Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Delivering the Deliverer

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
Luke 2:6-7a


When Jesus took on flesh and entered history to offer salvation to mankind, He didn't descend from heaven on a cloud or come down in a whirlwind riding a fiery chariot. He entered our world through the womb of Mary. Have you ever paused to consider the fact that it took human labor and significant pain for Christ to come? Most children's stories, Christmas pageants, and nativity movies skip over the labor and delivery part of the Christmas story; so it can be easy for us to overlook as well. But consider that Mary didn't have the conveniences of modern hospitals to help her out. No ice chips or hot tubs. She didn't have pain meds or an epidural. With God's hand upon her she screamed and struggled and delivered the Deliverer. 

But Mary's sacrifice wouldn't end there. Forty days later at the temple, a godly man named Simeon prophesied to Mary that "a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:34-35). How true this would prove. Later once He had begun His ministry, Jesus came and preached in His hometown among those who knew His mother and His family. What He said so enraged the crowd that they tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:14-30). Imagine the social stigma Mary bore. It must have only grown as the religious leaders of the day increasingly disapproved of and attacked Jesus and His followers. But the sword of which Simeon spoke came at Jesus' death. Mary stood at the foot of the cross and watched her beloved Son die for her own sins. She watched as evil men murdered her Son. She watched Him suffer and struggle for breath. 

Although Mary's story is exceptional, as we examine Scripture and history we find that it is not unusual. God often invites people to join in His work. But His work almost always requires struggle, suffering and sacrifice be made. So this begs the question, what great deeds might God be calling you to accomplish for His kingdom in the new year and what cross might He ask you to bear? Are you willing to suffer, struggle, and labor to accomplish great things for God?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8


There's a scene in Les Miserables that always gets me. Jean Valjean has just been released from prison. His exhilaration of being set free is quickly squelched as the cold reality sets in of how hard it will be for him to find work or food as an ex-con. When a bishop takes him into his home for the night, Valjean's utter desperation leads him to give in to temptation. He steals some silver from the bishop during the night. Having been caught by police, Valjean says that the bishop gave him the silver. When the police bring him back to the bishop's home to return the stolen goods, the bishop realizes that Valjean's fate is in his hands. In an amazing display of grace, the bishop confirms Valjean's story that he gave him the silver and even chides Valjean for leaving so quickly that he forgot to take the candlesticks. He stuffs these into his bag as well and send him on his way. Now not only free, but with enough money and renewed hope in humanity to have a real chance in the world.  

Romans 5:8 unveils the incredible truth that God loved you when you were still a sinner. Even while you were rebelling against Him in sin, when you were still His enemy, He loved you. He sent His Son to take on flesh and die in the your place. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die" (Romans 5:7). But God died for you when you were His enemy!

God loved us and showered grace on us when we were not worthy of it. Even now, who among us would consider themselves worthy of God's blessings? No one. So the Christian life ought to be marked by reconciliation, by grace, by not just second chances but by seventy-seventh chances (see Matthew 18:21-22).

Do you show love to those whom you think don't deserve it? Do you pour out gifts on people you think may not even appreciate it? If you are a believer, you ought to. Your love, your surprising grace, just may be the tool God uses to help lift someone out of their present condition. So go in the peace that God has given us. Take hope, grace and forgiveness with you and introduce them into the lives of those who need them the most. Make sacrifices to love unworthy people in costly ways, because this is how God has loved you in Jesus. Be changed by that love and live it out. 

For further reading...
  • Matthew 18:21-35- If you are thinking about holding back forgiveness from someone, you really ought to read this passage first.  


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Traitors for Christ (W.o.W Rewind)

...faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead…You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
James 2:17, 24-26



Do you remember the story of Rahab the prostitute? I know… it’s been a long time. Let me refresh your memory. Joshua has just taken over for Moses as leader of Israel. They're at the edge of the Promised Land ready to take possession of it when Joshua sends out two spies to check out a city named Jericho that is well-known for its fortified walls. While in the city they stay with a woman named Rahab, a prostitute. Somehow the King finds out and sends guards to Rahab’s house to seize them. But Rahab hid the spies and sent the guards off in the wrong direction.

To explain to the spies why she helped them Rahab says, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you… for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:9 and 11b). Then she asked the spies to swear to spare her life and the lives of all her family when they come take possession of the land. The spies agreed and Rahab let them down by a rope from her window. They returned to tell Joshua all that happened. Shortly thereafter Israel marched into the Promised Land and defeated Jericho. Rahab and all her family were spared.

So why are we talking about this obscure Old Testament character? Well, because the New Testament seems to think she is worth talking about. Notice that Rahab is the only woman mentioned by name as one who had faith in the great faith chapter, Hebrews 11. The apostle James also mentions her as an example of justification by faith in action. Not only that, but we also find out in Matthew 1 that this Rahab is an ancestor of Jesus Christ himself. So the real question is, what did Rahab get right that we need to imitate?

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as being “certain of what of we do not see.” From the account in Joshua 2 it is clear that Rahab is certain of something she does not see. She was certain that Israel’s God was the true God of heaven and earth. She had faith in a God whom she hadn’t even encountered yet. Hearing testimony of the great miracles that He was working on His people’s behalf was enough. She believed. But James rightly points out that Rahab did more than just believe; she acted on her faith. She was so certain of this that she was willing to wager her life on it. She was willing to betray her king, her city, and all the people in it (save her family) in order to be in right relationship with the one, true God. She was a traitor for Christ.

Now I want to ask you two questions. First, does your faith work? James says that “faith without works is dead.” If you have a living faith, then it will produce action in your life. It is this “living faith” that is dangerous. It is this type of faith that brings about change in our world and lights hearts on fire for the Lord. Do you have a living active faith? If not, then you should ask God to renew and revive your faith. We serve the originator of all life. It was He who breathed life into Adam and Eve’s lifeless forms, and He can breathe life into your lifeless faith if you ask Him to.

Second, are you willing to be a traitor for Christ? Rahab valued being in right relationship with God more than she valued anything else…even her own life. She knew she would be killed if the king’s guards found out she had lied, but she feared God more than death. She valued God above all else. She was willing to turn her back on everyone and everything in order to follow Him. The Bible teaches that this world is at odds with the world to come. James 4:4 says “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” This world is so at odds with God’s kingdom that we must choose between the two. Where does your allegiance lie? Are you willing to “betray” this world in order to be a citizen of the next? Are you willing to choose God over any and everything else in this world that could compete for your time or passion? That’s what it means to be a traitor for Christ. You choose Christ over all else. You choose Christ over anything that comes between you and Him, because you value Him more than anything.

Make your choice.


For further reading this week…

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Carry Them Up the Mountain (W.o.W. Rewind)

Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Matthew 15:29-31


With what difficulty they must have climbed that mountain to see Jesus! For many of the lame, the crippled and the blind it was a trip they could not make on their own. They had to be carefully guided or even carried up the mountain. The passage clearly states that they were brought to Jesus by the crowds and laid at His feet. Those needing healing are not the actors in the passage. They are being acted upon by their good friends. They had friends who exerted great energy to bring them to Christ. Oh, but with what ease these same men, women and children must have gone skipping back down the mountain they had been carried up! Upon meeting Jesus their eyes were opened, their deepest hurts removed, and their injuries healed. And take note of the outcome on the people as whole: worship. The crowd was in awe of Jesus' power and they praised God!

The Bible tells us that sin has an amazing power to blind and deceive us, so that people who are still lost in their sin do not know to come to Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). They do not know that healing can be found in Him unless we tell them, unless we bring them to Him.

Who are you working to bring to Jesus right now? What friend or family member are you inviting to church? Who are you telling all that Jesus has done for you? You must bring people to Jesus! They cannot make it on their own.

I know that sometimes it feels like pointing your friends to Jesus is an impossible task. Sometimes it may feel like you are carrying them up a mountain, but press on! Don't give up. Continue to encourage your friends to turn to Jesus, for if they will look to Him in faith then the powerful working of the gospel in their lives will lead to greater worship for the Lord both now and in eternity. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 
I Chronicles 29:11


Greatness, power, glory, victory, and majesty- these all belong to God and to Him alone. Not one ounce of any of these qualities rightly belongs to anyone but to the Lord. When I find my wicked heart craving after any of these I can be sure that I am encroaching on the Lord's territory. 

Yet, consider how willingly God shares them with men. Though these qualities belong to God fully, He bestows them on men. I Chronicles 29:12 says "Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all." So God makes some men rich and some men great. He gives some men power, while to others He gives victory. But these qualities always come from God, they belong to God and ultimately their purpose is to be laid back at His feet as an offering of worship.

God gives men greatness that they might use their influence to point others to Him. He gives men power that they might reflect His goodness by wielding it to give justice to the oppressed. He gives men riches to show His generosity and so they may in turn be generous to the poor, the widow, and the orphan. He gives men victory that they might choose to fight His battles to advance His kingdom. He gives men majesty that they might reflect a portion of His own majesty and in so doing whet men's appetite for the One who is truly majestic. 

So it isn't wrong for men to have any of these qualities. It isn't wrong for a person to be powerful or great. But it is wrong for us to use these qualities for our own means, to make our own names great. And it is wrong for us to desire these qualities selfishly, to spend our lives clambering after and grabbing at what only God can give and what properly belongs to Him anyway. 

I fear I have often been guilty of trying to steal God's glory. I've worked hard to take for myself and for my own ends what rightly belongs only to Him. Forgive me for my wicked desires, Lord. Renew within me a right heart, Father, and help me to use what gifts You have given me to maximize Your glory, Your honor and Your praise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

That One Time Peter Told Jesus to Go Away

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Luke 5:8


Everyone wanted to get closer to Jesus. Once, while Jesus was teaching by the Sea of Galilee, the crowds pressed in on Him.  As the crowd inched forward I imagine Jesus' feet finally met the water. Seeing Peter's fishing boat nearby Jesus put it to good use. They put the boat out a little from the shore and Jesus sat down to teach.

When His sermon was over Jesus told Peter to go out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Peter knows this breaks every rule of fishing. There is a zero percent chance this is going to work. Yet for whatever reason, Peter did it. The nets were so full of fish that Peter couldn't haul them in by himself. He called his partners over and they filled two boats so full of fish that they were both in danger of sinking. 

That's when Peter looked over at Jesus. This miracle that was tailor made for a fisherman had given him a glimpse of who Jesus really was. So right there in the boat, knee deep in fish. Peter falls down before Jesus and asks Him to leave. 

Peter's response seems odd at first. Everyone wants to get closer to Jesus. The crowds had been pressing in on Him. But here is Peter, enjoying next level intimacy with Jesus and wanting to get away. He's sharing a small boat with Jesus receiving personal miracles, and yet he's telling Jesus to get away from him.

But Peter's response isn't all that odd or unique really. Consider Isaiah's response when he entered God's presence in a vision. "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips..." (Isaiah 6:5). When God first spoke to Moses at the burning bush Moses hid his face in fear (Exodus 3:6). When the people of Israel heard God speak at Mt. Sinai from the midst of the cloud and the fire, they were so afraid that they told Moses not to let God speak to them anymore (Exodus 20:18-21).

The key to understanding Peter's response is in the second half of verse eight. Peter asks Jesus to leave him because he is a sinner. When Peter got a glimpse of who Jesus really was it made him more acutely aware of his own sinfulness. Far from a rejection of Jesus, Peter's statement is a form of worship. It's like he was saying, "I am unworthy to be in Your presence." 

When was the last time you felt unworthy of God? How long has it been since you were so moved by a passage of Scripture or so overwhelmed by the power of His presence in some place that you said to God "I am unworthy of You. I don't deserve You." This is the appropriate human response to entering God's presence. If we don't occasionally respond to God in this way then we have a problem. Either we think too highly of ourselves, we think too little of God, or we simply aren't seeing how good God really is. Take some time today to fall down before the holy God and declare yourself unworthy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Tale of Three Men

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
James 1:19-20


Here is the man who isn't quick to listen. Listening is a waste of time for him because he already knows what you are going to say. He cuts you off mid-sentence with his retort. He efficiently uses the time you are speaking not to gain perspective but to catch his breath and plot his next argument. He is wise in his own eyes, but not in God's eyes.

Here is the man who speaks too quickly. He has no filter. Whatever enters into his mind comes out of his mouth straight away. He takes no time to consider if it should be spoken, if it is helpful or if it is even true. He simply says what he thinks. In fact, he takes pride in doing so. "I'm a straight shooter. I say what is on my mind," he says. But this is not the mark of honesty, nor is it a trait to be aspired to. No, a Christian ought to be thoughtful in his words. He ought to always remember what damage the tongue can do and seek to harness it (James 3:3-12). Otherwise his religion is worthless (James 1:26). 

Lastly, here is the man who is quickly angered. He goes from happiness to all out rage in 60 seconds or less. His anger moves too quickly for him to determine if it's directed at the right person or even if it's an appropriate response at all. Thus, he often yells at people only to regret it later. It doesn't take much to set him off. He gives no one the benefit of the doubt or the best reading of the details. He quickly believes any gossip he hears and receives any perceived slight in the worst possible light. He never pauses to ask himself questions before his anger runs ahead. He doesn't ask, "Does this person want to hurt me? Do they even realize they are hurting me?" No, this man has incredible insight into the souls of all people. With very few details at all, he can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his friend attacked him intentionally with the worst possible motives. 

When we look on these three men as a character sketch, it is easy to see that we do not want to be like them. Yet many of us resemble at least one of the three. It would be impossible to calculate how many conflicts in the church would be avoided if we would only follow the advice in these verses. Let's be known for how well we listen. Let's speak less and have fewer regrets. And let's switch our anger from microwave mode to crock pot mode. Refuse to be angry at anyone until you are sure it is the right response. Give them the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are in. Then we will be more like God and our growth in righteousness will not be stunted.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Weep with the Weeping

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.
John 11:33-35


We see Jesus' amazing empathy in action right before he raises Lazarus from the dead. John's gospel account makes it clear that Jesus is fully aware that within moments the weeping of those around Him will turn to joy. He knows He is going to raise Lazarus. Yet, Jesus still weeps. This is surprising, and important. 

Why does He weep? I think Jesus must have been weeping out of empathy for the pain and sorrow of those around Him. But notice that Jesus not only felt the pain, He entered into it. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). He knows what it is to suffer. But instead of being hardened by His experiences, He learned how to relate to us more fully from it. Jesus understands the difficulty of daily life and empathizes with your pain. 

This tells us two things:
  1. Your pain matters to God. He weeps when you weep.
  2. It’s okay to mourn the death of our loved ones. Scripture says that believers should not mourn as those who have no hope, but it does not say that we shouldn't mourn. Jesus wept even when He knew resurrection was just around the bend. So it must be okay for us to weep when we lose a loved one, as long as we do not mourn as though there were no resurrection coming at all.

Do you weep with those around you? Do you feel their pain? 

Any of us who hope to follow the example of Jesus must learn show empathy like He did. Look for opportunities to take up the burdens of those around you, to comfort them or to simply join them in their pain. As you do, you will become more like the Savior.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Waiting

In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:16

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10


You thought God had big things in store for your life, but here you are run aground on the rocks of discouragement and despair. You have a long list of reasons to feel like a failure as a believer. Your friends still aren’t believers. Your ministry is floundering. Despite your best efforts your kids more closely resemble Fred and George Weasley (of Harry Potter fame) than John and Charles Wesley. Sometimes you feel like you aren’t making any impact on the kingdom of God at all. What do you do with your disappointment? Is it your fault? Is it God’s?

Remember this: Many of the Bible’s greatest heroes went through long periods of time used to prepare them before their lives bore exceptional fruit for the kingdom. 

Moses was 80 years old (Exodus 7:7) before he uttered the famous words, “Let my people go.” Even as a young man he must have felt a touch of destiny on his life. He alone amongst all the Hebrew boys was saved from Pharaoh's hand, and he alone was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter. The same Pharaoh that expended resources in an effort kill all the Hebrew boys, by God’s providence, ended up using the same resources to raise and nurture the one boy who would deliver God's people. Who but God could do this? Yes, I believe Moses must have felt that God had a grand purpose for his life, but where do we find him after his first failed attempt to rescue his people? In the desert, tending sheep. The man who would one day lead millions of slaves out of Egypt across the Red Sea and through the desert, first spent 40 years (Exodus 7:7 & Acts 7:23) leading sheep to pasture and water. God made Moses wait while he prepared him for his destiny.

Consider King David. Where do we find him when the prophet Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel? Even among his own brothers, he isn’t considered the greatest. He is left out in the field like Moses tending sheep. He was just a young man then, likely somewhere between the ages of 10 and 20, when Samuel first anointed him. David was 30 years old when he finally became king (2 Samuel 5:4). That means David waited at least ten years to receive his kingdom. For ten years he served Saul, ministered to Saul, fought for Saul, and ran from Saul as the evil king tried to kill him. All the while, David waited for God's timing, which is exactly what King Saul had failed to do (I Samuel 13:8-10).

We find this same element of waiting in the lives of many Bible characters. Abraham waited twenty-four years for God to make good on His promise before Isaac was born. Jacob served in Laban's shadow for twenty years before he struck out on his own (Genesis 31:38). Joseph slaved for Potiphar and the prison keeper before he came to Pharaoh's attention and was made second in command. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension the apostles were instructed to wait in Jerusalem until the Spirit empowered them for ministry from on high. They waited ten days before Pentecost changed them and the world forever. The apostle Paul spent three years in Arabia (Galatians 1:17-18) before his great ministry got under way.

You are no different. Be patient. Wait. Trust God's plan for your life. Seek to be faithful to Him above all else and you will see how He will use you for His glory. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Face-to-Face

Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you... But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 
Exodus 33:18-20


Can you imagine how glorious it must have been to get a glimpse of God? How amazing to have all of God's goodness pass before you. How is that even possible? God's goodness is without measure. How long did that take for all of His goodness to pass in front of Moses? What did it look like? What was Moses feeling? Did he get goosebumps? Because I do just thinking about it!

How unimaginably blessed Moses was, but I have something even better to tell you if you can dare to believe it. One day, believer, you will see more of God than Moses did on that day. Even Moses, wasn't allowed to see God's face and live. He only got a glimpse. But Scripture says that every believer will get not just a glimpse of God, but that we will stare long and hard into the very face of God (Revelation 22:4). In heaven you will see God face-to-face. 

This is what Heaven is all about. It isn't about clouds or harps or anything you've seen in a child's cartoon. It is God and man, living with one another without barriers. What a privilege. What a joy. What a thing to look forward to. God wants you to be close to Him. He wants you to know Him. He promises that one day the knowledge of Him will cover this earth like water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9). That is what heaven is.

Even now, as we look forward to and long for that day, God gives us glimpses too. His Word reveals His character to us. If we will spend time gazing into the truth of the Bible we will know Him better. And His Spirit meets us in our times of prayer so that we may at least feel His glory until that day when we can finally see it. Don't take these gifts for granted. Stare deeply at God's revelation of Himself today and drink deeply of His spiritual presence. The Word and the Spirit will cause His goodness to pass before you and you will be blessed because of it.     

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Christ the Preeminent One (W.o.W. Rewind)

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

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


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

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

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

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

*This devotion  was originally posted on 10/2/13.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

How to Complain to God

You will be righteous, Lord, even if I bring a case against You. Yet, I wish to contend with You: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the treacherous live at ease? You are ever on their lips, but far from their conscience. As for You, Lord, You know me; You see me. You test whether my heart is with You... How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? Because of the evil of its residents, animals and birds have been swept away, for the people have said, “He cannot see what our end will be.”
Jeremiah 12:1-4


It's bound to happen sooner or later. You'll want to complain to God. Maybe it'll be when a coworker gets your promotion or when someone close to you dies or when you realize you can't afford to buy your kid that thing they really want. Eventually, you will feel the urge to complain...we all do. But do you know how to complain to God? Jeremiah's complaint gives us insight. 

One of the most important things to remember when we complain to God is that in a real sense we are also complaining about God. Since God is in control of all things, whatever we complain about we are complaining about something God has allowed in our lives. We are complaining about the decisions God has made. When we lift our eyes to heaven and shake our fist saying "Life isn't fair!" We are also inherently saying, "God, you haven't been fair to me." Jeremiah knows this, so he carefully begins his complaint by reminding himself who is complaining to and about. This is an important first step if you are going to avoid disrespecting God.

Then Jeremiah launches into his complaint, but he doesn't stop with the specifics of what is bothering him, Jeremiah tells God why He should care. He doesn't appeal to God in purely selfish terms. He shows how the current circumstances hurt the things God cares about most: His creation, His people, and His glory. God's creation is ruined as a result of the wicked. The land and the animals are affected by the people's sin (v. 4). God's people are also impacted (v. 2 & 4). Anytime the wicked prosper the righteous suffer. Moreover, when the land isn't producing enough food, God's people go hungry. Lastly, God's glory is diminished. His reputation suffers when the wicked prosper as if there were no God, no justice. God's people begin to believe that God is no longer watching (v. 4). Jeremiah uses his knowledge of God's heart to move Him to act.

Lastly, Jeremiah is very careful to acknowledge that God knows him perfectly. God sees you, and He knows your thoughts. Don't you dare attack God with complaints if you are guilty of unconfessed sin, if your heart isn't right before Him. Be careful to approach Him with humility and innocence or don't approach Him with your complaint at all.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hope from Lazarus

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone... and [Jesus] cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
John 11:39-41 & 43-44


I don't know what you struggle with. It may be a bad habit or an addiction. It may simply be lack of self-control in general. But no matter how long your particular area of struggle has had power over you, the story of Lazarus is good news for you. By raising Lazarus from the dead it is as though Jesus wrote in large letters across the page of Scripture, "YOU ARE NOT TOO FAR GONE FOR ME TO SAVE!"

Lazarus had been in the grave for four days! That is enough time for visible decomposition to have started. His body would have been bloated and it would have already started to smell. Consider that four days is merely how long Lazarus had been in the grave. We don't know how many days it was before they buried him. All of that to say... Lazarus was dead-dead. I know that isn't the medical term for it. But this isn't someone whose heart restarted after 20 minutes. This isn't someone who woke up from a coma. He was D-E-A-D. When they obeyed Jesus' command and opened the tomb, everyone standing around would have known this for sure, because they would have smelled the decomposition, the smell of death.

But then, a miracle happened. Jesus spoke! And the same voice that called life into being at creation, commanded Lazarus to come out of that tomb. In the face of the indisputable fact of death, Jesus spoke in faith. And the voice of the Creator reached into the grave, into death itself and set Lazarus free from its icy grip. You can imagine the decomposition reversed itself rapidly under the grave clothes. The synapses in Lazarus' brain began to fire slowly at first and then more quickly. His heart began to beat again. His lungs drew in that first precious gasp of air. In that moment Lazarus himself must have smelled the death all over him, and yet there he was alive again. He walked out of that tomb bound by the trappings of death, but what did Jesus say next? "Unbind him, and let him go."

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that what binds you is too strong for Jesus. Don't believe the lie that the enemy whispers in your ear, that you will never be free of your alcoholism, or nicotine addiction, or overeating, or pornography, or masturbation, or whatever sin entangles you. Jesus is powerful enough. You aren't too far gone. He can save you. You can be set free. Indeed, those of you who believe in Jesus have already been set free; you just haven't learned to walk in your freedom. Romans 6:18 says, "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness." 2 Corinthians 5:17 "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Galatians 5:1, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An Apology for Faith

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation.
Hebrews 11:1-2


Do you remember that kid who believed in Santa way longer than everyone else did growing up? I do. At my school his name was Joshua. He was a firm believer. His confidence had been bolstered by the extraordinary lengths his parents had gone to in order to squeeze a few more good Christmases out of him. This young man continued writing letters to Santa I would say at least into 4th grade if not later. I remember with each passing year we really expected he would grow out of it, but instead he seemed to grow bolder in trying to convince us that Santa was real. The poor kid was a laughingstock every year.

I bring this up not to start a Santa war but simply to point out one of the many ways in which our world doesn't reward childlike faith. In the real world childlike faith is often equated with being gullible. If you aren't careful it will make you an easy target and leave you embarrassed you were ever so naive. Over time this world we live in has hardened me. I have had to learn to be more skeptical as I have been embarrassed by my own gullibility and have even almost fallen prey to con men multiple times. 

I have begun to realize that this has taken a toll on my relationship with God. I do not doubt His existence or the truth of Christianity. Those were settled in my heart, in my experience, and in my mind long ago. But I do find myself to be a terrible skeptic when it comes to viewing any particular situation or difficulty through the eyes of faith. I sometimes find it hard to believe that God is going to do some great work in a situation. I often feel like I am wasting my efforts. Instead of hoping for the best, or even looking to receive what God has promised, I often find myself expecting the worst. 

With this realization fresh in my heart I looked at Hebrews 11 with fresh eyes this week. I saw it for the first time not as a Hall of Faith- a list of all the great believers throughout history- but as an Apology for Faith- an argument for living in faith by showing what faith produces. As we read the chapter and the lives of those it references we find the following:

  • From Abel's life we learn that God remembers faith. 
  • From Enoch's life we learn that God is pleased with faith.
  • From Noah's life we learn that God is patient with those who have faith. (I extrapolate this from both the many years it took for Noah to build the ark and from Noah's failure after the flood.)
  • From Abraham's life we learn that God expects longsuffering faith and that he always rewards it, though on His own timetable.
  • From Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac we learn that God does test our faith.
  • From Joseph's life we learn that God wants us to make plans and preparations in accord with our faith.
  • From Moses' life we learn that God sets us free from fear by faith, that God gives us the faith to live for our future in Him and not for the present this world can offer us, that faith makes us bold, and that God does amazing things by our faith.
  • Lastly from Rahab's life we learn that God offers redemption to those who have faith.


So it turns out that when faith is placed in the right object it isn't shameful at all. In fact, faith in God is one of the most powerful forces for change our world has ever seen. So maybe it's time we all gave faith another try. Maybe we can learn to look at our circumstances through the eyes of faith again.

Father, give me the faith of a child towards You. Help me to be confident in You that You might be pleased in me.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Futility

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
Hebrews 10:11


Does your life ever feel like an exercise in futility? Do you ever wonder why God allows you to stay stuck in your station in life with seemingly no hope of escape? Consider the Old Testament priests. Stunningly, the Bible tells us that a faithful priest under the old covenant was doomed to spend their life, day after day, offering the same sacrifices for sin over and over again that could never actually atone for sin. From a human standpoint this is the very definition of an exercise in futility. What a waste of time! But it wasn't. Even if the priests didn't know it, every single sacrifice offered in the Old Testament served a higher purpose than atoning for sin. Every sacrifice pointed forward to Jesus. So the priests didn't spend their lives offering pointless sacrifices, they spent their lives pointing forward to that more excellent sacrifice, Jesus. He offered a single sacrifice for sins by which we have been sanctified once for all (Hebrews 10:10, 12).

So what at first glance appears to be pointless is actually a beautiful reminder of what we are all supposed to do. We point to Jesus with our lives. Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, make sure your response points people to Jesus. You can be sure that no matter how great or how terrible your life is, God has allowed you to be in the exact place you are in so that you might point others to Him by your response. God appoints some to thrive that the world may see He is good. He appoints some to poverty so His goodness can be shown in providing for them. Some suffer that the world may see His tenderness and His power to rescue. Some are called to singleness so they can spend more time pointing others to Jesus. Others are called to families so they can raise up the next generation for Jesus.

Whatever circumstances God has put you in, He has put you there to point to Jesus. So worry less about why God has allowed certain things in your life. You'll probably never be able to answer that question anyway. Instead, focus on how you are pointing others to Jesus in your circumstances, through your circumstances or even in spite of your circumstances.

Father, whatever my situation, help me point to Jesus with my life!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Divine Interest Rates

Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
  will himself call out and not be answered.
Proverbs 21:13

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord,
  and he will repay him for his deed.
Proverbs 19:17


Some time ago I saw a picture of a homeless child in India sitting on the side of the street begging. The child was very small, perhaps four or five. Far too young to be able to fend for himself in any situation, let alone on the street. The caption on the picture spoke of people walking past the boy and ignoring him. It impacted me deeply. I couldn't imagine walking past a small, hungry child who was alone on the streets and doing nothing to help him. I wanted to run over and scoop that child up and take him home with me. What could cause people to grow so cold and unempathizing as to offer no help?

Yet, as I read Proverbs 21:13 I feel a tinge of guilt. I haven't ignored street children sitting at my feet, but haven't I ignored the cries of the poor? In today's world we all have a front row seat to suffering. We've all seen the commercials. We've heard about the ministries and the need. There is desperate need and more good ministries meeting that need in the name of Jesus than you or I could ever provide for on our own. There are orphans, hungry families, the ill, those without the gospel, those without the Bible, those who are persecuted for their faith, those who are forced into slavery or sex-slavery, the homeless, the disabled, and many, many more. It's emotionally exhausting and overwhelming to think about. How should I go about determining which ministry to give to, or how much to give, or (even harder) how much I should keep for myself and my family? We must be careful to avoid allowing our hearts to become hardened to the cries of the poor. God promises to punish those who ignore the need around them. He promises to soften their demeanor by letting them experience need for themselves. Help me, Father, not to be guilty of this great sin. 

But perhaps a little motivation toward righteousness will help too. Consider Proverbs 19:17. In it God promises to bless those who help the poor. Far from being ashamed to associate with poor people, God equates Himself with them. He says that when we give to the poor it's like we are helping Him. In fact, we can give money to the poor in confidence that it's exactly what God wants to bless them with. He promises to view it as a loan and pay us back. Now what kind of interest do you think God pays on His loans? I don't know but I'd be willing to bet that He always repays His debts.

So check your ears today and make sure they are still wide open to hear the cry of the needy. We all have to keep some money back for our own family, but make sure you are giving sacrificially to the opportunities God has placed in your path. Trust me, He'll pay you back. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Psalm 73- Selected Reading

Only Scripture today. 

Psalm 73:2-5 & 12-28
But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my steps nearly went astray.
For I envied the arrogant;
I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
They have an easy time until they die,
and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others;
they are not afflicted like most people...
Look at them—the wicked!
They are always at ease,
and they increase their wealth.
Did I purify my heart
and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long
and punished every morning.
If I had decided to say these things aloud,
I would have betrayed Your people.
When I tried to understand all this,
it seemed hopeless
until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.
Indeed, You put them in slippery places;
You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream,
Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.
When I became embittered
and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart,
my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish;
You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
so I can tell about all You do.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Plusses and Minuses

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
Romans 6:20-21


Occasionally, as I drive around Nashville, I will see a homeless person with a dog on the side of the road asking for money. This always leaves me with very conflicted feelings. On the one hand, I'm happy that this dog can meet some real needs in his owner's life. A dog can help keep him safe and warm at night. It serves as a much needed companion. On the other hand, that dog may just be the one thing anchoring its owner to homelessness. I don't think a person can stay overnight at the mission with a pet. It would be near impossible to go through a jobs program or even get a job, because he wouldn't have anywhere to put his dog while he was working. It pains me to think of having to be in this position where I would have to choose between my pet and opportunities to get back on my feet again. This dog may be the only lifeline this individual has left, their only emotional support in this world, and it may at the very same time be preventing him from getting off the streets. What a terrible position to be in. 

The above verses make me think of this, because I think our sin operates the same way for many of us. Sin works its way deep into our lives because we are convinced that it meets a real need, even if it does so while creating other problems. Maybe you get drunk because it's the only way you know to numb the pain. Or maybe you are sexually promiscuous because it makes you feel loved and happy, for at least a little while. Maybe you turn to pornography because it helps you meets your sexual desires. But I challenge you to take stock of the costs of the sins you are caught up in. When you really look at it, are they worth it? 

I know I am asking you to let go of a behavior that just may be the only thing keeping you hanging on, but it also might be the one thing holding you back. The truth is that no matter what side benefit sin brings into your life it ALWAYS results in death. Sin always brings pain, dysfunction, difficulty, and separation from God. I guarantee that it's hurting you more than it's helping. So why not let go of  your sin coping mechanism and let God take a crack at your problems instead.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Uphold the Law

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin...Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:19-20, 31


God's law stops every mouth from boasting before God. It holds the whole world accountable for sin. This is a role that it plays even in New Testament times and that it must continue to play today. God's Old Testament law is not null and void. Jesus Himself said, 
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-19

It's true that Jesus fulfilled all the law. Parts of the law He rendered inactive or inoperative (see original Greek for Ephesians 2:15) in that their primary function was to separate God's people from the Gentiles as holy and set apart for Him. Other parts of the law had served to point forward to Jesus and His sacrifice and were therefore no longer to be practiced. This is why we don't offer blood sacrifices. Jesus is the only sacrifice we could ever need. Still other parts of the law were civil in nature and were intended to govern Israelite society during the time when God's presence was physically manifested in their midst. These laws required very high levels of holiness and strong punishments for sin (including capital punishment) to avoid God's wrath from breaking out against the entire people because of sin in the camp. BUT the laws that were moral in nature do still apply to us today. Many of these moral laws are quoted or re-emphasized in the New Testament and serve the function highlighted in this passage. They reveal our sin.

Of course, we don't like having our sins pointed out. We hate regret, and we avoid true repentance. That is why we don't often praise God's law like the psalmists did (see Psalm 119 which is an acrostic poem praising God's law). No, we vilify and attack God's law, even in our churches, because we don't understand it or how it works today. 

Don't ignore the law or write it off. Let it silence you. Let it make you aware of your sin. Submit to its correction and allow it to shut your mouth before God. Let it serve as a reminder that no one may boast before Him, that no one may think he may be justified by keeping the law. Don't nullify the law; uphold it and its condemnation of your actions! Then repent and draw near to God. 

If you want to start fresh in how you relate to God's law, here's a good place to start. Read the Ten Commandments and let them silence you before God (Exodus 20:1-20).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wade through Regret

Remember and do not forget how you provoked the Lord your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the Lord.
Deuteronomy 9:7


This past week I vacationed with my wife's family in California. One day as my daughter played in the sand, I watched a surfer struggle against the tide as she to get into deeper waters where she could catch waves. I had never considered how difficult it must be before, but she appeared to struggle to manage the bulky board as she jumped over the waves crashing into her. Working through the shallows didn't look like much fun, but of course it was necessary work to get out to depths where one could catch a wave before it folds over on itself.

Regret is like this shallow water that meets the shore. It crashes into us in waves, reminding us of all our failures. It fills us with shame as we try to manage all the baggage of our poor choices. Most of us would rather avoid it altogether, but we can't. Regret is the only approach to God's grace. We must wade through the shallow waters of regret in order to plunge ourselves into the deeper waters of God's grace. 

You simply cannot appreciate God's grace until you have considered your own sin. Remembering your sin enables you to realize how good God has been to you. When you make light of your sin or ignore it altogether, then you make light of God's grace. How can we declare the glories of God's amazing grace to us, if we do not occasionally consider how undeserving of it we were and are? Don't forget your sins! Remember them. Even though they are already forgiven, periodically call to mind your current and past sins. This will help prevent you from making the same mistakes over and over in life, and it will help stave off a presumptuous attitude before God. 

Truthfully, I hardly ever think about my sin. Sadder still, when I do kneel in prayer to confess my sin, I can hardly think of anything to confess. This isn't because I am so saintly as to no longer need confession, but rather it's because I am so oblivious to my own sin that I live practically as if I had none. Theologically I know I am a sinner, but I have turned a blind eye to that truth in my every day experience. Jeremiah 6:15 scares me in this regard:
"Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be overthrown,” says the Lord.
Father, please do not allow me to become so hardened to my sin that I no longer know how to regret it. I know that I can't repent of my sin without being sorry for it, so teach me to be ashamed of my sin, so that I might repent and experience more of Your grace. Most of all, Father, help me to understand and be awed by Your grace.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Pause

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26


I pride myself on being a hard worker...though some days I wonder if this is more pride and less a fair evaluation of my work ethic. Still I try to live up to the standard of my heroes. I try not to give in when things get difficult or give up when something doesn't quite come together. This is good, but there are limits. It is possible for a person to work himself into the ground. It's also possible to work and work and work and never quite get anywhere. 

The teacher who wrote Ecclesiastes understands this well. He laments the vanity of life, the cyclical nature of our world that makes it hard for any one man to make a lasting impact. 
All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. (Ecc. 1:2-5)
You do the laundry, and the clothes get dirty again. You mow the lawn, and the grass keeps growing. No matter how hard you work there will always be something else to do and what you have done will almost invariably undo itself again. So how are we to live in a world this maddening?!

Our passage for the day gives us insight. We should be careful not to get caught up rushing, rushing, rushing all the time... doing things that don't make any lasting change. Ultimately, we can't break completely free of the cycles of life. In some ways we are stuck on this hamster wheel. We can run as fast as we can but all we'll accomplish is making the wheel spin faster. We aren't really getting anywhere. 

Instead, the teacher challenges us to pause. To look around us and consider what God has blessed us with and what has come out of all our hard work. Take time to enjoy the gifts God has given you, not selfishly, but expressly as gifts from God. Take time to thank Him for these things. You just may find that taking time to pause and turning to God in gratefulness will foster more spiritual growth than all your activity ever has. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Fullness of Joy

What is your beloved more than another beloved,
    O most beautiful among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
    that you thus adjure us?
Song of Solomon 5:9


The world asks Christians this same question every day. "What is your God more than any other god? Who are you to say your god is better then mine? What is it about your God that makes you so sure He is the only one?" Believers better be prepared to answer this question just as the bride-to-be in the Song of Solomon was. She replies, "My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand" (Song of Solomon 5:10).

That there is no other god like our God is fundamental to Christianity. but we no longer extol God's glories in our churches. Our sermons focus more on the duties of man than the glories of God. We shy away from reveling in God's beauty for fear that it sounds too spiritual or too mystic. Or perhaps we have simply fallen out of love with God altogether. Perhaps we have lost our sense of awe at who He is. When spending time meditating on His Word or communing with Him in prayer feels like drudgery to you, you know you're in trouble.

To enter into God's presence, to gaze on His beauty, to study His wisdom, to gain knowledge of the divine, these are the greatest gifts a human could dare hope to receive. This isn't drudgery. This is the very fullness of joy!
You make known to me the path of life;
   in your presence there is fullness of joy;   at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11- emphasis added)

You may find some measure of happiness or even joy apart from God in this world, but fullness of joy is found nowhere else but in His presence. There is joy unspeakable in the private prayer time spent in the presence of God. There are tears of joy, heart-bursting hope, doubt-smashing faith, clarity of thinking and the boldness to persevere even when all seems lost- these are all found in God's presence alone.

When we lose sight of this, we can no longer satisfactorily answer the world's question "What is your God more than any other god?" But more than this, we have lost our own way. When we cease to see God as that which will make us supremely happy, we start to turn to lesser gods for our happiness. As the prophet Jeremiah said, "my people have... forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" Jeremiah 2:13.

Turn back to God and find fullness of joy in Him alone. I promise you He is the only place you will find it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Striving

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:1, 4-5


I recently read a biography on the lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. To be honest I didn't much care for the book, but nearly 100 pages into it, one little sentence grabbed me. It was exactly what I needed to hear from the Lord in that moment. It spoke into the last ten years of my life spent in ministry, all the heartache and anxiety. It spoke into all the times I have felt like a failure and decided to work harder in an attempt to grow my ministry.  Here's what it said.
"...the fruit of the vine comes from abiding, not striving."*

It may not seem that earth shattering to you. In fact, it's almost a direct quote from John 15. Yet I had never considered that passage in quite this context before. Could it really be that simple? Is being used by God more about our relationship with Him than having the right strategy? Could how near I am to God really be more important than using the best and newest methods in my ministry? More and more I am convinced that it is. That doesn't mean there isn't room for some serious consideration of ministry strategies, but lack of strategy isn't what is causing the church in America to shrink. It's a downright lack of pastors, deacons, Sunday School teachers, men, women and teens who are truly near to God. It's a lack of abiding in Him or of "remaining" in Him as several Bible versions translate it. 

Jesus makes us fruitful. The power of the Spirit's presence in our lives working in us and through us makes us fruitful. God brings the harvest. I also believe He gives us the strategies, funds and means to that harvest in His time. But first, you must have men and women of God who abide in Him. 

Abiding/Remaining is about staying connected to that life-giving source so that you can bear fruit. The branches must continually receive the sap from the vine (the trunk) of the grape plant. This idea of a constant flow of spiritual life from the Spirit to us and through us to the world reminds me of something else Jesus said:
Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)

Our churches need more faithful workers it's true. But what we need more than anything else are believers who are filled with the power of God. Men, women, teens and children who rise early in the morning to spend time alone with God in prayer, Bible study and Scripture meditation.  We need Christians who practice the spiritual disciplines of fasting, Scripture memory, evangelism, and worship. We don't need more people, we need deeper people. I need to go deeper.

Spend more time with God this week. Quit striving. Start abiding and see what He will do with your life.


*Piper, John. A Camaraderie of Confidence: The Fruit of Unfailing Faith in the Lives of Charles Spurgeon, George Muller, and Hudson Taylor. p. 98 
 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fan the Flames

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
I Timothy 1:6


Anyone who has ever built a campfire will tell you they have to be tended or they die down. Fires need attention. You have to stir them up, add fresh wood, blow on the flames every now and then to keep them burning at their hottest. In this passage the Apostle Paul tells us that our spiritual gifts are the same. 

God has gifted every believer with the gifts she needs to accomplish the purpose for which God made her. God has a purpose, a destiny even, for each believer (Eph 2:10). He not only calls us to fulfill our purpose but He equips us to do it with the gifts of the Spirit. But we ought not let these gifts lay dormant. Just like a campfire our spiritual lives must be tended or they will grow cold after a while. We have to fan the flames of our passion for God. We should stir up the embers by trying new ways of using our gifts, and add fresh fuel to our fires by regularly engaging in Bible study and prayer. 

Take your spiritual temperature today. How hot is your passion for winning the lost? Are you talking to people about Jesus? How hot is your passion for prayer, for spending time with the Lord, for teaching your children about Jesus. Maybe your passion has grown cold. Paul would say "Fan the flames!" Rekindle that fire. Stoke up your passion.

Here the believer finds encouragement because anyone who has been around fires will also tell you that often when it looks like a fire is completely dead it isn't. There is still some heat down in those dying embers, there’s still life in it. Tragically, unattended campfires are the cause of so many of our forest fires. Someone thinks their fire has died down and they leave it. Then a fresh wind blows and stokes it up, a spark leaves the fire pit and finds some fresh fuel and the fire is off and running. As a cause of forest fires this is a tragedy, but as a spiritual metaphor this gives us hope. No matter how dead you feel spiritually, just a little movement on the Spirit's part can ignite your flame again. If the Spirit blew but a small breeze across your heart, it could kindle a spiritual flame that would change your city 

Never forget I John 4:4, "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." So don't shrink back from the attacks of this world. Don't allow yourself to be silenced. Instead stoke up the flames of your spiritual passion. Nurture and grow your love for the Lord. Look for new ways to engage in serving Him. (Mix it up! Try something new.) And pray that God's powerful Spirit would blow a fresh wind into your life today like He did on the day of Pentecost. Who knows what God might do through you!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Make No Complaint

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
                                                                            Isaiah 53:7


He was dragged before the Sanhedrin and the High Priest to be questioned and falsely accused, yet "Jesus remained silent" (Matt. 26:63). When Pilate questioned Him to determine His fate, "He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed" (Matt. 27:14). He had another chance still when Pilate sent Him to Herod, yet again "He made no answer" (Luke 23:9). Even as He was flogged, struck in the head with a reed, spit upon and mocked Scripture records no complaint escaping Jesus' lips. 

Isaiah prophesied that it would be this way. He said the Messiah would march to His death like a lamb is led to the slaughter, silently and submissively. Lambs don't protest because they lack sense. Jesus refused to grumble because He trusted His Father and was willing to endure anything to fulfill God's purpose for His life. Anything for God's glory (John 12:28).

Ultimately that's the problem with complaining, with grumbling against the circumstances of your life. It means that you think God has messed up. Either you don't trust that He knows what He is doing, or you don't think His purposes are worth your pain. Are you willing to endure anything to fulfill God's purpose for your life, to bring Him glory? When you grumble and complain against God, even in your own thoughts, you reveal the outer boundaries of your willingness to follow Him.

Consider how often the people of Israel grumbled, complained and rebelled against God during their journey in the wilderness. God had a purpose for every discomfort and difficulty they experienced. He was teaching His people to trust Him completely. With each trial they had the opportunity to learn to turn to Him for help and watch Him provide for their needs abundantly. Had they submitted to God and learned this lesson well it would have paid great dividends as they went in to possess the Promised Land. Unfortunately, they didn't submit to God. They grumbled and complained, so they continued to struggle for many years to come.

But Jesus is the new and perfect Israel. He gets it right precisely where they got it wrong. He doesn't grumble. He willingly submits. He accomplishes God's will for His life. In only three and a half years of ministry He changed the world forever and He opened a door into the true Promised Land, Heaven above.

God accomplishes great things in and through us by virtue of our suffering, our difficulty, and our discomfort. We are called to emulate Jesus. Let's complain less and trust more. Let's turn to God for strength and deliverance, and trust that He really will cause all things to work together for our good (Romans 8:28). Let's stop grumbling and start praising!  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Name a Star

He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.
Psalm 147


Have you ever heard of those services that let you name a star? You give them $20 and they enter your star name into the "official star registry." So, basically you name a star after your girlfriend thinking it will really impress her, and then she looks at you like you're an idiot when you give her the "authentic certificate." Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything...

I can just imagine God having a conversation with some poor schlub when he gets to heaven. "Hey, Lance, so you know that star isn't named 'Stacy's Hot' right? I actually named that star a long time ago because... I made it. You don't really get to go around naming things that other people created. You get that right?" 

It's surprising the things we do to try to impress someone. We guys especially make idiots of ourselves trying to impress girls, but what about the things we do to try to impress God?  I think our attempts at impressing Him are often met with the same disappointment that those "authentic certificates" from the star registry are. I can just see God looking at me with a confused look on His face saying "You thought I would like that???"

It turns out that the things God takes pleasure in are not often talked about in our churches or small group Bible studies. According to Psalm 147:11 God takes pleasure in those who fear Him and in those who hope (or wait) on His steadfast love. These are the gifts God wants from us. He wants us to understand His authority and fear the awful consequences of rebelling against Him. This type of fear is proper for those who truly understand how big and great God is. This fear of God's wrath will keep us far from sin and enable us to serve Him faithfully. God also wants us to understand that He is our only hope of escape from the difficult circumstances in our lives. We fix our hope on Him by waiting patiently on Him even in the midst of our suffering.

So don't try to impress God by what you wear to church or by pretending to be better than you are or even by getting that cool new Christian tattoo. He sees through all of that and see your heart. Give Him what He wants. Fear Him and place your hope in Him alone. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Am I Wicked?

“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”
Isaiah 57:21


Memorize this verse! Roll it over in your mind. "Write it on the tablet of your heart" as the Scripture says. Do this because this little verse reveals something important about God.

God opposes the wicked. Those that break His laws, who go against His commands, He will not prosper. The world may celebrate them, they may even appear to thrive for a short time, but their end is destruction (see Psalm 73). They will not know peace. Psalm 146:5-9 elaborates on this same point. As you read it take note of all the types of people God helps and notice that there is only one type of person He disappoints.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God...
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises up those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord protects the sojourners;
He supports the fatherless and the widow,
But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

God doesn't take the sin in your life lightly, so you shouldn't either! Run from wickedness! Avoid temptation. Focus less on identifying who the wicked are around you and focus more on asking yourself the question, "Am I wicked?". 

For further reading...
  • Asaph considers the apparent prosperity of the wicked in a powerful psalm- Psalm 73.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ashamed

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
2 Timothy 1:6-8


"I don't really tell people I'm a Christian at school. If they know you are a Christian they just give you a really hard time. Especially the Buddhists. The Buddhists love tearing into Christians at my high school. They just won't leave you alone." 

I had been in full-time youth ministry for about seven years when a teen shared this during Wednesday night youth group. The teen's father was a deacon, his family were church members, and I couldn't believe my ears. In my flesh I can commiserate with this teen, and yet to this day I haven't heard a clearer or more succinct example of what it means to be ashamed of the testimony of Christ.

If I were to ask each of you whether or not you are ashamed of Christ, chances are you would say no. But what if I were to ask you this question: When was the last time you shared what Jesus has done for you with a lost person?

Honestly, this question stirs shame in my own heart because the answer isn't nearly as recent as it ought to be. I have my excuses, but these are only attempts to explain away evidence that points in an unflattering direction. Our answer to this question matters because in context being "ashamed" must mean remaining silent. Thus to be "unashamed" must mean to speak up. Look at the text with me. 

It says, "for the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid." Why does Paul take the time to tell Timothy that Christians are not fearful? At this time, Paul is a prisoner in Rome, in chains for proclaiming the gospel (v. 8). It's reasonable for Timothy (Paul's right-hand-man) to be concerned that persecution might find him as well. So Paul reminds him that Christians do not give in to fear. Rather, God's Spirit "gives us power, love and self-discipline." God gives us power that we may be confident in the gospel's ability to change people, love to fuel our passion for telling others the truth, and self-control so we can persevere in sharing the gospel even in the face of significant opposition. 

This is how the passage ends. "So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." Think for a moment. What would Timothy have to do in order to share in suffering for the gospel? He would have to continue telling others about Jesus. Rome wouldn't persecute Timothy if he went silent and even if they did persecute him in some way after he fell silent it couldn't be considered suffering for the gospel if he had stopped preaching the gospel. So when Paul says "don't be ashamed of the gospel," he is urging Timothy not to be silent about Jesus. 

So don't remain silent anymore. Find opportunities to talk to others about Christ. Pray for opportunities. Make opportunities. Tell your story.