Thursday, June 26, 2008

They are the Big Ten, and we're not talking about college basketball or football. The Ten Commandments aren't so much God's "do" and "don't" list but His prescribed pathway to blessings. They are for the ultimate good of those who heed them.

"You shall have no other gods before Me ... You shall not make for yourself an idol ... You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain ... Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy ... Honor your father and your mother ... You shall not murder ... You shall not commit adultery ... You shall not steal ... You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor ... You shall not covet ..." (Exodus 20:3-17)

We can easily see that these Ten Commandments can be divided into two basic categories: (1) things pertaining to God, and; (2) things pertaining to people. Jesus would clarify, many years later,

" '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.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)

God's requirements are not ultimately about doing, but loving. When we are passionate about our relationship with our Creator, and when we purely and sacrificially love others, we "are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:34)

The purpose of God's commandments are clearly stated in Exodus 20:20 - "that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin."

A deep awe, love and respect for the Lord God is the best safeguard against sin which He abhors.

The spirit of God's law is love for Him and love for others. This is the true pathway of blessing and long life. This is also the pathway to the kingdom of God, because the coming kingdom will ultimately be characterized by these qualities.

We are called to live as compassionate and loving people. May those qualities be ours in abundance today as we reflect the character of our Creator and the reality of His kingdom.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It's about quality, not quantity. The true test isn't how much we get done but how well we do. Busyness is not equal to productivity.

A classic story about time management and delegation is found in Exodus:

"It came about the next day that Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from the morning until the evening. Now when Moses' father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" Moses said to his father-in-law, "Because the people come to me to inquire of God. "When they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I judge between a man and his neighbor and make known the statutes of God and His laws." Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you are doing is not good. "You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone." (Exodus 18:13-18)

Moses' father-in-law wisely counseled Moses to select and train competent men to hear minor cases and only bring the major ones to him. This would free Moses for other important work that God had for him.

Were it not for the wise advise of Moses' father-in-law Moses might never have gone to Mt.Sinai to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments. It would have been a great tragedy.

Good often becomes the enemy of the best in our lives. It's easy to so busy ourselves with good things that we never realize that we have neglected the best.

Jesus clearly outlined the highest and best priority when He admonished us to "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). There are many good biblically-mandated priorities, but Jesus promoted seeking the kingdom to the highest priority. Anything that we prioritize higher than this is at best good, but ultimately an enemy of this top priority.

Time management in not my area of expertise but I do know that I'm far better with time management when I regularly evaluate my activities and actions in light of the priority of the kingdom. If I'm not actively seeking first the kingdom then I'm seeking something that is second-best and a poor substitute for my real priority.

What would it mean for you and I, in practical and realistic terms, to seek first the kingdom today? How different would our activities and involvement be today if this truly was the main priority? Hopefully our lives are already ordered by this key priority and nothing would be changed.

May the kingdom priority overarch all the lesser-good pursuits of our lives today.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

If we long for where we've been we'll never yearn for where we could be.

"The whole congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The sons of Israel said to them, "Would that we had died by the LORD'S hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." (Exodus 16:2-3)

Despite God's miraculous intervention and miracles, the people of Israel became dissatisfied with their present lot in life and looked back longingly for their life in Egypt. There they enjoyed an abundance of food and a predictable routine, but they apparently forgot one thing - they were slaves in captivity! Freedom, with its privileges and risks, seemed less desirable to them than the "security" of slavery.

Perhaps we are not so different. The slavery of past security may seem more desirable than the risk of adventure today. The known past can be more appealing than the risky present.

Little did the Israelites know that God's miraculous provision lay ahead of them. They would be fed manna - food from heaven - for forty years, and their clothes would not wear out or their feet swell in all their forty years of wanderings (Deuteronomy 8:4). More than that, God offered them the ultimate security of their own land and the richness of it.

There is no substitute for the adventure of faith today. There is risk and danger, but there is potential for blessings beyond measure. But we will not pursue or realize what lies before us if we long for what has been.

We live in rapidly changing times. Escalating food and fuel prices threaten the security we have enjoyed. it's easy to long for life as it was a year ago; even a few months ago. And yet our unchanging Creator continues with us and remains faithful regardless of the times.

The adventure before us may involve less financial security and more hunger, but, as Moses said to the Israelites, "He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD." (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The adventure of the times we live in involves leading us away for dependence upon the fickle security of the world and greater dependence upon the nourishing word and provision of God.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Are natural disasters truly calamities or God's way of getting our attention? If we were Egyptians living in the time of Moses we might have concluded that the unfortunate series of naturals disasters were random calamities, but we would have missed the point.

"I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD." ( Exodus 10:2 )

Whether God causes all natural disasters is a source of endless debate, but His true purpose overarches all that happens: "that you may know that I am the LORD." The one thing that He absolutely desires of each of us is that we become totally and intimately aware that the true God is the Lord YHWH.

Our Father's primary purpose in natural phenomena is not so much in convincing the unconverted as in strengthening the faith of believers. Notice: "I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the LORD." (Exodus 10:2 - emphasis added). In the face of God's miraculous Pharaoh's heart was hardened all the while Moses and Aaron were strengthened in their faith.

The Book of Revelation presents a series of natural phenomenon similar to the plagues performed by the hand of Moses in Egypt. I once thought that the purpose of these great events was to awaken non-believers to God's true reality, but now I think differently. The response of non-believers is clearly described:

"men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe." ( Revelation 16:21 )

"they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds." ( Revelation 16:11 )

If the purpose of the plagues of Revelation is to convince the wicked, then God's purpose will fail! But if the purpose is to convince believers during those difficult times it is consistent with what we read in Exodus 10:2.

As children of the One true God we are not concerned about what is coming into the world but rather He who is in the world and who one day will make His permanent dwelling place on this planet. Our great purpose is to know Him and His Son, our Lord Jesus.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

There is more going on than meets the eye. God called and empowered Moses and Aaron to display signs and wonders to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go from captivity.

"So Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh, and thus they did just as the LORD had commanded; and Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and {the} sorcerers, and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts. For each one threw down his staff and they turned into serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs." (Exodus 7:10-12)

Did you catch that? "the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts". Not only that, Moses turned the Nile to blood and later produced a plague of frogs and "the magicians of Egypt, did the same with their secret arts" (Exodus 7:17,22;8:7). It was later, after Moses turned dust into gnats and "The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not" *(Exodus 8:18) that they conceded, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19).

Ultimately the power of God through Moses proved to be superior, but the "dark side" power of the Egyptian magicians was a force to be reckoned with.

There is danger in being overly curious and even fascinated by the "secret arts" that belong to the domain of the enemy, but there is wisdom in understanding how formidable a foe our enemy really is. This is the reality which the Apostle Paul addressed when he stated,

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)

Only a fool would enter a battle unprepared. Soldiers on the battlefront wear helmets, flack jackets, and rugged boots. There is still risk but the risk is minimized through protective equipment and mental "battle readiness".

No Christian dares face the daily battle unprepared. Ephesians 6 specifies certain pieces of armor to be worn. Each piece must be carefully and prayerfully put on daily if danger and disaster is to be averted.

The ultimate victory of the Kingdom of God is assured, but there are daily battles to be fought which can won or lost. "Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm" (Ephesians 6:13)


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The elderly piano teacher scolded her student for not practicing. She said she had heard every excuse in the book for not practicing - including, "had to go fight in World War II". Well, maybe some excuses are legitimate.

The classic excuse-maker was Moses. Called of God to free the Israelites from Egyptian captivity, he apparently found the task a bit too daunting and quickly found excuses for not accepting the call:

"What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?" ... "Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." (Exodus 4:1,10)

Ultimately, Moses admitted his complete reluctance to accept the challenge:

"Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will." (Exodus 4:13)

Moses was slow to learn that the call of God involves the supply of God. When God calls He also equips. In Moses' case, he provided power for signs and wonders and his brother Aaron as a spokesman. God specifically promised him "I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do." (Exodus 4:15)

The lessons for us are obvious: we are called to serve, not according to our own limited resources and abilities, but according to the overwhelming provision of the Lord who calls us. That's especially good to keep in mind when we consider the daunting task of the Great Commission to "make disciples of all the nations" (Matthew 28:19). This huge task, given by our Lord Jesus, comes with the promise that "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).

Like Moses, we may question the call and find excuses for our limited abilities, but the Lord's call always comes with His presence and provision.

May we each find joy in accepting the call and serving according to the provision.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fickle friends really tick me off. Over the years I've had a friend or two who would not acknowledge me if they met me at a gathering of people. I was a good "private" friend but apparently a bit of a liability as a "public" friend.

"But Peter said to Him, "Even though all may fall away, yet I will not." And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny Me three times." But Peter kept saying insistently, "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all were saying the same thing also." (Mark 14:29-31)

Perhaps I would be more understanding of fickle friends if I truly understood how fickle I have been in my relationship with Jesus. Silence has most often been my form of denial. I chose to be a "silent witness" during much of high school, but chose to be more public with my faith when our popular class president professed and expressed his faith and it was in vogue to be a Christian.

It's easy to place a priority on biblical understanding and a sound theology of the nature of Christ, but bottom line is relationship with Him. His words in Matthew 7:22-23 are sobering:

"Many will say to Me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'

No matter how dynamic my Christian works and service might be, if Jesus and I are not on a first-name basis then I'm in danger of judgment fire.

Peter's denial was the result of smug self-determination. He had no idea how weak he was in his own strength. His personal determination quickly dissolved around a camp fire in Jerusalem amidst an unsympathetic crowd. The prophesied rooster crow awakened him to the true reality as he melted into deep remorse and tears,

Do you and I stand in our commitment to Christ by our own power and determination? Is our confidence in ourselves? If so we are destined to repeat Peter's denials.

We are reminded in 2 Timothy 2:11-13:

"It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself."

When we stand before Jesus in weakness rather than fickle self-determination, we stand in His strength and stand with the confidence that "He cannot deny Himself".

"Father, remind us how weak our self-determination is and move us in faith to confess our weakness so that we can stand in Your strength which enables us to not deny Your Son."