Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Very Important Message: Part 2

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:13-14

One day far in the future, when you are old and gray and you look back at your life, what do you think your greatest accomplishments will be? What do you want them to be?

The familiar Christmas passage above reveals the two great accomplishments of Jesus’ arrival: glory in heaven and peace on earth. Last week we considered how Jesus' birth and life brought God glory in heaven. (You can read that post here.) This week we will consider how it brought peace on the earth. 

Peace can mean general well-being and harmony. But when peace comes, it also implies the existence of a time when there was a lack of peace. It suggests that there was strife and discord that has now been ended by peace. This is most certainly true of us in relation to God.

Colossians 1:21 teaches us that until men turn to Christ, they are His enemies. This is not because God has set Himself against us, but because we have set ourselves against God. Every single one of us from our earliest days on this earth has chosen to rebel against God and His commands. We have all chosen to reject His rightful kingship authority in our lives and live under our own authority. We reject the true king and set ourselves up in His place. This puts us at odds not only with God but also with other men. They want to be king and so do we. Not everyone can be in charge, and not everyone can be right. So we war with each other.

Jesus’ arrival introduces peace into this discord in two ways. First, Jesus puts men at peace with God through His death on the cross: Colossians 1:20 says that through Jesus God has reconciled all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Second, Jesus puts men at peace with each other also by His death on the cross. Ephesians 2:14-17 says this of the peace that Jesus brings between the Jew and Gentile: "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."

Surely, Jesus is the Prince of Peace who brings peace on earth. How about you? Is your life marked by peace? Have you asked Jesus to set you right with God? If not, there is no better time than Christmas to surrender your life to Him. (For more information on accepting Christ as your Savior, see "The Gospel in a Nutshell" at the bottom of this post.) Or maybe you are at peace with God but not with those around you. Christmas is a wonderful time to make peace with that family member you are at odds with. You don’t need to wait for them to apologize to make peace. Jesus certainly didn't! Perhaps you are at peace with our Father in heaven and with men, but you know others who are not at peace with God. Follow Jesus’ example by sharing Him and the good news of His death and resurrection with them this Christmas.

Be a peacemaker this Christmas and spread the peace of God wherever you go. Merry Christmas!

For further reading...
  • Ephesians 2- Read this wonderful passage that covers much of the same material as this post. 
  • Colossians 1:15-23- "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior."
  • Matthew 5:9- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
  • Matthew 1:18-2:23 & Luke 1:1-2:40- Check out the full Christmas story!
The Gospel in a nutshellIf you are unfamiliar with what the gospel is, here it is in a shortened form. We are all sinners. Every one of us has sinned against God. We have rejected His way and gone our own way. We have all rebelled against the one true King. Our sin deserves punishment. In fact, so great a sin against so great a God deserves Hell. But God, because of His great love for us, wanted to offer us forgiving grace. For God to be just, our sin had to be punished though. So God in His wisdom took the punishment for our sin on Himself in Jesus. Jesus died to pay the price for your sins and mine and then He rose from the dead, breaking the power of sin over us. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in Him. So that now those who place their faith in Him can be forgiven and spend eternity in Heaven with their Savior. If you would like to do that today, here is what you need to do.

  • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
  • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
  • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9 - "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.").

You can also check out this post: "What does Jesus' death have to do with me?"

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Very Important Message: Part 1

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
Luke 2:13-14
How do you communicate a message that you believe is extremely important? Do you shout it to make sure it is heard? Or maybe you whisper it to draw them in closer? Perhaps you put it in print, in ALL CAPS, bold it, underline it, or change the font color. Whatever you do, chances are that you make sure people can tell your message is important.
God has His own ways of making sure we know when He is giving us important messages. One of those ways is by sending the message via His messengers, the angels. This is one way we know that the birth of Christ is so important, because there are so many angelic visits surrounding the event (Matthew 1:20-21, Matthew 2:12, Matthew 2:13,  Luke 1:11-20, Luke 1:26-38, & Luke 2:8-14). But there is only one message in the Christmas story that is delivered by more than one angel. In fact, God sent a great company of angels, possibly thousands of angels to deliver the same message to the same people at the same time. This must be a very important message!
Luke 2:14 reveals the two great accomplishments of Jesus’ arrival: glory in heaven and peace on earth. This week we will consider how Jesus' birth and life brings God glory. Next week we will consider how it brought about peace on earth. 
Scripture compares God’s glory to the sun in Revelation 21:23 when it says that in heaven there will be no sun for God’s glory itself will be our light. So God’s glory is like the sun that sends forth its warmth and light. God’s glory sends forth God’s goodness and excellence so that creation can respond in praise. Jesus is like the rays of the sun in this analogy. The sun would be warm and light giving even if its rays did not reach all the way to earth, we just wouldn’t know it. But because they do bring its warmth and light to earth we can enjoy them and give thanks for the sun. Jesus brings the glory of God’s grace and goodness down to earth in ways we never could have known otherwise. Through Him we experience God's love and forgiveness. Because of Him, God is glorified as we respond with faith and praise.
Christ also provides the ultimate example of obedience. John 17:4 says that Jesus glorified God by completing the work He gave Him to do. God had a perfect and wise plan for Jesus’ life. By submitting Himself to follow God’s plan completely, Jesus allowed Himself to be used to display God's glory supremely. He was born as a man. He lived a life of service to the sick, the dying, the needy, and the sinner. He allowed Himself to be falsely accused, mocked, tortured, murdered, & buried in the very ground He created; all to follow God’s plan for His life and bring glory to His name.

Do you know that God has a plan for your life too? Ephesians 2:10 says that God has prepared good works in advance for believers to do. It isn't just Jesus or ministers that God has a specific plan for. God has specific good deeds He has planned for your future. Only through prayer and the discernment of the Holy Spirit will you determine exactly what these good works are...if you are willing to fully obey Him like Christ. Is God calling you to quit work to stay home with your children? Is He calling you to go back to work, to share the gospel? Maybe you feel led to become a missionary or a minister? He might be calling you to make a big year end gift to a church or charity. Whatever the Lord is calling you to do, even if you don't know what it is yet, will you commit to following His plan for your life? At Christmas as we celebrate that Jesus was willing to come to earth following God's plan for His life, what better time than now for you to submit yourself to God’s plan?
For further reading...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Resurrected Life

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Colossians 3:1-3

Christianity is not a life change. It is a resurrection. The Bible teaches that all humans are dead in their sins. Those who respond to Christ's death and resurrection in faith are made alive through that faith to live for God. Since believers were dead and have now been made alive, it is fitting for us to set out minds on things above (where Christ is and where we are going) as opposed to setting our minds on earthly things. 
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Colossians 3:5-11
When the Holy Spirit first breathes life into the Christian's soul and calls him to salvation, that new believer's mind is dead set on the things of this world and his heart is black with love for sin. As he responds in faith, the Christian gets his first taste of the amazing goodness of God. Having tasted God's goodness, he rightly desires more of it, but the old inclinations toward the earthly remain. The believer must actively choose to put off this old mindset and this old way of living life.

Notice how much of this old life has to do with relationships. This is why it can be hard for new believers to continue all of their old friendships. If these relationships drag the believer back into lust, lying, anger, sexual immorality, evil desires, slander, and filthy language then he must choose between living a resurrected life and his friends. He will do well to recall what Jesus had to say about the man who puts his hand to the plow and turns back (Luke 9:61-62). Of course becoming a Christian does not mean you have to leave your lost friends (Mark 2:13-17 & Luke 15), but it does mean a commitment to cutting these old behaviors out of your life, putting off the old self and some friendships simply will not survive that level of life change.

But the Christian life is not only about putting off the old self, it is also a concerted effort to set your mind on the things above. We are not merely called to put off worldly behavior but to put on Christian behavior. Christianity isn't something that happens on the periphery of your life. It affects everything! It changes your identity, your behavior, and your hope. Today I challenge you to put on the new self by living out Colossians 3:12-17 below.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
With the help of the Spirit, seek out and put to death sin in your life, and continually seek to add more of the virtues of heaven to your manner of living.

For further reading...
  • Mark 2:13-17 & Luke 15- There is little doubt that Christians must cut sin out of their lives. Sometimes avoiding temptation and sin comes at the cost of losing relationships. Yet, the Bible has a lot to say about Jesus' relationships with sinners. How do these passages balance out the idea that the Christian must cut sin out of her life, but need not necessarily cut sinners out as well? (Any right understanding of this issue must admit a new believer relates to her lost friends differently after her conversion than she did before.)
  • Luke 9:61-62- What does this passage have to teach those of us who accept Jesus and then turn back to our life sin and live an essentially unresurrected life?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

God Weighs the Heart

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts.
Proverbs 21:2 (NASB)

When I was in high school, I worked for my father in the summer. He had a small civil engineering firm. I would work with his land surveyors. One day when I was working out in the field, it began to rain, so we packed up the electronic equipment and went to grab lunch. We made our way to a pizza joint in the area and waited out the rain eating pizza and playing video games. After about an hour the rain subsided and the sun came out. I thought it was about time to head back out, but my crew chief said it could start raining again any time. It really wouldn't be any use to get all the way back out into the field and set up the equipment just to have it start raining again, so we should just stay there and play video games a little while longer, he reasoned. I knew that was an excuse to play video games, but I rationalized that he was in charge and I really didn't have the right to disagree with him. I didn't want to seem like the kiss-up boss' son. And who knows? He might be right, I thought. It really could start raining again any time. So we played Ms. Pac-Man a little while longer. Rationalizations like this sound good in your head, but when your father walks through the door of a pizza joint and sees you playing video games when you should be out working, you suddenly realize how faulty they are. Needless to say I was more than a little embarrassed, and I imagine my crew chief was too.

We all make excuses to do what we want to do. We all rationalize our behavior. We find reasons to think that what we want to do is the right thing to do or at least that it's okay for us to do. But the truth is that God isn't going to judge us by our excuses. He will judge us by our hearts. Proverbs 21:2 tells us that "Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." The Lord will look past our excuses and our rationalizations and He will look at what really motivated our behavior: our heart. The truth is that my excuses for staying and playing video games that day were just ways of explaining away my behavior. They weren't the real reason I stayed. I stayed because I would rather play video games than go work in the hot sun. I would rather play video games than stand up to my crew chief.

There will come a day when our heavenly Father will surprise you without warning just like my father did on that day. He will enter into judgment on that day against the whole world. And He will judge you for everything you have ever done. Most of us are all too eager to explain away our sin and make excuses for ourselves; but on that day our excuses will not matter. God isn't going to judge you based on the ingenuity of your excuses. He is going to weigh your heart. He will look at your intentions, what you loved and why you actually did what you did. He will look at the true motives behind your behavior. So resist the urge to explain away your bad temper, your filthy language, your tendency to gossip, your occasional drunken frolic, or your sexual activity outside of marriage. Focus today on doing what is right in God's eyes based on what His Word says instead of doing what is right in your own eyes. Ask God to open your eyes today so you can see the sin in your life that you have excused for too long, then repent and ask Him for forgiveness and freedom from that sin based on His Son's death and resurrection. 

For further reading...
  • Proverbs 16:2- Do you think this proverb is restating the same point as Prov. 21:2, or is there some difference?
  • Judges 21:25 & 2:11-23- The book of judges reveals a sad cycle of sin that happens when men do what is right in their own eyes. The people of Israel would turn away from God into idolatry until God punished them by means of oppression from a foreign nation. Finally, Israel would repent and God would send a judge to deliver them. Then in time, Israel would turn away from God into idolatry again, and the cycle would repeat.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God Made it Worse

Stephen was "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," well respected in the first church (Acts 6:5). He was one of seven men chosen by the church and charged with ministering to the believing Greek widows. But Stephen did more than simply distribute food. He performed miracles and spoke with wisdom (Acts 6:8-10). It wasn't long before he was opposed by a faction of the Jews. When this faction could not refute God's wisdom that Stephen taught, they resorted to a familiar tactic. They trumped up false charges against him and brought him before the Sanhedrin just as they had done to Jesus (compare Acts 6:8-14 to Matt. 26:59-61). When Stephen rebuked the religious leaders for killing Jesus, tempers in the Sanhedrin began to boil over. Then God did something interesting...He made it worse.
When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.
Acts 7:54-58a

God not only allowed Stephen to die, He practically caused it. Why would He do that? One of His followers was in trouble, and far from coming to the rescue God made it worse. And how do we reconcile God's actions in this passage with Romans 8:28? "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." The Christian calling is in line with God's purpose for the world and our individual good. Often this means suffering for the faith. From the early church up to today this has been a reality of the Christian life. The Bible itself does not hide this. Jesus is Christianity's first martyr. Stephen is martyred shortly thereafter. Paul and others of the apostles are imprisoned, beaten and whipped. Though the Bible does not record it church history tells us that many of the apostles and other early believers suffered and died for their faith. The simple truth is that God's best for His children has always been in heaven. He blesses us here on earth as well, but our greatest blessings were always going to come in heaven.

So how did this work out for Stephen's good? The good that it worked for Stephen wasn't in this life. Stephen's reward is in heaven. The Bible assures us that all those who suffer faithfully will receive their reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12 & Mark 10:28-30). God's vision gave Stephen the strength and wisdom to stand strong until the end, to die a good death in defense of the gospel. He enabled Stephen to endure his stoning with peace and forgiveness in His heart. He accomplished the purpose for which God called him and for that Stephen will be blessed.  

Still why would God allow Stephen to die? How does it further His purposes to see one of His followers die? Acts 8:1-4 is instructive.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Because of the persecution that broke out against Stephen and the church as a whole, the gospel was taken out of Jerusalem and preached in many surrounding areas. Christianity spread and began to grow as a direct result. The early church father Tertullian has been quoted as saying that "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." It certainly seems that in the case of Stephen, he was right. Had Stephen not suffered the church might have remained primarily restricted to Jerusalem. So in the end we can see that God can work even the suffering of His saints for their good and for the furthering of His kingdom in the world.

Is the Lord allowing a trial in your life right now? I wish that I could tell you that believers always beat cancer or they never go bankrupt, but I can't. What I can tell you is that God is with you in your trial, just like He was with Stephen. God has promised that all things work together for the believer's good either in this life or in the next. And God always keeps His promises. Persevere under your hardship! Resist the urge to strike out at God and blame Him. Instead, consider how it might be used by God to further His purposes in the world. Bear up under it with peace and joy looking forward to your reward in heaven. God is aware of your suffering, and you can rest assured that He has not allowed it to happen for no reason. 

(*I praise the Lord for our 200th blog post! And I thank my wife, Stacy, for tirelessly editing these posts over the past three years and ten months. She is a great blessing to me and to every reader of this blog.)

For further reading...
  • Acts 7- In this passage Stephen responds to the charges brought against him with a masterful summary of the Old Testament from Abram's call (Genesis 12) to Solomon's building of the temple (I Kings 6 & II Chronicles 5:1).
  • Matthew 5:11-12 & Mark 10:28-30- Rewards for those who suffer in the name of Jesus.
  • A Share in His Sufferings- Read another WoW blog post on suffering. 
  • Entitled- Do you have an entitled attitude before the Lord? Read this WoW blog post to find out. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Circumcise Your Life

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Colossians 2:11-12

Though circumcision is a graphic analogy, it's one with which the Colossian believers would have been familiar. It is the cutting away of flesh. And in Jewish terms, it is the cutting away of uncleanness. This passage tells us that Christians have undergone a circumcision of our own. Though it is not physical, it is just as real. It is a cutting away of the sinful flesh, the unclean way of life by which we used to live. 

The Bible describes this circumcision in terms of Christian baptism which is a picture of the salvation God works in the heart of every believer. In baptism we are fully submerged beneath the water, symbolic of our participation in the death of Christ. He died on the cross; we die to our old, sinful way of living. Then we are raised out of the water, symbolic of our participation in the resurrection of Christ. Just as He was raised from the dead to live a new kind of life, we are also raised to live a new life. 

God gives us all we need to live this new life out. He has broken the power that sin once had over us by His death and resurrection. We are no longer powerless before our sins and addictions! And He has placed His own powerful Spirit within us to guide and strengthen us. But, it is left up to us to apply this spiritual circumcision to our everyday lives by cutting the old, fleshly ways of living out of our lives. By reading His Word and applying the wisdom and power of His Spirit within us, we determine what is sinful and therefore what needs to be cut out of our lives. And day-by-day as we remove ourselves from sin, we are conformed more and more into the image of Christ. 

What sinful ways of living do you need to cut out of your life? What about your language? Is it pure, focusing only on what is good? How about your media consumption? Would Jesus bother watching the TV shows and movies you watch? What about the music you listen to? You may kid yourself into thinking these things don't matter. But they are like the air you breathe. When you surround yourself with polluted, sinful media, you corrupt your own soul little by little. What about that toxic friend who drags you into sin and ensnares you over and over again? If you aren't strong enough yet to resist the temptation he brings with him, then you need to cut him out of our life. 

Christ paid a high price to remove your sin from you. What are you willing to do to live that circumcision out day by day?

For further reading...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Top 5 Reasons to Read the Bible

Top 5 Reasons to Read the Bible

1. His Word is Powerful!- God's words are so powerful that He created everything that exists simply by speaking. Imagine what powerful change His words can bring about in your life.
Now the earth was formless and empty... And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.(Psalm 33:6)

God's Word is True- We are surrounded by lying voices. All day long they tickle our eyes trying to sell us their product. Are you tired of being lied to? Do you want to know the truth about the world, yourself, and God? Got to the Bible! It speaks only the truth.
Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. (Proverbs 30:5)
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times. (Psalm 12:6)
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

3. The Bible Brings Salvation- Talk about the power to change a life! Every person who ever went from being a sinner to being a saint did so because of God's Word. Apart from the Word we could know almost nothing about God. It's through the Bible that we learn about His plan of salvation and are called upon to believe. 
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18)

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)
4. Scripture Grows Us and Guides Us- We all want to improve ourselves. We all wish we had a little more self-discipline or a little more understanding of who God is or even a plan for our lives. If you want to grow yourself up in the Lord, if you want to become the best version of you that you can become, if you want to feel like your life has some guidance, then the Bible is exactly what you need.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psalm 119:130)
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation... (1 Peter 2:2)
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. (Psalm 119:105)
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

5. God's Word Defeats the Enemy- Have you ever noticed how Jesus chose to combat temptation when the Devil came to meet Him in the desert? He fought the Devil with the Word of God. The Bible is a powerful weapon against temptation and the lies and confusion of the enemy. In fact, Revelation tells us that in the end all the enemies of God will be defeated by His words.
“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (
Ephesians 6:17)

He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (
Revelation 19:13-15)

For further reading...
  • Read anything in the Bible! But if you don't know where to start or if you haven't read the Bible much before here are some good books of the Bible you can begin with: Mark, Luke, or Genesis.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Safe in Daddy's Arms

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:4-7
My nine month old daughter is afraid of dogs. I'm not sure exactly why. She's never been bitten. I think maybe the loud barking scares her. As her dad I have the distinct privilege of serving as her protector; so anytime a dog is around I make sure to hold her tight and high above where the dog can reach her. I even whisper in her ear sometimes to make sure she knows I am there with her. "Daddy's here, Hallie. You're okay. I'm not going to let that dog get you." She is learning more and more to lean into me in these times and to trust me to keep her safe.
There is something about a father's presence. We feel less scared when Daddy is around. This is a helpful parallel for God's presence in our lives. Psalm 46 urges God's people to take comfort in His nearness even as their enemies rage outside the city walls warring against them. These enemies are described as shaking the whole earth in verses two and three and as being in an uproar in verse six above. But the psalmist assures us that their bark is worse than their bite for God dwells among His people. God is within the city walls of Jerusalem; it cannot fall unless God Himself were to fall! And in verse six we find that God defeats Israel's enemies with a word.
The believer can take comfort in this for God lives among us as well. His very Spirit lives inside us. No matter the problem you face, no matter how big and powerful your enemy, no matter how scared you are or how out of your depth you might be- God is with His people. He is a stream providing for your every need within the sanctuary of His protection. You cannot be beaten, because He stands with you. As Romans 8:31 says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" No one! He fights for you. God is your fortress.
Interestingly the word for fortress means a high place, a refuge that is at a secure height. It is not at all unlike being held in your daddy's arms high above and out of reach of a dog. Eventually there will come a time when I lower Hallie and let her closer to her fears... closer to a dog. I will of course make sure to choose a nice dog and ensure that she is safe the whole time. Hopefully by the time I do this Hallie will have learned to trust me enough to know that what seems terrifying to her in that instant is for her own good.
God doesn't always hold us high above our problems. Sometimes he allows them to get much closer to us than we would like. But He never abandons us. He is always "an ever-present help in trouble" (verse 1). We must learn that His presence is enough. We must learn to lean into Him and trust Him to keep us safe even in times of trouble.
For further reading...
  • Zechariah 2:5- God promises to be a wall of fire around the city of Jerusalem and to protect it.
  • Isaiah 54:17- No weapon formed against us shall prevail.
  • Psalm 2- Why do the nations rage?
  • II Chronicles 20- An excellent example of God fighting for His people.
* Certain insights in this post I owe to Charles Spurgeon's The Treasury of David on Psalm 46.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

God is Our Refuge

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:1-7
How do you plan to protect yourself? Our culture today seems obsessed with security, comfort, and protection. We have insurance plans, seat belts, pepper spray...the list could go on and on. But none of these things really have the power to prevent bad things from happening to us; they just help blunt the blow a little. In Psalm 46 we are introduced to a much superior protection plan.
This Psalm is written to God's people dwelling in God's city known as Zion or Jerusalem. Jerusalem was built on a hill that is surrounded by valleys and other hills. It was thought by many to be impenetrable until King David captured it and made it the capital of Israel (2 Sam. 5:6-12). Like most major cities of its day it was surrounded by high walls. These walls were designed to keep enemies out. It was their refuge. Anytime a warring nation attacked the Israelites they would run to the city where they would be safe. They would trust in their strategic placement on the mount, in their walls, and in their military might to keep their enemies out. This is human nature.
Yet the psalmist argues something else is the true source of Israel's (and by extension the Christian's) security. God alone is our refuge. He is an ever-present help in trouble. When trouble is headed your way, He is always easy to find. He is right there by your side. As the apostle Paul says- "If God be for us, then who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). The answer of course is no one of any consequence.

All of this carries important implications for the believer. Because God is our protection, "we will not fear." No matter how bad things are, there can be no reason to fear when you rest securely inside a fortress as strong and impenetrable as our God. He is the reason Christians for centuries have been able to stand before enemies of the cross and boldly proclaim the truth of Jesus without fear even when they knew it might mean their life. They knew that nothing could hurt them apart from God's will.
Even when God is your refuge bad things can still happen to you. But when Christians suffer it is not for lack of defense, or lack of refuge, or lack of preparation on God's part, it is because He has allowed it to happen. There are times when God allows us to suffer. Sometimes it is to discipline us and bring us back to Him. Sometimes it is to challenge us toward growth and spiritual maturity. Sometimes it is because He knows that it is through our suffering that His name will be glorified and an audience will be won for the gospel. But no Christian suffers in vain. As Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants." God does not take the death or suffering of believers lightly, any more than He took the suffering of His Son lightly. And even when we suffer, He is there with us in our pain.
So what do you trust in for your protection? I'm not saying that insurance plans or seat belts are bad, but they shouldn't be your hope for protection. David didn't tear down the walls around Jerusalem, but He knew from where His true protection came. Only God has the power to prevent bad things from happening to you. And with Him you can be sure that when suffering does find you it isn't because of a loophole in your insurance underwriter or because your seat belt malfunctioned. He allowed it for a reason and He will see you through it. Remind yourself today that God is your refuge. Whatever trouble you are facing run to Him for help. Run to God right now. Tell Him what troubles you are facing and ask Him for protection.
For further reading...
  • Psalm 46- Read the whole Psalm.
  • Romans 8:18-39- A beautiful passage on suffering and God's protection.
  • Isaiah 30- Read of God's anger when Israel turns to Egypt's military might for refuge instead of turning to Him.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Give Jesus Your...Worst

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Matthew 8:1-4

It is not uncommon in the church I serve in to hear people talk about giving God your best. Specifically, I hear Christians talk about dressing a certain way when we come to church in order to give Him your best. I think I understand the heart behind this, but today I want to ask, what about giving Jesus your worst?

In Matthew 8 we come across a man who made it into the biblical record because he brought his worst to Jesus believing that He could heal him. And Jesus did heal him! I think this man's story is included in part so we can follow him as a model. Notice this man didn't have to tell Jesus what his problem was. His illness was obvious. He simply said “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Do you know that you can't hide your need any more than he could? You might be able to cover it up with a nice suit and tie at church. You might be able to hide it behind a fake smile at work. You might even be able to pass it off as "just being tired" at home. But you can't hide your sin, your brokenness, or your need from the Lord. 

Are you trying to hide your sin? Do you do your best to keep your brokenness out of sight? Do you have secrets? Chances are you do. Most people don't enjoy airing their dirty laundry. But be careful you don't start to think that you are smarter than you really are, because you can't hide these things from God. They are as plain to Him as the nose on your face. He knows about your pride and your selfish ambition, your jealousy, and your greed. He knows about the lust, the pornography, and the affair that they led to. You wear it on your sleeve every time you enter His presence. You can't hide it from God.  

I don't have a problem with dressing nice to go to church. In fact, I do it every Sunday. But you better make sure that the condition of your heart matches the condition of your clothes. Otherwise that suit or that dress may function more like a disguise than an outfit spiritually speaking. And to me it seems that it would be rather insulting to God for you to enter His presence week after week thinking that you were somehow fooling Him. 

So today, why don't you bring Him your worst and ask Him to heal you? What sin is in your life that you haven't turned away from? Bring it to the Lord right now believing that because of His death on the cross He can forgive your sin and set you free from the power it holds over you. What part of you is broken and hurting and in need of a healing touch? Bring it to Jesus believing that it is easy for Him to heal you if it's His will. What discouragement has grabbed hold of you and is beating you down today? Bring that discouragement to Jesus. Be honest with Him about how you feel, then lift it up to Him and ask Him to give you the courage to persevere in growing nearer to Him.

God sees the worst in your life. You aren't fooling Him, so stop hiding it from Him. Bring it to Jesus and ask for healing.

For further reading...
  • Matthew 11:28-30- Come to me, all you who are weary...
  • Psalm 51- David's psalm of repentance.
  • Matthew 8- Read the rest of Matthew 8 to encounter to mind blowing power of Christ.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Study the Bible

The intent of this blog is to help people get into the Word of God. Normally I do that by offering a short devotion on a passage of Scripture. My desire is that this will whet your appetite and entice you to read more of that glorious book for yourself because I know personally how easy it is to let a week go by without taking in God's Word.
This week I want to offer you something different, but something which I sincerely hope will prove helpful. Many Christians have never been taught how to study the Bible. These believers are discouraged and spiritually malnourished when they don't need to be. You don't need a seminary degree to understand the Bible. In His grace, God made sure that normal, everyday adults can read and understand the Bible on their own. Below is a simple Bible study tool pulled together from a number of sources to help everyday people just like you read and study the Bible for themselves.
All you need to do is pick a short passage of Scripture (most Bibles break the Scriptures down into sections for you), read it, and answer the questions. They don't all apply to every passage of Scripture. But some of them will apply to your passage. These questions will highlight important indicators in the passage that will help you draw out the author's main point.
My challenge to you is to walk through this Bible study method right now using Matthew 6:19-21 as your passage of Scripture. I pray that the Lord uses it in your life.
The Inductive Bible Study Method
Step 1: Pray and ask God to help you understand this passage of Scripture.

Step 2: Observation- Read the passage several times and answer these questions? They will help you identify  the author’s main point.
1. What precedes this passage? What follows it? (Context, Context, Context!)
2. Are there any repeated words or phrases? What are they?
3. Does the author make any comparisons?
4. Does the passage reveal a cause and effect relationship?
5. Does the passage have a climax or a major point that it builds to?
6. Does the author use figures of speech like quoting a saying or exaggerating for effect?
7. Is there important phrases like “therefore” or “because of this” that identify a main point?
8. What verbs are used to describe action in the passage?
*Go the Extra Mile!- You won't always have time to do this, but if you really want to understand a passage, answer these questions. Doing so will require either skimming the entire book of the Bible or consulting a study Bible or commentary which has an introduction to the book.
9. Who is the author or speaker?
10. What is the overall message of the book, and how does this passage fit into that message?
11. What historic events surround this book?

12. What type of literature is it? (Historical Narrative, Poetry, Letter, Prophecy, etc…)

Step 3: Interpretation- The Original Audience
1. What is the author’s main point for the original readers of this passage? What did the author want them to do, believe, or know?

Step 4: Generalization- All Believers at All Times
1. How can the author’s main point be written in a single sentence so that it is relevant to all believers at all times? What does the author want all believers to do, believe, or know?

Step 5: Application- Believers Today
1. How does main point apply to believers today? What specifically do believer’s living in your culture and your time need to do, believe, or know in response to this passage?

Step 6: Implementation- Me
1. What must I change in my life personally in response to this passage?
(Ask yourself the questions below to identify potential areas of implementation.)
• Is there a sin I need to avoid?
• Is there an example I should follow or avoid?
• Does God promise me something in this passage?
• Do I need to confess something to God?
• Do I need to thank God for something?
• What do I need to tell someone or do for someone because of this passage?
• In what ways does this passage train me to be more like Christ?

Step 7: Respond in prayer by thanking God for what you learned and asking forgiveness for any sin in your life.

*This Inductive Bible Study method has been taken from Creative Bible Teaching by Lawrence O. Richards and Gary J. Bredfeldt as well as a talk sheet developed by Patrick Hamilton for use in the study of John.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Our Story

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:21-23

Let me tell you a story about our family, the human family. This story belongs to all of us, because this story tells what is true about all of us.

Once upon a time you were an enemy of God. You were born into a family of rebels who long ago broke away from God. They hated Him and had a proud history going back many centuries of opposing His leadership in their lives. But by your own actions many times over you proved that you rejected God's way of life and His right to rule over you just as vehemently as any other human ever has. (And some of you still do.)

But God, it turns out, is a King like no other. Instead of squashing this feeble rebellion, which He could have easily done, God's heart reached out in love to reclaim His rebellious subjects. He sent His Son to die for them and through the death of His Son, He has brought back to the former state of loving harmony those who believe on His Son's name.

Now God has a plan for these repentant rebels, these prodigals. At the end of time when He presides in judgment for good or ill over all His creation, He will present those whom He reconciled by His Son as trophies for His glory. He will keep them unblemished by this world. Their holiness will be above suspicion. They will showcase His great love and grace towards those who previously rebelled against Him, if they persevere in their reconciled state. You see, if they are to fulfill God's purpose for them, then these redeemed ones must continue established and immovable in their faith in the Son. They must not trade in the hope they have found in Him for some other supposed means of reconciliation to God.

This is the battle that those who accept the Son face, to stay true to their faith even as they live in a world that constantly tries to tear them away from Him. They face temptation on every side. Temptation to embrace evil and temptation to move their hope from Jesus to some other counterfeit option. If they are to bring glory to His name on that last day, then by His power at work in them they must persevere in the faith. The true mark of  genuine salvation has always been that it perseveres to the end.

Where do you see yourself in this story? Are you still opposed to God, hating and opposing His leadership over your life? If so, then look closely at the loving sacrifice of Jesus and allow it to change your view of this God (John 19). Are you one of the prodigals reconciled by the blood of the Lamb? If so, be on your guard. Stand firm in the faith to the end, so that your faith will not have been in vain, so that you may be found blameless on that final day. Cling to the cross of Jesus. Hold fast to the gospel of grace for in it alone lies your salvation and no one can snatch you out of His hand (John 10:27-30).

For further reading...

  • John 19- Read the crucifixion story and be reminded of the price of your salvation. 
  • Matt 10:22, Matt 13:20-21Matt 24:12-14John 10:27-302 Tim 2:11-13, & Heb 6:4-8- Check out these passages which speak of true salvation enduring to the end. Admittedly this biblical teaching can be confusing, however I do not understand these passages to teach that a true believer can lose their salvation. Rather I understand them to teach that true salvation is proven true by the fact that it perseveres to the end. As always I stand before God and His Word ready to be corrected if I am wrong.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Christ the Preeminent One

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
Colossians 1:15-23

In every generation ideologies and false religions rise up claiming to meet our needs better than Jesus. They claim to bring us peace, to free us from addiction, to take us to heaven (metaphorically or literally), and to explain the mysteries of our world. But only Jesus is uniquely equipped to reconcile us to God.

I can't think of another passage in all of Scripture that so cogently and convincingly argues for the preeminence of Christ. He is the firstborn of all creation. That is to say that He created it all. He is supreme over it and possesses the inheritance rights to all of it. He is also the image of the invisible God. That which was unknown, even unknowable, He has made known and brought near to us in His life on earth. He is the firstborn from among the dead. Several others in biblical history were brought back to life (John 11:43, Mark 5:41, and others), but they continued living a natural life on earth only to die again. Jesus was the first to pass through death into a new kind of life that he has opened up to all of us. Jesus was given a transformed body, and He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. And it is through the death of Jesus, His and no one else's, that all things are reconciled to God. Now we know that when this passage says that all things are reconciled to God it cannot mean that all people are saved. The Bible tells us clearly that will not happen (Rev. 20:15 & 1Cor. 6:9-11). Yet, at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). In the end all will bow before Him and the world will be set right. Some will bow unwillingly, but they will bow.

If you are a Christian brother or sister I ask you, is Christ preeminent in your life today? How could He be moved more to the center of your schedule and your life? Schedule a meeting with Jesus every day, even if it is only for a minute to pray. If you have not yet surrendered your life to Jesus, please know that only He brings true peace, true freedom, true understanding, and true reconciliation with God. Stop trying to save yourself. Trust in Christ!

For further reading...
  • If you would like to become a Christian. Here are the steps: 
    • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
    • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
    • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9).
  • Colossians: Read the entire book. It's a great one.
  • John 1:1-18- Read a little more about Jesus' participation in creation.
  • Revelation 5- Only the slain Lamb is worthy to open the scroll.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The In Between

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Colossians 1:14

"To draw to one's self, to rescue, to deliver" ( on Col. 1:14). The word "rescued" in this verse tells us much more than that the Christian is delivered from the dominion and power of sin in her life. It tells us that she is delivered for nearness to the Lord. God's rescue plan for us in Jesus is all about drawing us to Himself. Verse 14 goes on to make this abundantly clear in that it next says that we have not only been rescued from the dominion of darkness but God also brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. The word "brought" has among its meanings "to remove from one place to another, to depart from life, to die." This is a very interesting word choice because the Christian's transfer from the life of sin to the kingdom of God is a final one. It involves us taking up our crosses and dying to ourselves daily (Luke 9:23). There is no in between when it comes to the Christian life. You are either still in the dominion of darkness or you are a member of the kingdom of the Son.

Yet, as I look around I see so many Christians who appear to be in between. Their lives reflect the glory of the Lord...a little. They obey God's commands...when they want to. They bear fruit and are growing in the Lord... well, they're better than most people anyway. This is not the full measure of the Christian life! Either these men and women have not entered the kingdom of God at all and they simply play at being a Christian, or (shame upon shame!) though delivered from the dominion of darkness they have not yet been delivered from their love for it and they play at being an unbeliever. Whichever explanation fits their situation, they should reconsider the gospel. 

In verse six of this chapter the Bible says, "In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace." The gospel bears fruit and grows us up in the Lord. Paul says the gospel has done this all over the world. It's what the gospel is doing in the Colossians' lives. It is what the gospel continues to do today. If you are merely playing at being a Christian the gospel of Jesus' death is what you need to hear! If you are a Christian who is playing at being an unbeliever then you also need to hear the gospel. You need to be reminded of the greatness of the gift you have been given to be allowed into the kingdom of the Son, so that you will not despise the gift any longer. So ask yourself today...have I left the dominion of darkness behind? Is the gospel bearing fruit in me? Am I growing nearer to the Lord? Do I need to be reminded of how amazing the gift I have been given in Jesus is so that I will walk in a manner worthy of it?

For further reading....
The Gospel in a nutshellIf you are unfamiliar with what the gospel is, here it is in a shortened form. We are all sinners. Every one of us has sinned against God. We have rejected His way and gone our own way. We have all rebelled against the one true King. Our sin deserves punishment. In fact, so great a sin against so great a God deserves Hell. But God, because of His great love for us, wanted to offer us forgiving grace. For God to be just, our sin had to be punished though. So God in His wisdom took the punishment for our sin on Himself in Jesus. Jesus died to pay the price for your sins and mine and then He rose from the dead beating the power of sin over us. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for those who believe in Him. So that now those who place their faith in Him can be forgiven and spend eternity in Heaven with their Savior. If you would like to do that today, here is what you need to do.

  • A- Admit that you are a sinner and in need of God's grace (Romans 3:10 and 3:23).
  • B- Believe that Jesus is God's Son, that He died on the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and that He was raised from the dead (Romans 6:23 and 5:8).
  • C- Confess Jesus as Lord of your life. Turn from sin (from living life your way) and commit to live your life for God (Romans 10:9).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Worship Pop Quiz from God

"Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."
Psalm 50:7-15
Have you ever had that dream where you're back in school and you find out that you have a pop quiz or a test that you didn't study for? That kind of sinking, unprepared feeling is the worst. What’s really bad though is when this happens to you in real life! When it's a dream, you get to wake up and be relieved. In real life you have to deal with the consequences. In Psalm 50 God gives us a kind of pop quiz. It isn’t a math test or a history test or even a religion test. It's a test of our lives. It is a pop quiz to help prepare us for the final judgment, or life’s Final Exam if you want to think about it that way.
You will need to read the entire psalm to get the full pop quiz, but in verses seven through fifteen God focuses in on the kind of worship (sacrifices) His people offer Him. He finds fault with them because their worship appears to be just an outward show. Faith is absent. They offer sacrifices upon sacrifices but do so only as a ceremony to garner favor with God. They have an “I scratch your back, you scratch my back” sort of attitude toward worshipping the Lord. They think of their sacrifices as a way to “buy God off” or to make Him owe them in some way. But that is not how worship works! Worship isn’t just going through the motions in a ritualistic way without any faith. This isn’t pleasing to God; it draws His reprimand. God has already done so much for us that we could never pay Him back. You owe God so much that He could never owe you! So thinking that somehow by your worship that you could make God owe you something and earn gifts from Him is crazy.
But we do this too! We give money to the church, serve as Sunday School teachers or Deacons and then think that God owes us something. We think we have done God a big favor. We sing in the choir or play an instrument, attend church every Sunday, even read our Bible daily but do so only out of ceremony and ritual. We think that somehow God is pleased with us simply because we do these things. We don't do them from a grateful heart. We just go through the motions, because we think that the ritual is all that matters to God.
But this isn't the kind of worship that God wants. In verses fourteen and fifteen God tells us what He wants. He says that He wants us to give thank offerings and to fulfill our vows. Now these are two types of offerings that people offered just because they wanted to. The Israelites were never required to offer these sacrifices. So, God says in essence, “I want you to worship me, and serve me, and give me your tithes not because you have to but because you are grateful for all I’ve already given you and because you want to."
If God were to judge you today, what would He say about your worship? Are you only obeying God so He will owe you? Are you simply going through the motions of an empty ritual with no faith behind them and thinking that that is all God wants from you? Worship and serve God out of gratitude for all He has done for you. This is the kind of worship that is pleasing to Him.  
For further reading...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Train them up!

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
Proverbs 22:6

Many of you know this passage by the King James translation which begins with "train up a child in the way he should go..." I actually like the way the New International Version translates it better. It draws out what the Baker Commentary on the Bible has to say about this verse. It notes that the word for "train" can also be translated "dedicate." It also says that the phrase "the way he should go" is more literally translated "on the mouth of his way." I am not skilled enough in language studies to confirm this, but it seems to be in keeping with the meaning of the passage. Interestingly enough, the word for "way" can mean not only "path" or "road" but also "manner" or "habit." (edited by Walter A. Elwell. Proverbs commentary written by R. K. Harrison,  p.424).

All of this taken together gives us the general thrust of this proverb. I liken it to a sharpshooter aiming at a target that is a long distance off. Even if your aim is only a degree or two off, over such a long distance it is multiplied so that you miss your target altogether. But if you are careful to eliminate the smallest of errors in the beginning, then you have a much better chance of hitting your target. So too with our children. We must do more than merely lay a solid foundation in their early years and hope for the best. We must go far beyond this. After we have laid that foundation we must be diligent to watch for deviations from the path of righteousness and correct their course whenever needed. A minor step away from the Lord at the age of 8, 10, or even 15 can take your child far away from the faith by the time he is 25 or 30.

This reminds me of a saying from one of the early church fathers. Chrysostom said, “To each of you fathers and mothers, I speak: Just as we see artists fashioning their paintings and statues with great precision, so we must care for these wondrous statues of ours. Painters, once they have set the canvas on the easel, paint on it day by day to accomplish their purpose. Sculptors, too, working in marble, proceed in a similar manner; they remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking. You should proceed in the same way. Like the creators of statues, give all your leisure time to fashioning these wondrous statues of God. As you remove what is unhelpful and add what is lacking, inspect them day by day, to see with which good qualities nature has supplied them so that you can increase these qualities, and to see which faults so that you can eradicate them” (quote taken from Perspectives on Family Ministry by Timothy Paul Jones, p.20).

It is important to remember that the proverbs are not promises. They express what wisdom has found to be generally true. Unfortunately there are those children who will decide to walk away from God in rebellion even after their parents have done all they can do. But on the whole, if we are diligent to dedicate our children to the path of righteousness at a young age and keep them on it, then they will never depart from it, even in their old age after we have gone to be with the Lord. So I charge you to be diligent in raising up your children for the glory of God.

For further reading...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I will not look with approval...

I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.
Psalm 101:3

Lord let this be true of your people!

Perhaps the single greatest thing that is lacking in the lives of Christians in America today is holiness. We are no longer different from the world. We are no longer set apart for use by God. Not only do we not keep ourselves unspotted from the sin of the world, but when we come across some Christian who does and who admonishes us to do the same, we accuse her of legalism. In so many ways we are like the Laodiccean church whom Christ threatens to reject (Revelation 3:14-22). 

If you sense this lack of holiness in yourself, then I encourage you to ask God's help to begin living out Psalm 101:3 today. Short of making a firm commitment to obey God's Word as a whole, choosing to guard your eyes and hearts from lovingly approving of sin just may be the best way to increase holiness in your life. So much of what we watch on TV and in the movies, what we listen to in our music, and view on the internet is downright vile. All of this wickedness is dressed up to look as entertaining and innocent as possible. But make no mistake, it trains us in wickedness just as the Word trains us in righteousness.

Cut these things off from your eyes! Stop looking on them with approval. Stop taking part in the sins of others by consuming their godless entertainment. It may mean that you have to stop watching a favorite TV show, or that you have to stop watching almost all TV shows. It will probably mean that you stop watching rated R movies and quite a few PG-13 movies. In fact, it very well may mean a drastic life change, but then... isn't that exactly what we are after? 

For further reading...

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Count Your Blessings, Count Your Sins

Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
Psalm 106:47

If you were to list all the ways that you have rejected God's authority in your life, all the ways you have rebelled against Him, been unfaithful to Him, and disobeyed His commands, how long would that list be? In Psalm 106 the psalmist does just this for the people of Israel. He heaps praise on the Lord by noting His goodness to His people in spite of all the ways they forgot Him, tested Him, questioned Him, rejected Him, disobeyed Him, spoke out against Him, angered Him, and took Him for granted. The psalmist testifies that in spite of all the sins God's people have committed against Him, God is still faithful in His love toward them.

Verse 47 is the second to last verse in the psalm and it implies that it was written while in exile in another country. It appears that the psalmist was writing this song of praise to the Lord even as he was experiencing God's judgment for Israel's sin. Repeatedly God allowed surrounding nations to conquer Israel and carry them off captive as a punishment for their sin. Yet when Israel repented and turned back to God, He would shower them with His blessings and faithful love once again. This happened time after time. The psalmist is fully aware of this pattern and boldly asks God to act in keeping with His character again, not because his people deserve it (the psalmist knows they do not deserve forgiveness or rescue) but so that God's name may continue to be praised for His amazingly faithful, wonderful love. At a time when another man might have looked at his situation and blamed or even accused God, the psalmist turns to praise because he knows just how great his sin and the sin of his people is.

I wonder if we do not appreciate God's faithful love toward us as much as we should because we forget just how unfaithful to Him we have been. Take out a sheet of paper and jot down some of the ways that you have been unfaithful to God. Then carefully note all the ways that God has continued to faithfully love you in spite of your imperfection. Take this opportunity to give God praise for His longsuffering goodness in your life.

For further reading:
  • Read all of Psalm 106.
  • Read Daniel's response to exile in Daniel 9.
  • Exodus 34:1-9: Consider the "name" god proclaimed to Moses regarding Himself directly following Israel's sin at Sinai.