Thursday, May 29, 2008

The urgent need is to simplify. In this fast-paced, high-tech age simple priorities have been buried under mountains of complexities.

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." (Mark 10:15)

In a complex age it's much too easy to mistake the simple for the superficial. But the simple kingdom requirement that Jesus outlines in this verse is anything but superficial. There is beauty in the simplicity of what is required but the implications are deep enough to merit a lifetime of discovery and application.

The ultimate maturity is found in childlikeness. Amidst our deepest study, exposition, and theology lies the most basic, life-changing challenge of all: accept and act upon the great invitation through simple faith. Diligent study yields insights and understandings that are essential, but keen intellect inevitably reaches the barrier than can only be breached through the action step of simple faith.

Faith must never be a substitute for diligent study, but intellectual exploration will always be inadequate without the energizing force of faith.

I've spent countless hours in conversation and correspondence with individuals who felt compelled to intellectually grasp the entire scope of God's word and plan. Sadly, they never grasped what they diligently sought because, in the final analysis, they failed to take the simple action step of faith.

A child takes the words of one whom they trust at face value. They have yet to be tainted by the complexities of adulthood that causes them to look for hidden meaning and motives in the words of others.

Diligent study of God's word is for the purpose of clarifying the simple steps of faith that our Father requires if we are to please Him (Hebrews 11:6; James 1:22). True Bible study clarifies rather than confuses with complexities.

In a complex age the timeless challenge to walk in the simplicity of faith remains. There is great depth in simplicity.

May we never lose the wonder and awe of child-like faith.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How well do you handle interruptions? Would you be willing to have vacation plans interrupted because of pressing people needs?

Jesus was wildly popular because of his ability to heal and miraculously multiply food. There came a time, however, when He knew it was imperative to take his disciples on a short vacation away from the press of the crowds:

"And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)" (Mark 6:31)

The need for a vacation was obvious, but all did not go according to plan. Jesus and his disciples climbed into a boat and headed for their vacation destination. The crowds, however, learned of their destination and arrived by foot in advance of the boat's arrival.

Any of us would likely be more than a little annoyed to find a large, demanding crowd awaiting us at our vacation destination, but that was not the response of Jesus:

"When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things." (Mark 6:34)

Rather than seeing the inconvenience of a demanding crowd, Jesus instead saw directionless people looking to Him for guidance and purpose. As such He was moved with compassion to teach them.

Notice: the compassion of Jesus moved Him to teach people. Does our compassion move us to teach others? We most commonly association compassion with generous and merciful acts, but rarely is teaching considered a compassionate response.

There are people around each of us who look to us for guidance, whether they directly express it or not. These are people who are hungry to be taught that which will ultimately giving meaning and purpose to their lives.

Let me challenge you (and myself) to consider the most compassionate response of all: do we care enough to teach others the truth that will truly transform? Are we obsessed with the good news of the Kingdom - the magnificent obsession of Jesus - so that we compassionately share it with those around us?

Today will no doubt be characterized by interruptions to what we have planned. Perhaps these will be "divine interruptions": opportunities the Lord affords us to teach the good news to those who are receptive.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

The secret to true success is one's secret time. The quiet, hidden discipline of prayer is the common denominator with all genuine people of God.

"In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." (Mark 1:35)

"Mr. Word", as we might call Jesus, was both a man of the word and prayer. People were amazed at his teaching because he taught with authority (Luke 4:32), but what was less evident was His careful cultivation of relationship with His Father, which was the source of of that authority. His life was characterized by the vital balance between study and knowledge of the word and communion in prayer with His Father. Both are essential in our lives as well.

The Apostles were resolutely committed to these priorities as well. Acts 6:4 says,

"But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

To be devoted to something is to give oneself to it completely. These men were devoted to the disciplines of both Bible study and prayer. The dynamic of their lives and ministries was their devotion to these secret practices, which was the pattern they had learned from Jesus their Teacher.

The true measure of prayer and Bible study is not necessarily the amount of time spent in each but the vibrancy found in them. Five minutes of genuine communion with the Father in prayer is more beneficial than a perfunctory hour of prayer. And yet the likelihood of real vitality in both prayer and Bible study comes through the generous practice of both.

I recently heard an interesting comment about time together with God. The Bible indicates that God initiates contact, such as with Adam in the Garden of Eden. Man's efforts to initiate contact have resulted in such disasters as the Tower of Babel.

Perhaps the best perspective on prayer is that it is simply placing oneself in a position of quietness whereby God can initiate contact and conversation. All too often prayer is viewed as rushing to God with a list of wants and needs that we want Him to answer and satisfy. And, while we are biblically admonished to bring our needs before Him, if that is all that prayer is then we are robbing ourselves of the joy that can only be found through waiting expectantly for Him.

May we so discipline ourselves that our Creator and Father can approach and speak to us in the quietness of time alone with Him.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Preparation prevents calamity. God faithfully gives His people a "heads up" in advance of challenging times and circumstances.

Pharaoh, the great ruler of ancient Egypt in the time of Joseph, was given a dream by God which revealed the future and the needed preparations. Joseph was divinely inspired to interpret his important dream:

"Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. "The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. "The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. "It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do." (Genesis 41:25-28 )

Knowledge of the future was given to allow for adequate preparation.

A recurring theme in the Bible is that God reveals the immediate future to His people when there is a need for them to prepare. Acts 11:27-29 reveals that God spoke through a prophet named Agabus to reveal a coming famine, and the church responded by sending relief in advance to those who would have need.

The Church at Smyrna was notified by Christ of coming persecution and encouraged not to fear what was about to come (Revelation 2:10).

There are many indications that we are moving into a time of great change and upheaval. These are not "business as usual" times, but rather times to be cautious and wise as we consider what is coming. God desires to have His people calmly prepared and ready to comfort, encourage, and help others who are unprepared and victimized by cruel times.

The precedent of Scripture is that God gives adequate warning and raises up those who will wisely give direction to the people of God for their preparation. We can reasonably expect the same if truly challenging times are ahead of us.

Challenging times are times of increased opportunity for the gospel. Daniel 11:33 reminds us that the people of God will have a great teaching ministry during the days of antichrist: "Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many".

Personal comfort and life's luxuries are gifts from God, but far more beneficial are opportunities in difficult times to advance the gospel. May we be prepared and ready to stand strong in our faith and hold out the gospel to those who will eagerly seek it in such times.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Adultery was unthinkable. Despite daily solicitations, he maintained sexual purity and integrity. But the temptation was very real for a young single man in his prime, far from home.

Joseph, we are told in Genesis 39, was blessed with success by the Lord. Although he had been sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, God's hand was upon him and even caused him to be elevated to the head of his master's house. And it was then that his troubles began:

"Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. "There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?" As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her." (Genesis 39:6-10)

Joseph's ethical standard would be viewed today as overly puritanical and outdated. Perhaps it would even be assumed that a virile young man and a lonely housewife in these circumstances would engage in a love affair. But Joseph's integrity is clearly seen in his response: "How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?"

There was no rationalizing with Joseph. Rather than thinking of his own desires and considering how the affair could be kept secret, he instead saw it clearly for what it was: a great evil and a sin against God.

Our respect for Joseph's character grows as we read, "As she spoke to Joseph day after day, he did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her." He was daily confronted with sexual enticement and yet refused to yield.

Countless lives and marriages have been damaged and destroyed through yielding to that which Joseph resolutely refused. Few temptations are more pervasive and damaging than the temptation to sexual sin. And no sin is comparable to sexual sin, according to 1 Corinthians 6:

"Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body." (1 Corinthians 6:18 )

For that reason, the Apostle Paul reminds us: "do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Thorough familiarity with God's word and standards and unswerving love and devotion to Him will build within us the same conviction as Joseph when we are faced with sexual or any other sin temptation. As the Psalmist says,

"How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You." (Psalm 119:9,11)

May we live lives of purity and integrity as we get into God's word and allow it to truly get into our lives.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dreams are a great mystery. Our semi-conscious minds can run wild with imaginative and bizarre stories and scenes. But dreams are also the avenue which God has freely used to convey truth. Consider Joseph of the Old Testament:

"Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, "Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf." Then his brothers said to him, "Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, "Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?" His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind." (Genesis 37:5-11)

From his brothers' perspective, Joseph's dreams were arrogant and self-serving. Little did they know that these dreams were God's revelation of the future. Their response put in motion the events that would lead to their fulfillment - and God's plan for His people.

Dreams are vitally important today. The Apostle Peter declared on the Day of Pentecost that the activity of God's Spirit would be manifested through dreams:


There is an inherent danger in considering every dream to be a revelation from God, but it can be equally dangerous to dismiss dreams that may indeed be God's revelation.

Of all the dreams I have had throughout the years, there is one that stands out from my childhood. In it I saw what appeared to be resurrection day, with angels coming for both living and resurrected believers. I never forgot the dream but it was not until only a few years ago that I most clearly saw a truth in Scripture that I realized was part of the dream: "And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other." (Matthew 24:31).

I believe this childhood dream was validated by clearly-evident Bible truth, as all legitimate God-inspired dreams will be.

I believe that God continues to reveal His plans and will through inspired dreams. Many of you reading this have been given those dreams. We need to hear them and be inspired and guided by them. We need to bring them under the careful spotlight of Scripture, because God will not reveal anything contrary to His written word.

May the Giver of dreams reveal His Kingdom dreams to you.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

He walked with a limp after the struggle.

"Now the sun rose upon him just as he crossed over Penuel, and he was limping on his thigh." (Genesis 32:31)

Jacob encountered an angel of God and wrestled all night with him. In the process two things resulted: (1) the angel touched his thigh and dislocated his socket, and; (2) he was given a new name.

Jacob, who has been a liar, cheat, and thief, struggled with his past and prevailed and is given both a new beginning as well as a reminder of the struggle.

A new name represents a new beginning. The angel with whom Jacob struggled said,

"Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed." (Genesis 32:28)

The tiny nation in the Middle East that today celebrates its 60th birthday as a modern nation bears the ancient name of its founder, and what a fitting name it is! The descendants of Israel are characterized as those who struggle with God and men and prevail.

The story of Jacob's night-long struggle with an angel is rich with application for us. The "ghosts from our past" that hinder us must be wrestled with and overcome. Like Jacob, broken promises, deceit, and theft must be faced and reconciled. These things will hold us back in the present and future until we clearly face and wrestled with them. Once we have truly wrestled with them in the power of God, the victory is ours. But, we'll likely limp away from the struggle even though we have a new beginning.

One of life's tragedies is seeing present potential hindered by past painful experiences. Granted, the past holds extreme experiences of pain and trauma for some, but these will always hinder the present and future until they are faced in a Jacob-like struggle.

As members of the all-inclusive sinner's club we all walk with a limp, but hopefully we limp gladly through life because of the new beginning we've been graciously given.

He met God and didn't even know it. Jacob, who was later renamed Israel by God, became the recipient of God's promises made to his grandfather Abraham.

"He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. "Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." He was afraid and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:13-15)

Our encounters with God may not be as dramatic as Jacob's, but the fact remains that wherever we are God is there, whether we know it or not. There are times when ordinary places are transformed into holy places because we are keenly aware of the Lord's presence. I once heard someone talk about a "sacred utility pole" at a camp because it was there, leaning on the post, that this individual had a special encounter with God in prayer.

Part of the adventure of faith is that, at any given moment, our ordinary surroundings can become a "Bethel" (house of God) as the presence of God becomes especially real to us. We are blessed by those moments when we are fully convinced of the reality and presence of God, but the real adventure of faith is to continue when God seems hidden and silent.

The old cliché is that "seeing is believing", but in reality "believing is seeing". We walk largely by faith and not by sight, but there are moments of sight and insight that sustain us.

I pray that you might have a "Bethel" experience today, but, more importantly, I pray that your faith remains strong regardless of whether God seems visible or invisible.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It's a very touching poem entitled, "The Dash". It is about a man eulogizing a good friend at her funeral and referring to the dates on the tombstone - the date of her birth and the date of her death - separated by a short dash. The dash, the man went on the explain, represented the whole of her life, from birth to death. And only those who knew her knew the value of the dash.

"Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. " (Genesis 25:8)

Abraham was literally a faith giant. The legacy of his life of faith extends down to every believer in Christ (Galatians 3:29). The "dash" of his life is monumentally important to us.

None of us know with certainty the length of our days, but we each hope to live to "a ripe old age". Even more important is that it be said of us that we were "satisfied with life".

I've known people who had discovered what they thought to be the secret of happiness in life. Sadly, many of these people had great regrets later in life when they discovered the emptiness and meaninglessness of self-seeking pursuits.

The poem, "The Dash", ends by asking us to consider how we spent "the dash" that represents our lives. Are we pondering what is true and right? Are we rearranging priorities while we have the time? Are we genuinely loving and considerate of others?

When we think of our lives in terms of "the dash" that separates the date of our birth from the date of our death, the priorities of the two Great Commandments are much more clearly in focus:

" `YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' " (Matthew 22:37-39)

Abraham's priority was to walk in faith with the God who had created him and who extended rich promises to him. Because of this he was "satisfied with life".

I submit to you that the only true satisfaction in life is a life of faith walking with
our Creator whom we love with all of our heart, soul, and, mind. This gives the ultimate meaning to the "dash" that characterizes all of our lives.

How are you doing today with "the dash"?

"The Dash", by Linda Ellis (http://www.dashpoemmovie.com/)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A very old one-room schoolhouse in Ohio will always be a sacred place to me. I'm convinced that it's the one place where I heard the only audible voice of God that He has spoken to me to date.

A very common place became a sacred place to Abraham because of his encounter with the Lord there. The Lord spoke to Abraham through three angelic beings who were sent to him on a two-fold mission: to announce the promise of the birth of a son and to reveal God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

"Now the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth," (Genesis 18:1-2)

"Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD." (Genesis 18:22)

"Now Abraham arose early in the morning and went to the place where he had stood before the LORD" (Genesis 19:27)

Abraham returned to the very place where he had undeniably encountered the living God. No reason is given for his return but it seems safe to speculate. If he had encountered God there once, perhaps he might encounter him there again. Or perhaps he returned to the sacred place to be reminded of the experience and to gain a perspective on it.

While perhaps not as dramatic as Abraham's experience, each of us have had a very real encounter with God in a particular place. For many it occurred in a specific place in a church building. I know of someone who even told about a life-changing encounter with God while leaning on a utility pole at a camp.

The danger is to turn the location of spiritual encounters into personal sacred shrines. When we do not differentiate the experience from the location we erect an idol that becomes a spiritual hindrance rather than a help.

How God chooses to speak and reveal Himself to us is appropriate to our need and personality. It's important to savor the moment and ponder the significance but enshrining the event and location forever locks God in it, from our perspective.

Abraham went on to walk with God and experience Him in a variety of ways; even through the ultimate testing of his faith. Rather than enshrining his encounter with God. it served as a tool for his spiritual growth and adventure of faith. Such is God's plans for our encounters with Him.