Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A "chance" encounter with a person of faith prefaces today's thoughts. A conversation with this young man struggling with the dissolution of his marriage and the challenges of raising two young children as a single parent brought truth into focus with new excitement and clarity. The conversation turned to our preparation to rule the world with Christ at His return, and the purpose and meaning this brings to daily existence. The effect of this perspective was evident with this young man, who was eager to hear more and was obviously reframing his life situation with this truth. The power of God's truth was immediately apparent in its effect.

Sharing with this young man, I found myself gravitating toward a great truth spoken by the apostle Paul: "strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). These words fell on the fertile soil of a struggling person of faith who eagerly desires to persevere, and who knows full well the "tribulations" along the path to the kingdom.

It's been said that anyone can endure the "what" of their lives so long as there is a clear "why". The "why" is the purpose and direction of life and, for the believer, it is preparing to rule the world with Christ at His return. That's it; period. All of life is about making us fit for the kingdom, and developing good stewardship so as to be a wise government ruler under the leadership of Christ. This is the end result, and everything else is the process to get us there. And this "why" gives purpose and perspective to the "what" of our daily existence. Aside of this "why", life will be nothing more than a bewildering array of triumphs and tragedies.

The cynic's bumper sticker reads, "life is hard, and then you die". The true perspective is that life IS hard as you journey toward the kingdom, and then you die, but eventually you are raised to new life to rule the world with Christ. To lose sight of that perspective is to lose sight of all that truly matters.

The young man walked away from our conversation with the same trials and tribulations of life, but the load seemed noticeably lighter as he pondered this new perspective for his life. It was a joy to strengthen the soul of this disciple by encouraging him to be steadfast in faith through the tribulations on the path to the kingdom. May you find the same strength and encouragement today.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Most of us live in a culture that knows little of hunger, and that's both a blessing and a curse. Nutritious food is essential to good physical health, but it can easily be detrimental to spiritual health.

"He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Moses reminded the children of Israel that the humbling of hunger pangs and the divine provision of manna for food was for the express purpose of teaching them that true life is found in God's word rather than natural food. The most poignant example of this great truth is Jesus rebuking the devil's temptation to turn rocks into bread after forty days of fasting Matthew 4:4). No one needed natural food more than Jesus did on this occasion, but His six-weeks experience with fasting had taught Him well this truth about the true nourishment of God's words.

Fasting from food is an important discipline, but no guarantee of a true spiritual appetite. The religious leaders of Jesus' day were known to fast twice a week (Luke 18:12), but this discipline did little to prevent them from rejecting their Messiah. The true priority is not on rejecting physical food, but on craving spiritual food; the words of Yahweh God.

I've read the Bible in its entirety several times in my life, but reading it from cover to cover is no true test of spirituality. At least one of those times I read it through to merely complete the assignment of reading it through in a year. It was far from a productive venture because my heart was not focused on being nourished by what I read.

Few verses are as precious to me as Psalm 119:11 - "Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You." The Psalmist knew well the truth that Moses expressed in Deuteronomy eight, verse three. A key reason to value and treasure God's word is because it alone is the safeguard against sin. The key is not a perfunctory reading of it, but in "treasuring" it in the heart; eagerly desiring it more than the best food at a lavish feast.

Some people have voracious appetites, while others seem to subsist on meager meals. The same seems to be true for those with an appetite for God's word. The key, regardless of the size of one's appetite, is to consume regularly. While few people would consider a weekly six-day fast, some are in this habit spiritually. Daily nourishment, whether little or much, is vitally important.

May you be nourished beyond measure today from a rich feast on God's word.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Persistence and diligence are not character qualities of our times. If something is not quickly and easily obtained, we quickly tire of the pursuit. And yet things of value rarely are easily obtained. Mastery of athletics, music, or school subject matter require persistent and diligent effort. And knowing your Creator is no different.

"you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul." (Deuteronomy 4:29)

I've often wondered why God doesn't make having a relationship with Him easier. After all, the Creator of all can do anything, so why not just literally appear and make it unmistakably clear that He exists and that He is available for personal interaction? But perhaps that's where our propensity for idolatry comes in: we're much too prone to create some object or likeness that ultimately becomes our object of worship ("So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure" Deuteronomy 4:15-16).

There is never a "mission accomplished" moment in relationships. Married couples never achieve a relationship that no longer requires effort and investment, not do parents, friends, and families. Relationships inherently require persistence and diligence, and our relationship with our Father requires no less.

Wise people who value relationships plan and schedule time and activities to enhance their relationships. The same applies to our relationship with our Father: deliberate effort is essential for an enriching relationship.

Several years ago I scheduled a one-day retreat with my Father and His Son, my Lord Jesus. The setting was a historic rustic chapel in Indiana, not far from a famous battle scene from the 1800's. It seemed like a fitting place to do battle with the enemy by cultivating intimacy with both of my Lords. This one-day spiritual retreat was not characterized by divine appearances or voices, but it was a satisfying investment in relationships that are more valuable than life itself.

Relationships require diligent and persistent nurture. As your consider the relationships that you value and invest with time and energy, be sure to include a special investment that has eternal benefit.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Steroid use by well-known professional athletes has recently been headline news. These overachieving, record-setting athletes have had an illegal and unethical inside advantage (literally).

In a far more positive sense, the follower of Christ enjoys an inside advantage, which all people could have if they so desired.

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you ... when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you." (John 16:7,13-15)

It's hard to imagine anything more advantageous than having Jesus physically present, but, according to these words to His disciples, it was more advantageous to them to have the Helper than to have Jesus in physical proximity. That advantage is clearly seen in what Jesus reveals of the Helper's work - "He will guide you into all the truth ... He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me ... He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you."

The follower of Christ has, literally, the "inside advantage" of a personal truth tutor. This truth tutor will work, not in place of, but alongside a diligent personal study of the Bible. Illumination and understanding that otherwise would be impossible will come in abundance.

And, the truth tutor will "disclose to you what is to come". Early believers were given specific details of a coming widespread famine (Acts 11:28). It seems reasonable, based upon this, to assume that the Helper will reveal specific details of the challenges of last-day living, and important preparations to be made, and/or precautions to take. Additionally, the truth tutor will give insight into Bible prophecies that are otherwise hidden from understanding.

Through the promised truth tutor we are given phenomenal advantage as we live in this age. Notice that Jesus speaks of us being led into "all" truth, and and having "all" things of the Father disclosed to us. There is nothing outside our grasp and understanding; the truth tutor makes them all available to us! What a tremendous advantage!

Stay in step with the Spirit of God this day, and cooperate with the truth tutoring process. In so doing, new insights will come to light, and new directions and actions will become evident.

Rejoice in today's truth tutoring.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I planted a couple of orange trees in my back yard recently. I anticipate that some day they will be large enough to provide some shade, but that's not the main reason I planted them. Since they are called orange trees, I fully expect them to one day bear oranges. I selected and planted them for this express purpose: that they would bear fruit.

"You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another." (John 15:16-17)

Every believer who has made the choice to become a follower of Christ has been selected by the Master gardener to be planted and cultivated so as to bear good fruit. That is His express purpose for us: that we bear fruit.

It won't be difficult for me to know when my orange trees are bearing fruit, because I know what oranges look like. Similarly, it's not difficult to know when we are bearing fruit, because we are given a detailed description of the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23). Again, it is for this purpose that we have been selected.

"My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:8). Disciples bear fruit, and disciples are some of that fruit. We are spiritually enabled to reproduce after our own kind. Orange trees produce oranges, humans reproduce and bear humans (babies), and disciples produce additional disciples (Acts 6:7).

We are privileged people; we have been chosen and appointed for the purpose of bearing fruit. The burden is not placed upon us to bear fruit of our own initiative and resources; we are instead selected to be the "conduit" through which Christ, through Holy Spirit power, produces that fruit through us. We are fruit-bearing trees nourished in and through Him.

The task before each of us this day is not to roll up our sleeves and try harder, but rather to be in step with the fruit-bearing direction our Savior leads us through the Spirit. We are not called to initiate, but rather to participate.

It's not possible to hear and see fruit grow, but if we are sensitive and cooperative today, I suspect that we can sense that fruit growing through us and His people.

May this be a day rich with produce for the King and the Kingdom.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Heart trouble seems to be an all-too-common ailment in this modern age. The apparent cause is an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, but the myriad of concerns that occupy the minds of many may also be the culprit.

"Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:1-3)

According to Jesus, the remedy for worry is a two-pronged faith: in our Creator Father, and in His Son, Jesus. Specifically, that belief is to be based upon the fact that both our Father and His Son are active in preparations for our place in their family. Contrary to common misunderstanding of this passage, it's not about preparations for "pie in the sky when you die", but a place in the presence of Christ when He returns to rule the earth. The preparations He has been busy making for over two thousand years will culminate when He receives us to Himself at His return, according to these verses.

We might well summarize Jesus' "antidote" for anxiety as being faith in: (1) the presence; and, (2) the plan. He elaborates on the aspect of presence further down in John fourteen:

"I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:16-18).

The dynamic Spirit of God, unleashed at Pentecost following Jesus' ascension to the right hand of the Father, represents the presence of Jesus to us. He is present to us is a way that is to our "advantage" (John 16:7) as He actively prepares a place for us in the family of God.

I need not elaborate on the troubles that may be weighing down your heart as these words reach you today; they are painfully evident. The greater reality, however, is the truth concerning the Presence and the Plan. We are not orphans in this world, distanced from our Savior who spoke these encouraging words. Through the realm of Holy Spirit, He is much closer than we likely realize, and is actively working on our behalf according to the great Plan.

It's the easiest thing in the world to do, but "do not let your heart be troubled". Our hearts belong, not to the concerns of this age, but to the Savior who bought us with His sacrifice so that we might truly believe in Him and our Father.

The Presence is certain, and the Plan is on track. Rejoice!


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The story is told of the pranksters who broke in to a store one night and switched the price tags. Expensive items were marked absurdly low, and inexpensive items were tagged with outrageous prices. It has been suggested that this is a fitting illustration of the distorted values of things in the world.

"that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15).

Jesus' statement might be referred to as "the spiritual law of inverse proportion". In other words, that which is most highly prized and valued in today's world is the most abhorrent in God's estimation.

The religious leaders in Jesus' day were the "prosperity preachers" of that age: "Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him" (Luke 16:14). Jesus' anti-materialistic statements were met with ridicule by these conceited and wealthy religious tyrants. Their perspective was that citizens of the kingdom of God should expect the blessings of the kingdom of this world. They had the mistaken notion that love for the realm of the kingdom of God could be coupled with love for the kingdom of this world; a notion that Jesus soundly rejected ("No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." Luke 16:13).

The key focus is on who and what we serve and "highly esteem". It's possible to be wealthy and serve God, and to live in dire poverty and serve wealth. Again, the focus is on Who and what we truly serve.

There is a disturbing trend in today's christian culture. Certain churches, usually mega churches, are esteemed as models of "success". Highly visible church leaders and preachers enjoy celebrity status, not unlike popular actors and actresses. There is similar "esteeming" in this realm as there is in the world. And yet, according to Jesus' "spiritual law of inverse proportion", "that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God". It appears that some spiritual "price-tag swapping" is taking place!

The issue is not so much about what we do and do not have, but Who and what we serve. It's not about HAVING, but LOVING. And it's a pertinent question for any person in any culture.

Gaze cautiously at the world's deceptive price tags as you seek to serve the King and the kingdom this day.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Call it "Lost: The REAL Series". It's about people stranded far from home, and their efforts and the efforts of others to bring them safely back.

The scene opens on the wrong side of town. A crowd is gathering, comprised of society's misfits. Not all are happy; grumbling can be heard from a small group gathered off to the side.

"Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:1-2).

What follows are two short parables about a lost lamb and a lost coin, and a heart-wrenching story of a wayward son who eventually returns to his father in repentance and humility. And these are all designed to remind us of the ongoing reality series, "Lost: The REAL Series". Countless numbers of people are lost who desperately need to be found.

In the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin, intensive effort is exerted to find that which was lost. And these stories raise an issue that begs to be considered: How much effort is expended by believers and churches to reach those who are lost? Probably a disproportionately low amount compared to other pursuits.

I have a friend who suggests that the purposes of Christ and the kingdom might well be served by believers spending time in internet chat rooms discussing spiritual issues with those seeking answers. This seems like an interesting possibility that is in harmony with the approach of Jesus. Seeking the lost where they are must be a key priority.

Perhaps an appropriate picture to fix in our minds to remind us of a key priority is that of a bridge. Disciples are called to be bridge-builders between a Savior who has sacrificed His life for them, and those who are lost and destined for judgment and destruction.

Action follows thought. Prayerfully focusing our thoughts on those who are lost without Christ eventually leads to bridge-building action. A heart for the lost leads to compassionate action toward the lost.

May the priority of reaching the lost that characterized Jesus' work on earth be our priority amidst our daily activities.


Monday, March 08, 2010

A trip to the flower garden will yield a valuable lesson.

"Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!" (Luke 12:27-28)

My wife planted some annual flowers over a year ago that have survived and are thriving beyond their life expectancy. The beautiful, rich purple hues alongside the glistening white pedals are a daily reminder of the truth of this teaching of Jesus in Luke twelve. Rain, irrigation, and the rich nutritious soil have provided the essentials for the growth and beauty of these flowers.

"Consider the lilies". I'm not familiar with the species of flowers growing in our back yard, but I'm fairly certain they are not lilies. Regardless, the lesson is not lost as I look at their beauty and color - they exist and flourish through provision other than their own.

"For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing." (Luke 12:22-23)

The idea of worry that Jesus refers to might best be described as obsession - don't be obsessed with daily necessities because life is more than these things. Contrary to a misunderstanding some have of His words, He is not prescribing laziness and neglect, but rather warning against obsessive and distracted worry.

Obsessive worry over secondary issues will most assuredly distract us from the key life priority: "But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you." (Luke 12:31). Overzealous focus on the secondary issues of life will always be fruitless, but a focus on the key priority - the things pertaining to the kingdom of God - will result in receiving the secondary issues of life. That's a truly win-win combination!

The flowers of the garden and the birds in the air are daily object lessons of life's priorities. For those willing to consider, they point us beyond the obvious focus of life to the key priority of the things concerning the kingdom.

Invest your best time and energy today in the things that truly matter.


Wednesday, March 03, 2010

He was a man with a mission. And his mission in now our mission.

"It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17)

John the Baptist was the "advance man" for Jesus. Supernaturally empowered as Elijah was, he hit the Israeli scene in a commanding way. This odd survivalist-type desert-dweller burst on to the scene with a non-nonsense message about repentance, and demanded accompanying lifestyle evidence. The responsive were baptized in water; a radical new approach to the practice of ceremonial washings.

His message and methods were all about making ready "a people prepared for the Lord", and that's where his mission becomes ours. As John was the "advance man" for Jesus' first coming, we're the "advance team" for His return.

Like John, we come in "the spirit and power of Elijah" - "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17). Armed with the Spirit of God and granted favor in prayer, we are unleashed as a army to do spiritual battle in preparation for the Lord's return. We declare repentance and are purveyors of forgiveness as we declare the good news about the king and the kingdom. As a divinely-empowered people with a message, we are the "preparation team" for the Second Coming of Jesus.

This lofty mission may seem a far cry from mopping floors, changing diapers, answering telephone and emails, waiting tables, operating a manufacturing machine, or whatever other task(s) that typifies your day. But in ways that may not seem evident now, the mission is an integral part of what you are doing and ultimately who you are.

Preparing the world for Christ to return, and to rule in His coming government - does it get any more significant than that? And this is the key mission for each of us; the "purpose statement" that ultimately defines us. Mundane as our task and life may seem today, the mission is there at the core.

What if this was the day of Christ's return? Would that add priority to a conversation with a coworker, friend, or family member? Would this change today's activities, or add emphasis to their importance? Would your energy level increase, or remain the same?

We cannot be certain that today ISN'T the day of Christ's return, and so it behooves us to live it as though it were. And that adds excitement, meaning, and perspective to who were are and what we do.

Serve and live well today, advance team for the King and Kingdom. Go in the spirit and power of Elijah that you have been endowed with. This day is ripe with the possibilities of That Day.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The choice seems obvious. If the option is a blessing or a curse, it's a no-brainer.

"If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season ... I shall also grant peace in the land ... I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land ... you will chase your enemies ... I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you ... Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people." (Leviticus 26:1-12)

The remaining verses in this chapter spell out in even greater detail the curse that God will bring upon His people if they choose disobedience rather than obedience. The bottom line is, His people have a choice to make.

That choice is clearly spelled out elsewhere: "I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity" (Deuteronomy 30:15). Also, "Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death." (Jeremiah 21:8).

The enemy's tactic is to make the choice less obvious. If the choice is clearly between life and death, what rational, intelligent creature wouldn't choose life? But, "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The choice to be made is a mental one, but the evidence of the decision is in the living. It is much more than a tacit choice to admit that there is a Creator who is Father of all; it is a wholehearted decision to love and serve Him with every fiber of our being. (Matthew 22:36-40).

It would be far too simple if the choice was a one-time, once-for-all decision. The real challenge is in the fact that it is a day-to-day, moment-to-moment choice. The choice is to "present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship" (Romans 12:1). The "presenting" of our bodies is to be a continuous process, not a solitary choice.

The choice is obvious to those who have eyes to see. Life is far more desirable than death; a blessing than a curse. Your Father awaits your choice at this moment. It's a choice of the mind, but it's a choice verified in the course of action you choose this day.

Choose life and blessings.


Monday, March 01, 2010

I finally found the courage to watch it about a year ago. "The Passion of Christ" is graphic, and likely much too close to reality. While famous artwork of the crucifixion depicts blood trickling from miniscule punctures, "The Passion of Christ" overwhelms us with massive blood loss and gore from the most extreme physical abuse.

The culmination of all that our Lord suffered was crucifixion. Many of us have read a physician's account of the agonizing experience of one subjected to the brutality of this form of capital punishment. Surely there is no more painful or prolonged way to die.

We are told that "It was the third hour when they crucified Him" (Mark 15:25). The horrible ordeal began at nine o-clock in the morning. "When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour" (Mark 15:33). From noon until three in the afternoon - the brightest time of day - thick darkness enshrouded the land. Perhaps this midday spectacle was God's visible sorrow over the outrageous injustice done to His sinless Son.

At three in the afternoon, on an uncharacteristically dark day in Israel, "Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed His last" (Mark 15:37). At that precise moment, "the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Mark 15:38), and a Roman centurion, "who was standing right in front of Him, saw the way He breathed His last, he said, "Truly this man was the Son of God !" (Mark 15:39).

Everything changed one dark day at three in the afternoon, after six tortuous hours of indescribable agony. For most who were present, hope had literally died that afternoon. Those feelings are summarized well in a brief description of a man named Joseph who claimed the body for burial: "Joseph of Arimathea came, a prominent member of the Council, who himself was waiting for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43). The key word to notice is the word "was" (past tense). He WAS waiting for the kingdom of God, but now no longer. The best he could do was provide a fitting burial for this Man who exemplified hope.

We know the rest of the story. The hope of the kingdom of God could not be contained in a stone grave, and was destined to burst forth into the brightest dawn the world has ever seen - a sharp contrast to the three o-clock darkness that He died in.

All that would defeat us was buried with Him in a borrowed grave late one afternoon over two thousand years ago. The One whom death could not hold burst forth into glorious new life, appeared to and instructed His faithful followers, ascended to the right hand of His Father, and has poured out the dynamic Spirit of God that envelopes this world today as never before in history. We are literally encircled by the realm of resurrection life, destined one day to burst forth and flood our so-called reality.

The agony of Christ is more agonizing than our minds and emotions can absorb, but it has become the doorway to life in the fullest sense. May his agony overwhelm ours and usher is into the true realm of life today.