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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

10 Favorite Post of 2014

Here are 10 of my personal favorite posts from 2014.  I'm not confident enough to call them my best or most popular but these are some of my favorites.

1)Are You Ready for a Serious Relationship?

2) From Acorn to Oak

3) A Father on His Knees

4) Longing to Be Married

5) Be Equally Yoked

6) The Love of Excellence

7) Attitude and Action

8) Robin Williams and Suicide

9) The Rapture

10) Humility

Thank you for reading my blog this year and I hope you have an awesome New Year's Eve today.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

I am continuing to study the book of Philippians.  For this post I want to focus on one verse.

"Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4

This is one of, as Matt Chandler calls them, the coffee cup verses of the book of Philippians.  One of you reading this is drinking from a coffee cup that says this verse on it.  This is an incredibly popular verse of the Bible and I want to look at in some depth.

So often people will be told this verse when they are suffering.  I think this is sad because people are trying so hard to be helpful but often it ends up being hurtful to one already hurt.  When someone just got a cancer diagnosis please do not run up to them and hand them your coffee cup and tell them to read it.  This verse is a powerful verse, but I don't think it means the same thing as the song "Chin Up Charlie".

Let's look at what the verse actually says and what it doesn't say.  Let's begin by what it doesn't say.

Rejoice in everything always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!

This is not the passage.  It does not say to rejoice always or in everything.  When you've been told that your wife had a miscarriage that is not the time to start rejoicing.  I know that sentence seems mean and callous but it's not intended to be.  I simply want to say that some circumstances are so horrible that we do not rejoice because of them.  Thank God the passage doesn't say "Rejoice in everything always."

Instead let's look at what the verse actually says.

"Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!"

In the Lord is the phrase that the entire verse hinges upon.  Without these three words the verse becomes impossible.  Not everything that happens in our lives inspires joy in us.  The phrase in the Lord makes this verse possible.

See, God is infinitely good and therefore there will be reasons to rejoice in Him for eternity.  We will spend eternity discovering and beholding more of His goodness.  So we can rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances while not rejoicing in the circumstances.  Get that... we can rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances while not rejoicing in the circumstances.  We don't have to rejoice in the circumstance or rather because of the circumstance but we can rejoice in the Lord always.

An example, I mentioned earlier a cancer diagnosis.  There is nothing about cancer that is worthy of rejoicing.  Cancer is a result of a sinful world and cancer has no place in heaven.  But even in the midst of a cancer diagnosis there is reason to rejoice in who God is.  We can rejoice that God promises to make all things good for those called according to His purposes.  We can rejoice that God is good enough to not be surprised by or sidetracked by cancer.

We rejoice in suffering because God is in control.  Suffering has a way of making us painfully aware of our inability to control our own lives.  In the chaos of suffering we are keenly aware of our smallness.  But if we recall the promises of God and the character of God we will know that He has it in His hands.  It is in this trust that we rejoice.  Our rejoicing may be with tears streaming down our face but it can be rejoicing that someone much bigger has this in His hands.

I think this is why the Apostle Paul continues on like this in verse six:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Philippians 4:6-7

Some of you are in the middle of a storm and need to fight to rejoice in the Lord, to find Him good.  Some of you aren't in a trial, but I can promise you will be in one in the future.  To you I give this advice: hide the promises of God in your heart and study His character.  These two things will buoy you in the storm and allow you to "Rejoice in the Lord always."

Keep your eyes on Jesus today.  

Monday, December 22, 2014

5 Christmas Miracles

Christmas is almost here!  This phrase sounds tired and worn but it's often true, in the hustle and bustle of the season we often forget the true meaning of Christmas.  I have to fight hard to get more enjoyment from Jesus at Christmas than I do from all of the other "stuff" of the holiday.  To stay focused on Christ at Christmas I find it best to be like the shepherds in the familiar story, to be in awe and wonder.

Below are five miracles of Christmas to help us be in awe and wonder this year.

1) The Infinite in the Infant
Think about this: God is infinite.  He has no beginning nor end.  He always was and never wasn't and will never stop existing.  He is infinite in all qualities including size and power, yet Jesus was born a baby.  This is what many Jews in the First Century found so unbelievable about the Jesus story and I don't blame them.  This idea of Christianity is mindblowingly incomprehensible.  It is a mystery to the nth degree.  Christians, while we must believe that our Infinite God became a human infant we can't find this fact understandable.  We are to be in awe of this because it is a miracle.  For more on this idea check out a previous blog post I wrote on the subject.

2) Jesus Was Obedient to Human Parents
"Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death... even death on a cross." Philippians 2:6-8

Jesus was obedient to God the Father even to death on a cross, but Jesus was also obedient to His earthly parents, parents He made and held together by the power of His word!  Jesus humbled Himself to be obedient to imperfect human parents.  If Jesus can do it so should we.  Imagine the Lord of all the Universe taking orders and instruction from a carpenter and a teenage mother.  That is obedience and humility at a miraculous level.

3) The Perfect God Faced Temptation
"For God cannot be tempted by evil..." James 1:13

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are... yet was without sin." Hebrews 4:15

My wife was recently in awe by a comment my dad made in a sermon.  Dad said Jesus chose not to sin.  She had never even thought about that and it left her in awe thinking about the daily battle with sin that Jesus fought and won.  I don't know exactly how this works but because Jesus is fully God He cannot sin, yet He chose to become fully human and allow Himself to be tempted to sin.  Remember His time in the desert with Satan?  Jesus was tempted.  It says it in black and white yet He daily chose not to sin.  The Perfect God chose to face the struggle of temptation and I'm sure He got everything the Devil could throw at Him and yet He chose at every moment of His life not to sin.  This is awe inspiring because I have trouble not sinning for an hour!

4) God Came to be With Us
This is so incredible.  Let's remember one of God's interactions with Moses.

"Then Moses said, 'Now show me Your glory."
And the LORD said, 'I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My Name, the LORD, in your presence.  I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  'But,' He said, 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see Me and live." Exodus 33:18-20

As the story continues Moses hides in the cleft of the rock as God passes by and he sees the back of God.  No one sees God and lives.  Throughout the Old Testament people do not see God for fear of dying in the light of His glory.

But Jesus can say: "...Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father..."  John 14:9

And Paul says: "He is the image of the invisible God..." Colossians 1:15

Jesus was God with us and when Jesus ascended He gave us the Holy Spirit who is God with us.  This is a miracle considering that we had absolutely no way to see God or be in His direct presence until the miracle of Jesus.  Emanuel, God with us, is amazing to consider.

5) Salvation Has Come to the World!
"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."  Luke 2:10-12

Jesus' birth, life, death and resurrection brought salvation to the world.  There is no Easter without the miracle of Christmas.  God elected to perform the most precious, valuable miracle in my life through Jesus and He chose to begin that miracle in a young girl's womb.  Awe and wonder indeed!  And here's more good news... that miracle is available for you to accept in your life today!

Be in awe and wonder of these five miracles of Christmas, but don't stop there.  Comment with other miracles of Christmas if you'd like and by all means celebrate the miracle of Christmas today.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Personal But Not Private

In the midst of some Advent posts I want to continue to go through the book of Philippians because that is what my Bible study is doing.  We are reading through the book and listening to teaching from Pastor Matt Chandler.  Please read Philippians 3:15-21.

"Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you."  Philippians 3:17

As Pastor Chandler taught on this passage one sentence stuck out to me and I'll paraphrase it for you:  "Our faith is personal but not private."

"Our faith is personal but not private."

In this post I want to wrestle with that idea and with Philippians 3:17 and give you some ways to live that out.

"Our faith is personal but not private."  If you are saved you have a personal relationship with God.  You are adopted as a child of God and He knows you and you get to know Him intimately.  But I fear that we teach that so much that we think that our faith is something we do personally.  While personal disciples are great they are not entirely what it means to live a Christian life.  Living a Christian life means needing others and being needed by others.  As my pastor, Jim Lee, says and I've quoted many times: "Staying faithful to Jesus is a community project."

So, here a few ways we can put Philippians 3:17 into practice.

1) Find Godly men and/or women and put yourself under them.

The old expression is that every man needs a Paul and every Paul needs a Timothy.  This means that we all need to be mentored/discipled by someone and we all need to mentor/disciple someone.  But let me tell you this is hard.  I don't think it is that hard to identify a Godly person... what is difficult is being vulnerable to them, but it is worth it.  To be discipled in a powerful way you must be vulnerable, you must not whitewash your life in front of this person, you must bare your soul in an intimate way.  This can be and often is hard but I strongly suggest you do it.  Give this person the authority to instruct you and at times lovingly correct you.  This takes humility but I will tell you that you will grow if you do this.

2) "... take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you."

Not everyone you learn from has to be a mentor.  Find people that do things righteously and watch them.  As Matt Chandler noted in his talk, these people don't need to be perfect, maybe they just excel in one are that you want to grow in.  While it is very helpful if these are people in your town or in your church they don't have to be.  Find an author whose books inspire you, find the YouTube page of a pastor that instructs you, find a blog that pushes you, just find people who are following Jesus and imitate their best qualities.  As Matt Chandler said, you don't need to create a trail that has already been blazed.

3) Remember that people are watching you.

If you are watching others, I guarantee someone is watching you.  Paul said in Philippians 3:17 "Join with others in following my example..."  Do I feel like I could say this?  No way!  But here's the truth, it doesn't matter if I could say it because people are watching me anyway.  If you have publicly declared that you are a Christian you will have eyes on you.  Little ones in the church might copy the way you pray.  Youth might take notice of the choices you make.  Believers of all ages will and likely do have their eyes on you at least some of the time.  So, remember that people are watching you.  If we simply remembered this we would live differently.  Okay, I know I live differently when I remember this truth.  You and I are on display.  Will we let our light shine or will we broadcast the same garbage as someone whose life has not been changed?

Your faith is personal but it is not private.  We are all in this together as brothers in sisters in Christ.  What you do matters to others.  So, look for people to be mentored by and to mentor, take note of those who inspire and teach you and remember that people are watching you.  Watch for Jesus in others, copy that and broadcast Jesus through your life today.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

He Dwelt Amongst Us- A Regifted Post

Below is another Advent post I wrote in 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.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Christmas Letter 2014

Merry Christmas,

Hard to believe we're writing our second Christmas letter as a married couple.  It doesn't seem like one year since our last letter but when life is busy it seems to fly.  Last year was full of so many big, exciting changes in our life.  On the other hand, 2014 was a year of getting used to our new normal and while that doesn't seem as exciting we really love our new normal.

That being said, Christine had a full 2014.  She began the year by writing and directing our church's Easter passion mime.  She did an excellent job (Matt's opinion) and the shows were a success.  For the second year in a row Christine graduated, this time in August from Allen College with a B.S.N.  Soon after graduation she passed the boards and in October got her dream job as a labor and delivery nurse at Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo.  Besides all this she's picked up quilting as a new hobby and is in her second year as one of the youth leaders at our church.

Matt still enjoys working at KWAY where he has been for five years now.  He works as a morning D.J. from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. every week day.  He also does play-by-play and called roughly150 games this year for football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball.  Matt also is in his ninth year as a youth leader at our church and just recently began serving as an elder at the church, too.  On top of all that he also enjoys being a member of the Waverly Jaycees.

This year we got the chance to go to a number of weddings include the weddings of Matt's brother and sister.  We also went to Christine's Grandma and Grandpa Lind's 65th anniversary.  So, our travels for the year consisted of weddings, anniversaries and a lot of time with family.

As we look back on 2014 we can't help but thank God for all the ways that we've been blessed.  We have so many reasons to be thankful.  You are one of those many reasons.  We thank you for your prayers, support and friendship this year.  We hope 2014 was a great year for you, too.  We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy 2015!


Matt and Christine Ray

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mary's Treasure and Our Pain- Regifted Post

For this week's post I'm re-gifting an Advent post from 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.