Thursday, January 31, 2008

It's easier said than done. That little saying applies to many areas of life, but especially the Christian life. It's easy enough to "talk the talk", but to "walk the walk" is the real test.

The Book of James inseparably connects faith and works. Genuine faith is evidenced by works - the "talk" is seen through the "walk". Faith is essentially a decision about a particular action or direction, and taking that action step perfects the decision of faith.

"You see that faith was working with his (Abraham's) works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected" (James 2:22)

"faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. " (James 2:17)

Faith expresses itself in action. The story is told of the tightrope walker who had stretched a cable across the the mighty Niagara River near the Falls. He planned to push a wheelbarrow across and asked the crowd if they believed that he could do it. Apparently one man seemed especially enthusiastic about the prospects and so the daredevil asked again if the man truly believed he could do it. After again hearing his confident assertion, the daredevil said, "Then get in the wheelbarrow". Faith is only real when it is evidenced by action.

Faith without works is no more possible than for our bodies to have life without breath:

"For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead." (James 2:26)

Abraham is mentioned as one of the great examples of faith. We know of his faith because it was evidenced by works. When called of God to a land that God would give him, he pulled up stakes and moved without knowing exactly where he was going. When he was asked to offer his only son as a sacrifice, he took action and potentially offered him, even though God stopped him first.

Taking action is important, but first hearing the "voice of faith" is a vital prerequisite. What is God calling you to consider as a step of faith? Is there a particular ministry task that you sense He has for you that you feel ill-equipped for? Is there a neighbor or coworker that you sense He would have you speak the Gospel message to? Is he nudging you to forgo an hour of sleep so that you can rise early to meet with Him in prayer and Bible study?

Faith involves hearing the Lord's voice, but faith truly becomes faith when we act. May we hear the voice of faith today and validate it's reality through action.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

If I had a dollar for every word I wish I hadn't spoken I'd be writing to you today as a millionaire. The greatest regrets in life are concerning hurtful and ill-chosen words. As the saying goes, words are like spent arrows which cannot be retrieved.

Nothing is more indicative of our true spiritual condition than our words. The control of Holy Spirit in our lives will be evidenced in our speech:

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless." (James 1:26)

In spite of my best efforts in Bible study, prayer and service to others, if my words are not Spirit-controlled then I nullify all else. And sadly, I've done just that more often than I care to admit. Words spoken in the heat of anger or in the absence of love have done irreparable damage.

The problem with words is that they are a "mirror of the soul". As Jesus said, "the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders." (Matthew 15:18-19)

The solution to the problem with words seems to be two-fold: cultivating a spiritual heart through the disciplines of Bible study, prayer, and meditation (Philippians 4:8), and deliberate, pro-active thought in advance as to helpful words. As Hebrews 10:24 says,

"let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds"

Careful consideration in advance of up building and nurturing words can have a powerful impact on times of Christian fellowship. Reminding others of their value in the family of God and their important role in the kingdom of God plan can revolutionize our gatherings.

May this day be characterized by Spirit-controlled speech which helps and builds up those around us.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Apparently God's grace is heart-healthy. Such is the message of Hebrews 13:9:

"it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods"

In case we were inclined to think that eating certain cereals or other foods rich in fiber would help our cholesterol levels and our heart, this verse reminds us that what we ultimately need is God's grace. Perhaps many of today's modern ailments are basically spiritually-related rather than physically-related.

The final admonitions in Hebrews chapter 13 call us to consider a variety of areas that our important to both spiritual and physical health. We are called to love the family of God and extend hospitality to strangers (verses 1-2); remember prisoners (verse 3); uphold the sanctity of marriage (verse 4); avoid materialism (verse 5); imitate our mentors in the faith (verse 7); and avoid "varied and strange teachings" (verse 9). Attention to these important areas is a prescription for true health.

Living in genuine appreciation of the sacrifice and work of Jesus the Christ and looking forward in faith and hope to "the city which is to come" (verse 14) places us in a position to "continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name." (verse 15).

God's ways aren't just His demands; they are for the ultimate good of those who obey. That which He calls us to know and to do are "pathways" for His grace. That grace truly is "heart-healthy" on several levels. And it is this grace that He extends to us so that He can extend it through us to others. His grace is designed for all people.

Bask in the benefits of God's grace today, but also let your life be a "conduit of grace" to others. The good news of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God is personally enriching in every way, but it is especially enriching to us when we enrich others with it.

Prayers and warm thoughts today for your "heart health" through God's incredible grace.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

We had to hire a lawyer. As homeowners we had reached an impasse with the builder concerning a water drainage problem and this seemed to be the only course of action. We knew that we needed someone else to mediate our situation, and it worked - the builder took the necessary action.

You and I have had another "lawyer" work on our behalf on a far more important case. The problem could not be more severe, but the results could not be more satisfying.

"The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save completely those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. " (Hebrews 7:23-25)

Ever since our first parents sinned in the Garden of Eden an impasse has existed between the Creator and his human creation. The Law made provisions for priests to offer sacrifices on behalf of human sinners, but the priests were also sinful humans subject to the sentence of death. A better solution was needed.

Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice once and for all to satisfy forever the demands of God's Law. His sacrifice and His ongoing work as our "lawyer" "is able also to save completely those who draw near to God through Him". Not only is His sacrifice sufficient but his work on our behalf is never-ending: "since He always lives to make intercession for them. "

All the money in the world could not buy a better lawyer than the One we have constantly working on our case. He sits at the right hand of our Creator Father, with direct constant access. At this very moment He is pleading your case and appropriating all the resources needed for you to live as a citizen of the kingdom of God today.

Live life today with the full assurance that all of God's demands for you are met in Jesus, and all the resources needed today are at your disposal. As such, "my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

Enjoy the blessings, peace and forgiveness freely extended to you, and live a grateful life today in service to the King and His Kingdom.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We're drawn to people who understand us. Those people who seem to "get inside our skin" and see things from our perspective and understand our thoughts earn an audience with us.

The Jesus that many people believe in isn't that kind of individual. A Jesus who is "fully God in human form" is anything but understanding of my human struggle. A Jesus who is really Creator God in skin has all the powers of the universe at His disposal and cannot be tempted or damaged in any way. There is no "game" to life because the outcome has already been determined - if this is who Jesus really is.

There is a much different, and far more compelling, picture of Jesus in Hebrews:

"In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5;7-9)

We can easily identify with One who prayed with "loud crying and tears." Times of agony are a shared human experience, and each of us can testify to lessons learned through seasons of trial and suffering.

Jesus was perfected through the agony of life's trials, and as such became "the source of eternal salvation" to all who obey Him. Perfection came through a refining process; it was not an instant "given" that He would have enjoyed if He were "fully God in human form". Perfection was the result of a process; not an inherent right.

You are I are in the midst of a process that will ultimately lead to perfection. In His infinite perfection, our Creator and Father - the Lord Yahweh - cannot understand our human weakness and struggle. His Son, our Lord Jesus, however, fully understands because of the shared struggle with us, and can fully appropriate all the powers of heaven for us because of His victory and access to our Father.

I pray that life is a pleasant and happy experience today, but from experience I know that struggles and difficulties are at least as likely. In the midst of it all remember and be encouraged by the fact that you have a Savior who knows the process and has come out victorious. He knows and He is eager to help.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A family with a special need gets a new home. That's the basic premise of the popular television program, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition". Builders and community volunteers rally to build a new home for a needy family, and the final product is a showcase home that's as much a tribute to the builders as it is a gift to the family in need. Were it not for the labor of the builders there would be no home - or this television program.

The writer of Hebrews calls us to consider the house and builder analogy:

"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house--whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end." (Hebrews 3:1-6)

It's really all about the Builder. There are various homes and heads of households, but it's the Builder who truly matters. And in this we are called to consider the example of Jesus, the head of the household called the Church.

Jesus is faithful to the One who called Him, just as Moses was over the Law of which God made him "head of the household". But that which Jesus is Head of is vastly superior to that of Moses. Moses was a servant in charge of a household; Jesus is the Son in charge of His Father's house.

From Jesus we learn the important lesson of submission to authority. He clearly knew His role and position and often spoke of imitating His Father and deriving His authority from His Father (i.e., John 5:19, 30). As Jesus submitted to His Father's authority, so we are called to submit both to Jesus, our Master, and God, our Father, as the ultimate Builder of all things.

Submission doesn't come easy. To submit we must be willing to humbly acknowledge superior authority over us. And yet the prized creation of God was willing to humble Himself and assume the role of a lowly servant (Philippians 2:5-11). Through submission God elevated Him to the highest position of all - second only to the Father Himself.

We are ultimately exalted through submission as well. As we submit to the authority over us and to the members of the Church, the body of Christ, God is faithful to exalt our position. The way of greatness is the way of servant hood.

Many (maybe all) people secretly, if not blatantly, desire to be great. That drive for greatness leads to assertiveness and aggressiveness, which is the source of nearly all conflict and war. Yet amidst the personal drive for greatness are those who choose the path of Christ - greatness through humility and servant hood. It's not the easiest path in life, but it certainly is the ultimately rewarding one.

May the path be pleasant and fulfilling today, fellow servants.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We usually think of them as the guys who wear their shirts backwards. The word, "priest" conjures an image of someone dressed in black with an unusual shirt who isn't allowed to be married. While fewer people aspire to such a role these days, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that all believers are priests. The "priesthood of all believers" is a well-established but greatly misunderstood truth. It really doesn't involve a unique dress-style and life of celibacy.

"But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9)

Not only ARE we priests; we are destined to be priests in the coming Kingdom of God:

"Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6)

The traditional view of a priest may diminish our excitement and enthusiasm for both our present and future role, but a verse that I recently read in Malachi should help to clarify things for us:

"For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 2:7)

As priests we are called to "preserve knowledge" of the Lord and His word and so embody His truth so that people seek out our instruction. Thus we serve as His messengers both in this age and the age to come.

May you find great joy and fulfillment today as God's messengers who embody His living truth and represent it to a world in desperate need.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Arizona has some of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen. I'm told that the reason for their beauty is anything but beautiful - it's because of the high concentration of pollutants in the air. Regardless of this inconvenient truth, the combination of air pollutants with clouds produce spectacularly beautiful sunsets.

Kingdom promises shine the brightest against the backdrop of dark times. Often the Old Testament prophets were led to speak and write about bright future kingdom promises amidst the dark days of God's punishment and judgment. Such were Zechariah's words:

"In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south ... In that day there will be no light; the luminaries will dwindle. For it will be a unique day which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but it will come about that at evening time there will be light. And in that day living waters will flow out of Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and the other half toward the western sea; it will be in summer as well as in winter. And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be the only one, and His name the only one. " (Zechariah 14:4, 6-9)

Amidst the darkness of the present age, God's timeless message reverberates down to us: a Day is coming when His Son, His appointed King, will stand on the earth in a very specific location - the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem. That mountain will be changed into a safe valley of refuge as the Kingdom of God dawns. The Kingdom will then be an age of eternal light and life-giving water, and ultimately God - the Creator, Yahweh, the great I AM - will be over all and His name the only name.

The details of the coming Kingdom are both compelling and exciting. Some would say that the Kingdom of God is a mere "condition of the heart"; an inner transformation brought about through acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord. While the Kingdom is realized to some degree through this act of faith, there would be little point in giving specific details as to the exact location of His return of it were a mere Kingdom of the heart.

The Kingdom IS coming. God dares to challenge and encourage us with the exact details. You can list it in your appointment calendar and live in anticipation of it.

Working, looking and listening for a trumpet blast,


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Meaningful routines and rituals can easily become empty and meaningless. That's the challenge of personal prayer and Bible study - it's much too easy to do these things simply for the sake of doing them.

During one of the darkest times in Israel's history - the seventy years of exile and captivity in Babylon - they devoted themselves to the regular practice of fasting. While fasting can be an act of worship and devotion to the Lord, this routine had become devoid of meaning:

"Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, "Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, 'When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted?" (Zechariah 7:4-5)

A significant ritual had degenerated into something misdirected and meaningless. That which was initially God-focused had become other-focused and meaningless.

God's remedy for this misguided ritual is interesting:

"Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, "Thus has the LORD of hosts said, 'Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.'" (Zechariah 7:8-10)

The remedy for meaningless worship ritual was found in expressions of love and benevolence to other members of the family of God. The pathway to God-focused worship was other-centered acts of charity and love.

Our richest times with the Lord are found in the midst of times of active service and charity toward others. The opposite is also true.

Service and charity are no substitute for worship through the disciples of prayer and Bible study, but both are interdependent and enhance one another. A well-rounded life is one of both worship and service.

May we each find true fulfillment and joy through both worship of the ultimate King of the kingdom as well as service in and for the kingdom.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

I once videotaped a basketball game and then watched it after I knew the final score. There was no mystery concerning the outcome; just how it turned out the way that it did.

Similarly, the outcome of our Christian lives has already been determined; the only real variable is what happens as we proceed toward the end result. We're on course for the kingdom of God.

During the dark days of Israel's exile in Babylon and their return to the ruins of their homeland, optimism was in short supply. The grand vision and plan of God for the Jewish people seemed like a distant memory. The harsh reality of their present circumstances eclipsed visions of future glory. But, God's "final destination" had not changed; the plan was still in effect.

"Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst," declares the LORD. Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you. The LORD will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem." (Zechariah 2:10-12)

Nothing had changed the plan! God's promises were still as bright as when He first revealed them. The path toward the kingdom had taken some unpleasant turns, but the final destination was still the same. God would still come and dwell in the land of Israel and Jerusalem would yet be the capital city. Multitudes of nations and peoples would join the Lord in His coming kingdom.

You are I can make the choice to deliberately remove ourselves from the path to the kingdom of God, but aside from such a fateful decision, God's plan and final destination are still very much on track. The path to the kingdom may twist and turn in this age, but it is still the path to the kingdom. At the end of all things - after rulers, politicians, and military leaders have exerted their finite influence - God Himself will set up His rule upon a renewed earth in Israel and Jerusalem and we will know perfection, peace, and indescribable fulfillment.

The details of our kingdom journey are the adventure of this day and each day. The kingdom path may not be entirely clear to us, but its destination very definitely is. The repeated descriptions in the Bible of God's ultimate plan leave no doubt as to the final outcome.

Live confidently today as you keep the final destination in view. The kingdom is coming even as God is coming to live with us in an earthly paradise. Nothing can change that final outcome. Let's make it a priority to resolutely stay the course to the kingdom of God.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Priorities sometimes seem like screaming sirens, competing for our attention. The "tyranny of the urgent", as someone has called it, dominates our lives. It's like the squeaky wheel - if it makes enough noise it gets top billing on our priority list. Unfortunately the urgent isn't always the important.

Several millennia ago God spoke to a prophet named Haggai and instructed him to remind the people of God of important priorities:

"Then the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet, saying, "Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses while this house lies desolate?" Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, "Consider your ways!" (Haggai 1:3-5)

Apparently the Jewish people were enjoying the good life in their comfortable homes all the while that the temple, the place of worship, lay in ruins. The priority of daily living had taken precedent over the things of the Lord.

Balancing personal and family priorities with spiritual priorities is tricky business. The priority to "seek first the kingdom of God" is general enough to leave lots of room for interpretation as to specific details. Additionally, our human ability to rationalize further complicates the task of properly discerning key priorities. It becomes much too easy to seek first the kingdom of self rather than the kingdom of God.

God's challenge through Haggai to "Consider your ways!" is a constant priority. Periodic self-examination is as essential to living as is weeding a garden. Rooting out unproductive and unnecessary growth is vital if we are to remain focused on key priorities.

I write these words as a new year stretches out fresh and crisp before us, ripe with potential and possibilities. That potential will become reality only through deliberate effort to "consider our ways" and arrange our priorities in a God-honoring way.

Personal worship, Bible study, prayer, discipline and Christian fellowship are at the heart of key spiritual priorities. How those essential priorities are integrated into our lives are as varied as our individual personalities.

Seeking to ignore "the siren of the urgent" as I listen for the still small voice of the Important,