Wednesday, December 27, 2017

God is Light

God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
I John 1:5

How amazingly appropriate it is for God to present Himself to this dark world as a pure and perfect light. For our world was nothing but a confusing mess, shrouded in darkness, until God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:2). Yes, God created light, but men loved the darkness anyway. So, thousands of years later, God sent His Son into the world to shine a light on those walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2 & John 1:4-5). He promised that those who believed on Him would be delivered from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13) and would become children of light (John 12:36) shining in the darkness (Matthew 5:14). (Elements of this paragraph were inspired by Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible & The Names of God by George W. Knight)

So God is light, but what does that mean?

It means that God is good and holy. He is without sin, stain or blemish. He is perfect. God is honest, and true. There is no deception in Him. He is the source of all life, of everything that is good, and of all that is beautiful. It also tells us that God is not a god of confusion, but one of revelation. He doesn't trip us up; He lights the way. God is a god of knowledge. Everything is revealed to Him. He doesn't grope around in darkness but rather He lives in unapproachable light (I Timothy 6:16). All of this makes God trustworthy and right. 

So praise the Lord that we have a true light we can turn to when the darkness is overwhelming. When we are confused, we have someone to light our way. When we are scared we know someone we can trust. When we receive anything good, we know who to thank for it. 

It is unfathomable how terribly dark this world would be if God were anything but pure light. So be thankful! Praise the Lord and look to Him for hope, joy and guidance as you navigate through the darkness.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

God Doesn't Hurry (W.o.W. Rewind)

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
Galatians 4:4-5

I loved philosophy in undergrad. I'll never forget talking about Aristotle's ideal man. My professor explained that this ideal man would be tall, have a deep voice and he would never be in a hurry. He invoked John Wayne's slow, swaggering gait as an example. To hurry meant to be late, which meant you had made an error. The ideal man always had time to slow down and swagger. I knew right then and there that I was ruled out on all accounts. I was a short tenor who often had to run across campus to get to classes in time. 

I don't really know what the ideal man is like, but I am convinced that any God worthy of worship is never in a hurry. I mean what kind of a god would be in a hurry? One who didn't know the future? One who procrastinated or who had lost control? That's not a god I want to serve. 

Thankfully, the God of the Bible passes this test. He is never in a hurry. Over and over again in Scripture we see that God, knowing all future events, simply waits until the right time to act. God waited until Abraham was 99 years old before He gave him a son. It had been 24 years since He first promised him a child. Then once Israel went down into Egypt God let their numbers increase for 430 years before He rescued them from slavery. And when they fearfully refused to enter the Promised Land, God didn't hesitate to banish the entire generation to live out their remaining years in the wilderness. He would simply take the next generation into the Promised Land. Why not? He has all the time in the world.

We find the same God at work in the New Testament. During the time between the old and new testaments God was silent for roughly 400 years, biding His time. By the time Jesus finally was born it had been more than a thousand years since God first promised a Deliverer. What happens then? Basically nothing until Jesus is thirty years old. After Jesus' birth and circumcision we only have one story about His entire adolescence recorded in Scripture. He was roughly thirty years old before anyone really took notice of Him. The Messiah was living right under people's noses and they didn't notice... and God took His time revealing it to them.

What does this mean for us? Well, it means that God isn't in a hurry in your life either. Now don't mistake God's patience for indifference. You can be sure that God has a plan for you (Ephesians 2:10) and that He cares that He will not tolerate disobedience. But you can also be sure that He is not going to rush you. He will prepare you for what lies ahead and He will make sure it happens in His time. So relax. Trust the process. Trust God. Focus less on where you are right now or on how quickly you are moving forward. Focus more on being in right relationship with Him today and taking the steps of obedience you need to take right now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Jesus: The Dividing Line

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Matthew 25:31-33

There will come a day when people are no longer separated along geopolitical lines, racial barriers, or income tiers; but rather by their response to Jesus. On that day every nation will be gathered before Him as He sits on His heavenly throne, and He will divide the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep being representative of those who placed their faith in Christ, the goats of those who rejected Him.

This is why your commitment to Christ must be primary. It must be your ultimate allegiance in life. It must be greater than your patriotism because Jesus won't judge you based on your national allegiance, but on your personal relationship to Him. It must be greater than your love for your family and even your own self-interest because Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).

Jesus must be your all in all, because He is what unites you to some and divides you from others. The Spirit of Christ unites all believers across every barrier and dividing line our evil world can create. Yet, Jesus told us that He would also bring division. He said, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). So, you must understand that your allegiance to Christ will draw some nearer to you and some it will send running in the opposite direction. Christ will tell you to go to this person and to leave that one alone.

Therefore, it is imperative that we all make sure we are on the right side of this dividing line. How do we do that? In this passage, Jesus bases it on how we respond to the needs of other believers. When Jesus' brothers (i.e. believers) are hungry, thirsty, lacking shelter, in need of clothing, sick, or imprisoned; how do we respond? Do we meet their needs?

Now Jesus isn't espousing a works righteousness here but is showing that love for other believers is a proof of salvation. We see this in the earliest church in Acts 2. All those who repented and placed their faith in Christ, began selling off their possessions and giving to other believers as they had need (Acts 2:44-45). The Spirit of Christ so unites believers that love for one another is a sure sign of the family of faith.

So, are you on the right side of the dividing line? Have you placed your faith in Christ? Jesus was fond of saying that you will know a tree by its fruit (Luke 6:43-45), so what are you doing to meet the needs of other believers? If aren't doing anything, then what does that say about you?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Life goes on.

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
Matthew 24:37-39

Do you know what the vast majority of people did on the day after 9/11? They got out of bed and went to work. Do you know what most did the day after Hurricane Katrina or the 2007 Tsunami or even Pearl Harbor? You're right. Unless it personally affected them, they got up and went about their business. 

Life goes on. Oftentimes, relentlessly so. 

People sometimes use this fact to try to give us hope in the face of tragedy. Hope that one day we'll get over our loss. But when your life has been touched personally by loss, the fact that everyone else goes on as if nothing happened can seem rather cruel. Your life feels like it's over, but everyone else barely seems to notice. 

Yet this unforgivable, unrelenting forward march of time and life is just what Scripture says will happen. right up until the very end. People will continue on with life as usual just as they do after every tragedy and loss. Even as God sends signs and warnings that the time is near, people will pay no attention. The vast majority will overlook the signs of Jesus' coming and keep on eating, drinking, and getting married like the world will keep on as it is forever.  

Yes, life will go on...until it doesn't. 

We know of course, that there will come a day when life as we know it stops. Jesus will return. The dead will be raised. We all will be judged. 

So what would Jesus have us do? How do we avoid missing the signs? In verse 42 Jesus tells us to "keep watch." Watch for Christ's return. Anticipate it. Look forward to it. In verse 44 Jesus counsels us to "be ready." Prepare yourself to meet your Maker. Get right with God today before it's too late! Lastly in verse 46 Jesus urges us to live in obedience to God's commands. Once you are right with God, live every day before Him like it might be your last. Be careful to fulfill all your duties to the Lord so you might hope to be rewarded in the afterlife not punished.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

You Can't Hurt a Dead Person

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world...
Ephesians 2:1-2

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...
I Peter 3:15-16

Have you ever taken a CPR course? I've taken four or five and one thing I've heard instructors address is people's reticence to perform CPR in a real world scenario. Often people are afraid that they will do it wrong somehow. "What if I do the chest compressions too fast or too slow?" or "What if I get the number of breaths wrong?" Good instructors point out the obvious. If a person needs CPR then their heart has stopped and they are dead. You can't hurt a dead person! You can't. Maybe you can't remember how to do everything exactly right in the moment. That's okay. Do something! They're dead. Anything you do is going to help.

The same is true when it comes to sharing your faith. Many believers struggle with the idea of sharing the gospel. They say, "I'm not good at talking; I might share the gospel wrong." or "I might confuse or offend them and push them farther away from Christ." But the Bible tells us that those who have rejected God are not only lost in their sins but are also spiritually dead. They are on their way to Hell. Guess what? If you somehow mess up your gospel presentation they are not going to become any more spiritually dead than they already are. They are not going to go to "Hell 2.0" because you drove them farther away. They are spiritually dead. You can't make it any worse, so do something! Say something! 

It's great that we want to share the gospel the right way. And that's a good reason to prepare and practice to do it well. We want to be ready to give an answer when the opportunity comes. But don't ever use that as an excuse to not share the gospel. So prepare yourself, memorize some verses, but above all don't be too afraid. You can't hurt a dead person. Just do something to try to help.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Unavoidable Result of Exalting God

Exalt the Lord our God
And worship at His footstool;
Holy is He.
                            Psalm 99:5

It is a simple and unavoidable truth that exalting God inherently means humbling ourselves. We cannot lift God up and make much of Him without ourselves being brought low. The higher God is lifted up the lower we are in relation to Him. Look at today's verse. Once God is exalted, where is the worshiper left? At his footstool. The word for worship here carries the idea of bowing down. So the image is of God being enthroned on high while we worship Him from a position at or below His feet.

This is what proper worship does; it exalts God and humbles man. You cannot make much of God and make much of yourself at the same time. True worship doesn't work that way. If you are not willing to decrease, then you have no part to play in Christ increasing (John 3:30).

So are you willing to decrease? Are you ready to be humbled? To be thought less of? And to think of yourself less? If not, then you need to stop and ask yourself, who am I really trying to lift up, God or myself?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Rhythm of Praise

Every morning and evening they burn to the Lord burnt offerings and fragrant incense...
2 Chronicles 13:11

They are to stand every morning to thank and to praise the Lord, and likewise at evening,
1 Chronicles 23:30

This past week my family went on vacation to the beach. As every parent dearly hopes will be the case, on the very first morning of our vacation our kids made sure that my wife and I were awake a full hour before sunrise! My wife decided to make the best of it and made sure that we caught the sunrise on the beach that morning together as a family.

Later that same day, after a swirl of activity, we found ourselves back on the beach enjoying the sunset. That's when it occurred to me that every single day God gives us these two amazing gifts, these works of art: sunrise and sunset. Yet, I never even notice them. I certainly don't stop to take them in and appreciate them.

This made me wonder, what other gifts is God giving me on a daily basis that I fail notice? What other blessings am I taking for granted? The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it's probably more than I could count.

How can we change that? What can we do to help ourselves appreciate the millions of big and little ways God blesses us each and every day? Here's where the rhythm of sunrise and sunset, morning and evening might be able to help us.  

In the Old Testament, morning and evening created a kind of rhythm for Israel's worship at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Each morning and evening burnt offerings and incense were offered up to God. In fact, I Chronicles 23:20 tells us that this practice was more than just ritual. Every morning and evening the Levites were to stand to thank and praise God.

I think this gives us a great example to follow as New Testament believers! Why not allow the natural rhythm of our days, and the natural beauty of sunrise and sunset to serve as a prompt for us to thank and praise God? Why not spend time in prayer each morning and each evening thanking God for the infinite number of ways He blesses us each and every day? Blessings that we are so used to that we no longer even notice them. And spend time praising Him for what these gifts and blessings reveal to us about His nature, who He is.

Let's pause right now and take notice. Thank God for something that you normally take for granted and praise Him for what it reveals about His character.

I'll go first. I thank God for the unrivaled beauty of the sunrise and the sunset; and I praise Him for making this beauty a daily part of a world that is often cold and ugly. I praise Him for giving this beautiful gift to both evil people and good people (Matthew 5:45). This shows just how good and gracious God is. And I praise Him that one day sunrises and sunsets will stop altogether because God will give His people a gift far greater: His presence. Scripture tells us that in eternity we will no longer have the sun for the Lord will be our everlasting light, and God will be our glory (Isaiah 60:19).

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hope for Hurting Hearts

When the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.
Matthew 14:35-36

The gospels regularly highlight the miraculous nature of Jesus' work on earth. It would be hard to overestimate the dramatic impact Jesus had on the lives of the people He healed. Think for even a moment about the woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years (Matthew 9:20), or the woman who had been crippled by demonic possession for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-13) and it's impossible to deny the amazing life change Jesus wrought for them. Even more, if you pause to consider that the man Jesus healed by the pool of Bethesda had been invalid for thirty-eight years (John 5:5-9) or that the blind man He healed in John 9 had never known sight at all, then it's impossible to miss how completely their lives were turned around. 

Today's passage, however, highlights for us just how easy it was for Jesus to bring about these major changes. All it took was one touch of the garments He wore and the course of a person's whole life was changed.

This should bring us hope. It tells us that our problems and our struggles are not beyond God's power! Whatever you are anxious about today, whatever you are stressed about, whatever keeps you awake at night is easy for God to handle. But this truth that ought to bring us joy and cause us to reach out to God in faith like the people in this story reached out to touch His cloak, instead often causes us to doubt and to question.

"If it's easy for God to solve my problems, then why doesn't He?" We ask. "Is God punishing me? Does He enjoy the fact that I am suffering? Why isn't He helping me?"

As believers we know that God is good and loving and that He doesn't take joy in our suffering. He has promised us that although not everything that happens to us will be good, He will work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). And so, we choose to trust that God hasn't solved our problems yet because there is some good for us in them. There is some good in us learning to hope in Him, in learning to wait on Him, in learning to reach out to Him and pray to Him. Sometimes there is even good in persevering through the trial. (According to II Corinthians 12:7, Paul's thorn in the flesh was ordained to help keep him from pride.) 

It's hard for us to imagine that the things which pain and challenge us have been allowed or even ordained by God for our good. But if we are to believe in a good and a sovereign God, then we must accept this truth. If you are struggling to do so today, then I commend to you Psalm 13. Make it the cry of your hurting heart. Make it your prayer.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
  How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
  and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
  How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
  Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
  and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
  my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
  for he has been good to me.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ugly Thoughts About Scripture

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli... The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!”
I Samuel 3:1-4

I was reading Scripture just now. I opened my Bible to the story where God calls out to Samuel in the temple, but Samuel is just a boy and he thinks it is the old priest Eli calling him. Before I started reading, this thought flitted across my mind: "Oh, I already know this story. There's nothing new for me in this one." I'm ashamed to admit it but there are times when I come to one of the less exciting passages in Scripture and I even catch myself thinking "This passage really isn't very interesting. There really isn't much in it. I need to find a passage with something good in it if I am going to teach on it."

Now, I am a pastor. I've committed my life to God's Word, to reading it, interpreting it, and preaching and teaching it. So I was thinking, if I can underestimate God's word in this way, if someone who has committed their life to the Bible can take it for granted like this sometimes, then maybe you do too. The truth God is reminding me of today is that every single word of Scripture is here by His expressed desire. Every passage is a precious treasure that is there to encourage, challenge and teach us. We can open our Bibles to literally ANY section and with enough study, prayer, and help from the Holy Spirit mine out precious truths that will nourish our souls.

God reminded me of all that by showing me something in this passage I had missed. Samuel was sleeping in the tabernacle. If I understand the book of Leviticus rightly, then only certain Levites were even allowed in the tabernacle at all. Samuel was not one of these Levites, but by virtue of him being dedicated to the Lord from birth and being placed in the charge of the priest Eli, he had received this great privilege. As a young boy he slept in the presence of God! Not in the Holy of Holies, mind you, but in the tabernacle just a stone's throw away from God's presence. What a privilege! What a blessing!

But you know, this is a privilege all New Testament believers can enjoy. We ought not to "visit" God once a week in church but we ought to dwell with Him throughout the week. Stay in His presence young Christian! Pray, read Scripture, cultivate an awareness of Christ in you, learn to listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to enjoy His presence. And when you lay down your head at night may you sense the Father's presence so strongly that you can almost hear Him singing over you (Zephaniah 3:17).

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Give and See

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,
 and he will reward them for what they have done.
Proverbs 19:17

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing,
 but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.
Proverbs 28:27

There's always a tension when it comes to giving. I have a limited amount of money and if I give some of that money to feed the poor, fund missions, or support my church; then I have less money to pay my bills, feed my family, and spend on the things I want to do. That's the rub; and my greed, my logic will always try to talk me out of giving sacrificially for those reasons. Frankly, I can always make a logical argument for me needing to keep more of my money to care for my family.

But God's knows this about me, about us, and He meets us right at our place of need. And when it comes to helping poor people (a group which God shows particular concern for) He takes that excuse off the table. God tells us in the proverbs above that when we give to the poor, He charges it to His account. (Jesus says the same about poor believers in Matthew 25:31-46.) He takes it personally. He treats it as a personal loan made to Him, and He promises to pay us back. 

This creates a paradox of sorts. We give but we are promised we will never lack for having given. Proverbs 11:24-25 puts it a little differently, It says "One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper." So then as Matthew Henry notes, those who give to the poor are "never the poorer for having given." It could be said that giving to the poor is the surest form of investment. 

Giving sacrificially is an act of trusting God that He will give enough back to me to make sure my family's needs are met. This makes giving an act of faith in God's sovereignty over my finances. He's in control of how much comes my way, if I obey Him then I can trust Him to continue to meet my needs in one way or another. 

Do you trust God to pay off His loans? Do you trust Him to keep His word? Will you step out on faith and give to meet the needs of those starving all across the world? Is your faith strong enough to give sacrificially, to give 'til it hurts a little? Trust God! Give and see what He will do.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Be Glad

Our emotions are an important part of our Christian walk, one which we don't talk enough about as Christians. At least we don't in my (mostly Southern Baptist) experience. Often I am more concerned with right thinking and right doing than I am with right feeling, but Scripture has a lot to say about my emotions, so I can't ignore them. While it is true that we shouldn't be slaves to emotion, it doesn't mean that they don't matter to our faith at all.

Consider gladness. Being glad is a way for the Christian to rejoice in God's goodness. Psalm 126:3 says, "The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad." So, being glad can be a sign to the world that God has been good to you, in the same way that a wife's happiness can be a sign that her husband is good to her. Being glad can actually be a part of a good Christian testimony.

It can also be a form of thankfulness as Psalm 118:24 shows: "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." Think of a little girl opening her gifts on Christmas morning. If she doesn't appear glad when she opens a gift, then you know she probably doesn't appreciate the gift. In the same way, being glad can serve as a kind of thankfulness, a show of appreciation for the gifts God has given us.

Gladness often plays an important role in worship. Psalm 100:1-2 says, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!" God deserves to be served and worshiped with gladness. Our worship should be serious, but rarely (if ever) somber or sad. We ought to rejoice and be glad as we enjoy the privilege of worshiping and serving so good a Savior.

Now, I know that this mindset can be taken too far, and I know that some Christians have done that. While gladness is an important emotion in the Christian life it is not the only valid emotion in the Christian life. The Bible has much to say about the Christian experience of suffering and sorrow, of love and loss, of joy and sadness. So do not think that you must only be glad, but you must sometimes be glad. And how good a God we serve that He wants us and even commands us to be glad.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Down in the Dumps

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

I've been down in the dumps today. I'm discouraged. I'm not entirely sure why. I can't point to any specific thing that happened and caused a shift in my outlook, yet here I am: discouraged, a little depressed, and having a hard time motivating myself to keep going. If you don't feel this way today, you will sooner or later, so what can we do in this situation?

Romans 15:4 above tells us that in Scripture we find both encouragement and a source of hope. Today, hope is what I need. We all need hope don't we? That isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign that we're human. We all need to believe that things are going to get better, that at the end of the day there is some point to all the striving and effort and energy we expend. So what hope can Scripture offer us?

Psalm 42:5 says, "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God." Psalm 42 opens with the familiar words "As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" So I know that the Psalmist feels distant from God. He is thirsty for the joy of God's presence and he is cast down by his circumstances. Where does he find hope? He hopes in God. He hopes for God's deliverance from his troubles and he hopes to experiencing the joy of God's presence again. Ultimately there is no other satisfying source of hope. 

So as I close I find the words of Psalm 62:5 fit my situation perfectly. Though I may not yet feel fully renewed in my spirit I resolve to "wait in silence for God alone for my hope is from Him."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Beauty of Correction

A wise correction to a receptive ear
is like a gold ring or an ornament of gold.
   Proverbs 25:12

Have you ever had your ears pierced? I haven't but I have seen it done. It stings in the moment, but in the long run your appearance is adorned by a beautiful earring. This proverb tells us that the same is true of wise correction. It stings in the moment but, when heeded, wise correction can make your life and character more beautiful in the long run. 

Listen, no one likes being corrected. It's hard to be confronted with your shortcomings even when it's a loved one speaking to you. It feels even worse when the correction comes from your boss or someone you dislike. But you would do well to listen to correction anyhow. You don't have to accept every criticism that comes your way, but you should do your best to objectively consider them all. Correction is always going to sting. That'll be true either way. Whether you accept it or rage against it, hearing correction is going to hurt your feelings. But if you're willing to listen to the correction and consider if there is any wise counsel in it for you, then that stinging just may be put to good use. If heeded it can make you a better, more beautiful person.

So the next time you are corrected, reprimanded, criticized, or the next time someone offers to help you by giving their unsolicited opinion- ignore the sting. Love yourself enough to stop and listen and see if there is any wisdom in what they are telling you. If not, merely disregard their opinion. But if it rings true, then allow yourself to be corrected and to be made better by it.

Still not convinced? Here are some other proverbs that make the same point. 
  • The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)
  • The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. (Proverbs 15:31-32)
  • Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future. (Proverbs 19:20)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Can You Hear Me Now?

O You who hear prayer,
To You all men come.
   Psalm 65:2

He who planted the ear, does He not hear?
He who formed the eye, does He not see?
   Psalm 94:9

Sometimes I wonder why my wife and I even bother paying for cell phones because, inevitably, when one of us really needs to speak to the other, they don't answer their phone. Over the years we've each given a host of excuses. She accidentally left her ringer on silent. I was in a meeting. She was talking to her mom. One of the kids was bleeding. And sometimes, inexplicably, one of our phones just won't ring when the other calls. 

Thank God that prayer isn't the same way! God always hears when His children call out to Him. Every time you pray, He hears. God is never in another room. He's never too busy dealing with something more important (because He has unlimited time, ability and attention). His phone isn't turned off or broken. God hears when believers pray. Now that doesn't mean that you always get an answer right away. But what an encouragement it is to me to know that I have instant access to the Father. He is always ready to hear my requests. What a good God we serve!

Too many of us take this amazing privilege for granted though. We pray very little. So take some time today and pray. Pray prayers of praise. Tell God how good He is. Pray thank you prayers. Confess your sins to God in prayer. Ask God questions in prayer. Pray for other people. Pray for the poor, for the hurting, for the lost, for persecuted Christians, for your family, for your friends, for your government, for your church and its leaders, and pray for your neighbors. Pray for yourself too. Ask God to meet your needs. Pray about the things that stress you out. Pray about money or lack thereof. Pray about your work. 

There's so much to pray about it's a wonder we ever stop. And yet to me it seems that so few Christians hardly ever start. Make a start today. Will you take at least five minutes to pray? Remember believer, when you pray God listens.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Jesus, Mary, & Judas...and the Disciples (W.o.W. Rewind)

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
John 12:1-8

Note three responses to Jesus in this passage. Mary shows Jesus extravagant, sacrificial love. Judas responds to Him only with deceit and greed for personal gain. The rest of the disciples recline at the table and maintain "business as usual" little knowing that the time they have left to honor Jesus before His death is slipping away. 

Mary's act of love is extravagant, almost gratuitous. The perfume was worth a year's wages. It was doubtless the most precious thing she owned. In all likelihood it was her life's savings. What's more she used her hair to wipe Jesus' feet! To grasp the power of that act you must understand two things. First, in that culture a woman's glory was her hair. Second, many of their roads were dirt roads and animals were used for transportation that would often leave droppings behind. This meant that people's feet were especially dirty at this time in history. Mary could have chosen to wipe Jesus' feet with a towel. Even this would have been lowering herself to the place of a servant to tend to His needs. But Mary takes her glory, the most treasured and clean part of her body and uses it as a rag to cleanse his feet. It's hard to imagine how shocking this was to those present. It was truly an act of deep commitment and astounding love for her Savior.

Compare that to Judas. He offers up no worship for Christ. Instead he attempts to deceive Him. His aim is not to exalt Jesus but to profit off Him, to steal from Him. Judas hides his greed behind fake piety. He claims to care for the poor, but his true care is lining his pockets. We see in this story the seed that gives sprout to Judas' later betrayal of Jesus. Judas' god is money. Already he was willing to lie to Jesus and steal from Him in order to get more money. Soon enough he will find himself selling Jesus' life for 30 pieces of silver, an amount that was only worth about four months wages. Even in his betrayal Judas sells Jesus short. 

Lastly, consider the rest of the disciples. In John's gospel they are silent. Other gospel records (Matt. 26:6-13 & Mark 14:3-9) indicate that they agreed with Judas (although apparently from pure motives) that this was a wasteful use of resources. They thought more good could have been done by giving this money to the poor. These men are faithful to Jesus. They serve Him every day. They love Him. Indeed, they have left everything for Him. But today is merely "business as usual" for them. Little do they know that Jesus will soon be taken from them. Before long they will wish to be back in Jesus' presence again but be unable to be with Him. There is no sin in their lack of action, just missed opportunity. 

Don't miss your opportunity today. Sure, today is just a normal Wednesday. But Jesus is still our Savior. He is still risen from the dead. He is still worthy of all praise and every honor we can bestow on Him. So let's pull out all of the stops and bless Jesus in a special way today. Who knows? It could be your last opportunity. So take the step of faith to share the gospel with that coworker. Make a big gift to your church or to a missions organization. Dedicate a large chunk of your precious time today to getting alone with God and worshiping Him. Do whatever God leads you to do, whatever is the natural overflow of your heart; but do it extravagantly and do it from love.    

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

While we tend to be more comfortable excusing or condemning specific actions in our lives, Jesus directs His beatitudes at the condition and orientation of our hearts. In this way He sidesteps all our excuses and justifications and cuts to the core of our struggle with sin. "Am I a merciful person?" Jesus forces me to ask this question not of each action individually but of my general character as revealed by the sum of my actions and attitudes.

Mercy looks with compassion on the needs of others, while judgment questions what the poor souls have done to bring this need upon themselves. In this way judgment most often cuts off any hope for a better tomorrow. It is mercy alone that gives second chances. Mercy observes the need and simply helps. It doesn't question their worthiness to receive the help. For example, a merciful person might well question which way is the best way to help the homeless but she will never generalize that many homeless people are in that condition because of their own choices and choose to turn a blind eye to them all. 

Mercy also looks with compassion on the sins of others, even when their sin has cost you personally. Again we find that mercy is unconcerned with desert, for forgiveness and mercy are by definition undeserved. When mercy is deserved it is simply justice. Only when it is undeserved can it be called mercy. As Christians we have received mercy from God and therefore ought to dole out mercy in our dealings with others. We must never forget our ongoing need for mercy and that God promises to give mercy to those who are merciful. So we who were reconciled to God by His initiative while as yet we were still His enemies, when we find ourselves in an unavoidable conflict with someone else, have no right to be anything but conciliatory in tone (Romans 5:8-11). We should never be hostile if it can be avoided in any way, but should always seek to be peacemakers as much as it is in our ability (Matthew 5:9). 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

No Contest

As soon as he got out of the boat, a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met him. He lived in the tombs, and no one was able to restrain him anymore—not even with a chain— because he often had been bound with shackles and chains, but had torn the chains apart and smashed the shackles. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains, he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and knelt down before him. And he cried out with a loud voice, “What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you before God, don’t torment me!” For he had told him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

“What is your name?” he asked him.

“My name is Legion,” he answered him, “because we are many.” And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the region.

A large herd of pigs was there, feeding on the hillside. The demons begged him, “Send us to the pigs, so that we may enter them.” So he gave them permission, and the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs. The herd of about two thousand rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned there.
Mark 5:2-13

This poor man was in complete and utter bondage to thousands of demons living inside him. These demons self-identified as "Legion" which is a word for a six thousand member unit of the Roman army. That does not necessarily mean there were six thousand of them but we do know there were enough to run a herd of pigs numbering about two thousand off a cliff. So it is safe to say thousands of demons had completely taken over this man's body and his life.

If you read carefully you'll notice that many had opposed these demons in this man's life. They had tried to bind or confine them in some way but had failed. First, we see that the man himself had been unable to control them. He was powerless against so many, no longer in control of his own life. The passage tells us that he cut himself and cried out daily. What a hellish and tormented experience. Second, the community had no success in getting the demons to conform to societal and cultural norms. Not only did this man live outside of the town in the tombs, but Luke 8:27 tells us that he hadn't even worn clothes in a long time. So, societal pressure had no effect on them whatsoever. Lastly, we see that the civil authorities failed as well. They tried to overpower the demons by binding the man with shackles and chains. They did this on numerous occasions but the demons were stronger than their chains. They simply tore them off.

But when Jesus stepped out of the boat onto that shore, everything changed. Here was a man who could bind and defeat the demons that so plagued this poor soul. It was one against thousands, and it was still a lopsided victory. It took no effort on Jesus' part, just a word and the demons were gone. Just a word and Jesus had rescued this poor man from the hellish torment. Just a word from the Word and the man was in his right mind again. Jesus alone could bind and defeat this army of demons because He alone has absolute authority.

This same Jesus lives within you, believer! Whatever spiritual battle you face, turn to Him. Whatever physical challenge, turn to Him. Whatever discouragement, whatever pain, whatever torment, it is nothing compared to His incomparable authority, power and mercy. Be encouraged, O believer! "For greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world!" (I John 4:4).

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

God Hears Even When He Doesn't Answer

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest of Abijah’s division named Zechariah. His wife was... Elizabeth. Both were righteous in God’s sight, living without blame according to all the commands and requirements of the Lord. But they had no children because Elizabeth could not conceive, and both of them were well along in years...

An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified and overcome with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth." 
Luke 1:5-7, 11-14

If you have kids or are around them at all, you've probably noticed that they don't take no for an answer. When they want something they'll ask and ask and ask again. Even when you succeed in getting them to stop asking you today, chances are it'll be the first thing out of their mouths tomorrow. Although this behavior might be frowned upon from a parent's perspective, God actually encourages it. Repeatedly Scripture implores us to persevere in prayer, to keep asking God for what we need even when He doesn't answer right away (Luke 18:1-8, Romans 12:12, Ephesians 6:18). Zechariah's story reminds us of this.

As Zechariah prayed for a child I imagine he took comfort in Proverbs 15:29, "The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." He and his wife were righteous people. Surely God would hear their prayer. But God never answered. Months turned into years and still he prayed. Zechariah prayed until he and Elizabeth had passed the age of childbearing. And then he stopped praying convinced that it simply wasn't God's will for his life. (I know I've taken some liberties filling in the biblical narrative here but I think there is reason to believe this is likely how it went.)

Then one day Zechariah was chosen to burn incense in the temple. This was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity, a big day in his life, but Zechariah had no idea just how big. As he stood alone in the temple praying and offering incense on the altar just outside the Holy of Holies, the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared to him. Gabriel had a message from God. Zechariah's prayer had been heard, he would have a son. His son would be the forerunner to the Messiah and the first prophet in over 400 years. His son would be John the Baptist. Zechariah was incredulous. He had a hard time believing that God had finally answered his prayer that he and his wife would have a child at their age. (This is one of the reasons I believe the prayer Gabriel is answering was likely uttered years before and not right in that moment.)

Be encouraged by this! God hears your prayers even when He doesn't answer them right away. Keep praying. Keep asking. Don't give up! He delayed in answering Zechariah's prayer so that when He did answer it would be all the more sweet to Zechariah and it would result in even more glory for Himself. God loves to answer the prayers of His children. Rest assured, if He isn't answering your prayer, there's a reason. God orders the events of our lives towards His ends. Trust Him and keep on praying.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Power of Praise

Lord, our Lord,
how magnificent is your name throughout the earth!
You have covered the heavens with your majesty.
From the mouths of infants and nursing babies,
you have established a stronghold
on account of your adversaries
in order to silence the enemy and the avenger. (Psalm 8:1-2)

When do you praise God? Maybe just when you're at church? Or only when things are going well? If so, then you are missing out on a powerful spiritual weapon.

Have you ever been told that praise can be a spiritual weapon? According to this passage, it is and believers ought to use it against our enemies. The passage speaks of a stronghold that God brings forth from the mouths of infants and babes. What is this stronghold? The Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint understood this stronghold to be praises to God sung by children. Jesus affirmed this understanding when He quoted from the Septuagint translation in Matthew 21:16- "You have prepared praise from the mouths of infants and nursing babies.” If we are to take Jesus' word for it, then the praise we declare to God and His Messiah is a stronghold which protects us from our enemies.

How does this work? When we're surrounded by enemies (physical or spiritual) we ought to sing God's praise. In doing so we remind ourselves and our attackers who our Protector is, how strong He is, and how magnificent He is. As we open our mouths in praise, our enemies close their mouths in silence. As we praise God's strength we grow more confident as they grow more afraid. There is good news for us here. Believers don't need to be strong or mighty to be safe. We can be as weak as a newborn babe. God is our Protector and our weakness doesn't limit His power.

So spend some time praising God today. Praise Him for who He is. If you need inspiration, read a few psalms. As you praise, your outlook will change. And if you'll praise Him publicly before your enemies they'll think twice as well.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Mining for Wisdom

"Where can wisdom be found and where does understanding dwell?" (Job 28:12 cf Daniel 2:20, James 1:5 & Revelation 7:12)

In the rest of his discourse while trying to answer this question, Job acknowledges that man has perfected the means to search out and mine precious metals and jewels from the earth no matter how deep into the heart of a mountain they may lie. Man digs tunnels through dirt and stone alike to seek out the treasure he desires. Yet there is one treasure that proves elusive. No matter how hard he tries, man is unable to seek it out. It lies beyond our grasp. This treasure is wisdom.

History tells us that the great philosophers of old spent their lives seeking it out wisdom, yet the record of how they lived their lives and of how they died leaves little room for doubt. Whatever knowledge they discovered, wisdom was not found. Job reveals to us that "God understands the way to it and He alone knows where it dwells." Yet God, in His mercy, reveals the path to wisdom to us.
And [God] said to man, "The fear of the LORD-that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." - Job 28:28

The fear of the LORD is the well from which all wisdom springs. If you don't fear God, then you underestimate Him. You don't understand who He is. And nothing could be more important than understanding the nature of your Creator and what He requires of you. Thus, if you do not fear God then you cannot be considered truly wise. You may have attained some measure of earthly knowledge, but wisdom eludes you still.

A person of understanding shuns evil. Anyone who clings to evil actions, thoughts or attitudes is not yet made perfect in understanding. When we embrace evil we bring fire to our chest, for evil surely brings destruction. Our God will not be mocked. We all reap what we sow. Therefore, anyone who willingly pursues evil, destroys their own peace and security. What could be more foolish than this? Only a man without understanding would do such a thing.

Of course, I imagine you are tempted to reject these definitions of wisdom. Likely you do not find them fully satisfying. I Corinthians 1:18-25 shows us that in our sin man always wants to reject God's wisdom, chiefly in Christ but in every other way as well. So if I may push Job's metaphor a little farther, I would say that perhaps this writing hasn't placed jewels of wisdom directly into your hand, but at the least it has revealed a worthwhile shaft to go digging in. Do your own mining of the fear of the Lord and of shunning evil. Here are some other passages that agree with Job's assessment: Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, Job 1:8, Proverbs 8:13. Find wisdom and understanding in them, and pursue them always.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Dirty Floss & Polluted Garments (W.o.W. Rewind)

[This post was originally published 8/5/15. Please pray for my church as we're doing VBS this week.]

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 19, 2017

How Faint a Whisper We Hear of Him

And these are but the outer fringe of his works; how faint the whisper we hear of him! Who then can understand the thunder of his power?”
Job 26:14

A while back I got bored with reading Scripture. I tired of going to church. I wasn't quite arrogant enough to say I knew everything there was to know about God, but I was convinced I'd read it all before and there really wasn't anything new for me to find in the Bible. You have to understand, I've been in church since I was four. I was convinced I'd heard all the stories, learned all the lessons, and sat through all the sermons. But I couldn't have been more wrong! This was nothing more than a tactic of the Adversary. I was deceived. Satan had actually succeeded in convincing me that learning about God - the most beautiful, powerful, interesting, and exciting being one can imagine - was boring. Today's verse captures well just how blind I was. 

The heart of theology is to know God; and when you set out to know an infinite being, you can never be finished learning. If God is infinite, there simply cannot be an end to what you don't yet know about Him. All that I have learned about God in my many years of church attendance and seminary study barely scratches the surface of what His Word reveals about Him. Even if I plumbed the depths of His revelation of Himself through Scripture, even that is only the outer fringes of His works. It's just a faint whisper of who He really is. But oh what a whisper it is! 

If I were to uncover all the mysteries of His creation, if I were to gain understanding of His great wisdom in ordering events and overwhelming chaos, if I were to grasp the unfathomable might of His power that He exercises in all His deeds... even then I still would not be any closer to exhausting all there is to know about our infinite and eternal God. There will always be more to His goodness, His wisdom, His being than we can comprehend. There will always be more reasons to praise Him. Knowing God is truly a lifelong task. Indeed, one lifetime is not nearly enough time, but it is all we have. So let's spend our lives studying what God has revealed about Himself to us in His Word, and then may we know the great joy of spending our eternity studying the fullness of God's glory face-to-face.

For further reading...
  • If you are looking for help getting to know the depths of who God is, I suggest a little book written by A. W. Tozer entitled The Knowledge of the Holy.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Matthias Waited

And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Acts 1:24-26

Have you ever been passed over for something that was then given to someone who didn't deserve it? Maybe it was a promotion at work that went to the kiss-up. Or perhaps your crush chose someone else over you, someone who just wasn't good for them. Whatever it was, I bet you've felt this way at least once. And if you are anything like me then you probably whined and complained and raged about the unfairness of it all. Well, the next time you feel this way, think about Matthias.

Scripture tells us that Matthias had been with Jesus and the twelve disciples from the very beginning, "from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:22). But in spite of that Jesus didn't choose Matthias to be one of the twelve. From all that we know, Matthias was a faithful follower with a good reputation who had followed Jesus for three and a half years right alongside the other disciples, yet he had been passed over...for Judas. 

I wonder if Matthias ever felt overlooked? Did he ever think Jesus had made a mistake not choosing him? We know that Judas not only betrayed Jesus in the end but that he also embezzled money from the ministry along the way (John 12:4-6). Did Matthias ever question Judas'  place among the twelve? If he did, Scripture doesn't mention it. In fact, this is the only passage in all of Scripture that mentions Matthias at all. He is never mentioned before or after his selection to replace Judas. So why does it matter?

Consider what Jesus said to the twelve disciples (including Judas) in Matthew 19:28: "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Jesus said this before Judas was revealed as a traitor. At the time, Matthias could not have known that this saying would one day apply to him. He was overlooked on earth from a human perspective, but he was not unnoticed. Although he may have felt unappreciated for years, God had a special place reserved for him in eternity. On earth, Matthias wasn't chosen for a center stage role. He was called to work behind the scenes, to humble himself and faithfully follow the Lord while he waited for God to lift him up. He trusted that God saw his good deeds and that God would reward him in due time. And God did! 

So don't be discouraged if you feel underutilized or passed over or forgotten by God. He has a part for you to play and your reward is secure. Don't waste your time coveting someone else's role. If you will be zealously faithful in doing what God has called you to do, you can be confident that even if you feel passed over in this world you will not go unnoticed in heaven.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Poison Sumac Praise

Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But [Job] said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Job 2:9-10

I'm miserable. I have large goose egg blisters on my elbows and forearms from a poison sumac plant I managed to get into as we cleared brush at the church this past weekend. I've had poison ivy and poison oak many times but these are the largest blisters I've ever seen. It is uncomfortable for me to bend or move my arms because they are all blistered around my elbows. And it is nearly impossible to rest them on my desk or on the arms of my chair without hitting a blister and causing pain or discomfort as well. So again, I'm miserable.

It makes me think of Job. He was covered with boils from head to toe. He had it a lot worse than I do. Job's words challenge me today, "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Who am I to tell God what I will and will not receive from Him? I have no right. God is God, so I will simply trust Him and receive what He sends my way. So today I choose to rejoice. Not in my painful blisters, but in all the amazing blessings God has poured out on me. The fact of the matter is that this little outbreak is the only thing in my life that I have to complain about. In every other way I am blessed beyond measure. 

You know if we aren't careful it's easy for us to focus on the few negative things in our lives and let them sour our attitude toward God, when what we should really be doing is offering up to Him unending praise for the countless blessings He has poured out on us. If you are tempted to grumble and complain about your condition or some situation in your life, take a break from focusing on the negative and choose to spend a minute thinking about all the positive things God has given you. No ask yourself Job's question. Is it right for you to receive good from God, but refuse to receive evil? God is God. Trust Him. And praise Him no matter what.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

When God is Against You

So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
Judges 2:14-15

Many believers act as though God doesn't care about our sin. "After all," one might think, "Jesus has already paid for my sin so why does it matter?" This attitude leads many Christians today handle their sin with a kind of a wink and a smile, but not so with God. God hates sin! He is Holy, pure, and perfect. Sin is an affront to His very nature. It is rebellion against Him. It is an insult to Him. God never deals with sin lightly. He never overlooks it. The atonement proves this. God's unwillingness to overlook our sin is why Jesus had to die. The only way any of our sins could be forgiven was for God's wrath against those sins to be fully satisfied. God poured out the punishment for our sins on Jesus as our substitute on the cross. But do not be so mistaken as to think that just because the eternal punishment of our sin has been dealt with that God no longer cares about your sin or that there will be no consequences to your sin. 

The above passage from Judges reveals that God set His face against His people because of their sin. He turned against them and put them in great distress. Don't think He won't do the same to you if you harbor sin in your life and in your heart. But even here there is good news, for our God is good. Even as God punished His people He showed them mercy and felt compassion for their suffering. The New Testament teaches that God disciplines believers like a Father disciplines the son whom He loves (Hebrews 12:5-7). He punishes us to bring us back to Himself. Punishment isn't reserved for the lost, rather redemptive punishment shows that you are a beloved child of God.

Does it seem as though God has been against you lately? Search your heart and your life for unconfessed sins and sins you have asked forgiveness for but aren't turning away from. Don't dare to ask God to forgive you of some sin, while having no intention to stop committing it. Instead take Scripture's advice. Fear God and fear His punishment (Proverbs 1:7, 3:7, & 16:6). Even though we know God's discipline is merciful and compassionate, it is still dreadful. So turn from the sin in your life and double your commitment to walk closely with the Lord.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

I Love Your More than Candy

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Psalm 119:103

My wife and I sometimes use childish terms to express our love to our children. We'll say things like, "I love you more than I love pizza." Or "I love you more than peanut butter!" Or, if we really want to express the full height of the human emotion of love, we'll say, "I love you more than I love candy!!!"

Psalm 119:103 smacks of this kind of communication. By comparing His Word to honey, God stoops to use a metaphor we'll understand to help us see just how good His Word is. Now I can't claim to be an ancient Middle Eastern culinary expert, but I believe honey was the primary, and possibly even the only, sweetener the ancient Israelites had at their disposal. So to say that God's Word tastes sweeter than honey in that culture is really saying something. It's like saying God's Word is sweeter than sugar. It's better than candy.

Most believers have experienced this sweetness that God's Word can provide.  There's nothing sweeter than when the right passage of Scripture hits you right when you need it in just the right way. It isn't merely that in these instances the Bible hands us exactly what our souls were desperate for, but it is also the arrestingly beautiful way God's Word communicates these truths that makes it so good. 

But God's Word can't meet you where your need is if you never read it, If it's never in front of you, if you never find the time to pick up your Bible to read and think deeply about what it says, then it won't be sweeter than candy to you. Instead it will be more like that bowl of hard candy your great aunt leaves out at her house on her side table that no one ever eats. How sad!

So "taste and see that the LORD is good!" (Psalm 34:8). Take a moment and read a chapter of God's Word today, and the next day, and the next. Make room in your life for something good. I promise you won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Is it worth it?

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
Psalm 16:5-6

Do you ever feel like you're doing everything right and nobody notices? You do all the work and someone else gets the credit? You make all the sacrifices, try to do all the right things, but you never seem to get ahead. Is it even worth it? Should you keep doing what's right even if it never seems to work out for you?

Yes!!! Let me tell you why. Believers can persevere in doing what's right because we know God promises that we will receive our reward in the end and because He Himself holds our future in His hands. 

The verses above say that God is our cup. The Bible uses this term to describe a person's deserved lot in life, or their due reward for their actions. A person's cup could be bad as in Psalm 11:6, "Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup." Or a person's cup could be good as in Psalm 23:5, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." For believers, God Himself is our cup. He is your reward! No matter how much this world cheats you out of what you deserve, know that God is watching and He has promised to give you not only crowns and a rich inheritance but also the greatest treasure of all: direct access to Himself (Revelation 22:4).

Believers also take comfort in the knowledge that it isn't the alignment of the stars, dumb luck, or the whimsy of the Fates, but God who holds our future. He has determined our destiny. He holds it up and supports us in it that we may not fall. Whatever you hope the future holds for you, relax and trust God. Whether He chooses to make your dreams come true or not, He has already promised to work it all out for your good.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose... What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:28, 31-32)

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Unveiled Faces (W.o.W. rewind)

Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out...the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining.
Exodus 34:34-35

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18

Christians have a unique privilege in this world. Once we were blinded by sin like everyone else, but now, by the power of God's Spirit, our eyes have been opened to see who God really is. We are ushered into God's very presence by the power of the blood of Christ. We not only contemplate God through the Scriptures, but we have His very Spirit dwelling in us. This Spirit helps us to understand the Bible and it gives us an unprecedented closeness and relationship with God. 

We behold the glory of the Lord like few, if any, did prior to Christ's coming. And as we gaze intently at God's glory and contemplate His goodness, miracle of miracles, we are changed! God's Spirit works within us to transform us into the image of the very God that it reveals to us. 

Christians are meant to reflect who God is. The longer we walk with Him the more like Him we ought to be. We shouldn't hide this transformation. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
This leads all Christians to several pertinent questions:
  • Am I being transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another?
  • Am I taking time to behold God's glory, to enter His presence and gaze at Him?
  • Am I letting the light of God's transforming work in me shine for all to see so that He may receive the glory?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Aksah Asks a Favor

And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

One day when she came to Othniel, she urged him to ask her father for a field. When she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, “What can I do for you?” She replied, “Do me a special favor. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me also springs of water.” So Caleb gave her the upper and lower springs.
Joshua 15:16-19

This is an obscure little story hidden in a portion of the Old Testament that details the boundaries of the tracts of land given to each of the twelve tribes of Israel in the Promised Land. It isn’t likely to garner much attention today, yet God saw fit to include this short story not once but twice in Scripture. It is recorded again, almost word for word in Judges 1:12-15. Why? Because it has a tremendous little lesson to teach God’s children.

Aksah’s father, Caleb, was a faithful, God-fearing man. You may remember that he was one of only two of the twelve men who spied out the land of Canaan to bring back a good report. Caleb stands out in Scripture as an example of faith, courage and wisdom. In this passage we find Caleb carefully crafting a situation to provide a strong, brave man for his daughter to marry. It worked. Aksah’s husband, Othniel, later becomes the first judge whom God raises up to deliver His people (see Judges 3:7-11). From this (and many other examples I am sure) Aksah knows that her father loves her. She can see that he wants to provide for her, and she begins taking an interest in her own provision as well.

Aksah is a shrewd young woman who knows where she stands with her father and is not afraid to take initiative. Knowing that the land her father has given her would do well to have a source of water, she musters some of the courage her father was famous for and makes a request. She knows her father wants to be a blessing to her, so she asks him for something specific, springs of water. Caleb gives her a double blessing, two springs of water! Imagine how fruitful this land must have been for her family.

In the New Testament Jesus says,
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

What are you asking God for right now? He has shown that He wants to bless you with good things. So what are you asking Him for? Pause and ask God for something specific. But ask wisely, not selfishly. Consider these words of James:
You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (James 4:2-3)

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

God is My Portion

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

Too many Christians aren't satisfied in God alone. We are like the psalmist in the first half of Psalm 73 when he says,  "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (73:3). We look at the world around us and we want the same money, fame, power, success, and easy life that they appear to have. We covet the things of the world and in these moments (I shudder to type it out) but in these moments we think God isn't enough for us. We want more. 

But our wicked desires only reveal our folly, for no treasure is more secure than nearness to God. How marvelous it is to consider that the believer actually has God as her portion. What a sure inheritance you have! Money can be lost or stolen. Lands can be destroyed. Stock prices can drop. But God is forever. God can't be taken from you! Jesus cried out on the cross "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) He said this so you would never have to. He was cast off and forsaken on the cross so that you might be brought near by His blood. 

But your portion is not only secure, it is also precious beyond measure. God is a priceless treasure and He ought to be your greatest desire. Nothing in Heaven or on Earth or in any of the galaxies can come close to comparing to Him. Why would you desire anything this world has to offer above God? Since He created it all, He far exceeds it in value. So what could be better than nearness to Him? Nothing! 

So take great joy, believer, in the knowledge that you have Him for your very own. God has given every believer a down payment on her inheritance by placing His Spirit in her heart now. Don't take this gift for granted. Be satisfied in God's presence. And take heart! In this world you will have many troubles, but God is your portion and Heaven awaits. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Imperfect but available

The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.
Judges 15:14b-15

Samson wasn't particularly righteous. He was sexually immoral, flippant towards God's law, fairly deceitful, and foolish in his dealings with women. No, Samson wasn't righteous, but he was available. He was ticked off at the same people God was ticked off at, and he was willing to fight. When his greatest military victory came he had been bound with ropes by his own people and handed over to the Philistines. He had no weapons at his disposal and was surrounded by his enemies. But when God's Spirit rushed on him Samson was given supernatural strength. He broke free of his bonds as though they were nothing and looked around for any weapon he could lay a hand on. What he found was the jawbone of a donkey and with it he killed one thousand men.

One of the many lessons we learn from Samson's life is that God can do impossible things through imperfect people. This is what God has done all throughout human history. He used Martin Luther to stand alone against a Catholic Church that had become so corrupt that it actually sold salvation. He used William Tyndale to translate the Bible into English from the original Greek and Hebrew texts even as the Catholic Church in his country said common Christians didn't need to read the Bible and persecuted and hunted him. And were it not for God's work in William Carey's life the modern missions movement might have never started and millions of souls might be lost to Hell. In his lifetime, Carey was a lone voice arguing that Christians still have a responsibility to take the good news of Jesus to the nations. God used him to start a movement. 

None of these men were perfect, but they were all aligned with God's will for their lives. Each of them stepped out in faith and acted. If you and I will do the same, then God will accomplish all He pleases through us. Who knows what the great author has written for you in His book? Will you preach the gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, fight for the oppressed, start a movement, or raise up the next generation of Christians? Only God knows and only you can find out, if you'll step out in faith and see.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Feeling Forgotten

In you, Lord my God,
  I put my trust.
I trust in you;
  do not let me be put to shame,
  nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you
  will ever be put to shame... 

My eyes are ever on the Lord,
    for only he will release my feet from the snare.
(Psalm 25: 1-3 & 15)

When you were a kid, did you ever have to wait on your parents to pick you up? Maybe there was a time when your parents were later than usual. All the other kids were gone already, and there you were sitting on the steps alone, wondering if Mom or Dad had forgotten you. Well, sometimes life can feel rather like that. Even though we try hard to convince ourselves that we are the masters of our own destiny, in reality much of our lives are spent feeling like we did as a child: powerlessly waiting. Maybe you're trying to get pregnant, or hoping to be able to retire soon, or looking to get accepted to a college, or even waiting for love to find you. In times like these you may wonder, "Has God forgotten about me?" "Surely, I thought He would have answered my prayer by now." "What is He waiting on?" "Why won't He give me what I need?" 

If you find yourself waiting on God today, read Psalm 25. The psalmist finds himself waiting on the Lord to act in his defense, to vindicate him and free him from the snare of his enemies. There is a lot of soul nourishing wisdom in this psalm, but allow me to unpack just one piece of advice for you. Look in verse three. There the psalmist reminds himself, "No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame." Often while you wait on God you will have to fight off doubts and fears just like you did as a child. As I sat on those steps waiting I would say to myself. "I know Mom wouldn't forget me. She probably just got stuck in traffic. Just wait. She'll be here. Just wait." This is exactly what the psalmist is doing! He reminds himself that God won't abandon him. God is faithful! He never abandons those who place their hope in Him. Even when we don't understand His plan, even and especially when we don't understand His timing, we can continue to trust, continue to wait in hope, because we know on whom we are waiting. God won't abandon you! "My eyes are ever on the Lord," the psalmist says, "for only He will release my feet from the snare." Keep your eyes focused on Him, continue to trust in who He is, and the waiting gets easier.