You Strain Out a Gnat, but Swallow A Camel

This morning, this phrase was part of my devotions, “You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.”  I love that.  Do you know who said it?  Jesus.  Let me give you a little context.  Jesus was speaking to the crowds and was specifically talking about the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  He talked about their hypocrisy and pride and how they do everything so that others can see them.  He talked about how they constantly burdened the people with heavy loads and made it harder for others to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  He specifically called them blind guides.

Consider Matthew 23:23-24, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Isn’t that great!  Jesus is chastising these leaders for being more interested in the kinds of things that show on the outside than on what is really happening on the inside.  He goes on to liken them to whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but are rotten inside. 

But while this is directed at the religious leaders of the day, it also is a challenge for us to consider ourselves.  What about us?  Are we more concerned with how we appear to those around us than on what is really happening inside?  Are we more concerned with looking perfect than we are with having a right relationship with the Lord?  I love the way that Jesus is able to cut right to the core of who we are and get us to take a hard look at ourselves.  That is what light does.  It shines into the dark recesses of the soul and makes us aware of the things within us that need to change.

But sometimes in order for us to change, we need to be willing to allow our beautiful facade to be stripped away.  We need to be willing to allow others to see the rotten garbage underneath as we start to really deal with the garbage in our lives and start focusing on the camels in our lives instead of the gnats.

I don’t know about you, but I want to stop swallowing camels.  I want to let Christ have His way in my life and help me to deal with the garbage on the inside, even if it means that others might see that I am not perfect. 

Another verse that I was reading in my devotions today came from Matthew 21:44, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”  Here Jesus was talking about Himself and our need to be broken before Him.  Coming to Him, in humility and brokenness, admitting our sin and our need for a Savior.  We need to be willing to be broken before the Lord.  And I know that is not easy.  We don’t like to be broken.  We want to pretend that we are perfect.  But you know what?  We aren’t.  This world is full of a bunch of broken people walking around trying to hide their problems.  We are constantly focusing on straining out gnats, so that people think we are perfect, when all the while we are swallowing camels. 

My challenge for all of us today is to stop it!  Stop straining out gnats and swallowing camels.  Stop pretending to be perfect while we are struggling inside.  Stop hiding the sin, pain, doubt and whatever else we are struggling with and deal with it.  Be willing to be broken on the Rock of Jesus Christ!

Special Event on October 31

We have a special Sunday event coming up on October 31.  “Revealing The Fingerprints of God” with Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch International.  Dr. Bierle will use evidence from nature, history and personal experience to answer the question, “Is the existence of God only imagination or wishful thinking?”  Come and join us on October 31, 9:30 a.m. at The Rex Cinema.

World Cup (unfair and me screaming at the TV)

So I am sitting here watching the World Cup match between USA and Algeria as I write this blog.  For those of you who are not familiar with World Cup, it is possibly the biggest sporting event in the world.  Here in the U.S. it is not a big deal, but many countries live and breathe this soccer (futbol as it is called everywhere else) tournament every 4 years.  For instance, France was just recently eliminated and the headline back home was “The End of the World.”

Anyway, there are 32 teams in this tournament, and they are divided into 8 different groups.  Each country will play the other 3 teams in their group and receive 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie and 0 for a loss.  The 2 teams with the most points from each group advance to the next round. 

The United States tied their first two matches (in soccer they call them matches, not games) and so now they need a win against Algeria to advance to the next round.  In the first half the United States came up with a big goal to take the lead, but it was called back because of offsides.  I am not even going to try and describe offsides to you here, but in replay it was obvious that the U.S. player was not offsides and the goal should have been allowed. 

The game continued on and the U.S. had some great opportunties.  They had many great plays and hit a couple of shots off the posts and goalie, but never quite got the ball into the back of the net.   It was a difficult and frustrating game to watch, but the most frustrating thing was knowing that the U.S. should have been playing from ahead for the whole game after their early goal was disallowed. 

I don’t know about you, but one of the things that I find most frustrating is unfairness.  I always have.  I can’t stand seeing someone wrongly accused or someone treated unfairly.   If you were with me while watching this match you would have heard me screaming at the television quite often.   Nothing inappropriate, but I was definitely quite vocal about the unfairness I was watching.

But that got me thinking about Jesus.  I know that watching soccer may not usually cause you to think about Jesus, but let me explain.  You see, Jesus endured the most unfair event ever.  He was wrongfully accused, arrested, tried, beaten and murdered on a cross.  But Jesus didn’t yell or scream, he endured it all in silence.  Isaiah 53:7 prophesied about this event saying, “he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  Jesus endured all of that outrage, humility, pain and suffering and death for us, and he did it without every raising His voice in His own defense. 

There is something that I should learn from that.  I can get pretty worked up about unfair things that are miniscule in comparison to what Jesus endured.  Jesus’ example is excellent for me to remember when I am faced with something that I consider to be unfair.

But beyond that, because of His silent sacrifice, we receive a great victory.  Eternity with Him in Heaven.  What an amazing outcome out of what was a terribly unfair event.  Jesus silently endured a terribly unfair event and turned it into the greatest  victory of all time.   A victory that I should celebrate everyday of my life.

By the way, while I was writing this blog, the U.S. game came down to the final minutes.  Actually, regulation time had run out and the game was into it’s final 4 minutes of what is called “stoppage” time.  And with less than 4 minutes left, the U.S. made a great charge down the field and scored the winning goal.  With that outcome, combined with the result of the other game in their group (between England and Slovenia), the U.S. not only advanced to the next round, but won their group.  After enduring an unfair event (with me screaming at the television), the U.S. team came away with a wonderful victory.  Obviously nothing compared to what Jesus accomplished, but still I was jumping up and down and screaming at the television once again, only this time in a much different way than I had before.  Go U.S.A.!

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.

Focus and Follow Through

Let’s stop and consider the Magi one more time. The story of the Magi, contained for us in Matthew 2:1-12, is a wonderful and interesting story. We don’t know exactly who they were, what they were, how many there were, or even where exactly they came from. But for some reason, they travel a long distance, at what must have been great expense, to come and worship the newborn King.

Why do I bring this up? Specifically to bring up a challenge for us as we head into the new year. Consider the Magi. They saw this star and knew that they were supposed to follow it, so they set their sights on it and set off on their journey with purpose and determination and followed it until they arrived at Jesus where they bowed down to worship Him and present Him with gifts.

It was probably not an easy decision to set out and follow that star. It meant leaving their homes and family and friends and traveling a great distance, during a time when it was not so easy to travel so far. I would imagine they had difficulties along the way. At times they may have questioned whether or not to continue. There were even times when they apparently lost sight of the star and didn’t know exactly where they were supposed to go. For instance, we see them stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions. It is an interesting journey and one that probably took much time and great expense to make. But they knew this was what they were supposed to do, they so they focused on the star and followed through on their journey.

My challenge for us is to do the same in this new year. Not that we should set our sights on a star, but rather on the Lord. Let’s begin this new year right, recognizing that we are on a journey with the Lord. Let’s commit ourselves to staying focused on Him, letting Him guide our steps throughout this year. And let’s recognize that just because we determine to follow the Lord, does not mean that everything will be easy. We may lose our way at times like the Magi did. It may even cost us greatly to follow the Lord. But let us determine today that following the Lord is our goal this year. My challenge is for us in 2010 is to focus on the Lord and follow through on our journey.

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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