08-05-07

Sometimes it hits you like a brick wall.  Sometimes it just comes out of nowhere.  And sometimes, just when you think you can’t take anymore, it gets worse.  I’m talking about the difficulties in life, the things we Christians call “trials”.  There are certainly good ways of handling trials and bad ways of handling trials, but no matter how you handle them, they still come.  Some people try to avoid trials at all costs.  Some live in a pretend world where there are no problems for the Christian.  But sooner or later reality will hit us all like that proverbial two-by-four across the head.

There aren’t too many people who have gone through what Job went through.  As the first wave of trials began to hit, Job did quite well, falling down and worshipping God despite the difficulty (Job 1:20-21).  As the second wave hit, he continued to do well, telling his wife that they needed to not just accept good things from God, but adversity as well (Job 2:10).  But after awhile, Job began to wear down until he let loose a cry that cursed the day he was born.  “May the day perish on which I was born, And the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’” (Job 3:3) 
I’m not trying to let us off the hook when it comes to complaining about life’s difficulties.  I just want to say that it’s certainly normal to slip into depression.  Peter tells us we shouldn’t be surprised by trials (1Pet. 4:12), and that ultimately we should learn to “rejoice” because trials are how we grow and are refined (1Pet. 1:6-7).  If you have a friend going through a trial, don’t be quick to condemn the complaining.  Just help them move past it.

07-29-07

It can be so discouraging.  It’s bad enough when you hear of a pastor or leader in the church falling into sin.  Yet what seems worse to me is the ripple effect it has on those who knew the one who fell.  Time after time you hear stories of people who became disillusioned with their faith because of a person who let them down. 

When a person comes to church, they’re often looking for answers.  And when a church is talking about Jesus, that person is going to find the answers.  The trouble starts when we get confused and start thinking that the church is filled with people just like Jesus.  I wish.  But the truth is, church is filled with flawed people.  Some are more flawed than others.  When Paul wrote to the Romans, he warned them:  “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Rom 16:17-18).

Does this mean I should start thinking like the cynic who thinks that the church is filled with fake people?  Not at all.  I have this notion that most of the people that come to our church sincerely want to follow Jesus.  We have a great church.  My point is that we shouldn’t be surprised when a person at church lets us down.  There might even be a person we need to “avoid”.  But we ought to be careful not to confuse the goodness and faithfulness of Jesus with the unpredictable nature of fleshly humans.  There is only one person you can totally trust, and that’s Jesus.  He will never let you down.

07-22-07

So there you are, wrestling about whether or not to do the right thing.  You finally step out and do it. But instead of people lining the street to cheer you on in your victory, they’re lining up to throw rocks at you.  I think that this is what the Jews felt like when they finally made it back from Babylon to build their temple.  They were doing something right.  But instead of people encouraging them, they found themselves facing opposition.

It’s interesting to see how the opposition came about.  It began because someone got offended.  The “adversaries” of the Jews found out about the temple and they said they wanted to help (Ezra 4:1).  But the Jews, being extra careful to do everything the right way, declined the offer of help.  And so it began.  Accusations were made, letters were written, sides were taken, and in the end the government of Persia ordered the Jews to stop building their temple.  And for a period of years, the great work stopped.

Has God been nudging you in a certain direction?  Have you recently stepped out to serve God a little more?  Whether it’s learning to share your faith with someone at work, handing out bulletins on Sunday morning, teaching a Sunday School class, or being in full time ministry, you are going to face opposition.  And just like the temple project, sometimes people get offended. Though we might try hard to avoid it, some people will always get offended. We should not be surprised at these things.  There is an enemy that wants the work of God stopped.  He will stir up trouble every chance he gets.  Don’t be surprised.  Be ready.  Keep serving.

07-15-07

The book of Chronicles is unique as a history in that it gives us God’s opinion of people’s lives.  We read about King Amaziah, “And he did what was right in the sight of the LORD, but not with a loyal heart” (2 Chr 25:2).  That sounds like he was close to doing the right things, but not in the way God wanted.  What does it mean to not have a “loyal heart”?  Amaziah’s life is instructive.

Amaziah was a fellow who trusted in his money.  When he found himself in a war with the Edomites he wasn’t worried.  He had lots of money in his bank account.  He attempted to buy his way out of the problem by hiring some mercenaries.  God wasn’t pleased because Amaziah’s lack of loyalty led to his trusting in his money and not in God.

After the victory with the Edomites, some of the Edomite trinkets caught Amaziah’s eye.  In fact, some of those Edomite girly statues would look awfully good on the mantel at home.  Amaziah found himself bowing down to foreign gods.  His unloyal heart led to lust and a wandering eye.
After his victory with the Edomites, Amaziah felt he could take on the world.  In fact, that sounded like such a good idea to him that he challenged his neighbor up north to a battle.  The northern king warned Amaziah that his pride was distorting his judgment, but Amaziah didn’t pay attention.  His unloyal heart led to pride, which led to defeat.

As we walk with the Lord beloved, we need to not only pay attention to the things we do, but we need to pay attention to the heart behind the actions.  Problems with money, lust, and pride come from a heart that’s not loyal.

07-08-07

Pride can come in so many forms, and all of them are bad.  We usually think of pride as being connected to the person whose heart is evil and whose life is in rebellion against God.  But pride can easily creep into the heart of a person who is setting out to follow God and do the right thing.  In either case, pride is offensive to God.  Pride leads to only one place, disaster (Prov. 16:18).

King Rehoboam was finally heading in the right direction.  After the kingdom had split, godly people from all over were making their way to Jerusalem in order to continue worshipping God at the Temple.  These godly people brought a time of growth and prosperity in Judah.  But with growth and prosperity comes the temptation toward pride, and that’s what happened to Rehoboam.  Now it came to pass, when Rehoboam had established the kingdom and had strengthened himself, that he forsook the law of the LORD, and all Israel along with him (2 Chr 12:1).  Things began to tumble out of control and a crash appeared on the horizon. God warned the leaders, and the nation was pulled out of a tailspin as they responded correctly by humbling themselves (2 Chr 12:6).

Humility is so important beloved.  Humility is the key to God’s blessing and help (Jam. 4:6).  Humility is the attitude of the person who recognizes that they need God all the time. Humility understands that true value in life doesn’t come from seeking what’s important to me; it comes from seeking what is important to God.  It’s not hard to be humble when things are difficult.  The real test of life is staying humble when the blessings begin to multiply.

07-01-07

Psalm 121 is known as a “Song of Ascents”.  It’s one of those short little songs that the travelers sang as they made their yearly journey to Jerusalem, “ascending” up the hill to worship at the Temple. Though today it takes less than an hour to climb the hill by car, it would take a lot longer walking up the roads winding through the canyons.  It was a scary trip filled with robbers (Luke 10:30) and danger. The travelers would sing, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills; From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (Psa 121:1-2).  As we look up at the road ahead of us, we too may wonder how we’re going to make it or where our help will come from, but we too can count on the Lord to get us through this journey of life.  Then we go on to sing, “He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa 121:3-4).  There may be times when the path is a bit steep or too hard to navigate.  There may be times when we wonder if God has forgotten about us, or maybe He’s asleep at the wheel.  But beloved, we don’t need to worry, our God is awake, and He promises to help us.  Then we sing, “The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night” (Psa 121:5-6).  No one enjoys a sunburn when you’re hiking through life, so we appreciate a little shade.  Crazy people were considered “moon struck”, but God promises to keep us sane as we trust Him. Beloved, in this journey we call life, we have much to watch out for, but we also have One we can trust who watches out for us.

06-24-07

Just how far will you go?  As kids, we used to dare each other, double-dare, even double-dog-dare each other to do some outrageous thing.  Most of the dares we made as kids were pretty silly and inconsequential.  But if someone dared you to follow Jesus, just how far would you go?  I think a great test is not about what you’ll do as a response to a dare, but how far you’ll go just out of simple love for Jesus.

David had an amazing group of men around him.  I imagine that at first glance they seemed like a bunch of losers (1Sam. 22:2).  These guys may not have been Harvard trained, but they sure loved the one they followed.  One day as they were sitting around their campsite, David let loose a day dream concerning his old home town.  He said, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” (1Chr. 11:17)  Now considering that Bethlehem was under the control of the evil Philistine army, it seemed like nothing more than a whimsical longing to David.  But for the men who loved and sought to serve their captain, they took it as marching orders.  Three of David’s mighty men broke into the Philistine garrison, filled a canteen with water and brought it back to David.  David was horrified at how they had risked their lives for his whim.  But I see a picture of true discipleship.  How far will we go to please our Captain, the Son of David?  Oh that I might be so in tune with my Captain’s desires that I’d do anything to please Him.  His whims aren’t small inconsequential matters, but things with purpose.  Do you have a clue about what Jesus would like to do today? How far will you go?  I dare you.

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.