Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The critical times are the truest test. Moments of crisis and challenge are when we are most tempted to compromise values and beliefs.

We see Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane struggling with His Father's will on the night He was arrested. He seeks an alternative but ultimately submits. Meanwhile, He instructs His disciples to be vigilant and prayerful in advance of their coming trial. Their failure to do so, however, results in their denials and abandonment in the heat of the battle.

"And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:40-41)

Perhaps we each naively assume we will do the right thing in the moment of trial, as the disciples no doubt also assumed. But actions will betray intentions unless vigilantly guarded through watchful prayer.

I've recently heard about landmark legislation that will likely be passed in this country which will potentially bring legal consequences to pastors and churches speaking out on certain moral issues. There will be great temptation to compromise ethics or soft-pedal moral positions. And yet I give myself great benefit of the doubt in assuming that I will act in perfect harmony with the standards of Scripture should such developments occur. Can I be so sure? Are my inner convictions supported by watchful prayer? There is sufficient reason for skepticism and concern.

Watchful prayer is the arena where Scripture and life meet. Through prayer God's word has its powerful convicting work in our lives and transforms our lifestyle. Vigilant prayer is the crucible where intention is transformed into action.

Among the things we seek from the Father in prayer today may the formation of our Christian character be high on the list. May we seek to be transformed into the character of His Son and be made fit for His Kingdom.


Monday, April 27, 2009

We're in a love/hate relationship: "I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:14)

Recent and pending legislation in America reflects a growing tide of anti-Christian sentiment. It is a troubling development but it ought not be surprising. After all, this country as well as all political entities of this age belong to the system of this world. And, as Jesus tells us, the world hates those who align with God's word.

This is "need-to-know" information. Anti-Christian sentiment and hatred, rather than being surprising, should be anticipated. I've encountered more than one believer, however, who seemed to take an antagonistic stance toward the world and almost invited worldly hatred. That's probably not the response Jesus expected or desired from this teaching.

The word and the world are in radical opposition to each other. The closer we align with the word the more we can anticipate hatred from the world. It's a simple fact to know and live by.

"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world" (John 17:17-18). The word sets us apart from the world so that we can effectively "season" the world like salt. That seasoning effect rubs against the very nature of the world, thus inciting its hatred.

All that being said, it is little wonder that we face every imaginable distraction when we attempt to read and study the Bible. The enemy will bring every tool in his arsenal against those who dare come under the sactifiying effect of the word. The word and the world are the key battlefront.

One of the simplest tools for allowing the word to have its fullest effect is to keep a simple journal and include comments on these two key questions: (1) What does this passage say? (2) What this passage say to do?

Live dangerously in the world today; get in to the word and let it get in to you.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Call it the age of anxiety. Today's leading economic indicators are directly linked to the stress levels many people are experiencing. But the divine design is for peace, not anxiety.

"the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:26-27)

Peace is dependent upon that which we learn through the Holy Spirit. The main mission of Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (John 15:13), is to thoroughly instruct us and remind us of the teachings of Jesus. That knowledge liberates us from the anxiety and trouble characteristic of this age.

Perhaps no Scripture could be more timely in our present age than John 14:26-27. While so many in the world are suffering from stress because of the current economic climate, the people of God have a great opportunity to witness through their abiding peace. God's people are as much affected by job losses and pay cuts as anyone, but perspective makes all the difference. People of faith with an eternal perspective know that their God far exceeds the limitations and losses in this or any age.

As a bivocational pastor several years ago I knew job loss and strained resources. Amidst those difficulties I found myself focusing far more on current conditions rather than the instructive teaching of Holy Spirit. Stress and anxiety characterized my life rather than peace and serenity. Yet during that time Holy Spirit instructed me at a deeper level than I had ever known concerning the truth of John 14:26 - "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." The only true antidote for anxiety during those dark days was to recite this verse, and it literally became my peace.

None are immune to trouble and anxiety, but the instructive work of Holy Spirit leads us progressively in the paths of peace. Submit to the Teacher today as you devote yourself to study of Scripture and experience the peace that passes all understanding. That peace can be a powerful witness to your stressed coworkers, neighbors, and family members.


Monday, April 20, 2009

"Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life." (Proverbs 4:23)

The measure of our lives is in what we love. That's why the greatest commandments are to "LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' ... and `LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'" (Matthew 22:37,39). It's also why Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Matthew 6:24)

That which we love we invest in. That is the rationale for the statement by Jesus that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21). Investments of time, money and energy flow to that which we love. Which takes us back again to Proverbs 4:23 - guard your heart, because life energy and resources will follow what we love.

Some people literally love their jobs. I've known people who loved their jobs so much that they sacrificed their families and marriages. I've known zealous patriots who seemed to love their country more than their Savior. But then seeing misplaced affection in others is easier to see than in my own life. I used to find immense satisfaction in woodworking. I spent countless hours in my workshop crafting projects at the cost of time with my family - hardly an equitable trade.

Our hearts are like magnets: they will attach themselves to something; it's just a matter of what that will be. And from their our life force - "the springs of life" - will flow to it.

The challenging question for each of us to consider today is: What do I love that I am investing in? Is my heart attached to something of the world, or is it truly attached to the King & the Kingdom? Only honest introspection before the Lord will yield the true answer.

I sometimes fear that I love comfort and ease. Something within yearns for daring and adventure, like that of the early Christian pioneers such as Paul and the apostles, but a love of comfort seems to pull me back. Yet love for a genuine adventure with the Lord beckons.

May we each seek the sentry of God's Holy Spirit to stand guard over our hearts and direct our affections - and ultimately our life investment - toward the things that best serve the purposes of the Kingdom and the King.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It won't show up on an x-ray, heart scan, or in surgery but it's there. There's a highway in your heart.

"How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, In whose heart are the highways to Zion!" (Psalm 84:5)

No, there isn't a literal highway in our hearts, but the genuine seeker has set his/her heart on "the highways to Zion" - the roads leading to the presence of God.

Psalm 84 is a Psalm about the annual pilgrimage up to Jerusalem for the holy festival. It was much anticipated by the sincere seeker because it was a very real encounter with God in His dwelling place. Thus he could say, "My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God." (Psalm 84:2)

Most of us eagerly anticipate an annual vacation trip. Perhaps your family ritual is a trip to the beach, or to a mountain get-away. Whatever it is you do, no doubt you long for that refreshing get-away. Now, imagine that same anticipation for an encounter with the Living God, Yahweh. Maybe that's a bit of a stretch for most of us us; it may not be so easy to relate an anticipated vacation to time with our Father.

Regardless of the level of anticipation, I'll dare say that "the highways to Zion" are in our hearts. We long for the trip in to the Kingdom of God when Jesus returns and we long to realize that to some degree in our lives today. We want more than the world offers today; we want to journey into the eternal in some form now.

It's been a recurring theme with me lately and, at the risk of sounding redundant, I'll mention it here again: I'm finding real blessings in time alone in silence with the Father. No agenda, no prayer list; no discussion I come to initiate. I'm there to simply seek to be still enough to hear His still small voice. I'm finding that I look forward to the "highways" of my life leading to that time alone with my Father.

Seek out the "highways to Zion" today. As you live in anticipation of the ultimate highway to the New Jerusalem, take time to travel the highway that leads to intimacy with your Father and His Son, our Lord Jesus. It's a trip you'll never regret taking.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It's one of my favorite songs: "There is none like You; no one else can touch my heart like You do." The God we know and serve is truly incomparable.

King Solomon, on the occasion of the dedication of the magnificent temple that he had built, prayed, "O LORD, the God of Israel, there is no God like You in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart" (1 Kings 8:23)

There are two qualities of Yahweh God that should mean everything to us: (1) He is the God who keeps covenant, and; (2) He is the God who shows lovingkindness. If it were not for these two qualities we would have no hope or reason for praise and worship.

God has not forgotten any of His promises, regardless of how long ago they were made. We are reminded in Acts 3:21 of His plan to fulfill every single covenant promises through His Son, Jesus "whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time." All that He has promised He will do.

He also shows "lovingkindness to Your servants who walk before You with all their heart". I'm sure all who read this can add testimony to God's lovingkindness in their life. In addition to the great future hope set before us, He has blessed us in countless ways in this age.

The promise of our Father's lovingkindness is for "Your servants who walk before You with all their heart". This sounds like Jesus' promise in the Sermon On the Mount: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). God extends His lovingkindness to all who give their all to Him.

Singleness of heart and mind for our Father is a huge challenge. Schedules and activities easily diminish and divide our hearts, yet fighting the battle for single-hearted devotion is worth the effort.

My greatest joy lately has been that of offering myself in silence before Him first thing in the morning, without requests or agenda. The struggle for silence is intense, and the division of my heart is all too apparent, but the joy of solitude when it comes is beyond description.

We truly serve an incomparable God. May you be refreshed in His lovingkindness today through a special encounter in silence.


Monday, April 13, 2009

What would you ask of God if He said He would give you anything you asked? That's a tough call, huh? Would you choose wealth? Fame? Long life? A life of leisure?

This was the very question posed by God to King Solomon:

"In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, "Ask what you wish me to give you." (1 Kings 3:5)

Solomon chose wisdom in discerning justice (1 Kings 3:9) and, as an added bonus, God chose to add riches and honor as well (verse 13). There was much wisdom in choosing wisdom.

As I ponder God's offer to Solomon I realize how much I also desire that which is best for God's people. My heart cry is, "God, give me wisdom in knowing what to bring of Your word to Your people, and how best to do that!" As a pastor I'm forever humbled by the task of "accurately handling God's word" (2 Timothy 2:15). As such, I identify with Paul's words: "I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God." (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

The words that unfold on this page as I write come from a deep heart's desire that every reader might know Jesus the Christ as Lord in the most intimate, personal way possible, and thoroughly know and understand His "magnificent obsession", the Kingdom of God. The great joy of my life would be that the Lord would use me in even a small way to assist you in these all-important objectives.

What do you want from our Father more than anything else? I believe God's offer to Solomon is still "on the table" for His people today. It has been well rephrased by our Lord Jesus: "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

Seek wholeheartedly that which our Father earnestly desires to give.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

All the sordid details are there. No one can ever accuse God of whitewashing the details of the very human conduct of His people. The darkest chapter in King David's life is there for all to see; this man after God's own heart.

His sin, like most, begins with idle time: "Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle ... But David stayed at Jerusalem." (2 Samuel 11:1). The place for warriors and kings in the spring of the year is the battlefield, but for reason not disclosed, David remains at home with little to do. He is in the wrong place at the wrong time and is vulnerable to temptation and sin.

Sin rarely sneaks up on us and overwhelms us; it begins through compromise of thoughts and activities. We allow our idle mind to gravitate toward sinful thoughts, and we allow ourselves to be in circumstances that easily compromise conduct. James describes the process all too well:

"each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death." (James 1:14-15)

Sin is an issue of the mind before it ever becomes an issue of the flesh. The dramatic fall from grace that we too often see with public figures doesn't happen overnight; it is the culmination of a lengthy mental process.

Ultimately the battle is the battle for the mind: "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). This is why Paul challenges us to preoccupy our minds with right thoughts (Philippians 4:8). It is also why Jesus reduces sin from action to thought in the Sermon On the Mount (Matthew 5-7)

Some sins are obvious and carry enormous consequences, like David's sin of adultery and murder. But, while some sins carry greater consequences than others in this age, all sin is a serious matter in the eyes of God: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23)

I'm a member of the universal club of sinners like everyone else, but I'm learning more and more the importance of waging war against sin in my mind. I see the wisdom of Paul's admonition in "taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," (2 Corinthians 10:5). Winning the battle of the mind is key in winning the battle of the flesh.

I'm certain that I'll not be completely victorious over sin today, but at least I know where to fight the battle. May we each step on to the battlefield equipped with the only armor that can be effective (Ephesians 6:13-17) and achieve the victory that the Lord who loves us wants to bring.


Monday, April 06, 2009

I'll venture to declare ingratitude the great sin of our day. It is an inherent danger to those who are blessed with abundance, as are even the poorest among us. But ingratitude is easily cured when we focus on specific reasons for gratitude. Here are five specifics to add to your "gratitude quotient":

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle." (Psalm 103:1-5)

The Lord Yahweh, our Father, pardons ... heals ... redeems ... crowns ... and satisfies. That seems to be an all-inclusive list pertaining to all that we could ever need or want. Our greatest and most basic need is for redemption and restoration, which He richly supplies. Not only that, He goes so far as to "crown" us with lovingkindness and compassion and satisfy us with good things all our years. In essence, He has lifted us from the pit of despair and elevated us to the most exalted position. God is good!

If a "prescription" is needed to cure ingratitude, I recommend Psalm 103. Read as necessary. Apply liberally. Prescription may be refilled as often as needed.

I remember a phrase I often heard a good friend use in prayer several years ago: "Father, I thank You that Your thoughts toward us are thoughts of peace and love." No doubt Psalm 103 served as the basis for this expression in prayer. Make no mistake: God exacts judgment and vengeance on those who reject Him and His plan but, to those who accept and live within His grace, He deals with us in peace and love.

My "gratitude quotient" is greatly expanded when I think of specific ways that God has pardoned, healed, redeemed, crowned, and satisfied me. And my most intense efforts to recall His blessings will have barely scratched the surface. Little wonder that the Psalmist calls out to "Bless the LORD, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name."

May this day be a day of wholehearted thanks and blessing to the God who has blessed us beyond measure.