I believe, but what if God doesn’t come through?

I believe, but . . .

Jesus responded to the father by telling him that casting out this demon is possible if he believes.  The father’s answer should be our answer:

I believe – help my unbelief.

What a confession.  What an attitude of complete submission.  I believe – help me to believe more.

Today, when you face that challenge that may seem bigger than God, remember, God is big enough.  Believe it.  Take it to the bank.  Tell God you believe and then ask for the grace to help you believe even more!

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God Still Transforms

Yesterday, I mentioned being at a men’s retreat this past weekend.  I was refreshed and renewed spiritually through the course of God working in my own life but even more so in watching God work in the lives of others and hearing their stories.

One man, Joey, has been out of prison now for a few months.  His inked up arms tell part of his story.  He served 26 years for armed robbery.  While in prison, he was the kingpin for the prison mafia and not only controlled his prison but 4 others.  He ruled the drug traffic,  committed murders and several other things.  In a sentence – he was a bad dude.

After 26 years in prison, he was released with no where to go – no job, no family, no hope.  He was making his way through a town and happened into a church to ask for some assistance.  The pastor listened to his story and his heart broke for this man.  He assisted him and even gave him odd jobs around the church to help him survive.  After about 6 months of building a relationship with Joey, the pastor led him into a life changing relationship with Jesus.

Now, two months after his decision to follow Jesus, here he sat in the room with 32 other men on a Walk to Emmaus.

That picture reminded me of God’s life transforming power.  As a pastor, I know that God has that kind of power, but I forget sometimes just how real it is.

God is still in the life transformation business.

What is it about you that you need God to transform?


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Leading the Leader

This past weekend, Thursday night through Sunday afternoon, I was involved with a men’s retreat.  It was a great opportunity for me to do something a little different.  I was on the leadership team and we had 33 first-time participants in the retreat.  My job was to give one of the talks and then to be there to assist in counseling any of the participants that may ask for prayer or just a listening ear.

Even though I was there to lead, I am not sure I did any leading.  In fact, I had the opportunity to do a lot of observing.  I saw men from all walks of life and all age groups sharing their faith and their struggles.  I was moved by the transformation that began in some of their lives.  But what moved me the most was seeing the dedication in many of their lives.

I have struggles just as everyone else does, but as a pastor, I am often a bit insulated from the struggles that some people face.  As I listened to the stories of some of the men, I was reminded that God works in the midst of some pretty dark places.  There were men there who have struggled – and are struggling – with all kinds of addictions.  There were a couple of men there that have just recently been released from prison.  Others that have had serious family struggles for years.

But in the midst of all their struggles, these men made an intentional choice to follow Jesus.  I was reminded of a very important truth.  When we are faced with struggles, we often pray for God to deliver us – to get us out of this mess.  But many times, Jesus does not remove the struggles but rather walks with us through them.

Remember that today – even if your struggles are not removed from you – that does not mean that God is not walking with you through them.  It is a day to day thing – a journey.  Transformation does not happen overnight.  It is a progression.  The New Testament teaches us that these present struggles are refining us and being used by God to form us.

So this past weekend, the leader was led.

Be blessed today!

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Tonight we will begin a study on the book of Ecclesiastes.  It is a book in the Old Testament attributed to King Solomon.  Solomon was credited as the most wise person in the world.  God had blessed him with an uncanny understanding of the world and how it works.

That is why this book is so surprising to me.  The book is written from a very negative perspective – in fact, you could even say it’s a bit depressing.  So much so that I am reluctant to commit to spending the next several weeks studying it.  The overarching theme of the book is the vanity of this existence.  One translation uses the word meaningless.  While I wholeheartedly believe that each page of the Bible is included because that is how God intended it to be, I have to admit that spending the next several weeks digging into 12 chapters of one person’s pessimistic view of just how pointless and meaningless this life is does not sound like a good time!

BUT . . .

What  I learn from what Solomon has to say is a reminder of a simple fact:  if this life here on earth is all there is then there isn’t a point to our existence – no meaning at all.  But we know better.  What we see now is not all there is.  Our hope is not placed in what we can attain here in this life time.  Our hope is in Jesus.  Our focus is on him and living to please him.

So when life seems to cave in on you today, remember that there is more – so much more!

Take heart!

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Last week I started the post on Tuesday as Tuesday Faith Check (you can link to that post here).  In keeping with that idea, I have a question for you:  Where do you put your faith?

Here is what I mean by that question.  Often times, with good intentions, we begin to put our faith in the system and not in the person.  And this is not a new problem.  Case in point, my scripture reading this morning was from the Gospel of Mark.  As this story unfolds, Jesus has a run-in with a group of Pharisees and scribes who have a real problem with the disciples not washing their hands before a meal.  You can read the story here.

Now, on the surface, we might say that the Pharisees made a good point.  It is a good idea to wash your hands before you eat.  It’s just a sanitary thing to do.  But when you dig down to what was really going on in the story, the words the Pharisees were using were religious terms.  They were complaining that the disciples were eating with “defiled” hands and not paying attention to the “traditions” of the elders.

What was meant, many, many years before as a good thing – a common sense thing – washing your hands before a meal, had become a ritual.

There was an entire book written to interpret the Bible.  This book, the Midrash, was an attempt to explain the law and develop practical systems for keeping the law.

Again, not a bad idea to have some practical steps for keeping the law.  But what was meant as an aid, became the new “law.”  In the story from Mark, Jesus explained to the Pharisees that they had forgotten the law and had become focused on the tradition.  Over time, their faith had been moved from what God intended to what man had created.

So back to our question for today, Where do you put your faith?  Is it in Jesus and his teaching?  Or do you put your faith in the traditions we have created?  Is following Jesus about a set of rules?  Or is it about a relationship?

Now that you are thinking about this, I need your help.  I am planning on developing this thought into a sermon.  I would love some feedback from you that might just make it into the sermon.

Take a few minutes and respond to this question:

What are some ways today that we in the church have taken our focus off of what God intends and put our faith in the traditions we have created?

You can reply here or send me an email at bhill33@me.com.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Be blessed today!

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A Prayer for God to Move

Have you ever desired to see God move.  I mean, as good followers, we know that God is at work all around us.  We believe that God moves every day.

But do you ever want to see it – experience it?

I read about amazing spiritual renewals in our nation over 100 years ago and I think, “Why not today?  Why not now?  Why not here?”

Today, I am praying the prayer of Habakkuk – the Old Testament prophet:

LORD, I have heard of your fame; 
   I stand in awe of your deeds, LORD. 
Repeat them in our day, 
   in our time make them known; 
   in wrath remember mercy.

I know of God’s power and ability.  I have read of God’s mighty works.  I pray that we will see them in our time.

Will you join me in this prayer?

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Have you ever noticed that we have a real knack for making things more complicated than they need to be or than they really are?  Often we get so pulled into the frenzy of things that we can’t look at an issue from the big picture view.

William Wordsworth is one of my favorite Romantic Period poets.  He was a lover of nature and had the ability to pull back the veil of human understanding with his words.  As I sat and pondered the complex simplicity of life today, his words came ringing back to me from a poem he wrote entitled, The Tables Turned: An Evening On the Same Subject.  The last two stanzas say this:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;

Our meddling intellect

Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things: – – 

We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.

Isn’t it true that we often ruin things when we try to over-analyze and make them more complicated.

We can try and interpret God’s grace.  We can strive to understand it.  We can debate it, research it, question it and even doubt it.  But the reality is that God extends it to us even though we don’t deserve it.  It is a free gift.

All we have to do is accept it!

Be blessed today!

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