Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Someone introduced a basic IRS tax from a few years ago. It consisted of two lines: (1) How much did you make?; (2) Send it in.

Sometimes God's Law seems about as complicated as government tax codes. If you've ever spent much time in the Book of Leviticus (believe it or not; I once knew a man who claimed this was his favorite Bible book), you'll know that God is very meticulous and specific in what He requires. But, is the bottom line ritualistic purification procedures, and specific animal and food sacrifices? Apparently not, according to Jesus:

"What commandment is the foremost of all?" Jesus answered, "The foremost is, `HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' "The second is this, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31)

One astute scribe grasped the significance of Jesus' words and elaborated his understanding; to which Jesus replied, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:34) So, apparently we are not far from the Kingdom of God when we understand the priority of wholehearted love for God and our neighbor. And these two great commandments are really one - "There is no other commandment (singular) greater than these." Apparently love for God and love for neighbor are one commandment, inseparably bound.

So, what's not to understand? But, the real rub is actually doing what is so easy to understand.

Love finds avenues for expression. That's the great possibility of worship: if love is the motivation, then a dynamic encounter with our Creator is a very real possibility. A well-rehearsed, finely-tuned worship service is no guarantee of worship if love does not motivate.

Love is difficult to explain, but easy to express. Complicated manuals and procedures are unnecessary in explaining how to love someone; when love is present expression will follow.

Loving the Creator and the creation go hand in hand. Quite frankly, it's easier to love the Creator. Often His creation is more temperamental, and, well; unlovely. But loving the perfect Creation is inseparably linked with loving His imperfect creation.

Love can certainly be a challenge, but the good news is that we are not asked to initiative love; only reciprocate (1 John 4:10). The capacity to love is our God-given birthright.

May deep gratitude and appreciation for your Father be the wellspring of love that expresses itself today in loving acts toward Him and those He has created.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

At this very moment I'm looking out the window at a mountain, but I haven't seen it move yet. I wonder if that's an indictment of my faith?

"Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be taken up and cast into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." (Mark 11:23-25)

Faith can move mountains, and yet, of all the mountains in the world, which one has ever miraculously moved? I'm sure it can easily be confirmed that all remain exactly where they have been since the beginning of time. And so, either no one truly has faith, or Jesus meant something besides the literal moving of mountains.

Following Jesus' great mountain-moving faith statement is, what appears to be, a "blank check" prayer statement: "Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you". But wait; the "signer" of the check is forgiveness: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions". Unless forgiveness signs, we can't cash the check. And there, I believe, is the great mountain that Jesus talks about: unforgiveness.

Where I live there is a scenic and popular mountain that stands in the ideal location for a freeway bypass. Much debate has ensued for several years as to the best plan for a route around the mountain with minimal disruption of nearby residential areas. Obviously the best solution would be the removal of the mountain, but that plan is apparently not under serious consideration.

Issues of forgiveness are just as insurmountable. Disagreements lead to relationship impasses that stretch over months and years. What began as a molehill has grown into a vast, immovable mountain. Tempers flared. Communication became strained; now it is nonexistent. Meaningful relationships are separated by the mountain of unforgiveness.

Effectiveness in prayer is directly tied to issues of forgiveness. Few things are more difficult, or important, than maintaining healthy relationships. Relationships have a bearing both on prayer and worship (Matthew 5:23-24).

Have your prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling lately? Does it seem that God is hidden from view behind a huge mountain? If so, unforgiveness is likely the culprit.

How are things with your marriage partner? Your parents? Coworkers? Brothers and sisters in Christ? If all is not well there, then all is not well in the prayer closet.

I love the view of the mountains that surround me where I live, but they also stand as object lessons for something less beautiful: unforgiveness. So, I'm enjoying the physical view of the mountains, but seeking the flat plains spiritually.

May your spiritual view be totally unobstructed today.


Monday, February 22, 2010

What the blind man saw was amazing. Confusing as that statement may sound, this one is even more confusing: he saw before he saw. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves; let's go back to the story first:

"Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46-47)

A blind man who had never seen anything, including Jesus, had amazing insight in to who He really is - the "Son of David". Addressing Him with this phrase indicates that he knows full well that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised Son of God, descendant of David. And yet, I wonder, what was the basis for his conclusion? He obviously had never seen him perform any miracles. He had never gazed into Jesus' eyes, searching them for this answer. No, apparently the blind man had concluded that Jesus was the Son of God on the basis of hearing alone. And through hearing he came to truly see.

It is through hearing that we receive sight: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17). Hearing and receiving the word leads to faith, which is true sight. It was faith which ultimately led to sight for the blind man: "your faith has made you well." (Mark 10:52).

The old saying goes, "seeing is believing", but in this story - and ultimately in the spiritual realm - "believing is seeing". Until we hear and receive we will never truly see.

Blind Bartimaeus believed that the touch of Jesus would restore his sight. He saw what many others - especially the religious leaders - never did see. He saw Jesus through eyes of faith before he ever saw with his own eyes. So we might say, he saw before he saw. But what he saw in faith opened up new vistas that he could scarcely imagine. Imagine someone seeing the sky, trees, water, birds, and people for the very first time! Hours, days, weeks, and longer could be devoted to taking in these new sights. But notice Bartimaeus: "he regained his sight and began following Him on the road." (Mark 10:52). This man of unswerving insight, rather than pausing to drink in the miracle of new sight, instead followed the object of his true sight, Jesus.

What new vistas has Jesus revealed to you? Through faith in Him, what sight has He given you? Rejoice in the wonderment of what you see, but, like Bartimaeus, let that sight and insight guide you in following Him more closely and zealously.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sometimes the obvious isn't. Things that should be readily apparent and clear are anything but. For example, the "check engine" light on your car - it really means that. Some people casually glance at the little light on their instrument panel and keep on driving until their engine is reduced to scrap metal. Many a mechanic would shake his head and say to his undiscerning client, "Didn't you see? Didn't you get it?"

There were numerous I-don't-get-it-moments with Jesus' disciples, but perhaps the most poignant is found in Mark eight. They had just witnessed the second miraculous feeding of a large crowd. The crowd has been dispatched to their homes, the cleanup detail is collecting litter from the hillside, and the disciples are enjoying a peaceful meal of dinner leftovers. And then they set sail across the lake; except that they've forgotten to bring any of the big dinner leftovers. Peter complains to John; Andrew says it is James' fault; Judas takes up a collection to buy some food when they come ashore (OK; maybe it didn't happen quite that way).

"Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? HAVING EYES, DO YOU NOT SEE ? AND HAVING EARS, DO YOU NOT HEAR? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?" They said to Him, "Twelve." When I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?" And they said to Him, "Seven." And He was saying to them, "Do you not yet understand?" (Mark 8:17-21)

So many probing questions. Had they not seen that twelve baskets represented His supply for each of them, and for the twelve tribes of Israel? Had they not seen the mark of God in the miracle of seven surplus baskets? Did they not recognize that the Bread of Life was with them in the boat?

Later in Mark eight a blind mind is the recipient of the only recorded "two-step" miracle in Jesus' ministry. He is asked, "Do you see anything ?" (Mark 8:23).

The last part of Mark eight contains the account of Jesus asking His disciples, "who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29)

Don't you see? It's all about sight - insight - into the person and power of Jesus.

After his partial healing, the blind man "looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly." (Mark 8:25).

A songwriter summarized it well with these words: "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace."

Miracles and clarity unfold as we look fully into the face of our Savior today.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I'm on a sodium rant these days, after reading an article about how excessive amounts of sodium are being added to nearly every food item we buy. While a little sodium adds flavor, the mega doses we internalize contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a myriad of other health problems.

But sodium isn't the real culprit. In fact, nothing that we eat is. Truth is, what we say is far more dangerous than what we eat.

"there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man ... 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 7:15,20-23)

It is said that we are what you eat (although I've never exactly understood that statement), but we ultimately are what we say. External issues, such as dietary practices and ceremonial cleansings - major issues for "religious people" - have no direct bearing on spiritual well-being. The heart - the seat of our emotions, thoughts, and reasoning - is the true center of our spiritual condition. As Jesus said, it is there that we harbor evil thoughts, or nurture virtuous ones. Little wonder that we are encouraged to focus our minds on "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise" (Philippians 4:8).

The true reality is that "as he thinks within himself, so he is." (Proverbs 23:7). We are what we think. And what we think gives rise to actions, the "litmus test" of our hearts (Matthew 7:20).

Sodium has a bearing on heart health, but what we ponder in our hearts and minds has a greater bearing. It is wise to focus on healthy lifestyle issues such as food and exercise, but wiser still to focus on issues that determine whether we will be in the coming kingdom.

I'm still ticked off at what the food industry is doing to us with excessive sodium, but I'm far more alarmed by thoughts in my heart that are inconsistent with my Father and His nature. "Father, cleanse my heart of defiling evil, and empower me through Your Holy Spirit to dedicate myself to internalizing that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, excellent, and praiseworthy. In Jesus' name. Amen."


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vacation plans gone awry rank high on the scale of stress and disappointment. Meticulous planning and expense go in to a long-anticipated, much-needed reprieve from daily pressures and routine. And the more investment of time and money, the greater the disappointment if these precious plans need to be modified or cancelled.

Few people knew stress and pressure like Jesus as He walked the earth. The three and a half years of His earthly ministry was characterized by the constant press of desperate people seeking healing and help. At one point His family came to "take custody of Him" (Mark 3:21) because of their perception of what appeared to be an out-of-control situation.

Sensitive to the pressure of this lifestyle on His disciples, Jesus invited them on a vacation get-away:

"Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)" (Mark 6:31).

Unfortunately, the vacations plans became public knowledge, and the very crowds they sought to escape arrived ahead of them at the location of their vacation outing. But, rather than expressing frustration, disappointment, and anger, Jesus responded as few of us likely would have:

"When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things" (Mark 6:34)

Rather than resenting the persistent crowd, Jesus was compassionately moved for these directionless people, and instructed them further with life-changing words.

We have a Savior Whose compassion never allows Him to take a leave of absence from us. He is keenly sensitive to our need for direction and instruction, and is unrelenting in this role even today as He sits at the right hand of His Father and intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:34).

According to His pattern, we are also encouraged to be compassionate and instructive to those who look to us for help and direction. And again notice that important connection between compassion and instruction: true compassion directs us to instruct others with life-changing teaching. Helping in other ways is compassionate but, according to the pattern of Jesus, instruction is they key response to compassion.

Opportunities for service and compassion rarely come at "convenient" times. Anticipate the inconvenient as you trust the Lord for opportunities to serve and help today.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

If the choice was between the apparent and the important, a decision could more easily be made. Problem is, things are not always that clear in the decision-making process. That which we see seems important, and that which is hidden can seem unimportant, but quite often just the opposite is true. Case in point: which is more important - physical healing or forgiveness of sin? The answer seems obvious when clearly seen in these terms.

A story is recorded in Mark two of a paralyzed man being lowered into a crowded house through a hole made in the roof (Mark 2:1-13). No doubt the commotion made by this act would command the attention of all present in the room below, and it certainly caught the attention of the One who was the center of attention. His response was: "Son, your sins are forgiven." (Mark 2:5).

Now, anyone present could clearly see that the obvious need this man had was for physical healing. Why would his faithful friends go to all the trouble of chopping a hole in the roof of someone's house (who's going to pay for the repair?) just to have Jesus pronounce forgiveness of sins? Anyone could clearly see the obvious need.

This seemingly-blasphemous pronouncement by Jesus stirred indignation in the hearts of the religious leaders present in the house. With perfect insight into the thoughts of these men as well as the true condition of the paralytic man, Jesus stated:

"Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven '; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet 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, pick up your pallet and go home." And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this." (Mark 4:8-12)

The question as to which was more important - forgiveness of sins or physical healing - became a moot point in the face of the One who had authority in both realms. His pronouncement concerning the important was validated through His healing of the obvious.

That which we think we need from the Savior may seem obvious to us, but that which is truly important is abundantly obvious to Him. And we need His insight to tell the difference.

Prayer lists are often filled with requests for physical healing, but do these sometimes take precedent over important spiritual needs? I suspect that they do.

Rather than depending upon your own sight and insight, approach your Savior today with your burdens and concerns and ask that His insight reveal the deepest needs in your life that He is both willing and able to meet.


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

What's your idea of a good way to unwind after a busy day? Watch some TV? Listen to music? Read a good book? A hot bath? How about an early morning prayer vigil? (Yes, you read that right). This might not be the first idea that would come to mind, but it's worth considering.

"In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." (Mark 1:35)

It is significant in itself that Jesus chose to rise early and retreat to a secluded area for communion with His Father in prayer, but this action takes on even greater significance when we consider the previous day's activities.

It was a Sabbath,and Jesus began the day by teaching in a synagogue (Mark 1:21). While He was there He healed a man, which attracted considerable attention. From there, He and His disciples retreated to the home of two of His disciples, where Jesus healed Peter's sick mother-in-law. When evening came, as bedtime approached, a large crowd gathered at the home bringing many sick people to be healed.

Following these hectic and exhausting activities, we read of Jesus' decision to rise early for focused prayer. Fully entitled to a good night's sleep, He chose instead an early-morning prayer retreat, which brought redirection to His work. The next morning He announced, "Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for." (Mark 1:38).

Few passages reveal the heart and priority of Jesus as does this one in Mark 1. Amidst meaningful activity and popularity, He did not allow His main purpose of declaring and demonstrating the message of the Kingdom of God to the cities throughout Israel to be jeopardized. Retreating in prayer at a time when sleep was most appealing, He regained focus and energy.

Prayer is often the first response in times of crisis and need, but it most often loses urgency and priority in times of ease and well-being. And yet, these are the times when the priority is greatest. Spiritual seeds of destruction are often sown amidst success.

Perhaps you are overdue for some extended time in secluded prayer with your Father. Such times are the only guarantee that we find and rediscover our true focus and purpose, and remain faithful.

This is an appointment important enough to schedule.


Monday, February 08, 2010

All that glitters is not gold, although in this case it was. The brilliant reflection of the sun off of the precious metal image may have illuminated its surroundings, but there was a pervading darkness amidst it all that was cause for great concern.

The trouble began with a delay. Things took longer than it seemed they should have, so the popular opinion was that is was time to take things into their own hands.

"When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." (Exodus 32:1)

In short order, a finely-crafted golden calf was created, a new object of worship made from pilfered Egyptian gold. A lewd party follows the inaugural worship celebration, stirring the wrath of God and the hasty return of an angry Moses. What follows is punishment, death, and destruction. All because of misunderstanding the delay of God in His dealings with His people.

Is this not where trouble often begins in our own lives? The delays of God are misinterpreted as denials, and idolatrous, self-directed decisions are made. We want a swift and decisive vending-machine God, and anything less fuels a desire to create a god in our own image. We're far too sophisticated to create anything so crude as a golden calf, but our impulsive and misguided choices share the same footing with Aaron's golden masterpiece.

God's delays are His design, intended to produce faith and patience - qualities more essential than the intended goal of our pursuit. Our restless efforts in creating our personal golden calves effectively thwart His greater purpose in His delays.

Are there specific areas in your life where God's delays seem agonizingly slow? Remember that His priority is the process, whereas ours is often the goal. His focus is on the development of character; ours is a specific objective that we seek.

God's delays must never divert us to selfish idolatry, but rather to faith and dependency. "Wait for the LORD ; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD" (Psalm 27:14)


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

It was darkness so thick it could be felt; darkness so deep that it literally swallowed light. Difficult as that deep, dark night was, it lasted on until the day, and for two more days and nights as well.

"Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even a darkness which may be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the sons of Israel had light in their dwellings. " (Exodus 10:21-23)

The next-to-the-last plague unleashed on Egypt because of a hard-hearted ruler is a fitting picture of the reality of this present age. This present evil age is enveloped in thick, pervading, darkness so strong that it can be felt. But, like the Israelites in Egypt, there is light in the dwellings of God's people; there is divine brightness with the children of light.

One of the great plagues listed in the book of Revelation parallels this Egyptian plague: "Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom became darkened; and they gnawed their tongues because of pain, and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they did not repent of their deeds." (Revelation 16:10-11). Great darkness encroaches upon an evil world as the end of time approaches.

"But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation." (1 Thessalonians 5:4-8)

Light shines brightest amidst the greatest darkness. As the curtain begins to fall on this present age, and as the darkness of evil and sin increases, the people of God, illuminated by the truth of God, shine brightly as beacons of hope.

We are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14). May the integrity of our lives and the intense brightness of our hope pierce the darkness and guide those lost in darkness to the brilliance of the King and the coming Kingdom.


Tuesday, February 02, 2010

He found God at the job site. That's the last place most people would expect God to appear, but it happened one life-changing day. He was busy with the mundane routine that characterized his daily life, when IT happened; that extraordinary breakthrough that literally changed everything.

"Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up." (Exodus 3:1-2)

In an instant, Moses' life was dramatically transformed from shepherd of sheep to shepherd of the people of God though a miraculous encounter with the Eternal One. But, this future mighty man of God was anything but ready at the moment of his divine encounter. After all, who was around to witness and verify the heavenly revelation? How could anyone be certain that it wasn't just the creative imagination of someone too long in the sun with only a herd of sheep for company and conversation?

Moses' initial question was entirely logical: "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" (Exodus 3:13). Specific information was necessary if the learned Jewish men were to be convinced of the validity of Moses' encounter and call.

God's answer was critically important then as now: "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.' " (Exodus 3:14). The great I AM, Yahweh, creator of all and Lord of all, was the God who had revealed Himself to Moses. The ancient memorial name of the One True God would be recognized and revered by those whose heritage stemmed from Abraham, the man of faith who knew and called upon the God whose name is Yahweh.

It might not be reasonable to expect a burning bush to appear at your job site today, but an encounter with the God whose name is Yahweh is not unexpected. It's just like Him to appear in the most unlikely places, such as your school, workplace, home, sick bed, gym, and automobile, and transform those ordinary places into something extraordinary.

I pray that this be the day of a dramatic encounter.


Monday, February 01, 2010

We've been given a cloning mandate. In case you don't know what cloning is, it is the scientific process of producing genetically identical individuals. Now, if you think that cloning is far beyond your limited scientific abilities, consider these words:

"And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

The call to make disciples can be considered "spiritual cloning" - producing identical spiritual individuals - and the scope of this mandate sounds overwhelming, to say the least. Our disciple-making efforts encompass "all the nations", and involve "teaching them to observe all that I commanded you". Both aspects of this mandate would seem utterly overwhelming if it weren't for two important qualifiers - "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth", and, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age". His mandate carries His full, God-given authority, and is supported by His constant, enduring presence.

To "clone", or make disciples, implies that we are disciples. From Jesus' words we can deduce that a disciple is: (1) one committed to following Jesus; (2) one who has been baptized; (3) one who is committed to learning and practicing all the teachings of Jesus; and, (4) one who is reliant on His authority and presence. These essential qualities must be characteristic of our lives as we seek to replicate, or "clone" them, into the lives of others.

Challenging as Jesus' Great Commission is, it is not an optional priority. Fortunately, it is not as overwhelming as it might sound either. It's like the old adage about how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time. Making disciples, in the most basic sense, involves: (a) becoming one; and, (b) finding one person to disciple.

If we view the entire magnitude and scope of the task we'll be overwhelmed, but if we reduce it to one step of being and making a disciple today, it will be far more manageable. In fact, viewing it as a daily process instead an overwhelming task is perfectly consistent with what Jesus had in mind anyway.

Seeking to make the process my priority today,