Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Walk by the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
Galatians 5:16-25

When I was a kid we had a big, untrained dog named Bear. This Australian Shepherd mix was aptly named (in my eyes anyway). I was only an eight year old boy at the time and Bear was much bigger and stronger than me, so my feelings toward him were a mixture of love and fear. Any time I tried to take him for a walk Bear would see something worth chasing and tear off after it. It was all I could do to hold onto his chain and get drug behind him. I simply wasn't big enough to stop him. The truth is I never walked Bear. Bear walked me.  

Sadly, this is exactly how a lot of people live their lives. Only it’s not a big, untrained dog that drags them around... it’s their flesh. When our fallen, sinful nature gets a craving it simply takes off after the thing it desires. Sex, money, success, proving you were right and winning the argument. Whatever it is that the flesh wants in that moment it runs after. The problem is that all of us are like that eight year old version of me. We are being drug around like rag dolls behind our cravings. None of us are strong enough to fight the lusts of the flesh alone. We need a stronger power to pull against the flesh. A power that will ultimately overpower the flesh and put it down like the rabid dog that it is. Only then can we be truly free. 

Galatians 5 tells us that this is exactly what happens in Christ. Verse 24 says, "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." When a person declares Jesus as Lord of their life, they die to sin and they are raised up to live a new life for Christ. In this sense they participate in Jesus' death and resurrection spiritually. But how is this possible? 

It happens by the supernatural work of God's Spirit who indwells believers at salvation. Once the flesh has been dealt with, the Spirit begins leading us in the way that we should go. Prompting, convicting, and directing us. Unfortunately, though the final death blow has already been landed, Christians are not completely free of their sin nature until heaven. So there is a constant tug of war going in a believer's life. 
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (Galatians 5:17)

Thankfully, Scripture tells us what we can do to gain the victory here and now. "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16). When Christians aren’t living by the Spirit daily, when they return to their old ways of living, then they strengthen their fleshly desires. They actually join in with their flesh and fight against the Spirit of God in their hearts. But Paul shows us a better way. WALK BY THE SPIRIT! If the believer chooses to listen to the Spirit's whispered promptings day by day, if he chooses to turn his ear to God's voice, and if he sets his heart to obey the Spirit's tugs, then the great promise of verse 16 awaits him. He will no longer carry out the desires of the flesh. You don't have to taste defeat at the hands of that addiction or bad habit any more. You can finally be free of the sin that has entangled you for so long and kept you from becoming the person God is calling you to be.

So what does it mean to walk by the Spirit? It involves drawing nearer to God through things like:
  • Scripture Reading- Remember that it was the Spirit who inspired the writing of the Bible and He plays a special role in illuminating it to our understanding. This is God's primary way of revealing Himself to us. Don't take it for granted. You must make time to be with the Lord, if you are to walk with Him daily.
  • Prayer- And I don't mean just a one-sided conversation where you download your wish list. God placed His Spirit in believers for a reason. We have to stop and listen some. We have to tune our hearts to be sensitive to the Spirit's promptings.
  • Be sensitive to God’s voice- According to John 3:4-8 & 6:44, every believer feels the tug of the Spirit when we get saved. Since we are all called to salvation, we have all felt Him move in our hearts before. It is that burning conviction in your heart and in your gut. Oftentimes you just know what it is that God is telling you to do. At other times God speaks to us through our circumstances, through opportunities that come our way or through the wise counsel of Christian friends. Of course we must always make sure to check our understanding of these leadings against Scripture. Only Scripture is inerrant. 
  • Be Eager to Obey what you know- We need a prepared readiness to eagerly obey whatever God leads us to do. Whether he reveals it to us through Scripture, prayer or some other means, be careful not to quench, grieve, or resist the Spirit. Step out on faith and see what God does. 

Consider Paul's admonition in verse 25 as a challenge for the fast approaching new year. "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Recently I have discovered that I do not excel in being loving. I have known for some time that I wasn't the most compassionate or patient person. These virtues have been earmarked for improvement in my life for a while. But it wasn't until I read Donald S. Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health that I realized just how short I fall of embodying the supreme Christian virtue of love. Since Christmas is a time for families, and since often our families suffer the most at the hands of our character flaws, I thought this would be a good time to post a section from Whitney's book covering parts of the chapter entitled "Are You More Loving?". (I also very highly recommend Whitney's Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life. It should probably be on every believer's bookshelf.) I hope this quoted section nourishes and challenges your heart as much as it did mine.  

(The rest of this post is quoted from Donald S. Whitney's Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health pages 39-42.)

Love is the badge and character of Christianity. A Christian may advance in many areas including the the ability to witness, teach or even preach..., but these mean little without growth in the most important Christian distinctive- love. 

Some people flatter themselves about how loving they are. They know that nothing means more to them than their children. Holidays are always spent with family. They consider themselves good neighbors and devoted friends. As their family and circle of friends grow, their love grows with it, right?

Too often we wrongly classify as love what the King James Version of the Bible calls “natural affection” (see Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3). In normal circumstances, parents love their children, family members love each other, and people love their friends. This is true for Christians and nonChristians alike. God made us in such a way that, even in a fallen world, we naturally love certain people, thus the term natural affection... Many people, therefore, are congratulating themselves for what amounts to merely being human, and they conclude amiss that this innate love testifies of spiritual health. 

Besides natural affection, there is another counterfeit love. Its loving actions are only a veneer for too much self-love. Any benefits it brings to others are secondary to the question, “Does it please me first?” A man will be absolutely convinced that he loves a beautiful woman, and indeed will do almost anything for her. He adores her, thinks of her constantly, and wants nothing more than her. But the truth is, he loves her only for what she does to and for him. She excites, intrigues, and arouses him. He does want her to be happy, but in reality he wants her to find her happiness in bringing pleasure to him. And he continues to love her only to the degree that she continues to please him. He will do nothing for her willingly or without hypocrisy unless it brings pleasure for him to do it anyway. This kind of love is just as common in other relationships as romantic ones. With parents or children, siblings, neighbors, or friends, we can act in loving ways, but either heartlessly or only because it pleases us to do so. We do not measure our growth in Christlikeness by the vicissitudes of this kind of love.

A similar counterfeit is the “I’ll love you if you’ll love me” type of love. This kind of love doesn't originate from a commitment to love, nor from a desire to be like Christ, but simply dispense love as a quip pro quo. This is not Christian love, rather it is the epitome of worldly love. Jesus put it this way: "But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). Edwards portrayed those who love like this: 
They are full of dear affections to some, and full of bitterness toward others. They are knit to their own party, them that approve of them, love them and admire them; but are fierce against those that oppose and dislike them. Some show great affection for their neighbors,... the children of God abroad; and at the same time are uncomfortable and churlish towards their wives and other near relations at home, and are very negligent of relative duties.
Can anyone think he is growing in love and thus becoming more like Jesus when, just like those who hated Jesus, he only loves with a reciprocal love? The test of Christlikeness is not the greatness of your love toward those who love you, but the bounty of your love toward those who do not.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Talking the Talk

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Colossians 4:5-6

What's the worst thing you said to someone in the past 24 hours? Or maybe it wasn't what you said as much as it was how you said it. (I've been told that makes a big difference.) 

It's not easy to control our tongues. James says, "Every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:7-8). And again, he says "If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body" (James 3:2).Yet we are commanded in this passage to make our speech gracious. What exactly does that mean? 

In the least it must mean that the way we speak to other people must reflect the grace that God has given us. When we have the right to be angry with them, we speak grace instead of anger. We speak to them with the gentleness and love that they don't deserve, because that is how God has spoken to us. When we have told them something over and over and over again but they're still are not getting it right (I'm looking at you parents and teachers); even then we should respond to them with patience and mercy. It means that we give them the benefit of the doubt so that our words cast them in the best possible light, not the worst.

It also means that the content of our speech ought to draw people to Jesus. Words like Christ, salvation, resurrection, and grace ought to be regular parts of our daily vocabulary, so that people can't really be around us without hearing pieces of the gospel. Our conversations ought to be "seasoned with salt." According to the ESV Study Bible this means that we ought to speak in an "interesting, stimulating, and wise way" that would commend the gospel to non-believers. Salt is a natural preservative of course, so I don't think it a stretch to assert that this means our speech ought to be free of the putrid, rotten subjects of conversation that our world so delights in. In other words, it's not just how we talk to people that matters, it is also what we talk about. 

So how have you been doing over the last 24 hours? You can't control your tongue alone. James was right. "No human being can tame the tongue." But consider Jesus' words when in response to another task that is impossible for man to do alone. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Ask God for help. Think of one person you can focus on speaking life and grace to tomorrow. It may very well be a family member. 

For further consideration...
  • Daily vocabulary- Facebook recently started doing this thing where you can see what words pop up most often in your posts. I wonder if the Lord were to do the same for us. What would your most common words be? What words do you use the most? What is your daily vocabulary and what does that reveal about your character?
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:5-12)
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. (James 1:26)
...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect... (I Peter 3:15)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Butterfly in the Sky

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Colossians 3:1-4

Does the butterfly that flutters gracefully through the sky set its mind on and seek after the life it once had as a caterpillar, inching along as it dragged itself through the dirt? Of course not. It has died to that old way of life and found a far superior existence. In the same way, it makes no sense for a Christian to be intently focused on worldly things, to seek after them. We died to that old way of living and have been raised with Christ. Colossians 3 puts it so clearly. It hit me strongly this morning as I read it. Believers have made a choice. We have chosen the things of God over the things of man. Believers have forsaken the world, repented of their ways, and committed to seeking after the things of heaven (Which are far superior anyway). Why would we ever look back? 

And yet so many do. We claim to serve a God who is sovereign over every detail of life, and yet live in fear. We say that God's very Spirit dwells within us, that we are the temple of God; and then we debase our bodies through sexual immorality, pornography, and masturbation. We acknowledge that we are new creations in Christ, but our speech betrays us. It is laced with anger, malice, slander and abusive speech (v.8). We affirm that there is one true God, yet we continue to bow down at the altar of money/wealth and worship what it can offer us in this life. 

Why would he return to such things? It simply makes no sense for any Christ follower, having tasted God's goodness, to turn back and begin to long for the things of the world once more. 

We must continue to put off the old man everyday (v. 9) by setting our minds on things above. We must learn to seek the advance of God's kingdom in this world and of God's righteousness in our own lives. Instead of worldly things, let us seek after: increased knowledge of God; hearts characterized by kindness, compassion, and humility; lives defined by gentleness, patience, forgiveness; and above all... love (v. 13-14).

Father, help Your children (help me) to grasp the deeper truths of this passage and help us to live them out. Remind us that our lives are in heaven. Forgive us for focusing on things that have no bearing there things like: sex, money, romantic love, entertainment, and athletic glory. Help us to set our hope on Jesus' return instead (v. 4). In Jesus' name...Amen.   

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Christ: First in All Things

And [Jesus] 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, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
Colossians 1:17-18

Colossians 1:15-20 is a tightly packed master class on Christology. If you want to understand who Jesus was, His nature, His role in the cosmos, and the importance of His death, it's all here. One undeniable implication of this passage is that Jesus is of the highest importance. He has first priority. He is supreme. 

This is evident in verses 17-18. Verse 17 says that "He is before all things," and in case that wasn't clear enough verse 18 adds that God has worked all things out so that "in everything [Jesus] might be preeminent." That word 'preeminent' is rendered in various Bible translations as supremacy (NIV), preeminence (ESV, KJV, NKJV), or to have the first place in everything (NASB, HCSB, NLT & NET). This last rendering is the closest to the literal translation in the original language which is to be first or to hold first place. 

So then Jesus holds the highest priority in reality. Not just Christian reality or spiritual reality, but REALITY. This has major implications. Here are a few.

First, this explains why putting other things ahead of Christ in our lives is idolatry. Doing so moves Jesus out of His rightful place of supremacy and bows our hearts in worship to someone or something else. To attempt to remove the One who is infinitely worthy from His place of primacy and set something up in His stead is exceedingly sinful.

Second, placing anything or anyone ahead of Jesus is both damaging to ourselves and is delusional. When we place a higher priority on something that isn't Christ we reveal our own understanding of what is ultimately true and of infinite worth. The reality that Jesus holds first position in everything hasn't changed; we have simply revealed that our perception of reality is off. We legitimately think Jesus is not of the highest priority. This means we are detached from reality. We no longer see it as it truly is. 

Third, it is entirely unfathomable that a Christian would place a higher priority on anything or anyone over above Jesus. It is crazy to think that a Christian (of all people) would attempt to dethrone the one whom they claim as their Savior, Lord and God by putting other things ahead of Him. Sadly we do this regularly. I do this regularly. WE MUST STOP!
Lord, help me to learn to treasure Jesus above all else. Help me to keep Him first in my life. Help us to see all the ways that Jesus is already truly first in all things. And help us to live in light of that truth every day. I pray these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We Love Jesus Far Too Little!

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ... 
Philippians 3:7-8

It's easy to overlook the verb tense shift in these verses from "I counted" in verse seven to "I count" in verse eight. Paul says that at some time in the past he counted (past tense) as loss all the things that were previously gain to him. All the things that were to his credit in this world, he laid down in order to gain Christ. Paul is talking about laying aside all of his hard-earned religious achievements that impressed men in order to receive Christ by grace. 

I believe Paul serves as an example of what happens to all believers here. All of us, in order to receive Christ at salvation, must let go of the things of this world. In order to receive God's grace and grasp hold of the cross, we must first empty our hands of our current gods. It makes no difference if that god is pleasure, or self-reliance. Jesus will not share the throne of our hearts with anyone. 

If you haven't already, let go of all that our world considers gain so that you may gain salvation in Jesus. Turn to Him in faith asking Him to forgive you of your sins, believing that His death on the cross paid the price for your sin and His resurrection from the dead set you free from the power of sin. Look to Him for grace and salvation.

For those of us who have already accepted Jesus, Paul has a further word. In verse eight Paul makes a subtle shift to the present tense to indicate that now, having progressed further in his Christian walk, he has let go of even more things to gain Christ. In the past Paul counted as loss the things that were previously to his gain. He had to do this for salvation. Now that he has tasted of Jesus' grace, now that he has seen how surpassingly good Christ is, Paul has willingly counts all things in this world as loss in order to have more of Jesus.

Many believers fail to live as courageously for Jesus as Paul did. Why is that? Why was Paul willing to suffer to take the gospel to new places? Why did he never take a wife, build a home and have children? Why was he willing to lay down his life and die as an example for the church and as a testimony to unbelievers? Because Paul was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was far better than anything this world has to offer. Here is a man who was deeply in love with Jesus, and he was willing to sacrifice anything...everything in order to that he might grow closer to Him. Paul wanted to know Him more and serve Him better.

Why is it that we can never find time for Bible study or prayer? Why is it that we are still so entangled by the cares of this world: by money, fear, reputation, success, and the opinions of men? Why is it that we are still struggling with the same old sins so many years after our conversion? It is because we love this world far too much and we love Jesus far too little!

O Lord, help us to fall more deeply in love with You today! Remind us of Jesus' surpassing greatness. Give us a glimpse of His beauty and His goodness again. Call us back to you in gentleness and in love. As we grow in our relationship with You, help us to let go of this world and to cling to the cross of Jesus more closely day by day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pray for Paris. Pray for ISIS.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 5:43-48

Five days ago, ISIS launched a coordinated attack on six different locations in Paris killing 129 people. The brutality and scale of this attack captured the world's attention. Of course this was only the most recent example of the heinous barbarism of which ISIS is capable. Over the past four days many have stood in solidarity with Paris pledging support. Others have called for renewed efforts to combat ISIS. And many have called for and offered up prayers for the victims' families. Each of these responses is appropriate and Christian.

But one response remains. One that is deeply Christian. In fact, it is commanded of us as Christians. Yet, I hesitate to write the words. It's almost unthinkable; it seems un-American even, to say that we should pray for ISIS. 

For me the admonition to pray for my enemies has always been more or less an abstract concept. I haven't ever really had any enemies. I haven't ever really been persecuted or in danger. But for me this attack brought it home. The Lord whispered to my heart two days after the attack that a truly Christian response would be to not only pray for all those affected and for justice but also to pray for the radical muslims themselves. His words landed like a thud on my heart. I didn't want to offer up such prayers. How could I honestly pray for these men? How could God expect me to do something so absurd? 

God calls us to imitate Him by loving our enemies, by praying for those who seek to kill us and our religion. Let us not forget that Christianity's greatest missionary, the man who wrote roughly half of the New Testament, began as Christianity's most zealot persecutor. This same Paul would later write these words:
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10- emphasis added)

Still it took a few days for me to find the words. This is the prayer I have formulated over the last few days. Perhaps it can help you find your way as you pray not only for the victims' families and for peace, but also for our enemies. 
I pray for the Islamic State, Father, because You tell us to pray for our enemies. I know that they deserve to be annihilated, wiped out. I pray for justice. I pray for vengeance and vindication for Your holy name. But I know Lord that you are often most glorified by displaying the wonders of Your glorious grace. I know that You have been just in forgiving the sins of many terrible sinners, including myself, by pouring out Your wrath toward our sins on Christ in our stead. It is hard for me to imagine anything that would prove Your infinite power and worth more readily to our world at large and to the Islamic world specifically than for Your Spirit to move in mighty power and start saving souls throughout ISIS. So do so, Father. Not for their sake, not because they deserve it (because they don't), but for the sake of Your great name. Do this so the whole world will know that there is but one God and His name is Yahweh. But for those who refuse to repent and bow the knee to Your infinitely worthy Son, Jesus; Lord I pray that You would bring them to Your eternal justice in punishment and rescue Your children from their murderous intentions even now. Even those who do cry out to You for salvation must be brought to earthly justice, Father, so give our leaders wisdom as they determine the best way to combat and punish such men. In the righteous name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

A helpful article written on this topic by Dr. Russell Moore can be found here: Should We Pray for ISIS to be Defeated or Converted?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Humble Much?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18:1-4

What do people most easily notice about you? 

For me, it's being hairy. I know. Probably not what I would have chosen, but tall, muscular and handsome were all off the table. Hairy is what I got, so you play the hand you were dealt.

These outward features are what people most notice about you, until they get to know you. The longer a person knows you, the less they notice the superficial features of your appearance and the more they view you based on your character. 

What character trait are you most known for among your friends and family? Is it your temper? Is it being funny? Is it your passion for your vocation or hobby? 

Scripture says that believers will be known by our love. But in today's passage Jesus points out another character trait that is all too often lacking in our lives: humility. 

Jesus' emphasis on humility jumped out at me today in a new way as I read this familiar passage. The disciples go to ask Jesus a question, one that reveals they still haven't grasped what the kingdom of heaven is all about. "Who will be first in the kingdom?" they ask. They want to know who will sit at Jesus' right hand, who will be in the inner court. They want to know what they need to do in order to gain a high position when the new world order is put into place.

At first, Jesus bypasses their question altogether. He says, "If you want to make it into the kingdom at all, then you must change and become like children." Then He says, "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." This statement has major implications for believers and for our future with God in heaven. You would think that it would cause a ripple effect throughout the church and throughout Christian history of men and women of God racing each other to get to the lowest position of servitude.

Certainly there have been Christians throughout history and still today who are shining examples of this. Sadly, I am not one of them. Are you? 

How would our lives look different if we took Jesus' words here seriously? 
  1. It would change the way we come to God in prayer. No longer would we approach God with a sense of entitlement or with accusatory tones. Humility would teach us both that we have nothing to offer God and that He owes us nothing. Finally, we would begin approaching Him in prayer not with our own agendas, but with questions and with open hands ready to receive answers and guidance from the only One who has the wisdom to give them.
  2. The way we view ourselves would change. Many of us look upon ourselves through rose-colored glasses. We give ourselves the benefit of the doubt in any situation, and we often consider ourselves to be better than most, above par, better-than-average. Paul instructs us, in Philippians 2:3, saying "in humility count others more significant than yourselves." True humility leads you think less of yourself. It does not lead to self-loathing or being overly critical of yourself in unhealthy ways for these errors only cause us to think about ourselves more often. True humility isn't merely about esteeming yourself more lowly, it is also about esteeming others more highly. 
  3. Lastly, humility would increase our compassion for the downtrodden and forgotten in the world. In verse five of Matthew 18, Jesus continues by assuring His disciples that when they receive one such child in His name, they receive Him. Humility increases our compassion for the lowly and oppressed by reminding us that we are not so very different from them. We don't deserve better than them. Thus, humility leads us to begin putting others ahead of ourselves, as Jesus Himself did. Truthfully, most days it is difficult for me to put my own family ahead of myself, let alone others. Humility would change that.

Father, cultivate humility in our hearts so that the way we view and treat You, ourselves and others is in line with Your good Word.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Rarest Attribute

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:19-21

What a surprising statement! Among all of Paul's associates at the time, Timothy alone seeks the interests of Christ?! In the present context this means showing genuine care for the welfare of the Philippian church. Another rendering of verse 20 could read that, "For I have no one like him, who is willing to be genuinely troubled with cares over your welfare." Timothy alone was willing to be troubled for this church. Everyone else was too busy seeking after their own interests to seek after the interest of the Lord. On second thought, maybe this isn't so surprising after all. Isn't this true of nearly everyone we know as well. 

How many people do you know who truly seek the interests of Christ and not their own? Not many I'd guess. You see, Paul presents it as though a person can't pursue their own interests and Christs. You see our natural interests oppose Christ's. None of naturally seek after being troubled with cares for other people. None of us naturally seek after suffer for the sake of the gospel. No! Our interests almost always run counter to the interests of Christ as He advances His kingdom on earth. 

What about you? Are you seeking after your own interests or Christs? What are your future plans? Do they lend themselves more to building your dreams, your legacy, your nest egg, or are they directed at building the kingdom of God? I suspect many believers would struggle to think of a single goal they are seeking after or a single plan they are working towards that truly advances God's interests. Instead we all make plans to advance our own kingdoms: plans to get a bigger house for our family, plans to get that next promotion or raise, plans to get in better shape. Notice none of these plans are wrong in themselves. But they are all focused on this world, not on the next. They are focused on making our lives and the lives of our families more comfortable. As long as we are focused on seeking after our own interests we will never be willing to place others ahead of ourselves, to go out of our way to bear their burdens, or to make sacrifices for the cause of Christ. 

Whose interests are you really seeking after, your own or Gods?

Let me drive this home a little more by clarifying what it looks like to seek after God's interests at the expense of your own. In 2:3 Paul introduces himself and Timothy as God's slaves or bond-servants. Not many of us think of ourselves this way on a regular basis. But this is exactly what we are. Paul puts it a little differently in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. He says, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."

Just eight verses before today's passage, in Philippians 2:4-11, Jesus is held up as the ultimate example of this type of living. Though He was equal to the Father in His divine nature, He willingly submitted Himself to seek God's interests, to be troubled with the cares of others and to suffer to advance the kingdom above Himself. Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). He became obedient to seeking after God's interests even to the point of dying on the cross. 

How far are you willing to go? How much are you willing to suffer? Will you spend your life advancing God's kingdom or will you spend it on your own ends? The truth is that your life is not your own anyway. You were purchased with a price. The world is full of people who are focused on their own needs, who are living for themselves. You want to distinguish yourself before the Lord? Live for Jesus! 

Father, work in our hearts so that one day we may honestly say with the Apostle Paul, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). May our lives be Christ and nothing else. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Determined Father

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:6

My daughter is two and a half years old. She is amazingly well-behaved, but all two year-olds throw fits. That's why they call them the "terrible twos." And it really is amazing what sort of things result in screaming. Here is a short list: Where she sits in the car. Where Mommy sits in the car. Who gets to drive the car. (We have a car theme going here.) Also, nearly every night she doesn't want to brush her teeth. It's the same fight every night. It's like she forgot what happened last night and the night before that and the night before that. Often these tantrums lead me to say something like...
"Hallie, sweetheart, Daddy is going to brush your teeth. The only decision you need to make is how many spankings* you are going to get between now and then. You are not going to bed until they are brushed, so you tell me. How many spankings do you want before we brush them?" 
I have made up my mind that her teeth will be brushed because it is what is best for her. If she chooses to fight against me, then it will take that much longer and be that much more difficult for her, but you can be sure I will not give up until the end goal is accomplished.

Did you know that God has an end goal in mind for all of His children? And I believe He is dead set on reaching it. Each and every believer has been predestined to be conformed into the image of His Son Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Philippians 1:6 is written to believers in Philippi who want to be perfected in Christ. They are meant to take comfort in the knowledge that God is working with them to the same end. Their weaknesses will not disqualify or derail them. God is on their side and He will not give up. This is a truly encouraging thought!

But what of that believer who has accepted Christ but is not overly interested in living like Jesus? What of those believers who want to have their cake and eat it too? They want to be saints but continue to live like heathens. If this describes you, then you should know that God will not give up. I think He would speak to us today very much like I speak to my daughter. God wants you to know that He will accomplish His ends in your life. He will not allow Himself to be thwarted. The only decision you need to make is are you going to work with Him or against Him.

Hebrews 12:5-6 says,
Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

So if you long to be like Christ, good news! God is working with you. He will never give up. And in the end He will accomplish His goal in your life. But if you are living in rebellion against God, then be warned. You have set yourself against God's express purposes for you life. You are fighting against the Almighty. He will win.

*A note on spankings- I realize that many disapprove of spanking nowadays. Allow me to allay your fears. My wife and I follow the carefully controlled spanking guidelines outlined in the book Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp. Spanking done improperly can be abusive. My wife and I are careful to avoid that at all costs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Fill in the Blank

For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
Ephesians 3:1

Paul calls himself a "prisoner of Christ Jesus." He can say this because when he wrote these words he had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel, the good news, about Jesus. Like Jesus, Paul refused to be silenced. He spoke the truth about God's coming kingdom even when it made him an enemy of earthly kingdoms. Eventually this conviction made Jesus and Paul enemies of the state.

Paul suffered much as a result of his calling to take the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles. (A list of some of his sufferings can be found here 2 Cor. 11:22-33.) Paul once said,
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

All of this got me do I share in those sufferings. I'm not a prisoner of Christ. What am I for Christ?

If you had to be categorized right now as a _______ for Christ, what would be placed in the blank? What is your sacrifice? What is the role you are playing in the kingdom of God right now?

Make no mistake, you do have a role to play. All believers have been called to advance the kingdom through the great commission (Matt. 28:19). Moreover, God created you to do good works, which He has prepared in advance for you to do (Ephesians 2:10). 

Maybe you are called to be a mom or dad for Christ. Sacrificially pouring into your children who will in turn affect the world for Jesus in big ways. Or perhaps you are called to be a Sunday School teacher or youth leader for Christ. We need more volunteer ministers like this who will not only put in the hours to skillfully explain God's Word to children but will also spend time sacrificially praying for and loving on children in the church. We are in need of more missionaries for Christ, Bible translators for Christ, and sacrificial givers for Christ. What's you role?

If you aren't 100% comfortable with how that blank would be filled in for you right now, then rest in this truth: God has a plan for your life. You have a part to play in the great unfolding drama of this world. The only questions that remain are:
  1. What were you created to do?  AND
  2. Are you doing it?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:130

Over the past few weeks I have been working my way through Psalm 119. It is an acrostic poem in which the first letter of each stanza begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Now, I'm no poet. (Far from it, actually.) But if I were to sit down and write a poem, I can't imagine coming out with something as long as Psalm 119. With an astounding 176 verses, it is the longest chapter in the Bible. What muse could so inspire a poet that he could write a single poem this long and this beautiful? 

Answer: God's wonderful word.

Almost every one of this chapter's 176 verses is dedicated to declaring the goodness and glory of God's word. So today I wanted to skip all the fancy writing and simply remind you that God's word is incomparably wonderful. If you feel like your life is shrouded in darkness, or that you just don't understand God, or that you can't quite grasp what is happening in the world today or how you got to this place in your life- then God's word is exactly where you should turn. 

It gives light. It brings understanding. And the best news of all is that you don't have to have an advanced degree or be some smarty pants to understand it. It is God's gift to the simple! 

So don't leave it sitting on the shelf or riding in the floorboard of your car until next Sunday. Pick it up, open it, and read it. Ask God to give you insight so you can rightly interpret His words and gain precious understanding.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Sword vs. Prayer

It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
Acts 12:1-5

This is a dangerous time for the church. The last time Rome aligned itself with the Jewish religious leaders against the church it ended with Jesus' crucifixion. That was 11 years ago and around this same time of year. Once again the great superpower is pandering to the desires of its political base in Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I has already beheaded James. Now Peter sits in prison awaiting a certain execution. It was against Jewish law for anyone to be tried or executed during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. If it wasn't for that, Peter would almost certainly already be dead. And once Herod has dispensed with Peter, what is to stop him from killing off the rest of the apostles too? What can the little community of believers do against the armed might of Rome?

The church finds itself facing a big problem. What will they do? Where will they turn?

First, let's look at what the church didn't do. They didn’t attack Herod. They didn't raise up arms to try to overthrow Rome. They didn’t start a petition or go to Herod and beg. They didn’t take up a collection to start a Peter Defense Fund or to try to bribe Herod with. As far as we know the church took only one action... 

The church prayed.

They prayed! They realized that only God could save. and they turned to Him, and Him alone, for help. This passage pits the power of the world against the power of God. Rome vs. the church, the sword vs. prayer. In verses 6-11 we find out that prayer prevailed and the power of God carried the day as an angel rescued Peter from prison. 

Make no mistake, the same war that was being fought in this passage is being fought in your life day-by-day. You aren’t fighting against Rome or the sword. You are fighting against someone else. The Bible tells us that you have a supernatural enemy, an accuser, a deceiver, named the Devil. According to Peter, this enemy is out to devour you (I Peter 5:8). He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. He is watching and waiting for you to slip up, to stumble, so he can attack. That means that as long as we live in this world, we will be under attack. 

If you aren’t facing some type of crisis today, then you will be tomorrow or next week or next month. If we call ourselves Christians then we must be certain that we know how to respond to these attacks. Our first response must always be to go to God in prayer. We must be firm in our conviction that God alone controls our fate. He alone can save us. So let me ask you, are you praying? Are you lifting up your situation to the Lord and asking for His help? If really should be. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I Will Not Be Driven Away

The arrogant mock me unmercifully, but I do not turn from your law.
Psalm 119:51

Do you know that Satan has a strategy to keep you away from God's Word? He wants you to ignore it, to leave it sitting on the shelf. He wants you to reject it, to walk away from it and choose to live your life on your own terms. And if you must persist in reading it, then he wants you to misunderstand the Bible and misapply it to your life. 

Consider the strategies the enemy employs in the Bible. The first time Satan attacked and tempted a human what did he say? Genesis 3:1- "Did God really say?" He starts by casting doubt on God's sure word. And the second thing he said was a direct contradiction of God's word. "You will not certainly die" (Genesis 3:4). First, he cast doubt on God's Word, then he called God Himself a liar. 

Consider one more example. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness the second of his three temptations was built upon a quote of Scripture. Satan actually quoted Scripture at Jesus trying to trick Him into sinning. He tried to confuse Jesus, to make Him think that God's Word said He should do what Satan was tempting Him to do. Of course, considering that Jesus Himself is the Word and the greatest revelation of who God is, Satan failed.

What strategies is the enemy using to try to keep you away from the Bible right now? For the psalmist it was mocking. Even in our world today, people line up to deride and mock those who openly believe God's Word is without error and to be taken as 100% true. In response to those who verbally abuse him the psalmist says, "...but I do not turn from your law." You can almost hear the psalmist cry out with determination, "I will not be driven away from God's good word!"

He refuses to be driven away because he knows that God's word is 

So join with me in saying "I will not be driven away from God's Word!" Not by my busy schedule, or by force of habit, or by my sinful addictions, and certainly not by the mocking ridicule of naysayers. I believe that God's Word is true and good, so I will persevere in reading it and prayerfully applying it to my life. Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible is dedicated to sing the praises of God's good word. Dedicate your life to studying that Word, living by it, and giving glory to God for it. So what's the best way to start doing that today? Read it! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Fiberglass Bathtubs and a Forever Rock

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 26:3-4

There are two kinds of people in this world. Those who hear a tornado warning and quickly go get in the bathtub and those who immediately open the front door to walk outside to see if the tornado is close to their house. I am the latter, and it drives my wife crazy. 

The problem is that I'm just not convinced my fiberglass bathtub can protect me from a tornado. If I had a real storm shelter it might be different, but why huddle in a damp bathtub for an hour if it isn't going to do me any good?

Perhaps this is how too many of us think about God. "Why take my problems to God in prayer? He isn't going to listen to me. I've tried the whole God thing before and it didn't work for me. God didn't take my problems away." It's uncomfortable to humble ourselves before God. People simply won't do it if they aren't convinced it will work. 

These two verses in Isaiah give us some pretty good reasons to believe it will work. God promises to keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast. The word for "keeping" can also mean that God is guarding or watching over us, ensuring that we are kept in perfect peace. Perfect peace is literally "peace peace" in the original language. It is double peace. The Hebrew word for peace goes beyond our understanding of peace in the English language. According to the ESV Study Bible the Hebrew word for peace "shalom" meant more than just the absence of trouble but also included the idea of positive blessing. It was like saying "all is well." This is the kind of peace that God promises to preserve for those whose minds are dependent on Him. These people have God as their support. They lean on Him. He upholds them. They have confidence in God and trust Him for their security.

The passage continues to tell us that we should trust in God (a concept that includes boldness and confidence) because He is the rock eternal. Some translations render this as everlasting strength, but I like the picture of God as a forever rock. He is immovable and unchanging. Just the kind of shelter you want to run to in a storm. Just the kind of protection you seek out when under attack. God is our refuge!

Here is the takeaway. An immovable, lasting, perfect peace in life has to be built on an immovable, lasting, perfect God. This is the only way to double peace, peace that isn't dependent on your situation. The storm may rage, but your peace is unmoved because you have confidence in your refuge. You may fall, but your confidence is unshaken because your mind is stayed on God's faithfulness instead of your sinfulness. You are quiet even when you are under attack because you know that the ultimate victory has already been declared on your behalf in Christ.

Far too many of us lack this kind of peace, because far too many of us lack this type of confidence in our God. Will you place your trust in God today? Will you rest your mind steadfastly on His nature and His promises? Let God be your support, then you can move forward in confidence knowing that God is your forever Rock, a sturdy constant in a sea of change. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

It's Time to Dust Off an Old Spiritual Discipline (W.o.W. Rewind)

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes!
Psalm 119:10-12 (ESV)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16 (ESV)

Today I want to challenge you (and myself) to practice a long lost form of spiritual discipline that Christians rarely do anymore. (I am ashamed to say it has been a while since I have done it.) Let's memorize some Scripture! Before we start though, allow me just a few words in the two beautiful passages above.

There are many benefits to Scripture memorization. The psalmist highlights it as a means of avoiding sin. If we memorize God's commands, then we can avoid unknowingly transgressing against them. Storing up Scripture in his heart is a way for the psalmist to show his whole-hearted devotion to seeking the Lord. It's fitting that Psalm 119:11 should be considered the well spring of the spiritual discipline of Scripture memory because this chapter is not only the Bible's longest at 176 verses but is also one long acrostic poem dedicated to the goodness of God's Word. Colossians draws out a different benefit of committing the Word to memory. The believer should let the word or message of Christ dwell in her richly so that she can teach and admonish other believers, even by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs containing the same truths. I contend that there's no better way of letting Jesus' message dwell in us richly than for us to roll it around in our minds day after day until it is committed to memory. So what are we waiting for!

I suggest that you memorize any or all of following passages of Scripture:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment."
Matthew 22:37 (NIV)
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it."
Luke 9:23-24 (NIV)
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
Lamentations 3:21-24 (NIV)
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV)
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
Psalm 145:8-9 (NIV)

For further help consider the following:

  • Write a verse that is meaningful to you on your mirror so you'll see it automatically every day.
  • Write the passage out on a note card and carry it with you. Then you can work on memorization wherever you may be. Waiting in line at the store or waiting for a meeting to start at work.
  •  Say the verse out loud repeatedly. Hearing it will help you memorize it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Ultimate Imitation of Christ

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6:2

At any given moment most of us have a burden, some heaviness or trouble in our lives. If you are anything like me, then you are acutely aware of your own burdens and almost completely oblivious to those of anyone else around you. It's true. Serving others, thinking of others, being considerate- these aren't my natural strong suits. So when I came across this verse, I was prompted by the Spirit to ask myself this question. "Do I help bear the burdens of other believers?"

The second half of the verse reveals just how important this question really is. It tells us that if we are helping to bear burdens then we are fulfilling the law of Christ. So if we aren't, then we must be failing to fulfill Christ's law. 

Why is this so important? The ESV study Bible adds a helpful footnote here. "To bear one another's burdens is the supreme imitation of Jesus, the ultimate burden bearer" (p.2255). Think for a moment about Jesus as the ultimate burden bearer. 1 Peter 2:24 says, "'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness." Galatians 3:13 reveals that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." But perhaps Isaiah 53:4-5 puts it best of all: 
Surely he took up (bore) our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

In Christ we have been set free from the Old Testament law; we are no longer obligated to observe times and seasons. So what is this law of Christ? We are obligated by the grace and freedom we have received through Jesus to live for God as His servants, obeying His commands. Jesus taught us that the second greatest command of God is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). If we are to fulfill Jesus' teaching, if we are to obey His commands, then we must bear one another's burdens.

All of us know a believer with a burden. Stop right now and think of at least one.

Now, prayerfully and considerately, do something about it. Help bear that burden. Encourage them. Pray for them. Serve them. Come alongside and mourn with them. Volunteer to help them get some work done. Give generously to them. Remember that we are called to love one another as a family- a new family, created through Jesus, as we are adopted as God's children. So do something to lighten the load of a brother or sister in Christ today. 

For further reading
  • John 13:1-17 & 34- Consider Christ's service through the lens of a powerfully symbolic act.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9- The prince of heaven becomes a poor carpenter with no place to lay his head so that we might be saved.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hard to See

When I was a kid Magic Eye 3D puzzles were very popular. In case you don't remember them, they were crazy images like the one above. If you cross your eyes just the right way a three dimensional image appears from within the pattern. (I found this picture on the following website which was also helpful in reminding me how to do it:

I was reminded of these puzzles as I thought about hard it can be to really understand what is going on in the world. Scripture bears this out in a number of different ways. 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that Satan has blinded the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the truth of the gospel or understand who Christ really is. Jesus Himself spoke about people having ears to hear and eyes to see. He said that people could watch Him perform miracles but not really perceive who He was. They could listening to his teaching but never understand their true meaning (Matthew 13:13-16).

Have you ever experienced something like this? Do you ever read your Bible and come up empty? I know I do. Because of the sin in our world and in our hearts it is often hard to see and understand spiritual truths. Sometimes it is hard to understand the Bible. It can be hard to understand who God is and why He allows some of the things He does. To see the truth we have to look at things the right way. We need to quit relying on ourselves to figure everything out and turn to God for help.

So today before you sit down to read your Bible, stop and ask God to help you understand. Ask God to give you eyes to see and ears to hear. Ask Him to help you understand who He is and to see the wisdom in His dealings with the world. And pray for your lost friends that God would open their minds to see the light of the gospel in Jesus.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I Lack Peace

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

Lately, I have a hard time sitting still. At any given moment I feel that there are ten really important things I should be doing. Even when I am holding my two month old son I feel the need to free up one of my hands so I can be "productive." I'll hold James in one arm and put away toys with the other. Or I'll tell my daughter, "I will read that book to you when I am through loading the dishwasher, sweetheart." But when I'm done with the dishwasher, I have to fight the urge to move on to the next thing. 

In other words...I lack peace. 

It's difficult for me to admit that this isn't because I have a "Type A" personality or because I am such a hard worker or even because I am busier than you are. Nope. I lack peace and I feel the need to run myself ragged because I am anxious. And I am anxious because of a lack of prayer.

I look at the demands of my ministry and the needs of my family and I realize that there isn't enough Lance to go around. I rightly assess that I am not equal to the task. The problem is my response to this realization. I ought to respond in faith by lifting this up to the Lord in prayer. I ought to turn to God in prayer and ask for help. If I would present my requests to God then I would be filled with the peace of God that transcends all understanding just like Philippians 4:6-7 says. 

But my natural response to anxiety isn't prayer. It's to WORK HARDER. To gut it out. To find a way to get it all done. Often this means that I push relationships to the fringes of my life and develop an unhealthy focus on increasing my efficiency. This has led me to be short with the people I love and to miss important opportunities for ministry. 

The funny thing is that I actually thought all of this hard work was pleasing to God. I thought I was working for God. In reality, I was working against God's will for my life. Instead of taking my problems to God for help, I was trying to solve them all by myself. I had made myself into an idol of sorts. I would solve my own problems. You've probably heard the saying, "Work like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God." I have never liked that saying. I think we should work and pray like it depends on God. Yet, here I am working like it depends on me and not praying about it hardly at all!

I didn't mean to do any of this. I got overwhelmed and started to worry. I began feeling self-conscious that I wasn't enough and I determined to do all that I could to make it work. Sadly I forgot that I was completely powerless to accomplish anything apart from God. I forgot that when I am weak, then I am really strong because God's power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). I forgot that no moment has ever been wasted when it was spent in prayer asking God to solve our problems.

Listen, there's nothing wrong with multi-tasking or hard work. In fact, I believe that God expects His children to be diligent workers. But let us work from faith, not anxiety. Let's embrace the truth that our problems are bigger than we are, and then let's lay those problems at the feet of an almighty God who dwarfs them in size (Matt. 11:28-30). So don't be anxious about anything, but simply present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Big God

Nothing in this world makes my problems look smaller quicker than thinking about the greatness of God. When my gaze is lifted off the things of this world and I consider who He is, I am reminded of just how big God is. Compared to His greatness, my biggest problems are small potatoes. 

Recently this has brought me great comfort. I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated in life. I had been spending too much time contemplating the enormity of my "to do" list and not nearly enough time contemplating the enormity of God. My perspective had gotten locked in on the mundane frustrations of this world. I had become consumed by my need to succeed. I failed to see the glory of God all around me in creation, crying out for me to lift my eyes. I was locked in a very unhappy way of living. But when I dedicated myself to return to Bible study and prayer, God did a wonderful thing. He revealed Himself to me again through His Word and through prayer, and once again I was amazed at how big and wonderful God is. How could I have forgotten for all this time!?

Perhaps you are locked in a small way of thinking today too? Here are some passages of Scripture designed to lift your gaze and place it back on God.

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 113)

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever— he issued a decree that will never pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 148)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dirty Floss and Polluted Garments

When it comes to cleaning, almost all married couples are "unequally yoked." There's usually one spouse who stands out as the messier of the two and one who is inevitably called the "neat freak." I am the latter.

One thing in particular that I do drives my wife crazy. I talk incessantly about cross-contamination. In part it comes from my time working as a short order cook. Stacy has listened to me talk about cross-contamination as it relates to food preparation, diaper changing, taking out the trash...a whole host of scenarios really. For example, "Stacy dear, your floss touched the faucet handle that we touch after we use the bathroom to wash our hands. You may not want to put that in your mouth." I drive her nuts! But thankfully there is grace even for this. And as it turns out this is a biblical concept of sorts.

In the little book of Jude, sin is pictured as a type of spreading disease that contaminates all it comes in contact with. In Jude 1:22-23, the brother of Jesus instructs believers to "be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh."

Jude isn't telling Christians to avoid interacting with lost people as though they might contaminate us. That would go against his admonition to snatch them from the fire of God's impending judgment. Rather, Jude instructs us to always respect our own vulnerability to the power of sin. His emphasis on the garment stained by sin serves to remind us how much we ought to hate sin. If we hate even clothing that's been contaminated by sinful actions, how much more ought we to hate the sin itself. This reminds me of the Old Testament priests. When they entered the tent of meeting or later the temple to make atonement for God's people, they had to undergo ceremonial washing, bathing and even changing of clothes to ensure that the stain of sin wasn't on them as they entered God's presence.

At the end of the day this image captures the core of the Christian life. How can a person ensure that the stain of sin is not found on them when they stand before God? Zechariah 3:1-5 provides a beautiful and insightful picture into the Christian answer to this question. In the immediate context it speaks to the high priest's sin being taken away so he can make atonement for God's people, but Joshua serves as a type of how we all can find forgiveness in Christ.
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

Satan is eager to accuse us all. And just like Joshua we are all clothed in the filthy rags of our sin compared to God's holiness. But those who place their faith in Christ will be washed as white as snow. God offers to clothe us in the righteousness of Christ and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. But unlike Joshua we cannot wait until the day we stand before God to deal with our sin. The Bible tells us that on that day it will be too late. Sin is a spreading disease for which there is no cure after death. It'll be too late to try get right with God after you die. We dare not wait to deal with our sin or to warn those we love. The cure must be administered while you are still alive. Hate sin. Hate even the garment contaminated by sin. For it has the power to separate you from God for all eternity. Have you turned to Jesus in faith for the forgiveness of your sins? If not, then remember that today is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2) If so, then who might God be calling you to snatch from the fire?

For further reading...

  • 1 Corinthians 5:9-13- Paul agrees with Jude that Christians should not separate from non-believers. Interestingly, Paul tells us who we should separate from.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Upside Down Houses

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Luke 2:34-35

In recent years people have begun building upside down houses as tourist attractions. Of course it requires quite a bit of architectural ingenuity and construction know-how to make the house structurally sound while looking as if it is sitting on its roof. Tables and chairs bolted to a ceiling that looks like a floor. A bed, neatly made, with sheets, covers, and pillows glued in place, all defying gravity and hanging overhead. Imagine what it would be like to really live in a house like this, though. None of the furniture would be usable. Only a few of the appliances would be reachable. Can you even imagine how dangerous ceiling fans would be?!

This is the kind of topsy-turvy image I get in my head when I read Simeon's words in Luke 2. He prophesies that Jesus will cause the rise and fall of many in Israel. He will be opposed and will reveal the condition of people's hearts. Simeon says in essence that Jesus is destined to turn the world upside down. Or more accurately, He will turn the world right side up. 

You see, the world we live in is like those upside down houses. When mankind rejected God and began to worship ourselves and the created order instead of the Creator, we turned the world on its head. Deep in our hearts we all know this to be true. Our world is deeply flawed. Everything is not as it should be, but this is all we have ever known. We are like people who have lived in that upside down house for our whole lives. It is all we know. We get used to it. It makes sense to us. You can imagine how someone like that would react if a person came to set things right... to turn our home right side up again. That's exactly how many people react to Jesus. They think He is turning their world upside down, when in reality He wants to turn it right side up. 

Jesus flipped the societal expectations and order of His day in innumerable ways. And I believe He does the same thing in our hearts. When Jesus begins to work in a person's life, He systematically goes about undoing the perversion of sin in their life. One by one He walks around the little upside down houses that are our hearts and begins turning things right side up. How we respond to Jesus as He challenges our old ways of living reveals the condition of our hearts. Consider for a moment two ways Jesus flipped the script on people in His day, and consider how He may want to do the same today with you.

First, Jesus confronted religion that was merely outward ritual and form, and offered a close relationship with God in its place. He accosted hypocrisy. He attacked profiteers who had turned worship into a marketplace for their own gain. We all have flawed perspectives on God and religion, and Jesus must confront these flawed views. He will not be satisfied with worship that equates to giving God a day here and there, or to performing some outward ritual alone. Jesus wants your whole heart and will offered up to God. You can fight Him all you want, but He won't accept anything less.

Second, Jesus challenged people's views of what success looks like. He taught that the greatest among men ought to make himself the servant of all... and then He lived this truth. He lived it out not only in His life but also in His death. And in so doing He flipped our concept of winning as well. Success isn't about what you accomplish in this life; it's about what you accomplish for the life to come. This perspective is what makes great sacrifice possible for believers. Make no mistake, when you follow a crucified Lord, sacrifice is part of the deal. The good news is that Jesus promises rewards in the next life for all we sacrifice for Him in this life.

Maybe your life has been in upheaval lately. Maybe it feels like God is challenging you or turning your life upside down. It's tempting in those moments to complain. Instead, stop and ask yourself this question, "How might Jesus be using this situation to turn my life right side up?"

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Obey the Gospel

All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might
2 Thessalonians 1:5-9

Normally we Christians think and speak about the gospel in terms of a call. It's something we hear; something we respond to. It's not a command, not something to be obeyed. Or is it? 

While discussing God's final judgment and how just it will be, the Apostle Paul assures his readers that God will judge "those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel." The punishment? Everlasting destruction (i.e. Hell). Paul is clear that those who do not obey the gospel are non-believers headed for Hell. Paul assumes that believers are obeying the gospel. So what does that mean?

The word for "obey" in this passage means to listen. It can mean simply to hear but it often means to hear and hearken to or obey what you have heard. For example, this word is used in Matthew 8:27. After Jesus calms a great storm, the disciples react by saying, "What kind of man is this?-- even the wind and sea obey Him." 

So the gospel isn't just something we hear. It isn't just something we listen to. It is a command! 

The good news that Jesus died for our sins commands us to cast off our old way of living and turn to Him in repentance. The gospel tells us that Jesus set us free from the power of sin and death; and it expects us to no longer live like we are enslaved to sin. The gospel reveals God's unfathomable forgiveness and grace for us and in so doing requires us to show the same grace and forgiveness to others. The gospel changes us. It calls us out of the darkness and into the light. So we ought to walk like children of light, doing the good deeds that accompany light. 

Has the gospel really taken root in your life and started to produce fruit? Are you just listening to the good news, or are you obeying it? Obey the gospel! May we all live it out every day by the help, power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.