Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas Letter 2012

Thank you to those of you who have sent me a Christmas Card.  I have never sent out a card but I'm doing my online this year.

2012 has been a great year for me personally, professionally and spiritually.

I am still working at KWAY radio in Waverly, Iowa.  I am on air from 5:00 to 1:00 everyday and I enjoy the opportunity my job gives me to be involved in my community.  Working at the station has enabled me to meet so many people; in fact, it's hard to go anywhere in town without saying hello to at least one person I know.  Another aspect of my job that I love is broadcasting sporting events.  I get the opportunity to do: volleyball, football, basketball, soccer, softball and baseball at the high school level and college football for my alma mater Wartburg College.  This year alone I did 139 games/matches.

2012 was also a fantastic and full year for me in other organizations.  I was this year's president of the Waverly Jaycees.  While it was a lot of work it was also a lot of fun.  We put on a number of fun, community minded events like: the G.R.A.B. (Great Ride Around Bremer) biking event, the School Supply Drive, Santa Callers, and many more.  The Jaycees is another way I get to be involved in my community positively.

Of course, my involvement in my church, Grace Baptist, has been a joy of mine.  This year we hired a new worship and outreach pastor and I'm seeing a lot of spiritual growth in Grace because of that hire.  I'm also still involved with the youth.  I covet the opportunities I get to work with them and teach them; they are a huge passion of mine.  It is hard though watching them move off to college but I'm glad I get to be a part of preparing them for life on their own.  The youth group this year has been full of kids who really desire to know God more and that has fueled me this whole year.  Also, in Grace I get the opportunity to be a part of our young adult Bible study.  My friends in this study have helped grow me, ground me and spur me on to more.  I thank God for them.

Personally 2012 has been a great year.  It began much like any year.  In fact, on my birthday (Jan. 3) I remember thinking, "Here we go again."  I had the feeling that 2012 was going to be just like 2011 for my personal life.  However, in January of this year I was given an opportunity to speak to a group at our church that puts on an Easter Passion Mime.  When I got up to share a short message from Ephesians I realized I knew everybody except a UNI student sitting in the front row just left of where I was standing.  I didn't think much about seeing her, but throughout the months I was able to be around her.  I saw her all Spring as she prepared with the group for the mime.  I saw her many times during the summer at our friends' house.  I got to see her impecable character, immense kindness, service-minded attitude and fun-loving nature.  Long story short she kept hinting and I eventually got the courage to ask Christine out in September.  Thank God I did.  We've been dating ever since and I'm so happy 2012 is ending differently than it began.  I'm thrilled to have Christine with me this year as we make the rounds to see everyone this Christmas.

Finally and most importantly, 2012 has been another year of spiritual maturation for me.  Through the input of others and some personal disciplines I've been able to grow closer to my God.  This blog is one of those disciplines because it helps me think critically about what I read.  I hope it is in a small way helpful to you, too.  Another thing that has helped me grow this year were some fantastic books like: Whatever Happened to Worship, Messy Church, The Knowledge of the Holy, and studies like Surprised by Hope have stretched my thinking.  It has been a great year of growth in 2012 spiritually.

That is a brief glimpse into my year.  I know I'm missing some major milestones but my memory is only so good.  I hope you've had a great 2012 and I thank you for the impact you've had on my life this year.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year friends,
Matt Ray

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent- Jesus Came to Make Us New

Jesus came to make us new.  When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior we are made new... both later and now.  Later we will be perfectly new but now we are becoming new.  I've found a couple of great ways to tell the now part of the story.  One is a poem and one is a short video.  Please watch the video and read this poem and think about how the Master takes our broken pieces and makes beautiful music today.

'Twas battered and scarred,
And the auctioneer thought it
hardly worth his while
To waste his time on the old violin,
but he held it up with a smile.

"What am I bid, good people", he cried,
"Who starts the bidding for me?"
"One dollar, one dollar, Do I hear two?"
"Two dollars, who makes it three?"
"Three dollars once, three dollars twice, going for three,"

But, No, 
From the room far back a gray bearded man
Came forward and picked up the bow,
Then wiping the dust from the old violin
And tightening up the strings,
He played a melody, pure and sweet
As sweet as the angel sings.

The music ceased and the auctioneer
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said "What now am I bid for this old violin?"
As he held it aloft with its' bow.

"One thousand, one thousand, Do I hear two?"
"Two thousand, Who makes it three?"
"Three thousand once, three thousand twice,
Going and gone", said he.

The audience cheered,
But some of them cried,
"We just don't understand."
"What changed its' worth?"
Swift came the reply.
"The Touch of the Masters Hand."

And many a man with life out of tune
All battered with bourbon and gin
Is auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd
Much like that old violin

A mess of pottage, a glass of wine,
A game and he travels on.
He is going once, he is going twice,
He is going and almost gone.

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the Touch of the Masters' Hand.

Myra Brooks Welch

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Mary's Treasure and Our Pain

For today's post I need to tell the story of Jesus' birth.  I want to spend extra time looking at Luke 2:19.  In order to tell the rest of the story I've invited my friend Linus to share.

To finish the story:
"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told"
Luke 2:15-20

This is a very familiar story, one that I've heard hundreds of times.  I want to look at one verse because I recently read it in a new way.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Why is this verse so important?  Why is this included in the middle of a story about the shepherds rejoicing at seeing God's glory and sharing their story of God's glory?

Mothers treasure up the moments surrounding the birth of their children.  Ask your mother, if she is still with you, to tell you about the day you were born.  I'm sure she could tell you detail after detail.  Mothers treasure these moments.

But I believe that Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart for more than just the typical reasons.  Mary needed to remember these moments because, unbeknownst to her, she would have to watch her son die and be laid a tomb.  Mary was going to go through a hellishly tough time.  God prepared her for that by having her store up the good moments with Jesus.

God still does this.  I recently read a book by a local woman named Ranae Krull.  She wrote about a terrible accident her son Isaiah had.  She wrote about watching him in a coma and watching him struggle through a long, long recovery.  She wrote about watching him live his life in a much different manner than she expected.  But she also wrote about how God's Word and songs got her through that time.  She explained how in moments of intense suffering God would remind her of verses and truths that she had treasured earlier in her heart.

When we have times of pain it is difficult to begin to search God's Word and find comfort.  Our minds can be in a fog.  What happens so often is that the verses, songs and truths that we memorized and pondered previously in our heart rise to the surface to kiss us in the tough time.  Thank God that He helps us store up evidences of grace in our good times to be used in the tough times.

So, be like Mary.  Treasure up Jesus and His words and ponder them in your heart.  I'm sure that in your dark days those treasures will rise up like a comforting kiss.  But they can't rise to the top if they aren't there.  Treasure the Word of God and ponder it in your heart today.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

He Dwelt Amongst Us

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."- John 1:14

We are now in a season of Advent which is a fun time.  People are busy buying gifts, planning parties and enjoying beautiful lights all around town.  Advent and the anticipation of Christmas is a special time.  But we need remember what Christmas is all about.

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."

Use your imagination with me.  Imagine Jesus, who was and is and always will be.  Jesus who created the universe and ruled it.  Jesus who lived in perfect loving unity with God the Father and God the Spirit.  Jesus who was constantly praised and worshipped by the creatures in heaven.  This Jesus became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

Jesus abandoned all the glory of heaven to dwell amongst men.  But He didn't just live with us; He lived as one of us.  Jesus subjected Himself to the limitations of a human.

Imagine with me:  Jesus, the aforementioned king of the universe, unable to express the fact that He had made a mess in His pants so He cries uncontrollably.  Martin Luther wrote in the song "Away in a Manager" this line, "But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes."  Sorry Martin but I'm sure Jesus cried like a normal baby.  He subjected Himself to the limitations of an infant.

Imagine this with me:  One day Jesus walks up to Mary and starts asking questions about some changes in His body.  I can just picture this: "Joseph!  You need to have a talk with your son.  You know 'THE talk'."  I'm sure Jesus went through puberty as awkwardly as all the other Jewish boys in town.  Sinlessly but awkwardly.  Sinlessly but within the limitations of His human body.

Jesus can relate with us.  "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us."

If this was the end of the Christmas story it would still be an amazing story.  God dwelt with His people to understand their predicament or maybe more accurately to prove He understood.  No human can now say, "God you just don't know what it's like down here."  God the Son understands completely because He lived it completely.

But here's great news... the Word didn't just live among us He died for us and rose again!  Jesus in complete obedience to His Father and out of love for you and I came to earth and did battle with death defeating it once and for all!

This Advent remember what Christ did for us on the cross.  But beyond that, remember what a sacrifice He made just to come and dwell amongst us.  Thank God for His incarnation today.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Rebuilding the Temple

I love seeing the Old Testament and the New Testament connections.  I love the reminders that God's plan did not change from Old Testament to New Testament.  Today I was reading Haggai Chapter 2 when I came across this awesome passage:

"'This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land.  I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord Almighty.  'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the Lord Almighty.  'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty.  'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty."  Haggai 2:6-9.

Do you see this amazing news?  God is going to shake things up and bring all nations into His temple!  When you read this remember that He is talking about a physical temple.  God is encouraging the people of Israel to rebuild the temple.  But when you read this remember that He is also talking about the temple as a picture of the Kingdom.

God will bring the desired of all nations into His Kingdom and He will fill the Kingdom with glory.

The nation of Israel was a foretaste of what was to come.  Israel was a microcosm of the Kingdom that was to come and that has begun but is not completed.  To prove this point let's go to the New Testament.

"... remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." Ephesians 2:12, 13

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.  In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit."  Ephesians 2:19-22

You see, Paul, the writer of Ephesians, understood Haggai.  God is shaking things up.  What Israel was a microcosm of is happening now.  God is rebuilding the temple to include the desired of all nations.

First of all, if you are a Christian you are one of "the desired".  That should blow your mind, but I don't have time to write about that now.

Secondly, so what?  What role do I have in the rebuilding of the temple, in the coming of God's Kingdom?

"The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the Lord Almighty."  According to Haggai God has all the resources needed to rebuild the temple, to make His Kingdom come.  That being said we have a role in the job.

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ  Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."  Ephesians 2:10

Ok, what are these good works?  What would God will us to do?

"He (God) has made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure... to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ."  Ephesians 1:10

See, God has the resources and He has prepared us for the task of building His Kingdom.  We are to bring all things together under His rule.  Now, He is with us doing this too as He said in another part of Haggai Chapter 2.  But we all have a role in doing this.  Your role and my role in rebuilding the temple, making His Kingdom come, may be different but they are the roles we were made/prepared to do.  That's awesome!

God is shaking things up.  He desires to bring you and the desired from all nations into His new temple, His Kingdom.  Beyond that, He wants you to be a part of the holy process.  Do you want to be a worker in the temple reconstruction?  Do you want to be a part of making His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven?  Do it.  Let's do things that build the temple today.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away as I write this.  I hope all of you have plenty to be thankful for.  Please comment with things you are thankful for because I'd love to read them.

Saturday I was reading Ephesians Chapter 1 with my girlfriend and we came upon a familiar passage that has great meaning this time of year.

"For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way."  Ephesians 1:15-23

There is so much rich truth in this passage.  This passage is a great one to pray for your church but I want us to look at reasons we have to be thankful according to this text.

1) We are to be thankful for the Church and our church.

Paul said he hadn't stopped giving thanks for the church at Ephesus.  That church had many problems, as Paul would later detail, but he couldn't stop thanking God for it.  The Church and our church is far from perfect but we have so many reasons to be thankful to God for it.  I'm thankful, like Paul, for the love my church has for all the saints and for its incredible generosity and the way it is focused on the Gospel.  What about your church are you thankful for?

2) We are to be thankful for the Spirit because it reveals God to us.

The Holy Spirit's main job is to point to God the Father and God the Son.  The Holy Spirit is the person of God that allows us to see God correctly; beyond that He is the person of God that lives in us.  How could we not be thankful for that?

3) We are to be thankful for what we have been given and not just hungry for more blessing.

Paul prayed that the church at Ephesus would have their eyes opened to the gifts God already had given them.  Those being: The hope to which they/we were called to; that rich inheritance.  The incomparable power we were given; the same sort of power that raised and exulted Jesus.  The direct leadership of Jesus in our lives; His lordship for our well-being.

What an awesome blessing!  So often we keep asking God over and over to bless us, which is a good and Biblical thing to do, but we've already been blessed to the hilt.  Does God want to bless us?  Absolutely.  But in addition to that He wants to open the eyes of our hearts to the immense blessings He has already so richly poured out on all of us.  These blessings are enough to live and die for.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family.  Count your many blessings this week.  Thank God for the Church and your church.  Be thankful for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Ask God to open the eyes of your heart to see the blessings He has surrounded you with today.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Unrequited Love

Take some time and read John 13:1-30.

This is the story of Jesus at the Last Supper and the washing of the disciples feet.  It is also a story of unrequited love from Jesus to Judas Iscariot.

Let me show you a couple of ways that Jesus showed love to Judas:

Verse 1 "... He now showed them (all the disciples) the full extent of His love."  Jesus was going to wash their feet as a visual parable of what he'll do at the cross. Jesus did this for even Judas whom the devil, verse 2, "had already prompted... to betray Jesus."

When Jesus took off his outer garment to wash the disciples' feet He was left with just His tunic on.  This was how slaves dressed when they served the meal.  Then Jesus washed their feet, which is something Jewish slaves wouldn't even do; only Gentile slaves were required to wash feet.  Jesus was placing Himself in the place of servanthood to those that He loved, including Judas.  However, slaves weren't the only ones that washed feet.  Wives washed the feet of their husbands, children washed the feet of their parents and disciples washed the feet of their teachers.  Jesus was demonstrating an intimate love for these men, including Judas.

Jesus humbly served these men, including Judas because of His deep love for them.  He was showing them "the full extent of His love."  Can you imagine that?  Jesus physically kneeling in front of you showing the full extent of His love.

That's why this story of unrequited love is so surprising and sad.

"Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, 'I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me."  Jesus was torn up inside thinking that one of His best friends would betray Him.

The unrequited love becomes even more shocking because Jesus shows the full extent of His love not just to the disciples as a group but He goes above and beyond for Judas Iscariot specifically.

When you think about the Last Supper you most likely invision the Di Vinci painting.  Well, throw that image out of your mind.  For this supper the 13 men were reclining on a couch.  Their left arms propped them up as they lay sideways and used their right arms to eat.  There were a few places of honor at the table.  Three men sat at the head of the horseshoe-shaped table (this is according to scholars) while the other five sat on each side of the horseshoe.  The three men at the top of the horseshoe were in the place of honor.  The man at the very top had the most honorable spot followed by the man who sat to the left of the guest of honor.  Because of how the dipping sequence goes, scholars assume that Judas was at the second most honorable spot.  Jesus gave him this spot as an expression of love.

After Jesus showered all of this love and honor on Judas one would think that Judas would change his mind.  The devil had prompted Judas to betray Jesus but to this point he had done nothing about it.  I would guess, theoretically, Judas could have said "no" to Satan's prompting.  Judas, however, did not say "no".

Jesus said when asked who would betray Him, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish."  Then Jesus dipped the bread and Judas accepted it.  Jesus knew Judas would betray Him yet He showered His love on him.  Judas could have backed out but he didn't.

Can you imagine this?  One of my biggest fears and a big fear for many is unrequited love.  Love isn't much fun unless it's mutual.  Unrequited love is the theme of many great works in the genre of tragedy.

Jesus loved Judas even though Judas decided not to love Him back.  Many wonder, "how could Judas do that?"  Here's the truth: Judas is one of millions.  Jesus has shown us all "the full extent of His love" at the cross.  We have a more perfect vision of this love than Judas did.  Here's the million dollar question: "How could we not love Jesus?"  Yet millions will reject Him.  Jesus knew that when He sacrificed Himself on the cross.  If that isn't love, I don't what is.

Love the one who loved you first today.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Protect Life

I want to begin by saying that this is not intended to be a purely political post.  I'm not dense enough to believe that this is not a politically charged post but that is not my primary focus.  In fact, I want you to know that although I have a political lean I have voted for both parties in the past.  That being said, I want to talk about the preservation of life, specifically abortion.

Abortion has been thrust at us again as a key issue in this year's election.  I see political ads with ominous music warning women about how evil Mitt Romney is in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade and ending legal abortions in this country.  While that ad is meant to scare folks into voting for President Obama I think it may also be galvanizing support for Romney.  It is galvanizing support for Romney because to me it stinks of irony.  "Evil ridding the country of abortion."  To me that's pure irony.

Before I continue, let me be clear that I'm not naive enough to think this is a one issue election. You are not evil if you vote for either man.  I truly believe that both men want what is best for my country and I'm serious when I say that.

But abortion is not a debatable issue.  It is wrong.  The Bible is clear about this.  Throughout scripture we see David talking about God knowing and forming him in his mother's womb, as does Jeremiah.  In Luke, Jesus and His cousin John the Baptist have a connection while still in their mothers' wombs.  The Bible is clear that life begins inside the mother at conception.

I know people will bring up the exceptions like: a mother who's life is threatened in pregnancy or pregnancy via rape.  To me life is life; but let's face it, the majority of abortions are done for the sake of convenience.  One study says 86% of abortions are done for convenience sake.

Abortion is a rampant evil.  More than 53 million lives have been aborted legally since the Roe v. Wade decision.  This is something I pray to see end.  Out of 53 million children how many of them would have been doctors, social workers, teachers, preachers, football players, mayors, world class chefs... I mean abortion is stealing great people from our society.

When my mother was pregnant with my sister her water broke early.  My mother was flown from Spencer to Iowa City to save my sister's life.  Miraculously my mom's water resealed and my sister was born on time instead of prematurely.  If my sister had died in my mom's womb that would have been a tragedy.  Why, because my parents wanted her?  If my mom hadn't wanted her and decided to abort my sister then it wouldn't have been a tragedy; it would have been a choice.  Seriously?!  If my sister would have died either through my mom's water breaking early or by the "choice" of an abortion (I should note my mom has never and would never consider an abortion) it would have been a tragedy.  My sister is a beautiful, 21 year-old woman who has a heart for social work.  To lose that would be a loss for everyone.

Or what about my brother?  He was the surprise child.  It was inconvenient for my mom and dad to raise two children who were 18 months apart.  Yet it would be an extreme tragedy to lose my brother who is a caring, loving 19 year-old young man who has a heart for the lonely and forgotten in his world.

I pray that abortion in our country goes the way of slavery.  I pray that my children will shocked by the idea that it was once legal to kill a person because you didn't want them around or because it made economic sense.  I pray that on Tuesday our nation elects a William Wilberforce type character and I couldn't care less what party he/she is from.

Take your vote seriously, it is a great privilege and responsibility.  Pray that the men and women elected are the best to end poverty, create economic fairness and protect life.  And please do what you can to end the murder of children today.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wearing Masks and Halloween

Tomorrow is Halloween.  As a kid I loved making my own costume and trick-or-treating on Halloween.  I was a hobo, Superman, Bill Clinton, Batman and then a hobo again.  It was fun to dress up and pretend to be something else.  To this day if I put on a mask or a costume I like to get into that character.  Like last year when I wore a warlock mask with a tuxedo; I had to create a persona for that character.

Back in Jesus' time on earth the hypocrites wore masks and took on a persona not their own.  Hypocrites were actors that wore masks and played the part of someone else.  Non-actors who were called hypocrites in Jesus' day (and ours) were called hypocrites because they pretended to be something they weren't.  Jesus uses this idea in the book of Matthew.

"You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'"
-Matthew 15:7-9

When I read this I can imagine Jesus shouting this at me.  "You hypocrite!  You honor me with your lips but your heart is far from me."  I do this too much.

I play the part of the good Christian a lot.  I put the mask on and masquerade as a devout man of God while my heart and thoughts are elsewhere.  I think we all do this, which makes us hypocrites or at least at times hypocritical.  Doesn't it?

I would say, "yes".  This means we are hypocrites or at least hypocritical some of the time.  So, what do we do?

Many encourage Christians to take off the masks and be "real".  I think this is a good thing... to a point. I love authors like Donald Miller who write about "real life" and "real life" Christians.  I find their honesty and candor refreshing.  However, I think some of us may be taking the call to be "real" to an undesirable destination.

I see many Donald Miller disciples encourage "realness" so much that some Christians feel the need to experience a period of disobedience in order to be "real".  In fact, I think some in modern Christianity may be missing the point of all this honest and candid writing and speaking from these authors and speakers.

When I read honest Christian writing I am reminded that Jesus take us just as we are.  Like the old hymn says, "Just as I am."  This is absolutely true.  But brothers and sisters don't miss this: Jesus loves you way too much to let you stay just as you are.  The Holy Spirit's impact in your life is so powerful that you can't stay just as you are nor should you want to stay that way.  Christ takes us just as we are and makes us just as He is.  He will make you Christlike... guaranteed.

"He who began a good work in you will cary it onto completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6

Friends let's accept and embrace one another just as we are.  Let's not encourage hypocrisy.  But let's: "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another all the more as you see the Day approaching."-Hebrews 10:24-25

Don't be a hypocrite because you don't have to be in the body of Christ.  Encourage each other to be open, honest and grow in the faith today.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Escapism and Being Heavenly

My small group is in the middle of going through a study called "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church" by N. T. Wright.  This study, along with other things I've been reading, has been challenging my thoughts on escapism and being heavenly.

When my Grandma Ray died my cousins and I got to sing "I'll Fly Away" at her funeral.  I love that song.  I love thinking about leaving this world and flying away to heaven and unless Jesus comes back before I die that is exactly what I will do.  But is that my hope; flying away from here?

I've been challenged to abandon my desire for escapism.  What's been challenging me to do this is the Word of God.  The Bible is full of calls to live for God not leave to God.  Jesus prayed, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."  Jesus' desire was that Earth become like Heaven.


When I read the creation story in Genesis I see God making a first rate product.  Throughout the story He says His creation is good; and good is a big word for God because we read elsewhere that no one is good but God.  In fact, when God is finished making mankind He still says that all of creation is good.

One of God's desires now is to make all things new.  If I had a '65 Shelby Mustang that was beaten to death and I wanted to make it new I would not go and buy a new 2013 Mustang.  No, I would restore that '65 Mustang to what it looked like when it rolled off the assembly line in Michigan.  That is how God makes things new.  He is going to restore the Earth, at all costs, back to what it was like in Genesis chapter 1.  He will make it like new.

Now, knowing that God's desire is to restore the earth wouldn't it be a slap in His face to hold up a belief and a hope in leaving earth with absolutely no desire to come back?  Yes.  In fact in Revelation we see a multitude of saints who are excited to come back to earth with their victorious King Jesus.  Heaven will come down to earth in the last days.  "Now the dwelling of God is with men..." Revelation 21:3.  Note it doesn't say the dwelling place of man is with God.  God will come down to rule Earth.  Heaven and Earth will be one!

Right now Heaven and Earth aren't one but the process of melding the two has already begun and its beginning was at the cross.

In the Old Testament the Jewish understanding was that Heaven and Earth intersected at one point: the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  The Holy of Holies had the Ark in it and was separated from the rest of the Temple by a four foot thick curtain.  Once a year one priest went into the Holy of Holies.  When he went in he had a rope tied around his waist so that if he dropped over dead in God's presence the other priests could pull him out.  The Holy of Holies was the only intersection of Heaven and Earth in this theology.

Then came the cross.  While Jesus was on the cross an earthquake came and tore that four foot thick curtain in two from top to bottom.  Heaven had begun to burst into Earth.  More than that, Christians are now the Holy of Holies.  The Holy Spirit lives in us.  Paul says we are the Temple.  We are the intersection of Heaven and Earth.  Since we have the Holy of Holies in us we have a job to do.  We must be heavenly.  We must participate in Heaven bursting into Earth.  It will not be complete until King Jesus comes back to Earth, but we are heavily involved in God's plan now.

Heaven and Earth are becoming one now through the Holy Spirit living in us.  How awesome is that!  So, let's not spend the majority of our time wanting to get the hell out of here; rather let's spend our time getting the Heaven in here.

Pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."  Be heavenly today.

Monday, October 8, 2012

John 10- The Good Shepherd

I just got done studying John chapter 10 with a group of great, young guys.  It's energizing to see their love of God's Word.  It's also energizing to see all the amazing truth packed into John chapter 10.

Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd.  I can't go into all of the awesome details about the Good Shepherd that's packed in here but I will write about a couple of awesome things that are revealed in this chapter.

In verses 1-6 Jesus gives an analogy featuring sheep and a shepherd.  The sheep and shepherd in this analogy are in a village.  In the village are many sheep, some belonging to the shepherd and some not.  If you can picture this in your head you might see a very chaotic scene.  Let's imagine that several shepherds and their sheep are moving about this tiny village at the same time.  How on earth do the sheep know where to go and who to follow?

"He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.  When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them, and His sheep follow because they know His voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." Verses 3-6

Do you recognize the Good Shepherd's voice?  Do you run away from other voices trying to lead you astray?

In verses 7-10 Jesus shifts the sheep and shepherd from the village to the countryside.  Here He calls the shepherd the gate.  In those days the place where the sheep were kept was closed off but they didn't use gates like we do today.  Instead, the shepherd would lie down at the open space in the pin and act as the gate.  Nothing got in or out except through him.

"I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved."  Verse 9.

Jesus is the way, the only way.  Do you acknowledge that?

Finally, in verses 14-18 Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd.  He says that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him.  Beyond that He lays down His life for the sheep.  In fact, Jesus will lay down His life for sheep that aren't yet in His sheep pin.  Meaning, He intended to add Gentiles to the flock... and He did.  Meaning, He still intends to add sheep to the flock... and He will.  That is why He says He gave up His life.  So that through Him there might be "one flock and one shepherd."

His death was for you.  Are you being called into His pin?

Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He calls you and I to Him by name.  Amen.  He is The Way, The Truth and The Life.  Amen.  He laid down His life for us.  Amen.

If you want to read more about how Jesus is our shepherd read passages like Psalm 23 or Ezekiel 34.  Thank God for giving us the Good Shepherd today.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Going to Work with Dad

A short story:

Today Tommy woke up excited.  Today he didn't have to go to school.

But that wasn't why he was excited.

Today Tommy woke up excited because he got to go to work with his dad.

Tommy's dad called the school secretary on Monday to tell her that Tommy would not be in class with Mrs. Meiers on Friday.  And today is Friday and Tommy is excited.

Tommy woke up excited and sprang out of bed.  Without his mother's nagging he shot up and went straight to the bathroom to shower.  After showering he brushed his teeth, without being begged to do it.  After brushing his teeth, Tommy put on his work clothes including the jeans with the carpenter's hook for his hammer.  Tommy was ready and excited to go to work.

When Tommy's dad got to the front door to leave he didn't have to yell for Tommy because Tommy was there with his shoes on and half a Pop Tart in his hand and the other half in his mouth.  Tommy was ready and excited to go to work.

So, Tommy and his dad walked out to the driveway where Tommy's dad's big F-250 truck awaited.  Tommy climbed into the passenger side which was no easy task for a young guy Tommy's size.  Tommy then quickly put on his seat belt and sat ready and excited to go work.

As Tommy and his dad drove to the worksite, Tommy looked out his window down at the little Prius and Civic next to them at the red light stop.  Tommy felt like a big man on his way to work.

Once they reached the worksite Tommy and his dad got out of the truck.  Tommy was ready and excited to work.  They went straight to work and Tommy's dad handed him a hammer, which Tommy promptly slid into the carpenter's hook in his jeans.  It was finally time for Tommy to do some real carpentry work.

Tommy's dad started several nails into the board and said, "Alright, I need you to finish hammering these nails into the board.  This is a very important job."

Tommy pulled his hammer out of his carpenter's hook in his jeans and approached the first nail.

"Clap" "Whack" "Clunk" "Whack" "Clap" "Dunk" "Dunk" "Dunk" "Whack" "Dink" "Whack"

Tommy's hammer hit the board just as many times as it hit the head of the nail and when it did hit the nail the nail bent to the side and Tommy had to straighten it and whack it again.  The board had little hammer halos surrounding the nail Tommy had just driven into it.

"Good work, buddy!" said Tommy's dad as he continued to keep a close eye on Tommy.

Tommy beamed.  He was ready and excited to keep working with dad.  And guess what?  Tommy's dad let him work with him all day.  And even as Tommy worked he was ready and excited to work with his dad again on another day.

Could Tommy's dad have gotten the work done faster without Tommy?  Did he need Tommy's help to get the job done?

We all know the answers to those questions, but to Tommy it doesn't matter because he got to go to work with his dad.

It's the same way with us and God.  He allows us to go to work with Him even though He could do it faster and better and even though He doesn't need us to get the job done.  The question is, are you ready and excited to go to work with Dad?

Be ready and excited to go to work with Dad today.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Answered Prayer and Pillows (A.K.A. Why I Love My Church)

I know many of you reading this blog do not go to my church, Grace Baptist in Waverly, IA.  That being said I want to brag on my church and tell you about how God answers prayers.

I'll start the story from the beginning.

My small group has just started going through a study by N. T. Wright called "Surprised by Hope".  Last week was our first week of the study and I'll already say that I highly recommend it.  Anyway, at the end of the first session we were asked to pray the following things: "Pray for eyes to see the needs of the community around you.  Pray for your local church to become a beacon of hope in your community."

We specifically talked about how our community has greater needs than we first think.  As an example I began to describe the needs at Cedar Valley Friends of the Family www.cvfriendsofthefamily.org.  So, we prayed that our group would have a concrete way to be a beacon of hope for an organization like Cedar Valley Friends of the Family.

That prayer brings us to this morning.

This morning in the announcements at church that specific prayer was answered.  Pastor Brian said that Grace was pledging to provide pillows for Cedar Valley Friends of the Family (an organization I can't ever remember us giving to).  In the bulletin was a perforated sheet that could be filled out to pledge to give a pillow.  When that announcement was made I heard a cascade of tearing as people tore out the sheets to pledge a pillow.  It was awesome and immediate.  I almost teared up.  It was a fantastic reminder of one of the reasons I love my church.  People are people and differences will exist and frustrations will be expressed from time to time; but boy do they love.

This morning was great.  I had God respond to my prayer request quickly and clearly; and on top of that He reminded me again of the loving brothers and sisters He surrounded me with.  Sorry Pastor Jim, but that is the good news I heard this morning and that good news was proclaimed loudly in a cascade of tearing bulletins.

Now if you are a part of Grace and you missed this morning you still have the opportunity to give.  Bring a new pillow to church Sunday or before Sunday I guess.  We, as a church, have pledged to give twenty pillows but we are going to blow that number out of the water.  If you have any questions call the church 352-1464.  If you are not a part of Grace I'd encourage you to remember why you joined your community of believers.  I can tell you that it's so good to remember the blessing God gave us when He gives us a community of brothers and sisters.

God answers prayers.  Amen!  God puts the lonely in families.  Amen!  Thank God for His many blessings and for the community of believers He has given you today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Jesus the Thirst Quencher

Everyone remembers that Gatorade's tagline used to be "the thirst quencher."  In John 7:37-38 Jesus claims to be the thirst quencher.

"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink." John 7:37-38

I've always thought that this was a neat passage, but I never saw the significance until I took a deeper look at what the Feast was and what Jesus was claiming to be.  Hopefully you'll be as amazed as I was after I explain it.

The Feast in this passage is the Feast of Tabernacles (which is briefly explained in Leviticus 23:33).  On each day of the feast there was a procession of priests to the pool of Siloam to draw water.  The priests then would return to the temple, where the water was taken in procession once around the altar with the choir singing Psalms 113-118, and then the water was poured out as a libation at the morning sacrifice.  All day and all night celebration surrounded this ceremony.  The celebration was associated with Isaiah 12:3 "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."

Jesus came to the Feast "on the last and greatest day of the Feast."  On the last day the same procedure was followed except the procession circled the altar seven times instead just once.  The last day of this ceremony reached a fever pitch of excitement.

It was during this awesome celebration that Jesus shouted "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink."  Jesus was claiming to be able to offer people the water of salvation.  In fact, Jesus was saying even more than that.  Ezekiel 47 talks about a deep and wide river that flowed out of the temple that cause trees to provide food and healing leaves.  Revelation 22 describes the River of Life flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  This tree also provides healing leaves for the nations and food.

Jesus, as He stands in the Temple, is claiming to be the source of the River of Life.  Jesus is making a bold, bold claim.  And, get this, because of His bold claim we can boldly claim the promise of sustenance, healing and salvation that His claim provides.

How awesome is this passage!  Go to Jesus and drink today.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What is Worship?

This morning in discussion with some guys the question was raised, "What is worship?"  This question is central to the Christian life because we were created to worship.  Let me first show one passage that tells us that we are created or at least chosen to worship.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."
1 Peter 2:9

Christians were chosen by God to worship Him.  We were chosen that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.  To further this point let me share with you a catechism of our faith.  In the Westminister Shorter Catechism the first point is this:

Q: "What is the chief end of man?"
A: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

So, we were chosen to worship God.  Therefore, true worship requires that we be born again.  As 1 Peter says, "that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light."  We must be called out of the darkness into the light because otherwise we are unable to see God.  To be in the darkness is to not correctly see God.

But we are still left with the question, "What is worship?"

Here is what worship isn't.  It isn't only something done once a week in a pew.  It isn't only trying to make ourselves worthy of the calling.  A. W. Tozer put it well when he said, "We please Him (God) most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections and believing that He understands everything... and loves us still."

Here is what I think worship is: Worship is anything that demonstrates what one values or desires.

Given that definition we need to make sure that we are worshipping God.  A lot of what I do demonstrates that I value and desire myself or money or people.  How much of what I do demonstrates that I value and desire God?

We are left with another question.  "Why do we worship God?"  "Does He need it?"

First, let me say that God absolutely, without question, does NOT need our worship.  Why then does He ask for it?  He asks for it because we benefit from worshipping Him.  We were created and chosen to worship Him.  We are fulfilled by fulfilling our purpose.  We need to worship God; He doesn't need us to worship Him.

Secondly, we worship God for our own good.  We humans were designed to appreciate greatness.  Why else would we drive to the Grand Canyon to look at it?  Does the Grand Canyon need us to look at it in awesome wonder?  No; rather our spirit longs to be wowed.  God can wow our spirit in ways the Grand Canyon never could.  A. W. Tozer said, "The blessed and inviting truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings, and in our worship of Him, we should find unspeakable pleasure."

Worship is not just singing.  It should be everything we do and we should be thrilled in doing it.  Again, worship is anything that demonstrates what one values or desires.  Does your life demonstrate that you value and desire God?  Are you thrilled in Him?

Worship God in spirit and in truth today.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A B. S. Meter

In the past few weeks I have been approached by a few friends who were presented with something that seemed Biblical and scholarly but was complete B.S.  This is why we Christians need to use our B. S. meters.  Let me explain using an example.

A few weeks ago my friend was studying the book of Ruth and was told that in chapter 3 when Ruth uncovered Boaz's feet that she may actually have uncovered his penis.  Now she found this disturbing as did I. When we looked this interpretation up online the interpretation that Boaz's penis was being uncovered was popular.  However, those supporting it seemed to be amateurs except the professor that had prompted the question to begin with.

See in Hebrew "uncovering your feet" is used as a euphemism for peeing or exposing yourself.  But it goes against the very character of Ruth and Boaz for this to be true.  In fact, it ruins the whole story.  So we kept looking.

It turns out that when you look up the Hebrew word used in this passage the meaning is clear.  A different word for foot which actually means the whole leg is used.  It is not the same word that is used in the euphemism.  Ruth really just uncovered Boaz's feet and legs.

What's the point of the story?

My point is that we Christians need to use our B. S. meter.  My friend and I both had ours going off when B. S. was presented to us.

How do you get a B. S. meter?

First of all the B. S. meter is the Holy Spirit speaking to someone.  Secondly, the B. S. meter is simply someone recognizing that something doesn't sound like the shepherd's voice.  "My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me."  John 10:27.

Does this mean that a Christian can never be wrong theologically?  No.  What it does mean is that we have a helper, the Holy Spirit, and we have the Word of God.  Use the resources you've been given to distinguish between what is truth and what isn't.  Ask for help from a trusted mentor.  Use a Bible concordance.  But if something feels like it's B. S. test it.  

Use your B. S. meter.  Fine tune your ear to it's warning siren.  Learn to recognize the shepherd's voice today.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Social Justice

I'm at a point right now where I haven't had much inspiration to write anything.  That being said I do not want to get out of the habit of writing and reading.  So, this will be a short post.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Proverbs 30:8-9

"Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow."
Isaiah 1:17

"He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?'
declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 22:16

All I want to say is this, "How we doing on this?"  "Is that not what it means to know me?' declares the Lord."

Speak for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy today.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Psalm 62- God is Both Loving and Strong

"My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and salvation;
He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down...
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
He is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God;
He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to Him,
for God is our refuge.

Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they ar nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or take pride is stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done."

There are so many good things in this psalm but a couple leaped of the page at me.  First, "if weighed on a balance, they are nothing."  This means that if we took the best of the best of the best human being and placed him on the teater-totter he wouldn't even come close to pushing his side to the ground.  Why? Because God is sitting on the other side.  Whenever we try to measure our goodness God has to be sitting on the other side of the balance because He is the standard of goodness.

Second thing that exploded off the page; "that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving."  God must be both or there is no reason to give our lives to Him.  If He is strong but not loving then He is a tyrant.  If He is loving but not strong then He is just a nice guy who can't save us.  But thank God He is 100% both!  He is almighty and is the definition of love!  That is the God we serve and why David can say, "My soul finds rest in God alone."

Serve our all powerful, loving God today.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Founding Father Worship

Let me preface this post by saying a couple of things.  1) I am a registered Republican (so you know my bias).  2) I'm a dedicated patriot like my father and grandfather.  3) I graduated with a degree in history.

I struggle with something and I need your help.  As this election heats up and as controversies like the Chick-Fil-A controversy emerge our nation's founding fathers get brought up a lot. People wonder what they might think.  People bring up the fact that they were Christian to the core; that they established our nation as a Christian nation.

There are a few problems that I have with this.  First, as someone with a degree in history (that does not make me a historian) I see that our founding fathers were far from perfect and several were far from Christian.  Benjamin Franklin is believed to have frequented orgies, refused to recognize the deity of Jesus and was agnostic at best.  Thomas Jefferson rewrote the Bible to take the miracles of Christ out because the miracles didn't fit with his religion of reason.  The list goes on.

I will say that our nation was established on Judeo-Christian values to be sure.  Values that were mixed with values of the Age of Reason.  Our founding fathers did recognize that Judeo-Christian values were a great bedrock for society and many of our founding fathers were great Christian men.

I have a second problem with the constant questioning of "what would the founding fathers want?" or "what would the founding fathers think?"  I have a hard time believing that Christ would want us looking to our founding fathers more than Him.  Often I see people turning our founding fathers from brave men with vision to demi-gods.

My question for you is this: how do we honor our founding fathers without turning them into idols?  How should Christians show historical patriotism without dishonoring God?

I know this isn't my typical post but I'd appreciate your input today.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Psalm 47- Olympic Opening Ceremonies

"Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy,
How awesome is the Lord Most High,
the great King over all the earth!...

For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to Him a song of praise,
God reigns over the nations;
God is seated on His holy throne."

This is an excerpt from the Psalm I read early today and it was perfect for today.

As the XXX Olympic Open Ceremony finished I was moved by a preview of heaven.  In London representatives from  all nations (almost) were assembled in one place all wearing their unique garb.  Members of all nations were singing together.  They were singing "Hey Jude" all in one accord.  How awesome was that!

Here is a YouTube clip of it.  The quality isn't great but hopefully you saw it live.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqzCvVWEY0M

This is a great preview of heaven.  All nations will shout to God with cries of joy.  They will sing to Him a song of praise because God reigns over all the nations.  Hopefully Sir Paul McCartney is a brother and can help lead us in song in the throne room.

As moving as this scene was heaven will be infinitely more moving.  I can't wait!  Enjoy the Olympics and wait in eager anticipation to the time all nations will be gathered together before our great God.  As my friend Palngji would say, "Be blessed today."

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Reaction to the Colorado Tragedy

All of you probably know about the horrible masacre in Colorado at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.  A 24 year-old man came into a theatre and took at least a dozen innocent lives and injured scores of others.  It was monstrous.

Monstrous.  That is my first reaction and the reaction of millions of others.  "What kind of a freak could do this?!"  How many of you thought that?  I did.

When I was in Germany I got the chance to visit a concentration camp in Flossenburg.  This camp was the place where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed along with, literally, a pile of others.  As I was being driven to the concentration camp I thought I was going to see a place where innocent lives were ruined and taken by monsters.  This is not what I saw.

After taking the tour I felt immense guilt.  I had become friends with many Germans and found them to be just like me.  During the tour I had found that much of the ground that was the concentration camp was now the backyard for normal families.  I left the concentration camp with this thought, "I could have participated in this."

I could have been a German during WWII and let the monstrosity of the Holocaust happen or perhaps I could have participated.  This is frightening.

When we hear of this "monster" in Colorado we ask "What kind of a freak could do this?!"  A human one, that's what kind.  We humans are built with a default setting, "monstrous enemy of God and man."  In all of us in the capability to do evil.

The salvation from sin offered by the Almighty is the only thing that can fix this default setting that has been in place since The Fall of Man.  Salvation is not just freedom from the penalty of sin, it is freedom from sin.  From one degree of glory to the next we are saved from sin until His work in us is complete.

Without God we are all monsters in one degree or another.  The only way to fix this is to cry out to God through faith in Jesus for salvation today.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Psalm 29- The Voice of the Lord

"Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightening.
The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in His temple all cry, 'Glory!'

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to His people;
the Lord blesses His people with peace."

Isn't that awesome.  The voice of the Lord is so powerful in this Psalm.  "The Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon."  The cedars of Lebanon were trees that grew to 120 feet tall and 30 feet around.  Breaking one of those would be like shattering a Red Wood.  Or "Sirion (skips) like a young wild ox."  Sirion was a mountain.  Can you imagine a voice that could make a mountain dance?

It's clear that the voice of the Lord is powerful.  It's also clear that His voice is just a part of Him.  What a mighty God we serve!  Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness today.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Psalm 27- Seek His Face

I'm not going to write much about this Psalm.  The Psalm speaks for itself and the two songs I've linked will say more than I ever could.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evil men advance against me,
to devour my flesh,
when my enemies and my foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.

One thing I ask of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.
For in the day of trouble
He will keep me safe in His dwelling;
He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at His tabernacle will I sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me.
My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!'
Your face, Lord, will I seek.
Do not hide your face from me,
do not turn your servant away in anger;
you have been my helper.
Do not reject me or forsake me,
O God my Savior.
Though my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will receive me.

Teach me your way, O Lord;
lead me in a straight path
because of my oppressors.
Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing out violence.

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord."

Here are the two songs that I thought of when I read this Psalm. O Lord You're Beautiful http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jethTOQMZY and Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8mBurjrWMo

Seek His face today.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July repost

I posted this last year and I think it's perfect again for this year.

Declaration of Dependence

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary of one man to dissolve the bands which have connected him to his self, and to reject the Powers of the earth, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires he should declare the causes which impel him to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that all men fall short of the glory of God, and that the wages of sin is death.  When any Form of Living instituted by Men becomes destructive to man he should abolish it and institute a new Life. laying its foundation on such powers that will provide life.

I, therefore, do declare that I am abolished from the Allegiance to the self and the Powers of the earth.  Not that I would be free and independent from all control, but rather that I would place my life in the hands of one who would fulfill my needs and provide me with life.

I declare dependence to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

The foregoing Declaration was engrossed and signed by the following members:

Matt Ray

Declare your Dependence today.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Psalm 19- Worship Like a Sadducee

Please read Psalm 19.  I will highlight a few verses rather than including the entire Psalm but please read the whole Psalm.

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands."
Verse 1

"The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous."
Verse 9

"May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."
Verse 14

In Jewish culture there were two religious camps that had a basic difference.  The Pharisees, who believed in the afterlife, and the Sadducees, who did not.  I remember the difference this way; the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection so they were sad you see.

I have come to appreciate the Sadducees.  The Sadducees believed that there was nothing after this life.  Yet, they still worshipped and obeyed God.  I can honestly say that if I believed this life was it I would, at best, be a hedonist who attempted some morality.  I would eat, drink and be merry because this life is it.  As some kids in my youth group say, "Y.O.L.O." (you only live once).

But the Sadducees weren't hedonistic.  They obeyed God's commands and worshipped Him with all their hearts.

We need to worship like the Sadducees.  To explain why, here is an excerpt from A. W. Tozer's Whatever Happened to Worship? (A Call to True Worship)

"I once heard Dr. George D. Watson, one of the great Bible teachers of his generation, point out that men can have two kinds of love of God... the love of gratitude or the love of excellence.  He urged that we go on from gratefulness to a love of God just because He is God and because of the excellence of His character."

The Sadducees didn't worship God because He gave them eternal life; they worshipped God because He is God.  We need to do that.  Ask yourself this, "If God didn't offer me salvation would I still worship Him?" or ask like John Piper did, "If you could have all the goodness of heaven but God wasn't there would you want to go?"

Luckily these questions are somewhat of a moot point.  God does offer us salvation by faith and He will be the glowing sun of heaven.  But we should be able to worship God just for who He is.  In Isaiah and Revelation we see the elders, seraphs, the four living creatures and angels doing just that.  They haven't been saved by God, yet all day and night forever they say "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory."

Thank God for His blessings, but spend time this week worshipping God for His attributes.  Pick an attribute of God and worship Him for that today.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Psalm 13- A God Big Enough to be Mad At

This summer my Bible study group is going through the book of Psalms.  Ironically, I just found out my Dad is doing the same thing in his summer sermon series... I'll say he copied me.  So, this summer my friends and I are reading one Psalm a day.  This summer I want to highlight some of my favorites.

"How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord
for He has been good to me."
Psalm 13

In this Psalm David is upset at God.  I picture him screaming at the moon in parts of this Psalm.  David is feeling mad, scared, and alone.  He feels like God is slow in rescuing him... or not caring about him at all.  David is upset at God.

I love this because we serve a God that is big enough to be mad at.  God does not get scared when we yell in frustration.  He won't even think you are evil if you doubt him for a time.

Christians, if others are going through a valley and they are mad at God, let them be mad.  If King David, a man after God's own heart, can be mad so can they.  We are not to be Christian cheerleaders all the time.  Encouragement is great but sometimes we need to shut up, give them a hug and as my philosophy professor says, "drop off a casserole".

However, at the end of the day we must trust in God's unfailing love; that's called faith.  God's love cannot lose.  He is good to us... even when it doesn't immediately look at that way.  So, it's okay to feel mad, alone and scared but at the end of the day we must anchor ourselves to the truth that is God's unfailing love.

It's okay to despair and wonder what God is doing.  We are human and at many times we will be frustrated because we can't understand the Master.  But in the end we must trust God today.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Keeping Up with the Kardashians

For my job we play a lot of sound clips from various forms of entertainment.  This morning we played a clip from Oprah's interview with the Kardashian family.

In the clip we played Oprah asked Kim why she got a divorce.  Oprah asked if Kris Humphries, her former husband of 72 days, abused her or treated her poorly.  Kim said, "No".  Oprah then asked if she was bored with Kris.  Kim said, "Yes, but you don't leave someone because you are bored.  I just had a hole in my heart and the marriage wasn't right for me." (paraphrased from memory)

She said she had a hole in her heart.  Now, this morning my job was to make a joke about the interview but really I feel for Kim.

Kim has money and fame.  She has dated NFL stars, has been married to an NBA player and now is dating world-famous rapper Kanye West.  She is told by everyone that she is beautiful.  People pay attention to her every move.  She has the world at her fingertips.

But she has a hole in her heart.

She has everything the world can offer yet she feels that there is a hole in her heart and because of that I feel for her.

Kim, and you for that matter, will not fill that hole in her heart through money, fame, sex, success or companionship.

Blaise Pascal once said, "There is a God-sized vacuum in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.  It can only be filled by God, made known through Jesus Christ."

See, stuff can't do it.  Stuff will not fulfill us... Jesus will.

Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full."  John 10:10

Jesus is the only way to fill that hole in Kim Kardashian's heart and your heart; don't look anywhere else.  Fill your heart and mind with God, made known through Jesus Christ, today.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Acts 28- Snakes and Promises

I know I wrote about Acts 28 just a couple of days ago but we had some awesome discussion about Paul's snake bite that I wish to share.  Remember that Paul had been promised that he would make it to Rome.  Also, remember that he had just been shipwrecked on Malta.

"Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened on his hand.  When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, "This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live."  But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects." Acts 28:3-5

Cool story huh?  There are a few awesome points from this story that I wish to highlight.

First, God continued to keep His promise to Paul.  He told Paul that he would make it to Rome, and nothing would stop that from happening.  Prison didn't, a shipwreck didn't, attempts on his life didn't, and a snakebite sure didn't either.  Luke is showing us yet again that God's Will is unstoppable and that He is faithful to His promises despite what our present situation looks like.

Second, God continued to keep His promise to the saints.  Remember that Luke wrote Acts as a letter to Theophilus.  Luke, of course, also wrote the letter of Luke to Theophilus.  Read this:

"'The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name."

He replied, 'I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.  However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." Luke 10:17-20

Theophilus would remember this passage from Luke's last letter.  Again, God kept His promise.

Finally, Paul threw the snake into the fire.  We know that at the end of time God will through Satan, the serpent, into the lake of fire.  We also know that in Romans 16:20 Paul said to the church in Rome, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."  See, Paul's destroying the snake in the fire is an analogy for what we will do to Satan through the power of the risen Christ.

What an awesome passage in Acts!  Who knew a snakebite could say so much?

Remember, the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.  He will keep this promise so get your stompin' shoes on today.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Acts 28- The End?

After nine months we have finally come to the final chapter of the book of Acts.  It is a great chapter so take time to read it.

In this chapter there is a great story about Paul and a poisonous snake, the story of when Paul finally met the church at Rome, the mixed reception Paul received and more.  However, I want to write about something else.

"For two whole years Paul stayed in his own rented house (in Rome) and welcomed all who came to see him.  Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." Acts 28:30-31

Those are the final two verses of the book of Acts.

Are you asking any questions?  I am.  Like, "When did Paul get out of prison?" "What happened during Paul's next missionary journey?" "How did Paul die?" "How did Peter die?" "What's next?"

But Acts just ends.  It ends rather abruptly.


I think to figure out why Acts ends abruptly we have to look at how Acts began.  Dr. Luke was a very educated man and knew how to write.  If you are someone who has been to college you probably have written more than a few papers.  In the papers I had to write my professors demanded that I had a good and clear thesis statement.  Dr. Luke does this in Acts.

(Jesus speaking) "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts 1:8

This verse is the thesis statement of Acts.  This is the purpose of Acts.

The Gospel went to Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  In fact, Rome was the recognized center of the known world.  When Paul took the Gospel to Rome (although it had already been there although not through an Apostle) the thesis statement was complete.

Acts is not about Paul.  It is not about Peter.  It isn't even about the acts of the early Church.  Acts is about God's Sovereign Will advancing the Gospel to complete His command that He gave to the Apostles.  Acts is about what God did.

So what?

I think the so what is that God completed His own command.  He told the Apostles that they would be His witnesses to all of those places and He ensured that it happened.

Remember this command?

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Matthew 28:18-20

If God completed His own command in Acts you can be certain that He will do the same with The Great Commission.  He will cause us to complete His task.  He will do it and He will use us to do it.  Isn't that awesome!  We are guaranteed to succeed.  We are going to complete the task because He always does.  So join Him in completing the task today.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Acts 27- Storms

Read Acts 27.  In this chapter the feel switches from a John Grisham courtroom drama to a Robert Louis Stevenson story.  Here we read of Paul's sea voyage and the shipwreck.

At the beginning of this story the ship and its 276 passengers safely make their way all the way to a harbor called Fair Havens.  The group then has a decision to make.  Keep traveling or stay for the Winter.  Paul advices them to stay put because it is around October and everyone in the culture knew that mid-September through November was a dangerous time to travel and after the beginning of November it was even illegal under Roman law to travel by sea.

Paul gave good advice based on cultural common sense but it was ignored.  The pilot and the owner of the ship thought they knew better and that while sailing at this time of year was dangerous it would be different for them.

In verse 13 we see that a gentle south wind began to blow and the ship took off.  I'm sure a number of men were teasing Paul saying, "I told you.  Boy, were you wrong."  However, their tune would soon change.

"Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the 'northeaster,' swept down from the island.  The ship was caught in the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along... When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved."

The ship was in trouble.  They were throwing things overboard, using ropes to hold the ship together and everyone knew they were going to die.

Finally, Paul was listened to.  Paul reminded everyone that he said they shouldn't have left Fair Havens, but then he started to give advice again.  The 276 people on the ship listen to all of Paul's advice.  They even follow his unconventional advice to cut the lifeboats loose from the ship.  These same people who wouldn't listen to Paul's culturally normal, sound advice were listening to anything he suggested in the storm.  Because of this and God's promise to Paul that no one would die, everyone was saved.

We can often find ourselves in Paul situation.  Sometimes we give sound, wise advice to people and they don't listen because they are convinced that things will be different for them.  I'm sure it aggravated Paul that they didn't listen and it does irritate us too because we care.

Funny thing happens though when the storms of life come... people start listening.  When this happens we need to be like Paul.  Paul reminded the people of his good advice earlier, but he didn't dwell on that; rather, he immediately began giving advice in the storm.  And while the storm was going on and no one would listen to him he prayed not just for himself but for everyone on the ship.  We need to follow this pattern.  When people come back to us in the storm we need to move on from the advice that would have helped them miss the storm and begin advising in the storm.

But in the end advice only goes so far.  Paul prayed.  He did what he knew how to do and used the knowledge he had gained and he prayed.  He didn't do one or the other, he did both.

So, remember that if you try to help someone avoid a storm your advice will not always be taken because people will, in the end, make their own decisions.  But also remember to continue to pray for them and be there for them when the storm drives them back to you.  Be a buoy in the storm for someone today.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Knowledge of the Holy

Currently I'm reading the book The Knowledge of The Holy by A. W. Tozer.  I'm nearly done and I'd highly recommend the book.  The book attempts to address the attributes of God and their meaning in the Christian life.

Every chapter is extremely quotable.  In fact, the reason I wanted to read this book is because other authors I enjoy incessantly quote Tozer and I find each quote to be brillant.  That being said I really enjoyed one quote in particular:

"We can hold a correct view of Truth only by daring to believe everything God has said about Himself."

He goes on to say:

"God's being is unitary.  He cannot divide Himself and act at a given time from one of His attributes while the rest remain inactive.  All that God is must accord with all that God does."

What Tozer so brilliantly states is that God is God all the time.  He can best be described as Himself.  We, as finite humans with finite minds, can only understand God by viewing His attributes.  This leads us into a grave misunderstanding of who God is.  We think, "Is God merciful in this situation or just?  Is God loving or is He sovereign in this?  Is God good or is He holy here?"  God is never one and not the other.  The answer is always "yes!"

That is incomprehensible for us.  We can't be completely faithful in full strength to every attribute of ourselves so we believe God can't either.  But here's the kicker... we are not like God and God is so completely unlike us.

Isn't that wonderful?

Again, I'd recommend The Knowledge of The Holy by A.W. Tozer to you.  It's so refreshing to take a new and better look at who our God is.  So, pick up the book and focus on the beauty of the essence of our Great God today.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Proverbs for Graduates

Congratulations to the high school and college graduates!  Over the past few weeks I've been to parties where I was asked to write down words of wisdom.  Here are some words from the wisest man in history, King Solomon.

"Hatred stirs up dissension,
but love covers over all wrongs"
Proverbs 10:12

"When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom."
Proverbs 11:2

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates correction is stupid."
Proverbs 12:1

"A mise son heeds his father's instruction,
but a mocker does not listen to rebuke."
Proverbs 13:1

"All hard work brings a profit,
but mere talk leads only to poverty."
Proverbs 14:23

"Plans fail for lack of counsel,
but with many advisors they succeed."
Proverbs 15:22

"Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and your plans will succeed."
Proverbs 16:3

"Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,
and discerning if he holds his tongue."
Proverbs 17:28

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the righteous run to it and are saved."
Proverbs 18:10

"Listen to advice and accept instruction,
and in the end you will be wise."
Proverbs 19:20

I could go on.  In fact, read Proverbs and you will find more wisdom.

My advice for you is to seek the Lord, seek knowledge and surround yourself with wise people.  Search for good friends wherever it is you are going.  Find a good church and become friends with those older than you.

Congratulations graduates and search for the wisdom of God today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Acts 26- Passion and Truth

Take time to read Acts chapter 26.

In this chapter Paul presented his case before King Herod Agrippa.  Paul did this because Governor Festus thought Paul was innocent but he didn't know what Paul was innocent of and Paul had appealed to Caesar.  So, since Agrippa was familiar with Jewish law Agrippa heard Paul's case in order to have something to write to Caesar.

In presenting his case Paul simply gave his testimony.  I believe we can learn an important lesson from this retelling of Paul's testimony.

First, the Truth of the Gospel is logical.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

We Christians have given up.  We've said that non-theism is logical and you have to have immeasurable faith to believe the Gospel.  This just isn't true.  The Gospel is logical.  Let's look at this in Scripture.

"At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. 'You are out of your mind, Paul!' he shouted. 'Your great learning is driving you insane.'

'I am not insane, most excellent Festus,' Paul replied. 'What I am saying is true and reasonable."
Acts 26:24-25

I'm not going to spend time defending the complete logic of the Gospel, but we can clearly see that Paul declares it to be true and reasonable/logical.

Next, passion in of itself is useless without Truth.

The Jews were passionate "they earnestly serve God day and night." (verse 7).  The Jews had passion and followed through on that passion but it was wasted.

Paul, before his conversion, was passionate.  He went around killing Christians in his passion.  We went of multiple journeys killing Christians passionately, but that passion was wasted.

Paul after his conversion was passionate.  He went around spreading the Gospel no matter what the cost and it was worth it.  He was no longer acting under the authority of the chief priest; he was working under the authority of King Jesus.

Passion without the Truth is worthless.  The Truth without passion is impossible because the Truth will make us passionate about what matters.  If you are passionate now but don't bring the Truth of Jesus in that, please stop and fill your mind with the Truth.  If you know the Truth but aren't passionate about it, please look at the Truth again and see the beauty of it because if you do you can't help but be filled with passion.

We possess a powerful, logical Truth.  We must share it with passion.  Be filled with passion and Truth today.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

An Introduction

I usually don't do this type of writing.  I've done it once before but it's not my forte.  That being said, today I had a daydream while driving that I'd like to share with you.

In my dream I was dead.  I'd been dead for a long time and I was in heaven.

While in heaven I was standing by the banks of the River Jordan when I saw my daughter crossing.  She made it across to the shore and I ran to meet her.  I hugged her and excitingly welcomed her to heaven.

"Hey Beautiful, can I give you a tour?" I asked.

"Of course, Dad." She replied.

I took her on a tour of heaven.  I introduced her to her Great-Grandpa and Great-Grandma Ray because she had never met them.  I introduced her to Esther, Ruth, David, Paul, John and Mary.  I took her on a walk down the streets of gold until we reached the crystal sea.

Finally, it was time to do what I was most excited to do.  Something I had been waiting to do for a long time.

"Beautiful, I want to introduce to Jesus." I said beaming inside.

"Don't be silly," she replied with a goofy yet warm grin. "you already introduced me to Him a long time ago."

"... as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

I know that this was just a daydream but it is a dream I hope comes true for me and my family.  I want to be a father, when the time comes, that introduces his children to Jesus early and often.  I want to lead my family to the Author of Life.

For those of you that are parents, I ask you to introduce your children to God early and often.  For those of us that aren't parents we need to prepare ourselves for the task of introducing our children to Jesus today.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

I Am Who I Am

Here's a good question Moses asked God.

"Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is His name?' Then what shall I tell them?'

God said to Moses, 'I Am Who I Am.  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I Am has sent me to you."
Exodus 3:13-14

Many scoff at Moses' question.  "What do you mean who is God?  He is God that's who He is."  But I think it is a great question.

A. W. Tozer says in Knowledge of the Holy, "It is highly significant that the first word was the Word."  Meaning, our words about God are significant.  We don't want to misrepresent the most important entity in the universe and beyond the universe.

Tozer also says in the first chapter of Knowledge of the Holy, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."

So it begs the question: What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of God.  Complete this sentence for me.  God is...

Please comment on this post because I think it will be great discussion and edifying.  In a word or a few words, what is the first thing that comes into your mind when you think of God today?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Red Light Prayers

I just got back from a screening of the documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls.  The film documents human trafficking across the globe and in my country.

This sin is unbelievably ugly and rampant.  This sin is disgusting and yet so prevalent.  We must do something about this evil.  If you don't know anything about human trafficking I strongly encourage you to do some research.  You'll be surprised quickly.

The folks who made the movie I watched highlight three ways to combat human trafficking.  They are: prayer, awareness and giving.  Prayer because God is in control and only He can change hearts and save souls.  Awareness because this evil will continue if light is not shed on it.  And giving because the need is so great and where we put our money is often where we put our heart.

According to Free the Slaves, 27 million people are enslaved in the world today.  Many of them are enslaved into prostitution.  According to the U.N., human trafficking is a $32 billion industry annually.  According to UNICEF, nearly 2 million children are involved in the international commercial sex trade.

These stats are staggering but we can do something about it.  The prayer, awareness giving model can help.

I want to invite you to join me in a simple way to change the world.  I'm stealing it from a man I heard speak from the organization Exodus Cry.  It's called Red Light Prayers because of course we think of red light districts.  Let's you and I not waste time at red lights.  When our cars get to a red lights instead of complaining, let's say a Red Light Prayer.

Here's mine: "Sovereign Lord, you are in control of everything.  Rescue one of your daughters from slavery and prostitution today."

That's it.  If I'm a light longer I can pray longer, but that simple prayer is one I can pray even while having a conversation with a passenger.  So, let's do this.  I'm not asking you to commit to doing this for the rest of your life.  I challenge you to do this for the rest of May.  Please try it with me and let's see what our awesome God does because He can do anything and everything.

Join me in praying Red Light Prayers this month.  Spread the word.  Let's participate in God's justice today.