01-13-08

It was his greatest treasure. It was what he had looked forward to his entire life.  It was even something that had been promised to him by God.  It was something that was good, not evil.  And yet now God had asked him to give it up.  The “it” was a son, a longed for, much beloved son.  And God said “Sacrifice your son”.  It probably didn’t make sense.  It probably didn’t seem right.  But Abraham heard God and did what God said. You and I know that God did not require Abraham to follow through and actually kill Isaac, but Abraham didn’t know that at the time he set out to obey the Lord.  And then we read about God’s response to Abraham’s obedience:  “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son; blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies” (Gen 22:15-17). 

We could talk about the importance of Abraham painting a picture of God one day sacrificing His Only Son for us, but don’t miss the basic issue – God asked, and Abraham said “yes”.  As a result of obedience, not only would Abraham be blessed, but his descendants would be blessed as well.

It’s not a lot of fun when we sense that God wants us to do something that’s hard.  We may not understand what God is trying to do.  We may not see how it could be a good thing.  But God is looking for men and women who are available to Him, and oh what He wants to do through us when He finds a willing heart.  Trust and obey.  There is no other way.

01-06-08

Jesus is at the beginning of His ministry.  He has been baptized by John, heard God’s approval, and was led into the wilderness to be tempted.  All of life is about dealing with temptation, but when you are stepping out to be used by God, you better learn to face the reality of Satan’s whispers.  In the first temptation Jesus has been fasting for forty days … when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” (Mat 4:3)

Initially, we may think that the temptation was about bread, but it goes deeper than that.  It’s about what you call “living”.  What does it take to keep you “alive”?  Some of us may conclude we simply need food and water.  But life tends to be a bit more complicated than that.  Food and water may start out our list of necessities, but it rarely ends there.  I prefer to add just a few other items like a place to live, a job, and now that I’m thinking about it, let’s make that a comfortable place to live and a nice job.  Of course the real list in my head is pretty long and complicated.  The real issue is about all that other “stuff” that I find so necessary to live, to be happy. 

Jesus’ response to Satan needs to be my goal in life.  But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'” (Mat 4:4). A healthy “life” is one that has learned to depend on God and His Word.  Do I find “life” in the things that come from God’s mouth concerning me?  Am I content with the things God has decreed for me?  May we find real “life” today.

12-28-07

I have a confession to make.  I really want people to like me.  I know that for some people that sounds like I have a problem, and perhaps I do.  But I also have a sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only person who wants people to like them.  As you grow up, you learn about what kinds of things you need to do in order to get a person to like you.  One easy way is to say something nice to the other person.  If I tell you that you look nice today, you might like me better than if I told you looked ugly.  Think of Eddie Haskell on “Leave it to Beaver”, “Gee Mrs. Cleaver, you sure look nice today…”

But in reality, flattery just for the sake of getting someone to like you doesn’t last very long.  In fact, if you have an “Eddie Haskell” in your life, you probably don’t enjoy all their compliments, do you?  Solomon was pretty wise when he gave us this gem:  “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” (Prov 28:23) 

Now when Solomon says it’s better to “rebuke” than to “flatter”, there are some things to keep in mind.  I have this suspicion that the “rebuke” Solomon is talking about isn’t a Marine Drill Sergeant yelling in your face.  I have this idea that it’s a little closer to what Paul wrote in Eph. 4:15, “speaking the truth in love”.  I personally don’t enjoy criticism for the sake of “honesty” if I have this suspicion that the person criticizing me doesn’t care for me.  But when a person is honest with me, and I know they are giving their difficult truth in love, it becomes something I can benefit from.  Want someone to like you?  Choose carefully how you proceed.

12-23-2007

Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death (Prov 21:6).
It’s a pretty straight forward statement.  Yet the more I stop and ponder this truth, it’s deeper than first glance.

We might use this proverb to talk about people who try and con others by lying to them.  In the movies we kind of like those “con men”, whether it’s Paul Newman and Robert Redford in “The Sting” or George Clooney and Brad Pitt in “Oceans Eleven”.  Even though those movies are based on deception, we feel that the victims “deserved” what they got because the victims were the bad guys.  Right?  But come to think about it, real life doesn’t often work like the fantasy of movies.  Lying rarely helps any situation.

In real life, Solomon’s proverb goes beyond “con jobs”.  The truth affects our daily lives. Sometimes the “treasures” we are trying to get by deception aren’t counted in the millions of dollars, but are more subtle.  Sometimes the treasure is gaining or keeping a friend.  And so we tell a little lie about who we are in order to “help” the relationship.  But what happens when the truth comes out?  Sometimes the treasure we are looking for is simply being able to live with ourselves.  But the person we are lying to isn’t one that lives outside of our skin, we are lying to ourselves.  We may not always like the truth about ourselves, but change and growth can’t come without truth.

Real treasures come from truth.  God wants us to be truthful with one another (Eph. 4:25).  God wants us to be truthful with ourselves (Ps. 51:6).

12-16-07

Maybe it’s just been a hard week for me.  Perhaps it’s all the pressures of the holidays.  It could be all the extra things that have made their way into my schedule.  I’m still wondering when I’m going to find time to get those stupid Christmas lights up.  I wish I had a really great excuse for why I get angry.  The problem is, I keep finding these Bible verses that tell me that my anger and impatience aren’t very smart. Listen to Solomon’s advice: A wise man fears and departs from evil, But a fool rages and is self-confident (Prov 14:16). A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, And a man of wicked intentions is hated (Prov 14:17). He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, But he who is impulsive exalts folly (Prov 14:29).
Did you notice the kinds of words that Solomon associates with my anger?  He uses words like “fool”, “wicked”, and “folly”.  The nerve of him!

I may feel like I have no control over my anger, but that’s really just a lie I’ve sold myself. 

There’s a story about a man and his crying infant son in a store.  The man was heard saying over and over into the stroller, “Now Andrew, calm down, it will be okay.”  A lady came up to the fellow and remarked about how patient he was being with little Andrew.  The man responded, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m the one named Andrew.”

I guess I need to keep reminding myself that as a Christian, it is going to be okay.  Being impatient and getting angry doesn’t help anything.  Take a deep breath.  Slow down.  Trust God. Be slow to anger.  It’s a smart thing.

12-09-07

It’s a short story about temptation, seduction, stumbling, and tragedy.  When we meet the main character of this morality play, Solomon describes him, “And saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, A young man devoid of understanding” (Prov 7:7).  And though these are the characteristics of the fellow in Solomon’s story, they are not necessarily the characteristics of everyone who is tempted.  Temptation does not require you to be young. Temptation does not require a lack of maturity (whatever that is).  It is not a lack of intelligence that leads to temptation. Temptation happens to all of us.  You may not feel that you identify with Solomon’s young man, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be tempted.  Because you will.

You know the story that Solomon tells.  If you’re like me, you know it too well.  This fellow just “happens” to wander down a street where he will encounter a seductive, adulterous woman.  And as the fellow stumbles from one stage of temptation to the next, Solomon warns, “He did not know it would cost his life” (Prov 7:23).  If you take the story apart, you see that the easiest way to avoid the problem in the first place is to not go down that street where the temptation lives.  For some of us it might be an actual location on a map.  For others it might be an address on the internet, a movie, or the TV. For others it is that group of friends that influence us the wrong way. No matter where that “street” is, recognize it and learn to take another street.  And don’t think that you’re too old, too mature, or too smart to be tempted.  I’m speaking from experience.  Take a different street.

12-2-07

Then I set my face toward the Lord God to make request by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Dan 9:3). Daniel had been reading and studying the Scriptures when he came to the conclusion that he needed to pray.  Though we often think of the ninth chapter of Daniel in regards to the amazing prophecy in it, most of the chapter is a record of Daniel’s prayer of confession to God on behalf of his nation.

As I was reading Daniel’s prayer, I began to think about the appropriateness of Daniel praying on behalf of his nation.  In my twisted mind I could imagine Daniel thinking, “Who am I to pray for Israel?  I’m not the king of Israel.  I’m not the high priest of Israel.  I’m just a government official in Babylon.”  There are certain situations in life where we are aware of appropriateness.  If you are sitting in the hospital emergency room, you hope that the person checking you out is a real doctor.  It wouldn’t be appropriate for the pizza delivery guy who just walked in the door to examine you.  If I was facing a legal action, I would want my attorney to represent me before the judge, not some guy off the street.
I think that sometimes we take “appropriateness” too far.  Is it right that I represent my friend in petitioning for heaven’s help?  Is it right that I kneel in God’s presence and confess the sins of my nation before God?  Who am I to pray for this sick person? Beloved, don’t wait for someone else to pray, speak, or reach out.  Do what is in your hand to do.  You may not feel like you’re very important in the world, but you have the ear of a God who loves you.  Don’t stop praying.

11-25-07

Like it or not, we are in a war.  If we refuse to fight we are already defeated.  No, I’m not talking about the current deployment of our American troops.  The war I’m most concerned about is one that is waged for our souls.  Satan is the “accuser of the brethren” who wants to steal, kill, and destroy.  In the book of Revelation we find a threefold strategy that brings victory against this ancient enemy.  John writes, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Rev 12:11).
One of the greatest weapons that Satan uses against the believer is condemnation.  There are times when we have no way of defending ourselves against his accusations because frankly we are guilty as charged.  But beloved, if you will confess your sin, you will find forgiveness.  If you will walk in the light, the “blood of the Lamb” will cleanse you from all sin.

We overcome the devil through the “word of our testimony”, God’s Word.  Beloved, we don’t even need Satan to deceive us into doing stupid stuff, our own hearts so often lead us astray. But if we keep ourselves immersed in God’s Word, we have a good light to keep us walking on the right path.

In America, we feel we have this “right” to pursue “happiness”.  And yet this leaves us as easy prey for the enemy.  We flee from every hint of discomfort.  But the one who doesn’t “love their life to the death” is the one who prefers obedience to God to their own comfort.

The blood.  The Word.  Dying to our self.  Keys to victory.

11-18-07

As the book of Revelation begins to unfold, we see the long awaited judgment of God finally coming upon the rebellious world.  Yet, as the period known as the Tribulation begins to develop, there is a pause.  John then records, “there was silence in heaven for about half an hour” (Rev 8:1).  The next thing that happens has to do with prayer in heaven:  “Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand” (Rev 8:3-4).  After that the Tribulation continues under the careful direction of God.
As I was pondering this, it dawned on me that this isn’t such a bad pattern to follow when we ourselves are going through our own difficulties, our own miniature “tribulations” in life.  Here’s what I see as an example to follow:  Stop, be quiet, and pray.

I know that when I get into rough water, I tend to make more noise and work frantically to get out of my mess.  I don’t know about you, but this rarely seems to solve my difficulties.

The Bible tells us to “wait on the Lord” (Is. 40:31).  The Bible tells us that even in tumultuous times we need to “be still and know that He is God” (Ps. 46:10).  The Bible tells us to “pray” during times of difficulty (Ps. 32:6).  The Bible tells us, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid” (Isa 12:2).
Stop.  Be quiet.  Pray.

11-11-07

Though change can be good, sometimes it seems that things change a bit too much.  Little changes in the weather aren’t bad, but going from the 90’s one day to the 60’s the next is a bit unexpected.  People sometimes change.  The person you thought was so friendly yesterday is now a giant pain in the neck.  How does that work?  Sudden tragedies catch us off guard and we worry about our future.  The apostle John had been arrested for his faith and was living as an exile on the island of Patmos.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence to see that the theme woven through the first chapter of Revelation is the truth that God doesn’t change.

The chapter begins as a letter from God, the one “who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:4), a phrase used over and over to remind us that God has always existed, always will exist, and that He’s always the same.  The same phrase is repeated again in Rev. 1:8 as God speaks a direct greeting, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  The same ideas are repeated again in Rev. 1:11.  Then as John sees an incredible vision of Jesus, he falls down in terror and hears, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.” (Rev. 1:17-18)

Beloved, when everything around you seems to change and nothing seems certain, there is someone you can count on.  God never changes.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).  He is the solid Rock that we can build our lives on.  God never changes.