Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bad things happen to good people. We desperately wish it were otherwise but unfortunately this is a given in a less-than-perfect world. Consider the heart-cry of an innocent man of God:

"Hear a just cause, O LORD, give heed to my cry; Give ear to my prayer, which is not from deceitful lips. Let my judgment come forth from Your presence; Let Your eyes look with equity. You have tried my heart; You have visited me by night; You have tested me and You find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. As for the deeds of men, by the word of Your lips I have kept from the paths of the violent. My steps have held fast to Your paths. My feet have not slipped." (Psalm 17:1-5)

David is not boasting of his own righteousness; he is objectively stating the fact of his spiritual condition all the while that he calls upon his Father for relief from unfair oppression. A good man is suffering a bad experience.

I've endured plenty of "just suffering" - fair punishment for wrong deeds. But I've also undergone seasons of opposition and oppression that seemed undeserved. And, like David, I've sought relief. More often than not, He supplied strength to endure rather than a plan of escape.

We've heard it said that "it's a jungle out there". Living the Christian life in the devil's domain (1 John 5:19) is no walk in the park. We may not face outright opposition as David did, but the unseen enemy will taunt and terrify and do everything possible to destroy us. "Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8).

A recent conversation reminded me again of an important priority for living in a hostile world - don't leave home naked. Make certain that you clothe yourself with necessary spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:13-17) in the face of certain opposition and warfare (Ephesians 6:12).

Bad things will happen to good people, and we are those good people. But, as someone has said, "life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it." As James says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials" (James 1:2). He admonishes us to make it a choice to see the potential for good amidst the bad.

Stand strong today, kingdom citizen, because we have a Father who vindicates the cause of His people and provides daily strength for the battle.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's a recession-proof plan. There has yet to be an economic downturn to affect it, no matter how severe.

"You visit the earth and cause it to overflow; You greatly enrich it; The stream of God is full of water; You prepare their grain, for thus You prepare the earth. You water its furrows abundantly, You settle its ridges, You soften it with showers, You bless its growth. You have crowned the year with Your bounty, And Your paths drip with fatness." (Psalm 65:9-11)

God's abundant provision is a constant in a fickle and changing world. He is immune to budget cuts and supply restrictions. His provision is aptly described with such words as "overflow", "full", "abundantly", "bounty", and "fatness".

Is there even the slightest possibility that the God of abundance would fail to provide for His people? The Psalmist says, "I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread." (Psalm 37:25). God's track record of provision is impeccable. Little wonder then that the Psalmist also refers to our Father as the one to whom "all men come" because "You ... hear prayer" (Psalm 65:2).

When the world's supply gives way people who rarely pray beg for help from the God of provision. But how much better to acknowledge Him and His provision always, in both prosperity and adversity. "How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You To dwell in Your courts." (Psalm 65:4).

Rare is the individual or family not affected by today's economic downturn. Those closely tied to the world's provision are suffering from depression and anxiety, even among the family of God. But those with resolute trust in our Father remain steadfast, testifying that "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD." (Job 1:21). Through thick or thin, we still praise Yahweh, our Father.

Times are tough. The job cut or job loss is draining your meager savings, and the mortgage and/or car payments loom larger than your ability to pay. Retirement income is reduced, and medical bills mount. Making ends meet seems like an elusive goal. And yet "I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread." (Psalm 37:25). Either there is a God who provides or there isn't. And if He exists and does provide, it is in the desperate hours when we are at the end of our trust in the world's provision that we are ready to accept that which He alone can provide.

In an age of anxiety and uncertainty it is comforting beyond words to trust in the One "Who stills ... the tumult of the peoples" (Psalm 65:7). Regardless of circumstances, may the peace that comes through trust refresh your soul this day.


Monday, September 28, 2009

I'll dare say there is at least something weighing on your mind today. It might be a financial concern, family conflict, work deadline, or just the burden of living the Christian life in an imperfect world. But you are not the only one carrying that weighty matter:

"Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation." (Psalm 68:19)

The Creator of the vast universe and all the intricate creation that surrounds us involves Himself with our burdens and concerns on a daily basis. And, like Father, like Son:

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

The burdens you may have thought you were carrying alone are being borne alone by a divine team. Did the weight suddenly seem lighter as that truth soaked in?

"The God who is our salvation" (Psalm 68:19) has bigger things in mind for you and I than the press of the things of this world. If His ultimate plan is for us to rule the world with His Son (Revelation 20:6), then it is totally inconsistent with His plan that the things of this world that we are to rule should conquer us! If His purposes are to succeed then it is imperative that He carry the burdens that threaten to overwhelm us.

The moon has approximately one-seventeenth the gravitational pull that earth exerts on us, a fact attested to by the astronauts of bygone years lightly skipping over the lunar surface in their bulky suits. A different environment made a huge difference with their weight load. And so it is for us with our burdens: conditions are changed as our Father and our Savior take our burdens upon them. A normally weighty burden suddenly weights less, as if it were under the reduced pull of the moon's gravity. Truly, as Jesus says, "My burden is light".

The burden you bear today is not yours alone to bear. It may feel as heavy as a large sofa on your back but realize that there is Someone on the front end and Someone else on the back end lifting and so in reality the burden is merely a shadow above you.

May the load feel lighter today as the true reality lifts its weight.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sometimes trouble just won't go away. Conflict with a co-worker or family member, financial burdens, the darkness of depression, health issues. We relate to the Psalmist as he speaks of walking "through the valley of the shadow of death" (Psalm 23:4).

The great man of God, King David, was well acquainted with times of trouble and darkness. His candid expressions in the Psalms reveal his heart:

"Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; Heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; But You, O LORD-- how long? Return, O LORD, rescue my soul; Save me because of Your lovingkindness. For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? I am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; It has become old because of all my adversaries." (Psalm 6:2-7)

These may sound like the words of a man destined for the psychiatrist's couch, but it truth they are the honest words of a man in the valley who ultimately foresees rejoicing on the mountain (Psalm 6:8-10)

Trite as it may sound the old saying is true: this too shall pass. Life is full of seasons and ultimately each one - the pleasant and the unpleasant - will pass. A long view of the kingdom of God reminds us that ultimately every season of this life will give way to an unending period of indescribable bliss. But we still live this side of the kingdom, and the road to the Kingdom can be treacherous.

The Apostle Paul realistically described our journey to the Kingdom: "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:22). This was the message he shared in "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith" (Acts 14:22). The cruelest message of all is to proclaim that all will always go well for citizens of the kingdom.

Even our sinless Savior is described as a "man of sorrows", yet His humble obedience ultimately results in God highly exalting Him (Philippians 1:9). And such is our hope.

Troubles will come, and sometimes it seems as though they will not go away. But they will. As David confidently asserted, "the Lord HAS heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord HAS heard my supplication, The Lord RECEIVES my prayer. All my enemies WILL BE ashamed and greatly dismayed" (Psalm 6:8-10 - emphasis added).

If today is a season of trouble, hold on and never lose sight of your ultimate victory.

Sometimes the silence is deafening. No matter how hard we try or how fervently we pray, it's as if God either isn't there or isn't listening. It's reassuring at such times to know that we aren't' alone in our experience; the so-called giants of the faith have had similar experiences.

"How long, O Yahweh? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" (Psalm 13:1)

I'm forever indebted to King David for his honesty and transparency. This man after God's own heart made no pretense about his spiritual condition. He struggled with the sense that God had forgotten and forsaken him.

Down through the ages numerous writers have alluded to "the dark night of the soul" - periods of time when God seemed completely absent or deaf. Painful as the experiences were they became exercises in faith and patience. And so it was with David:

"I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me." (Psalm 13:5-6)

The present silence won't last forever. God has actively spoken and intervened in the past and will do so again. This present darkness will give way to rejoicing and singing in the future.

Sometimes all we can do is hold on. It's as if the silence and darkness descend upon us like a great storm and all we can do is ride it out until the skies clear and the sun shines again. But during those times our faith and patience grow unlike at any other time. And perhaps that's God's purpose in the silence; He trusts our maturity and character enough to remain silent even as we long for His voice and touch.

Perhaps the silence is deafening in your life just now. No matter how hard you try, it seems as if God is either absent or deaf. Be assured that He is there and He hears and cares. It is a great compliment to your Christian character that He can trust you with His silence as you patiently hold on in faith. But the silence will not last forever. Your greatest times of communion and intimacy with your Father may be just around the corner.


Monday, September 21, 2009

You can hide a seed in soil but it won't stay hidden for long. The same is true with that which we hide in our hearts.

"Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:11 NKJV)

Jesus' parable of the sower is all about the condition of our hearts, as represented by various kinds of soil: "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart." (Matthew 13:19)

It is a given that something will grow from our hearts; the only question is whether it will be the word of God or our sinful nature. Jesus said, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man." (Mark 7:20-23)

Left to itself, our heart is like an overgrown weed patch. The most natural thing is for our hearts to grow that which is displeasing to God. But, like a flower or vegetable garden, God's word can be planted and cultivated and bear fruit pleasing to him.

The question that begs to be asked is, "How is your garden growing?" Is your heart carefully weeded, the seed of the word of God cultivated and watered? Or is it overrun with sinful weeds?

Using another analogy, our hearts are like computers - "garbage in, garbage out." A God-pleasing "program" cannot run if the commands entered are corrupted. The results are completely consistent with the input.

We are ultimately the sum total of the input into our lives. The greatest delusion of all is to believe that we can sow the things of the world into our hearts and cultivate a spiritual crop. Sooner or later our hearts betray or confirm that which is sown into them.

God's word - ultimately, "the word of the kingdom" (Matthew 13:19) - needs to be liberally sown on a daily basis. It sounds cliché' but it's ultimately true: get in to the word in order for it to get in to you.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The reason for our dispute with you is your support for your ally Israel, occupying our land in Palestine." (Osama bin Laden).

This well-known terrorist summarizes well the never-ending source of conflict and war: land. Ultimately, war is about territory and it is especially so concerning territory in the Middle East.

The promise of land is mentioned no less than five times in Psalm 37:

"For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land (verse 9) ... the humble will inherit the land (verse 11) ... those blessed by Him will inherit the land (verse 22) ... The righteous will inherit the land And dwell in it forever (verse 29) ... Wait for the LORD and keep His way, And He will exalt you to inherit the land" (verse 34)

Contrary to the popular teaching that heaven is the future home of the righteous, God's promise of land is exactly that; the meek WILL inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5; Psalm 37:11).

Psalm 37 contrasts the land-grabbing ways of evildoers with the ultimate promise that God's faithful and patient people will eventually inherit that which the evildoers seize through intrigue and aggression. If we'll wait patiently we'll get it all!

The soundest advice of all, then, is found in verse 8: "Cease from anger and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it leads only to evildoing." We will undoubtedly face injustice, aggression, and oppression today and in the future, but waiting patiently upon the Lord Yahweh will ultimately result in triumph and reward.

It's laughable to consider that an unknown and humble people with little or no business savvy will ultimately be allowed to outwit and outmaneuver the shrewdest land dealers of all time. Truly our Father takes the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27).

Serve faithfully and patiently today, family of God, knowing that God has destined us to inherit that which is desperately fought over by unbelievers.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Famous last words. Some are profound and memorable; other humorous and insignificant, such as Pancho Villa: "Don't let it end like this. Tell them I said something."

While not his last spoken words, they are King David's last written words and they are truly significant:

"Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." (Psalm 72:18-20)

This final recorded prayer reflects the passion of a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). He is concerned about His person, His position, and His purpose. David acknowledges that the Lord God "alone works wonders" - there is no other true and wonder-working God aside of the Creator.

David is concerned for His name - the great I AM, Yahweh, Jehovah. He prayed in the previous verse that His name would endure forever and increase (v.17). Pagan gods were well known by name but the One true God has long been addressed by title rather than His personal name. David, at the end of His life, was concerned that the name of the only true God, Yahweh, be perpetuated and revered.

David was concerned about the purpose of His Father at the end of his life. Desiring that "the whole earth be filled with His glory" indicates that he had a kingdom mindset. He yearned for the absolute reign of God on earth.

David's final prayer closely parallels the great model prayer of Jesus. David, like Jesus, was concerned that the Father's name be hallowed, and that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. These two great purposes are worthy of our passion and pursuit.

Without question David loved the Lord God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. This legacy of love and devotion is a compelling example to us today. This love becomes the fountain of life and the springboard for all that it important. Our deep passion for His person, position and purpose gives rise to a lifestyle of praise and service that will distinguish us as people of God.

May He always be our first love.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? It's an intriguing question designed to take the fear out of failure and open up creative dreaming and planning.

There is one venture we can embark on without even the slightest hint of failure. It will absolutely, positively succeed any time and in any place. There is nothing as certain as this; you can "go to the bank" on it:

"For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Partnering with God to propagate His word is a sure-fire recipe for success. The analogy of the pervading success of snow and rain is given to illustrate the effectiveness of God's word; it simply cannot and will not fail.

Now, before we stake our claim on the absolute effectiveness of God's word let's be very clear as to what it is. It is ultimately "the word of the kingdom", as Jesus identifies it in Matthew 13:19. This good news has been permeating and changing the hearts and lives of men and women for thousands of years even as it is today.

As a preacher of the word I've been witnessing life changes through the word of the kingdom for several years now. The change is as noticeable as the growth of my yard plants at home through faithful watering. Old habits fade away, new disciplines take hold, and attitudes change.

Over ten years ago the Lord clearly and firmly impressed upon me my top priority to "preach the word" (2 Timothy 4:2). The temptation was great to accommodate my message in an effort to attract greater numbers of people to our worship gatherings, but the call was clear then as it is today. "Success", as our Father measures it, is in accordance with what He desires for His word. That "success" may be far different than we envision it. As He said, "It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire" (note the word, "I").

What would you do if you knew you could not fail? The answer is simple: speak or publish His word. There is no more sure formula for "success" than this.
May our partnership with His word be total and thus totally effective.