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.

11-04-07

The room seems a bit dark.  Would you mind if I turn on a light?  John tells us a very simple but important truth regarding who God is. He writes, This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
God is light.  The truth of this ought to affect the way that we think about God.  The concept of “light” is all about the purity, holiness, and rightness of God.  God doesn’t do things with hidden evil motives.  God is not sitting up in heaven thinking up ways to make you miserable so He can laugh at you and watch you suffer.  This is not what God is all about.  We may indeed go through difficult times as God’s children, but it’s not because of dark scheming.  God’s plans for His children are for the good.

The truth John shares also affects the way we see ourselves.  If we claim to have a relationship with God, but our lives are filled with disobedience and darkness, something isn’t right.  Our relationship with God ought to be moving us out of our old dark, evil ways, and closer to God.  In fact John says that if you claim to know God but live a life of darkness, you’re lying (1Jn. 1:6) and you don’t know God like you claim.  “But wait”, you say.  “I am a Christian but I still have some “dark” things in my life.  What do I do about those things?”  John goes on to say, “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).  Turn on the light.  Make the right choices.  You’ll find others to help you.  You’ll find cleansing.  Just turn on the light.

10-28-07

Sometimes it’s because of the “busy-ness” of life.  Sometimes it’s because of a particularly difficult time we may be going through at the moment.  Sometimes it’s because of the season of dryness where God just doesn’t seem so close any more.  But no matter what the reason, from time to time we all run into the problem of forgetfulness.  Call it Spiritual Alzheimer’s.  We forget who we are.  We forget what God has done in our lives.  Peter is careful to remind us of what we often forget:  “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Pet 2:9-10).

Beloved, take time with me to stop and remember.  Put aside your concerns and burdens for just a moment and think about how God sees you.  He hasn’t rejected you, He has chosen you.  He considers you royalty.  You are special to Him.  And He has a purpose for your life.  His desire is that people see and hear you proclaiming the praise of the God who has changed you.  Before God worked in our lives we were nothing.  But now we can humbly proclaim that we’ve become the people of God.  We are a people who have received and continue to receive mercy beyond measure.

Thinking about these things may not change your circumstances, but it might change your attitude.  Peter doesn’t promise a way out of difficulty but he shows us a way to get through it.  Remember who you are.

10-21-07

A word for the weary.  The writer to the Hebrews was concerned about his readers.  He saw the difficulties they were going through.  He was aware of persecution they faced.  He knew about the temptations to quit.  One of the main thrusts of his letter involved the encouragement to not quit.  We see this theme throughout the entire epistle, the encouragement to “endure”, to “keep believing”.  After having painted a picture of the saints in heaven who all endured through lives filled with difficulties and obstacles, he wraps up the letter with a word to run the race before them with endurance (Heb. 12:1).  But even pondering the saints who have endured isn’t quite enough, so the writer gives us one more person to think about:

…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. (Heb 12:2-3 NKJV)

Beloved, keep your eyes on Jesus.  As the “author”, He is the one who first sparked faith in our lives.  As the “finisher” He is the one who will see us through to the end.  There is no greater example of a person who has endured difficulty than our own dear loving Lord.  When our eyes are on our circumstances we will become weary and discouraged.  When our eyes are on Jesus, we can keep going.  He’s already made it to the finish line and He’s there cheering you on in your race.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.

10-14-07

At times there is nothing better than serving the Lord.  Seeing a hurting friend find comfort in Jesus.  Being present at the spiritual birth of a believer. Watching prayer being answered before your very eyes.  It doesn’t get any better than this.  But if I was to be honest, I’d have to let you know that there are times when it isn’t so “fun” to serve the Lord.  There are times when God calls us to say that difficult thing to a rebellious friend. There are times when Satan attacks on all fronts – spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Jeremiah was a one of those fellows who knew how difficult it could be to serve the Lord.  He had people accusing him of being a traitor to his country and mocking his ministry.  He had people plotting to kill him.  As you or I would expect, Jeremiah had times where he struggled with all of this.  And yet he kept going.  Jeremiah might have experienced times of anxiety, fear, and depression, but he continued to do the things God asked him to do.  How did he keep going with such a rough life?  I’ll let Jeremiah tell you himself:

“Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts” (Jer 15:16).  Jeremiah kept going because of a connection he had with God through God’s Word.  He learned to find spiritual nourishment in God’s Word.  He learned to even find emotional stability (joy and rejoicing) from God’s Word.  He found his sense of purpose, that God had called him, right from God’s Word.  Beloved, when life and service aren’t so “fun”, get back to your foundation.  Seek God in His Word.  Find His call on your life.

10-07-07

When a person truly comes in contact with God, they change.  It is not possible for a finite and flawed individual to truly taste of God’s mercy and grace and not be changed.  Yet sometimes we forget just what that change should look like.  As Paul writes his young disciple Titus, he clarifies what that changed life should look like:  Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men (Titus 3:1-2 NKJV).
A life changed by grace is one that learns the role of authority and the importance of submitting to authority.  It is not a life of rebellion, but a life that is learning to obey and to be ready to do good works.  The life changed by grace is a life that learns to get along with others and to speak well of others instead of slandering or mocking them.  The life of grace is one characterized as “peaceable”, or literally, “not picking a fight”.  Grace is not about winning the argument; it’s about loving the individual.  The life of grace is one that is “gentle”, a word that speaks of treating people fairly or evenly.  The life of grace is one that shows “humility” to everyone.  Here the idea of humility is the kind of attitude that responds to each situation with gentleness, no matter what happens or how uncomfortable that may be.

Beloved, may our lives be characterized by grace.  May we be reminded over and over that God has shown us so much mercy that it has changed us.  May our relationships be marked not by how much we try to “fix” each other, but by how much we have been changed by grace.