Friday, December 31, 2010

Doing My Part

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. (Jn 14:12)

How convicting! I’m hard-pressed to think of any “greater things” that I have done. Of course I know that Jesus was speaking to his disciples and they ultimately worked many miracles and brought many to salvation. But he is also speaking to us: “anyone who has faith in me”. In this age God is advancing his Kingdom through the Body of Christ – the Church. As a finger or a toe or whatever, I am a part of the Body of Christ. Am I doing my part? Am I pulling my share of the load? Lord, help me to be faithful to my calling. Show me my part and guide me to fulfill it. I want to be part of the “greater things” your Church is doing in this age. Amen.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Loving Like Jesus

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (Jn 13:34)

Why did Jesus say this was a new command? Lev 19:18 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and Jesus even quoted that verse. What’s new here is the standard of love Jesus sets for us. It’s hard enough to love my neighbor as I love myself, but how much harder is it to love my neighbor as Christ loves me? Jesus spoke these words to his disciples as he gave them his final instructions on the night before his death. Pressing in on him was the magnitude of the ordeal he was about to endure. He knew full well what it would cost him and his heart was deeply troubled by it, but he pressed forward with a determination born of his incredible love for us. And in that hour he commanded us to love one another as he has loved us. What a tall order! That is a kind of love I do not possess in my own nature. It can only come from God. With the Spirit of God in my heart I can love like that, but it is still a hard choice, as it was for Jesus. Would I expend myself for my brothers in Christ? Would I give all that I have for them? Only by truly surrendering to the Father’s will, as Jesus did. Lord, give me a heart to love as you love.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sunday Christians

My people come to you as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. (Ezek 33:31)

Ezekiel had quite a following among the Jewish exiles in Babylon. He was evidently well known, and could draw a crowd whenever he had a word from the Lord. You can even imagine that they lined up to shake his hand at the door. “Good sermon today, brother.” “Great word! You are so anointed!” “Thank you, pastor. I needed to hear that.” Fine words, but then they stepped out into the rest of their week and their lives were no different than the week before. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We faithfully show up for church, we say the right things, but God knows our hearts. And, too often, what is in our hearts does not reflect the image we like to project on Sunday. Lord, when I come to worship you in church may I truly be broken before you. Convict me of the gap between my words and my deeds. May I drink your word deep into my soul and be restored by it. May I focus less on the outward activity of Sunday morning and be sensitive to the inner work you desire to do in me. Then may my heart be truly yours. Amen.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Patience and Mercy

Say to them, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33:11)

Many people mistakenly draw a distinction between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament. They say, the God of the Old Testament is vengeful and cruel, but the God of the New Testament is loving and kind. These people have completely misunderstood the Bible. God is a God of both love and justice. They are both essential parts of his character, and they are both on full display in both Testaments. It is true that much of the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s continual rebellion against God, which leads to God’s judgment on them. However, this beautiful verse from Ezekiel makes clear that God never enjoys bringing judgment. His desire is that all would be saved. He yearns for the wicked to repent. And, in fact, a more careful reading of the Old Testament will show God’s great long-suffering and patience, as he withholds his wrath for generation after generation of the people’s rebellion. Who else do you think can hold their temper for centuries?!

God is patient with us as well. He is patient to give us years to come to salvation. He is patient with us for years afterward as we slowly mature and leave behind our evil ways. Thank you, Lord, for your great love, which you demonstrate in your patience with me. Amen.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Praying for the Lost

I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)

It’s bothered me for some time that I don’t see the Bible talking much about praying for the lost. I pray every day for lost loved ones. I desperately want to see them be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Verses 3 and 4 in this passage are well known, and because of them I understand that God, too, desires my loved ones to be saved. But I had never connected these verses in context to verse 1 before. People always quote verses 1 and 2 together to illustrate that we should pray for government leaders. And they quote verses 3 and 4 together to show that God doesn’t want to send anyone to hell. But verse 2 is a qualifier on verse 1; it says that not only should we pray for everyone, we should pray for rulers specifically. When you leave it out and skip straight from verse 1 to verse 3 it reads like this:

I urge then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone... This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1, 3-4)

Now you see the completion of the main thought, which is that we should pray for everyone because God desires that everyone be saved. So not only is it Scriptural for me to be praying for my loved ones, I should also be praying for everyone else I know who is not saved. Lord, thank you for this affirmation of my heartfelt prayers. Thank you for the reminder that you do love everyone, and have no desire to see anyone miss out on eternal life. I lift them up to you and pray they would realize that you are real and you love them unconditionally. Open their eyes so they can see that they need you and the free gift of salvation you offer to everyone. Amen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Our Top Priority

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything – so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Titus 2:9-10)

If you were a slave you would think your top priority would be gaining your freedom. Paul is under no illusions about the hardships of slavery. Elsewhere (1 Cor 7:21) he tells slaves that if they have a chance to gain their freedom, they should do so. But Paul’s instruction here makes clear that the top priority of every slave should be to live in such a way that the Gospel becomes attractive to their master! Every other purpose in life, even one this pressing, is subordinated to the Great Commission. Paul instructs slaves that the salvation of those around them should be their top concern. How much more, then, should that be my greatest goal in life? At work, is my top concern to live such a godly life, to serve my bosses with such excellence, that they will be attracted to the Gospel? Lord, help me be that kind of employee.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Better Country

If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Heb 11:15-16)

Abraham left his home in Ur, and God promised that his descendants would one day possess the entire land of Canaan. Yet all their lives Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived in tents without any land to call home. They could have gone back to Ur if they wanted, but they did not. They were looking ahead to what God had promised. The author of Hebrews holds them up as examples of faith. We, too, have left the country of our birth and long for a new home in the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. I was born into the kingdom of the world, under the domain of the prince of this world, Satan. But God rescued me from darkness and made me a new creature in him. Now I am a citizen of God’s Kingdom. My eternal home is there, but for a while my tent is still pitched in this world. This passage prompts me to ask myself, where does my heart live? Am I longing for the new country or the old? Lord, help me to keep my heart firmly set on you and your Kingdom. I am here on this earth as your ambassador. One day you will claim it all again for your own. When that day comes I hope I will have led as many people as I can into your Kingdom, to live forever with you in your heavenly realm.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Living With Integrity

The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. (Pro 11:3)

It seems like every month we hear of some new ethics scandal of a Congressman or prominent pastor. Someone who had been held in such high esteem turns out to have been cheating on his wife or embezzling or not paying his taxes. How many fall into the trap of thinking, “No one will ever know?” But then they are found out, and their duplicity destroys not only their own lives but those of their families as well.

How often am I tempted by the same thought? “No one will ever know.” It is a lie. God knows from the very beginning. Our lives are an open book to him. But if we give in to temptation anyway, no matter how small the transgression, we have stepped onto the path of destruction. I imagine each of those failed leaders started small. No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I’ll have an affair today” or “I bet I could steal a million dollars from my company and no one would notice.” It begins with an attitude of entitlement. “Why shouldn’t I enjoy the benefits of my position?” And of course, the deadly, “No one will ever know.” But one wrong step is soon followed by another, and one day we wake up to realize our lives are a shambles.

Lord, make me wise not to fall for this lie. Keep me on the path of the upright. I will be truthful to you and all those around me. My life is an open book to you. May it please you and honor you in every detail. Amen.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

God Yearns for the Lost

Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him, declares the Lord. (Jer 31:20)

No matter how long the children of God stray or how far, God still loves them and yearns for them. The previous verse (v19) speaks of repentance after a misspent youth. “After I came to understand, I beat my breast.” This could be my testimony, too. The fact is that God rescues many in later life who strayed when they were young. Lord, I pray for my loved ones who are lost, that they will come to understand your love for them and their need for you. I know that may take a while but I pray it will not be too long. Guard them as they stray and open their eyes to your truth. I trust them into your hands. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Everlasting Love

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. (Jer 31:3)

The Lord spoke these words to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah after Babylon had conquered Judah and carried off its people into captivity. In such a dark time God gave these words of hope. These words remind us of the certain hope that we have, because God’s love never fails. He has drawn us to himself, and he will never abandon us. At such times do I trust my feelings or do I stand on his promises? He has loved me with an everlasting love! No one is more faithful than God. I will stand on his promises.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Slow Learners

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. (Heb 5:11)

Ouch! The author of Hebrews doesn’t pull any punches. He has just been explaining that Jesus is a “high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” No doubt if the Bible were a college, Hebrews would be an upper level course. But the author doesn’t say, “It is hard to explain because it is complicated.” He says, “It is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.”

What makes us slow to learn? Ask any teacher. It’s not the brightest kids who learn the most; it’s the ones who make the effort. In this passage the author of Hebrews chides his readers for not investing the time, for not being like “the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (v14) In this respect we are no different than the New Testament readers of Hebrews. Why is it so hard to invest the time to study the Bible daily? The flesh rebels. There are so many other things to do with our time. Bible study is like an investment. We invest a portion of our day in it consistently and over time we reap great rewards. But there are always other things we could spend our money on that will yield immediate gratification. And so with our time as well.

Lord, thank you that you have brought me to a place in my life where I have been reading your Word consistently every day. Forgive me for taking so long to establish that discipline. Help me to overcome the daily temptation to spend this time in other ways. Help me to keep my priorities straight. Thank you for the blessings that I receive when I am faithful to stay in your Word. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

All Work and No Play

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. (Pro 23:4)

Most of us have to work hard for a living, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there comes a time for some of us where we cross a line. Work itself becomes our main object - or the money we make from it - and it begins to crowd out every other good thing. We wind up sacrificing the health of our families, out spiritual lives and our own bodies on the altar of worldly success. I remember the first time I really began to understand that. It was 1986 and our entire extended family had made plans to spend Saturday at a special Texas Sesquicentennial Celebration (the 150th anniversary of Texas Independence). I was facing a project deadline and I decided at the last minute that I needed to work all day Saturday instead. My wife was very disappointed by my decision. She went on with the rest of the family and had a great time. But one thing she said stuck with me. “A year from now, you won’t even remember what you were working on today.” And you know what? She was right! But I sure could remember the fact that I missed a fun and memorable experience with my family.

The proverb says, “Have the wisdom to show restraint.” A wise man doesn’t make his job his idol.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Prophesied By Name

This is what the Lord says: A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will… (I Kings 13:2)

This is the second instance I’m aware of where a prophecy names someone by name. Isaiah also names Cyrus by name. I'm told this is one reason some Biblical scholars say the second half of Isaiah was written much later than the first. They say that nowhere else is someone prophesied about by name, but I guess they didn’t know about this verse!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Does God Change His Mind?

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. (Jer 18:7-8)

Here we see a clear explanation for why God sometimes appears to change his mind. He is warning them of the potential consequences of their actions. Verses 9-10 also speak of how he may withdraw his blessing when a nation does evil. Jeremiah is prophesying the destruction of Judah in the context of Judah’s apostasy. God wants them to understand clearly that the prophesied judgment is only a fulfillment of the conditional promises of the covenant he made with Israel. God himself does not change and his covenant is not revoked, but God responds to the choices we make, according to the promises by which he has bound himself.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Deeply Rooted

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jer 17:7-8)

Here again is the metaphor of the tree we find in Psalm 1. The echo of it is in Col 2:6-7 as well, which speaks of being rooted in Christ. I love when Jeremiah says, “It does not fear when heat comes.” The living water that flows from Christ is inexhaustible! Being rooted in him, my spirit will not wither when the world turns up the heat. I can be like the tree of life in Rev 22, bearing fruit in every season. Lord, I will trust you when hard times come. I know you will never fail me. Thank you for the life you have given me. May others look at me and see the fruit of a life spent deeply rooted in your word and your Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fool's Gold

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver. (Pro 16:16)

Why? For the simple reason that if you receive wisdom you get to keep it. A foolish person who gets rich will soon be poor again. Wisdom leads to right living, which is more profitable for the soul than great wealth.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Biblical Anger Management

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. (Eph 4:26 ESV)

This verse is often mistakenly used to excuse anger. The conventional wisdom says that anger is natural and inevitable. Therefore, when you get angry you need to find healthy ways to express it or you will just bottle it up and become bitter.

This is partly true. Anger is natural and inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it is good. Sin is natural because our flesh is sinful. Paul is recognizing that, but he is not intending to give us a pass just because anger is inevitable. The conventional wisdom says, “If you don’t let the anger out you will just bottle it up and cause further harm.” But here the conventional wisdom is wrong. There is a third way: forgiveness. It turns out that many people are taking verse 26 out of context. Let’s look at v31-32:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 

When I get angry at someone the answer is not yelling at them to make myself feel better. The answer is forgiving them. There is no better way to do that than to pray for the person who has angered me. “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” doesn’t mean get it all out of your system by nightfall. It means do not go to bed that night until you have forgiven them. We need to get down on our knees and pray until we are able to forgive. This takes the power of the Holy Spirit. Lord, help me forgive those who hurt me. Replace the anger with compassion. In no way will the supernatural power of your Holy Spirit in our hearts be better demonstrated than when we rise above our sinful natures to forgive and to love others as you have forgiven and loved us. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not So Clever

To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. (Pro 8:13)

What is it that I love so much about the sharp retort or the smart putdown? When I say these things that hurt others why do I feel good? This verse gives a hint – it is pride. My sinful nature thinks that the way to lift myself up is to put others down. And it works for a moment. I feel a momentary thrill from the clever putdown, but it is always followed by the icky feeling you get when you know you’ve done wrong. One of the most important things we need to do to live a righteous life is to bridle the tongue. (James 3:3) Lord, forgive me for hurting others with my tongue. Let my speech always be full of grace, seasoned with the salt of your truth. (Col 4:6) May my words not be barbs but blessings. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. (Gal 5:19-21)

The apostles seemed to go in for these long lists of sins. It’s like a dragnet – sweeping up every one of us in one way or another. When we read these lists, though, we seem to focus on the big sins, which is convenient because I don’t commit too many of those. I want to pat myself on the back because I stay away from orgies. But a second look at this list proves that I have little to boast about.

It seems to me that this list divides rather neatly into three categories: the sensual, the spiritual and the social sins. The sensual sins are: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, drunkenness and orgies. These sins involve abuse of the body. The spiritual sins are idolatry and witchcraft. They involve a direct challenge to the supremacy of God. But the social sins involve disharmony between people. They are hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. Ah, now here is a list that I cannot so easily absolve myself of! It is remarkable that this is also the longest list. And again, it is remarkable that Paul finds so many synonyms for “conflict”. These are the sins that so easily find their way into the church. While we are congratulating ourselves for avoiding the sensual and spiritual sins, we find our community riven with factions, disagreements and petty jealousies. We’re too spiritual to let them out in the open usually, but they subtly invade our speech. “Can you believe what he said?” “Did you see what she was wearing?”

When we examine ourselves carefully, we find that what Jesus said is true. We often can manage to control our outward appearance and behavior, but it is what's inside a man that makes him unclean. (Mt 15:18-19) And then I take a second look at the sensual and spiritual sins and find that, while I may be keeping my actions clean, I have not always kept my heart clean. Lord, bring conviction when my heart strays from you. Thank you for these verses that remind me how very far I am from your holiness. Teach me to walk in your ways. Amen

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In Wrath Remember Mercy

Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Hab 3:2)

Habakkuk lived and prophesied in a time of great apostasy (1:3-4). God’s wrath was ready to be poured out on Judah via the Babylonian conquest and captivity (1:6). Habakkuk longed to see God once again perform great miracles, as he did long ago during the exodus. He was praying for mercy. He was praying for revival. We, too, live in a time of great apostasy. Western civilization is turning its back on its Christian heritage. Our nation forgets its roots. Whole denominations are abandoning Biblical truth. I read the New Testament and think of the miracles God did long ago. I, too, long to see them renewed in our day. I remember the revivals of earlier generations and pray for a revival of faith today. I, too, pray that God would remember mercy. Lord, let your Spirit again fall on your people, that we would be faithful witnesses to those around us. Let your light overcome the gathering darkness. I pray for the salvation of millions of people who today have only the vague cultural memory of faith in you.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Clothed With Christ

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Rom 13:14)

Once again here is the principle of consciously deciding to focus our thoughts on Christ, as opposed to “immorality, debauchery, dissension and jealousy.” (v13) Paul gives us this beautiful image of how to do this: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” I want to be covered, enveloped, surrounded by Jesus. I want to take on his identity, his standard of beauty. I want people to look at me and see him. Lord, help me to clothe myself in you. Envelop both my thoughts and my actions with your truth and your glorious righteousness. Amen.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Knowing God's Will

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2)

I frequently wonder what God’s will is in various situations. I marvel at the clarity that some of my friends seem to have at discerning his will. This verse is telling me that the secret to knowing – and doing – his will is to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. The world has certain patterns of thought, and they are far from the heart and mind of God. (Is 55:8) If instead I would have the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:16) I must steep myself in his Word and meditate on his truth. The renewal of a mind is not a simple or a quick process. It takes the persistent pursuit of truth and the consistent application of it, to be conformed to his pattern rather than the world’s. Lord, I give you my thoughts; let them become your thoughts. I give you my mind; fill it with your truth. Teach me your ways, that I would walk in them. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Discover Your Calling

I am the apostle to the Gentiles. (Rom 11:13)

Paul knew his calling. There is a marvelous clarity and simplicity to this statement. God had made clear to him what his role was to be. Paul was certainly an unlikely candidate for the title of apostle to the Gentiles, at least at the outset. A “Pharisee of Pharisees” and persecutor of the church, no one who knew him would have guessed what he would become. Indeed, it was likely not clear to him for some years after his conversion. But he willingly went with Barnabas on that first missionary journey, and discovered his calling. Lord, help me to be receptive to your leading and open to your call. I would love to have the clarity about my calling that Paul had. Help me to be so surrendered to your will that it will become clear to me as it was to him.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let It Go

It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel. (Pro 20:3)

How ironic that when a prideful man is quick to quarrel with a perceived insult, he does more damage to his honor than if he had graciously overlooked the slight.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Excuses, Excuses

All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord. (Pro 16:2)

Each of us has an enormous capacity to rationalize our own actions. We tend not, as Paul urged us, to “look at ourselves with sober judgment.” (Rom 12:3) Instead, I tell myself “it’s only right,” “it’s only fair,” “I can’t help it,” “he deserved it” and so on. But God sees our true motives, and all too often they are selfish. If we are ever to become Christ-like, we must begin to see ourselves as he sees us. Paul declared himself the “worst of all sinners.” (1 Tim 1:15). Was he really the worst? Not likely. But he had grown enough in his knowledge of God to appreciate the vast gap between who he was and who he wanted to be – between who he thought he was and who he really was. Spiritual growth is always preceded by humility. If we do not humble ourselves, God will humble us. (Pro 16:18) It’s that important.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why Stick Around?

The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death. (Is 57:1-2)

There are many today who set their hopes on the prospect that medical science will find a way to greatly extend the human lifespan. A lifespan of centuries may be possible, some think, if only the processes of aging could be understood and arrested. Without exception, those who write and talk about such ideas share a common worldview. They are all convinced that our physical existence is all there is. They believe that when your body dies everything that you are is gone. How sad! As one who loves God, I don’t want to die young, but to live here on earth, in this body, for centuries when I could die and be with Jesus is a terrible idea. God keeps us here on earth to serve him as part of his plan, but then he takes us to heaven as a reward. When our loved ones die we grieve, but when we die it will be inexpressible bliss.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Never Fight Alone

Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God? (1 Sam 17:26)

For forty days Goliath had stood before the Israelite army, issuing his unanswered challenge. They were all terrified. There is safety in a crowd. Against all odds men will master their fears and run forward together in battle. But to advance alone against such an overwhelming opponent was more than they could bear. David, however, saw the situation clearly. The true soldier of Israel never fights alone, for God is with him. This “uncircumcised Philistine” may be nine feet tall, but he is doomed to be defeated because he has dared to challenge the living God. David did not go into battle armed only with a sling. He went into battle with the power of the Almighty to defend him. Goliath, in his arrogance, thought he had the overwhelming advantage. He never knew what hit him.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Poor For Our Sakes

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9)

If we had never heard of the Crucifixion or the Resurrection, we would already have been astonished by the Incarnation. Before the Lord Jesus had ever been beaten or mocked or harmed in any way, he already had shown the depth of his love for us by laying aside his glory to become a man. That he, who lives enthroned in heaven, would leave it behind to step into frail human flesh is already a sacrifice too great for us to comprehend. Truly, he became poor for our sakes. And now we have his promise, paid by his blood and sealed by his Spirit, “that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (I Jn 3:2) Then we will truly be made rich, to live forever in the glory and splendor of his presence.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Compelling News

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Cor 5:14)

Paul was a man of action. When he thought that Christians were blaspheming God, he sought them out to persecute them. When he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, within a matter of weeks he was preaching and teaching about Jesus in the synagogues. For Paul, to know the gospel is to be called to action. If we know that Christ loved everyone enough to die for them, why would we not tell them? How can I know the truth and not share it with my friends and neighbors at least, let alone the rest of the world? Lord, forgive me for keeping this wonderful news to myself, when the whole world is literally dying to hear it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fill the Earth

He who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited. (Is 45:18)

As marvelous as the earth is in its own right, God did not create it just so he could admire it. He created it to be inhabited. He placed Adam and Eve in it and told them to subdue it and fill it (Gen 1:28). Today there are those who see man as a cancer on the earth. They imagine it would be a better, more beautiful place without us. But God says the earth would be empty if we were not in it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What Is Man?

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. (Is 40:6b)

How do we reconcile this verse with the idea that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”? (Ps 139:14) Are we great or are we nothing? The tie that connects these two together is the sovereignty and majesty of God. God is so much higher, greater, purer, stronger and more beautiful than we are. Yes, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, but compared to God we are like grass. There are precisely two things that give us worth and importance: that God loves us and that he has made us in his image. If I am just a primate on a spinning planet in a backwater corner of the universe, I am truly insignificant. But God bestowed on us the imago dei so that his marvelous character and nature are reflected in us. David asked, “What is man that thou art mindful of him?” (Ps 8:4) To which God replies, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer 31:3)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Like A Rising Tide

After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10)

And so it begins. After one generation of faithfulness came centuries of apostasy. The generation of those who were born in the wilderness and saw the conquest of Canaan were faithful to God themselves, but they failed to pass on that deposit of faith to their children. One day we who are alive today will all be dead and gone. Everything we have done to build the church and spread the gospel will come to ruin and loss if we fail to plant that spark in the next generation. And, sadly, throughout history that seems to be the rule, rather than the exception. It certainly was in ancient Israel, but even in the church age, don’t complacency and apostasy always seem to follow faithfulness and devotion? Revivals grow cold and worldliness seeps into Christian institutions. We are delighted when God is doing a “new thing” but it is because the old thing has failed. In this way history testifies to the reality of the Fall. The postmillennialists are wrong. No perfect millennial kingdom will ever arise in this life through the slow accumulation of godliness.

But there is still hope. Of course the Day is coming when God will banish all evil and glorify his saints, but that’s not all. There is hope for this age, too, because no matter how many times we falter God never lets us fail utterly. The Kingdom advances like a rising tide. Each wave slips back, but soon another one comes that reaches further inland. The gospel has advanced generation by generation throughout the whole earth and millions upon millions have been saved. Faithful fathers do raise their sons to know and love God. A remnant always remains and God does indeed do a “new thing” when darkness seems to be getting the upper hand. God never gives up on us. He has a plan and he will not be thwarted. Lord, I want to do my part in your plan. Help me to lead my sons into faithful manhood. Show me how to do my part in the advancement of your Kingdom in this generation and the next. Let me be found faithful. Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Peter and Jesus

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. (Lk 22:54)

We remember Peter for being the disciple who denied the Lord three times, but the wonder of it is that he was even there at all. When Jesus was arrested by the soldiers the other disciples ran away. Only Peter and John followed. Peter followed because he could not bear to be parted from Jesus, but when challenged he denied even knowing him. Peter’s love was great but his courage was weak. I want to love Jesus the way Peter did. We remember his moment of weakness. Let us not forget his heart of love.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Arrogance of Man

The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. (Is 2:17)

All the things man prides himself in, his lofty towers (v15) and stately vessels (v16), will count for nothing in the Day of the Lord. Today we have wealth and power unimaginable in the days of Isaiah, but it will still count for nothing. As our power has increased so has our pride. This is a special temptation for Americans, I think. It is easy for gratitude for our blessings to slip into pride in our wealth and power. They had their towers and their stately vessels; we have our skyscrapers and our aircraft carriers. But God says:

Men will flee to caves in the rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty when he rises to shake the earth. (v19)

And so we must trust only in God:

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he? (v22)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Even You

So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you. (Pro 22:19)

Something struck me as funny today when I read this. “I teach you today, even you.” Yes, even you, Bill Hensley. In many ways I feel like the most unlikely of disciples. I suppose we all feel that way at times. I think, "Lord, you should find someone more talented, someone more dedicated." But isn't that the point? It’s not about me but about him. God is in the business of making disciples out of unlikely candidates – Simon the impulsive fisherman, Saul the persecutor of the church. Even their names were changed. Later Paul understood this principle clearly:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. (I Cor 1:26-27)

The unlikelier you are as a candidate for sainthood, the more glory God will receive when he transforms you into a vessel fit for his service. Lord, mold me and shape me to be the man you desire me to be. I yield to your Holy Spirit. I am yours. Amen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Strong and Courageous

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Josh 1:9)

Moses has just died. God is commissioning Joshua as the new leader of Israel. They are about to enter the promised land at last. Three times in this passage God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous (v 6,7,9). Now Joshua was a stout-hearted man, but even he might have been nervous about stepping into Moses’ shoes and leading the conquest of Canaan. Joshua had great faith in God, but perhaps part of his faith had really been in Moses all these years. Moses was clearly anointed by God. No one had such a relationship with the Lord as he had. If Moses said, "God commands us to do X", you could be confident that was what God commanded. There is a certain comfort in being second in command, especially to one like Moses. Now Joshua had to step out on his own. But he was not actually alone. God is reassuring Joshua that he will be with him just as he was with Moses.

There comes a time when we each have to step up, take responsibility for what God is leading us to do, and not wait for someone else to show us the way. When God gives you a task, be strong and courageous! He will go before you, behind you and beside you. You are never alone when you are walking in his will. Be strong and courageous!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Knowing vs. Doing

It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. (Pro 19:2)

Zeal isn’t enough. If you don’t know what you’re doing you’ll charge off half-cocked and make a mess. Running is no better than walking if you’re headed the wrong way. But the opposite problem is worse. To have knowledge and no zeal will accomplish nothing. He who knows what to do and doesn’t do it is worse than the one who doesn’t know what to do but tries anyway. Knowledge without action is sterile. Worse is the one who thinks he knows what to do, but then sits back and criticizes the ones who are actually in the fight, trying to accomplish something. Lord, give me zeal to match my knowledge and knowledge to match my zeal. Forgive me for ever thinking I know what to do but failing to act. Teach me humility in the face of those who try and fail when I have not even made the attempt. Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Not Too Difficult?

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. (Deut 30:11)

A remarkable statement, given that Moses had just finished reading the entire Book of the Law to the people of Israel. I would have been daunted by it; I’m sure they were too. And today we know how it turned out – they failed miserably. Why did Moses think they could do it? Verse 14 contains the answer, "The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart that you may obey it." Their hearts were stirred by the reading of the Law, but they soon grew cold again. We have a profound advantage over the Israelites – Jesus Christ has given each of us a new heart, fresh and clean. And he has taken up permanent residence there.

It took thirty chapters for Moses to lay out all the provisions of the Law for the people, but in verse 19 he summarized it for them quite simply, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blesses and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Jesus is Life. Jesus is the Bread of Heaven that nourishes my soul. I choose Jesus.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blessings and Curses

The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. (Deut 28:20)

There are many wonderful promises in the Bible, but there are a few that are terrifying. Moses spoke this promise to the people of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land. God, speaking through Moses, was reviewing with them one more time the terms of the covenant he had made with them. It is a covenant with both blessings and curses. Most of God’s promises have a flipside like that, although it is often unspoken. These promises present us with a choice. If we reject him, there are always consequences. God is not to be ignored or taken lightly. Lord, forgive me for frequently being so casual and noncommittal toward your commandments and your promises. It is not the outright rebellion that I often fall prey to, but the self-satisfied complacency and the distractions of the moment. Help me to be totally committed to you. When I am tempted to sin, remind me that the path of disobedience is dark, but the path of obedience is bright and blessed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Repentance and Restoration

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten. (Joel 2:25a ESV)

Joel prophesies about a time when a great swarm of locusts has invaded Israel like a marauding army and has consumed everything in its path. The result is great famine and suffering. God sent the locusts in judgment for their sin, but then he calls them to repentance. In his call for repentance he makes this great promise: “I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten.”

God’s mercy is so great. We know that sin has consequences and sin brings judgment. Sin destroys the sinner, and robs him of all joy and peace. But God is so generous to us when we repent that he will restore the years we have lost. Of course, we can’t literally go back and live that time again. Much that was destroyed remains so. But he restores our hearts and heals our wounds. And he redeems the lost years by finding a way to use for good what we had meant for evil. (Rom 8:28, Gen 50:20)

This promise means so much to me because I strayed from God for so many years. When I first came back to him I felt such a profound sense of loss at the time I had wasted. But God showed me that he had used those years to teach me a lesson I could learn in no other way. And now I can share with others the truth that was so dearly bought in my life: that God is merciful and good, and that he deserves my full devotion.

Lord, for those whom I hurt in my time of rebellion, for those who may also have strayed because of me, I pray that you would show them the mercy you have shown me. I pray that this promise would one day be theirs – that you would restore the years the locusts have eaten. I believe that if you let them persist on their wayward path it is only because there are lessons they can learn no other way. I pray they would learn them quickly. Amen.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Plowing Straight Ahead

Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62)

Anyone who looks backwards while he is plowing will plow a very crooked furrow. We can’t serve God effectively if we keep looking back at the life we left behind to follow him. If I am going to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ I need to be “all in.” Complete commitment requires singleness of purpose. Lord, forgive me for the many distractions I entertain along the way. I am “all in” for your cause. I will keep my eyes on you. Lead and I will follow. Amen.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Called to Action

Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. (Eccl 11:4)

Some of us are by nature cloud watchers. I see all the things that might go wrong in any venture and I am tempted not to start. I am the sort of person for whom the saying was written, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Some people by their personality are at risk of going off half-cocked. I am at risk of never pulling the trigger. What accounts for this? The one who goes off half-cocked sees only the prize and doesn’t count the cost. The one who never pulls the trigger sees only the problems and dangers. Both have erred. Jesus said to count the cost (Lk 14:25-33), but having done so we are still called to action. If I am not willing to risk all for his sake I reveal the limits of my faith and my love for him. Lord, I will follow you wherever you lead. Teach me to keep my focus on you and not the wind and the clouds. Amen.

Friday, November 19, 2010

School of Hard Knocks

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut 8:3)

The latter half of this verse is famous because Jesus quoted it to the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness. But today it is the first half of the verse that caught my eye. To teach the Israelites this lesson he first had to humble them. God first caused them to hunger and only then did he send the manna. I am struck by the fact that he caused them to hunger. God uses our hardships to teach us, but he doesn’t necessarily just wait for a hardship to come. He sometimes brings hardship. He brings it not because he hates us, but because he loves us enough to want us to grow in our faith and character. I’ve said many times that most of the spiritual growth in my life has happened during the hard times. God’s plan for my life includes some hard times. Lord, thank you that, like a father who disciplines his son, you bring trials in my life to teach me. Like the Israelites may I learn humility and utter dependence on you. Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Long Way Around

It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road. (Deut 1:2)

It’s only an eleven day journey, but it took the Israelites forty years. Eleven days to walk that distance, and forty years to prepare their hearts. The forty year purification of those doubters and sinners in Israel is a metaphor for the lifelong process of my own sanctification, in which the doubts and sins must be slowly purged from my life. Why does it take so long? How can it take only a few days to learn the essentials of the faith and forty years to put them into practice? In less than a year it will have been forty years since I was saved. You’d think I’d be further along. For nearly half that time I wasn’t even walking with the Lord at all. But twenty years is still a long time. The answer is, I think, that the flesh dies slowly. One by one, the Israelites who sinned died off, and one by one my sinful attitudes and habits die off as well. Lord, thank you for your patience with me. I am glad that you can take the long view. I don’t think I would have been able to put up with me! But in your great love and wisdom you have patiently followed your plan for my life, slowly shaping me into the man you want me to be. I know you will finish what you have begun. Thank you. I yield to your guiding hand, as best as I am able. Have your way in me. Amen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Talk Is Cheap

Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find? (Pro 20:6)

It is always so much easier to proclaim my undying love and faithfulness to God than it is to actually live it. Living it is the messy part. Church is fun, but the hard work begins on Monday. (Metaphorically speaking, that is. It can sometimes be difficult to keep a holy attitude even at church!) I keep thinking there is some secret to living the Christian life that I haven’t yet uncovered – something that will unlock hidden reserves of willpower and strength. I know that God is my strength, and the Holy Spirit who dwells in me is all powerful. But he is gentle and, alas, awaits my true surrender. It is finally my choice – to choose God over my flesh, to choose his way rather than the world’s way. But God must empower me to choose, or I will ultimately fail. The father of the demon-possessed boy said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24) And so I can say, “Lord, I choose you; help me not to waver!”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wisdom from Heaven

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

I'd like to think of myself as wise, but am I pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere? That’s a tall order! That kind of wisdom doesn’t happen naturally. That kind of wisdom comes from heaven. And it doesn’t come all at once. It comes gradually over time as I immerse myself in God’s word and surrender my heart to his Holy Spirit. In truth, I still have a long way to go. We all do. This kind of wisdom is not head knowledge, it is heart training. I may know about God, but I have a long way to go to be conformed to his image. Lord, train my heart to embrace your wisdom, so that my life will be a reflection of who you are.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Mirror Doesn't Lie

Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:23-24)

The word of God is like a mirror. When I look into it, it reveals to me what I am really like. If I never look into the word of God I might never see my own sins and shortcomings. James says when I listen to the word I should do what it says. Imagine if I looked in the mirror and saw that my hair wasn’t combed, my socks didn’t match, and my shirttail wasn’t tucked in, but then I walked away and did nothing. What good would that do? I need to comb my hair, change my socks and tuck in my shirttail! When I read the Bible and it shows me my sin, I need to make some changes. And when I read about the ministry God has called us to I need to act! Lord, help me to be a doer of the word.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wise in Your Own Eyes

Do not be wise in your own eyes. (Pro 3:7a)

What causes a man to be wise in his own eyes? Pride. This pride takes two forms. First, intellectual pride, which happens when I start to think I’m pretty smart and have life all figured out. Second, spiritual pride, when I begin to imagine that my faith is strong and my walk is pure. Pride will always trip us up. (Pro 16:18) The antidote to pride is to keep my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. The very phrase “wise in his own eyes” implies taking our focus off God and putting it on ourselves. I need to keep my eyes on Jesus to remind me who I have to thank for my gifts and abilities and to remind me how far I have yet to go to become like him.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Plan of Redemption

He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation. They do not know his laws. (Ps 147:19-20a)

God in his wisdom chose one nation – the nation of Israel – through which to reveal himself. Actually he started with one man, Abraham, making a covenant with him that his descendents would become a great nation. Abraham is our spiritual father. God chose him, and from that humble beginning unfolded the great history of his redemptive work in the world. Lord, thank you that you revealed yourself to Abraham and made a covenant with his descendents. Thank you for Moses and all the prophets. And thank you that you chose to become incarnate in Jesus Christ to complete your revelation of yourself to us. Thank you that through the cross we can be reconciled to you and that through your Scriptures we can come to know you. Thank you that you have been working to fulfill your plan for thousands of years to gather a people to yourself. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Count Your Blessings

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. (Ps 145:8-9)

When you consider all the bad things that happen to people, some will conclude that God – if he exists – must be angry and cruel. But the reality is that every day God shows his love and his patience toward mankind. Yes, this is a fallen world and God allows many things to happen that are tragic. But we tend to take for granted the good things he gives to every one of us. Everything we have is a gift from our Creator. Life itself is a gift. Each breath, each meal, each night’s sleep is a gift. The love of family and friends, the peace and security of our homes – all are his gifts. The beauty of the earth and the skies, too. And, finally, we see his love and goodness in the gift of salvation through his Son. He is patient and slow to anger – not wanting anyone to perish. Every day that he delays the final judgment is further proof of his goodness to all.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vending Machine God

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mk 11:24)

When I was younger I believed in a vending machine God. I thought this verse meant that God’s answer was automatic because I was unfamiliar with the many verses that illuminate prayer more fully. I also thought it was somehow my faith that made the prayer come true, as though the power was with me. I forgot that God is an active participant in the process, and that the most important part of prayer is the Father’s will, not mine. And yet, I would do well not to make the opposite mistake, and somehow think that my faith is unimportant. God wants our will to be aligned with him, and our trust as well. The perfect prayer is both fully aligned with his will and completely confident in the power of God to bring it to pass. We know that God is faithful and true, and he has all power to accomplish his purposes. Our faith is not in a prayer or in a plan, but in God himself.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Don't Be Afraid

While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher any more?” Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” (Mk 5:35-36)

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” It is never too late for God to act. He is on his own timetable, and sometimes he chooses to wait until the situation seems completely hopeless. But we must never give in to fear. Instead, we must heed the words of Jesus and “Just believe.” God is sovereign. He heals. He saves. If he chooses to act he will do so in his own time. For my part I must simply remember he is in control.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Are You So Afraid?

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mk 4:39-40)

The disciples were afraid because they didn’t yet fully appreciate who they had with them. If they had truly understood that it was the Son of God asleep in the stern, they might have been able to guess that he was destined for a greater end than to drown in a storm. They would have known he has power over even the wind and the waves. Lord, help me to remember who I am with. I know you are all powerful and you love me. That’s all I need to know to drive away all fear. Even if I die today, I know I will be with you for all eternity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Law vs. Grace

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu…offered unauthorized fire before the Lord…and they died before the Lord. (Lev 10:1-2)

Aaron and his four sons have not even finished their seven day ordination process when two of them overstep the bounds of their office and are struck dead by fire from the Lord. Later in that same week Moses was angry to discover that Aaron’s other two sons had broken another rule of the new sacrificial system (v16-20). But this time the error was not intentional so they were not punished. These two incidents, taken together, show both the extreme seriousness with which God viewed the laws he gave Moses, and the extreme difficulty of fully abiding by all of them. The Israelites thought that God had given them a means by which they could ensure the operation of God’s grace: "Keep my decrees and laws, for the person who obeys them will live by them." (Lev 18:5) But God had a different idea, which Paul understood: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we became conscious of sin.” (Rom 3:20) God’s standard of perfection is far beyond our poor ability to comply. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Hallelujah! Thank you, Lord, for the cross!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What Makes Jesus Angry?

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. (Mk 3:5)

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because they condemned him for healing a man on the Sabbath. I’ve read this story of the man with the shriveled hand many times, but I don’t ever recall noticing that Jesus got angry. In fact, I can’t think of anywhere else that we are told Jesus was angry, although we might infer it at times. Certainly he drove the money changers out of the temple and called the Pharisees hypocrites. So what makes Jesus angry? Things like hypocrisy, lack of compassion and greed. Notably absent is any sense that he got angry at his accusers, his torturers or his executioners. He was willing to suffer, but he was not willing to allow others to suffer or be misled. His concern was always for others and not himself. Lord Jesus, help me to have the same selfless attitude that you displayed in your life here on earth.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Times of Trouble

If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength! (Pr 24:10)

Funny how you can read something over and over again, and then one day it just pops out at you. I would swear they just added this verse this month!

Our measure is not taken in the good times but in the bad. When the weather is mild, no one finds out whether you’re a good sailor or not. In our spiritual lives as well, there are seasons when life is easy and seasons when it is hard. There is no point in patting ourselves on the back for “being spiritual” when life is easy. The testing of our faith is in the hard times. I have failed that test too often. I let myself be discouraged; I give in to fear. But it doesn’t have to be that way. God is always present. His Spirit always lives in my heart. I don’t stop being his child in hard times. Lord, remind me of your presence and your power when I am discouraged. I know you always love me and you have a purpose for every bad thing you allow to happen to me. I know that I grow spiritually far more in trials than in easy times. I will trust you and lean on you when trials come. Amen.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hope of Glory

Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. (Ex 40:34-35)

Which is the greater miracle, the Shekinah glory filling the tabernacle, or “Christ in you, the hope of glory?” (Col 1:27) How marvelous to think about a time when the presence of God was so clearly and indisputably present! How simple and obvious it was to follow God’s leading. When the cloud lifted, they followed it. But the Presence of the Lord was also carefully isolated from the people – inside the courtyard and behind two curtains. Even Moses could not enter the tent when the cloud settled upon it.

As marvelous as it was to have a direct, physical manifestation of God’s presence, the greater miracle is that today he lives in the heart of every believer! What a privilege to BE the tabernacle of God. By Christ’s atoning death for us the veil was torn and now, far from being separated from God, we could not be any closer. And yet…I still long to see God's Shekinah glory. I have his promise that I will – Christ in me, the hope of glory. His presence in me assures me that I will one day witness a far greater manifestation of his glory than anything the ancient Israelites ever experienced.

But what of those around us? God’s visible presence with the Israelites put all the other tribes and nations on notice – these are God’s people. What is God’s plan today? “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Jn 13:35) It is amazing that God’s plan for this age relies so heavily on us. In Moses’ day his presence was visible, and God worked mighty miracles to show the nations that he was the Lord of Israel. Today, God’s presence is in my heart and my life is supposed to demonstrate the reality of his presence! Lord, help me to rise to this tremendous challenge. I am deeply humbled that you have chosen us to be such an integral part of your plan. I am willing, Lord, but I know I need your help. Thank you for the work that you are doing in me to glorify yourself. Teach me to show your love to everyone around me, so that your presence would be real in their lives. Amen.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Undimmed by Years

[The righteous] will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green. (Ps 92:14)

Athletes peak in their twenties; so do scientists. Movie stars often fade when they get older. Older workers have more trouble finding a job. How refreshing to know that where it matters most, in the Kingdom of God, old age is no obstacle. How many elderly Christians have I known who simply radiated love and faith in their old age? Their lamp was not dimmed, nor their influence diminished. (Cf. Deut 34:7) Thank you, Lord, that I can look forward to my best years of witness and ministry as I mature in you. I want to serve you for as long as you keep me here on earth.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Innocent Of Their Blood

Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

Paul was faithful to his calling. Heedless of personal danger and hardship he had faithfully "testified to the gospel of God’s grace" (v24). He gave all and risked all and he knew there was nothing more he could have done to bring others to Christ. And so he declared himself innocent of the blood of all men. What about me? I am afraid I have passed up many opportunities to tell others about Jesus. How many people needed to hear the Gospel from me and didn’t? What blood am I guilty of? Lord, forgive me for not proclaiming the Gospel boldly and consistently. Have mercy on those who could have heard it from me but didn’t. Teach me to be faithful to the calling you have given me. I want to be your faithful witness to the lost.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

An Undivided Heart

Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. (Ps 86:11)

An undivided heart! That’s what I want. To hold onto God and let everything else go. I am too attached to my material comfort, my financial security and my leisure activities. I am too worried about what other people think and not worried enough about what God thinks. I have a divided heart! Lord, I know I am yours and you are mine. You are my only hope, and the only one I can ultimately trust. Forgive me for giving away my heart to false gods. Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Out Came This Calf

Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf! (Ex 32:24b)

We like to pretend there is a certain inevitability to our sin. But sin is always a choice. It is comforting in the face of our guilt to think that the laws of nature took over and we were just innocent bystanders. But if we look back at the sequence of events leading up to our sin we will always find a moment of decision. There was a fork in the road and I took the wrong path. After that moment there may have been a sense of inevitability, a feeling of being carried along by forces I could not control. But before that moment I had a choice. I could have walked away. That moment of choice, that way of escape, is always available according to the promises of God (I Cor 10:13). If we look for it we will find it. We have the power to choose because we have the Spirit of God living in our hearts.

Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

American Idols

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. (Acts 17:16)

By education and training Paul was a Pharisee, steeped in Jewish religion and culture. The great Shema of Israel, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4) was the central rallying cry of Jewish belief and practice. For all the long centuries since Abraham it was monotheism, as much as anything, that set them apart from other nations. To such a man as Paul, raised in that culture, the very sight of so many idols would be upsetting.

And what about me, raised in a modern American culture? Plurality, diversity, tolerance, respect for other cultures, these are considered the enlightened mindset here. Does it bother me that so many false gods are worshipped in our society? I’m not talking about literal idols only, although there are certainly some idols in the Hindu temple near our neighborhood. I’m talking about the false gods of money, sex, food, power, pride, leisure and fame. If these don’t bother me like the Athenian idols bothered Paul, maybe it is because they form too much a part of my own thinking and values. Maybe I am prone to pause daily at their shrines and give my heart for a moment to them.

Lord, so many of these false gods still hold an appeal to me. Help me to recognize when I have transferred my affections or my trust from you to these idols that are worshipped by so many. Teach me to walk in your ways and live only for you. My heart is yours and I will not give it to another.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Don't Be a Beast

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (Ps 73:21-23)

Sin causes me to break fellowship with God. Harboring a bad attitude interrupts my communion with him. Yet he is always present. I am always in the palm of his hand. This verse paints an interesting image. When I have let sin interfere in my relationship with God, it is as though spiritually I have become blind, deaf and dumb before God. I am still in his presence, but like a brute beast I can neither communicate with him nor even recognize his presence. God is still present. I am still saved. I am still a child of God. The basic facts of my relationship with him haven’t changed. But I have begun to act and think like it has.

When I find myself in that situation I need to wake up! Confess, repent, and remember who I am in Christ. Why should I be so foolish as to break fellowship with the living God?

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps 73:25-26)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Rejoicing for Others

The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the brothers very glad. (Acts 15:3)

Have you ever received a gift, an award, or a compliment, and then been upset to learn that someone else received the same thing? Did it upset you more if it was someone you didn’t like? I sure have. It seemed to cheapen it somehow, especially if I thought they didn’t deserve it. That’s pride talking. It is nothing but the desire to exalt myself above others. The Jews had spent 2000 years thinking they were better than the Gentiles, because they were chosen by God. It would have been very easy for these Jewish Christians to resent the new Gentile Christians. But the Bible says they were very glad. Lord, help me to never entertain the idea that there are some people who don’t deserve salvation, because that’s not true – NONE of us deserve salvation. Convict me, Lord, when I feel resentment about something good that happens to someone else. Remind me that I am to love them, and should rejoice when you bless them.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Better Than Life

Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. (Ps 63:3)

The apostles certainly believed that. Peter and John rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Name (Acts 5:41). James said to count it all joy when we encounter trials (James 1:2). Paul and Silas sang and worshiped in jail (Acts 16:25). They counted the love of God better than life, and their lips did not cease in praising the Lord, no matter how much they suffered. Lord, I will praise you in good times and bad, because your love is better than life.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Standing Against the Crowd

Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit. (Ex 23:2-3)

The Bible is full of exhortations for the rich and the powerful not to take advantage of the poor and the powerless (v6). And well it should be because throughout the ages the wealthy have often oppressed the poor. I think this verse might be unique, however, in seeming to stick up for the rights of the rich man. Marxism contains the idea of forcible redistribution of wealth, but this verse clearly speaks against that. The power of the mob does not convey the right to steal. Justice is justice, and should be impartial.

The larger issue here, as well, is that it is easy to get caught up in whatever everyone around you is doing, but we must resist that. We are always personally accountable to God for our actions, regardless of what “they” are doing. We teach our teenagers about peer pressure, but the temptation to go along with the crowd does not end when you become an adult. Lord, help me to be true to you and your Word, no matter what everyone around me is doing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No Easy Life

This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (Acts 9:15-16)

With these words the Lord Jesus commands Ananias in a vision to go to the newly converted Saul in Damascus. God saved Saul miraculously, appearing to him in a vision on the Damascus road. In the Lord’s words to Ananias, it is clear that before Paul had done a single thing in God’s service God had chosen him for greatness. And indeed, no man ever accomplished so much or suffered so greatly for the Gospel as Paul. Like Peter and John, Paul counted it a great privilege to suffer for Jesus. Once again I am confronted with the connection between suffering and serving God. If I insist on an easy life I will accomplish little. Can I follow the example of the apostles? Lord, I am willing to lay everything down for you. I know I can’t possibly do that in my own strength. Holy Spirit, accomplish in me what I cannot do in myself.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sometimes I Need To Fail

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. (Ex 17:11)

I remember being very impressed with this story when I was a little boy in Sunday School. It seemed like such an amazing miracle. Of course, I'm not sure I got the point. Looking at it now I can see how God wanted the Israelites to know it was not their own prowess in battle that won the fight. God gives the victory. In this first battle after the Exodus, God wanted to drive that point home. And the sign he used was significant – Moses raising his hands to entreat the help of God and acknowledge his lordship.

Now it occurs to me to wonder, was the miracle that God caused them to win when Moses raised his arms, or that God caused them to lose when Moses lowered them? There must be times in our lives when we are trusting in our own strength, and God must see to it that we fail so we do not draw the wrong lesson from it. Perhaps especially in this culture, dependence on God is a hard-won lesson. In every one of us beats the heart of a little child who wants to say, “See, Daddy! I did it all by myself!” That is laudable in our children, because we want them to grow up. When they do they will be adults like us, and every bit as competent to live independently as we are. But our relationship with God is different. We are not his equal, and never will be. It is the height of folly to imagine that we can live independently from him. Lord, help me to see how much I need you and embrace that dependence. I lift my hands to acknowledge that you are my Lord and I need you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fickle Followers

When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter…So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?” (Ex 15:23-24)

This was exactly three days after the people of Israel watched God destroy the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea – one of the greatest miracles of all time! The rapidity with which they went from rejoicing to grumbling is almost comical. Yet don’t I do just the same? My heart is also fickle. Their fickleness seems striking here because in this event it is writ so large. But on a tiny scale this happens every day in my life. I will be driving down the highway to work, happily singing along with some praise song on the radio. Then another car cuts in front of me. Instantly my resentment flashes and I shout, “Jerk!” Talk about turning on a dime! The truth is I, too, am greatly lacking in constancy. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about God’s constancy. I think this is another one of his communicable attributes – character traits in him that we should reflect as part of bearing the image of God. And now this story forces me to confront my own lack of constancy by first recognizing it in the ancient Israelites. Lord, help me to be steadfast in my faith and constant in my devotion. “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Healthy Balance

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches and they are gone, for they will sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (Pro 23:4-5)

We have a saying, “Easy come; easy go.” But it is also true that “Hard come; easy go.” All our hard-won wealth can vanish in an instant, and how foolish we will look if we have devoted our lives to acquiring it. We have another phrase we use about “working our fingers to the bone.” But for many of us today it might better be updated to “working our hearts to a heart attack” or “working our marriages to divorce.” How much do we forfeit in life when we make money and career our idols? The Bible says, “Have the wisdom to show restraint.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Raging Tempest

Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him and around him a tempest rages. (Ps 50:2)

I am continually amazed at how dramatically the Bible portrays God’s wrath and the judgment to come. I have the sense that most Christians today tend to focus on the loving side of his character. Certainly that’s the most popular image of God in the broader culture. But if love is all we know of God, what sense can we make of a verse like this one? “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31 ESV) We cannot fully appreciate who God is without holding in our minds at once both his wrath and his love. In his wrath we are due his judgment, but in his love he has provided a way of salvation through the sacrifice of his Son. He is a God of both justice and of mercy. When I meditate on this, I can now better appreciate his patience. Knowing of his wrath, I am amazed that he delays the day of judgment. But knowing his love, I understand why he does. Thank you, Lord, for your mercy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Be Still and Know Him

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Ps 46:10-11)

God, the Great God, Creator of All Things, will one day be fully revealed in all his majesty and power before all men. He will be exalted in every land by every person. We can only dimly grasp his greatness and his glory, and even when he stands fully revealed our minds will not be able to encompass him.

But for now he is hidden, known only in the hearts of the wise – for fools even deny his existence. And today, while we walk by faith, God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The God who will one day be exalted before all men lives today in my heart. I can know him, if I will settle myself and pay attention. The Lord Almighty, who is now hidden but is always with us, is our strong fortress. He protects, defends, and strengthens us. How astonishing that I can commune in stillness with Almighty God, the very one who will someday be exalted in all the earth!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worthy of Suffering

The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. (Acts 5:41)

I wonder how many of us have fully captured this attitude which the apostles had? Of course, it was a pretty extraordinary time. What had their previous 48 hours looked like? Miracles (v16), jail (v18), miracles (v19), flogging (v40). I see a pattern here. What comes next? Miracles, of course!

But what were they rejoicing about as they left the Sanhedrin? Not the miracles, but the flogging! And not the flogging per se, but rather the fact that they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for Jesus Christ. They regarded it as a high honor. If I really love Jesus and I am really anxious to see his Truth known and his Name magnified, then being persecuted is a sign I am doing something right. My witness must be having an impact if the enemies of God feel threatened enough to retaliate. And now, the fact that I suffer so little persecution becomes an embarrassment for me. My first instinct is to play it safe, and in so doing I limit the impact I can have for the Gospel. Lord, make me bold!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Never Forsaken

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Ps 42:5)

The psalmist speaks of a time of trouble in his life, when tears are many and God seems far (v3). In the midst of his despondency, the psalmist reminds himself of the hope we have in God. Indeed, his longing for God has never seemed stronger (v1-2). The very distance he feels from God strengthens that longing.

But there is hope! Even as he wonders why God seems to have forgotten him (v9), his faith is strong. Times of refreshing will come again. What the psalmist recognizes is that his feelings of rejection and abandonment do not reflect the way things really are. God is present. God will save. Despair will give way to joy, and praise will once again flow freely from his heart.

It is natural for us to feel down when times are hard. But we must never forget that faith is not based on feelings, but on what we know of the character and constancy of God. He never leaves us. He never changes. I will put my hope in God.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What Happened to Peter?

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31b)

After he received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter seemed to become fearless. He was bold to preach, bold to heal, and bold to stand up to the Sanhedrin. What happened to the fear? He knew the truth of his message and the power of the Spirit. He was a man with a mission. Lord, give me the boldness of Peter. I know your Word is true. I know you have all power. I know I have a mission. Make me bold!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Please Pass the Honey

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (Pro 16:24)

How easy it is to bless someone! All we have to do is say something nice to them! A word of thanks or a sincere compliment will lift the spirits of friend and stranger alike. Parents are often told to catch their kids doing something right. But that is true of everyone! I will try to catch people doing something right today, and tell them about it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blinded by Pride

For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. (Ps 36:2)

How many of us know someone like that? Someone whose pride blinds them to their own flaws? C.S. Lewis said of pride that there is no sin we dislike more in others, or are less conscious of in ourselves. And that’s the problem – how often are we ourselves guilty of pride but don’t see it? It takes the conviction of the Holy Spirit to confront our own pride. 

Some of us have the opposite problem. We are forever comparing ourselves unfavorably to others. We need to remember that we are precious in God’s sight, and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14). I think I am guilty of both. I am given both to preening pride at times when I have done well at something and harsh self-criticism when I fail. In every case I need to remember Paul’s injunction to think of myself with sober judgment (Rom 12:3). I am a child of God, and precious in his sight. Every gift I have is from him. Every success is to his glory. And when I fail, he still loves me as his own.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God of Great and Small

From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth – he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. (Ps 33:13-15)

The same God who spoke the universe into existence concerns himself with every tiny detail of our lives. What an astonishing thought! The one who forms “the starry host by the breath of his mouth” (v6) has even numbered the very hairs on my head! (Lk 12:7)

When I consider that the God of such majesty and power watches everything I do, I am ashamed. He is there when I am “alone” in my car and call other drivers bad names. He is there when choose to watch a TV show I shouldn't. He is there, too, when I roll over and go back to sleep in the morning instead of getting up to spend time with him. Lord, you have the power to form the heavens by your word; I know you have the power to transform me into your image, if only I will let you. I surrender to you. You made me and I am yours. I know that you love me. Thank you for your mercy and your patience. Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Word of Mouth

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. (Ps 33:6)

Psalm 33 is a great hymn of praise to the Lord. In it the psalmist directs us to consider how great and powerful God is. This verse reminds us that God created the heavens by simply speaking it into existence. He did not need a creation machine to form the heavens and the earth. He spoke, and they came to be (v8). How marvelous and mighty he is!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Older and Wiser

And Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. (Gen 47:31b)

What a great image! That’s the kind of old man I want to be! Jacob was 147 years old at this time. I picture a wizened old man with a deeply lined face. He is hunched over his staff, his robe drawn close around him. His eyes are weak, but wisdom is reflected there. He has suffered many hardships and done many foolish things, but God has been faithful and has blessed him. Jacob wrestled with God in his youth, but in his old age he worships. With the wisdom of old age he knows well both the sovereignty and the benevolence of God. Lord, you are worthy of worship! You are the great and mighty King, the Ruler of all that is. You created us and sustain us. You know every hair on our heads and yet you love us. Praise you, Lord. Glory to you, Almighty God.

I think a lot us are like Jacob. When I was young, I wrestled with God. I challenged him and argued with him. I demanded that he explain himself to me. And I insisted that I would only come to him on my terms. Like Jacob, I found out that approach doesn’t work too well. When we wrestle with God we are out of our weight class! But we were young and stubborn and we had to find out the hard way. Finally we figured out that the only right way to approach God is in humble submission, with a worshipful heart. Now we spend the rest of our lives practicing to learn how to do that. After 147 years Jacob had it down pretty well. I only hope I can get there, too – a little quicker if possible!

A God who can be encompassed by human thought is no God at all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Teach Me, Lord

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (Ps 25:9)

If I’m ever going to learn anything I have to be humble. The number one obstacle to learning is not having a teachable spirit. That’s true in school, it’s true at work, and it’s certainly true of our walk with God. Lord, teach me your ways. I confess that I often let pride get in the way of receiving correction. Forgive me, also, for setting boundaries on your truth – when I think it has to be my way and no other. I humble myself before you to learn from you. Teach me, Lord.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Following the Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. (Ps 23:1-2 KJV)

Most of the time I regard being compared to a sheep as an unflattering analogy. What makes this different? If God is my Shepherd, then I am his sheep, and I should be ok with that. In human affairs I would bristle at being called a sheep because it would suggest that I am docile and dumb. My pride would be wounded. I want to believe that I am every bit as smart and qualified to lead as the other guy. But that’s where God is different. Let me be under no illusions about how my intelligence and leadership stack up against his. It is folly for me to think I will be better off to ignore his leadership and chart my own course. My Shepherd is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is perfect in wisdom and love. I can follow him without question and know that he will never fail me. Lord, thank you for leading me. Teach me to follow you without question.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Playing a Deep Game

So, then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler of all Egypt. (Gen 45:8)

God’s plans are really deep! Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. That certainly seems like it would not be God’s will. But God was able to turn it to good in a miraculous way. Joseph became ruler of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. Then God sent famine, which brought Joseph’s starving brothers to Egypt. But Joseph treated them with honor. Instead of starving to death in Canaan, they were allowed to move to Egypt and live in the rich land of Goshen. What an amazing turn of events! But God’s plan was even deeper. In later years, a new Pharaoh came to rule over Egypt who oppressed them and made them slaves. All of these events were an essential prelude to the coming of Moses and the miraculous Exodus from Egypt. And this event became the defining moment for the people of Israel. From it God made a new covenant and forged a nation that 1400 years later gave birth to the Messiah. It was the Exodus that created the enduring national identity of the Jews, which has persisted down through the years even to today. And none of it would have been possible if Joseph had not been sold into slavery in Egypt. God plays a really deep game!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Great Motivator

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Mt 25:21)

That famous phrase, “Well done, good and faithful servant” is a great motivator for many of the finest Christians I know. It motivates me, too. I hope I live every day in light of that Great Day when we will stand before our Heavenly Father. How I long to hear those words!

Non-Christians so often assume that we are motivated to do good works to avoid being sent to Hell. But of course that’s not it at all. Salvation is a free gift. My eternal destiny is already determined. No, we are motivated by our love for God – compelled by it, as Paul said (2 Cor 5:14). What greater reward can I have but to know that I have pleased God? I was created for that purpose, and every fiber of my being senses whenever I am living according to it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Secret to Sanctification

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. (Ps 18:32)

We make much of obedience, and rightly so. Sanctification is the process of being conformed to his image and obedient to his will. But we must not forget that it is God who sanctifies us. It is the Holy Spirit who gives me strength to face each challenge and trains me in righteousness. The secret to sanctification is utter dependence on him.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Wide Open Spaces

He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Ps 18:19)

David was in danger from his enemies – hemmed in, entangled, surrounded (v4-5). But God brought him out of that place and into a spacious place, where he could roam widely and freely, without fear. God rescued David because he delighted in him. David was the "man after God’s own heart.” But God delights in us, too. He rescues us all from sin and death. We, too, were entangled by cords of death, overwhelmed by torrents of destruction. We were powerless to resist and bereft of hope – until God stepped in. The light of truth pierced the darkness and we turned toward it. But before we could move to it, the light came to us. Our Heavenly Father plucked us from the snares of death and brought us into his Kingdom of Light. Now I sometimes feel ensnared, but I am bound only by my own fears. My freedom has already been won. I need only open my eyes to see that I am free.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Audience of One

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. (Pro 29:25)

In my comfortable, safe life I do not fear physical injury from others. My fears are all about embarrassment, rejection and scorn. But in these things, too, whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. Certainly I want the good opinion of others. More specifically, I want to deserve the good opinion of others by being the godly man I have been called to be. As long as I have been obedient to that calling I need not fear any hostility and rejection I may encounter, because my reward is the approval of my Master. In that sense I play to an audience of one. Whatever men might say or do, my self worth is based on God’s love for me, which I did nothing to earn and can do nothing to diminish. My trust in God is sure, because God is constant and steadfast. I can trust him never to reject me or condemn me. Jesus suffered the Father's rejection and wrath for my sake. There remains only love. Discipline, to be sure, but always love.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Wrath of God

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath. (Ps 2:4-5)

I think one reason many of us do not feel more compassion for the lost than we do is our failure to fully appreciate the wrath of God that Jesus saved us from. His wrath burns like a white heat. I imagine being only a few feet away from the open door of a giant blast furnace. The only reason I do not perish is that I am standing behind a small wall which shields me. But I can see all around me the effects of that brilliant heat. I know I am secure behind that wall but I experience viscerally the fearfulness of that great force of nature. Or I can imagine being in a great spaceship and approaching the sun far closer than the orbit of Mercury. At this distance it fills the entire window in front of me, even though it is still many millions of miles away. The surface boils and churns like a cauldron of incandescent gas, and only the incredible shielding of the spaceship wall and window prevents me from being incinerated.

In that situation wouldn’t you have great compassion for anyone stuck outside with only their flimsy spacesuit to protect them? The whole ship would turn and begin emergency procedures to rescue any human being trapped outside. The urgency of our efforts would be driven by the ever present thought in our minds of the intensity of that heat. I am secure in Christ and I do not fear his wrath. But I must never forget about the great danger that faces all my unsaved friends and loved ones. God withholds his wrath today, out of his great compassion and patience. Indeed he blesses all mankind with life and sustenance, “sending his rain on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:45). But judgment is coming, and the folly of those who would continue their rebellion against Almighty God will be revealed in the Day of Judgment. That is the picture of this verse in Psalms. A day is coming when it will be too late for them. The starkness of the choice before each of us is astonishing. How can we be complacent? Lord, I do not want to be driven by simple fear, but I pray that you would remind me daily of the urgency of the Great Commission.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wonders of Creation

Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?

(Job 38:12-13)

In chapters 38 and 39 of Job, the Lord describes the wonders of his creation. By one rhetorical question after another he reminds Job that it was he, and not Job, who created it in all its splendor. Creation is vast beyond measure, intricate beyond our understanding, and powerful beyond our control. I think chapters 38 and 39 are some of the most beautiful poetry in the Bible. And I stand in awe of creation not just because of its vastness, intricacy and power, but also because of its beauty, which is so richly conveyed here.

It is interesting as well to read this passage 3000 years after it was written. Our modern knowledge of nature is many times greater than the ancients – when God asks Job his rhetorical questions, some of them we can now say yes to:

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn? 

(Job 39:1)

To which anyone who watches National Geographic TV specials could probably say yes. But the larger point is still intact and powerful. God knows when every mountain goat gives birth, and watches every fawn being born. In fact, as we learn more about creation we appreciate even better than the author of Job how vast, intricate, powerful and beautiful the universe is. But modern man no longer looks beyond creation to see the power and majesty of the Creator. They call it Nature now, with a capital N, and worship it instead of God. They have mastered the trick of looking at the most beautiful and well designed system imaginable and ascribing its origin to pure chance. Lord, open the eyes of the blind. Let them see you in your creation. Let science once again be practiced for your glory. Praise you, for you are the Creator and Lord of All! Amen.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Blogger's Proverb

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions. (Pro 18:2)

This should probably be known as the Blogger’s Proverb. It leaps out at me because I delight in airing my own opinions. Hopefully, it cannot also be said of me that I “find no pleasure in understanding.” But the cautionary note is well-applied to all of us, because the delight in our own opinions is a symptom of pride. The blogger must beware more than most. Yet the proper corrective action is not necessarily to stay silent, but to speak in all humility. Every word motivated by pride must be left unsaid. Silence may often be the wisest course, but there is a time for humble speech. There is never a time for prideful speech. Lord, help me to share my thoughts for the right reasons and in the right way. Let me not speak except to be a blessing to others. Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hate Evil

To fear the Lord is to hate evil. (Pro 8:13a)

If we really understand who God is we will hate evil. We should hate it both for the bad consequences that it produces and for the punishment that follows it. It is foolish to provoke the wrath of God and foolish to break his commandments which were given to us for our own good. To “fear God” is to know him and to acknowledge him as Lord. Because he is good we know his commandments are good; to violate them will have bad consequences. Because he is just we know that all evil will be punished. Because we are saved by the blood of Christ we need not fear his judgment, but we still must suffer the natural consequences of sin. Also, because we know Christ we have another reason to obey his commands: because we love him. As Christians we must hate evil – the evil we find in the world and the evil we find in our own lives.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Reflecting Jesus

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. (Mt 5:14)

In Jn 8:12 Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” – one of the seven great “I am” statements of the Gospel of John. How astonishing then that in Matthew 5 he told his followers, “You are the light of the world.” Clearly, we are to shine by reflecting his light, for “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (I Jn 1:5)

What does it mean for me to be the light of the world? If those around me are going to see Jesus, they will see his life reflected in mine. If those around me are going to hear the Gospel, they will hear it from my lips. I have an awesome responsibility to speak Truth and live by its light, so that those around me will experience the love of Jesus through me. Darkness cannot reign in my little corner of the world if I set my lamp on a lampstand, proclaiming and living by God’s Truth. Lord, help me be bold, and be true to my calling, so that those around me will see my life and my words as a beacon of hope.