Monday, June 29, 2009

They sound like fitting words for our times:

"For the day of the LORD draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head." (Obadiah 15)

We live in unprecedented times.Turmoil among the nations of the world has never been greater, and vehement threats against the Israeli nation are at fever pitch. Tremendous pressure is brought to bear against this tiny nation to give up territory presumed to belong to non-Jewish peoples. Yet any territory given up in the near future is destined to be temporary at best. Obadiah's words read like tomorrow's headlines:

"Then those of the Negev will possess the mountain of Esau, And those of the Shephelah the Philistine plain; Also, possess the territory of Ephraim and the territory of Samaria, And Benjamin will possess Gilead. And the exiles of this host of the sons of Israel, Who are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath, And the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad Will possess the cities of the Negev. The deliverers will ascend Mount Zion To judge the mountain of Esau, And the kingdom will be the LORD'S." (Obadiah 19-21)

The modern-day conflict, as it has always been, is all about territory. Numerous peoples feel it to be their right to possess real estate in the Middle East inhabited by others. But one thing is certain: the Israeli nation is destined for astounding expansion. Now, lest we feel threatened by this Zionist movement, we do well to remember that by faith we each are a part of it.

"if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:29)

The amazing triumph of the Jewish nation is our triumph as well. It is ultimately not about race but grace. People of faith are fully adopted into the lineage of promise through Christ, the descendant of Abraham. As such we have a rightful claim to the land of the Middle East, destined to be the headquarters of the Kingdom of God.

Diplomats are actively seeking a brilliant solution to the centuries-old conflict in the Middle East. Unfortunately, a charismatic political figure will arise to offer a solution that will result in worldwide domination and unprecedented bloodshed. But our hope lies beyond that intense tumultuous time. As Obadiah was inspired to promise, "And the kingdom will be the LORD'S."

With an eye on today's news and our other eye on God's word, we are in an opportune position to live hopefully and to share freely of the greatest good news concerning the Kingdom of God. Don't let today's disturbing news of military aggression or political upheaval deter you from the resolute fact that "the kingdom will be the LORD'S."

As those who know the true outcome of today's events, let's live triumphantly.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Better to be faithful than popular. That's much easier said when it's popular to be faithful.

The prophet Jeremiah seemed to give little thought to the cost of unpopularity when faithfully speaking the word of the Lord. If there were opinion polls in his day they would no doubt have reflected very unfavorably on him. Speaking the word of the Lord was nothing less than a public relations disaster, which ultimately culminated in an ugly confrontation with the king.

"the officials said to the king, "Now let this man be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people, by speaking such words to them; for this man is not seeking the well-being of this people but rather their harm." So King Zedekiah said, "Behold, he is in your hands; for the king can do nothing against you." Then they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchijah the king's son, which was in the court of the guardhouse; and they let Jeremiah down with ropes. Now in the cistern there was no water but only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud." (Jeremiah 38:4-6)

The ridicule many of us have faced for faithfully sharing the word of the Lord is nothing compared to the harsh treatment that Jeremiah faced. Being God's faithful spokesman mattered more than popularity or comfort.

I'm humbled by the example of such men. The word of the Lord concerning the place of future reward, the nature of death, and the nature of God and His Son Jesus is hardly popular and is all too easy to be silent or subtle about. The risk of popularity and ridicule easily overrides the call to faithfully share God's truth.

The greatest commandments to wholeheartedly love the Lord our God and our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40) is the overriding factor that offsets the risk of popularity or comfort. Love for God and His truth and our fellow man are the forces that overcome complacency.

I'm no Jeremiah, but he is a hero and model. I want to love the Lord and His truth and faithfully share regardless of its popularity. I want to be faithful to do as Paul instructed Timothy; to "preach the word; be ready in season (when it is convenient) and out of season (when it is not convenient)." (2 Timothy 4:2).

God and His word meant so much to Jeremiah that to refuse to share it was to have a fire burn within that could not be contained (Jeremiah 20:9).

May His word be a burning fire within each of us today - and always.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

If you're headed in to the woods, be sure to tie something to some trees so you'll find your way back out. That's the conventional wisdom to prevent getting lost. It makes good sense spiritually as well.

"Set up for yourself roadmarks, Place for yourself guideposts; Direct your mind to the highway, The way by which you went. " (Jeremiah 31:21)

It's all too easy to forget where we are going or where we have come from. We begin the Christian life with high ideals and aspirations but we can easily turn to the path of compromise and accommodation. Without realizing it, we can be headed in the wrong direction away from our faith and convictions.

I'm reminded that people of faith recorded in the Old Testament often built altars and landmarks to remind them of significant spiritual events. Joshua and the Israelites built two twelve-stone altars as they crossed into the promised land (Joshua 4). Jacob built an altar in a place called Bethel after a nighttime encounter with God (Genesis 28). They knew that they needed to be reminded of these significant events along the highway of the adventure of faith with the One True God.

We need similar reminders in our journey of faith. My home church in rural Indiana will always serve as a spiritual altar. It was there that I learned the great truths of the Bible and first sensed the presence of the Father and His Son, Jesus. An old schoolhouse in Ohio will always be another altar because of a spiritual experience there.

If we don't mark the significant spiritual events in our lives we are in danger of venturing down a path that can lead to spiritual ruin. By regularly remembering and even revisiting those significant places and times we can better gauge our spiritual progress.

This day offers an excellent opportunity to mentally return to our spiritual roadmarks and guideposts. Is the road you are traveling today near or far from these significant events? Are you still on the road to the Kingdom or have you taken a dangerous detour? The roadmarks and guideposts are the truest indicators.

May this be a significant day of directing and redirecting.


Monday, June 22, 2009

You are what you eat. If that literally means we're the sum total of all the food we eat that can be a little disturbing. But in a general sense it really is true - good health results from healthy eating and vice versa. And the same goes for us spiritually.

"Your words were found and I ate them, And Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; For I have been called by Your name, O Yahweh God of hosts." (Jeremiah 15:16)

We crave what we eat. That's the danger of an unhealthy diet and the blessing of a healthy one. And again there is a spiritual parallel. If the "food" we serve our mind is an unhealthy diet of the world's fares we develop an insatiable appetite for this junk food, but if we feast on the richness of God's word we develop a craving for it - "Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart". We are what we eat.

Perhaps the greatest challenge every believer faces is getting in to the word of God on a regular basis. I've met many ambitious saints with the goal of reading through the Bible in a year who never quite seemed to get started with the first chapter. They thought they had a spiritual steak dinner appetite when in reality they were at a baby formula stage.

Newborn babies require a different diet than mature adults. No responsible parent force-feeds a steak to a toothless infant a few weeks old. There are levels of nutritional needs for the various stages of human development, as there are for spiritual development.

Better to read a chapter from the Bible a day and receive basic nutrition than to become discouraged and quit reading altogether while attempting to read 10 chapters a day. An appetite for milk will eventually lead to an appetite for steak.

God's word can only become "a joy and the delight of my heart" when we spend time in it and develop an appetite for it. By disciplining ourselves to regularly read and feed on the word we find that God's word becomes its own reward.

An appetite for God's word gives us the ability to "extract the precious from the worthless" (Jeremiah 15:19), a much-needed quality in life. Getting in to His word allows it to get in to us and direct us toward that which is truly precious and priceless from the perspective of God's kingdom.

May you enjoy a rich feast in God's word today.


Monday, June 15, 2009

"We're in deep. The odds are stacked against us. Defeat is all but certain. But let's be optimistic." These are either the ravings of a mad man or someone of incredible faith.

"Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed because of the king of Assyria nor because of all the horde that is with him; for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles." And the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah." (2 Chronicles 32:7-8)

Call it the audacity of faith and hope. No man and no country had thus far escaped the shock and awe military campaigns of mighty King Sennacharib. And now they stood outside the Jerusalem walls menacingly taunting both the king and the God of Israel and Judah. With "the horde that is with him" in full view, Hezekiah declared that "the one with us is greater than the one with him". Is he nuts? The full military might of the mightiest army of the world is outside the gates and "the people relied on the words of Hezekiah king of Judah." Outrageous as his words sounded, they were credible to his listening subjects. His faith and hope was theirs as well.

"King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed about this and cried out to heaven. And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword." (2 Chronicles 32:20-21)

Resolute faith and fervent prayer literally saved the day. The One True God fought the battle and secured the victory. The world's mightiest leader returned home in defeat to face death at the hands of his own family.

Such stories seem almost like fiction to many of us today. David and Goliath battles seem rare and relegated to another era of mighty miracles. Or are they? Is the almost-impossible victory over cancer through faith and prayer by a child of God any less a miracle? Is the miraculous provision of daily need for the family devastated by job loss not on par with the defeat of Sennacharib's army?

The One greater than the mightiest army of the day then is the One Who is with us today. The vast might and resources of the realm of the Kingdom of God are as much at our disposal as they were to Hezekiah. It is all for us to resolutely believe and fervently pray for.

There are battles for each of us to face today. A marriage crisis. A parenting impasse. Diminishing finances. Emotional battles. Sharp conflict. They loom as large as a mighty army. But a man of faith and prayer facing a literal battle with a massive army offers us this hope for our battles today: "Be strong and courageous, do not fear or be dismayed ... for the one with us is greater than the one with him. With him is only an arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles."

The victory is ours through Him.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Problems or possibilities. Do you expend most of your emotional energy trying to fix problems or cultivating possibilities?

A wise and godly king named Hezekiah focused on cultivating possibilities rather than fixating on problems. He sought to guide a sinful nation back to obedience to the One true God. Specifically, he called for a national observance of the important Passover feast, with less-than-enthusiastic response:

"the couriers passed from city to city through the country of Ephraim and Manasseh, and as far as Zebulun, but they laughed them to scorn and mocked them. Nevertheless some men of Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem." (2 Chronicles 30:10-11)

Now a king has plenty of powerful options as his disposal. An executive order could have been issued for the Israeli military to level the towns and territory of those who scorned his invitation. Or mass executions could have been held to rid the land of the unrighteous. Instead, we see the true character of this godly king in this insightful verse:

"Then Hezekiah spoke encouragingly to all the Levites who showed good insight in the things of the LORD. So they ate for the appointed seven days, sacrificing peace offerings and giving thanks to the LORD God of their fathers." (2 Chronicles 30:22)

Hezekiah could have focused on the negative problem of the spiritual apathy of the majority, but instead cultivated the godly initiative and insight of a few leaders. What an outstanding example and lesson! Do we choose to bemoan the woes of the majority or cultivate the godly initiative of the few?

Hezekiah's example is the pattern of Jesus our Lord. The majority were apathetic at best and hostile at worse during His earthly ministry. But there were the few - eleven - who exhibited promise and it was these that He invested in. And you know the rest of the story - these few were the instruments of a revolution that continues to rock the world even today.

George Bernard Shaw is credited with saying, "Some men see things as they are and say why - I dream things that never were and say why not." We face the same choice as Hezekiah - we can bemoan present circumstances and ask, "Why?" Or we can see the godly possibilities and encourage their initiative.

The Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed. Amidst a world of evil lies a tiny seed of great potential. We can either focus on the evil field or the tiny seed hidden in the field that is destined to grow and eventually fill the entire world. I choose the seed. There is far more joy and fulfillment in encouraging the Kingdom seed around me than in lamenting the evils of this present evil age.

Where will you focus your energies today?


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Great expectations. We all have them. We expect to be treated honestly and fairly by others. We expect agreed-upon wages from our employers. We expect job performance from employees. We expect our spouse to be faithful to us.

He has great expectations too. Problem is they seem far too detailed, unwavering, and impossible to meet. How can unholy people ever live up to the expectations of a holy God?

A prophet named Micah penned these inspired expectations:

"He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)

The "big three" that God expects fit squarely within "the big two" that Jesus explained:

" '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)

Doing justice and loving kindness are expressions of our love for our neighbor as ourselves. Walking humbly with our God results from wholehearted love for Him. And doing each of these is not so much a duty to be performed as a witness to be shared. If the kingdom to come will be characterized by perfect justice, genuine love and kindness for all as well as an unhindered relationship with our Creator, then acting and living now according to those standards is a powerful demonstration of tomorrow's reality today.

God's expectations are profoundly simple yet radically life-altering. They cannot be met except through a total transformation of mind and attitude. The sacrifice and active work of Jesus is the sole means of that essential transformation and renewal of mind (Romans 12:1-2).

God's expectations cannot be met by our own resolve or in our own strength but solely through the act of surrender, "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13).

May His transforming power guide you into the lifestyle today that pleases Him and demonstrates the reality of His coming kingdom in a compelling way for others.

The war was won with a song. Sounds like an unlikely scenario, doesn't it? Imagine a great nation today abandoning tanks and missiles for flutes and drums. Hardly a winning strategy. Yet this was the very plan used by King Jehoshaphat of Judah:

"When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the LORD and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting." When they began singing and praising, the LORD set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed." (2 Chronicles 20:21-22)

The victory was won when the people focused on praise and worship. But this was no casual sing-and-raise-your-hands-in-praise worship. Notice: "Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of Judah to seek the LORD ... All Judah was standing before the LORD, with their infants, their wives and their children." (vss.3,4,20)

There was urgency and singleness of heart in what they did. Fasting and hungering for the One true God was foremost with all the people. A consecrated people came to seek the Lord - and His victory - through wholehearted worship.

I'm wondering what battles we face today. Are we seeking to wage war with force and conventional weapons, or through wholehearted worship? Do we fight with tanks or thanks?

There is no greater army than the people of God worshipping in spirit and truth (John 4:24). In the face of genuine worship the enemy is defeated and the kingdom of God is advanced. And perhaps that is why worship is often a battle. The battle lines are sometimes drawn over traditional or contemporary music; clapping or non-clapping; raised hands or bowed heads.

Satan-defeating worship isn't about form; it's about function, namely the function of the heart. Sincere worshippers gathered to sing "Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting", whether to a contemporary tune or a traditional hymn, please the heart of God and move Him to secure the victory.

Worship isn't so much about place and time as it is lifestyle. What happens on Sunday, Wednesday or whenever the people of God meet is only as effective as what has happened in individual lives the other days of the week. Group worship is the overflow of personal worship.

There are battles to face today. Worship wins the war. Citizens of the Kingdom of God, focused on training and preparing for the Age to Come, worship rather than worry.

Sing out your song of praise today. He will carry the battle regardless of whether you can carry a tune. If it's the song of your heart for the God of the ages then it's sung in perfect harmony.

Sing out, saints!


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It's easy to lose sight of the basics. Just because it's easy to understand doesn't mean it isn't important, or easy to practice.

Few Bible passages are as well known as 1 Corinthians 13, but I wonder how well we REALLY know this passage? Reading and understanding it doesn't require our best exegetical effort but putting it in to practice ... well, that's another matter.

The gifts of language, prophecy, knowledge, faith, mercy and martyrdom are pointless and profitless without the compassionate work of love (vss.1-3). Love alone provides motive to guide these areas of service into something sacrificial rather than self-serving.

Nothing is more basic, or revealing, than the description of real love:

"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Love's description removes all pretense. Personal views and practices of love are cross-examined in the highest court according to the truest standard. All illusion is dispelled by the unwavering questioning of true love: Is it patient? kind? free of jealousy, boasting and arrogance? Is it self-seeking? Easy provoked? Unforgiving and unforgetting?

Love is the determining factor in truth and knowledge. Zeal for truth and passion for knowledge are undone through the absence of love, but are vindicated by its active presence. Love is the crown jewel of a true believer - "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35).

Nothing is more basic or essential than love. Love unites when differences separate. It stands resolute for truth and principle while at the same time taking a reconciling stance and position. It is the glue that unites fragmented believers into a seamless body that compels the world to notice and believe (John 17:20-21). Love extends the gospel to the lost even when the lost choose the darkness of hatred. Love qualifies truth and character.

Love isn't all we need but it is what we need over all.

"But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)

It gets bad but it gets better. That's the general message of Bible prophecy, and 2 Thessalonians 2 is no exception. There will be a falling away from the true faith (v.3), and a "man of lawlessness" will arise on the world scene (vss.3-4). Marginal believers will be subject to deception "because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved." (v.10 - notice, "love of the truth", not "familiarity with" - a big difference).

So what's a believer to do? Whether these are truly the end times are just the challenging times that believers of every generation face, the admonition is still the same: "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." (v.15)

Hold your ground. Don't give an inch to the tide of declining values and morals. Stand strong for the tradition of Scripture received from Paul, Jesus, and other Scripture writers. "Lash yourself to the mast" in the face of the anti-Christian storms that society throws our way.

The older I get the more convinced I am that there is not the slightest chance of spiritual vitality without some form of authentic Christian fellowship. I'm not talking about a "paste-on-a-fake-smile-just-before-entering-the-door" kind of fellowship, but rather an authentic gathering where the Bible is taken seriously as well as the real life issues that we all face. In short, a genuine and unshakeable Bible-based, reality-based fellowship.

Every believer will find that their spiritual climb and decline tracks parallel to their Christian fellowship involvement. And when end-time pressures mount to compromise and fall away from the faith the admonition to "not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but ... encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:25) speaks with greater urgency.

Struggling with personal issues in isolation such as the temptation to marital infidelity, ethics compromises in the workplace, and involvement with violent or immoral entertainment is a recipe for spiritual disaster. Authentic Christian fellowship and accountability is the only safeguard.

The presence of our Lord Jesus is manifested where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). The smallest collective gathering of believers is basis for these rich promises and assurances:

"Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

May you find strength, encouragement and resolve to stand firm in the midst of genuine Christian fellowship today.