Wishes

GenieTherefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:9)

A man is walking down the beach when he spies an unusual metallic object.  He picks it up and begins to dust off the sand when suddenly a genie appears and grants him three wishes.  Have you heard a joke that starts like that before?  I’ve got a million of them.  We might often fantasize about how we would answer if a powerful being offered us three wishes.  Young King Solomon wasn’t standing before a big blue genie when he was granted his “wish”. He was before God Almighty Himself.

God was quite tickled that Solomon didn’t ask for lots of money or a long life. Instead, he asked for wisdom so he could do a good job of being king over God’s people. It’s interesting to me that Solomon had displayed quite a measure of wisdom in how he had led his people thus far.  And yet he realizes he needs still more wisdom.

Solomon displayed a mature sense of being “self-aware”.  He understood what the real needs were in his life.  Sometimes we get sidetracked by the glitzy baubles we think we need, when the greater need is something quieter, something deeper, maybe something harder.  So what do you wish?  What do you really need?

For His Sake

TakeCrossYet for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Psalm 44:22)

Why do we go through difficult times?  The easy, quick answers are not always the correct ones.  Sometimes we jump to the conclusion that we’ve done something wrong to deserve the pain we’ve been experiencing.  Though that may be true from time to time, it’s not always the case.

Occasionally, the trial is aimed at deepening our own faith. The Psalmist pointed out that he had learned to not trust in his own strength, but to trust in God’s help in his life (Ps. 44:6-8).  Difficult times give us the chance to grow deeper. It takes deep roots to draw on the everlasting arms that are beneath us.

Sometimes our trial is really not about us at all, but is for those around us who are watching.  It’s a powerful thing to watch a person not only suffer, but to actually draw closer to God in their suffering.

Paul quotes this verse and reminds us that no matter what we are going through, none of these difficulties can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

The early church faced all kinds of difficulties, and it was their trust in God in those trials that impacted many.  Would you be willing to be uncomfortable if it meant God could do a greater work?

Good Morning

Sunrise 1For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

I am so grateful for the concept of hope.  Hope is the thing that keeps you going when you are struggling with a difficult time.  Hope is what makes all your trials worth it.  I think hope is one of the greatest needs of every person.  We all long to know that things will work out in the end.

As a Christian, we have a hope that serves as an anchor to our soul (Heb. 6:19), keeping us on course through the storms of life.  Our ultimate hope is a blessed one, when Jesus returns to take us to heaven (Tit. 2:13). Our hope isn’t a false hope, but is one that does not disappoint (Rom. 5:5).

David wrote that the dark times in our lives may indeed be filled with tears, but the night doesn’t last forever.  There will be a morning.  And in the morning, there will be joy.  Sometimes the morning is literally the next day. Sometimes it takes a few days to get to that “morning”. Sometimes the morning is the day we walk into heaven.  But morning is coming, no matter how long the night.

How did David make it through his long, dark night?  He prayed.  He cried out to God (Ps. 30:2,8).  He brought his needs to God.

It may seem darkest before the dawn, but the morning will come.

What’s Inside

Inside the box

It was time for a new king.  God was frustrated and grieved at King Saul.  Saul was more concerned about doing things to please the people rather than doing what pleased God.  So God sent the prophet Samuel to find a new king from the sons of Jesse.  One by one the sons were brought before Samuel.  Jesse’s oldest looked particularly promising. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

When it comes to preparing for a job interview, we’ve all been taught to pay attention to how you dress.  After all, you do want to make a good “first impression”.  There’s an interview I want you to think about that’s bigger than your next job.  What about your interview with God about the plans He has for you? How do you prepare for that interview? God looks right past the outward things that others are impressed by, and straight into your heart.  It’s not the wrapping paper that makes the gift valuable, it’s what’s inside the box. Give time towards cultivating your heart. God promotes and guides based on what’s happening inside you. Even if you don’t get that flashy spot you wanted, if your heart is right, then you’re probably right where you need to be.

Inputs

HeadphonesThe book of Psalms begins with a clue to the inner life of the believer.  It’s a key to getting closer to God and seeing His fruit in your life on a consistent basis.  The key has to do with inputs. What’s playing in your headphones? The “blessed” man is one who reduces the inputs from the world in his life, and… his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

Do you struggle with fear and anxiety in your life?  Do you find yourself motivated by fear? Are you looking for direction in your life?  Do you long to be closer to God?  Then pay attention to the inputs in your life.  What kinds of things do you allow into our heart and your mind? Is your first task in the morning to check Facebook?  Is watching TV the last thing you do in the evening?  Or do you give God time to speak by opening His Word?  I’ve been challenging myself to not just start my day with the Bible, but to end with it as well.

Have you ever wondered why you feel closer to God by the end of a church retreat?  I don’t want to oversimplify it, but part of it has to do with input.  You’ve had a weekend away from the world’s input, and a weekend getting input from God and His word.

Beloved, turn off the world’s input for a few minutes.  Start your day with scripture.  End your day with scripture. Take a few minutes to pray. It doesn’t take much.  And watch what happens.

The Cards

CardsPaul’s enemies had stirred up the crowds in the Temple and would have put Paul to death when the Roman soldiers stepped in. The Romans were about to scourge Paul when Paul pulled out his Roman citizenship “card”.  Roman citizens were not allowed to be tortured.  The Roman commander wondered how Paul was a Roman citizen … And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” (Acts 22:28)

One of the things I appreciate about Paul was his ability to recognize that everything in his life had a purpose.  He recognized the cards he had been dealt.  A Jew educated as a Pharisee gave him an amount of credibility to other Jews. Being born in the Gentile city of Tarsus not only gave him Roman citizenship, it helped him relate to Gentiles. Even Paul’s arrests, beatings, and physical illness gave him the ability to relate to people others couldn’t.

You too have been given a set of “cards” to play with in your life. Those “cards” may involve how you were born or the experiences you’ve had in life. You may think that the cards you’ve been dealt don’t give you any advantage. You are wrong.  There are certain people that only you can relate to. There are bridges that only you can cross because of the cards you are holding in your hand. Nothing is wasted, even the pain.  It all has a purpose in God’s plan.  The bigger challenge is, will you let God use you?

Simple Truth

TruthSometimes the simplest explanation is the best explanation. Sometimes bad teaching is nothing more than taking simple truths and making them complicated. When the early church began to see pagan Gentiles converted, false teachers swooped in to make things complicated. The false teachers said that salvation took more than believing in Jesus. They said you also needed to be circumcised.

The church held a conference to figure out the truth. It was Peter who spoke up during the conference, reminding the elders that he was the first one to see Gentiles converted.  While visiting Cornelius’ house (Acts 10), Peter was simply giving a Bible study when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles in attendance, and they began speaking in tongues.  It was obvious they had been saved, and it happened when they simply believed the word of God.  They trusted God’s grace.  They believed Jesus died for their sins. Peter reminded the conference, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 15:11)

Some churches have decided to redefine “grace” as something that you receive only when you come through their doors and participate in their rituals.  Yet all Peter did was to speak to Cornelius and his friends about Jesus.  They believed.  They were saved.  Be careful about complicating what God makes simple.

Open for Business

Open for businessPhilip was called “the evangelist” because God used him to lead many people to faith in Jesus.  Though you might be tempted to say that this was because he had the gift of evangelism, I think it was because he was simply open to being used by God.

When the first wave of persecution hit the early church in Jerusalem, all the believers except the apostles fled into the outlying areas.  Philip wound up in Samaria and decided to use his circumstances to share his faith.  A lot of Samaritans came to believe in Jesus.  Then Philip was prompted by God to leave Samaria and travel into the desert to the south where he stumbled across a caravan heading to Ethiopia.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (Acts 8:29)

In that chariot, Philip encountered a man reading to himself from a scroll of Isaiah the prophet.  It just so happened that this man was reading Isaiah 53, about the suffering Messiah.  When the man asked Philip who the prophet was talking about, it was pretty easy to talk about Jesus.  All because Philip was open to be used.

My friends, the world around us is filled with people looking for answers.  People are finding out how unfulfilling this world’s ways are.  The question is, are we ready and available to share the answers they are looking for?  The answer is really quite simple.  It’s Jesus.

It’s Plain

Ancient ShechemAnd you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 27:8)

In modern Nablus, known in ancient times as Shechem, there was a spot between two mountains where God wanted to make a statement.  After the Israelites would conquer the land, they were to set up an altar on Mount Ebal made of stones. They were to coat the stones with plaster and write God’s law on the stones.  Today, that spot can still be seen from Mount Gerizim in the West Bank of Israel.

The idea was to make a permanent record for the people of how God wanted them to live.  God didn’t want the people to follow after the accursed ways of the Canaanites, but to live the blessed life of doing things God’s way.  To make the commands easier to read, they were to write the law on a white plaster background.

As followers of Jesus, we now live under a New Covenant.  God still has principles for us to live by, but His commands are no longer written on cold plastered stone, but on warm, washed hearts (Jer. 31:33-34). As believers, we get ourselves into trouble with the choices we make. We ignore the plain things that God has written and choose to follow the advice that the world gives us.  Don’t ignore God’s plain advice.  You know it’s right, because God wrote it on your heart. God’s ways may not be easy, but they are the best.

Full Joy

Baby Smile“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

Life can certainly get overwhelming. Jesus certainly understands all of that. He was in fact the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).

However, I’d like to gently remind some of you not to get stuck in your sadness.  Jesus wasn’t just a “man of sorrows”, He was also a man of joy.  He was the one anointed with the “oil of gladness” more than any other person (Ps. 45:7; He. 1:9).

God wants us to have joy in our lives. It’s a joy that doesn’t come from “things”, experiences, medication, or relationships.  It’s a joy that comes from God because it’s Jesus’ own joy.  Jesus doesn’t want us to just settle for a “taste” of joy either.  He wants our joy to be full.

How do we find this fullness of joy?  We experience joy through the things that Jesus has spoken to us. In the context of John 15, those things involve knowing God’s love for us.  Jesus also said that God’s love becomes more real in our lives when we learn to obey God by loving others like He loves us.  How does He love us? He loves and does good toward us without expecting anything in return.

When you take your eyes off yourself and love others, you might just be surprised by joy.  May your joy be full.