Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Good to the last drop" - that's a popular slogan for a famous brand of coffee. But what good is the disposable coffee cup once that last drop is gone? Emptied of its contents, we consider it worthless and discard it. It's a good thing God has a different perspective. No, I'm not suggesting that God has to have His morning coffee like so many of us do, but that His perspective on "emptying" is far different than ours.

We consider that which is empty to be devoid of value, but in God's economy just the opposite is true. Consider this remarkable statement about His Son, Jesus:

"although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8)

Through an ongoing and deliberate act of selflessness, the One who alone had the right to assert His God-given status and nature, chose instead to pour out His ambition, status, and personal aspirations through humble service and sacrifice. The coming King deliberately chose the role of lowly servant. He who had been given divine rights chose earthy service. The pan and towel were substituted for the palace; the needs of the throngs superseded the promise of the throne.

While we may admire the example of the self-emptying Son of God, His example is to be emulated, and not just admired: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). Those who belong to the King who drained Himself in humble service are called to the same. Rather than grasping the greatness we are promised to inherit, our mindset and lifestyle is that of the "good-to-the-last-drop" (blood, sweat, and tears; not coffee) Christ. We are not truly Christ-like until we are totally drained of self.

Nothing is more challenging or humbling than this call to "kenosis" - the process of emptying. I want what I want. I desire recognition, status, success. And I know I'm not alone in this; every human with a drop of Adam's blood in his/her bloodstream wants to scratch and claw their way to "grasp equality with God". Truly, nothing goes more against the grain of our human existence than this primordial drive to fill, rather than empty ourselves.

There is nothing more ironic in the natural world than to find oneself through emptying. May we each find out truest worth today through the emptiness that brings ultimate fullness.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It predated the gunfight at the OK Corral. This mountaintop showdown appeared to be hopelessly one-sided, but in the end four hundred and fifty men were easily outgunned by one man. But, it wasn't the one man who made all the difference; it was the One on his side.

This famous showdown is recorded in 1 Kings eighteen, and it is truly an awe-inspiring story. It begins with an ultimatum issued by Elijah the prophet:

"Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table" (1 Kings 18:19)

The summons went out and all were gathered for the great showdown. Elijah presented the terms of the contest:

"Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing. Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. Get two bulls for us. Let them choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire--he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good" (1 Kings 18:21-24).

The rest of the story is all there for you to read. Despite the day-long praying, begging, and bloodletting, the false god, Baal, remained silent (what else could a non-existent god do?). But what happened next is best left to be described by the narrative itself:

"At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: "O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again." Then the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, "The LORD--he is God! The LORD--he is God!" (1 Kings 18:36-39)

This one indisputable account provides proof to all generations of humanity that there is but One true God, whose name is Yahweh. He alone has created everyone and everything, and remains active in the ongoing activities of His creation. He alone is God, and is worthy of our honor and obedience.

May the lasting legacy of the showdown on Mount Carmel be our undying love and devotional to the Father of us all who has provided overwhelming proof of His existence.


Monday, May 24, 2010

The possibilities are mind-boggling. The more you read about what he did, the more you are astonished when you consider that "Elijah was a man with a nature like ours" (James 5:17).

We read in 1 Kings seventeen that Elijah declared the beginning of a great drought; was miraculously fed by ravens; multiplied a widow's food supply; and even raised her son from the dead. Are these exact capabilities available to us? A clear answer is not given, but we are reminded that he was a man "with a nature like ours". He was no superman, invested with powers beyond the capabilities of average humans, but a living, breathing human just like us. James reminds us that "he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit" (James 5:17-18). His nature, similar to ours, was that he was a man of faith and prayer, and our Father brought forth astonishing things through him.

What might God accomplish through a people fully dedicated to Him in faith and prayer? The Book of Acts is an excellent primer. While this book is considered to be "The Acts of the Apostles", it is, in reality, the acts of the risen Christ in and through His people, through the power of Holy Spirit. People with "a nature like ours".

The easiest thing in this sin-hardened and depraved world is to become cynical, but the flicker of faith and prayer is a "pilot light" that cannot be extinguished. At any given moment, through concentrated prayer and faith - with the blessing of the grace of God - the flickering flame can become a blazing fire of mighty deeds that glorify God and validate His presence and work.

Kindling faith and prayer on a Monday morning is far more difficult than nurturing despair, but the exciting possibilities of the mighty breakthrough of God are a mere prayer away. Turn to Him in the reckless abandon of faith and prayer, and seek the possibilities that can only exist in and through Him. Like Elijah, the water stream may be dried up (1 Kings 17:7), and the food supply scarce 1 Kings 17:12), but the greatest need provides the greatest opportunity for Yahweh God to demonstrate Who He is, and what He alone can do.

May the depths and urgency of our needs today be overwhelmingly overshadowed by the works and supply of our matchless Creator and Provider.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's a familiar quote to most people: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". It is a quote with spiritual ramifications as well. In fact, we might rephrase it thusly: "those who do not remember what they have been are doomed to repeat it". Let's let the apostle Paul explain:

"And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest" (Ephesians 2:1-3)

It's easy to forget that none of us were "born righteous". The longer we live as followers of Christ, the easier it is to forget just who and what we were before. Paul makes it painfully clear that we were a far cry from God desired of us. Prior to His grace, we willingly followed "the course of this world" and obeyed "the prince of the power of the air". We indulged our sinful passion because this was consistent with the "god" that we served.

Contrary to the popular philosophy of the day, none of us truly serve ourselves. In reality, we serve either the "prince of the power of the air", or we serve our Creator Father; there is no alternative. One of the enemy's great lies is to cause us to believe that we "do our own thing" and serve ourselves, when in reality we are pursuing his agenda and desires.

It is only when we turn around and look square in the face of our past that we are able to truly appreciate the great reality that "by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10)

The longer we live for Christ, the greater the danger of believing that we are inherently "good". The life of grace can easily be displaced with the delusion of self-righteousness. For that reason, then, it's important to be periodically reminded of our past, as Paul has done for us so clearly in the first three verses of Ephesians two. The penalty of our past is forgiven through God's grace in Christ, but the reminder of our past provides important perspective on grace.

What a delight it is to savor the truth and the hope that He "raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6-7)!

Remember your past, so that you can rejoice in His grace now and in the ages to come.


Monday, May 17, 2010

A man with an engaging story drove the point home. His unsuspecting listener was drawn in and reached a conclusion that was an indictment on his own personal conduct.

A prophet named Nathan met with King David, as recorded in 2 Samuel 12, and cunningly confronted David's personal sin with an innocent-sounding story about a rich man with large flocks of sheep, and a poor man with one cherished lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-4). The blatant injustice in the story aroused the ire and anger of King David, providing the opportunity for stunning personal application: "Nathan then said to David, "You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:7).

David found the whole sordid episode of his adultery, covered up with murder, staring him in the face through the prophet whom God had sent to him. Secret sin was no longer secret. The secret sin of the bedroom and the backroom was on public display in the palace courtyard. And there would be consequences.

Psalm fifty-one is a transcript of the heartfelt confession of King David concerning this dark chapter in his life. Through confrontation, there was confession, repentance, and ultimately forgiveness.

"Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die" (2 Samuel 12:13).

Although there was grace and forgiveness amidst genuine confession, there were consequences that forgiveness could never eradicate:

"Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife" (2 Samuel 12:10)

The lesson is that sin scars. Our Father is rich in mercy toward his children who are sincerely repentant over sin, but sin's consequences remain. Virginity is forever gone. The pain and bitterness of broken homes continue. Deep emotional scars disrupt happiness.

God would not have us continually bear the burden for sin committed, confessed, and forgiven. But often the very real consequence of our sin that has so deeply touched others is its lasting legacy, reminding us that sin really is an awful reality in a broken and imperfect world.

The record of the dark episode of sin in one man's life allows us to see the rays of forgiveness shining through the dark clouds of its consequences, and provides us with incentive to more fully walk in obedience to the Spirit, and be led further from the pathway of sin.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Imagine that law enforcement was absolute, and there was zero tolerance for anything over the speed limit. A one-mile-over infraction would automatically result in a speeding ticket. Or, imagine an absolute enforcement of noise ordinances. If you raised your voice beyond normally talking volume, a fine would be assured.

Difficult as these two examples are, they do not begin to compare to God's meticulous law and its unswerving standards. And God is the ever-present enforcement, so the slightest violation is subject to penalty.

Many have misunderstood the purpose of God's law and have vigorously sought to live according to its impossible standards. But, His law is like the test in school that instructs your to read all directions before beginning, and the last direction is to ignore all the others, sign your name, and turn it in.

Consider this: "Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24). God's impossible, perfect Law was never designed to be lived by us, but to point us to the only One who has satisfied its standards. By providing us with a working definition of sin (Galatians 3:19), the Law makes us well aware of our need for forgiveness and faith.

Jesus' Sermon On the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a passage I often study, and in it Jesus makes clear that sin is not merely a matter of action, but also intention. It's not enough to avoid murder and adultery; anger and lust are the root cause, and who isn't guilty of these? Redefining sin is enough to lead us to despair, and that's exactly the point. When we fully face our inability to be "good", we're finally in a position to appreciate and experience grace and faith. As Jesus says, "Congratulations, you who are the poor in spirit! Yours is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3 - personal paraphrase).

Facing the ugly truth about our sin, and the impossibility of our personal "goodness" opens the door to profound appreciation of this great truth:

"For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27)

Out of the despair of our hopeless "badness" comes phenomenal good news that will take a lifetime to savor and appreciate.

May complete and utter awe for what God has done for you in Christ lead you today to a life of grateful service and holiness.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The only thing better than a good cup of coffee is a good friend who stands by you through thick or thin (non-coffee drinkers will have trouble with this comparison). My life has been immensely enriched through special friendships over the years. There are the life-long friendships formed in college that continue to be a blessing today. There have been friends who risked sharing their innermost thoughts in conversation and prayer. There are friends that I have both laughed and cried with. There have been friends I walked with in the early morning hours, and enjoyed refreshing conversation. There have been friends who loved me enough to hold me accountable, and guide me when I've been out of balance. And there are friends who are family - literally.

The writer of Proverbs knew the blessings of friendship: "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24).

Perhaps the most legendary friendship of all was between David, the shepherd boy who would become king, and Jonathan, son of David's avowed enemy, King Saul. No friendship was ever less likely, yet more sincere. It is summed up well in these words:

"Jonathan made David vow again because of his love for him, because he loved him as he loved his own life" (1 Samuel 20:17)

Rare is the friendship that is based on a marriage-like covenant. These two men, bound by a selfless commitment to each other's welfare, remained true to that commitment in spite of tremendous pressure to pit them against each other as enemies. Jonathan dared defy his own father, King Saul, who was sinfully bent on David's destruction. Few friendships are as genuine and sacrificial as that of these two men.

Genuine friendships are a lifeline in the sea of life. Without authentic friendships we are easily prone to despair, imbalance, and superficiality. Aside of intimacy with our Father and His Son, our Lord Jesus, few things are more nourishing to our soul than good friendships.

Hearing the value of friendships resonates with those who have good friends, but many people walk the lonely road of life devoid of good friendships. It's possible to be in a satisfying marriage relationship, yet hungering for genuine friendship with someone of the same sex. Of which case, as the saying goes, "you have to be a friend to have friends". Some people seem blessed with the ability to attract people to themselves, but most of us must take the initiative to have satisfying, genuine friendships.

There is a potential genuine friendship very near to you. The risk of initiating the first step may well be rewarded with a soul-satisfying friendship that enhances your life on the road to the kingdom of God.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Goliath. It's the name of a giant of a man, who represents every giant that stands in our way.

The story is familiar to many: a young shepherd boy from Bethlehem takes on a well-armored giant with only five smooth stones and a sling. Few battles were ever more unevenly matched. Anyone looking to make a quick buck off of this contest would have immediately placed their money on the giant. From all appearances this nine-foot giant was the overwhelming favorite in a battle that seemed hopelessly lopsided. The underdog, however, had an inside advantage that greatly outweighed the apparent advantage of his towering opponent. And so David could confidently assert that "there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S and He will give you into our hands." (1 Samuel 17:46-47)

The rest, as they say, is history: one smooth stone found its mark in the forehead of the giant, and the shepherd boy became the ultimate giant-killer. But this story is far more than historic narrative; it represents the possibilities of victory in the epic overwhelming battles that every child of God faces.

Note these words carefully: "the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S". The battles that those who are His face are not their own because they are not their own. The Father wages war on behalf of the people He possesses.

I doubt there is anyone reading these words who does not have some form of "Goliath" in his or her path. Our formidable foes come in a variety of forms: illnesses, financial crises, faith crises, and family conflicts, to name a few. And nothing is easier than sizing up our giant and cowering in fear, but the faith that overcomes sees not the reality of the giant, but the true reality of the Lord who "does not deliver by sword or by spear". Faith doesn't ignore the details of the enemy (1 Samuel 17:4-7), but instead places within the arena the One who truly owns the battle.

No one lives a life of faith without facing Goliaths. Those who are defeated focus on the giants, while the overcomers focus on the Lord of the battle.

Stand strong today amidst your Goliaths. Your meager resources may look as absurd as five smooth stones against a well-armored giant, but remember Whose you are, and Who owns the battle.

I think I just heard the sound of some giants falling to the ground.