Monday, April 26, 2010

We sure could use a miracle today. The situation is critical; the glory days appear to be gone; defeat seems certain.

Ever felt that way? (or maybe you are feeling that way today?) Yet from the brink of despair and disaster comes unlikely deliverance.

"The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior." Then Gideon said to him, "O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt ?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian." The LORD looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" He said to Him, "O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel ? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house. But the LORD said to him, "Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man." (Judges 6:12-16)

Sometimes the Lord's message and messenger seem hopelessly out of touch. Where is God in the midst of the mess? If He is truly with me, why has it all gone so bad? Sure, He was there in the past and did great things, but this is the nasty now.

And then help comes in the least likely way. Isn't it just like our Father to use the least and the youngest (verse 15) to accomplish His purposes? He best demonstrates strength through human weakness and frailty.

Where are the miracles? Where is the deliverance? Who hasn't at times been like Gideon; pondering the miraculous past deeds recorded in the Bible, and wondering why God doesn't do the same today? The "Midianites" loom large: unemployment, marital and family stress and conflict, and health crises. Sure, God parted the Red Sea, and provided manna for food, and felled the walls of Jericho with marching and a trumpet blast, but what about my "Midianites" today?

Don't miss the point stressed twice here: "The LORD is with you ... Surely I will be with you". The miracle is the Lord in the midst of the mess. And He works His will and way amidst that which He is in. His way, for our greatest good; not necessarily what we want, but what we ultimately need.

Our "Midianites" indeed loom large, and it's easy to envy the miracles of the past. But the LORD is with YOU; at work using that which seems least likely, so that the glory goes to Him, and not you.

He miraculously used Gideon to accomplish great things. This same God wants to work a "Gideon story" in and through you.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Why is doing the right thing so difficult? A common struggle is that it's far too easy to be long on intention, but short on action.

"I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." (Romans 7:18-19)

Our struggle was Paul's struggle. This mighty man of God was prone to the same failures as each of us, which should alleviate a certain measure of burdensome guilt. He was a member of the same universal club of sinners.

Personally, I think many of us compound the struggle with the "sin cycle" in our lives by not doing as Paul did: honestly admitting and confessing the problem. Perhaps we buy in to the false assumptions that "real Christians can't ...", or "real Christians won't ...". Bottom line is we are likely capable of far more sin than we dare even admit to ourselves.

Well, that's all pretty depressing, huh? Fortunately Paul doesn't leave us hanging in this dismal state:

"Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25)

Paul was profoundly grateful for the deliverance found only in Christ, because he was truly aware of his wretched condition aside of Christ. Facing the true reality of his life was key in savoring the richness of grace and forgiveness in Christ.

There is a danger, the longer we live the Christian life, in "believing our own stuff"; that is, believing that the good in our life is really our own goodness rather than God's goodness through Christ in us. Striking the balance is the challenge. It's much too easy to have an exaggerated sense of either our own goodness or badness. Wisdom is seeking our Father's true assessment of ourselves so that we can best appreciate His grace.

We are the "wretched" who are abundantly blessed. Live in awe today of His unfathomable grace.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How do we value a lavish supply of gifts? It's difficult, to say the least.

A company I once worked for assigned me to a project at a wealthy family's home. It was December, and an astonishing pile of presents were sorted and heaped for each of the family's grandchildren. I'm certain that this was a yearly ritual, and I suspected that the gratitude level of these overly-indulged grandchildren was considerably less than those who received meager fare on Christmas morning.

Here's the rub: our Father has indulged us with lavish gifts to an unimaginable degree, but how do we maintain humble gratitude? Until we know how desperately we need the gift, we'll likely not value it as we must.


"for all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23)

Someone once suggested that grace cannot be truly appreciated until we have genuinely tried works. I suspect that is so. This comment, from someone who had sought to keep the impossible Law of God, caused me to realize that grace is all too often, in the words of Bonheoffer, "cheap grace". Grace that we do not value easily becomes license for worldly living, rather than the holiness that the Holy One requires. Unless we deeply value the gift, we will cheapen it through ingratitude.

We are those who are "being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:24). The gift is diminished in value if we lose sight of the price paid for it.

Valuing the gift and the Givers is the ongoing need and challenge. And perhaps the place to develop - and redevelop - the appropriate gratitude is to return to the best-known Bible verse of all: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (the life of the age to come)" (John 3:16).

May God grant us appreciation of us His indescribable gift such that we live in awe and holiness today and every day.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two men spent the night at a prostitute's house, but it's not what you might think. What sounds like a juicy, sordid tale of immorality is, in reality, an outstanding story of faith and promise.

"Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there" (Joshua 2:1)

You may be familiar with the story: Rahab hid the two spies on the roof of her house, all the while a posse heads out on a wild goose chase to find them. When the coast is clear, Rahab secretly dispatches them down the city wall through a window in her house, but not before securing a solemn promise of safety. She had heard the stories of the mighty works of the One true God on behalf of the people of Israel, and her faith was resolute.

"Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath" (Joshua 2:8-11)

Character not withstanding (Sunday School teachers seem to skip the part about her being a prostitute), this woman stands out as a shining example of faith, and is memorialized in Scripture because of it. She is listed in the ancestry of Christ (Matthew 1:5), as well as in the great "hall of fame" of the faithful in Hebrews eleven (Hebrews 11:31).

So is the lesson here that faith overrides character? Is an immoral occupation and lifestyle acceptable so long as one has faith?

Faith is the pathway to character. Abraham was a man of questionable character, but the record of the Bible allows us to see his transformation of character through faith. And while little else is known about Rahab, the same is evidently true. She eventually married an Israelite man and became the mother of Boaz. Boaz we know about from the book of Ruth, who was destined to become the great-grandfather of King David.

Faith, rather than substituting for character, became the source of it with Rahab, and so many others listed in scripture. And so it is with us. We cannot please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6), but God-s pleasing faith never stands alone; it always transforms.

The stories of renown concerning the works of Yahweh God are not simply historic record; they are stories designed to stimulate faith that leads to transformational character. Faith, then, is not the goal, but rather the journey.

May simple faith in the Creator and Father of all stimulate you today in the transformational journey.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A man who entertained a boatload of prisoners and soldiers got more than he bargained for.

"Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days. And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him. After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured." (Acts 28:7-9)

A generous man of means showed hospitality to some unlikely guests and received a gift of healing for his ailing father. Among his unlikely guests was a Spirit-empowered kingdom messenger who demonstrated this radical message through laying on of hands and healing. This man Publius had no idea that he was opening his home to the presence of Christ the King, and the kingdom of God, when he welcomed Paul the apostle.

We may not come with the touch of the Spirit of God to bring instantaneous healing, but wherever we are welcomed and received we bring the King and the kingdom, as did Paul. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we bring our "territory" and our ruler wherever we go.

The "shoe was on the other foot" a short time later for Paul, and he then had the opportunity to welcome people coming to him. True to his mission and passion, his welcome was the doorway to a king and kingdom conversation:

"And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered" (Acts 28:30-31).

Nothing is more gracious and welcoming than to direct conversation to the two most important, life-changing topics of all. Of course that means that we must understand that which we speak of! Committing ourselves to being lifelong students of the King and the kingdom is a necessary prerequisite, and our lifelong learning is both information as well as lifestyle. The ultimate goal is that we be those who both declare and demonstrate, as did Paul.

May the message we live and declare be welcomed by all we encounter today, and may we care enough about those we welcome to share this all-important message.


Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The "call" is a peculiar thing. Pastors often refer to it as the extraordinary series of events, mental impression, or audible voice that led them to serve in ministry. The "call" often involves service in a specific location. And none of this is without precedent.

"They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:6-10).

The details are abundantly clear: certain areas were forbidden, while one area in particular was to be the focus of ministry work. A vision referencing a specific region made the "call" abundantly clear.

Does the Lord Jesus have in mind specific locations for our service? Based upon this text, apparently so. At a certain time, for the apostle Paul and his traveling companions, there was a certain area that was to be the focus of their ministry efforts. And from their efforts in this area came significant results: many new converts, and the beginnings of new churches.

Apparently the Lord Jesus has designed for us to work in certain areas at certain times. The area of my ministry focus has changed several times in my lifetime, and I've always sensed a clear leading each time. All of the details of the "how's" and "why's" elude me even today, but the calm assurance that I have been led each time is sufficient. And the evident "fruit" of each location of ministry is especially reassuring.

You are where you are at this point in time for a specific reason. Pause and consider who is near you that the Lord has designed you to impact. And if there is a sense of restlessness where you are, perhaps it is the Lord's prompting to prepare you for ministry and service in another area. If so, a "Macedonian vision" (Acts 16:9) will soon follow to make the details abundantly clear.

Some would say "the devil is in the details", but the biblical perspective is that the Lord Jesus is in the details, and is intensely interested in your life and service. Go forward in service with that confidence.


Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Straight shooters sometimes get shot at. Imagine a high-ranking government official who reveals the dirty truth about the vested interests in government of some major corporation. While many average citizens would applaud such honesty, it would likely be career suicide - or worse - for this honest whistle-blower.

The newly-converted Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, went public with his new-found faith as a straight-shooting truth-speaker. His initial message was bluntly simple: "He (Jesus) is the Son of God" (Acts 9:20). Now, this simple message hardly seems controversial, but it was anything but popular with the Jewish people and leaders who were instrumental in having Jesus crucified.

"When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to do away with him" (Acts 9:23).

"And he was talking and arguing with the
Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death" (Acts 9:29).

How could the simple truth that Jesus is the Son of God be so threatening? History indicates that the death threats against Paul for confessing this simple truth were not isolated; many have faced ridicule, injury, and even death for similar professions and confessions. Why is the truth that Jesus is the Son of God so threatening?

Several years ago the founder of a well-known weight loss program differentiated Jesus as the Son of God from the popular confession that He is God, the Son. Such an admission hardly seems radical; after all, Jesus on numerous occasions feely admitted that He was the Son of God. But this public acknowledgement of a clear Bible truth was essentially career suicide. Speaking engagements diminished. Book sales declined. Vehement accusations proliferated on web sites and in popular Christian magazines. All because of the simple confession that Jesus is the Son of God.

We do well to never underestimate both the power of this basic truth and the opposition to it. Jesus Himself has promised to build His church upon it (Matthew 16:16-18), while the forces of hell are hell-bent on destroying it. It is a truth that is at the heart of an epic struggle and battle.

Boldly embrace and declare this profound truth in every corner of your world, being fully aware of both its power for miraculous transformation as well the stiff opposition to it. Truly, He is the Son of God - no less, and no more.

Yes, straight shooters do sometimes get shot it. But truth matters, and truth transforms. Do we love the truth and the Truth-Giver enough to declare this vital truth about His Son? A vitally-important future conversation with the Son of God (Matthew 10:32-33) centers on what we do with this truth in this life.


Monday, April 05, 2010

It was "shock and awe", but not in the sense of a sudden, powerful military strike. It was the shock and awe of integrity and supernatural power.

Acts five begins with the unsettling story of a couple who conspired to lie about the proceeds from a real estate sale (Acts 5:1-10). It was well within their right to sell the land and donate any amount of money they wished to benefit the needy, but trouble came when they decided to lie to the apostles, and ultimately God's Holy Spirit, about the amount. Retribution was immediate: they both fell dead at the feet of the apostle Peter.

This tragic story punctuates the pervading atmosphere that surrounded the activities and life of the early church. We are told that, "great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things" (Acts 5:11). The lesson was obvious: integrity mattered, and even the nonbelieving community around them took note:

"But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem" (Acts 5:13)

Participation with this community of believers was not to be taken lightly, and these high standards generated respect and esteem by those outside. These people were not only a people proclaiming a message; they were living it, and powerfully demonstrating it.

For the past few years the concept of The Truth Revolution has been much on my mind. The Truth Revolution, to my understanding, is where the dynamic truth of scripture meets lifestyle and results in incredible, convincing power. Such was the case with the early church: they boldly embraced and declared truth which was not popular, lived lives of integrity, and were blessed with displays of Holy Spirit power that was unmistakably authentic. And the results then were the possibilities for today:

"And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number" (Acts 5:14)

The Revolution centers on the message: "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ" (Acts 5:42). This message produces radical change in lifestyle for all who will receive and embrace it, and authentic Holy Spirit power is evident for all to see. Nothing is more compelling!

May we live today in complete integrity to the message of truth, and serve as conduits of Spirit power to a world in desperate need of a display of that which is genuine.