On the Bubble

So this is the week that the NCAA Basketball Tournament starts.  The brackets were unveiled yesterday.  This is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love filling out a bracket and then watching the games as the tournament progresses.  But one of the interesting discussions on Monday is about the teams that were on the bubble heading into the weekend and the debate that ensues about whether the right teams made it into the tournament or not.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, “on the bubble” let me take a moment and explain it.  The NCAA Tournament only has space for 65 teams.  About 30 of those teams make it in through an automatic bid which goes to the winners of the different conferences.  The other 35 teams are selected as “at large teams” by a committee.  Usually most of those 35 teams had a great season and obviously deserve a spot in the tournament, but the last 4 or 5 spots in the tournament are always up for grabs and could go to about 8 or 10 different teams.  Those 8-10 teams are considered to be “on the bubble” and that means that about half of them will make it and the other half will not.  This year some of the bubble teams that made it were Minnesota, Utah State, and Florida and some of the bubble teams that just missed the cut were Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, and Illinois.

Imagine being one of these “bubble” teams waiting to see if you made it to the tournament or not.  The wait was probably quite excruciating.  But ultimately the teams only had themselves to blame.  Those teams were on the bubble because they didn’t take care of business when they needed to.  Instead of excelling, they were just mediocre.  Minnesota is a great example.  They had a decent season, going 21-13 on the season, but they had some bad losses including losing to Northwestern and Michigan down the stretch.  They ended up having a good run in the Big Ten Championship to get off the bubble and into the tournament, but if they had not had that late rally they probably would have found themselves on the outside looking in.

The “on the bubble” teams wound up there because they were satisfied with mediocrity instead of excellence.  They had some good moments, but they also had too many bad moments that kept them mired in mediocrity.  They could have taken care of business all along and stayed away from the “bubble.”

So why am I blogging about the NCAA Tournament?  The reason is because I believe that we have a tendency to live our lives “on the bubble.”  Instead of excelling, we just kind of slide by.  We don’t put the priority on abiding in Christ that we should and we spend too much time flirting with things that have no business in our lives.  I believe the Lord wants us to get off “the bubble” and excel.  Let me remind us of what we read in Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

I want to challenge us to not be satisfied with living life “on the bubble.”  Let’s step up and follow the Lord with everything we’ve got!

Underlines Revisited

Back in January, I wrote about how I am reading through the Bible this year in my devotions and for each chapter I read, I am choosing one verse to underline.  I thought it might be good for me to revisit that thought by sharing a few of the verses that I am choosing to underline.  So here it goes…

Understand, today is Wednesday so I have underlined a total of 12 verses this week from Numbers 19-30.  I will share with you just 4 of those 12 verses. 

On Sunday I underlined Numbers 19:22, “Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”  That is not a verse that I would normally have underlined, but since I was choosing to underline one verse from each chapter, this is the one that I chose from chapter 19.  The reason I chose it is because it reminds me of the holiness of God.  In order for us to understand God’s grace and love we also need to understand His holiness and justice.  We need to grasp the concept that our sin, and anything that is unclean, separate us from a holy God.  It is only when we grasp that separation that we can understand our need for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

On Monday I underlined Numbers 22:18, “But, Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.'”  If you were at The River on Super Bowl Sunday, you would have heard me preach on the story of Balaam.  But I focused on Nubmers 23:19 and not on this verse.  But this verse is a great reminder to us as well.  In a world that is all about compromise, this is the attitude we need to take.  All the time we get opportunities to compromise in our faith.  But we need to take a stand.  We need to recognize that nothing is worth turning away from what God has called us to do.  That means being true to God first in our workplace, being men of integrity in our marriages, and being bold with our testimony.  We need to be willing to do and say only what God commands of us.  We need to be right in the center of His will at all times.

On Tuesday, one of the verses I underlined was Numbers 25:13, “He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”  This is an interesting verse with an interesting context.  In Numbers 25 we see Israel is being seduced by Moab.  The men are falling into sexual immorality with the Moabite women and that is leading them to idolatry as well.  And we see that God is angry with this and sends a plague against Israel.  At one point we see an Israelite man blatantly falling into sexual immorality with a Midianite woman right in front of the whole assembly and Phinehas the grandson of Aaron the priest, grabs a spear and drives the spear through both the man and the woman and the plague that was against the Israelites stopped.  Then the Lord commends Phinehas and we see in verse 13 that God commends him for being zealous for the honor of his God.  How often are we zealous for God?  How often do we stand up for God?  People all around us blaspheme God.  I am obviously not saying that we should pick up a spear and drive it through them, but how often do we ever even simply stand up for God?  Where’s the zeal?

Then finally, today one of the verses that I underlined was Numbers 30:2, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”  That is a great challenge for us.  We treat our word so casually.  How often do we keep our promises.  When we say something, we should be willing to stand by it, or we shouldn’t say it.  I know the term is overused, but we really should be “promise keepers.”

So that is a little taste of some of the verses that I have underlined this past week.  I will plan to do more of this in the weeks ahead.  I would commit to blogging everday about one of the verses that I chose to underline that day, for those who would like to follow along, but then I would probably find myself not keeping my word and that would not be good.

Digging Deeper

So you know how you go to church on Sunday and you hear the message from the pastor and you go home thinking about how awesome the sermon was?  Okay so maybe awesome is too strong of a word.  Anyway, a sermon is not so much a public speech as it is a challenge, or a call to respond.  The sermon that we hear on Sunday is meant to inspire us or challenge us or encourage us in our walk with the Lord.  It is part of our discipleship process.  But what happens after you leave the church on Sunday morning?  Do you ever spend anymore time considering the topic of discussion? 

I was thinking that it might be nice for us to have a tool to use on Monday to help us focus a little more on what was said on Sunday.  Wouldn’t that be great?  What if on Monday we could go online and find a Scripture reference to turn to that deals with what we learned on Sunday, or maybe some questions that we could consider or points for us to ponder as we go through our week.  We could use those as part of our regular devotions to help us dig a little deeper into the material that the pastor was talking about in the sermon. 

For instance this past Sunday I spoke from Numbers 23:19 and talked about how God keeps His promises.  What if you could go online this week and find some Scripture references that would help you explore God’s promises a little bit deeper and give you some questions to reflect on?  Would that be helpful?  Would you use it?  You could tune in to the website on Monday or any other day for that matter, and see a blog in which there would be some materials for digging deeper.  Some tools for your own personal study time on the topic that was discussed.  I am willing to do that each week if there are those out there that would find it helpful. 

I will bring this up this coming Sunday at The River as well, but please feel free to let me know your comments.  Thanks!

Standing on The Rock!

So I don’t know if you caught the College Football Championship game a couple of weeks ago or not, but there was something really great about it. Not really the game itself, as championship games go, that one was a little bit of a dissapointment. The Texas Longhorns lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide. But what was really great was the interview after the game of Colt McCoy, the Texas Senior Quarterback who got hurt at the beginning of the game. He was asked by a reporter what it was like to watch this game from the sideline after getting hurt. You could see he was visibly choked up as he took several seconds before he could answer. When he finally answered he talked about how much he loves the game, and how much he would have liked to be able to play. He talked about how proud he was of his team and he congratulated Alabama for their win. But then he went on and gave glory to God. He talked about how he knows that God is in control and that he is not questioning why things happen the way that they do. And he stated that he is standing on the rock. It was a very powerful interview. Think about it, here is this kid whose college football career is now over. He had a great career, but it ended in a tough way as he had to sit on the sidelines and watch his team lose the national Championsnip to Alabama. And yet even in the midst of what was probably a big dissapointment, Colt firmly stated that He is standing on the Rock.

That is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7 as he compares the man who builds his house on the rock with the man who builds his house on the sand. When the storms come, the house on the rock stands firm, while the house on the sand falls flat. If Colt had been building his life on the accolades of man, and all the things that this world has to offer, his world would have come crashing down around him on that sideline and he would have been crushed. Instead, because he is standing firmly on the Rock, although I am sure it was a major dissapointment, his life stood firm through the storm.

I don’t know what is next for Colt in the days ahead. Speaking as a Washington Redskins fan, I would not mind seeing him in the burgundy and gold. We could use a little of his character and attitude on that team. But no matter what happens, I trust that he will be just fine, because come what may, Colt is standing on the Rock! Are you?

By the way, you can check out the interview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVsSvx3UQOY. Check it out, and then take it a step further by going to www.iamsecond.com and check out his video, and others there.

Underlines

Do you like to underline verses in your Bible or do you prefer your Bible to be clean and unmarked? Either way is fine, but let me give you a little nudge toward underlining by sharing with you a couple of reasons why I do it. Obviously Scripture is powerful all the time, since it is God’s Word. But there are times when I am reading or hearing a speaker share from a particular passage, and certain verses just jump out. When that happens, I want to highlight them in some way. It allows me to focus in on the verses as I take extra time to consider them once again and it gives me a visual reference for the future when I go back to look those verses up again. A highlighted or underlined Bible is a constant reminder of those verses that God has specifically used in your life to challenge you, teach you, encourage you, inspire you, or remind you of something. It is powerful to go back years later and read those verses that you underlined so long ago. At times I have spent so much time with some particular verses that I have underlined them, circled or double underlined parts of them, and written notes in the margin. And going back and visiting those verses again is a sweet time.

This year for my devotions I am doing something new. I am reading through the Bible in a year. That is not new. I have done that before. But this year I am doing something a little bit different with it. For each chapter that I read, I am underlining one and only one verse from that chapter. And I am underlining in a different color than I normally use. That is not an easy concept. I suspect there will be times when there is not a verse that I would normally underline and there will be other times when I would like to underline many more than just one verse. But this will help me to focus on these chapters in a new way.

You don’t have to underline your Bible. You can keep it clean. I’m not telling you what to do. But beginning this Sunday, at The River, we are going to be taking a journey together, examining some of those verses and passages from Scripture that we may already have underlined in our Bibles, or that we might want to consider underlining if we don’t have them already. I want to invite you to join us. If you are wondering what verses I will be preaching on each week, you can find out by going to our calendar page. There, if you scroll over the Sunday Morning Worship Time in the calendar you will see a short synopsis of what I will be preaching about that week. I encourage you to go and check out those passages. And consider if they are worth doing some of your own underlining.

The Magi

So in my devotions this morning I was reading about the Magi in Matthew chapter 2.  Have you ever thought about these guys that traveled from so far away and for who knows how long, in search of the one who was born king of the Jews?  We don’t know much about them.  We know they came from the east because they saw a star.  We know they stopped in Jerusalem and asked for directions to where the baby was to be born.  We know that they eventually wind up in Bethlehem after hearing of the prophecy from Michah 5.  And we know that the star reappeared and guided them to the place where the child was.  But one of the most interesting things that we know about them, is their response when they finally find the child.  Matthew 2:11 says they bowed down and worshiped him and they they presented him with gifts of gold and incense and myrrh. 

We don’t know how long their journey took them or how long they spent in Bethlehem.  We don’t know how many friends and family they had to leave behind.  We don’t know how much hardship they had to endure, or what the cost was for them to make this trip.  But it does appear that they spent much more time on the journey than they did at the destination.  All that travel simply to worship the newborn King. 

What a statement to us.  What a challenge for us during this holiday season.  How much effort are we willing to put forth to worship the King?  How far are we willing to go?  How much sacrifice are we willing to make during this Christmas season simply to worship the King?

Next time you pass a nativity scene and see the three wise men standing there with their gifts in their hands, take a moment and consider what they went through simply to worship the King, and then may that reflection cause you to worship Him as well.

Winter Preparations

So, I am new to Minnesota and I am still getting used to some things.  For instance, this weekend I spent Saturday shrinking wrapping my windows to winterize my house.  I have never had to do that before.  I have to admit that I had no idea a hair dryer could be such a useful household tool.  As a homeowner it is good to do those kinds of things that will help prepare our home for winter.  But at this time of year there are also some other preparations that we should be making at our homes as well.

Christmas is just 18 days away.  Usually people say, “only 18 more shopping days til Christmas.”  But it might be better for us to say, “only 18 more preparation days til Christmas.”  I’m not talking about shopping, wrapping, or organizing our Christmas parties.  I am talking about preparing our hearts.  Christmas is one of the most important times of the year.  It is a time for us to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Speaking as a father, this is a critical time for my children.  If I don’t take advantage of this time leading up to Christmas to speak into their lives and teach them what Christmas is really all about, then they are going to be taught by what they see all around them.  If that happens, then they are going to be more excited about getting gifts, eating Christmas cookies, looking at all the christmas decorations in the neighborhood, and watching Frosty the Snowman on television than on focusing on the birth of the Savior.  And who can blame them?  If we don’t take the time to help prepare their hearts, then their hearts are going to be prepared by what they see.  And even though I am no longer 9 years old, the same is true with me.  If all I invest myself in this time of the year is buying Christmas gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and decorating our house to prepare for Christmas, then that is where my heart is going to be too.

So my challenge for us is to make the most of these 18 preparation days before Christmas to prepare our hearts and the hearts of our loved ones for this Christmas season.  So how do we do that?  Well, let me offer a few suggestions…

1) Nativity scene (or Creche) –  Use the nativity scene to help you remember what you are really celebrating.  Give it a prominent place in your decorating.  As you set it up, consider what the different pieces represent.  Maybe even use the nativity scene as a teaching tool.  I have heard of families who build the scene throughout the time leading up to Christmas, having Mary and Joseph arrive on Christmas eve and the baby Jesus on Christmas morning.

2) Christmas carols – Take a walk and sing some of your favorite Christmas carols.  And as you sing, consider what the carols are saying.  We have sung these songs so much it is easy for us to forget the meaning behind the words.  But listen to what you are singing.  It is hard to sing “Joy To The World” and not have a smile come to your face.  Try it.

3) Advent calendar or special devotional – An Advent Calendar is simply a calendar that uses some means of helping you celebrate each day of advent beginning December 1 and leading into Christmas.   The idea is to help you focus each day on some element of the Christmas story.  Last year we started as a family reading through a devotional book called “Jotham’s Journey” by Arnold Ytreeide.  It is broken down into a portion for you to read and talk about each day of advent leading into Christmas.  My kids couldn’t wait for December 1 this year so they could start the book again. 

4) Serve – Find someplace or some way to serve.  Having an opportunity to serve others is a great way to get our focus back where it belongs.  If you are looking for a place to serve in the Chaska area, check out the Love INC (In the Name of Christ) website, www.loveincecc.org

These are just a few ways to prepare you heart.  Maybe you have others.  Feel free to send your comments back about how you like to prepare your heart for the Christmas season.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, everywhere you look it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.  If you drive through neighborhoods you see lights and decorations on more and more homes and lawns.  The television commercials and other advertisments are reminding you of all the gifts you need to buy from websites like Flyp.  There are radio stations playing nothing but Christmas music.  I am cutrently sitting in Dunn Bros. sipping my Earl Grey tea from a cup that reminds me to “share the joy.”  You can venture to downtown Minneapolis and enjoy the Holidazzle Christmas parade or the animated holiday display at Macy’s.  And don’t even get me started on the Mall of America.

So along those lines, this weekend I will begin a Christmas sermon series at The River Church.  I will be preaching on the Christmas story from Luke 2.  But during this series we will not be focusing on Santa Claus, or snowflakes, wrapping paper or wreaths.  We will be focusing on the real meaning behind this season. 

I want to invite you to come and check us out during this holiday season.  Or if you have visited us in the past, but it has been awhile, you might want to come back and check us out again.  There are some changes going on and we would love to see you again.

Enjoy this Christmas season.  Go out and check out the lights.  Go downtown and see the parade and the display.  Enjoy your time shopping at the Mall, but also make sure to get to church and spend some time focusing on what this holiday is really all about.

Remember, Rejoice, Reflect

So the holidays are here.  What are you looking forward to?  The turkey?  The shopping?  The family time?  The parties?  The holidays are full of all kinds of things and mean different things to each of us.  One of the greetings that we use with one another during this time of year is “happy holidays.”  That’s great.  I hope you are happy, but even more so, my hope for all of us is that this holiday time would be a time to remember, rejoice and reflect.  What a wonderful way to wrap up one year and begin the next one. 

We start with Thanksgiving which is a time to remember.  It is a time to look back and consider all the ways that God has blessed us and provided for us.  It is a time to consider all of those things that we take for granted everyday.  It is a time to pause in the midst of our busy lives and give thanks.

Then we move on to Christmas.  The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time to rejoice.  It is a time that can easily be consumed by all the hustle and bustle of buying presents, going to parties, and everything else that comes during the commercialized portion of the holidays.  But instead of focusing on all of that, it is a time for us to rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas.  It is a time for us to rejoice over the baby who was born as the perfect gift to a lost and dying world, so that our Heavenly Father, who loves us so much, could bring us back to a right relationship with Him.  Christmas is a time to rejoice over what has been done for us and the hope that we have in Christ.

Then we move on to New Years.  The time between Christmas and New Years is a time to reflect.  A time to look back over the year that was and look forward to the year to come.  It is a time to reflect over God’s faithfulness to us and to renew our hope in Him for the new year.  God is good and He knows the plans that He has for us.  Entering into the turn over from one year to the next is a perfect time to reflect.

Remember, rejoice, and reflect.  What a great way to celebrate the holiday season.  Instead of wishing you a happy holidays, I wish for you a time to remember, rejoice and reflect!

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