Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Delight in the Law

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. 
Psalm 1:1-3

I delight in a lot of things. I delight in my wife, Stacy. I delight in my daughter. I could even be accused of delighting in a Dr. Pepper from time to time. But this psalm says that a defining characteristic of the righteous person that he delights in God's law. This is a very different attitude towards God's law (and the Old Testament in general) than we often find in our churches today. Why does he delight in the law? Isn't the law boring and restrictive? No! Scripture teaches throughout the Old Testament but especially in the Psalms (and specifically in this psalm) that God's law is truth that leads to righteousness (Deut. 4:1-8Deut. 6:24-25Psalm 119:7, 62, 137, 160, & 164.) God rewards and prospers righteousness and brings the wicked to ruin. That makes God's law a road map to spiritual prosperity.

The end result of delighting in God's law is presented in verse three. "Whatever they do prospers." For years I have prayed that God would make me like the Bible character Joseph. I have prayed that He would prosper whatever I put my hand to for His glory. Only now have I noticed that this verse shares the secret of how I can have that. The secret is to know God's law and obey His commands! The person who knows and obeys God's wise direction is like a tree planted by an ample supply of water. He can withstand any drought or difficulty. He will be productive.   

How do you relate to God's law? I know we are not under the law anymore. It isn't our path to salvation. But God's moral law found in the Old Testament is still good and true and wise. It is still worthy of meditation and delight. Even today it lays out the path to righteousness and spiritual prosperity. Delight in the law of the Lord! Meditate on it day and night, and you too will be like that tree planted by a gentle stream. You will prosper in whatever you do.  

For further reading...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Choose Sides

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
Mark 8:34-38

During WWII the United States military drafted many men into the armed services. You can imagine that few men who were fit for duty and who actually wanted to serve in the military were turned down. One young man was. In 1942, two years after having been turned down, this young man sent a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt requesting to be allowed to serve. He had a particularly strong reason to want to fight in the war and the United States had an equally strong reason to doubt his motives. You see this young man's name was William Patrick Hitler. He was Adolph Hitler's nephew. Incredibly, after being cleared for service by none other than J. Edgar Hoover himself, William did go on to serve in the U.S. Navy from 1944 until he was injured in 1947. (William's letter and other details of this story can be read here on the blog Letters of Note.)

We all have to choose sides. This is no less true in the epic struggle between good and evil, between God and Satan. Jesus tells us that there is an associated cost no matter what side you choose. If you choose to follow Christ, then everyday you must take up your cross. You must die to your fleshly desires and choose to live for His kingdom and glory. No doubt this is a high price to pay, but the accompanying reward makes it worthwhile. Those who lose their life for Jesus in this world will preserve their eternal life in the next. They will gain an inheritance in Heaven with the Son (I Peter 1:3-5).

On the other hand, if you choose to live for yourself in this world, then you can fulfill all your lusts and fleshly impulses. You can serve the gods of money, self, sex, drugs, or men's approval. But this will be a pitiful comfort when you lose your soul for eternity. Having chosen Satan's side in this world, your eternal fate will be tied to his in the next. Those who reject Jesus will spend an eternity in torment in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:7-15). Additionally, there are those who claim to follow Christ, but whose behavior betrays them. If you are ashamed of Christ and do not obey His commands, you will lose your soul.

This world and the next are at odds. You simply can't have both. You must make a choice, one that will require you (like William) to turn your back on old ways of living, on friends, and even on family at times. Think carefully about your choice and count the cost but remember you are not guaranteed tomorrow. I urge you to choose Christ now by faith, believing that what you gain far outweighs anything you give up.

For further reading...

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Longsuffering Grace Checked by Justice

This is what the Lord says to Israel: “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel, do not go to Gilgal, do not journey to Beersheba. For Gilgal will surely go into exile, and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.” Seek the Lord and live, or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire; it will devour them, and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
Amos 5:4-6
Parents often struggle to discipline their children. We can see that a rebellious heart is being revealed in our toddler when she sits in the floor, sticks her pouty little lip out, and scowls at us. But the truth is that sometimes children can be such cute little sinners. There is a part of us imperfect parents that sometimes just wants to scoop them up in our arms and say something like, "Oh I just love you too much to tell you no." The Bible makes clear to us that our Heavenly Father is not subject to this weakness. That is not to say that He is short on grace. He is patient and longsuffering, slow to anger, and abounding in love; but He will not let sin go unchecked in the life of one of His children (Numbers 14:18 & Nahum 1:3).
The Old Testament prophet Amos illustrates this nicely for the people of Israel shortly before they would be conquered by the Assyrians and taken into exile. The Israelites were looking forward to the day of the Lord as the day when He would bring judgment on the wickedness of their enemies. But Amos says to them, "Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light..." (Amos 5:18). He goes on to explain that on that day the Lord would bring judgment not only on their enemies but also on their own sin which they had grown so blind to. Amos names Israel's sin in 2:6-8. He says that they have exploited the poor and the righteous as well as worshipped false gods through performing ritual acts of sex.
Amos shows Israel just how blind they have been to their sin. Their loving, Heavenly Father has been trying to get their attention for sometime now to no avail. They have silenced the prophets (2:12) and ignored all the warnings He has sent them. Finally, God has sent Amos (a shepherd from the kingdom of Judah) over to Israel as a prophet to warn them. In chapter four Amos lays out for Israel all the ways that God has disciplined them in patience, gentleness and grace, giving them opportunities to turn from their sin and return to Him. Amos reveals to Israel that God has sent famine on their cities (4:6); He has withheld rain (4:7-8); He plagued their crops with blight, mildew and locust (4:9); He sent pestilence and disease in the land killing young men and horses (4:10); and He even sent destruction on some of them (4:11). God did all of this in an effort to wake them up to their sin, to bring them to repentance. Yet, Israel remained hardened and oblivious, resolute in her ways. Now Amos has come to pronounce that her final judgment would be the destruction of the nation. And yet even after all this, Amos 5:4-6 tells us that God still holds out the opportunity for repentance. "Seek the Lord and live," Amos says.
I wonder how often we stubbornly or blindly fail to see God's warnings in our lives. How are we oblivious to the discipline that is designed to turn us from our sin? I'm not saying that every difficult circumstance in our lives is God's judgment, but we should stop and carefully consider, "Is the difficulty I'm experiencing right now God's way of graciously and patiently trying to get my attention, to reveal to me that I have been blind to sin in my life?" Maybe you have been through difficult circumstances recently. Maybe God has removed His blessing from your life. Maybe you have a general feeling of discontent, a restlessness, or a financial difficulty. Stop and consider. Is God trying to get your attention? Is their sin in your life right now? Perhaps you are falling prey to lust, pride, anger, or self-centered living. Heed the warnings of the Lord. Repent on your knees and ask for forgiveness. Ask Him to give you the strength to turn away from your sin and to live the way He has called you to live. And thank Him for His loving, patient, gracious warning that has restored you to right relationship with Him.
For further reading... 
  • Hebrews 12:5-11- Thank God that He disciplines us like a loving Father.
  • Amos- Read the entire book. It's only nine chapters.
  • Hosea- This prophet also ministered to Israel shortly before their destruction by the Assyrians.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Monuments to our Glory

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Genesis 11:1-9
God's instructions to the first humans were simple: be fruitful, fill the earth, subdue it, rule over it, and do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We all know how Adam and Eve ignored the command not to eat of the tree. The incident at the tower of Babel shows us how their descendants disregarded another of God's instructions. Instead of spreading over the face of the land and filling the earth as God commanded, they grouped together. Their common language allowed them to cooperate toward a common end. Under normal circumstances this is a good thing, but they were cooperating to build a monument for their own glory, to make a name for themselves. God did not create humanity to glorify ourselves or exalt our own names, but to bring glory to Him. Their common language allowed them to take part in even greater sin than each man could have on his own. Already mankind was exchanging the glory of the immortal God for a cheap knockoff (Romans 1:23).
God, in His wisdom, confused men's language, causing them to babble. This broke up man's cooperation in sin and caused them to keep His original commandment to fill the earth. It's interesting to consider this story in light of the Day of Pentecost in the New Testament (Acts 2). At Pentecost, God sent His Spirit to fill the disciples and enable them to speak languages they formerly had not known. The Lord temporarily reversed what He had done at the tower of Babel so many years before and tore down the language barrier. Why?  So that the good news of Jesus Christ could advance more quickly to all people. God built the language barrier to avoid mankind working toward his own glory. He removed the language barrier so that mankind could more easily work towards His glory.
Are you working to make a name for yourself or for God? In what ways are you erecting monuments to your own glory? Many people work long hours for many years to make a name for themselves in their community, profession, or even vicariously through the lives of their children. They live and die for their own glory. They even put their names on buildings so their name will be remembered long after they are gone (a remarkably similar folly to that of Babel). What monuments do you need to tear down in your life today?

Maybe you haven't built any monuments to yourself, but are you building monuments for God? Are you cooperating with others spread the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection to people of every tribe, nation, people, and tongue? All believers are called to do just this. Are you giving to missions, praying for missions, supporting ministries that translate the Bible into the languages of unreached people groups? God has given us many tools to cross language barriers today with the gospel. Be sure that your life is spent building something that will last.
For further reading...
  • Acts 2- Read the story of Pentecost and compare it for yourself.
  • Operation World is a ministry that helps Christians pray for God's great mission of love around the world. They have a wonderful prayer calendar you can use to pray throughout the year for people in every nation. You can also sign up to receive an email prompt every day with ideas to help you pray for the advance of the gospel in various nations.
  • Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-10, 14:6-7- Rejoice that God will prevail! He will redeem for Himself people from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy Year-End!

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
Ecclesiastes 7:8

At New Year's we seem to focus more on setting resolutions for the upcoming year than we do considering the year just past. Often our new year's resolutions take the form of pride rather than patience. Pride says "I will accomplish this." Whereas Patience says "I have accomplished this." Are you already considering all you will accomplish in 2014? Why not stop and consider 2013 first. The end of a matter is better than its beginning. At the end of a matter all the striving is done and there is time not only to rest and take joy in one's accomplishments but also to glean wisdom from the experience. At the beginning of a matter, however, there is often busyness and ceaseless fretting over all one has to do. There is too much to do to stop and enjoy one's work or to gain understanding at the outset of a new undertaking. When we focus only on what we will run after in the new year we rob ourselves of the pleasure of a good end and the possibility of wisdom gained.

So this New Year's as you enjoy a day off of work, hold off making resolutions for 2014 just yet. Don't allow yourself to become engulfed in new undertakings until you have properly enjoyed and considered those just finished. Stop. Pause a moment and enjoy what was accomplished this year. What accomplishments do you need to praise God for from 2013 before you move on and forget them? Consider what wisdom can be gleaned from your experiences this past year. What have you learned from 2013? What or who do you need to close the book on in your life as you move into 2014? What mistakes do you need to learn from? How were you deceived and led into sin? If you can pinpoint it, then you can avoid making the same mistakes and falling for the same temptations again. 

For further reading...