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.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

God doesn't hurry

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, April 12, 2017

See Your Sin

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
Jeremiah 17:9-10

It's important to remember that sin isn't just something we do, it's who we are. We are sinful. I know that we all like to think that deep down we are all good people who sometimes do bad things, but we aren't. We are bad people. Not necessarily bad in the sense that we are worse than others, but bad in the sense that we fall far short of God's righteousness. If we aren't careful, we will forget this. 

"Is that such a bad thing?" You may be thinking. "Why should I feel bad about myself all the time?" Well, you shouldn't but you should see yourself as you truly are. You see, God doesn't want to just free you from low self-esteem; He wants to free you from the sin in your heart. Look at it this way. A good doctor tells you when you have cancer and prescribes a treatment that can save your life. She doesn't lie to you and tell you that you're healthy and then send you home to die. The lie might feel better in the moment but the truth will be far better for you in the long run. So too, seeing yourself for the sinner you really are allows you to confess and forsake your sin. Over time the act of seeing your sins, confessing them and learning to be free of them by the power of God's Spirit is called sanctification. This is what helps us to become more and more like Christ. But each forward step in this progress begins with you seeing your sin.   

Oftentimes we mistakenly think of our sin only in terms of the things we do. But many of our most dangerous sins reside secretly in our hearts where they are hidden safely away from the gaze of our fellow man and, if we aren't careful, away from our own gaze as well. That's why we must regularly pause to search out and confess our sin. You can't confess and forsake sin you don't realize you have.

One last thought, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He didn't respond with any of the many commands restricting behavior or any of the many commands prescribing behavior. Instead, He said that the most important command has to do with the heart. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). So take some time to search your heart. What things do you love that you shouldn't? What things should you love that you don't? Pay attention to your heart. God certainly does. 

For further reading...

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Never Alone

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,
And be gracious to me and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,
“Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me,
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Do not abandon me nor forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
But the Lord will take me up.
(Psalm 27:7-10)

Has God abandoned me? I don't know if you have ever asked yourself this question, but I have. For me it is a truly terrifying prospect to consider. Thankfully there is a sure answer to this question.


God does not abandon His children. He has told us in His Word: "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus added "No one will snatch them out of My hand...and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (John 10:28-29). 

So why do we struggle with this thought? Perhaps it is because God's faithfulness is other worldly. In our world it takes a bad parent, a terrible circumstance or both for a child to be disowned. But it does happen. Our streets are flooded with homeless men, women and even teens whose parents have done just that. Some are cut off from their families because they cause too many headaches. They are too needy. Others are disowned because they have committed some grave sin that their family finds unforgivable. 

This passage gives me immeasurable comfort by saying that even if there was a situation in which my own parents would disown me, God will not. Even for those whose parents have abandoned them, even then - especially then - God was there, ready and waiting, to take you into His care. You need only look to Him to receive comfort and grace. No matter how much trouble you are in, no matter how far gone you are, if you have been adopted into God's family through faith in Jesus Christ, then you are never abandoned, never forsaken,  never alone.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017


Though an army besiege me,
    my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
    even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
    he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
    and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:3-5

When you are right with God, the biggest and most overwhelming circumstances in your life cannot shake you. That doesn't mean you will be unaffected by them, but you will find yourself able to endure the most extreme hardships without being overcome by them. The psalmist speaks of an entire army advancing against him, yet he doesn't fear. Why?

Certainly he expects that God will protect him, but I think there is more than that here. When your greatest desire in life is to be in God's presence, then as long as you are right with God you have it. Nothing and no one can take it away from you. If I am right with God then my most treasured possession is secure. This is why the psalmist says in verse one "The LORD is the stronghold of my life- of whom shall I be afraid?" Certainly it is because he believes God will protect Him but it is also because God's presence is His refuge, His hiding place. This theme is picked up again and again in the psalms. 

Where do you run when you are in danger of being overwhelmed and overcome by life's problems? What is your refuge? Make it God's presence. I have taken refuge and found joy in His precious presence again and again. Even as my heart wanted to give up and my brain told me the road ahead was impossible, God's Spirit whispered in my ear "I am with you. Keep going." Over and over again His presence has proved to be all I needed to keep going. It didn't make my problems disappear or make my situation any easier, but it did give me the hope and the courage to keep going. And it gave me a sure refuge I could run to any time I felt myself beginning to crack under the pressure again. 

If you are a believer and you have never experienced this joy and communion of God's presence then you are missing out on your birthright! Make this a matter of prayer right now. How can it be that a man or woman of God who has the Holy Spirit living within them could feel distant from their God for long periods of time? The only explanation is that there is sin in the camp. The sin in your life is separating you from God. So seek after Him! Repent and renew your efforts to know your Savior. There is no greater joy than sitting at the feet of Jesus and God has given each of His children the right to taste that goodness right now on this side of heaven.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

These Cows Are Making Me Look Bad (W.o.W. Rewind)

So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
1 Samuel 6:10-12

In I Samuel 4 & 5 we read how the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant and bring it back to their land. In anger God smites them with plagues of rats and tumors. After quite a bit of heartache, the Philistine priests and diviners suggest a solution. They decide to make a new cart and place the ark on it. Then they will take two nursing cows away from their calves and hitch them to this cart. These cows had never been in a yoke or pulled a cart before. They had never been to Israel before. By nature everything in these cows would compel them to return to their calves immediately. The Philistines reasoned that if the cows were to return the Ark of the Covenant to Israel then they could be certain that it was indeed God who had been plaguing them. If not, then perhaps it was just a coincidence.

An amazing thing happened. Those two cows pulled the cart away from their calves and went straight up to Israel without turning to the right or to the left lowing all the way. Now, I don't know a lot about cows so I asked someone who does whether cows low when they are happy or sad. He told me that cows low when they are sad. And without knowing why I was asking the question, he added that when you take their calves away to wean them, cows will low and bawl for days.

You and I can learn a lot about how we should serve God from these two cows. Though it meant leaving their calves behind (possibly to die without their mother's milk), and though it meant that they themselves would be sacrificed to the Lord (I Samuel 6:14), these cows obeyed the Lord's leading and went straight up toward Israel. Oh that we would serve God with such faithfulness! Though the cows bawled over the sacrifice God was asking them to make, they still went straight up after God's will without wavering or turning to the right or left.

Now, one could argue that the cows didn't have a say in the matter. Who knows whether cows have some form of free will. Somehow I missed that class in seminary. But I do know this: when I stand before God and am judged for how obedient I was to Him and His word, I don't want to be showed up by any cows! So regardless of whether or not cows have free will before God, the simple truth is they followed God's bidding. And if a cow can do it, then I can too.

I know that there will be times when you and I mourn over what God asks us to sacrifice on the altar of His glory. Yet, even in our mourning let us go straight up after His will. Even if it means laying down our very lives, let's not stray to the right or to the left.

For further reading...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

When the Manna Stops

That very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
Joshua 5:11-12

God provides for His people. And you can be sure that when one means of God's provision stops another one has already taken its place. We see this in the passage above and again and again I have experienced it in my own family as well. 

For forty years God's people trekked through the desert. Millions of people living out of tents in a harsh and unforgiving environment. Providing food and water for millions of people in any geographic location would be a challenge, but to do so in a desert for forty years is literally impossible. But God made a way where there was no way. God sent manna each morning with the dew (except for the Sabbaths), and His people gathered and ate. They didn't have to sow or reap. They just had to trust God and obey. But notice when the manna stopped. The very first day the Israelites ate of the food of the Promised Land (food that they also had not sown or reaped), was also the last day God sent manna.

King David wrote, "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). God provides for His people. His provision is not always exorbitant. Israel often had just enough in the desert. But at other times He graces us with more than we can take. The Promised Land was called a land flowing with milk and honey. There His people had more than just bread and water; they had a great variety of wonderful foods.

I have witnessed God's provision for my own family and extended family over the last several years. I have seen situation after situation that looked financially hopeless from an earthly perspective. But where there was no way God made a way. So take comfort in this! Be responsible with your money. Do all that you can do. Make sure that you work hard and are right with God, then trust Him and see what He will do.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hate Evil. Cling to Good.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:7-8

Be careful. You have an enemy who wants to lead you astray, to somehow lure you off the narrow path into the thorns and briers of spiritual ineffectiveness. One of his favorite means of doing this is to send others into your life to speak his words to you: wolves in sheep's clothing. How can you spot them? Look at their walk. Just as a wolf doesn't walk like a sheep, so a person's walk (their actions) reveals their true character. If they claim to be righteous but don't do right, they're a liar. 

A recent trend has emerged in Christian circles that values authenticity and genuineness more than righteousness. In the name of being "more real" and in an attempt to connect with lost people, Christians are opening up about their sins and often even curse openly. 

Honesty is good. Of all the people on earth Christians have the least to hide because of the unfathomable grace that has been afforded us through Christ Jesus. And Scripture tells us that we ought to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16). But when we openly name our sin it should be done in repentance. We don't wear our sins as a badge of pride to show how "real" we are in an attempt to win the lost. We dare not use filthy or vulgar language (which Scripture speaks against in Ephesians 4:29) in an attempt to be edgier than other Christians. Certainly we know by now that this world will not be won for Jesus by Christians who have become more like the world they are trying to save. 

No! There is nothing righteous about sin. There is nothing admirable about it. The entire reason that Jesus came to earth was to destroy the devil's work, and to do so especially in us. He died in order to sanctify the hearts and lives of believers. We cannot, we dare not coddle our sin, brag about it, use it to grow our churches, or give sin any refuge or foothold in our lives. To do so is a slap in the face to Jesus and His finished work on the cross. Jesus gave His life to free us from the enemy's grasp, to rescue us from sin. Let us never make light of the sin the remains in us. Let us openly confess that sin to one another, but let us hate even the garment stained by it (Jude 23). And as we lead the way in honesty let us all the more lead the way in mourning over our sin, repenting of it and pursuing life change. May Romans 12:9 light our path: "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good." So be sincere, but not at the cost of hating evil or clinging to what is good. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Do Something

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
James 2:17

God always rewards faith! I can't think of a single example in all of Scripture of a man or woman stepping out in faith to do what God wants them to do and not being blessed for it. Hebrews 11:6 tells us that we must believe that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Those who move towards God in faith will not be abandoned or embarrassed.

In fact, God doesn't just reward faith, He requires it. Hebrews 11:6 also tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God. We can't come to God unless we believe He is real, and we can't be saved from our sin apart from faith in Jesus. Faith is the only route to a relationship with God. He requires faith, and faith requires action. James 2:17 says that faith without action is dead. In other words, true, living faith produces some sort of action in your life. Faith causes you to do something.

And when you act on faith, God won't waste it, because God uses men and women of faith. Think of the great biblical heroes whose stories are recorded in Scripture. When God wants to do a mighty work He often raises up a man or woman of faith to do it. When God wanted to establish a nation from which His Messiah would come, He didn't adopt an existing nation. He raised up a man of faith in Abram and told him to leave his relatives and his home in search of a land God would show him along the way. Many years later when Abraham's descendants were enslaved in Egypt, God didn't send down a battalion of angels to set them free. No! He raised up another man of God. He found Moses tending his father-in-law's sheep in the wilderness and told him to go tell Pharaoh "Let My people go." Not to mention great women of the faith like Rahab, Esther, and Deborah who were likewise raised up by God to play key roles in the unfolding of redemptive history.

So, God uses faith. He requires faith. And He honors faith. But there are too many Christians in the world today who are faithful in following their spiritual routines but who never risk anything for God. They never step out in faith. Their faith doesn't cause them to do anything dangerous at all. Don’t be that kind of Christian. Step out on faith. Take risks for your God. Do something! Act on what you believe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Our Closest Friend

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land... Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.
Deuteronomy 34:1, 4-6

Moses once spent 40 days in God's presence on Mt. Sinai receiving the law. Now, at the end of his life, Moses climbs another mountain to be alone with God again. Moses will never enter the Promised Land because of his failures. God holiness will not allow Him to ignore Moses' sin, but he does call him up on a mountain to see the Promised Land before he passes. Then Moses' God ends his life. Notice the tenderness here. The passage implies that God cares for Moses' body like a friend would. His body was born up from the mountain and taken down and buried in the valley. Whether it was the hand of God or of angels that did this, we do not know. But God saw to it that his friend received a proper burial.

It's fitting that Moses' life should end this way. Elsewhere Scripture says of him that "the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11). He enjoyed an uncommon communion with God, often entering into God's presence alone. This brings to mind a proverb. "Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy" (Proverb 14:10). Our most cherished loved ones are often physically present with us at the significant events in our lives, yet even they cannot truly be ushered in to share the experience in our heart. Just like Moses, there is a sense in which we all experience how highest and lowest points alone. But it doesn't have to be this way. Scripture teaches that human hearts lie open before the Lord (Proverbs 15:11). There is a communion the believer can have with God that far surpasses any earthly relationship. Those who believe in Jesus have the very Spirit of God dwelling in them. Who can know my heart better than me? The Spirit within me can! Through His Son Jesus, God has made a way for you to enjoy nearness to Him that is even greater (in some senses) than what Moses enjoyed. God can be your closest and most trusted friend with whom you truly can share the big and little moments of your life. 

So I encourage you to make time to spend alone with God. Cultivate a relationship with Him. Make it a priority. Get up early and spend time in prayer and Bible reading. Find a method or a rhythm that works for you and keep doing it. It takes time to build an intimate relationship with a person; shouldn't we expect it to take time with God as well? So stick it out. Set aside thirty minutes a day for seeking God in Bible reading and prayer and don't give up. If you are honestly and humbly seeking Him, He will meet you halfway. (James 4:8).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bragging Rights

When he was in the house, [Jesus] asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Mark 9:33-35

The disciples wanted to be first and greatest. They wanted pride of place and the material success that goes along with it. This is the way of our world. In fact, it's hardwired into our sinful nature. We don't have to teach our children to be this way. It comes naturally to them. As I work with children I see it regularly. They all want to be the line leader for the day. They want to be able to do the best cartwheel in their class. They want to get better grades than their friends. Those who win often brag and those who come in last place are often made fun of.

Sadly, many of us never outgrow this behavior. Even as adults we compete to claw our way up the social or corporate ladder. Men and women have proven over and over again that they will do anything to get ahead, to be first, to be the greatest. This is the way of our world. But Jesus shows us a better way. 

He says, "I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). As we read the gospels we never find Jesus bragging. Never do we see Him showing off (though the Devil tempted Him to in Matthew 4:5-7). Though He was incredibly poor in material possessions, we never find Him using His spiritual riches to leverage worldly success. (The Devil also tempted Him with worldly success in Matthew 4:8-10). Not once do we hear Jesus say, "I will restore your eyesight... for $50."

No, Jesus used His gifts to serve, teach, heal, and help other people. Let's do the same. Instead of expending so much effort trying to be first and best, let's strive to be kind, helpful and loving. Let's serve. Beware of those who use their blessings and their spiritual gifts to gain material blessings and make a name for themselves in this world. And be wary of falling into the same trap yourself.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Love and Obedience

Sometimes what we need isn't another devotional or sermon to increase our knowledge of God, but rather we need simply to take the time to obey what we already know He's commanded us to do. Jesus is very clear that loving God requires action. He said, "If you love me, you will keep my commands" (John 14:15). Elsewhere Jesus described it like this: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). The kind of love God expects from us involves our whole body. It isn't just mental assent. It also involves physical action.

The Bible leaves no room for Christians to claim to love God but be unaffected by that love. There is not a single example of a believer in Scripture who had faith and remained unchanged by it. Even the thief on the cross (which is the closest thing we have in Scripture to a "deathbed conversion") was changed by his faith. Matthew 27:44 and Mark 15:32 tell us that both robbers who were crucified next to Jesus hurled insults at Him, but Luke 23:39-42 says that one robber insulted Jesus while the other defended Him. How do we reconcile this? Is it not obvious that both robbers heaped insults upon the Savior, but then one was convicted of his sins? As he watched Jesus suffer and die he came to see the truth of who Christ really was. He began to look on Him in faith, and his faith changed him. Only then did he begin to defend Jesus. It is out of brotherly love that Luke records only this Christian's latter state and not his first. He isn't correcting Mark or Matthew's depiction of the crucifixion, he is highlighting a detail they left out.

I pray that obedience and acting out our faith will not be a detail we leave out of our Christian lives. The Bible says that "if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin" (James 4:17). Which of God's commands are you not obeying? Maybe you aren't telling others about Jesus. Maybe you aren't praying. Are you caring for the poor, for widows and for orphans? What about your money? Are you giving back a generous amount to God's church and His kingdom? Whatever God is laying on your heart, do it now. Don't plan to do it later. Take some action right now, no matter how small a first step it may be, to begin living out your love for God by obeying Him.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

I am against you

‘This is what the Lord says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death. Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives. I have determined to do this city harm and not good, declares the Lord. It will be given into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will destroy it with fire.’... I am against you, Jerusalem,
Jeremiah 21:8-10, 13

"I am against you." These have to be the most terrifying words God has ever spoken to a man. The prophet Jeremiah delivers this oracle to the people of Jerusalem in the 6th century. King Nebuchadnezzar would soon destroy the city of Jerusalem. God's punishment for their rebellion was to send a foreign king to kindle a fire and destroy their city.

"I am against you." God has passed this terrifying judgment on each and everyone one of His rebellious creatures. In Romans 1:18 the Word says "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness." We have all sinned and gone our own way (Romans 3:23). We have all rebelled against God, and our impending judgment is just as sure as the judgment of which Jeremiah spoke. The fires of Hell have already been kindled to destroy those who oppose God.  

But thank God He is never changing! Just as He prepared a way of escape for the Old Testament people of God, so He has made a way of salvation for us as well. Those in Jerusalem had to humble themselves under God's punishment and submit to captivity, but the offer of salvation which He has extended to us is far better. We must also give up our earthly "city." We can longer live for this world if we are to escape God's wrath. We must become citizens of a different and better country. And we must also surrender ourselves to God and submit to His will for our lives. We too will live like aliens and strangers on this earth, but we will be reconciled to God. Everlasting peace will have been brokered on our behalf between ourselves and the Father by the only mediator who is able to do so, Jesus- His perfect Son. 

If we will but cast our faith on Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, and believe that His death and resurrection secured our peace, then God will speak new words to us. Instead of "I am against you," He will say "I will be your God and you will be my children" (Revelation 21:7). 

Thank you Father for the way of salvation you offer to us through Jesus Your Son. May all praise and glory be to You, God of all mercy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Think of Me

But as for me, I am poor and needy;
    may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    you are my God, do not delay.
Psalm 40:17

The first two lines of this verse reveal a great deal about the Christian religion and its God.

The psalmist says he is both poor and needy. In the rest of the psalm he lays out his bleak situation. His enemies not only want to see his life in ruins, they want to take his life away (v. 13-14). "Troubles without number surround me;" the psalmist states before admitting "my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see" (v. 12). This is a desperate a man. His sins and his enemies have caught up with him, and he is crying out to God for help.

Yet, He asks God to "think of me." That God should bend His great and limitless mind to think about any man would be an immeasurable honor. That He would do so for a poor and needy man who is in dire circumstances because he has sinned against God is unthinkable. Yet, it is entirely in keeping with the God of the Bible. Scripture tells us again and again that God's eye is on the poor, the needy, and the humble. He leaves the ninety-nine in the open country to go search for the one lost sheep that has strayed (Luke 15:3-6). He is like a father who runs to meet the prodigal son who dares return (Luke 15:11-31). Jesus even tells us there's rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).

What an amazing God we serve! How unthinkable that He should think of me! Even more so after I have rebelled against Him. Yet, if I humbly repent of my sin and approach Him through the blood of Jesus (Acts 4:12 & Hebrews 10:19-23), then I can be confident that I have not only entered into His thoughts but into His very presence as well. 

Imagine how vastly different God would be if just this one thing about His character were changed. What if He were still all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal and everything else we know Him to be, but He simply wasn't personally concerned for needy, sinful people like you and me? I shudder to think of it. God deserves all our praise and all our gratitude. He has poured out amazing, unimaginable, unfathomable grace on us. To Him alone be the glory!

Father, we too are poor and needy. We confess our sins to You. We have gone our own way. Our sins surround us and our enemy waits to devour us. Forgive us, Father. Deliver us. Think of us in Your grace. Draw us back to yourself and teach us to walk in Your ways. Make us more like Jesus and give us the joy of spending our lives here extolling Your goodness and grace in the ears of men.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Playing with Fire

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
James 3:6

On November 23, 2016, two teens, one fifteen and one seventeen, walked down the Chimney Tops hiking trail in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park lighting matches and tossing them off the side of the trail as they went. One or more of these matches started a wildfire that burned for roughly three weeks in and around the national park and Gatlinburg areas. It burned 17,904 acres, destroyed 2,500 structures, and caused about $500 million in damage. Worst of all, it sent 191 people to the hospital and killed 14 more. It all started with a tiny little fire on the end of a matchstick. (Both teenagers have now been charged with aggravated arson.)

It is hard to imagine what these teens were thinking tossing lit matches into a wooded area. How could they not realize that even such a small fire could be so dangerous!? But many of us display the same cavalier attitude in the things we say. We think, "I probably shouldn't say this..." but we just can't help ourselves; so we light the match and toss the comment over our shoulder as we walk away. We never stop to think about how much damage it could do. We slander, gossip, and accuse people, and we think it's no big deal. But James tells us that the tongue is like a fire. Your words can burn with all the destructive force of a wildfire, injuring and destroying anyone in their path. This is especially true of slander. 

Did you know that the word for "Devil" in the New Testament actually means slanderer or accuser? Revelation 12:10 says he is, "the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night..." This fits perfectly with the story of Job from the Old Testament in which Satan appears before God to slander and accuse a righteous man. This is what the Devil spends his time doing, accusing and slandering God's people. So when you slander one of your brothers or sisters in Christ, you actually become the weapon in the enemy's hand that he uses you to attack God's people. You are doing the Devil's job for him! That is why Scripture takes such a firm stance against slander. James 4:11 says "do not slander one another." Titus 3:2 says we should "slander no one." Ephesians 4:31 counsels us to "get rid of all slander." And I Corinthians 6:10 even goes so far as to say that slanderers will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

Brothers and sisters, please be careful what you say. Don't be double-tongued. Don't praise God with the same mouth that you use to curse and slander His people. Instead be known for speaking encouragement, Scripture, and blessings (even when you are being cursed). Keep a tight rein on your tongue, and may we all be more like the righteous man in Proverbs 10:11 than we are like the worthless man in Proverbs 16:27.
Proverbs 16:27- "A worthless man's speech is like a scorching fire."  Proverbs 10:11- "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life."