Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turning Our Backs to God

They turned their backs to me and not their faces. (Jer 32:33a)

Ouch! How often am I guilty of this? I realized from this verse there are only two stances toward God. If I am not turning my face toward him I am turning my back to him. I want to think there is a middle ground. I want to think that sometimes, even though I am not turning my face to him, I’m still not exactly turning my back to him. But it is not so. Am I distracted? That's turning my back. Am I forgetful of him? That's turning my back. Do I ignore him? That's turning my back. Do I say I'm too tired? That's turning my back. God has commanded me to seek him, to pray without ceasing, to meditate on his Word day and night, and to walk humbly before him. I must forever be turning toward him continually. Lord, forgive my foolish excuses. I turn my face to you. I will fix my eyes on Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Building for God

And though this temple is now imposing, all who pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple? (1 Kings 9:8)

After the dedication of the temple, the Lord appears to Solomon to remind him of the blessings and curses of the covenant. If Solomon and the people of Israel will walk in God’s ways, God will dwell with them forever and the house of David will never fail to rule over Israel. But if they turn away from God and his commandments then Israel will be cut off from the land and the temple destroyed. Of course we know that they did indeed disobey, and the beautiful temple that was dedicated that day was utterly destroyed by the Babylonians four hundred years later.

How often in human history have the greatest works of man fallen into decay and disrepair? In fact, don’t they always seem to fall? And not just the physical monuments, but all human institutions? How many schools, churches and governments have been build for God but later turned away from walking in his ways? The fallen nature of mankind affects everything we do. It would be easy to despair, but thanks be to God –
that is not the end of the story! Jesus came to bring new life. He is the antidote to the poison of sin. He is the light of the world, John says. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5 ESV) And his promise to us is, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5 ESV)

Lord, I want to learn obedience at your feet. I pray that my sin would not undermine what you are doing today in this world. Shine your light into my life. Create in me a clean heart. Use me to accomplish something for your eternal Kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Truth Hurts

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Pro 27:6)

I just hate it when a friend tells me something I need to hear. Boy, sometimes the truth hurts. It’s much more fun to get a compliment. But sometimes when you love someone the most loving thing you can do is to speak the hard truth. Speaking the truth in love is an art few of us have mastered but all of us must practice. When I’m on the wrong track I need you to love me enough to set me straight. The world is full of insincere flatterers who will tell me what I want to hear just so they can manipulate me to their advantage. A faithful friend will wound me now to save me from greater trouble in the future.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Disputable Matters

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. (Rom 14:1)

With this statement Paul begins a long discourse on the importance of not letting disagreements interfere with our Christian unity. What are these disputable matters? Paul gives two examples. Some Christians in his day were evidently vegetarians because they thought it was morally wrong to eat meat. Others believed that Christians must keep the Jewish holy days. Contemporary examples might be drinking and going to R-rated movies. It is easy to see how such things can lead to disunity. If I see you doing something I think is wrong wouldn’t I be offended? Wouldn’t I try to convince you to stop? Before you know it we are consumed by the things that divide us and we have completely forgotten about the things that unite us. Paul warns us against that. If I have an opportunity to reason with you on these disputable matters I will. But it is far more important that I exhort you to lean in to God, to seek him with all your heart, to immerse yourself in his Word and in prayer. As we draw closer to God we automatically draw closer to each other. And, just maybe, God will one day nudge me toward the truth on a disputable matter where I have been mistaken. Lord, help us always to build each other up – to point each other to you. Remind me to keep the main thing the main thing and not let minor things sow discord among us. Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

He's Just That Kind of God

I, even I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. (Is 43:25)

God is under no obligation to forgive our sins. He does it because he wants to. It pleases him to do so because it is his nature to love. This thought gives me great comfort and assurance, but it also humbles me. There is nothing intrinsic in me to cause him to love me. He loves me for his sake, not mine. Lord, thank you that you do not just forgive those who earn it, or love those who deserve it. Then I would be lost for sure. You forgive the unworthy sinner who repents and love the unlovable. I praise you for your marvelous nature and character. Amen.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Modeling Christ-Likeness

Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Cor 11:1)

I used to think it was arrogant of Paul to tell people to follow his example, as though he were perfect! But I realize now Paul was not claiming to be perfectly Christ-like. When he says “as” he is really saying “to the same degree.” Even so, I would never say what Paul said because I know my life is far from resembling the life of Christ. There are whole new levels of obedience to God beyond my personal experience – levels I’m sure Paul had walked in. And when I think about that, I realize the problem here is not Paul’s arrogance but my disobedience. If I presume to lead others, if I presume to teach, should I not be able to say, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ?” Lord, forgive me for my casual disobedience. There is so much at stake here. I hinder others from seeing you when I fail to follow your example. Teach me to be a faithful disciple like Paul. Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Scholar's Snare

The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. (1 Cor 8:2-3)

I sometimes hear Bible teachers who sound like they have it all figured out. They teach their interpretations as fact and it seems there is nothing in the Bible that puzzles them. Pride is a snare for these men. You can hear their pride in the way they speak of other interpretations and those who teach them. As a teacher and a discipler of others I want always to stay humble. I must remember that the Bible is infallible but none of its interpreters are – including me.

There is another snare in this focus on learning. It is that learning about God may become a substitute for loving God. Too much focus on the life of mind may drive out the desires of the heart. My passion must always be for God, and not for any idea or doctrine. I want to know him better, love him more, and follow more closely in his footsteps. When we love God, what we need to know will be made clear to us – which may be a whole lot less than what we’d like to know. When we love God we will find ourselves loving others. This is the life to which we are called. Not a sterile academic perfection but the gospel lived out in sacrificial love. Lord, forgive me for those times when I have been more concerned with being right than with being good. Teach me humility and compassion. Amen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

True North

My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. (1 Cor 4:4)

I do not decide what is right and wrong. God does. Just because I don’t feel guilty doesn’t mean I’m not guilty. There are many ways in which our conscience might be led astray or even silenced. Each of us has our own moral compass, but it is incumbent on us to align our compass with God’s. Our all-wise and all-knowing God, perfect in holiness and righteousness, is the only true standard of right and wrong.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our Neighbor's Gods

Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not swear to them or bow down to them. (Josh 23:7)

It is interesting to me that God left many of the Canaanite inhabitants in place after the conquest of Canaan. He knew these people and their religions would be a snare to the Israelites. It is as though it were important that the Israelites be tested, even though God knew that they would fail. Why did they fail? The simple fact is that in 1400 BC there was something very appealing about the Canaanite religions. I suppose in that day people must have pitied you or laughed at you if you had only one god. The Israelites must have been jealous of the idols and the temples and the orgies.

It seems hard to imagine the appeal of the old Canaanite gods, but today our neighbors worship new gods, and we are drawn to them as of old. They worship the entertainment gods, the politics gods and the money gods. They also have the sports gods, the science gods and the society gods. The appeal is strong, as is the desire not to seem different or foolish. Like the Israelites, we are being tested. “Choose this day whom you will serve! But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15)

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Every Promise Fulfilled

Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Josh 21:45)

One of the reasons God has given us the Bible, with its long history of God’s dealings with man, is to serve as a testimony to God’s character and nature. This verse comes at the end of a long passage describing the territory that was given to each tribe of Israel. With the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, God had fulfilled his centuries-old promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Similarly, centuries before Christ the prophets spoke of the Messiah who was to come. God is faithful and he is able to deliver all that he has promised. The Scriptures have come down to us through the millennia to speak similar promises to us today. God is faithful and true, though we are faithless. All his good promises will come to pass.
If we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

(2 Tim 2:13)
Man may disappoint, but God will never fail. Our own flesh is weak, but he is strong. Thank you, Lord, for your wonderful promises to us. Amen.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Destroy the Devoted Thing

Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, “Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.” (Josh 7:13)

After the conquest and destruction of Jericho, the Israelites confidently sent a small force to capture Ai. But the men of Ai routed the army of Israel. Joshua, grief stricken, went before the Lord to discover why. God told him that Israel had been defeated because they had sinned by keeping some of the treasure of Jericho. This was a violation of God’s command to devote it all to him, i.e., destroy it all. In this verse God tells Joshua that Israel must destroy the devoted thing they clung to before they would be victorious again.

I wonder how often I suffer defeat for the same reason? When I cling to the idols and so-called treasures that God has called me to surrender I sabotage my own walk with God. This is a most basic and profound issue. As long as I am violating God’s very first commandment (thou shalt have no other gods before me) how can I live victoriously in the strength and power of God? While I care more for my own pride or pleasure than I do God’s kingdom I will never be able to do my part in his great plan for his people. Lord, forgive me for clinging to my own false gods and worthless idols when you have commanded me to destroy them. I have surrendered myself to you as my Sovereign King and I will have no other gods. You alone are Lord. I am yours, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Love 'Em and Let 'Em Go

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you.” (1 Sam 17:37)

When David first offered to go and fight Goliath, Saul turned him down. But David pressed his case, explaining how he had fought wild animals as a shepherd. No doubt Saul was impressed that a such a young man had killed lions and bears, but more impressive was his faith in God. Saul could see he was spiritually ready.

As adults, and especially as parents, we are naturally protective of the young and inexperienced. But there comes a time when we have to let our young people go fight the good fight. Over the past few years hundreds of thousands of parents have had to literally face that moment. Millions more have watched their children head off to college or a job in a different city. The battle ahead may “only” be a spiritual one, but the danger is real enough. Yet it would be a mistake to forever keep them safe behind our walls. There comes a time when we must say to them, “Go, and the Lord be with you.”

Sunday, July 31, 2011

You Go First, Daddy

The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. (Josh 3:17)

The crossing of the Jordan was an amazing miracle. It put everyone on notice, both Israelites and Canaanites, that God is sovereign and he was giving the land of Canaan to his people Israel. The ark went before them and stood in the middle while everyone crossed over. It symbolized God’s presence and his power. The people could take comfort as they crossed that they would be safe because, metaphorically, God went first to show them it was safe. It reminds me of those times as a child when our parents would also calm our fears by going first. If Daddy can do it I can do it. It also reminds me how Jesus was willing to show us the way. He endured every temptation and suffered every pain so that I can take comfort and courage from his example. I think of King David saying, “You hem me in – behind and before.” (Ps 139:5) Only God can be in two places at once. He goes before me to show me the way and comes behind me to watch my back. No one can snatch me out of his hand. (Jn 10:28). I am secure in his presence and encouraged by his example. Thank you, Lord, for showing us the way.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's All About God

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:10-11)

In this passage Solomon recounts all his pleasures, possessions and accomplishments. If anybody ever had it made by the world’s standards it was Solomon. He was brilliant; he was king; he was wealthy beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. If any of us ever wondered whether a little more money, power or fame would make us happy – well, Solomon got there ahead of us and he has come back to report that the answer is “No!” If you ever thought you would be happier if you were smarter or better educated, the answer is also “No!” As Solomon tells the story of his life in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes I am struck by how often he says “meaningless” and how seldom he mentions God. Despite his great wisdom, Solomon still had to learn the most important lesson of life the hard way: without God, nothing else matters. He tried everything, and by process of elimination he finally realized that it's all about God. Lord, remind me of that when I get caught up in life’s trials and temptations. You have given me a purpose – to love you and serve you, to share the gospel and advance your Kingdom here on earth. I don’t want to look back on my life and find that it was meaningless. Use me to your glory. Amen.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Seriousness of Sin

They are godless men, who change the grace of God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 4)

When I’m reading the Bible it’s pretty easy to slip right past a verse like this – condemning an ancient heresy that is so obviously wrong we would never expect to find it in our churches. Jude condemns those who take the grace of God as license to sin, and thus deny the Lordship of Christ. Paul was accused of a similar heresy (Rom 3:7-8 and 6:1-2) when he preached about grace. I have read Romans and I understand that we obey God out of love and willing surrender even when we are no longer under condemnation. verse please!

Not so fast. Am I ever guilty of treating my sin too lightly? Do I ever forget how repugnant it is to God and what it cost him to atone for it? Yes. In the Old Testament it sometimes seems like God was destroying sinners right and left. Why would he do that? He is showing us the seriousness of sin. Jude went on to make the same point in the next verse: “Though you already know this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe.” (v5) Even for some seemingly minor infractions the law required a sacrifice to remind the people of the seriousness of sin.

Now I am not under the law but under grace. (Rom 6:14) I do not need to bring a sacrifice but I do need to remember the seriousness of my sin. When I sin, I must remember the cross. The Lord Jesus Christ paid an inestimably high price to buy my salvation. Lord, forgive me for the many times I take my sin lightly. I dismiss it with a quick, casual prayer of repentance, and then I do the same thing again a few hours later. I don’t ever want to take grace as a license to sin. Convict me, and remind me of the gravity of my sin. Remind me of the cross, where you bore my sin in agony and desolation. Remind me of the cross, where you purchased my freedom. Amen.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lining up with God's Plan

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Num 23:19)

Balak, king of Moab, called the pagan prophet Balaam to curse Israel. Amazingly, the Spirit of God came on Balaam and he prophesied not curses for Israel but blessings. So what did Balak do? Again he commanded Balaam to curse Israel and again, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, Balaam blessed Israel. He also rebuked Balak with the words of this verse. Balak should have heeded the rebuke, but a third time he commanded Balaam and once more Balaam uttered a blessing, more powerful than the two before.

Balak thought he would be rewarded for his persistence and his many sacrifices, but he missed one basic point. If what we are asking contradicts God’s plan or his Word, no amount of pleading is going to change God’s mind. As a pagan, Balak thought he could manipulate the gods by bribes and flattery, but the one true God is not like that. In him there is no shadow of turning. (James 1:17) God says, “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” (Is 46:10) He is our Sovereign Lord, and it is our job to be conformed to his will, not the other way around. Lord, help me to see when my desires are out of alignment with your perfect will. I will pray with Jesus, “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) I trust your plan for my life, born of your perfect knowledge, wisdom and goodness. Amen.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lead By Example

He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. (Pro 10:17)

I know that obedience is important, and that God disciplines me to teach me obedience, and that when I ignore his correction and continue to disobey I will suffer the consequences of my disobedience. But I rarely think about the full impact of my defiance – how it affects those around me. It is not just those who are directly affected by my misdeeds. I am a leader in my family and other spheres of influence, and my example will influence those around me either for good or ill. Lord, help me to recognize the seen and unseen consequences of my sin. I never just hurt myself, I hurt others around me. I want to be a godly example to others. Let me be a positive influence on those around me. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Eyes of Fear

We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. (Num 13:33)

When Moses sent spies into Canaan, they came back more impressed with the size of the inhabitants than the size of the grape clusters (v23). The Nephilim were considered giants in that day, and these spies imagined themselves being crushed like insects if they had to fight them. The apostle Paul tells us to consider ourselves with sober judgment (Rom 12:3), but these men were looking at themselves and their opponents with eyes of fear. Fear makes an opponent seem larger; fear makes you forget your advantages. They forgot that God would be fighting for them. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31) The God who delivered them from Egypt promised them the land of Canaan. At that moment, the power of the Nephilim seemed more real to them than the power of God. They shrank back, and through their fear the promised land was lost for their generation. Lord, when danger looms and fear wells up within me, remind me that I do not stand alone. Your mighty arm is my defense. In you I place my trust. Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Just Kill Me Now

I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you’re going to treat me, put me to death right now – if I have found favor in your eyes – and do not let me face my own ruin. (Num 11:14-15)

God called Moses to lead the people of Israel. It was a difficult job dealing with such an ungrateful, disobedient group of complainers. In this chapter they're at it again – complaining about the manna and asking for meat – and Moses was ready to quit. “Just kill me now,” he says. How many of us have thought or said the same thing? But whenever we start to think that way we make the same mistake Moses did. He thought he was all alone. Every burden was on his shoulders. But God never calls lone rangers to serve him. He calls his church. Moses forgot that we are to share our burdens. So God had him call together the seventy-two elders of Israel and made his Spirit fall on them so that they prophesied. That was the only time these men ever prophesied. Why? God wanted to show Moses that he had raised up these seventy-two men to help him. The prophetic office still belonged to Moses but these men stood near to help him in many other more mundane ways. When God calls pastors and other leaders he does not call them to serve alone. All of us are to come alongside them and help them, each according to our gift. Lord, never let me fall into the trap of thinking that I must serve alone. And when I am serving under someone, don't let me sit back and expect them carry the whole load. Teach me to do my part. Amen.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lame Excuses

The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or “I will be murdered in the streets!” (Pro 22:13)

I don’t like to think I have anything in common with the “sluggard” who is so frequently criticized in Proverbs. But unfortunately I often see myself in these verses. It’s so easy to make excuses when there is something I know I should do, but I dread it for some reason. I wonder how often my excuses sound as silly as these? But even if I can fool others I know I can’t fool God. He sees my heart and he knows when I am being lazy or timid. Lord, I can’t fool you, and most of the time I can’t fool others, either. Forgive me for making excuses when what you desire is obedience. You will provide the strength and the courage I need for any task, if only I will yield in obedience to your will. Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let No Sin Rule

Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. (Ps 119:133)

Lord, I know I have often let sin rule over me. It rules me when I heed its lies and I stop my ears to your voice. Direct my steps to a walk of obedience. Your Word shows me the path of righteousness. Thank you for the conviction this verse brings. Thank you today for a glimpse of what my life would be like if I truly lived it for you. Lord, do not abandon me to my foolish ways. Discipline me when I stray and when I repent encourage me to stay the course. A life lived for self is a life utterly wasted. I surrender my life once again. You are my Lord and my God. Your Spirit lives in me and you have given me the power to live according to your Word. Lead and I will follow. Amen.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

God's Law

Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. (Ps 119:18)

Isn’t it interesting how often in everyday life the idea of “the law” carries a negative connotation? We say, “that’s against the law,” or “you might get in trouble with the law.” By contrast, in Scripture the law is wonderful and good. It is our sin nature that fools us into thinking sin is good and the law is bad. Our sin nature wants to answer to no authority. It wants to ignore all consequences of sin. Therefore, the fool sees God’s laws as unwelcome restraint, but the wise man sees them as signposts on the road to righteousness. Lord, teach me your ways and show me wonderful things in your law. I delight in your word. Train me in righteousness. You have given me a new heart that yearns for you. Teach and mold me to be pleasing to you in every way. Amen.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fount of Wisdom

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. (Pro 1:5)

There is never a point at which we have learned all we need to learn from God and his Word. This verse from the introduction to the book of Proverbs reminds me why I read it every month. I suppose some would think it foolish to read something over and over again. And I would certainly be embarrassed to admit to you how many times I read Lord of the Rings when I was younger! But the Bible is different. It is God’s Book. Though written by human authors, every word was inspired by the Divine Author. It contains a depth of wisdom and understanding far beyond any other book. In a hundred readings we could not uncover it all. Every month a new verse leaps off the page and connects with some part of my present experience. Lord, thank you for the gift of your Word. Speak to me through its pages. May I never tire of reading it. Amen.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's Not Just a Job

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings. (Pro 25:2)

God has glorified himself by creating a vast and intricate universe, one which contains many mysteries for us to uncover. Godly rulers glorify themselves by always seeking truth, knowledge and wisdom. From these flow justice, which God charges every ruler to uphold.

There is also a deeper principle here that extends beyond kings and rulers. God has glorified himself not only by creating this mysterious universe, but also by creating a unique species to inhabit it – man. He has given us the ability to plumb these mysteries by observation, experimentation and contemplation. Whenever we exercise this God-given ability we bring glory to God. As Christians, we can be proud to pursue any secular vocation, as long as we give all the glory to God. All of us - not just scientists, doctors and lawyers but also waiters, clerks and janitors - all of us bring glory to God when we exercise our gifts in humility and righteousness. We use our God-given ability to understand the task at hand and then apply our strength of mind and hand to accomplish it. Lord, help me to remember every day as I work at home and on the job to give you all the glory for the unique gifts you have given me. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Hammer of Grace

About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. (Acts 22:6)

When God decides it is time to get your attention, he will do whatever it takes to accomplish the job. Saul needed a hammer; some need only a feather. But all of us need God to take the first step. Saul seemed as unlikely a convert as one could imagine. Going from city to city persecuting the Christians, how many deaths must he have been responsible for? I wonder how many of them were praying for Saul’s salvation. God heard their prayers.

Forty years ago God got my attention, too. There were no bright lights or voices that day, but it took more than a feather to get my attention. I felt the powerful, tangible presence of God and knew in an instant that he is real and Jesus is Lord. Many people were praying for me that day, as well. Thank you, Lord, for your incredible mercy. I pray that you would have mercy on those who are precious to me who don't know you. Make your presence real to them. Touch their hearts so they know you love them and accept them by the blood of Jesus. Please do whatever it takes to get their attention, and soften their hearts to receive you. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He Has Risen!

Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! (Lk 24:5-6)

The women who went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus were looking for a dead man, and if they had found him we would never have heard about it. Generally speaking dead people stay put. But Jesus is different. Everybody thought they knew that. Of course he’s different! He is the Messiah – a miracle worker and a prophet. But then he died, and it wasn’t supposed to end like that. These women were filled with sorrow because they loved Jesus. But they expected to find him there that morning, in the cemetery with the other dead people. Until that moment they didn't understand how different he is. Until they saw the empty tomb and heard the angels proclaim, “He has risen!”

He has risen! This morning that wonderful cry will ring out from the lips of two billion Christians. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, incarnate in human flesh, died for our sins but he didn’t stay dead! The tomb is empty. You won’t find him at the cemetery. The moment that might have been forgotten centuries ago is instead celebrated as the most singular event in human history. He lives! Our Savior lives! Alleluia!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Open Wide Your Mouth

I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it…you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. (Ps 81:10,16)

In this psalm the Lord reminds Israel that he will vanquish all their foes and fill their every need, if only they will listen and obey him. These verses evoke the days in the wilderness when God fed the people manna, the mysterious bread from heaven that “tasted like wafers made with honey.” (Ex 16:31) At no other time were they ever more dependent on him, and God sustained them with consistent, daily miracles.

Why do I often fail to be receptive to what God wants to do for me? What command could be simpler than “open wide your mouth?” Perhaps because when you open your mouth really wide you can’t see too well what’s about to be placed in it: honey wafers or bitter herbs. I miss out on God’s blessing because I do not want to give up control. I must practice a child-like faith. I must learn to trust his goodness and his mercy.

Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Mt 7:9-11)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sin's Bitter Aftertaste

Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious! (Pro 9:17)

This is the siren call of Folly, personified in Proverbs 9 as a woman who lures the foolish into her house. What is the enticement she offers? It is something for nothing: sin without consequences. But she is a deceiver, because sin always has consequences. God’s commandments are good, and when we break them we are acting against our own best interests. Even what we do in secret – what we think we can get away with – will lead to our destruction. The thief thinks he will not be caught, but will he truly evade justice? Even if he is never found out, he will reap the consequences in his own soul. Sin is corrosive to our spirits. The unbeliever brings condemnation on himself when he sins, and the believer breaks fellowship with God. God calls us to repentance when we sin, but what he truly desires is our obedience. The Holy Spirit empowers and God’s Word instructs. We are not fools. We know that the sin which tastes sweet in our mouths will turn to bitterness in our hearts. By God’s grace we can choose obedience. Lord, I choose your way. Amen.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Trail of Trials

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. (Ex 13:17-18)

Ever wonder how God chooses the path he leads us on? It should be obvious by this point in our lives that it’s not the easiest or shortest path. We can see that in this passage. If you are in Egypt and you want to get to Canaan, the easiest and quickest way is to follow the Mediterranean coast up through Philistine country. You certainly wouldn’t strike out across the desert toward the Red Sea. Even if you could figure out how to cross it you would find yourself in the desolate Sinai. In fact, by leading them to the shores of the Red Sea God led them, on purpose, into a trap. With the sea before them and the army of Pharaoh behind them they were in need of a miracle – which was precisely God’s plan! That day God miraculously defeated both the army and the sea. By taking them on this path, what did God accomplish?
  1. They saw God’s final, miraculous triumph over their Egyptian slave masters. 
  2. They were in a desolate region where they were utterly dependent on God for food and water. And 
  3. There was absolutely no way they could turn back because the Sea was now between them and Egypt! 
In fact, if they had taken the coast road they would have had to fight their way through Philistia, and God knew they were not ready for that.

Lord, I know you go behind me and before me. You mark out a path for me that is wiser than I can imagine. It is a path full of trials, but they are the trials you have chosen for me. There are other trials I am not ready to face, but you have chosen these trials for me so that I may learn to depend on you. You are my provision and my protection. I will trust in you. Amen.

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. (Ps 48:14)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cry of the Poor

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. (Pro 21:13)

Lord, I know that I don’t do nearly enough to help people in need. I live a cloistered life. All my family and friends and coworkers are well fed and have good homes. How often do I concern myself with those who are less fortunate – those who are barely making it, or those who have no jobs at all? Lord, could it be that my prayers are not answered because I have hardened by heart to the suffering around me? How can I be a man of God if I have no compassion for the poor? And how can I be compassionate if I fail to act? Lord, I will open my heart to the poor. I will begin to serve those in need. Forgive me for my self-absorption and remind me of the promise I make today. Amen.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ruler of Men's Hearts

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of mine among them.” (Ex 10:1)

God’s plan for Israel from the very beginning was to engineer a miraculous deliverance for them from Egypt. But his plan of blessing for them came at the cost of great suffering and hardship for the Egyptians. Pharaoh was willing to let his people endure ten great plagues before he finally let the Israelites go. After the first five plagues the Bible says Pharaoh hardened his heart, but with the sixth plague something different happened. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. For plague seven, again Pharaoh hardened his own heart, but then God had given him all the chances he was going to get. For the final three plagues God made sure Pharaoh’s heart was hard so he would not relent. Was that unfair? I don’t think so. Everything we have is a gift from God and he gives us many chances to turn our hearts to him. Many chances, yes, but there will be one time that is the last time. I pray for lost loved ones that God will give them many chances to repent, that God will not shorten their lives.

Lord, when I read this grim story of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart a glimmer of hope comes into my mind. I know that if you can harden hearts you can also soften them. Just as you turned Saul from persecutor to apostle in one dramatic moment on the Damascus road, you can change a lost person's heart in an instant. You changed my heart in just that way. Lord, I will continue to pray for your miraculous hand to save the lost. Soften their hearts and grant them mercy. Amen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Numbering Our Days

Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. (Ps 39:4)

Why would David want God to reveal to him the date he was going to die? Because he wanted to be reminded how little time we have to serve God in this world. In the previous verses David tells of the powerful conviction he felt when he remained silent in the presence of evil. Finally he speaks when he can remain silent no longer (v3). But why do we ever put off doing what we know we should do? We delay because we are lazy or selfish or afraid. We act like we have all the time in the world, but David knew differently. “Each man’s life is but a breath.” (v5) What God has called me to do I must do now and not later. “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you!” (Lk 12:20) That is how God rebuked the man who hoarded his wealth in Jesus’ parable. Lord, forgive me for wasting my time when I should be “about my Father’s business.” You have given me one life to live, and I want to live it for you. Remind me how short my days are when I am tempted to procrastinate. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who Am I That I Should Go?

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11)

We criticize Moses for being reluctant to obey, but actually he is asking an excellent question here. When God commanded Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt, the worst thing Moses could have done is charge in on his own to obey. It would have been foolhardy for Moses to rely on his position as a former prince of Egypt, or his skill as a warrior, or any other worldly ability. By asking “Who am I” he rightly recognizes that on his own he is doomed to fail. But it was not God’s intention for Moses to go alone. God’s reply to Moses is, “I will be with you.” (v12)

Now Moses should have said, “Yes, Lord.” But he continued to question God’s command. When we reply to the Lord’s command by saying, “But, but, but…” we must understand we are no longer doubting ourselves; we are doubting God. He is fully able to accomplish in us whatever work he commands us to perform. Thank you, Lord, that you choose us, inadequate vessels that we are, to do your will. Teach me not to doubt that even with all my flaws you can do great things through me. Amen.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

From Prince to Frog

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. (Ex 3:1a)

In the fairy tales, the princess kisses the frog and he turns into a handsome prince. In the story of Moses, it seems at first as though God has it backwards. He takes Moses, a prince of Egypt, and turns him into a shepherd. Shepherding was a lowly profession in Egypt. Gen 46:34 tells us that shepherds were despised by the Egyptians. Imagine what Moses must have thought about the turn his life had taken. He was the prince whom God had turned into a frog! Or so it seemed. But God had a different idea. He had a bigger plan for Moses than being a pampered royal prince in Egypt. After 40 years of shepherding sheep, he was ready to be a shepherd of God’s people.

How often do I misunderstand the turns my life has taken? Illnesses, failures, disappointments – they don’t seem like the stuff of a great master plan for my life. But they are! Every hardship and every failure, if I’m willing to learn from them, molds me into the kind of man God can use for his glory. Lord, I am willing to learn. Redeem my failures by teaching me to be your obedient disciple. Lead me through the hard times and train me up as a man of faith to be your witness. Thank you, Lord, for your great plan for my life. Amen.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Least of These

I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. (Mt 25:45)

How often do I have a chance to help someone but choose not to? How often do I ignore those in need? How often do I not even notice? Too often! I am selfishly absorbed in my own wants and comfort. I choose me over others. But in this passage Jesus is telling us that the heart of a true Christian is focused on others. And who are those others? Who are “the least of these?” They are the invisible ones, the nobodies who have nobody to care for them. God forgive me for retreating to the comfort of my home with hardly a thought for those in need. I may write a check, but I assume others will get involved in the messy business of people’s lives. But Jesus had something more personal in mind than that. Jesus loved the unlovable. As much as the miracles or the great teaching, it is what defined him. Society’s greatest outcasts found hope and comfort in him. Lord, I want to be like you. Forgive me for ignoring “the least of these.” Teach me to see them as you see them, and to love them as much as you have loved me. Amen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sin of the Sadducees

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” (Mt 22:29)

The Sadducees tried to trip up Jesus with a tricky question about the resurrection, but Jesus would have none of it. He rebuked them because they knew neither God nor his word. The funny thing is, the specific question they asked is one that I don’t think any Bible scholars would know the answer to today if Jesus’ answer had not been recorded here in Scripture. So why was he all over them? Because he could see their hearts. The cynical, worldly Sadducees didn’t even believe in the resurrection; they just wanted to make Jesus look foolish. So Jesus goes straight to the heart of their issue: “You do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

So my first thought when I read that is, stupid Sadducees! You tell ‘em, Jesus. But I have to stop and ask myself, do I really know the Scriptures and the power of God? And I think the answer is, much less than I like to think. Do I live my life like someone who believes in a God who raises people from the dead? Do I experience the power of God in my life? Do I expect God to move powerfully in my life? If I had really taken the Scriptures to heart I would. I think I talk like a disciple but live like a Sadducee. Lord, help me to expect great things. Help me to have faith that you will act in a mighty way. You are the God who raises men from the dead! You rose from the dead! No question is too hard for you and no problem too great. Remind me of that when I falter. Keep me from the sin of the Sadducees.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Giver of Good Things

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” (Ps 16:2)

Every good thing we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father, the creator of all things. Why are we so often possessive of what we have and resentful of what we don’t have? We are possessive because we forget we are tenants only. What I enjoy here on earth is mine for a time, but when I die I will give it all back to the One who owns everything. I resent what I do not have because I am focused on created things instead of the Creator himself. It is easy, too, to forget that God has promised us an inheritance greater than anything we have enjoyed in this life. I am not talking about streets of gold here. They are just a backdrop for what the true blessings of eternity will be – basking in the brilliance and warmth of God’s presence forever and ever, in the blissful fellowship of all the saints. The good things God has given me now – family and friends and a home and a ministry – these are just a foretaste of the good things to come. Thank you, Lord, for your incredible generosity to your children. Amen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keep on Praying

Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. (Gen 25:21)

When we read about the lives of the patriarchs they seem so exciting and filled with miracles. And, of course, God did some amazing miracles in their lives. But the idea that their lives were an exciting pageant of miracle after miracle is an illusion. It only seems that way because all their long years are telescoped into a few chapters. This verse is in two sentences. Sentence 1: Isaac prays. Sentence 2: God answers. But in reality Isaac prayed for twenty long years that God would grant them children. He was forty when he married Rebekah and he was sixty when Jacob and Esau were born. Twenty years of prayer. But he had God’s promise to his father Abraham to cling to. God promised to make Abraham a great nation and told him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” (Gen 21:12) We have God’s promises, too, as we labor for years in prayer. But do we sometimes doubt? Do we get discouraged? I do! At such times let us remember the example of Isaac, dispatched so neatly here in two sentences. Let us remember his perseverance and God’s faithfulness. Scripture is full of those who persevered and lived to see God’s promise fulfilled. Thank you, Lord! I will always pray and not give up. (Lk 18:1)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Immediate Obedience

On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him. (Gen 17:23)

When God confirmed his covenant with Abram, he gave him a new name, Abraham, and a new sign of the covenant, circumcision. God commanded that Abraham and every male in his household be circumcised, which would have been hundreds of men. (Gen 14:14) This must not have sounded like a great idea to Abraham, let alone to all his servants, but this verse tells us he did it the very same day! One of the things I love about Abraham is that he was always quick to obey. Even when he was later commanded to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac he did not hesitate. Gen 22:3 says he got up “early the next morning” for the journey to Mt. Moriah.

When God’s commandments sound hard am I quick to obey? When a sacrifice is required do I hesitate? Lord, help me follow the example of Abraham. Whatever the task, he was ready. Give me courage to obey you in times of testing. Amen.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Timeless Wisdom

The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, before the world began. (Pro 8:22-23)

Here wisdom personified is speaking, and we learn that wisdom has been around for all eternity. Before the creation of the world there was wisdom. What does that mean? Several things, I think. First, wisdom is one of the immutable attributes of God. It has always existed because God is wise, and he has always existed. Second, God formed the world by wisdom. Creation was wisely made, and everywhere we see his wisdom and his glory in it (though it is now marred by our sin). Third, this passage tells us that the world depends on wisdom, but wisdom does not depend on the world. Wisdom is timeless. It is not circumstantial. Right is always right. It is not popular to believe this today. Today people say “Well it depends,” and think themselves sophisticated and wise. Everything is contextual, they say.

Of course, being wise does depend on getting your facts straight. But too often when someone says “It depends,” they mean “It depends on me.” What I think; how I feel; what I want or think I need. Such thinking quickly leads us into pride, selfishness and delusion. True wisdom is based on God’s timeless truth which he has revealed in his Word. I need to listen to what God thinks, how God feels and what God wants. Only then will I be truly wise.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Dawn in a Land of Darkness

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Is 9:2)

Matthew quotes this verse to describe the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. (Mt 4:16) Light is a powerful metaphor in Scripture. We were all born into darkness – the darkness of ignorance, the darkness of error – with the shadow of death hanging over us. Jesus is the light of the world. (Jn 8:12) He is the light of truth, the light of life and the light of hope. We associate darkness with fear – the fear of death, the fear of unseen enemies or the fear of the unknown. But Jesus comes and casts out all fear. In him are knowledge and wisdom and power. Now the way forward is lit and the end is known. I will live in the light of his truth and the blessing of his love forever and ever. Amen!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Whosoever Will

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Rev 22:17)

What could be sweeter, or what could set the heart more at ease than this? The free, simple, open invitation to come and enjoy the blessings of God forever and ever! The hard work has been done; all debts have been paid. Jesus has made a way for us to freely enter God’s presence with everlasting joy. What madness causes men to cling to their pride and fail to enter in? There is no greater evidence of the depravity of sin than for a man to turn down such a gift! Dear Lord, thank you that you broke through all my pride and my stubborn skepticism nearly 40 years ago so that I could see the light. It was all your doing. You saved me; I did not save myself. Thank you that I will enjoy the blessings of your Kingdom forever and ever. You paid the price. You made the offer. All I had to do was open my hand to receive it. Can it really be that simple? Yes!!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

King of Kings

On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords. (Rev 19:16)

Many countries have kings and lords, but there is One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Sovereign of every sovereign, the Ruler of every ruler, the Chief of every chief. No matter how lofty you are in wealth or fame or power or learning or beauty, there is One who is loftier still. We constantly try to contain God in our minds or in our world, but he will not be contained. We try to level him, but he will not be leveled. Qualitatively and quantitatively he is far, far beyond anything we can conceive of. And yet...

We can know him. We cannot encompass him, but we can experience him. For all his incomparable greatness he is a Person – one who loves us and wants us to know him. Lord, I thank you for the great mystery of your love and the great joy of your presence. Forgive me for ever taking for granted the incredible gift of knowing you. Amen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

God's Family Tree

These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Neh 7:64)

If you set out to read the Bible cover to cover, one of the challenges you will face is plowing through the long genealogies and lists of names. They seem to go on for pages, and to the modern reader they are dry as burned toast. What accounts for this ancient obsession with names and genealogies? Simply this: for the Israelite, his connection with the family of God is his line of descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To be cut off from the people of God was to be cut off from God. For the priests and Levites it was even more important. The Levites had to prove they were descended from Levi and the priests had to prove they were sons of Aaron. I read once that one of the incalculable losses of the Holocaust was the destruction of the genealogical records which the Jews of Europe had maintained for centuries. How tragic! But now I understand why, for the Christian, such genealogies are less important. Our connection to the family of God is much simpler, and our line of descent is quite short. Each one of us is an adopted son or daughter of the King of Kings. We have each been grafted in to the family tree. (Rom 11:17) For by grace we have been saved through faith (Eph 2:8) and everyone who believes has been given the right to be called a child of God! (Jn 1:12) Praise God! Thank you, Lord, for your mercy! Amen.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rich Man, Poor Man

Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is Maker of them all. (Pro 22:2)

If there’s one thing the Bible is clear on it is that we are all equal before God, rich and poor alike. Passages like James 2:1-7 come to mind, but it is not just a New Testament message. The Law makes no distinction between rich and poor, except that the poor can bring a cheaper sacrifice. In Lev 5:7-13, for example, if you cannot afford a lamb for a sin offering you can bring two doves or two young pigeons. Those who cannot even bring two doves can bring a small amount of flour. Even more, the Law requires men to take special care of the poor: to aid the widows and orphans, not to exact usury, to free all slaves in the year of jubilee, etc. The Scriptures, in fact, spend quite a bit of time on this topic, and why? Because we need it! Throughout history, societies have stratified into an upper class and a lower class, the haves and the have-nots. Our pride deceives us into thinking that if we own more we must be worth more. People misunderstand God’s blessing. They think they deserve it. Now it is true that wisdom and righteousness often reap a harvest of prosperity. You don’t have to go far in Proverbs to see that. Just two verses past this one we read, “Humility and fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life.” (v4) But nowhere does the Bible say that rich people are intrinsically better than poor people.

God calls us to love our fellow human beings, whatever their estate. Forgive me, Lord, when I overlook those who have nothing or envy those who have much. Train my heart to see the person behind the tattered clothes or the fancy car. Every one is a sinner for whom Christ died, and I should love them no less than you do. Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Nobles of Tekoa

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Neh 3:5)

Under the leadership of Nehemiah, the people of Jerusalem repaired the city wall, which had lain in ruins for over a hundred and fifty years. It was a huge undertaking, but they completed it in only 52 days. This entire chapter of Nehemiah is devoted to recording all the people who helped, and what section they rebuilt. Goldsmiths, perfume-makers, merchants and Levites – they all helped build the wall. Well, almost everyone. In the whole chapter, only one group refused to help: the “nobles” of Tekoa. How foolish they must have looked! Tekoa wasn’t much of a town and, at this time, Judah wasn’t much of a country, but the proud “nobles” of Tekoa held themselves aloof. Was it that they considered manual labor to be beneath them, or could they not stand to take orders from someone else? Meanwhile, the men of Tekoa, perhaps embarrassed by the leading citizens of their town, actually repaired two sections of the wall (v27), the only group to do so.

Are there menial tasks that I would be unwilling to do for the sake of God’s Kingdom? Would I empty a bedpan or dig a ditch? I suppose I would try to weasel out by spiritualizing it. “Oh, that’s not my gift.” But Lord, I don’t want to be like the nobles of Tekoa. I am willing to do whatever needs to be done for your Kingdom. Convict me when foolish pride, or sheer laziness, causes me to shrink back from the task you have set before me. Amen.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Satisfaction Guaranteed

The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied. (Pro 13:4)

I am basically lazy. I know some diligent people, and I’m not one of them! You can have the best plans and lots of good intentions, but if you don’t put your shoulder to the wheel you will accomplish nothing. So what does it mean to be diligent? Every time I have read this verse I always think of lazy and diligent as polar opposites. But as I reflect on it now, I think the true opposite of “lazy” is “driven.” I know some driven people, too, and I can tell you they are not “fully satisfied.” The lazy person does nothing because he thinks someone else ought to do it. But the driven person thinks he has to do everything himself. He has forgotten the providence of God. Yes, God has given me a calling and I must be diligent to do all he has called me to do. But it is God who provides all my needs. It is God, and him alone, who fully satisfies. Lord, make me diligent to hear your will and obey, to faithfully obey your commands. Then I will trust in you to satisfy all my needs. Only you can fully satisfy. Amen.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Show Him You Love Him

The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 Jn 2:4)

These are hard words. Whenever I read 1 John I always want to rush past this verse because I do not like to think about what it says. It is too convicting. Now I know that no one can truly live a sinless life in this fallen flesh of ours, so it is reasonable to assume that John is talking about whether our lives are characterized by obedience or not. But does that really make me feel any better? Is my life characterized by obedience? And not just my actions, but my words and my thoughts as well? John holds up a standard for loving God that reveals my love for him to be a weak and pitiful thing. I can take this two ways. I can shrink back in despair, knowing I will never lead a sinless life, or I can take up the challenge and rise with a new determination to demonstrate my love for God. I will rise up! Lord, I am committed to obeying you as best as I am able, because I love you. You have shown your love for me in your awesome sacrifice on Calvary. Can I not obey you, even in the little things, even in my thoughts and words, to show my love for you? Lord, remind me when I come to the crossroads of sin and obedience that only one choice will demonstrate the true nature of my love for you. Amen.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

God's Amazing Plan for Us

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure. (Gen 15:16)

What an amazing plan God has for us! We often wonder why he lets bad things happen. These things don't take God by surprise. He has planned them for centuries. And not only does he have a good reason for them, he often has two or three good reasons!

In this passage, God is making a covenant with Abram. He has promised to make Abram’s descendants into a great nation. But he also tells Abram his descendants will be slaves in another country for 400 years. That part sounds bad. Who wants to suffer for 400 years? Of course, we know in hindsight that Israel's bondage in Egypt and miraculous deliverance was God’s plan to forge them into a nation. Even more, their experience in Egypt was a type (a foreshadowing) of our deliverance in Christ. But God had yet another reason.

We know that when Israel entered the Promised Land it was the fulfillment of God’s promised blessing for them. But sometimes we forget that it was also his execution of judgment on the Canaanites for their many sins. God tells Abram his descendants will be in bondage for 400 years because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Here we see that Israel’s suffering in Egypt had yet another purpose – to show God's mercy to the Amorites! He is going to give them an extra 400 years to repent of their sins. Even though God knew that ultimately they would not repent, in his mercy he desired to give them every opportunity. He is not hasty in judgment.

God weaves all of these many different purposes into the beautiful tapestry of his plan for our lives. When I wonder why God allows suffering in my life, or in the life of a friend, I can be confident that he has a deep and worthy purpose in it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Our Advocate

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (1 Jn 2:1)

God hates sin. It is an offense to him. Sin demands punishment. How comforting then to know that when I sin I have an advocate with the Father! I imagine that when I sin Jesus says, “Father, I have paid the debt for this man’s sin. Do not hold it against him.” Now, it would not do to have just anyone for your advocate before the Father. Our advocate is Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, the Son of God who lived a perfect life and then died for our sins (v2). This is the only basis for his plea to the Father on my behalf. Certainly it is not for any merit of my own. I deserve justice but I receive mercy. How great is God’s love for us! (1 Jn 3:1) Thank you, Lord, for the great gift of your mercy.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fighting the Wrong Battle

Jesus commanded Peter “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (Jn 18:11)

For Peter, the night that ended in betrayal began with a brave but foolhardy act. Taking a sword, he tried to defend Jesus from the crowd that came to arrest him. But Peter was fighting the wrong battle. This was the path Jesus had planned to walk from the beginning. It was the path for which he had prepared himself as he agonized in prayer that night. Jesus had come to do battle for the souls of men. Peter thought he had come to restore the kingdom of Israel. (Acts 1:6)

How often am I working against God’s plan because I misunderstand his purposes? Peter thought he needed to save Jesus, but he almost kept Jesus from saving Peter. When our children were little they always wanted to “help” us, which of course meant twice as big a mess and twice as long to clean up. Lord, do I make messes you have to clean up when I’m only trying to help? Give me the wisdom and understanding to see how you are working in each situation and be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Amen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Know Him and Know Truth

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (Jn 14:16-17)

As the disciples lived with Jesus for three years they were also living with the Holy Spirit and getting to know him. But Jesus gives them a promise of an even more amazing relationship with the Spirit – he “will be in you.” This was fulfilled at Pentecost and now is the marvelous privilege of every believer, to have the Spirit of God living in our hearts. Jesus calls him the Counselor, the Spirit of truth. Through him we can have certain knowledge of things that otherwise we might not know at all. There are a lot of things I think are true based on evidence, there are some things I have concluded based on reasoning and there are many things I accept based on what I hear. But through the witness of the Holy Spirit in my heart there are some things I know. Through him I know God is real, I know God loves me, I know I am saved, I know the Bible is true, and I know I will live with him forever.

The world cannot accept these things because the world does not know him. In philosophy, epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. The witness of the Holy Spirit is a new type of epistemology that secular philosophers cannot accept. Oddly, while it is the most suspect to them it is the most certain to me. But because of this, I cannot expect to argue someone into agreeing with the Bible. I must point them to God and trust his Spirit to soften their hearts. I may often be able to offer evidence or reasoning or testimonies that can help my unbelieving friends see the reasonableness of Christianity, but only the Holy Spirit can make them believe it. Then they, too, will know it with the same certainty that I know it.