Thursday, July 31, 2008

Persistence pays off. Some of history's most notable people are people of persistence; people with a goal and objective in mind and resolute determination to not be deterred from that goal.

Persistence pays off in prayer. Jesus illustrates the point with a story about someone going to a friend at midnight to ask for food for unexpected late-night visitors:

"I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened" (Luke 11:8-10)

What are we passionate about to persistently seek in prayer? I often bring my prayer list to the Lord and rather passively name the needs and move on. I'm concerned for those whom I pray for, but not as passionate as someone seeking bread from a friend at midnight.

I often remember a man I regularly prayed with several years ago. He regularly prayed for missionaries and mission fields and lost people around the world and near home. I remember the time when he broke down into tears and mournful wailing. When he was able to regain composure he exclaimed, "Steve, you just don't know what it means to be lost!" Regrettably, he was right - and perhaps still is.

Are we passionate enough for the lost to persistently seek their salvation in prayer? Does the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus burn within such that our passion is to share it with the names and faces of those we know who are lost? Perhaps our persistence in prayer needs to be for personal passion for the message and for the lost.

The prophet Hosea issued the challenge to "break up your unplowed ground, for it is time to seek the Lord" (Hosea 10:12). Sometimes our hearts become as hard as compacted soil that is unsuitable for planting and growth. We need to have our hearts "plowed" and broken open to be receptive to the things of the Lord.

I'm often appalled at my apathy. I'm seeking brokenness in order for there to be passion for the message and for the lost. Rather than simply speaking the words, I desire passion and Spirit-groaning as I pray, "Your kingdom come. You will be done on earth, as it is in heaven".

"Father, give us passion for that which You are passionate about. Break open our hearts and instill passionate persistence in prayer for the kingdom message and the many who have never heard and yielded to it."


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Picture in your mind a large field of wheat, perfectly ripe and ready for harvest. The wheat crop would be beneficial to so many people in so many ways. It is literally ripe with possibilities.

Picture the lonely figure of a man at the far end of the multi-acre field with a pair of scissors in hand and a canvas bag draped over his shoulder. He begins the overwhelming task of harvesting the wheat in this painfully slow manner.

Fast forward in your mind's eye several weeks into the future. The tired, lonely man has barely made a dent in the vast crop, despite his best efforts with his limited resources. Meanwhile, all around him the ripe crop is beginning to rot and its potential is rapidly being lost.

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." (Luke 10:2)

Much done in the name of evangelism is little more than recruiting believers from one church to affiliate with another church. Meanwhile the "lost sheep" remain lost without benefit of hearing the life-saving message that "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (Luke 10:9).

The urgent priority of our Lord is for that which is lost: "there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance ... there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:7,10)

It seems that there are some prayers that the Lord is especially eager to answer. Those which focus on reaching his lost people are at the top of the list. He is eager to send laborers out to the harvest, but praying that prayer has inherent risk: He might choose to send us! Those with the full gospel of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus are prime candidates to be sent.

"Lord, open our eyes to the harvest. Give us a burden for the lost so great that we cannot help but to pray and act. Instill in us your singular purpose for us to make disciples. And give us the boldness and responsiveness to act as You prompt."


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

It's life-changing on many levels. And it is available to and through us.

"And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing." (Luke 9:1-2)

The message about the Kingdom of God is solid intellectual theology, but it is far more than that: it is a power-packed message capable of radically changing lives and the world. The evidence of its power is found in the specific call of Jesus to His original band of disciples. Power and authority was bestowed upon them over the demonic realm as well as the physical. They were sent out to proclaim this radical Kingdom message and perform healing.

Incidentally, "to proclaim the kingdom of God" (v.2) is synonymous with preaching "the gospel". Notice:

"Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere." (Luke 9:6-emphasis added)

The powerful gospel of the kingdom of God is beneficial on all levels of human existence. There is a direct connection between the spiritual, physical, and emotional, and the kingdom of God brings true health in all these areas. Those benefits extend to us personally, as recipients of it, and to those who receive this message that we proclaim.

This powerful message about the kingdom of God - the gospel - is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he declared it to be "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Paul was fully aware of its power on all levels when he was inspired to write these words.

The life-changing gospel of the kingdom of God will likely not change others until it has first changed us. Declaring the message to others with ample evidence of its life-changing effect in our own lives is a powerful witness.

Stand strong in the powerful message that makes us strong. Allow the power of the gospel of the kingdom to permeate your life on all levels. Live with confidence and victory as you proclaim this life-changing message to others.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

The implications are staggering. The statement is simple enough to understand but what it implies goes to the very core of our being.

The words were uttered to a woman with a sordid past, yet she made no pretense as to her sinful lifestyle. Rather, she displayed genuine sorrow as she sought the ultimate solution to her life of sin. Release from the bondage of her past was found in the simple statement, "Your sins have been forgiven" (Luke 7:48).

Perhaps Jesus' pronouncement doesn't carry the same weight with us because our sins don't carry the same weight as the woman's. While she had lived a sinful life of prostitution and adultery, many of us have lived relatively 'good' lives. We may not see our sin in the same light as hers.

I certainly don't want to dwell on what God has forgiven through Jesus my Savior, but if I don't truly come to terms with the horror of my sins I'll never truly live in the grace of God through Jesus. The "hall of shame" in my life involves dark and evil thoughts, hurtful actions and behavior, and frightening lovelessness and apathy. My outward actions may not begin to compare with the sinful woman who came to Jesus, but my inner sinful thoughts carry the same weight in the eyes of God as her actions.

There is a scene in the classic movie, "Forest Gump", in which Lieutenant Dan lashes himself to the mast of a boat in the midst of a storm to fully confront God. Perhaps each of us need such an experience in fully confronting the reality of our sin to truly prepare us to experience the full forgiveness and grace shown in Christ. Stripped of pretense and self-righteous pride, we can truly absorb the most liberating truth of all:

"Your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50)


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The obvious problem is not always the real problem. An air conditioner that isn't working on a hot day isn't indicative of a power outage; it could be something more complicated.

Some friends brought a paralyzed man to Jesus one day. Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd inside a house so this man's enterprising friends chopped a hole in the roof and lowered him down right in front of Jesus. The man was paralyzed and is physical condition was obvious, but notice what Jesus immediately says to him:

"Friend, your sins are forgiven you." (Luke 5:20)

Far be it that Jesus ever be considered less than perceptive, but how could he not see that this man had a physical need? Was it not obvious why his friends had gone to this great effort to bring the man to Jesus? Ah, but the obvious need is not always the real need.

"But Jesus ... answered and said to them ... "Which is easier, to say, `Your sins have been forgiven you,' or to say, `Get up and walk'? But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,"--He said to the paralytic--"I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home." Immediately he got up before them, and picked up what he had been lying on, and went home glorifying God." (Luke 5:22-25)

The obvious need was physical. The real need was spiritual. The perceptive Savior addressed the real need and validated his actions by meeting the obvious need.

Physical needs are easy to identify. Spiritual needs are much more elusive. Case in point are the prayer needs listed in a typical church prayer list. How many are for physical needs? How many are for spiritual needs? (I think you know the answer). What real value is there in a physical healing if the physically whole person is spiritually dead and destined for judgment and destruction? The real need is for the life-saving good news of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus.

The danger of the visible is that it can easily mask and hide the invisible reality. Physical illness and injury can hide the true spiritual need. Conversely, physical health can hide spiritual sickness. Consider Jesus' words to the church at Laodicea:

"`you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked" (Revelation 2:17)

The need is to see with "spiritual eyes". This enables us to see the true needs of others rather than the obvious needs. We also see our own condition with clarity.

May the Lord truly open wide our spiritual eyes so that we can see ourselves and others as He does, and pray intelligently for the real needs.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

What does it involve in practical terms? There is plenty of talk about living a God-pleasing life but sometimes the specifics are in short supply.

John the baptist was very clear about details when asked:

"And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." ( Luke 3:10-14 )

Getting too specific puts us in danger of rigid legalism, but generalities leave us without clear direction. John emphasized specifics that serve as valuable guides for all of us. He emphasized material sharing, fairness in business dealings, and restraint from assertive force and false accusations.

It's interesting that what John prescribed for holy living is well summarized in the famous Golden Rule: "treat people the same way you want them to treat you" ( Matthew 7:12 ).

The standards for holy living are the same, regardless of our vocation, background, geographic location, etc, Be perfectly fair in all dealings with all people. Refrain from strong-arm tactics in asserting influence. Be certain of facts regarding statements made about others.

The truths of the Bible that we are resolutely convinced of are validated or nullified in these areas of practical living. No matter how passionately we declare our faith in Jesus and the message of the kingdom of God, our conduct toward others becomes the final test of truth.

I once had a supervisor in a factory job who was in leadership in a local church. He was quick to hand out Bible tracts and make others aware of his role in the church, but the words of other co-workers soon told another story. He was a harsh, dictatorial boss with little respect and credibility in their eyes. His lifestyle negated his message and witness.

Who we are around others is the true test of our faith and doctrine. May they both be in harmony as the Lord desires.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Purpose gives perspective. The 'what' makes sense when we know the 'why'.

The purpose of Luke's Gospel is stated right at the beginning:

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:1-4)

The Gospel of Luke is a detailed, consecutive account of the life of Christ as reported by eyewitnesses and "servants of the word" (more on that in a moment).

John's Gospel has a different purpose statement:

"many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:30-31)

Luke gives us a detailed, chronological account of events whereas John is selective in recording those things which have the purpose of leading us to life-giving faith. Both come from eyewitnesses and "servants of the word".

As recipients of these accounts we have also become servants of the word. We serve both the written word and the word made flesh, Jesus the Christ. God's written and living word is confirmed in our changed lives.

We are the living Gospel to the world. The reality of the written and living word within is a powerful witness and testimony to the world. Unbelievers will first encounter the word in us before they will encounter the written and living word of God.

There we have our great purpose statement - to serve the word (the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ). As we live and personify that word God's purposes are advanced in the world today.

Let your light shine today, servants of the word.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

There was the time when my car should have slid under the tractor-trailer on the icy road. There was also the time in college when a crucial car part broke in my parent's driveway after I had driven hundreds of miles. And our checkbook has never quite worked right - there has almost always been a higher balance than should be.

These are a few of my faith stories. As I recount them I'm reminded of how real God's guidance and presence has been in my life. And that's His exact design for His actions in our lives:

"They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God." (Exodus 29:46)

The overarching purpose of the worship and tabernacle design was ultimately that the people of Israel might continually be reminded of God's miraculous work on their behalf. His desire was that they would intimately know Him in the very depths of their being, Knowing Him was an important prerequisite for Him to dwell with them.

Recounting the acts of God in our lives is essential to our knowledge of Him and His presence with us. As with the people of Israel, it is vitally important that we develop tangible reminders of what He has done.

I think more about legacy than I used to. As I age I increasingly consider what I will pass along to my children and grandchildren. I want them to know and embrace the truths that I passionately hold to from Scripture, but I also want them to know my faith stories - my personal experiences with my Creator and His Son, Jesus. These are the stories that bring life to His truth.

Legacy isn't just for the next generation. Recounting the acts of God in our lives is a powerful reminder and motivation for further developing an intimate walk. Thankfulness for what he has done is a wellspring for service and living.

More than anything else, our Father wants us to know that He is the only true God. Recalling our personal encounters with Him and letting Him speak to us from His word are vital to this all-important goal.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The ability comes with the need. God's task is never greater than His provision.

"You shall speak to all the skillful persons whom I have endowed with the spirit of wisdom, that they make Aaron's garments to consecrate him, that he may minister as priest to Me." ( Exodus 28:3 )

God enabled certain individuals to become "skillful persons" with His "spirit of wisdom" to create the priestly garments of Aaron. It's not clear if he took seamstresses and tailors and supernaturally equipped them, or if He took those with no experience and ability in these areas and equipped them. The important point is He equipped some to be "skillful persons" for the important detailed work to be done.

God is in the business of making "skillful persons". We may not feel all that skillful but we are - not of our own ability but His:

"In everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge" ( 1 Corinthians 1:5)

I suspect most of us have trouble wrapping our minds around this truth. We can easily list our inadequacies and shortcomings, but can we objectively elaborate on our sufficiency in Christ? Notice: "in everything you were enriched". That's all-inclusive. Each of us are fully competent in speech and knowledge. Sounds outrageous, huh?

I'm very aware of my own lack of biblical understanding. I often cringe when I hear recordings of sermons I've preached. I'm not a gifted orator or learned theologian, and yet I've been enriched in everything. If I'm lacking it's not because of God's supply but rather my unwillingness to tap into His vast internal supply within me.

I've lately been reading about agreements that we sometimes make with the father of lies. One of those agreements is in this area: "I don't know how to ..." or "I don't know enough to ...". Agreeing with one of the lies from the father of lies allows him a stronghold in our life. Rejecting the lie is essential in order for truth to transform us.

Perhaps 1 Corinthians 1:5 should be a fridge or bathroom mirror verse for us. In fact, make this a 30-day challenge: print out this verse, place it on the bathroom mirror or the fridge, and read it aloud at least once a day for 30 days. I'm confident that we'll feel much more like a "skillful person" after that time.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a verse to go print ...


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It's said that the devil is in the details, but in reality God is. God is meticulous about details.

Beginning in Exodus 25 we read the details of the tabernacle that God instructed to be built. He begins by appealing to the people of Israel for contributions for His tabernacle:

"Tell the sons of Israel to raise a contribution for Me; from every man whose heart moves him you shall raise My contribution." (Exodus 25:2)

The variety of contributions - from precious metals to cloth and animal skins - is for a clear purpose:

"Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them." (Exodus 25:8)

So far, so good. But then we read all the detailed specifications that God has for His dwelling place and we begin to wonder: does it really matter if acacia wood poles are removed from gold rings? Does it matter if lamp stands are made of gold rather than silver? Apparently it does.

As I read God's specified details I thought, "that's exactly like God to be concerned about the details. Just look at the detailed intricacies of all His creation." He is truly aware and concerned about all the details.

If it were another person who was this concerned about details I would be concerned (we have clinical diagnosis for such conditions). But the Creator of everything is concerned about the details for far different reasons - because of His all-encompassing compassion. In fact, the all-seeing, all knowing God cannot be anything different than this because this is his very nature. He IS a God of details.

The lesson I walk away with from the detailed description of the tabernacle is that God's dwelling place is in the details of our lives. All the seemingly small and incidental pieces of our lives contribute to the big picture of God's sanctuary. His presence is found in the most mundane and obscure details.

Through the little bits and pieces of our lives we construction a sanctuary for the Lord. He truly reigns supreme when we allow Him to order the details.

May your life today be perfectly ordered by the God of all details.