06-17-07

When life gets difficult, we wonder why.  Sometimes there is simply no good answer.  Bad things happen to good people.  But sometimes the difficulties we go through do have a reason.  And sometimes the person at fault is none other than me.  Now I don’t always like that approach to life – I’d rather find someone else to blame than to own up to my responsibilities.

In the days of Manasseh, the people certainly had someone to blame for the mess that was coming.  Manasseh was the most evil king there ever was. He wasn’t just the bottom of the barrel, he was the dirt on the underside of the barrel.  Manasseh did much wickedness, but he wasn’t the only one to blame.

Listen to what God said to the people of Manasseh’s day:  “and I will not make the feet of Israel wander anymore from the land which I gave their fathers; only if they are careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that My servant Moses commanded them.” But they paid no attention, and Manasseh seduced them to do more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel (2Ki. 21:8-9). 

God’s call on the people was clear.  He promised them security and blessing if they would simply follow Him.  But they “paid no attention”.  They didn’t think they needed to get so serious about the God thing.  And as a result they were seduced into doing great wickedness and they reaped great judgment.  God is serious about you following Him. Paying attention to God helps me stand against the seduction of the world.  Has God been speaking to you?  Are you listening?

06-10-07

Times were bad.  The Syrian army had laid siege to the city of Samaria.  The people were slowly being starved to death.  The people were even beginning to resort to cannibalism of the worst sort, mothers killing and eating their own children.  It was in this desperate time that four leprous men decided they would try something radical.  They figured that since they were about to die anyway, what would it hurt to try and surrender themselves to the Syrians.  The worst that could happen would be a quicker death.  When they got to the Syrian camp, they found it strangely quiet.  In fact, it was outright deserted.  The tents, treasures, and clothing were all still there.  Even better still, there was plenty of food.  The four men began collecting and hoarding some of the treasures when they began to think of the starving people back in the city of Samaria.  Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, and we remain silent. If we wait until morning light, some punishment will come upon us. Now therefore, come, let us go and tell the king’s household” (2Ki 7:9 NKJV).  Overnight the city of Samaria was transformed from starvation to salvation.  All because of four leprous men who decided to share their treasure.
It all sounds a bit close to home, doesn’t it?  Some of us may feel that we can relate to the life of those four leprous rejects.  There was a day when we too ventured out of our own city of death and stumbled across the riches and bounty of Jesus Christ.  The question remains, will we share the treasure we’ve found?  There’s a whole city starving to hear.

05-27-07

It’s one of the most emotionally crippling experiences you can go through.  It will devastate the strongest warrior.  It will ruin the greatest hopes.  It will extinguish the best of passions.  I’m talking about betrayal.  David knew betrayal.  He described the experience as causing him restlessness, moaning, severe pain, terror, fearfulness, trembling, and horror (Ps. 55:2-5).  Though David wanted to run away and escape (Ps. 55:6-8), he knew he couldn’t do that. 

The betrayal that David experienced wasn’t just any betrayal, but the betrayal of a close friend.  “But it was you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance” (Psa 55:13 NKJV).  Some of you have been down those horrible but well worn roads in life.  You know too well what it feels like to be betrayed by a spouse, a parent, or a child.  Some of you have experienced betrayal at work, others at school, some from a neighbor, and some from the closest of friends.
David doesn’t just write about the pain, he tells us the way out.  All through Psalm 55, David hints that the way out is through prayer. He starts with, “Give ear to my prayer” (vs. 1).  He doesn’t just pray a single prayer, but many prayers, “Evening and morning and at noon” (vs.17).  David recognizes that the only way out of the agony is by giving it to God. “Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved” (Psa 55:22 NKJV).  Ultimately, Jesus teaches us that we need to forgive them.  A heart of unforgiveness leads only to further torment (Mat. 18:34).  How could I ever forgive them?  It starts with prayer.  Ask God to help you forgive.  Cast your burden on the Lord.

05-20-07

I’m sure it had simply been a rough year running a kingdom and waging wars.  It seemed like a good time to take a break (2Sam. 11).  Out on his patio one evening he spies a lovely young thing taking a bath.  He ends up inviting her over to his house.  One thing leads to another and she ends up pregnant.  Panic sets in and David starts down the road of covering up his sin.  Covering up is what we think of first because we don’t want others to find out what we’ve done.  We don’t want to have to pay the consequences of what we’ve done, even though the consequences actually start the moment we sin.  David starts by inviting her husband to come back from the front lines.  David says he just wants a report on the war, but he’s secretly hoping that Uriah will spend the night with Bathsheba and David’s sin will never be found out.  But Uriah doesn’t sleep with her and in the end Uriah is sent back to the front lines carrying sealed orders that would end with Uriah’s own death in battle.  David marries Bathsheba and the cover up was complete.  Yet in reality, there never was a cover up.  The Bible records, “But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2Sam. 11:27).

Beloved, there can never be a true cover up because God sees everything we do.  I like to think that I’m fooling most of the people most of the time, but the truth is I’m never fooling God any of the time. My sin has already produced consequences and I need realize that I can’t run from it.  The quicker I stop trying to hide my sin the better.  He sees you beloved.  Don’t hide from God, run to Him for help.

05-13-07

Anger and jealousy are common to all men, but they come with a terrible price tag.  We see this clearly in the life of King Saul.  It seems that the person that “set off” Saul the most was his young protégé, David.  From David’s very first exploits as a warrior, Saul grew increasingly jealous and angry.  Saul would continually bounce back and forth from trying to kill David and then apologizing for his anger.

Part of the price of Saul’s anger was paid directly by David.  He became a “man on the run”, to the point where he had to run right out of the Promised Land and hide out with the Philistines (1Sam. 27) in order to escape Saul’s wrath.  David was Saul’s best asset, and yet Saul drove him away because of his uncontrolled anger and jealous.

Another cost racked up by Saul’s anger was his own further alienation from God.  As Saul faced his final battle with the Philistines, he tried to ask God for help, but for some reason God wasn’t answering him.  Saul ended up abandoning God’s methods of help and reached out to the devil’s methods by contacting a medium for help (1Sam. 28). Sometimes my own blind rage causes me to do things that are nothing but catastrophic to my walk with God.

Paul wrote, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26).  We can’t always escape being angry, but we do have a choice of what we’ll do with it.  Are you driving others away with your anger? Do you realize how your anger damages your relationship with God? Repent.  Ask God to show you what to do with your anger.  It’s okay to take it out on the tennis ball, but not on your friend.  Study, learn, and practice mercy.

05-06-07

It was a test for King Saul (1Sam. 13), and not one that he passed.  It was early in his career as a king.  After a victory over the Ammonites, he decided it was time to take on the Philistines.  But it wasn’t going too well.  The Philistines responded to Saul with “overwhelming force”.  Saul’s puny little army was outnumbered 10 to 1. And to make things worse, the Israelite army was daily getting smaller as the warriors stopped showing up for work and started hiding in caves.

A protocol for times like this had been set up earlier by the prophet Samuel.  Saul was supposed to go to Gilgal and wait for Samuel.  Samuel would perform a sacrifice and God would give direction to the army.  So Saul goes to Gilgal and waits.  And waits.  After a week of waiting, Saul is in a full blown panic, so he performs the sacrifice himself to hurry things along.  And that’s when Samuel shows up and informs Saul that because of his impatience, his kingdom would not continue. God would now be looking for a man “after His own heart” to replace Saul (1Sam. 13:14).

Beloved, God longs for us to learn patience.  We see the things around us and feel that the circumstances are screaming for us to take action.  But if God hasn’t spoken, we need to wait.  God knows the best way to deal with the problem.  God may be working on things we aren’t aware of.  And God wants to be in control.  He wants to be the Lord of my life.  My own impatience often leads me to do things that only make the situation worse.  Are you taking a test right now?  Wait for the Lord.

04-29-07

How fickle we humans are and the judgments we make about people.  It seems that we are constantly trying to size up the situations around us and be the first ones to give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” on people and the things they do.  Paul certainly saw his share of this during his lifetime.  In Lystra, Paul was welcomed as a “god”, but evicted as a trouble maker (Acts 14).  When Paul and his shipwrecked companions landed on the island of Malta (Acts 28), it was the other way around.  As the people watched Paul adding sticks to the campfire, a snake bit him.  The people watching decided that Paul must have been an awful criminal deserving of the punishment of the gods.  Yet when Paul didn’t fall over dead, they decided he was a god instead.  And when Paul went on to heal the leading citizen’s father, and in fact lots of people got healed, well they decided Paul was indeed a good guy after all.

Did Paul change between the time that he was shipwrecked to the time he performed miracles?  Of course not.  He was the same Paul he had been all along.  It was the people’s opinions of Paul that changed.  And they changed because they were wrong in their initial judgment of Paul.

Beloved, we too need to be careful in how we “judge” people.  A person going through a difficulty, whether it’s a snake bite or a financial bite, may not be going through that difficulty because they’re bad.  It may be that God wants to do a work in their lives.  And for those who feel you’ve been harshly misjudged by others, take courage.  God knows your heart.  And He’s the only one whose opinion really counts.

04-22-07

It was a strange period in Israel’s history.  Frankly it reads much like some of our own lives, filled with ups and downs. For a few years the people would follow the Lord, but then they’d fall away and do the stupidest things.  The days after the death of Gideon were some of those stupid days.  The story in Judges 9 follows one of Gideon’s own sons, a man named Abimelech, a man who wanted to be king.

Abimelech was one of Gideon’s seventy sons, a son of one of Gideon’s many wives.  Abimelech was from Shechem, and Abimelech had this urge to be large and in charge.  So Abimelech gathered the people of his hometown together and gave them a speech about supporting him as the sole successor to his father and having them make him king.  And his mother’s brothers spoke all these words concerning him in the hearing of all the men of Shechem; and their heart was inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother” (Judg 9:3 NKJV).  Sounds like politics to me.

This might not seem like a big deal, until you see the results of their decision.  Abimelech took this support, killed 68 of his own brothers, and started a period of strife, killing, and civil war.  Thousands died as a result of this bad decision.

The thing that really nagged me about their decision was how they came to it.  Did you notice that little phrase, “and their heart was inclined”?  They followed their heart.  They “felt” like following Abimelech.  And the result was disastrous.  Beloved, be careful about decisions based solely on your feelings. Sometimes our heart is wrong.

04-08-07

The Promised Land is where God wants you to be.  It’s the Christian life lived as it was meant to live.  It’s a life different from the world.  It’s living in a land that is fruitful.  As Joshua (Hebrew for Jesus) took the people in, there are some beautiful pictures for us to learn from.

After the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they had to stop and be circumcised (Josh. 5).  None of the men born in the wilderness had ever been circumcised.  Before God gives victory in the Promised Land, there needs to be a cutting away of the flesh, a dying to our sin nature.  I find it interesting that they were circumcised after they crossed the Jordan.  It would leave them vulnerable to the enemy while they were healing.  But circumcision comes after crossing – you don’t clean up your life before you come to Jesus – you come to Jesus and He will clean up your life.  Victory comes through weakness.  Victory comes through death.

After they were circumcised, Joshua had a visitor, the “Commander” of God’s army.  Joshua wanted to know if this person (I believe it might have been Jesus Himself) was on their “side” or not.  The Commander responded, “No, but as Commander of the army of the LORD I have now come” (Josh. 5:14).  And in response to this, Joshua fell on his face and worshipped.  What was happening here? Sometimes I think that conquering the enemies in my life requires getting God on my side.  But victory comes when I get on God’s side.  God isn’t my servant, I need to be God’s servant.

Two steps toward victory.  I need to die to myself.  I need to live for God.

04-01-07

It seems to me that we are pretty quick to give up on people.  As long as the ballplayer hits homers, we cheer.  But the moment he goes into a batting slump, the cheers turn to jeers.  TV shows like “American Idol” and “Survivor” hone our skills of dumping losers and voting them off the island.  It creeps into relationships as friends part ways or marriages dissolve.  And I’m afraid that for some of us, we think this same mentality must exist in our relationship with God.  We’re just waiting for Him to give us the big cosmic boot for that last stupid thing we did. Beloved, God is not like us. The God who is full of mercy and slow to anger is the God that loves each of us.  And He doesn’t give up too quickly.

Here’s a case in point.  Jesus warned Peter that Peter was going to deny Jesus.  And even though Peter promised that he would never stumble, Peter turned around and denied Jesus not once, but three times.  And to make things worse, Jesus was right there when Peter did it.  We might expect Jesus to proclaim Donald Trump’s famous words, “You’re fired”, but Jesus makes no such pronouncement.  In fact, after the resurrection, Jesus tracks down Peter to make sure that Peter knows that he is not only still employed by Jesus, but loved as well.  Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him.    “Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:17 NKJV).  Yes, you might have failed Him, but He’s not giving up on you.  He still loves you.  And He wants you to follow and serve Him.