Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lacking nothing

When I was younger I used to struggle to maintain an early morning devotional life. It seemed no matter what I did I couldn't be disciplined enough to awaken early and seek the Lord. What a frustration!
It seems the Lord has worked this out in my life in an interesting way. He wakes me up earlier and earlier as I grow older and my mind seems to naturally seek Him in the quietness of the morning. I have come to really enjoy this time alone with God as the day begins to brighten outside my apartment window.

Certainly this is no replacement for other devotional times, but I thank God for helping me finally do what I could not do on my own. It is amazing. I can't even claim credit for my devotional life. It is true "without me you can do nothing."

This morning my mind was filled with this thought--"He who has Jesus lacks nothing". I guess my mind was on this thought as I prayed for family and friends in South Florida who are suffering the aftermath of hurricane Wilma. It is so easy to measure what one has by material things or visible circumstances. Yet, he who has Jesus lacks nothing.

Since Jesus is our Vine and we are His branches, he is all we need to live in our world. As hard as that may seem at the time of crisis, it is either true or it is not true. I can begin each day feeling I have all I need or I can begin each day feeling disadvantaged or left out. The choice is mine. The result of the choice is abundance or lack.

I have often said "The difference between Jesus and me is simple. He was satisfied in God 24 hours a day and seven days a week and I am not." Jesus never lived from what He lacked. Jesus lived from His perfect oneness with His Father. Jesus lacked nothing to be what He needed to be in this world. He lacked many things He could have enjoyed yet He never lived from a state of dissatisfaction.

I think the reason we need to have daily devotions is to return each day to a state of satisfaction in God. Who knows what evil will come in a day? If we fail to begin each day in a state of satisfaction, what will we do when the hurricane comes?

My heart is heavy for my family and friends in South Florida. I pray the Lord wakes them up early and tells them "He who has Jesus lacks nothing" To live by faith is to look around at the damage and still be able to say "God is enough." I know my family and friends will find Jesus to be enough.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Oswald Chambers once observed "God orchestrates our circumstances to educate our faith." This statement has had a powerful effect on my day to day life. Somehow it has allowed me to rest in the way things come into my life that seem like interruptions or problems.

The statement seems innocent enough until you begin to examine it more closely. It says much more than it appears to say.
First, it says my faith is more important than my circumstances. My circumstances are simply tools in God's hands to be used in a much more important matter. Second, it says God is deeply involved in the details of my life. To orchestrate one needs to really be involved in the moment by moment details. Third, it tells me that I am a learner not a teacher. My faith will not educate itself. Just reading and meditating on my Bible will not produce faith. I need a laboratory to work out the things I have read. That laboratory is life. Fourth, my faith must be very important for my future. Why educate it if it is not going to be of use later on? Fifth, I need to relax with the process. Faith is not a work. Faith is a revelation. I need to pay better attention.

Last night God was busy educating my faith. We completed our sixth week of a small group Bible Study on marriage in a friend's home. The friends who hosted the meeting are Adelino and Sheila Cardoso. We go back a long time--over 25 years.
One by one we have seen nearly the entire Cardoso family embrace Christ. Now the family is helping us lead others to Christ by inivting them to the Bible Study. What an amazing thing it was to realize that all these details over 24 years in the making are now coming together which such power. God is a great teacher! He sure had my attention last night.

Monday, October 17, 2005


My trip to the poor areas of Rio de Janeiro was a blessing to me and a great learning experience. Brazil is such a country of contrasts. Just four short hours from where I live there is a level of misery and poverty that is hard to describe. How do you describe certain smells and sounds?

On the other hand, how do you describe happiness found in such places? If I could invent a "happiness meter" that could measure the level of happiness in a person, I believe I could dispel all doubts that Jesus can make people equally happy in any set of circumstances. I believe we have such a "happiness meter" built into us if we would just use it. It is the capacity to look into the eyes of another person and see the abundant life Jesus promised. I saw this abundant life in the poor of Rio. The only possible explanation is the presence of Jesus in their lives. The environment could never produce their joy. Only Jesus.

In one service the pastor called on his people to pray for the less fortunate of the world and give generously to their needs.
I sat there thinking "How can these people see the needs of others when their needs are so deep?" It is the presence of Jesus that causes the poor to see those who are even poorer. What a precious thing it was to see the truly poor care about the truly poor.
I felt I was witnessing a miracle.

I also visited the wealthy areas of Rio where the reality is one of complete comfort and service. As I looked into the eyes of the wealthy I did not see an appreciable difference in happiness. I saw a distinct difference in comfort and care. I saw a distinct difference in physical size and strength. When I met a believer in the wealthy areas I saw the same happiness I saw in the humble church in the poor areas. Jesus is the same in any neighborhood. HIs happiness is available everywhere.

I am really beginning to feel a deep excitement about the happiness I saw in Rio. It is the great equalizer in the world.
I can honestly say to anyone I meet "In Jesus you can be as happy as anyone in the world." Jesus is the source of happiness and He is making Himself known in every area of our cities. Abundant life in Jesus is the great discovery. It can take root anywhere and in any life. Just come with me to Rio and you will see for yourself.

At first you may find it hard to believe happiness can exist in such circumstances. Over time you will begin to see it and rejoice that such joy can take root in such places. In fact, it seems to take root in such places much more often than in the easier places. The soil in the poorest places receives Jesus' happiness really well.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Wider World

Today I head to Rio de Janeiro for a three day conference for Brazilian pastors. It is interesting that this first invitation is taking me to an area of Rio that is one of the most densely populated in Brazil and is very near the area the Brazilians call their "Gaza Strip." It is an area of deep poverty and violence. Interestingly enough it is also the location where churches are seeing great spiritual progress. It is a great place to teach Abiding.

To go in the direction of the pain is a characteristic of spiritual life. To take up our cross and follow Jesus is to make pain a servant of God's intentions. Our nature apart from God allows pain to take us wherever pain wants to go. To take up a cross forces pain to go where God wants it to go. "All things work together for good...."

I am humbled to go to the church that is hosting this meeting. The leaders of this church are heading in the direction of the pain with Jesus. Every day they wake up and the live with incredible pain staring them right in the face. I will drive there for a few days with another Brazilian pastor. I will see it up close and personal but it is not the pain I must face each day. I will head home on Saturday night.

All of us wake up each day and we must choose to go in the direction of the pain with Jesus. If we do not then certainly the pain will continue to come in our direction until it takes us where it is going. It is far better to go ahead and go with Jesus in the direction of the pain. He is a much better Lord and leader than pain. Let's go with Him and learn how God makes pain his servant.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Our "things"--finally

Pam and I have been living out of suitcases since July 15th. Our "things" from the states have been sitting in customs awaiting something. Today our "things" arrived!

I remember reading a devotional thought by Tozer entitled "The blessedness of having no possessions." According to Tozer we have been blessed!
Seriously, it has been good for us to be reduced to less. We have learned to hold things less tightly. We have learned we need less. We have learned to use our memory more than pictures. We have learned to wait. We have learned that things are not the essence of life. I think that is what Tozer meant.

Even so, it is always good to get your "things". Somehow they help you remember who you were and who you are. I think the thing I most enjoyed receiving was all of our family pictures--and my golf clubs! Now all I need is for the familly to come and I need to find a golf course. Both are not easy tasks right now.

If you are waiting for some "thing" to come that seems like it will never come. Be blessed without it so when it comes you will smile like we did this morning. Even Marcy thought it was about time!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Abiding Questions

The questiion we most commonly hear from Brazilians is "Why did you come back to Brazil?" They ask with a mix of happiness and concern. Most people who leave Brazil for the the U.S.A. don't return--especially at our age and with a family as large as ours. I think many Brazilians privately are saying "I would never live so far from my kids and grandkids!" They are happy we are here but concerned about the impact our absence might have on us and on those we love. We have the same concerns.

Their response to us kind of reminds me of people who leave church and say to the pastor "Great sermon!" but privately are saying "I am not sure I understood it or agree with it." On the other hand, there are many who heard the same sermon who say "I understood it, agree with it and I want to live it." I suppose this tension between what makes sense to some and not to others is a part of being a disciple.

I believe to follow Jesus involves moving beyond what once made sense to us. What makes sense is not enough to change what is. It never has been.
It makes no sense to go in the direction of pain unless you want to deal with the root cause of pain. It makes no sense to move away from comfort unless you seek to bring others into comfort. It makes no sense to follow Jesus unless you believe a God governed life leads to the best life. Once Jesus begins to make sense to you, get ready for change.

The other question we most often hear is "What is abiding?" Again, I think they ask with a mix of happiness and concern.
Happiness at the thought of learning something new. Concern that there is something wrong with them. When I tell them Abiding is something they may already be doing it calms them and awakens their interest. When I tell them they lack nothing in order to abide, they get truly excited.

Abiding is simply learning to live and bear fruit for God's glory by being dependent on Jesus for everything. Abiding is to be a branch that is what it is and does what it does because the Vine wants it to. Abiding is to live in a state of satisfaction coming from a source that is perfect for the production of fruit that God wants and the world needs.

Abiding makes no sense in a world like ours. It would appear to be the surest way to get run over by all the forces on the planet. To be a branch in this world is to be dependent and vulnerable. That hardly makes sense in a world bent on control.

When we tell people about Abiding I can see in their faces a longing to be dependent on Jesus but a fear that it might mean a loss of control. When I tell them it does mean a loss of control, their faces drop. When I remind them that Jesus said to consider birds and flowers a good example of no control, the light comes back into their eyes.

This whole Christian life makes no sense in a world that wants God' place and power. I am glad. If it did make sense, it wouldn't change a thing that is. Doing only what makes sense has made history a continous repetition of the same problems and pain. Only when Jesus came and did that which made no sense did the world begin to possess a new kind of sense. That new kind of sense will only make sense to those who have given up control and enjoy dependence on God.

Some questions will abide forever. One of them is "What makes sense to you?" I hope Jesus is making more and more sense to you. If He is, then nothing will ever be the same.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Lord's prayer

The Lord's prayer in Matthew 6 is inexhaustible in its depth and meaning. About the time I feel I understand this short prayer I am amazed to see something new and wonderful in its deep simplicity. I once preached a series of sermons on the Lord's prayer and I gave out peanuts to the entire congregation and asked thiem how many things might be hidden in a peanut. Little by little the light went on in their minds as the remembered that George Washington Carver found over 300 uses for the simple peanut. So it is with the Lord's prayer.

I awakened this morning thinking about the phrase "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." I was reminded of the story Jesus told of the king who forgave one of his servants an enormous an unpayable debt. That servant went out a forgiven man and promptly tried to collect a small debt from some poor servant of his. When the king heard about this he turned the servant he had forgiven over to the torturers so he would learn to forgive as he was forgiven. Obviously, Jesus' use of the word "torturers" was meant to let us know God takes this forgiving thing very serious.

As I considered my track record as a forgiver, it suddenly dawned on me what "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" might mean for my life. Each time I am offended and have someone to forgive, I am looking at someone who has done to me what I have already done to God. As I reviewed in my mind a few of the people who have hurt me deeply, I asked this question "Have I ever done something like that to God?" I was shocked as I could see my need to forgive them as I had been forgiven by God.
I kept doing this forgiving test and I failed to find a single offender in my life that I could not identify as sinning against me in a way that I had already sinned against God.

I had to simply reduce the actions committed against me to simple terms like "disrespect", "distortion of reality", "failure to give credit", "anger at me without a cause" etc. and I could quickly see that my offender and I were no different except for the fact that I had not done something to him or her. Yet, I had done it to God and He had forgiven me when I asked for forgiveness.

So, I must pray every day this simple phrase "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" because it is in being offended
I can see most clearly how God has felt when I offended Him. I can also see in this process of being forgiven and forgiving the only way we will ever get out of this mess we humans live in.

The torturers are needed because the alternative of no forgiveness is much worse. The torturers have worked on me from time to time until I finally was humbled enough to see that I, too, am a forgiven sinner. I can't say I liked the torturers, but I am glad they came to me with just enough pain to open my eyes back toward God and away from my offender.

If your enemy came to you today and asked for forgiveness would you be as generous as God was with you? Would I be?
The realilty is, I have no choice but to eventually forgive. God will not let my resistance be the final word. HIs character and grace will be the final word and that word is forgiveness for all of us if we will but ask.

Are you having a hard time forgiving someone? Stop looking at them and look at yourself then back at God. When you do the words "forgive us our debts" will take on deep meaning and move you toward your offender with the words. "I forgive you because I have been forgiven." When we have done this about 490 times we will get the hang of it!